Empty Joy. If you follow the Sleeping Village over on Instagram, you may be aware that they are my favorite band to pester. After premiering the lead single from their forthcoming debut, I've been sittin' on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear more from this Floridian harsh-noise-ambient-blackened-hardcore (?) project. Rather than waiting any longer, I decided it was high time to get that inside scoop. And so, needless to say, this inksplattered scribe was quite honored that two thirds of the band--Child of Wither (Drums, Guitars, Vocals) and Ancient Hand (Synth, Vocals, Artwork)--were willing to sit down and provide such in-depth answers to prying questions.
Read on! And when you've completed this opus, head over to Empty Joy's bandcamp.
Sleeping Village: Right out of the gate: describe Empty Joy!
Child of Wither: Empty Joy to me is a vehicle to explore our many different ideas, sounds, and feelings. Empty Joy allows us to experiment and create music that we love and hope everyone else finds something in as well.
Ancient Hand: Objectively, Empty Joy is (NOW) a trio (!!!) that makes music. Personally, Empty Joy is an introspective project that seeks to find some form of auditory equivalent to the crazy ranges of emotions that people experience when they’re going through a time of struggle. We mainly do this through the balance of contrasting sounds and overarching themes.
SV: What are the challenges of writing music as a unit, versus creating as a solo artist?
AH: The biggest challenge for me is being confident enough in the ideas I bring to the group. With my solo stuff, I’ve learned that if it’s good enough for me, then it makes the cut. I very rarely seek outside opinions on Ancient Hand material now. For Empty Joy, though, it’s not just my project, so I sometimes worry about bringing ideas or material forward if I think they’re not good enough. In terms of our dynamics, this is the best project I could ask to be a part of. We’re all open-minded; most ideas make the cut, but the way those ideas are incorporated are the main discussion points when we’re working on a song.
CW: Well I’ve never been in a solo project like Ancient Hand, but my brother and I have another band (Veins of Mosquito) that has a totally different feel to it than Empty Joy. I’ve always loved the companionship of working in a group, as there are many different perspectives that you can draw from. I might add something to a particular track that I see a certain way, then Ancient Hand or Rusty Vagabond pulls something totally different out of it and adds a piece of music or a lyric that totally enhances it in a way I never would have thought of, or would have even existed if it was a solo project. It’s important to have that back and forth between members to keep a track moving and evolving.
SV: Musically speaking, does your end product end up sounding anything like your inspirations, or is Empty Joy the result of a mass confluence of differing and divergent influences? Or is it a little of both?
CW: I feel all projects are a sum of the influences and experiences of its creators, but still maintain a large piece of originality that can’t be found elsewhere. That is the beauty of being individuals, not everything will sound alike and Empty Joy is pushed out even further into the weirdness realm because of all the experimenting and differing views of the three members.
AH: I find it so interesting when I go in to write music because in my head it will sound exactly like my influences, but somewhere along the way, it becomes its own beast. I always try to see where that ends up happening, and it’s always different. I think we naturally put our own spin on things, but it all begins from a place of similar influences for us.
SV: Is “Drowned,” the one single currently available, a good example of what we can expect from Empty Joy’s forthcoming full length? From an outsider’s perspective, it covers a lot of ground in the genre department, while still maintaining an unsettling cohesion.
CW: “Drowned” is a good example of the blending of genres and ideas that I feel is critically important in a band. Why would anyone want to listen to the same things over and over, while never branching out and experiencing something new? Hopefully with the full-length listeners will get to experience some sounds or feelings that they wouldn’t necessarily look for on their own. It keeps things exciting when you never know what you’re going to hear next.
AH: “Drowned” is definitely a good look into what we’re planning on doing. There are obviously other sounds experimented with on the record, and some songs are less experimental in terms of the number of genres they pull from, but the overall sound of the album is clearly indicated by “Drowned.”
SV: On Instagram, your profile primarily features bright photos of the natural world, from the flowers in the profile picture to the various landscapes. Your artist bio highlights this juxtaposition as well. What role do these images--which stand in apparent stark contrast to Empty Joy’s apparent sonic qualities--play in the band’s overall aesthetic?
AH: Thank you so much for taking the time to notice this! The images are primarily just a visual representation of my approach to the music of Empty Joy-- present something dark and melancholy with an air of beauty. I also love the mystery surrounding the project. I think that anonymity is fun in musical outfits; however, it can be difficult to connect with an artist that only exists as some faceless instrumentalist/ vocalist, but I think a slight remedy to that is a showcasing of shared interests and passions. For me, nature is one of my biggest passions and sources of enjoyment, and I think that’s something most people can relate to. Having at least one connection outside of music strengthens that bond between musician and listener. Also, I think a social media account that is easy on the eyes is certainly not a bad thing.
SV: As a followup to the last, how do you feel about Sunbather’s album cover as a champion of the harsh-music-but-pretty-imagery approach?
AH: I think there are few albums that do as pristine a job as Sunbather when it comes to blending beauty with harshness. I think that the mentality of our music is clearly inspired by that album, but the music is a very different entity. Whereas Sunbather has a very triumphant sound to it, Empty Joy seems to exist in a much harsher and depressive state. However, as a point of inspiration, Sunbather is definitely number one for me. Funny enough, however, I believe I am the only member of Empty Joy to have fully listened to that record.
