One of the most genuinely and consistently excellent bands in the instrumental/post-rock scene is Collapse Under The Empire. I had the chance to send them a few questions regarding their new album, "Fragments of a Prayer", their decision to start their own record label, and the expected arrival of "Sacrifice & Isolation".
RF.net: Hello, thank you for doing this! Could you start by introducing yourself, who you are and what you do in the band?
Glady, Daniel. We two are Collapse Under the Empire, from Hamburg, and play instrumental, very soundtrack-like music. A few years ago, we founded the band as a pure studio project and in the meantime have released 3 albums, 1 mini-album, and a split EP in cooperation with the Russian Postrock band "Mooncake". Since September 28th, our fourth album, "Fragments of a Prayer", is now available in all record stores. As you can see, we have been very productive since our founding. Our music is interesting for people who have had enough of the "plastic" music on the radio and are maybe on the lookout for something new.
RF.net: "Sacrifice & Isolation" was originally meant to be released this year. Why did you decide to release "Fragments of a Prayer" instead?
Chris: The formation of "Fragments of a Prayer" was also a new surprise for us, because it was completely unplanned. When at the beginning of the year we composed many new tracks that didn't fit well in tone with the concept of "Sacrifice and Isolation", we decided first to release a mini-album in between. For that, we applied some orchestral compositions, which demanded an entire album. We had the feeling that a shift in the appearance of the second part was needed in order to not interrupt our current flow. As soon as you are in the middle of the creative process, you loose track of time, so an album can be created relatively quickly. I don't believe that people are disappointed now, that the second part was shifted back. So, at the same time, we take care of the interest, and we are still there with new material in the first place. We are proud of our album, because it's our opinion that it contains some of the best compositions that we have recorded up until now.
RF.net: "Fragments..." is being released on your own label. Why is this, and will all future releases be released the same?
This was more of a logical step for us. We had the opportunity to continue to release albums via "Sister Jack". When we were offered a Europe-wide sales deal, it was clear to us, that we could now do things on our own. We had already had the opportunity with "Sister Jack", because we had already worked on an independent label. All activities in CD and music production via online promotion we undertook ourselves. We were just not yet totally independent...
Matt: With our label, we wanted to also foster as-yet unknown artists, alongside Collapse. To do so, we give the artists all the freedom they need and don't bind them to any contracts. Our concept for the label is different from most current labels.
RF.net: "Fragments...", stylistically, sounds very different from "Shoulders & Giants". Is the difference in sound intentional or was it a reaction against "Shoulders & Giants"?
Matt: Yes, you're right, the sound and, above all, the tone on the new album is principally different from our last album, "Shoulders & Giants". "Fragments of a Prayer", in my opinion, is something where the whole album comes together, every track builds on the next, and the tones constantly change. This time, we took much longer than otherwise, and could have release the album some months earlier, if I had not decided to go back to all the mixes one more time. I absolutely wanted to achieve an audible improvement in the sound compared to its predecessor, "Shoulders & Giants". Of course, we didn't get any negative criticism about it, but I personally thought that in our new tracks, we could delve a bit deeper. So, for the first time, I occupied myself truly intensively with the mix. I read books and asked professional mixers about their methods. In the end, it took a lot of time, but the work definitely paid off. "Fragments of a Prayer" can now be enjoyed loudly, in order to dive all the way in at the end.
RF.net: It seems this album has received unanimous critical acclaim, but how does the response to this album compare to that of previous works?
Chris: Yes, it is never easy to top an album which is overwhelmingly well-received by fans and critics. But that was also not our intention, we would rather hit people and critics over the head with the next album and pull off something that not everyone expects, as people eventually will get bored with us and say that every album sounds the same. That would be a reason for us to dissolve the band, a complete standstill in music without further development is not an option for us. For us, it is not about outdoing the next album. We would rather work on the tone, and for us, every track is equal in value.
RF.net: There is only two of you; have your roles in the band been clearly defined since the start, or have they changed over the years?
