Empathy Test: "We are very much a band of the now."

Verfasst von Pamela am 20/11/18

Fotos von Dani Vorndran (black-cat-net.de)

Your show in Munich marks the end of your second German headline tour. You've played an extraordinary location: The Zeiss Planetarium in Jena. How did that come about?

Isaac: It was the idea of a guy called Stefan. He is the technical director of the Planetarium. When we played at „Plage Noire“ earlier in the year there was a friend of his at the show. After our performance he gave us a card and said: Please play in our Planetarium. So it became part of our tour. Stefan produced 360 degree visuals using our artwork. It was an amazing show. People travelled from a long way to come specifically to this show because it was a one-off. The show in Jena was definitely a stand-out moment. To see our artwork projected on an area that seems as big as a house was amazing.


Today is the last day of the tour. How do you feel?

Isaac: Good. It is a relief, because it’s hard work. People often think it’s just fun and partying. But you don’t get much sleep. Every day: unload the van, setup, soundcheck. We’ve also been doing shows at the weekends. We’ve been flying in and out of Germany. That’s tiring as well. But it has been a very successful tour for us. Second headline tour of Germany and we’ve doubled the amount of audience. 


Is there a difference between English & German crowds?

Isaac: Definitely! German crowds are slightly more polite than English crowds. Which is surprising (laughs). In England they talk all the time. It’s like: What they’ve got to say is more important than the band they’ve paid 20 pounds to come and see. It’s a bit of a strange mentality, particularly in London. It’s quite a surprise when you come to Germany that there is silence. But than at the same time sometimes they are not noisy when they should be noisy. The first time that we’ve played in Germany was very strange. They weren’t playing music before we came on. We didn’t have an introduction music at that time. We walked out on the stage in complete silence. Everyone wearing black. Everyone looking at us. It was quite nerve wrecking. It varies between cities as well how the audience are. Some places are really quiet and you think: they are not enjoying this. And then at the end they buy lots and lots of T-Shirts and CDs. And you go: Ah! They must have liked us.


I’ve read in an interview that you’ve listened to Britpop when you grew up. Can you remember where you heard Oasis for the first time?

Isaac: I think I was on the school bus. Though this probably gives away my being slightly older than people think. I was in a pram (laughs). The first song I heard was “Live forever”. And that really impressed me, I particularly liked the falsetto in the chorus (sings) “You and I are gonna live forever”. It was amazing. It was Oasis who made me perhaps not wanted to form a band, but showed me the possibility. ‘Cause these were just some guys playing three, four chords. The whole Britpop Scene had that. It gave people that idea that they can start a band. I quickly grew tired of Oasis. Because after the first two albums I really felt that they were doing the same thing over and over. Whereas Blur were more innovative. At the same time Blur opened the door to a lot of middle class musicians.


And Pulp opened up the door to a lot of intellectual musicians.

Isaac: Yeah. And Radiohead, of course. Adam, the guy that I make the music with, he is a big fan of Radiohead. And you can probably hear influences in our music.


Last year you released not just one album, but two albums at once. "Losing Touch" and "Safe from Harm". How come?

Isaac: "Losing Touch" is the album we should have released in 2015. But we didn’t feel we had a big enough audience yet to release an album. When we were finally ready to release an album we had two albums worth of material. Adams skills as a producer had come a long way since releasing our first music. Rather than choosing which songs should go on the album and which ones should be forgotten we decided to remaster everything and bring it up to the same standards. So we could start after those two albums with a clean slate.


"Losing Touch" and "Safe from Harm" are like twins - they seem to be the same but they both have their own personality. "Losing Touch" is kind of easier to listen.

Isaac: When we first started the band we were inspired by the Drive soundtrack. We had tried to make music together for a long time. Adam was pretty much into or had learned to produce dance music. We were always trying to combine guitar with electronic beats and it never really worked. We were never happy with what we did. We had a previous incarnation of Empathy Test. We made something like seven or eight tracks and than destroyed them all. (laughs) We did one show and than decided that we didn’t like any of it. We’ve done lots of the songs again in Empathy Test in a new style. When we heard the Drive soundtrack and synthesizers and these very simple tracks with emotional vocals, we’ve realized that this was the key to the puzzle of how to work together. We dropped guitars and replaced them with synthesizers. Suddenly it was like: this works. My songs can end up sounding a bit sweet and saccharine if done acoustically or in a certain way. Something about the analogue synth sound just immediately creates a vibe of mystery and darkness. And so everything then is balanced. "Losing Touch" was based on an old song of mine. I wrote a new chorus for it (sings) “Feeling alone” because it needed something else. And once we’ve done it we played it to our friends. They said: “This is it. You’ve got something here.” It’s still our biggest track.