SV: The enjoyment of harsh and otherwise extreme music often involves a period of acclimation. Do you believe that music (and art in general) should strive to challenge its audience? Similarly, is appreciation born from that process of acclimation?
AH: I think you put it best: I believe more appreciation can be born out of the acclimation process with harsher-sounding records, but overall, no; I don’t believe that music and art in general has to challenge audiences. I was a firm believer in this probably a year ago, but over the last 12 months or so, I have found more and more value in pop music. The lack of challenge and simple, fun nature of such music is a simple release from so many of the world’s problems. While I do feel that not all music should challenge audiences, I believe the best art challenges audiences.
CW: Music and art should always try to challenge its audience. When you have a song or an album or a piece of art, yeah you want the audience to dig it, but you also want it to teach them something, have them experience something, stir up something in them that they haven’t felt before. I don’t see music as something to just pass by while you’re looking out the window. I believe it to be something that gives your audience an escape from their everyday lives, where it is safe for them to think about the world around them, or see it from someone else’s perspective. I also feel that when a track or album is way out there it does take some time to fully embrace or realize what it is trying to do. Some of my favorite albums have taken me many times running through them to fully appreciate what they were trying to tell me.
SV: For you, is Empty Joy a cathartic outlet for emotion? If so, do you hope that your audience uses it similarly?
AH: To put it simply, yes and yes. Empty Joy, as a musical project, serves, for me, to give an auditory counterpart to the wild changes in emotions that we experience on a regular basis: the beauty in seeing the tiny things around us and the gut-wrenching nature of losing what seems like everything.
Our debut album, specifically, I feel serves as a companion along that crazy and awkward journey where you come to the realization that you are not okay. There is so much joy, elation, and empowerment in finally being able to acknowledge that you are not yourself and it is okay to ask for help, but just a couple steps into that journey, and it often feels like the world is crumbling around you because you’re just not good enough. I’ve been on that journey more than once in my life, and it is one of the strangest I’ve encountered. It’s a true day-to-day process where you just have to pick the battles worth fighting and feel comfortable with patting yourself on the back for winning any of them or for even just attempting to win. Our album has a loose concept surrounding this journey; I would say it starts on the delusion side of the journey where you’re looking for anywhere other than yourself for the issue, and it ends on the more positive side of it where there’s realizations and acceptance. I hope people can find something cathartic along the way.
CW: Yes to a certain degree. There are some songs that you really just put your all into. You break drum sticks because you’re playing so hard, or you blow your voice out yelling because you’re so into the feeling you’re trying to convey. But you’re not going to get that with every track, some are just to build a subtle feeling, some are for thinking about things in your life, and then you have the emotional outbursts that you hope will be conveyed to your audience. In the end it is all a ride and you hope your audience comes along with you.
SV: To what extent is your songwriting impacted by your current station in life as young adults forging a path in a world that--frankly--only becomes more depressingly harmful by the day?
CW: I can only speak for myself and not the other two, but you get the purest songs when you write about you or your situation. It sounds cliché, but writing what you know really is best. We have so many ways of sensing the world now, and all of those experiences come out into the music.
AH: Sadly, I am only able to write from a somewhat selfish perspective right now. I find it difficult to write songs about other people’s struggles and do them justice. Some bands, namely Silent Planet, are incredible at that, and I’d consider working my way up to the point of being comfortable writing about other people’s struggles. However, I think that the depressing and harmful sides of our world certainly impact our music, and I think that our music is so focused on the emotion brought about by those sides of the world that many people can relate to Empty Joy. While I have a very personal connection to the record and each song is about something that I can relate to my life, the lyrics are vague enough (for the most part) that I think it is easy for anyone struggling with anything to connect to. Those kinds of albums are usually my favorite-- where there is a clear narrative structure, but the details are yours to fill in. I hope that not just young adults can connect to the narrative we’re outlining on this album; so much of the world is in disarray, and I think that finding common ground is vital at this time. Our common ground is noting and discussing the crazy mental gymnastics our minds do when we’re struggling.
SV: Because I know she is an idol, at least to Ancient Hand: what speaks to you about Avril Lavigne’s seminal Let Go?
AH: What doesn’t? That album is a perfect blend of so many different musical stylings and genres. From the pop-punk rager of “Sk8er Boy,” to the summer passenger vibes of “Complicated,” the country homesickness of “Mobile,” and “Unwanted”’s damn near metal guitar riffage, Let Go stands as one of my generation’s cultural milestones. It’s an album that got plenty of attention-- yet far less than it deserved. I don’t want to delve too far into my musical pretentiousness, but what about that album doesn’t speak to you? I’ll end my miniature Avril Lavigne rant by saying that I legitimately hope I can create a closing track as intimate and sobering as “Naked” at some point in my musical career.
SV: Perhaps most importantly: how many trains were murdered in the making of the forthcoming debut?
CW: All of the trains. All of the trains were murdered. We basically shut down the rail system.
SV: Thank you again for your time and thoughts! Is there anything you would like to leave us with?
CW: Music is something that everyone can do. Everyone has their own thoughts and feelings, so don’t ever think you are not good enough to try. Support each other, and something beautiful can happen.
AH: Thank you so much for the amazing questions! The debut Empty Joy album, It has occurred to me that I am suffering, will be out late summer, 2020.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.
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