Empty Orchestra – An Interview
By MrAnathema

Empty Orchestra backstage waiting to play at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, AZ ©2013 Joe Abbruscato  ~ DOOM! Magazine

Empty Orchestra backstage waiting to play at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, AZ ©2013 Joe Abbruscato

I am here with Empty Orchestra members Pamela Butler, Stephen Wiesnewski, Lance Nelson, and John Duffy, out of Flint, Michigan. It is July 3rd at the Rialto Theater in Tucson Arizona.

DOOM!: Flint has a storied history due to the auto industry boom, collapse, and most recently being declared a city in financial emergency and has been there for about a decade. Your song Ballad of Bulls Run is inspired by the famous sit-down strike of 1936. Aside from this song, how has living in Flint influenced your music?

Stephen: We all kind of grew up playing music in the Flint punk scene, the Flint independent music scene, and I think that it has all kind of influenced us in the way that we approach the writing and the asethetic. I think consider ourselves in some ways a punk band, even though we don’t necessarily sound stereotypically punk. Flint as a city is kind of the same. It fosters this particular type of DIY ethic. We kind of have to do things for yourself if you want to get it done. We all grew up going to this all ages collective called the Flint Local 432 that we are all pretty heavily involved in. That has really shaped us as people and as a band.

DOOM!: You had the chance to record with Marc Hudson. The Hudson from DragonForce, is that correct?

(laugh and chuckling from all): No, no.

DOOM!: So its a different Marc Hudson then? That kind of tosses that question into the water…

Pamela: Our Marc is different, but he is his own brand of superstar.

SW: He’s doing the new Taking Back Sunday record right now.

DOOM! Oh nice, Okay.

John: He did their last one, he has toured w/ Saves the Day, and Chiodos, Against Me! He’s done a whole bunch of stuff.

DOOM!: That’s some really great company.

Pamela of Empty Orchestra silhouetted at the Rialto Theatre, in Tucson, AZ ©2013 Joe Abbruscato ~ DOOM! Magazine

Pamela of Empty Orchestra silhouetted at the Rialto Theatre, in Tucson, AZ ©2013 Joe Abbruscato

PB: he’s a local Flint guy.

JD: He’s an old friend.

PB: He has studio called Rancho Recordo outside Flint.

Lance N: it’s a beautiful space, it’s incredible.

PB: Oh god yeah

SW: It’s basically his house that he has built out exactly how he wants.

PB: Again, the whole DIY (laughter)

DOOM!: That’s really great. So quoting from your word press, it’s important that you guys have songs that change lives, including your own. I believe you wrote that, Stephen.

SW: I did.

DOOM!: What are some of those songs for you all, and how have they affected you?

SW: Our own? Or others?

 DOOM!: Both, either.

SW: Someone else should start this one…

PB: How have our own changed us….

DOOM!: Sure, if you would like to go that route, or if you want to talk about was a song you heard that were like “Jesus….” and something inside you clicked.

SW: I am NOT starting this one.

LN: I’m still brewing…

JD: Can we come back?

DOOM! Yeah, we can come back to this one. Leading to the creation of The Audience, which as a side note is my favorite song by you guys and I watched the video about 10 times yesterday…

EO: (Laughter) Sweet! That’s awesome, thank you.

DOOM!: … the song stemmed from, and I quote, “a mild obsession with Elvis.”

SW: Yeah

(chuckling from other members)

DOOM!: Is Elvis still an obsession, or has Elvis left the creative building for the time being?

SW: That was nice. Nice. I still love Elvis. I genuinely like Elvis’ music. I even have a soft spot for his late 70’s, sort of in the ghetto “Suspicious Minds” kind of thing. He had a great band behind him.

PB: oh, yeah.

SW: I think that what I was interested in was Elvis was sort of symbolic of Americana, and I am still definitely interested in that. I think that he has a sort of enduring beautiful grotesque kind of thing happening that is mirrored in a lot.

DOOM!: He certainly embodied both aspects in his life.

SW: For sure. I both genuinely love his music, and I sort of recognize this kind of cartoonish figure he is in American Culture. I think that is a really interesting tension.

