THE WAR INSIDE MY HEAD: AN INTERVIEW WITH EMPRESS
The year of someone's lord 2020 hasn't been the best year in recorded memory, that much is sure. And yet the continued flow of incredible new music threatens to drown out even the nastiest of periods, and here's just one recent example. I first encountered Australian group Empress after their brilliant and brilliantly named label – Brilliant Emperor Records – released the first single a few weeks back. I was stunned, nay, flabbergasted. And to understand why one must recap my unyielding and unending love for such doomy, atmospheric, and somewhat gothic music a-la True Widow, Emma Ruth Rundle, and others. The former, True Widow, being in all honesty one of the most consistently important bands in my life for almost a decade now. Now, Empress are neither of these artists, they are, undoubtedly, masters of their own thing. I choose to conjure those names both as a kind of signpost for would-be listeners but really to express how rare it is to possess whatever it is that Empress, and very few bands possess and that is, in one very professional-sounding word: magic. The magic that is that elusive tension between a gothic, doomy heaviness and foreboding and an almost pop-like ear for melody, lightness, and emotion. One, I'm sure, is easier to accomplish, also the other, but the two combined, to craft music that feels dark and yet at the same time life-affirming and, ah, beautiful is a rare, rare feat.
And so I knew then and there I had to somehow make some kind of interview happen, preferably one in which I could poke at some of the musical influences that could be found behind all that wonderful drama. And so it was only natural that we'd want to include Empress in our The War Inside My Head series, the very existence of which is dedicated to doing just that: talking music with some of the most interesting contemporary artists. And thus we are thrilled to present our short interview with Empress vocalist/pianist Chloe Cox, found below.
Before we get to that this is just to say that you can check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade, Pillars of the 90s) and, you haven't already, please follow follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to our conversation with the lovely Chloe.
What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
I’m pretty sure it was All That You Can't Leave Behind by U2 in the year 2000 at Sanity in Tweed City. I was 11 years old and I remember waiting obsessively for the release date. I loved this album so much. U2 was my most favorite band and the first band I ever saw live – The POP tour in February 1998. It completely blew my mind.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
Madonna – The Immaculate Collection; U2 – Achtung Baby and Zooropa; ABBA – Gold ; AC/DC – Live. And also a lot of David Bowie, Billy Idol, INXS, The Clash, Guns N’ Roses, Eagles, The Divinyls, and all the good 80’s stuff that my parents loved. I’m grateful that music was always playing in our household, these albums definitely had a hand in shaping me.
What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?
The Cure – Disintegration. I fell in love with this album extremely late – only about five years ago really. To me, it is a pretty perfect album, apart from the songs being absolutely incredible, the production and mixing is amazing also. It would be such a dream to create an album like this. Performance wise, I have always been so in awe of a front person who can completely draw in an audience and transport them to a completely different realm of emotions through their performance.
I know these aren’t albums but here goes: Growing up my family had a video tape of the U2 ZOOTV concert live at Sydney. I probably watched it a million times – so much that I damaged it in certain spots that I’d rewind and watched over, I was just so obsessed with everything about it. I would dress up and pretend to be Bono (I made my sister be The Edge) and copy everything he did as I watched it over and over again. That performance was so important to me and truly made me want to sing and perform one day myself.
Getting older and obviously listening to a lot more music I was still just enthralled by performers who owned their space. AFI had a huge influence over me, the energy and emotion that goes into their live performances is incredible. When the I Heard A Voice: Live From Long Beach Arena DVD came out it was my last year of high school, they were my absolute favorite band and I had just seen AFI play live for the first time a few months before. Safe to say I watched that DVD a million times too.
A few years later Nick Cave came to my attention and to me he is the pinnacle of performers. He draws you in like a wild preacher and you just can’t break free. A huge influence to me in every performance and song writing aspect.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
Orville Peck – Pony. I didn’t know what to expect but It was love at first listen. I absolutely adore Orville. I got to see him play live right before the pandemic came along and put a pause on everything. Aside from the perfect visual aesthetics, Orville’s voice is absolutely flawless, his live performance was incredible. The man sure can sing and wear incredible outfits like it’s nobody’s business!
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator). The whole album is so lovely but the last track “I Dream a Highway” I could listen to on repeat forever. It is just such an achingly beautiful song. I could never get tired of listening to it.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II; INXS – Shabooh Shoobah; and LAWLESS – Movie Soundtrack. And a playlist of songs I like from the soundtrack of the show Yellowstone. I will always listen GN’R and INXS a lot, both are bands that I really love. I personally think that "November Rain" is one of the greatest songs ever written in all time and no one can tell me differently! INXS are one of my favorites. Shabooh Shoobah has some beautiful songs on it – “To Look at You”, “Soul Mistake” and “Don’t Change” are ones I’ll repeat.
My partner and I just finished binge watching the show Yellowstone – which I loved – and I made a playlist of songs I liked from it. I really enjoy a bit of country and western, especially if it’s a little on the Dark side which is why I listen to the Lawless soundtrack pretty damn often. The Soundtrack is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis so it goes without saying that I think it’s perfect, “Fire in the Blood/Snake Song” featuring Emmylou Harris is stunning.
What album is grossly underrated?
I never really know what is revered or underrated I just like what I like really. Some of my music preferences are quite questionable to my more in touch peers. I don’t know if I’d call it underrated but I’m not sure if I know too many people in my personal circle who knew much about Glassjaw or ever mentioned them at least. The album Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence is really great.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
I’m a little out of touch with what is going on scene wise but I’m going to be super biased here and list some other projects that Empress members are involved in. All very different! I’m really proud of the amazing things my friends create!
Blind Girls – Residue
SHACKLΣS – Hatreds Reservoir
Veople – EP_001
Nerve Damage – Discography
Velvet Flowers – Velvet Flowers
Sam Haven – Sanctuary