It's true: A picture does paint a thousand words, even if the artist uses sound—rather than pigment and pencil—to create that image. For the Dallas-based outfit Crown The Empire, that means making music on a level rarely seen nowadays, combining visual aesthetics, theatrical sonic textures and thought-provoking lyrics for an audio experience that takes the listener on a wild ride of epic proportions. And they're just getting started.
Armed with The Fallout, the band's recent full-length debut, Crown The Empire are bringing a high-energy, visually stimulating and thematically engaging side to post-hardcore, that's already created a massive buzz for the still-embryonic outfit. Set amid a charred post-apocalyptic landscape, listening to The Fallout is an unforgettable excursion into the imaginations of its makers.
"We wanted this music to constantly make you feel what we were feeling and what we were writing about, whether it's the softer or heavier songs," explains Andy Leo, "We were trying to make it the sound of what you should be feeling; if you were watching a movie, this would be the score."
Crown The Empire—which includes vocalists Andy Leo and David Escamilla, guitarists Brandon Hoover and Bennett Vogelman, drummer Brent Taddie and bassist Hayden Tree—formed in Dallas, Tex. in 2011, after Leo connected with Hoover and Tree, with the goal of starting a new project. Taddie and Vogelman—both discovered through videos of them playing covers on YouTube—joined later that year, and those early efforts led to the November 2011 EP Limitless. Then in March 2012 second vocalist Escamilla was added to the fold, solidifying the lineup as it currently exists, giving birth to the band's full-length debut, The Fallout, released November 2012. Over the past two years the band has toured both nationally and abroad, with slots on the recent Our Last Night run, the 2013 Take Action tour with The Used, select dates with Falling In Reverse, and a U.K. run with Pierce the Veil. Crown The Empire were also recently featured on the cover of Alternative Press' annual "Bands You Need To Know" issue.
Sequestered in Michigan with famed producer Joey Sturgis (The Devil Wears Prada, We Came As Romans, Miss May I), the band spent August and September of 2012 laying down the intricate compositions that comprise The Fallout, recording well through the night on most evenings. A painstaking process by all accounts, Leo says he spent six weeks living in Sturgis' basement, subsisting on ramen noodles and microwave meals, but couldn't be happier with the results. Sturgis is known for both his sparkling sonic touch, as well as his knack for adding cinematic elements to the music, and both qualities help make The Fallout shine.
"Joey didn't change much song structure-wise; he mainly made it sound good," explains Leo. "We have a more defined approach of what we want an album to sound like, and Joey is the perfect producer for that. We wanted all this real sound, and he captured that."
"What would be left behind at the end of the world? Metal, gears...The bass booms on the record have explosions in them, and glass breaking, and gears turning over, sounding like a broken-down industrial park," says drummer Brent Taddie, regarding the album's end-of-world vibe. "There would be power grids, wires, steel left behind. All those explosions, the heavy parts, the aggressive vocals are breaking down the end of the world. The strings, the clean vocals are kind of the harmony coming through, but the guitar, the kick drum, the explosions—that's supposed to be the destruction...the end of the world."
The dark and cinematic soundscape that pervades The Fallout reflects the album's post-apocalyptic theme, which actually began as a metaphor for a failed relationship. Leo says the idea came about after a member had broken up with a girlfriend, later realizing the full impact of his decision. Using some poetic license, the split was transformed into a global doomsday-inducing event.
"Her friends kept saying, 'You ended her world,'" Leo remembers. "I was sitting around with a Brandon, telling him about it, and we decided, what if it did actually end the world with that breakup? From there, we started building this idea of the end of the world, and built a setting for it around this theme of being alone and faced against people. It all spawned out of a breakup, but it turned into this huge, massive world."
Perhaps no track on The Fallout conveys this central them more than "Memories Of A Broken Heart." Although one of the softer moments on the album, Leo says the lyrics are especially impactful in the record's overall context. "That song has the perfect syllogism for the end of the world and the breakup. It talks about both," says Leo. "I was outside and thought of the idea for the lyric 'I stand on the ash of all I've ever loved.' I was so stoked, because we'd already come up with the idea for the end of the world being a breakup. That line was about the ashes of a building, or the ashes of relationships."
To date the band has released two music videos to accompany the The Fallout's release: a two-part series for the tracks "Oh Catastrophe" and the title track. The visual story arc in the two videos conveys a tale of star-crossed lovers separated by differences in ideology, rather than being united by love.
"We came up with this idea of a weird Romeo and Juliet thing, with people not making the tough choices and arguing over things like religion, and all these things that at the end of the world wouldn't matter. Somebody's gonna be wrong," says Leo. "I was thinking of how stubborn someone could be to see the end of the world not ending the way their book said it would, and still trying to argue. In the video, there's this idea that love—this couple—could disband the army that was trying to keep them apart. They couldn't see the love that was in front of them."
With The Fallout still fresh, Crown The Empire have an extensive tour itinerary planned for the coming months, with a headlining run booked for spring and a slot on the Rise Records Tour (alongside labelmates Like Moths To Flames), then a full slate of dates on this summer's Vans Warped Tour. Leo says as the group continue to build momentum, they plan on making their live shows progressively more elaborate and cinematic, further bringing Crown The Empire's evocative brand of music to life.
"We're constantly talking about new backdrops, new cabinets, new gear...how we can sound better. Eventually we want to be talking about what kind of rigs can we build on stage, what kind of lighting can we bring, what sort of pyrotechnics. That's a huge part we love, that a lot of the bands have lost out on: the idea of a big festival for your eyes and not just your ears," says Leo. "I think the shows will take a whole new level in the future. They're always going to just get bigger."