Sitting down to speak with Donald, it is evident that the bands philosophy of "Love, Respect, Support" is well represented in his fervent gaze and the intensity of which he speaks about the band, their songs, their family, and their love for all things music. He breaks it down for us with a passion right here.
Mick: I'm here with Donald Carpenter, the vocalist from Eye Empire. Donald, to be honest, I don’t know much about you guys at all other than the little bit I've read online and listening to your album a couple dozen times. So tell me what’s up!
Donald: Good! Well right now we're about letting people let us know we exist. Really we're just a group of musicians that have been through this business before over the last 20 years or so. Corey’s been at it for a while, Brad and I have been on labels touring giving it a shot toward the end of the old music business. I believe there’s a transition happening right now. I don’t like to use the term seasoned veterans cause we're so anti-rockstar, so anti-ego, that sounds a little self entitled, but yeah, we’re veterans and we’re trying to find our own way, trying to find a new way, to do it in this business. That’s where we’re kind of at right now; in the early stages.
Mick: I've read that you guys have some connections to Sevendust and Texas Hippie Coalition?
Donald: Sevendust, our connection there is that Corey Lowry’s brother is Clint Lowry, the guitar player of Sevendust, and he helped coproduce their last record. Also Morgan Rose from Sevendust was kind of the drummer early on when Brad and Corey first go together which was basically at the end of the Dark New Day group time. That’s when they got together just to stay creative, just to write. Morgan was there when they were writing, and said “hey let me get behind the kit while you guys are jamming” and that music ended up becoming Eye Empire.
Mick: Where are you guys based geographically?
Donald: Technically we're out of Atlanta since that’s where we base a lot of our production. Corey lives there, that’s where his studio is which enables us to get a lot of our work done. Hopefully we're going to branch out of there. We kind of had to focus so hard on there I think we kind of played Atlanta out a little bit. It’s an extremely musical town, one of the most musical towns on the east coast. Also Nashville too, there is a lot of music going on in these two towns that’s just great to be around.
Mick: I listened to your album quite a bit before coming here which is really heavy and melodic as hell. Seems to me that “I Pray” is the stand out song that a lot of people are talking about and it’s getting some exposure. Are you guys getting any radio play with that yet?
Donald: You know everything that’s happened early on here has been really organic. It's been something that we just kind of wanted to happen. We don’t have any sort of marketing scheme going on, especially early in to it. We had certain relationships we had all built previously in radio that are still in place to this day. People such as Tony LaBrie at Banana 101.5 in Flint, MI has always been a big supporter for us. Randy Hawk up in Madison, WI on JJO 94.1, and my buddy Jesse Kage down in Tampa, FL on 98 Rock. Also Jose Mangin and Kayla from Octane on Siruis up there in New York, who got us some nationwide exposure with satellite radio. We took some of our earlier tracks and sent them out to our friends and said this is what we’re working on, we’re trying something different and it’s going to be something different, it's going to be completely independent, underground, we're going to put the power in the fans hands, what do you think about it? They got back to us real quick with a positive response and we were like okay, what would you play? Rather than saying here is our single, this is Eye Empire, what do your fans and listeners want to hear? And a lot of them picked “I Pray”. I think it’s a catchy song; it was the first song we ever heard as a band from ourselves. It kind of walks a fine line between abrasiveness and that melodic tone.
Mick: Like a melodic death metal ballad? (chuckle)
Donald: It's hard for me to even call ourselves a metal band, especially with this two disc release, there are so many dynamic sounds on this album that it's really hard to kind of pigeon hole personally for me, but in the same sense I think that’s something we’re really kind of intending. I’m really kind of tired of the redundancy of music and I think a lot of that led to the position we're in now. I was always a Beatles fan in the fact that you never really knew what you were going to get. We’re more open to the journey of where are we going next and what are some of the things we’re going to be trying. That’s what we’re trying to convey, especially through our live show and the way that we’re writing our music. It’s not a judgmental thing, you should go in to it with the mindset to expand and open your mind a little bit.
Mick: I am a bit guilty of that last part, being judgmental about redundancy in today’s music. Your album surprised me and I found it difficult to put your music in any certain style that I’ve heard so many times before.
Donald: That’s how second nature the judgmental aspect has become. It’s just automatic, you’re a publication so you have to give an opinion. It’s interesting, but when we made the choice to do this again, you know, we’ve all been through the wringer, do we do this again? We all have families now, we’re not twenty-one eating ham sandwiches, blowing in the wind. We have to seriously plan these things out, there are a lot of people involved, our families and children, and at this point we had to make sure that this was something that we could really get behind and feel confident about. And that meant we we're going to be sincere in every aspect of that and a lot of that is the creation process. And for me keeping that as honest and real and truthful to real life is extremely important to me. We’re not a pandering band and we’re not trying to write things we think people just want to hear.
Mick: So it’s no sex, drugs and rock and roll?
Donald: No, it’s definitely not about sex, drugs and rock and roll, and it’s definitely not about vanity. It’s seriously about the art of music and the power and what it should be. For us, it’s the most important thing is that it's moving away from the three headed marriage of the label, the artist and the fan, and that it's going back to the artist and the fan, and that’s it. For us, the more we can empower our fan base through our music, the more effective it’s going to be so a lot of that has to do with the content of the songs we write.
Mick: You guys started touring about a year ago in support of this album?