Stephen W of Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato  ~ DOOM! Magazine

Stephen W of Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato

DOOM!: You shot that video inside the closed, and presumably abandoned, Capitol Theatre.

EO: It’s being renovated!

DOOM!: The ambiance and visuals fit that song perfectly. Can you talk about that experience? As a photographer, I know it is difficult to get access abandoned and close buildings.

SW: Yes, it is.

DOOM! How did you go about getting that location?

LN: It was through Joel.

SW: We actually know the guy who is doing the renovation on it. The arts community in Flint is relatively close, so you are two or three people from whoever you want to ask. There are some things going on in the Capitol Theatre, it’s not completely abandoned. You don’t want to shoot in the middle of winter because the heating’s not great.

PB: We did shoot in the middle of summer, and it was about this temperature

SW: Yes, we did! It was sweltering.

PB: And we were all wearing tuxedos and it was absolutely miserable.

LN: 16 hour day, the day before we left for a 4 week tour.

PB: it was intense, but worth it! Cause we are all happy with the video that Mike and his team made.

DOOM!: Well, it looks gorgeous.

PB: The Hot Garbage team that made the video, their video’s are consistently fantastic. We are fans.

DOOM!: I will have to look some of those up. On your facebook page, you mentioned that Reno was full of “gambling sadness and new tattoos”. What other lively after show action have you been getting into when time permits? I know when on a tour like this, their isn’t much down time, but when you get the chance…

PB: ROCKET FIZZ!….sorry.

(laughter from all)

PB: One of the most exciting things I have done on this tour is discover a shop, this store, it’s a chain I guess, called Rocket Fizz. They have every kind of candy and every kind of soda pop I think that gets made. And it’s awesome, and we have bought a lot of candy and soda.

DOOM!: Nice! Gotta have that go fuel!

SW: What else have we done..

LN: Well, I had a great time in Vegas last night.

(laughter from everyone)

LD: I typically do not….

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato  ~ DOOM! Magazine

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato ~ DOOM! Magazine

JN: Should we turn the recorder off now…


LN: Not a fan of Vegas, but after a few drinks and like, you know a few dollars won, it can be pretty fun.


DOOM!: Coming away up from Vegas is always nice.

LN: Yeah, but then getting greedy, and having to come back down… That is unfortunate…but still fun.

SW: We have a couple of days off coming up as we go back out east. I know tomorrow the whole tour is doing a group BBQ in the middle of Texas where ever we end up. That’ll be fun. we’re going to get some fireworks and see what happens.

DOOM!: Ok, so, I read a review of your album that references Tom Petty, The Gaslight Anthem, and Bruce Springsteen. I’m curious, if these three bands got into a brawl, who would win?

LN: Who are the bands?

DOOM!: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and The Gaslight Anthem.

PB: Well, does Bruce Springsteen have the E Street Band on his side? Is it a group thing, a rumble? Or is it individuals? Whose fighting who?

DOOM!: I’m picturing a giant rumble.

LN: Bruce Springsteen is going to, if he has the E Street Band, they’re going to win.

SW, JD: Yeah.

LN: Tom Petty…He’s going to…

PB: He has the Heartbreakers…

LN: they’re going to be the peacemakers

PB: hrm….yeah, you’re right

SW: The gaslight Anthem is just going to back down and be like “Hey, we’re…we’re not even in your league!”

JD: That’s fair.

SW: I think Gaslight anthem is just fine. But I think that if they were faced with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty…

PB: And the E Street Band members!

SW: And the E Street Band, they would just, simply what happened from the sidelines. Just like we would!


JD: Plus, who is going to punch Bruce Springsteen?

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato  ~ DOOM! Magazine

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato

SW: Yeah who would punch Springsteen?

DOOM!: Especially with VanZandt right by his side.

SW: And Max Weinberg doesn’t look like much of a fighter, but he hits SO hard.

DOOM!: Right! Do you guys want to jump back to songs that have changed you?

LN: Ours?

