Let’s start with a riddle. Do you know what Frank Zappa and John Peel have in common? They both thought that the music business became too safe and too predictable. The thrill of making something exciting, the unknown and the chance of everything going awry that characterized the music-making for generations suddenly disappeared. The stimulating and (sometimes) dangerous game turned into a polished and ironed showcase for pop princesses and boy bands. And it slowly started leaking into the rock and roll, turning rebels and their muses into fashionistas and influencers buying shoes and belts.
Luckily for us and certain old school radio DJ’s, there is always an underdog band that comes out of nowhere and rescues the day. Our musical saviours are raw, energetic and completely independent. And they come from Manchester! We have sat down with the Mancunian trio, the Empty Page, few days before their gig at the Dead Dead Good Weekend on 11th of May to discuss their beginnings (in an old and cold warehouse), having a female lead singer and their plans for a glorious future.
Taking their name from a Sonic Youth song which in turn was inspired by Jack Kerouac, 90s alt-punk inspired Northerners The Empty Page have been making steady headway since their inception in a draughty warehouse in Ancoats, Manchester. Following an invite from rock production royalty Gggarth Richardson (RATM, Biffy Clyro, Melvins), their debut album, ‘Unfolding’ was recorded with him in Vancouver, Canada, with tracks receiving national airplay by the likes of Steve Lamacq on 6 Music and receiving praise from the underground press. As well as diligently ticking their favourite UK venues off their collective wish list, from Manchester Ritz to Hebden Bridge Trades, the band went back to Canada to play shows in Toronto after winning Indie Week UK. Carefully selected UK shows are planned for 2019.
The Empty Page are:
Jim (drums and vocals)
Kel (bass and vocals)
You are described as a band that combines guitar noise with Northern charm. Please introduce yourself to readers of Indieterria.
Kel: I’m Kel, I play bass and sing and write the words.
Jim: I’m Jim, I play drums and sing
Giz: And I’m Giz and I play guitar
We have heard some incredible stories about how bands came to be. But meeting in a cold warehouse must be one of the best tales so far. What were a trio of rock musicians doing on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Manc?
Jim: A friend of ours had this weird room in a freezing cold mill in Manchester full of instruments and recording gear. Full. You couldn’t move. Anyway, we needed somewhere to rehearse and record. It really was freezing. We could barely get through a full song it was that cold so in the end we started to set fire to our gear for warmth. Shame really because those songs were brilliant but we’ll never remember them, just how cold we were. Also it was quite a cheap room! (laughing)
The Empty page started to turn heads almost immediately after its conception. Your demos “The Ancoats Sessions” were heard by producer Garth “GGGarth” Richardson who worked with The Melvins and Rage Against the Machine – and he invited the band to his studio in Canada to work on your debut album “Unfolding”. It was released in 2016. Please tell us how do you remember your collaboration with Richardson?
Jim: The guy is wonderful. He’s thoughtful, respectful, he knows everything about music yet he always listens to what you want. He’s ridiculously funny but my god his “Northern” accent is dreadful! (laughs)
Kel: It was the best time. So great to lock ourselves away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and focus on music 24/7 while drinking lots of Canadian craft beer and listening to stories of legendary musicians which we’re not allowed to repeat. We’d love to go back and record with him again but it’s just logistics really.
In February this year, you released “When The Cloud Explodes” produced by local duo Sugar House. The album, according to your page, is inspired by Northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester. Did you plan to have your new record produced locally, as if in opposition to the first one that was created so far away from home?
Kel: No, not really. We just made a decision to try a different way of putting music out there this time. We wanted to take each song individually and release it as its own thing. I do think it made sense to record that song in a humdrum town in the North though, and it doesn’t get much more humdrum than St Helens. The recording process was very different from what we did with GGGarth, we had more time for a start. So, we came out with something sounding quite different from what we have done before. Our plan now is to release a series of individual songs over the year, produced by different people and all quite distinct from one another musically. People keep asking about an album, but for now, we’re doing things step by step. Maybe an album will come later.
Let’s talk about the excellent video to you shot for the song. It was filmed in Manchester and directed by Jason Weidner, who worked previously with Desperate Journalist and Stonehouse Jack. You have also recruited two contemporary/urban dancers named Max and Chiara. How did you convince them to star in your video? What is the message behind it?
Kel: Jo from Desperate Journalist suggested Jason when we were looking to shoot a video at quite short notice, to cut a long and boring back story short. We hit it off right away and got planning. We’d had an idea to include dancing somehow and had been through lots of ambitious ideas, then, in the end, we decided to keep it quite simple. Jason is extremely skilled at editing and he did a brilliant job. Max got involved through a friend of ours named Bundy who we have known for years on the punk scene as he’s drummed in lots of punk bands including The Business. Max works in Bundy’s brilliant little punk bar, The Salty Dog in Northwich, so he suggested him when I put a call out for dancers. Then we asked Max if he knew anyone else and when he suggested his girlfriend Chiara. And it seemed perfect to have them star as a young couple just hanging out. They were absolute troopers. It was a hot day as you can see and we had them dance over and over again in different locations till they pretty much collapsed on the grass in Hulme Park. But they’re young and fit and they loved it. We had such a fun day together.