Donald: About 10 months ago. It’s been a mixed bag of tricks. At this point there is definitely a pretty strong stranglehold as far as the touring community goes. There’s a lot of bigger management companies that have rosters of more popular bands out there. A lot of these opportunities are few and far between to really get out there. Back in the day it was Ozzy taking Metallica out, and all these different people saying here is the next big thing, let me take this band out and break them. It's kind of hard to do that today, that’s the reason why you keep it simple, it’s about you and the fans. So we’re just kind of going out there and grinding away at it.
Mick: Have you guys returned to any venues you’ve played already on this tour?
Donald: Yes, our main focus isn’t trying to spread ourselves thin right away, we’re a blue collar band, working through the blue collar corridor of the Midwest, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. We did venture out west with Wayne Static back in the fall, which was an interesting trip. We met our friends Kyng on that tour, who are some of the most genuine, deserving people in all of music.
Mick: You mentioned that you guys have recycled yourselves as musicians and come back to do a new band, but also had settled down and have wives and kids now. How do they support you on this new venture?
Donald: (Pauses) Stronger than we are at most points, especially my family. I mean I went through the humbling period, at one point I was like, let me just regain my focus, I gotta get back to living life here. I can’t be chasing childhood dreams. It was my wife who said “You’ve lost your mind! You were born to make music in one way or another and it’s gonna happen so you’re gonna have to get your focus back.” And I don’t think any of it would be possible without them.
Mick: Have you guys had any experiences that really stand out on this tour?
Donald: The coolest part of what’s happening on this tour for us right now is that everyone is so invested in what’s going on in this band right now. We have fans that are driving 5-6 hours just to get to our shows and have already seen us a bunch of times in these small little venues. That’s what we’re looking for, we're looking for folks that can realize there’s not an app for this, the insignificance that a lot of us feel within our politics and our music, we just have to kind of get over that and start being active and present in our lives. Regardless of what that is, whether it’s Eye Empire music, your marriage, or your parenting, just being present for your children. It’s just something that we are about, being there for those who are there for us. Just being able to sit down and talk with you is something we have to take advantage of, for the sacrifices that our families have to make; these are the times that kind of justify that.
Mick: Are you guys coming to the Detroit area any time soon?
Donald: Not sure yet. We are really tight with Kevin and the guys at The Machine Shop in Flint, it’s a great venue and has become a popular stop for us. Harpos and Clutch Cargo are other stops we’ve been through over the years. It’s a little difficult for us at this stage to get to those venues yet due to our size and justifying ourselves to play there. The Machine Shop will see us again soon and hopefully we can get to some of those bigger venues soon as a supporting act. We want to build it with the headlining acts the old school way. Keep coming back until you fill the rooms up. We feel like there are a lot of bands we are close with. These Volbeat guys are incredible, their whole camp, their whole mentality, with what they are about and what they like to portray out here is right up our alley. We’re very excited to be making relationships and friendships with them and hopefully that’s going to equate to more shows with them. We just played some dates with Five Finger Death Punch and their fan base received us with open arms. We’re ready to venture out there and hopefully we get some more opportunities like that.
Mick: It seems to me that bands are a lot more approachable these days than back in the heyday of big acts and big shows. Do you think bands like to be more intimate with their fans these days?
Donald: I was talking to a gentleman this morning about this. The irony of the business is that it’s about inflating the ego of the artist which to me doesn’t psychologically make too much sense. They are already at an inflated point, they throw the endorsement deals out there at them, the pyro with the big stage and flashy lights, the exposure to many media outlets, all these things to inflate ones ego, when the reality is the true rock stars are the fans, the changing faces every night who bring the energy and truly make it a rock show. Otherwise you’re just blowing up a bunch of shit in space and it’s for nothing. It’s really about the energy and the show that the fans kind of end up becoming. So for us, we’re kind of the anti rock star, making yourselves available is one of the best ways to show that you are humble and that you’re grateful and appreciative. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, I’m never going to be too over confident. I just know that either way, I’m going to do it like this, open and honest, trying to make a change.
Mick: Sitting here talking to you, I can see that honesty and integrity in your eyes, you seem really intense on it.
Donald: Good, I could probably cry a couple times. You know like I said, it’s just to have that opportunity again, that I, we, have our dream back.
Donald: You know I think we’ve been pretty thorough as far as what the band is about, I don’t want to beat it in the head too much. It’s something that I preach enough about at the show to try and get our point across. Like I said, for me, it’s about being active, being present, and the only way music is going to survive and get to a new point is by people getting out there and physically supporting what they believe in. I think there is a change coming. I am optimistic and see that people appreciate what we’re trying to get across. That means more than anything. You can always get those cookie cutter of responses after a show, but I’m feeling that people who come to our show are more sincere and deeper in their appreciation about us and our music, and that means a lot to me, we appreciate that.
Mick: Donald, thanks so much for your time.
Donald: Thanks, we appreciate it!
After note: As we ended the interview and just talked amongst ourselves, Donald mentioned how he enjoyed being the opening act sometimes so the band could help set the vibe for the show. Make no mistake, set the vibe they did, and did it well. Watching Donald work the crowd in to a frenzy built on the mantra of "Love, Respect, Support", the people were drawn in for Eye Empire from start to finish. "Can you feel that!" he growled, with the scintillating forefront of of B.C. Kochmit on guitar, backed by the the thundering wall of sound put forth by Corey Lowery on bass and Ryan Bennett on drums, Eye Empire captivated the crowd in a way that most opening acts only wish they could.
Photo credits: Tim Mayhew. (Except for the crappy ones, those are mine.)