SW: I remember, when I was probably 16. I, by accident, by saw the Tom Waits concert movie “Big Time” for the first time. And I remember, it was late at night, and I remember it just completely shifting my entire idea of what music could do, of what music and performance, could do. I think that song was called Cold Ground, and so that was a really big moment for me.

PB: When I was a young teenager, maybe 14, my sister was in college and I went to go visit her in East Lansing. She was at Michigan State University, and I went to go visit her, and this was like a huge deal to me. I was a child on a college camps, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. While she was in class I was just sort of wandering around this college town and I wound up in what I now know to be a head shop.

(laughter from all)

PB: But at the time, it was some random store with Frisbees on the wall and pipes in a case and whatever. They had shoebox by the register with bootleg CD’s. And and i’m flipping through the bootleg CD’s and it’s a bunch of Phish, right? And I was looking for girls, like are there any girls in this box? And I found this double cd set by a woman named Liz Phair. I was like “That’s a girls’s name, I guess I’ll buy this!” And I immediately went back to my sisters dorm room and put it in the CD player. I don’t remember what song was first, but I do remember just lying on her bunk bed listening to both CD’s all the way through, and it was life changing.

LN: It’s weird, I’m kind of constantly moving through music and different genres. I’ll find myself stuck on something for a year, and then the next year I’m into something different. Like I’ll be into Goth for year and then i’m into like country or whatever for a year…

PB: That is so true about you!

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato  ~ DOOM! Magazine

Empty Orchestra ©2013 Joe Abbruscato

LN: it is. So I have many moments throughout my life where i’ve heard something that definitely changed me. But the most important moment that made me realize what I want to do with my life was when I was on the bus in 7th grade from Jr High basketball game. My best friend in jr high and high school had a Weezer Blue Album CD. He showed it to me on his walkman. It was right after the holidays, and his cousin had given him the album, and we listened to it. I was like “Holy shit! This is so awesome!” I went home, and begged my parents for the CD, and they bought it for me. Around that time, I had received a guitar for the holidays, just played it all the time. Just trying to learn as much Weezer as I could, and I got see Weezer so many times. Seeing that band play live, and listening to their music all throughout jr high and high school set the bar for what I wanted to try and achieve with my life at some point. So, yeah.

DOOM!: Ok, last but not least…

JD: I was riding my bike in middle school through a park and found the Tom Petty greatest hits tape that someone had pulled apart and thrown into a bush.

(laughter from all)

JD: So I took it, and put it in my pocket, and I got home, took a screwdriver, and just kind of wound it back up and put it in my tape deck. I was like “wow, this is really cool!” There were a lot of songs on that record that I thought were really cool. Shortly after that happened, I was flipping through the channels and saw the video for “You Don’t Know How it Feels” off of Wildflowers. It’s just him sitting on a stool playing an acoustic guitar and there are all these kind of wild things happening behind him. The camera slowly kind of rotates around him and I thought “Wow, that doesn’t look really difficult, I could probably do that!” So I tried to learn to play the guitar, then I got that record Wildflowers, and I listened to that album hundreds and hundreds of times.

SW: If I can address the other side of that question. What came to mind was, with our own songwriting , I think this last record, it’s sort of loosely thematic, but its kind of about the possibilities and limitations of community and togetherness and relationships of all kinds. Something that struck me during the recording of that. We kind of work as a collective in the studio. We have a lot of different members who record with us. So we were in the studio in Chicago, and we were finishing up the song “No Such Place.” We were finalizing things, and we were going through the last verse, the last choruses. Everyone that was recording on the record, well most of the people recording on the record, were in the room, and sort of without thinking were singing along. There was a moment when we were like “we should just record this.” We weren’t planning on doing doing it, but we were like “ok, everybody is going to go and sing the harmonies on this.” It was sort of this moment were the album came together for me. We are all doing this thing, we didn’t even plan to do this thing that we are doing right now, but it’s happening, and we are trying to capture it. That was an important moment for me.

DOOM!: Beautiful! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me tonight, it has been a blast!

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MrAnathema (23 Posts)

Joe Abbruscato/MrAnathema is a freelance photographer specializing in concerts, live events, and alternative modeling. He is based out of Tempe, Arizona.