Chris: The division of work was clear quite quickly. We both write the music together, usually extemporaneously. We both determined that the quick, spontaneous development of songs reflects their origins best. If we work on a song for weeks, it loses most of its spirit. The best ideas happen without having a clear idea already in your head of what it should be. It can also happen, though, that one of us has already “pre-packaged” song structures or even a complete, finished song. Martin plays all of the stringed instruments, while I’m responsible for the ones with keys. The drums are usually done by both of us. Beyond that, Martin is responsible for all of the music production. The work in our own studio has given us the advantage of simply having more room to experiment creatively without having to worry about time. We founded Collapse Under The Empire about 4 years ago in order to avoid the usual mechanisms of a band. That gave us creative free space that we had never before had. The tasks are otherwise divided in such a way that Matt, after he's done with the tracks, usually is occupied with the honing of production, and I work with the organizational aspects such as production.
RF.net: The visual medium seems very important to you; your videos are more like short films, and you often work with different directors. Do you take inspiration from cinema as you write, or does the music itself always come first?
We always like to surprise ourselves with where the trip goes when we start to write a song. The procedure during the composition of a C.U.T.E. track is always different. Sometimes there is a complete framework within a few hours, which then only has to be refined. But it also happens sometimes that one of us will compose a track entirely alone. While composing, we use a large range of instruments; alongside classical rock instruments, we also use electronic instruments of all types. So there are no fixed rules we have laid down when composing, anything is possible, experimenting in different directions is always interesting for us.
Matt: We rarely use an image to inspire us... Because we design a sound. For that, we of course need video material, in order to add effects, atmosphere, and other sounds. Alongside composing the music, that's my second-favorite thing to do. In Sound Design, you really first recognize how many more emotions can be generated by adding simple effects. I find that it's also a good example that you can't generate a certain "feeling" with music alone. It is often dependent on the location and how you happen to be feeling.
RF.net: When you create a concept record, is it something you have to do all in one go, or does having space between writing work to your advantage?
Chris: When we released "Shoulders & Giants" at the end of 2011, not a single one of the 10 tracks from the recording session was tossed out. If we at that point had composed 20 tracks, there certainly would have been a double album immediately. With the second part, we will approach composition with new energy. The work on "Sacrifice & Isolation" will begin in the next few months. We will let ourselves be surprised at where this trip will go...
RF.net: It seems each record of yours sounds different from the last. Is it important to you to continue to explore new sounds and evolve?
Matt: Due to the missing lyrics, we have to occupy the listener in other ways. A story, which runs through the whole album, is for us- as a foundation- very important, and really was present in all of our releases up until now. You can connect everything, the artwork, the album name, and the songs. Everything creates a single feeling in the total picture, and it gives the release added personal value.
RF.net: As independent artists, and artists who have been on independent labels, do you think the effects of file-sharing have been positive or negative for you?:
Chris: We see these changes as a very good opportunity for young, up-and-coming bands, since it’s so easy to produce an album and release it yourself. In any case, it worked out that way for us. Everything that we released up until now was something we did with our own hands, so to speak. Self promotion has never been as easy as it is now. You need only to search for contact addresses on the internet and send a few friendly emails with an MP3 download link attached. The power of blogs that offer illegal, free downloads shouldn’t be underestimated either. It’s too bad that many people don’t pay for those downloads, but thanks to them, name recognition also goes up a lot faster. I don’t believe that we would have attracted the international attention that we have if we weren’t listed on so many of these blogs.
RF.net: Who would you say are some of the biggest influences on your music?
Chris: Our musical influences come from very different directions. I think that precisely because we love the most different kinds of music, our sound and our procedure when composing is different from many other bands. In the last 10 years, I have accompanied and been excited by many different phases of music; from electronic, wave, rock, and alternative, up to Postrock, I have extensively listened to everything.
RF.net: What music is dominating your playlists at the moment?
Chris: Right now, I'm listening to a lot of film music by John Murphy and Clint Mansell.
RF.net: What can we expect of Collapse Under The Empire in the future?
Matt: First we will wait to see how the new album is received. Otherwise, we are first and foremost occupied with our new label, and hope to present a band/artist at the beginning of the year.
RF.net: That's all the questions we have. Thanks for doing this! Is there anything you'd like to add?
Matt: In the next few months, we will concentrate completely on the second part of "Sacrifice & Isolation", in order to bring the story to the end it deserves. For this, we have already made a few tracks. So much is given away... These tracks are darker and more sinister than anything we have ever released. We think that the entire work will be finished in the fall of 2013.