The song, in a nutshell, is just about the beauty of creativity. Whether that’s writing songs, making art, poetry, knitting, dancing or whatever. It’s one of the most wonderful things we have as humans and I really think it’s a lifesaver. We didn’t want to be too literal with the video, so we thought dancing would be a nice visual expression of the joys of creative freedom.
Jim: I think we filmed the whole thing on Valentine’s Day too, so once they’d finished and got their breath back, they were straight off out for a romantic date. They probably went down the arcade or to the fair or whatever fit young dancers like to go. Stock car racing? Something like that!
We can’t stop salivating over the vinyl edition of “When The Cloud Explodes” – 7 inch, released on orange wax, limited to just 330 copies. It looks unreal. Are there any copies left and if so – where can the record be purchased? Asking for a friend…
Kel: It’s sold out on the Rough Trade website twice now, they will be restocking soon. We have some in a few record shops like Jumbo in Leeds and others, and it will be in Piccadilly Records in Manchester very soon. We are selling it on our website (theemptypageband.com) and Bandcamp as well and we will have some for sale at upcoming gigs. It’s selling really fast though, well over half gone, so I wouldn’t hang around!
Kel, a question especially for you. You gave an extensive interview to Louder Than War in 2016. You said: “I think more women should play music, because there is still a heavy trend towards males on stage at gigs, but more importantly women should just be able to do it without having to be scrutinised so much in every way.” Has the situation improved in the last three years? Are organizations such as Safe Gigs for Women really making a difference?
Kel: (deep breath) I’ve been in bands for a really, really long time and I’ve always felt I had to work a bit harder just to be treated with respect as a musician and songwriter and not just considered a “girl singer” (like it’s some kind of gimmick) or putting up with comments about my appearance rather than the actual music. I remember many moons ago, some bloke actually saying to me that they were thinking of “getting a girl singer” for their band as it was a good thing image-wise. I was furious then in my teens and I am as furious now at that attitude. There have always been women in guitar bands but I think there have been more women getting involved and getting a platform in the past few years. This has been the result of a lot of different factors including the issues relating to inequality in this industry (and in general) being openly talked about more. Women haven’t always been as welcomed, celebrated and treated as equally as they are now in the UK music scene but I think we still have a way to go and it’s complicated.
One thing that has helped is more promoters putting together representative bills. Women don’t need to be sidelined into only playing “female only” band nights. Don’t get me wrong. There are people doing that well and for the right reasons in the name of shifting the balance and being representative, and crucially this is usually done in an inter-sectional way. Power to those people. But there are others (yes, often if not always blokes) still doing that in an awful, gimmicky, frankly pervy way. Like “check out these chicks with guitars, pfwoooarr”. As a woman, you have to be careful about which gigs you say yes to. I have been caught out in the past where the gig has seemed like a normal booking and then nearer the time, it has turned out to be something else. You have to be quite vigilant, which is really annoying when you just want to play. But there are lots of bills now that are just generally more representative. I like playing with a mix of bands that are similar to us musically and I like it even better if there is an intersectional representation of humans on that bill. Nobody likes to be tokenised.
Safe Gigs For Women are doing great things for audience safety and it’s essential that women and non-cis males who attend shows are not made to feel threatened or treated disrespectfully. These are slightly different but related issues. It’s all part of an ongoing fight and we also have to remember that this is not just a fight here in the UK but around the world. Feminism is worthless if it does not aim to make things fairer for all women all over the world. There is a long way to go.
You jokingly say that you are on world tour of Yorkshire this year, but you have scoped some amazing gig opportunities. You supported Desperate Journalist in March at The Deaf Institute and in May you will share the stage with The Wildhearts in Scarborough. You will also make an appearance at Dead Dead Good Weekend in Manchester and at Camden Rocks in London. What can be expected from your live shows?
Jim: A fucking good show. We throw everything we have into them. We have fun!
You have hinted on your social media that the coming months will be very busy for the band. What can we expect in the nearest future?
Kel: (laughing) More shows and more releases! Our next single, “He’s Very Good At Swimming” is coming out on June 28th accompanied by a video by Debbie Ellis/asupremeshot. It’s a song with an important subject: victim blaming, and the way the media (and arguably the justice system) foregrounds the academic and sporting achievements of the accused and picks apart every aspect of the victim’s life and lifestyle when writing about rape cases almost all the time.
Last question – you can steal one record made by a band that inspired you. Whose work is so good you’d claim it as your own?
Jim: For me it would be “The Holy Bible” by Manic Street Preachers
Kel: Yes, that and Fontaines DC – “Dogrel”
You can follow the band at their socials:
The Empty Page will be touring a lot this summer and we can expect a lot of dates to be added to their calendar. Outside for the Dead Dead Good Weekend in Northwich, the band is booked to play Leeds on the 18th of May at CHUNK and Camden Rocks Festival in London in June. Catch them for an unforgettable lesson in independent rock and rolling. With a huge dose of unspoiled, unfiltered fun.
See you soon!