May 1, 2014 Interview – Jesse Andrews of Emperors and Elephants
There are thousands of up and coming bands trying to follow their dreams and climb their way up the political ladder in the rock music industry these days. Emperors and Elephants is one particular rock band that are making their way off of the small stages of Chicago, Illinois and attaining a higher spot on that musical ladder. With steady touring and the release of their highly anticipated debut album Devil in the Lake the band is stepping into the limelight of the hard rock scene. For Emperors and Elephants lead vocalist, Jesse Andrews, the dream he has had since childhood is being crushed and coming true all at the same time. CrypticRock sat down with Andrews to get a candid look at his rise to fame and what he has been learning from it to help Emperors and Elephants with their escalating success.
CrypticRock.com – Emperors and Elephants has been together four years now. You have taken great leaps forward in that time, sharing the stage with established hard rock bands such as Soil, Pop Evil, and many others. Now you are signed with Pavement Records and have a buzz around you as one of the hottest bands in hard rock. How does it feel to come this far in such a short time?
Jesse Andrews – It is like living the dream one day at a time. Every day I wake up, I say to myself, wow I cannot believe I get to do this. Seriously, it has been challenging though because it has been one of those things where I have spent so many years thinking that if you just wrote really good music, that you would make it. You listen to the music that inspires you and you are so naive because you are so young, you think that if you can just write music as good as Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin, or Big Star you would make it. Then you realize that once you find a band and make good music, you become a business.
Ron said something to me the other day. He said, “You are no longer in the band Emperors and Elephants, you are in the business of Emperors and Elephants”. That kind of killed me, that was the last stake in the heart of the childhood of Jesse, of my innocence. It was at that moment that I realized it is not about the music. The music is one part of it. Then it is who you know, what you look like, what you are willing to do, how far you are willing to drive, and how much money you have. Then there is the gigantic section of just luck. It is just such a bigger pie than I thought it was. Getting farther, with more success comes more responsibility, with more responsibility comes more people, and with more people comes more ties, favors, and things that you owe . It is just this washing machine of craziness, but at the same time it is like a drug. It takes all the effort in the world; it takes a publicist, a road manager, the driver, the guy setting up the show, the club owner, and the guy who makes the poster for the club owner. There are all these people that go into getting one band onto one stage, and to every single person doing it, it is the biggest pain in the ass until the band goes on that stage. At that moment, everything goes away; you forget about all the stuff you had to go through, all the pains that it took to get there, and however many hours you drove. That has been the coolest thing for me because I was on a stage for the first time when I was about 13, and I have been trying to get back on ever since. The coolest thing for me about it is not the photos, not the fans or anything, it is just the access to more stages.
CrypticRock.com – That does sound like a lot of craziness, but obviously all worth it. The band’s sound is reminiscent of a more 90’s hard rock vibe. The riffs are heavy and the music is powerful. When you developed your sound, was it your intent to create something different than what is the current trend in modern rock?
Jesse Andrews – 100%. I hate nowadays rock for the most part. We were just driving up to Michigan and Jason had on Sirius Octane. There were all these songs on and I asked, “Who are these people?” He said, well they are this band and this band. I thought, you could have told me they were all the same band and I never would have known the difference. It is all just overproduced, cookie-cutter, verse ,chorus, verse, chorus, little catchy fill, chorus type stuff. I am not trying to take away from other bands because I don’t know their story, I don’t know their deal. I can tell you they are not my cup of tea, but I am a music snob. For me, I know that vocals are a really important part of a bands sound. It is the face, for lack of a better term. There are so many times where I will listen to the radio, a song will start and I will love the music, then the vocals come in and I will think, oh.. Or, the music is alright, then I hear the voice, and I think, whoa, I will still listen to this. So I feel like the voice is more the make or break moment. If you gave me a Rush song, and just gave me the music, and took out all the vocals, I would probably love it.
For me, I grew up with Mark Lanegan from the Screaming Trees, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain. I feel like a lot of people nowadays, as weird as it sounds, don’t sing. It sounds weird, but when you listen to a guy like Dave Grohl, Chris Cornell, or Miles Kennedy, it is a good example of a contemporary singer who is like a F’N singer! That guy SINGS. He is not talking with grace, he is not screaming, he is not yelling, he is singing to you. Do not get me wrong, not every song has to be like “Stairway to Heaven” or some big, intricate weaving of ideas or stories, but your lyrics should still have depth. So in answer to your original question, yes. I made a very conscious decision to care what our song structure is, to care what our song structure means, to care about the quality, but also wanting to say something and wanting to sing. I want to go play with Pearl Jam. I want to go play in Australia.
CrypticRock.com – You definitely accomplished that with the band and with your determination you will get there. Now your debut album Devil in the Lake was released earlier this year. The album is packed with high octane, emotionally driven hard rock. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Jesse Andrews – It was a bitch. It was one of those things where it was hard to get us all in a room at the same time. Luckily we did it during summer, which is cool because I would be miserable if we were doing it now. The guy we did it with was cool and worked well with me, it was fast. Our producer Brad Dausman is fast, I could do 20 takes of one part in 2 minutes and he would know just as well as I would if it would suck or not. He would not cookie-cut it, he would have me keep doing it over. There were a couple times that I threw his headphones across the room and he chucked a stapler at my face, it was awesome. But then we would sit outside afterward smoking cigarettes and talking about the difference between vinyl and cassette tapes. He is fantastic. The main thing to remember is, when you write a song, never record it within the first 6 months of when you write it, because it is always going to change and develop. You are going to find things you want to do different with it when you play it live. The coolest thing about our album, and I think the reason why it sounds so polished, is because we played those songs for 3 years. We let the songs grow to their fullest potential. We saved so much money going into the studio because we had those songs exactly how we wanted them to be.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good piece of advice. Time and exposure does give you the chance to perfect the music. With all that said, with this being your debut album, was there any feeling of anxiety for yourself and the band going into the studio and wanting make the strongest possible statement?
