Every show Empires has played in Cincinnati, it has been memorable. The Chicago quintet’s Queen City debut was at 2010’s MidPoint festival, which guitarist Tom Conrad recalls thusly: “I remember everyone being extremely wasted and playing really late, and walking away thinking, ‘I don’t know what this was but I’d love to come back.’”
The band’s subsequent MOTR Pub gig to promote its 2012 sophomore full-length, Garage Hymns, found them hanging around until 4 a.m., because a nearby shooting made their tour van an active crime scene.
Hopefully, the only drama during Empires’ return will be on MOTR’s stage as they premiere the material comprising their third album, Orphan, the band’s Chop Shop/Island Records debut tentatively slated for late spring/early summer release. Conrad notes the first song leaked from the set, the bristling Indie Rock anthem “How Good Does It Feel,” does not necessarily reflect the album as a whole.
“Honestly, the reason we put that out first is because it’s the closest to anything we’ve done in the past,” Conrad says. “It’s more of the transition to where it’s going and one of the more upbeat songs on the record. To me, it’s the most like what we’ve done and it somehow fits on this record.”
Since their 2006 formation, Empires has maintained their original lineup and released Howl (2008) and Garage Hymns (2012), as well as the Bang EP (2010), all sporting a dark, edgy vibe suggesting elements of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The National, Catherine Wheel and Modest Mouse. Conrad describes the upcoming John Congleton-produced Orphan as “more textural, more sonic atmosphere, more diverse and just a lot more colors in the songs. We spent a lot of time demoing these songs out, so I feel it’s the first time in our career we slowed it down a little bit.”
Tours this far in advance of new albums typically feature brief glimpses of fresh material, but Empires — which was among the final 16 artists for Rolling Stone’s 2011 “Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?” cover contest — have proven to be anything but typical. After the longest break of their nearly eight-year history, the band plans on devoting almost their entire set to songs from Orphan.
“People come back to us and go, ‘What the fuck are you guys doing?’” Conrad says. “That’s what we’re excited about. We’ll definitely play some older material, but we’ll try to make it as new-songs heavy as possible. That’s what makes it the most exciting. These songs, we haven’t even played them live. It’s a whole new chapter for us.”
EMPIRES plays a free show Sunday, March 2, at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub. Click here for more info .