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Empirion have just done the very thing many influential electronic bands which had their biggest successes in the 80s and 90s shy away from: producing and releasing a new album. An advantage of the duo Oz Morsley and Jamie Smart from Essex, UK, has always been the fact that even as they released their first album Advanced Technology, they were operating out-of-line already. Neither fish (EBM), nor fowl (Techno) – an edgy, well-bred hybrid in a nearly unoccupied niche. How much space this niche provides even 23 years later and how liberating it is to not having to live up to expectations of narrow-minded listeners, is demonstrated by Empirion and their brand new banger Resume now.

What happened after the release of your first album Advanced Technology? Two more singles were released, and that was it. Why haven’t you continued?
Oz: Obviously, when Bobby became ill it was a turning point for us all [Bob Glennie died of a brain tumour in 2005 – editor]. Myself and Jamie kept Empirion going, gigging and so on but it was hard to adjust and carry on without him. The dynamics of the band had changed and it just came to an end.

In the 90s, many people only knew you because of your remix for The Prodigy’s Firestarter and most likely have never listened to one of your own songs. Was that annoying or did pride of this remix – which was played everywhere – outweigh that?
Jamie: Yeah, of course, we were really proud of the Firestarter remix and it obviously made a mark with so many people, Prodigy fans embraced it and the darker electronic scene also embraced it. It was never a problem that some people found Empirion via that remix, it should never be a problem because from our point of view that’s one reason why we do remixes. But there was life before that remix, we had our hardcore followers who were into us from the very beginning.

2010/2011 you reunited for a few gigs, more didn’t come out from that, at least no new release. Haven’t you planned a new release at that point of time? How did things progress from there?
O.: We didn’t have any expectations. We got asked to play at a Megadog party – Megadog were promoters and party organisers from back in the day – then we got asked to play another show, and another. We had no plans to release anything at that point, I was still working on KLOQ, so my time was tight anyway but as we got more bookings and gigs, we both thought it was time for us to perhaps write some new material. We ended up writing two or three tracks and using them in the live set, these went down well and so we thought to ourselves we should at least try and get an EP released. More tracks were written, the EP then turned into an album over a period of time.

Oz, what will happen to KLOQ? Can you imagine resuming these activities again? And why did you change the musical direction you defined with Move Forward with your second album, Begin Again, that drastically?
O.: I very much doubt KLOQ will ever happen again. After the first album came out, my original singer left because for personal reasons and this was the start of things changing, we also had a management change so everything was different. I’d started writing new material that was more ‘song’ sounding as opposed to ‘tracks’ and when we did find a new singer it made the KLOQ sound even more commercial. It’s a shame but in the long run I had some good times and am proud of some of the material.

Meanwhile, the electronic music scene has changed. Oz has been keeping up with the scene over the years and was quite successful with KLOQ. How was it for you, Jamie? Have you been active, too, and been tracking the evolution of the scene?
J.: Yeah, I did a few tracks with longtime friend and producer Pete Crossman, they were quite dark progressive electro tracks. I’ve kept an eye on the darker scene also, I hear things I like and also a lot that I don’t like but, to be honest, I don’t get too far into any scene. Neither of us does, we like to keep on the outside a bit more which is cool. Once you go too far in any scene you can get influenced by it and that may sometimes make you start writing music purely for that scene.

"I don’t get too far into any scene. Neither of us does, we like to keep on the outside a bit more." Jamie Smart

Was it difficult to find the common musical denominators after such a long time or was it clear from the outset where your journey would go to?
J.: It wasn’t massively clear, no. We had to adjust and think about what Empirion really was in today’s world, how it related to different scenes and where to take the music. At the same time, we’ve always had the ability to just do what comes naturally and follow our hearts and not worry too much about what people think of it.

It seems as if you intended to put elements of the 90s (Trance, Big Beat, Techno, EBM) into a modern context on Resume, to unite them with present and future. Was that you aim?
J.: In a way yes, we’ve always tried to stay true to our musical roots. We both come from similar musical roots and have found elements that stick with us, for instance the early EBM sound was attractive to us because of the hard edged electronic sounds, baselines, synth lines and vocals, along with our love of the rave and dance culture with big defined beats, breakbeats and synth riffs. We feel that all our music is a big melting pot of these influences.

Even though the individual tracks of the new album are quite different, Resume as a whole is very homogenous. How did you do that?
O.: As mentioned, we have love for certain elements within different musical styles. The riffs and sequences we make will always sound together from track to track. We’ve used a lot of the same effects, plugins and synth sounds to craft the album purposely so that each track has a connection to the next. It’s important for us to have the album sounding like it’s made from the same tone.

"It’s important for us to have the album sounding like it’s made from the same tone." Oz Morsley

Have you had your old equipment at hand or have you had to equip the studio completely new?
O.: All new. It’s all ‘in the box’ these days. We’ve found a lot of old DAT material that came in handy and created some external analogue noises but essentially it’s all digital. We still try and get the best out of our equipment and know what makes the Empirion sound. We feel that we’ve earned our spurs with analogue to be honest, we used to take out our whole studio for gigs back in the day so we know what using analogue means – and we don’t mind an easier life nowadays.

How did you proceed with the production?
O.: The expectation of writing an album that we have to live up to was crazy. The whole point of coming back with new material was to satisfy ourselves at the end of the day and to keep the Empirion name going. We also realise that people who love the band would expect nothing more that 100% and would be comparing it to our past work. Trying to get all the elements right is a big responsibility and was a little bit stressful, but when we relaxed and just did what we felt was right, it all started to come together. We still feel that we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we are capable of doing, each time we write a new track or do a new remix we reflect on it and try to make the next thing even better.

Do you have a wish in regard to the reception of your album, or perhaps even the wish to reanimate certain niches within the electronic music scene which drifted out of focus and didn’t address a broader audience in recent years?
J.: We just want people to like the music for what it is and try not to analyse it too much. Obviously we want to get Empirion back on the map and have people enjoy our material, we’re not trying to get under the skin of purists or piss people off but they’ll always be a few that don’t buy into it and that’s fine with us.

What are your plans for the coming months?
O.: We have some gigs and festivals over the next months so we’re looking forward to those. And we have some more material and remixes coming out towards the end of the year so we’re getting things ready for that release too. There’ll be a brand new track on the release, in fact, we only finished it a couple of weeks ago. And we need to keep pushing on and write whenever can, to get another album together. Hopefully this time it won’t take us 23 years!

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Interview: Jörn Karstedt

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