Jesse Andrews – I lost a lot of sleep, I’m not going to lie. The biggest anxiety I would get is because it is our first album. I would say to myself, “Oh, this is my first record, let’s go back and look at the first records of the bands I love”. So, I would listen to Ten (1991) by Pearl Jam and say, “Whoa, this is their first record and I am nothing compared to that”. Then you would read interviews with them where they said they listened to Led Zeppelin 1 (1969) and say that Ten sucked compared to that. There were times where I would chuck the CD and say this sucks because I would get into this shame spiral where I would listen to all these amazing freshman records and think ours sucked. I would refuse to listen to it, say it sucks, it is awful, it is terrible, and it is the worst. Then three days later I would put it in and feel, oh this is pretty good! But in the end you are always your own worst critic.
CrypticRock.com – It is true, we are our own worst critic. The band obviously is a tight knit group and you recently added Randy Cooper to the fold, which has worked with Texas Hippie Coalition. What has his addition meant to the band?
Jesse Andrews – It meant…More hair. It meant two more fans on the stage to blow the hair (laughs). It meant a lot of things. It was hard at first because he was going to be flying in a lot, but he has never missed a show. If he has, there was a good reason for it. Randy brought a lot of cool stuff to the table. Randy brought Red Dirt Metal, a really signature sound. He brought a lot of connections, fans, and a foundation.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like he is a welcomed addition to the fold. You completed the Devil in the Lake Tour a few nights ago. This was a fifteen date tour hitting many cities in the mid-west. How excited were you to get out there and play these shows in support of the new record?
Jesse Andrews – Really excited. There were challenges such as splitting burritos 5 ways, being broke, not having some of the necessities, sleeping on couches and stuff like that, but I could not be more excited about it. I could not be anymore happy about being broke and sleeping in a car. It was cool, we were driving home from Michigan one day and as a whole band we were talking. We had five hours to kill and we each interviewed each other. We spent almost an hour on each person. I am excited for that kind of stuff. We have this bet going on for who can make Jeff say the dumbest thing. One night, Randy was sleeping on this air mattress and I unscrewed the cap at 4 in the morning; a couple hours later he throws his pillow at me because it is flattened. I was just excited for dumb stuff like that.
CrypticRock.com – That kind of comradery does come with the job. Being a young band with an obvious promising future, what is the key for you to stay grounded as you move forward and things take off?
Jesse Andrews – My dog. You can get onstage, you can have all the tattoos in the world, have as many fans as you want screaming your name, but there is nothing that emasculates you more than how coming home to a 10lb Min-Pin makes you feel. Every time I walk into my house and my little Min-Pin, in his little Star Wars hoodie, is all excited to see me; the little girl yells that come out of me, I just freak out. That humbles me because I think, “Wow, I am really lame!” Honestly though, you do not need to humble yourself too much when you do not consider yourself a rock star. I try to talk to everyone, we are nothing yet, we are just a blip on the radar, and it is the very smallest farthest blip on the radar. It only gets harder from here. I do not consider myself in any way even successful yet. If anything, this was just expected of me. I just consider myself doing what I am supposed to be doing.
CrypticRock.com – It is good to keep a humble attitude. What are some of your musical influences?
Jesse Andrews – Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas & the Papas, Big Star, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, The Screaming Trees, The Melvins, and Social Distortion. Freddie Mercury was the best singer on Earth. Scott Lucas from Local H, all the guys from 10 Years, every single one of them. Minus The Machine (2010) is the greatest album name to put on your first record from your own record label after telling a major record label to F off. Neil Young, Andrew Wood; that guy was more of a rock star playing shows like this than anyone in arenas are doing. Chris Cornell and SOiL, of course. I have got a lot of them.
CrypticRock.com – That is an eclectic list of great influences. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Jesse Andrews – My girlfriend makes fun of me all the time for this because I am the biggest pansy in the world when it comes to horror movies. One of our first dates was going to see the new Evil Dead (2013) and she was watching it the whole time in absolute awe, I was curled up in a ball screaming. There is just something about the original Freddie movies, I am a really big fan of The Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I’m just in love with those. I recently got into and really liked The Shining (1980). I would say that is my favorite horror movie of all time.
Check Emperors and Elephants on the following dates:
5/1/2014 — Milwaukee, WI. – The Rave with Twelve Foot Ninja
5/2/2014 — Lansing , MI. – Uli’s Haus of Rock
5/3/2014 — Chicago, IL. – Nite Cap w/ Dilana
5/10/2014 — Fox Lake, IL – Route 12 Bar (Acoustic show)
5/16/2014 — Janesville, WI – The Back Bar
5/22/2014 — Springfield, MO – Nathan P Murphy’s
6/28/2014 — Cincinnatti, OH – w/Days of the New
7/5/2014 — Lake Alcova, WY – Metalfest