"It felt like we were a real band even though we had just gone out there without any idea of what we were doing" - Andy Leo
Crown The Empire have today released '07102010', a collection of acoustic versions of tracks from across their discography reimagined acoustically. Named after the date that the band played their first show, it's a celebration of the band's creativity and innovation that brings together their old and new influences and inspirations to create a brilliantly unique timestamp and a jumping off point for what the band may do next.
We jumped on the phone with vocalist Andy Leo to talk about the release, reflect on the past decade and discuss what the band has done for him over the years...
What do you remember about that first show which gives this release its title and how do you feel looking back on it now from where you are as a band now?
Says Andy Leo: "It feels like a lifetime ago but the initial feeling is still that of falling in love with performing. Our first show was around the end of my freshman year. I got my driver’s licence early because I got held back, I was a crazy kid, but that’s when I got my car. I was only able to drive to the school and back. Then I remember hearing about these kids at my school who were looking for a singer for their band. They were a little older but were into the same music as me and were trying to do it. I was begging my mum to please let me audition and she said ‘As long as there’s no screaming’. I was like 'Yeah sure no problem'.
"From there the guys said that their friend who does sound at the local church had hooked this new band up with a show. Memphis May Fire was playing, this was before they signed to Rise Records, and we were massive fans of them. With them living in our area as well they were the band we wanted to be like as well. It was a proper show as well, like 200/300 people there. That’s unheard of for people’s first time on stage really. So we wrote five songs and they were so bad but we knew what they were supposed to feel like.
"The show and the energy there was so good. People were excited to be there and we were so excited to perform. It felt like we were a real band even though we had just gone out there without any idea of what we were doing."
It’s pretty amazing when you realise that you’re jumping in at a point where this sound is about to absolutely blow up. A lot bands play their first show in front of the venue’s staff and no-one else. For you to get that real taste so early must have given you such a boost?
"Oh yeah, it was a delusional level of confidence. We all walked off stage like ‘Are we going to end everything we had planned to do this now?’ [Hayden] Tree wanted to be a hockey player. [Brent] Taddie was going into pre-med. But we all thought that if sheer luck and effort got us here now, then think what we could do if we all committed to this thing. It wasn’t going to work unless we all jumped in. We saw bands all the time say they are going to go to college instead and fizzle out. It seemed like anything was possible at that point though. It was magical."
It’s interesting to be reflecting on this side of the band from the place where you are now, both musically and aesthetically. How does it feeling looking that far back and also revisiting those songs for this release from the mind-sets you’re now in?
“In some ways you get so used to touring some songs that they lose the weight of what they felt like you were making them the first time round. It came pretty naturally really and revisiting them the way we actually recorded them, which was alone in a booth, and working on different deliveries despite knowing them so intimately. I would compare it to being in a sensory deprivation tank. Your mind tries to make sense of something when you try and deprive it of any other distractions. It will focus on a sound or a frequency or a pain. But sitting with yourself truly when you’re weightless and sitting there with just an emotion, it’s wild where your brain can take you. The depth you can feel with something that you didn’t even know was there.
“So I think it was a similar feeling sitting there and recording these songs again. Sitting there and thinking ‘Holy shit, who was I here? Where did this come from?’ It didn’t feel like ten years of looking back either though. I still feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing really and stumbling into everything that happens by accident.
“One of the conversations I had with my mum recently was her saying ‘You’re too hard on yourself. You want to do all these great things, but don’t discredit how far you’ve come up to this point’. The journey has not all been for nothing. To take into consideration that everything I have done is part of my life’s legacy. That’s where we’re at now.”
There’s also the factor that even at those early stages, Crown were pushing the boundaries, with both how theatrical and thunderous your sound was, in the confines of a genre not always known for its experimentation. Though you don’t realise just how much you’re trying because you’re in it. It’s only now when you look back you realise how far that sound has travelled and how many people it affected…
“Absolutely. I see how far the journey has taken us every day. I walked into a weed shop down the street from me and when I gave the woman in there my name she said ‘Do you know this song?’ and started singing ‘Wake Me Up’ which is from an acoustic video we did in 2011. Even when I was at LA parties and someone walked up to me and said ‘Hey man, you’re in Crown aren’t you?’ and I said ‘Yeah man, who are you?’ and he said ‘Oh I’m Marshmello.’ Like shit. You don’t realise that we all came from that same bubble. At one time or another these people who are now superstars or living certain lives could have passed through and seen one of our shows. You just never know.
