Music is designed to free your funky mind, and Of Empires have come to help you cope. With a slick modern take on classic rock, these four Brighton lads are bringing style and substance back into the UK music scene. I’m meeting the band’s drummer George Le Page and guitarist Matthew Berry in a Hove coffee shop.
To my amusement neither of them is the young lad with a guitar case on his back by the counter. Instead they’re the cool-looking customers sat behind me. Their debut EP ‘Stranger Sensations’ was released in September, which saw them become a known force on the BBC Introducing radio show network. Showcasing many different sounds, its driving rhythms offer something slightly bluesy and totally rock and roll. The Stones and their longevity are a palpable source of inspiration for them, not only musically but in how a rock act should present itself.
Bursting with catchy choruses and attitude, there’s something unmistakably home-grown about Of Empires. “I’m glad that you said it sounds very British.” Berry smiles. “I think we took a lot of influence from the Stones. It’s probably an overused band to use as an example, but they were seminal artists.” For all the excitement they exude when discussing it, there’s a remarkable level of restraint on display in their music. “We spent a while finding a sound that we felt came naturally,” Berry tells me. “But now we know the direction we want to move in. Obviously, there’s got to be a progression!” They know they have to impress people, but they’re relying on being laid-back and charming to win people’s affections. The pair ooze self-assurance, but that’s not saying there isn’t an air of maturity in their pumped up guitar music.
Already standing out in a crowded local band scene, they’re not resorting to shock tactics to attract a fanbase. “A lot of younger bands can get labelled as show-offs,” Berry muses. “Sometimes it works in your favour if you have a little restraint, just showing a little of what you’re capable of.” There’s simple old school creativeness in their music, but they’re under no illusions as to how a band needs to operate in today’s competitive market.
Formed in 2011 on Guernsey, with vocalist Jack Fletcher and bassist Liam Bewey, the band name emanates from the national pride sweeping the UK after the Olympics. “There’s no artistic reason behind it,” Berry admits. The call to Brighton involved Jack moving here to study at BIMM, coming over to the mainland with his brother Josh, the unofficial fifth member of the band. “I was applying for university, intending to do geography. I wasn’t really interested in it though. Then Jack suggested going to BIMM,” says Le Page. Now studying for a degree in professional musicianship, he’s learning more than just how to play the drums really well, “I’ve learnt to consider myself as a musician, not just a drummer. It’s changed my perspective on how a band works.”
Attending BIMM has also helped with his songwriting, encouraging him to become a more rounded artist. This seems to be a vital tactic in a saturated market. “It’s so much more competitive now, as you can create records in your bedroom,” adds Berry. “I don’t believe art should be about competition, but we do want to be better.”
Recently they found themselves branded MTV Brand New Unsigned Winners 2015, which stemmed from Josh Fletcher sending a 15 second video clip to the channel. It moved MTV enough to pledge their support for the four piece and anything they do during the next 12 months. “We’re going to milk it for all it’s worth.” George jokes. But the pair understands how awards like these, especially the ceremonies and parties connected with them, offer tremendous networking possibilities. It’s certainly something BIMM try to emphasise to students, how getting in the same room with the right people can make life a lot easier. “They kind of hammer it home. You simply need to get your name out there,” George says.
As a live proposition the band manages to take it up to another level again. “It’s mature, to the extent we’re not dancing around on stage,” Berry states. “Jack perhaps,” George interjects. “He is a bit of a peacock sometimes.” They’re young, vibrant, already recording some great songs and coincidentally have terrific hair. They are Of Empires, and right now standing on the verge of getting rock back into the A list.