In the past, we’ve discussed at length about our trepidation with the concept of “post-rock”. All to frequently, the genre is an example of musicians who have never been taught the simple skill of editing. Self-indulgent and dull, it’s rare that these bands capture our attention. Collapse Under The Empire do it by crafting masterful songs that ebb and flow while keeping us on the edge of our seat. Frankly, it evokes the same feeling I got upon hearing Philip Glass for the first time. The songs could work as background music, but were far more rewarding if they were listened to and analyzed. Collapse Under The Empire is an instrumental/post-rock band from Hamburg, Germany. The lineup consists of Martin Grimm (Guitars & Drums) and Chris Burda (Keys/Synthesizer & Drums). They formed in 2007 and released their debut album Systembreakdown (2009) on their own. In 2010 they’ve released two albums, Find A Place To Be Safe and The Siren’s Song, each brilliant examples of post-rock. TDOA writer Amy took the time to talk to the band about the travails of their genre and their ability to write at a pace that would send Thom Yorke into convulsions.
TDOA: Where does the name Collapse Under The Empire come from?
Chris: In 2007, when we made the decision to make instrumental music, we spent many months searching for a band name with a specific message- like a lot of bands do. The idea came from my girlfriend who suggested the sweet-sounding name “Cute” to us. We felt that the name was unfitting for a Post-Rock band… But we just got caught up in the idea. We always liked double meanings, so we started looking for a name that would have the acronym C.U.T.E. And we came up with our name one year before the worldwide economic crisis started.
TDOA: Why no lyrics? Do you think your songs are better without them?
Chris: We noticed early on that our music worked much better without vocals. A song like “Find a place to be safe”, for example, would lose its intensity if it had vocals, and its music would inevitably be relegated to the background. People often write us to tell us that we tell a sort of story with our instruments… I think that they’re exactly right… And there’s usually no room for two storytellers in a C.U.T.E. song.
TDOA: The Sirens Sound is your second release of 2010. What made you release two records so close together?
Chris: We already had new songs written right after the release of “Find a place to be safe”, so that we could get to work on the next album. Everything was going great until we wrote the 10 minute track “The Sirens Sound”. The album “The Sirens Sound” was not really planned and actually was kind of an accident. We wrote this long piece and didn’t know what exactly we should do with it. We just couldn’t make the song fit on the upcoming album. So first, we thought of making the song a B-Side of the unreleased single “Far to the past” and releasing it that way. Thankfully we decided instead to write 4 other songs that would fit with the upcoming album which ended up seeming to bring the album together. I think this has worked out well for us, and that “The Sirens Sound” is our most psychedelic album. The advantage that we get is that we already have our 15 untouched songs in ready for our 4th album. The album could be released as early as the beginning of next year. In any case we will release the album when we find a label that gives us the opportunity to officially release it in the states. Incidentally, an unreleased song of ours will be released at the end of the year on the next “Emo Diarie 12” sampler from Deep Elm Recods. This is our greatest success thus far toward making ourselves better known in the states. Going forth, we are planning a split EP with our friends “Mooncake” from Russia to be released beginning of next year; each band will have 2 unreleased songs on the album. So we have plenty of work to do…
TDOA: What role do you think the synthesizer plays in your sound?
Chris: We try to integrate the synthie into our music as well as we possibly can. Sometimes it’s only audible as background noise; sometimes it’s playing the main melody right up front. We noticed quickly that our whole sound becomes a bit more varied and more tempered than other instrumental bands, and that made us stand a little bit apart from them. If we compose a song without Synthies, we try not to force them into it, if only because we wrote it with a special sound in mind. We are always open to new approaches and innovations that we haven’t already tried. The next album will in any case sound completely different, without of course losing our signature sound.
TDOA: What does the contrast between synth and the instruments bring to the sound?
Matt: Drums and guitars don’t utilize the entire sound spectrum, and therefore have to look for holes to fill with lovely synthetic melodies. But you have to be very careful not to overstep, or else the song can very quickly sound overloaded, if too many different synthesizers are brought into it.
TDOA: How do you define ‘post-rock?´ Does it combine elements of other genres, or bring something totally new to the table?
Chris: This question is difficult to answer. This music is meant to give the listener a certain feeling, emotion, and “story” to experience. We try best we can to take the listeners on a trip in which they can fully immerse themselves. People who have listened to “The Sirens Sound” know what we’re talking about. Post Rock was of course created by blending many different genres of music together. But the genre fused together at the end of the 90s because of bands like Tortoise, GSYBE or Mogwai. The fact that there are so many bands making instrumental music clearly shows that the music is dear to peoples’ hearts and that it can thrive on peoples’ desire to reject commercial and societal pressures to conform. This music has no commercial value and in spite of this enjoys a worldwide audience and has created its own niche.
TDOA: What is your band dynamic like? What roles do each of you fill?
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. Matt 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, Matt 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.
TDOA: People either love or hate the “wall of sound”. Why do you think that is?
Matt: Maybe there’s a sort of division in the Post Rock scene. There are those who say, “Oh, I’ve heard that a hundred thousand times, there’s nothing new there.” The others say, “Yeah, the wall of sound makes an otherwise boring instrumental rock track really become a true Post Rock track.” I personally don’t care one way or the other.
TDOA: What has the reception been like in your home country? Abroad?
Matt: I thought that everyone would hate our new album since it’s really just psychedelic and totally chaotic. But, I was wrong. We’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews on it. It seems to me that people like to see something new, something that sounds different from what they hear on the radio all the time. Our promotion in the US and in Canada has only just started, and I’m interested to see what people overseas have to say about our new album.
TDOA: Any chance we’ll be seeing you all in the US (or Texas, even?) sometime soon?
Matt: I was recently in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Florida. I love the USA and I think that I will absolutely end up visiting y’all in Texas in the next few years. Maybe I can convince Chris to come with. We of course invite you all to come and have a nice Bratwurst and a lovely German beer with us. Auf Wiedersehen!
For more information about the band, visit their website: http://www.collapseundertheempire.com/