"Safe from Harm" has a kind of edge to it. It's also there in your latest two tracks "Holy Rivers" and "Incubation Song".

Isaac: Our first album is more straightforward. As we went on we slowly introduced more and more of breaking our own rules. In the beginning the vocals had to be flat in the verse and in the chorus just go up an octave. No falsetto, no gymnastics like you hear on Incubation Song and Holy Rivers. If we had done what we were aiming to do in the beginning, which was be a Synth-Wave act, then we would already be stale and still sticking to the rules of the scene. We quickly realised that we weren’t meant to make that music.


I sense a kind of dualism in your oeuvre. Not only in your music and lyrics, but also in the album art.

Isaac: On the first album the lady on the cover is looking into the past. On the second album she’s looking forward into the future. The first album is very much a collection of break up songs. And so is the second as well. But there is much more.


There is always a female involved. And she often is the reason for melancholy.

Isaac: She is also a muse.


And a mother as well. The female figure appears to be representing an idea.

Isaac: Just recently a fan asked why there is always a woman in the artwork. When you listen to the songs and what has inspired the songs it makes perfect sense. The lyrics of Incubation Song are very deep, specifically dealing with a female muse, female creativity. At lot of times the songs appear on the surface to be a straightforward love song or break up song, but actually that’s just a disguise. There’s a different story going on just beneath the surface. Vampire Song is one of these. Seeing Stars as well.


How do you write your songs?

Isaac: A line of lyrics might come into my head, I’ll make a note of it. I write while playing the guitar. When I was a teenager and I first started writing songs it was a form of escapism. A kind of cathartic process of getting thinks off my chest. And that’s always how it's been. I can’t really decide to write a song about something. It’s always whatever I’m dealing with at that time. So I pick up the guitar and play some chords and sing what comes into my head and then gradually flash it out. Each time I play it again I come up with another line or two until it is complete.


Which is the favourite one of your two first albums?

Isaac: As an artist you like to think that your latest piece is the best thing you've done. Otherwise why would you release it. I would say that the second album "Safe from Harm" is a lot more accomplished than the first one. We refer to them as the first album being a child and the second album being a teenager. And the third album will be the adult.


And the fourth album will be the grandparent album?

Isaac: You hope to release a few adult albums before the grandparent album (laughs). The second one has a lot more breath in terms of both instrumentation and variation in sounds and the kind of songs as well. So we took it really soft with tracks like "Trampolin", really minimal. "All it Takes" as well. The drums in that are created by Adam tapping on a microphone stand. It was supposed to be a stand-in but he liked the sound of it. So he left in. So the drums are just tapping. Whereas the songs on the first album are very simple constructions.


Talking about dualisms - what about Adam & Isaac?

Isaac: We are very different people. I am a performer, my songs are kind of a vehicle for me to be able to perform. Adam is a technician but also very creative as well. He is more about creating great art. I want to create art, too. But I want to go on stage and jump around. And I am very impatient. I am the one who is pushing things forward constantly. We’re both ambitious but in different ways. He is a perfectionist. We’re always pushing and pulling. But maybe it’s that dualism that ensures that what we do is special. Because if we would both be pushing forward, if it was all about getting things done and getting it out there, then there would be more quantity but less quality. 


When I was doing my research on Empathy Test, I had to think of the Bob Dylan song "The Times are a-changing". You don’t have a record label, you produce your albums on your own, you finance your tour yourself. This is completely different to how it has been done in the past.

Isaac: We are very much a band of the now in terms of how we are doing everything. Record Labels are unnecessary now. You can sell your music yourself. We haven’t signed any contracts. It’s hard work. We have to do everything ourselves. We write and produce everything ourselves. Adam does the artwork. I get all the merch made. All we need is just something to thrust us into the next level. Everything is there. We just need to be discovered by more people. We are lucky enough to have a very good and trustworthy booking agent, who has other bands who are on a higher level than us, DeVision and Mesh for example. And also we have been lucky enough to catch the attention of Ronan from VNV Nation and Daniel Myer. Lot’s of people with influence in this scene who have helped us to climb the ladder quicker than we would have been able without their help.


Im Februar 2019 kommen Empathy Test zusammen mit Covenant wieder nach Deutschland. Insgesamt spielen sie zehn Shows.


Tourdaten findet ihr auf www.empathytest.com.


Und natürlich werden wir von CWLM euch auf dem Laufenden halten.