“You can lose perspective on things when you’re in it. Though there are people who are growing up through your music with you. They than can go off and do their own things and become massively successful.”
With these new acoustic versions, you have done them in a way that only Crown could. Despite the fact some of them sound unrecognisable from their original versions, it’s a credit to you as songwriters that despite a change in tone or atmosphere they still hold up as good strong songs…
“When you have these screaming parts that were surrounded by heavy and intense music that you have to now deliver completely differently, I think that we have a good leaping off point with our choruses. When we moved out to LA and started working with Drew Fulk, one of the things he said was if you can play a song through on an acoustic guitar without any of the embellishments then it’s a good song. It’s not depending on the bells and whistles or any other elements. The skeleton and soul of the song still exists. With a lot of Crown’s songs, that’s something we have always pushed for. Having that leaping point meant that we could build out from there and how something should be delivered in this version.
“It’s been fun playing around with these sounds. I already knew the initial feeling but it was about colouring it in shades that we normally wouldn’t use. It was that fun part of making music again.”
Where does ‘Everything Breaks’, as a new song of sorts, fit into this release then?
“‘Everything Breaks’ came about in the forming phase of ‘Sudden Sky’. We were dealing with what the idea of the record would be. The self-realisation and the moulding of the two sides of our personality and feeling that I was only able to channel it in one certain way. There’s a romanticism that I have with life where the bubble has to get burst at some point and have to realise it’s not all rainbows and butterflies anymore. So having to come to that realisation and it be a standalone idea, it wouldn’t have really made sense on the record. It serves as a joining of ideas.
There are elements of old Crown and moments that are where out sound could potentially be going later. There’s a sense of longing and ache in this song that we didn’t know how to express yet. It’s such a miserable song that it shouldn’t be the first thing we put out for this new era, so let’s put it to one side and if it works at some point then it works.
“I love the song so much, so that’s why we’ve put it on this release for the fans. It’s too cool for people not to hear it.”
On ‘Sudden Sky’, how do you feel reflecting on that record and that universe you created a year down the line?
“I think a lot of the same ideas have taken on new meanings and could be opened up into so many more stories and avenues that people can relate to now. We haven’t had any fear in completely tearing down what we’ve built and rebuilding it again before, but this is probably the first time that I would want to continue a story and possibly do a Part Two. There are so many things still for us to explore here and such a deep pool that I would like to explore or approach with a different perspective.
It feels like ‘Sudden Sky’ was the forming of this idea, and it was the best that I’ve ever felt about a record, but now I know what the potential is and what it can be moving forward. I’ve been playing around with things and we have bits written and done that feel innovative and fresh. It’s not that often this early in demoing that you feel like you catch something special. If ‘Sudden Sky’ was this idea’s infancy, I want this next record to be that idea all grown up and maxed out to 100% of what it can be.”
A lot of that comes from confidence. In the way the band started so fast with the universe you created with ‘The Fallout’ and ‘The Resistance’ where you wanted to throw everything you have to create this grand vision. Though over time as you mature, you want to keep that same feeling but now know how to control it better…
“It comes from having to push and put yourself through these uncomfortable moments where you may have failed in front of everybody that you looked up to. You’re afraid of that for so long, but then you realise there are people out there who want to help you to fill in those gaps that you need to get this idea completely together. You can’t fake those moments.”
Finally, and as clichéd as it is, if you could say one thing to the version of yourself that wass about to play that first show ten years as the person you are now, what would it be?
“There are two things. First, I would say to let myself enjoy those moments. Fully lose yourself in them and soak them in and don’t feel like you have to be doing something more efficiently or better within them. Take those moments and enjoy them to the fullest.
Secondly, focus on the things that you know you need to do better. I would put a lot of weight on myself to do too much at once and I would be too afraid to rely on everybody else who was actually working towards the same goal as me. You don’t want to admit things because you want to do what’s best for the group. Sometimes it’s better to admit those things to yourself and ask for help.
So I would say to focus on the things that you know you do best and make that your sword and shield. It will take you further than worrying about the things that you don’t know.”