Age is a funny thing; you live long enough and you start to see history repeat itself; especially in this part of the music industry. Every decade ushers in a handful of bands who set themselves apart and become part of the collective story of influences others in this business talk about, look up to for inspiration and name, as the reason they play the way they do or sound the way they do. Wading their way through the eighties, bands like The Cars, The Romantics and Blondie are the exact bands personified by the description above. You couldn’t go anywhere in the English speaking world and not know who these ‘Super Groups’ were.
Time marches on and as funny a thing as age is, it catches up with all of us at some point and you turn around and either marvel at the life you’ve carved out and lived so far or bang your head on a brick wall until it bleeds, at the life you’ve lived so far. Lead guitarist Elliot Easton seems to be enjoying the life he’s carved out; it beats a bloody forehead. His legacy, The Cars, put him on the rock n’ roll map of success along with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Clem Burke [Blondie], vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player Wally Palmar [The Romantics] and bassist Andy Babiuk [The Chesterfield Kings]. Together, they’re The Empty Hearts; a collection of some of the finest musicians born to the world of rock.
Lead guitarist Elliot Easton [The Cars] joked about how the guys picked the name, The Empty Hearts but all joking aside; it’s a pretty cool little story as Easton tells it. “Oh that’s just a joke,” Easton chuckles, “Andy was in a group called the Chesterfield Kings and they were on Steven’s [Little Steven] label, Wicked Cool Records, as well as appearing in an episode of The Sopranos. He was also a technical advisor for the movie, Not Fade Away for David Chase, he wrote the books, Rolling Stones Gear and The Beatles Gear Book. Andy knows Steven quite well. So Steven was interested in this new group and wanted to know what was going on with us and he gave Andy a list of names, he says, ‘Hear pick a name from this list,’ I think he’s one of those guys who likes to think up band names. So we had a list, and every name we looked up, someone had taken it; you know it was copy written or already trademarked so we came to the name Empty Hearts and we had a song quite by coincidence called, Fill an Empty Heart on the record so it all just seemed to fall together and we said, ‘Okay, Empty Hearts—that’s a cool name; our hearts aren’t empty but it sounds sullen and ‘vibey’, it just sounded like a cool name so we went with it! And that comes from Steven’s double extra secret list of names.”
Even though the guys did take some help with the band’s name, they needed no assistance from anyone when it came to penning their music. Each player’s rock n’ roll stripes are on display— a bracing sound shaped by influences which span decades and include ‘50’s American roots rock n’ roll, 60’s British invasion and 70’s garage-punk. Fill An Empty Heart leaves one feeling very psychedelic while I Found You Again, twangs with a little country element. “That song to me is like our Dead Flowers, in a way, you know what I mean?” he laughs. Dead Flowers was written during a time when the Stones were exploring the sounds of country music. Each song on the CD is different yet you can feel who took the lead on each song without hitting you over the head.
“There was never any need to discuss it or define it,” explains Easton, “it was implicit in the song, you knew who came up with each; sort of the heart of that song and we would look to that person but we treated each song individually and just drew on our influences. In my case, I have a big rolodex of influences and idiomatic references I can draw on and I have a pretty wide vocabulary and very eclectic tastes and so when I hear a song, I think about where this song needs or wants to go and try to come with a wardrobe of music for that song that will frame it properly. Any song could be done any way; it could be done acoustically, it could be done heavy, it could be a ballad—you can do what you want; you could make a waltz out of it but as you hear each song, you utilize your influences and feed it through your filter and bring to it what your background equips you to bring to it.”
“The cars got labeled all kinds of things,” Easton goes on, “like new wave or alternative but those are all just journalistic tags or pigeon holes that make it easier for a writer to say, ‘Well, it’s this or that,’ but all we know is—all any band is, is a product of each member’s influences and you combine them. They then make that particular recipe and just like making a stew, if you remove the carrots it’s a different mix and if you add peppers the flavors change again so every time you change a band member you change that chemistry or recipe a bit. So, the Cars are what those people sounded like playing in a room together just like The Empty Hearts. The chemistry is different and that’s what we sound like together. We’re not trying to wear who we are on our sleeves either, or be so obvious about it that it dissolves into parody; it’s just a product of who we are.”
And what about the ‘Super Group’ label? Many successful artists from the past, have gone on to form bands with peers from their original runs; The Traveling Wilburys are an excellent example of such a group but Easton states he and his band mates shy away from anything associated with the name or description of a ‘Super Group’. “I’ve heard that mentioned but we tend to shy away from any of that ‘Super Group’ stuff but at the same time we’re realistic enough to accept the fact that the reason people are interested in the group or know us is because of our previous work so we can’t deny who we are and what our previous accomplishments are but the way I like to describe it to the guys is what we’d like to create is a classic rock band that has been there all along but we weren’t? Do you know what I mean? This band could have been around for thirty years only it wasn’t—I don’t know if that makes any sense at all?” Easton laughs, “and also don’t forget the type of music we’re playing it’s old school and draws on our roots.”
When you come from over thirty years of productive life in the music biz, keeping your sound fresh while drawing on your past experiences, makes for some interesting songs that stand the test of time; sort of chemistry in theory. Parody is not what The Empty Hearts are about but so many acts fall into that trap trying to take a genre that’s already been beaten to death. “I have a young daughter with friends starting out in music,” says Easton, “and my mom was a Julliard trained singer so I grew up with music and when I ask a young band, ‘Well, what’s your music like?’ and they can’t really describe it unless they say, ‘It’s this meets that!’ so lets say for arguments sake it’s the Black Keys meets Maroon 5, and I say to them, ‘That door is already slammed shut; we already have a Black Keys, we already have a Maroon 5. Why don’t you just focus on who you are and don’t be self conscious about it, just make the music that comes out of you as a result of your influences or how you’re feeling that day but don’t try to be like a carbon copy of a currently successful band.”
“See by the time you get there, it’s already over. Another band already did it and that’s that. You can be influenced by people but I’ve never been a fan of ‘Oh we’re a Pearl Jam meets Nirvana—yeah right come on man. You’re gonna meet the door is what you’re gonna meet!” Easton lets out a chuckle and smiles as he continues. “Go ahead walk into a record company and tell them that. The world doesn’t need another Pearl Jam or another Nirvana. I prefer when people describe the music with more articulate terms like ‘Well there’s a prog element to what we do and it can be edgy,’ but just naming a couple of popular bands, stringing them together and stating this meets that, makes me laugh. I can’t tell you how often I get that type of description from people.”
With The Empty Hearts, what you see is what you get; no gimmicks no bullshit, just straight ahead rock n’ roll. From lessons on how to Fill An Empty Heart to driving 90 Miles An Hour Down A Dead End Street, The Empty Hearts bring the ultimate in the classic rock/garage band sound sprinkled with flashbacks of the Beatles and the psychedelic 60s. The Empty Hearts; so happy I found you, again.