Interview with Keith Latinen | By Tim Anderl
During Gaelic and Medieval times, patrons, monarchs, and members of high society employed professional poets and musicians to tell stories of their activities and commemorate the patron’s ancestors. The tradition was meant not only to entertain, but also to immortalize their influence and traditions. The new record from Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – the project of Michigan-based husband wife duo Keith and Cathy Latinen – is, perhaps accidentally, a natural extension of this tradition. You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is a collection of carefully crafted, meticulous, and moody songs that spotlight a band who have honed their storytelling. Every moment of intimate and vivid prose puts the patron listener in the middle of a scene from their lives: a living, breathing movie script that is sometimes harrowing and other times calming, but always unforgettable.
How do you feel about your band being cited in a lot of the “emo revival” media buzz?
I guess something that irks me is that people will say, “Emo never died, it was always there.” Try telling that to my band in 2006. We would play shows almost exclusively on bills where we didn’t fit. So when we started dealing with other bands that were doing similar things to what we were doing… it became a family. It snowballed from there. I never expected the mainstream media to be covering the stuff that my friends and I were doing. It’s great. We all work really hard and to get any level of success or recognition is awesome. And to reach more people. That’s the goal right? To have more people listen to your music. I love that. As far as the term, it doesn’t bother me. When I was younger the bands that I was into were Mineral, Jimmy Eat World, The Promise Ring, and [emo] was the label. I can understand being pigeonholed, and that has happened to us, but it’s OK. That word has a different meaning to me. I’m curious to see how our new album will be received.
When did you begin writing the new record?
It was early last year, I guess. Then we took a break, not for any particular reason; we either went on tour or got busy with the label. Then we picked it up again seriously sometime last summer. We listened to the older songs we’d written and kept a couple of those. Empire! is just my wife and I. She plays guitar, I play guitar, but I also play drums and bass and whatever other miscellaneous instruments. So it’s a different writing process than I would imagine most bands have. So we sit down together and write the songs on guitar, and then work backwards to incorporate bass and drums after that.
The album release is a partnership between Topshelf and your label Count Your Lucky Stars?
Yes. When I talked to Topshelf about doing this record, it was years and years ago. It took much longer than I thought it would. They are very good friends of ours and we thought it would be a fun thing to do. If you drew a Venn diagram of our audience, I think the larger slice would be Topshelf fans. They have fans who they reach that we don’t and vice versa. So it was a way to do something with our friends, trying to reach as many people as possible.
It’s been five years since You Will Eventually Be Forgotten. Why wait to release a new record?
It definitely wasn’t a natural course. When we recorded the first album, it was just my wife and I. Then we picked up a couple of members and lost a few members. There were a couple other reasons for it. One, because we run the label. I knew that the bands on our label were relying on us, so a lot of times it was easier for us to push back what we were doing in favor of getting another band’s record out. We have also toured a lot and released a bazillion splits and EPs. …Every year I’d say, “This is the year I’m going to get it done. This is the year it is going to come out.” But life happened and it didn’t come out.
Speaking of the splits, you have 12. Is teaming up with other bands a community-building exercise or did you just overextend yourself?
I think it was both. Splitting a release with someone creates a strange bond. Like a brotherhood, or sisterhood or whatever, between you and that band. Once it’s out, it’s out forever. I definitely love those songs and releases, and we put our heart and soul into them, but I think the full-length will really resonate with people. We definitely got sidetracked.
Empire! has a more linear, narrative approach to songwriting…
I write my songs like a short story more than anything else. In a typical song, you’d repeat the lyrics of the chorus, but if you’re telling a story that would be detrimental to the story. So I feel like I can tell a more complete tale just by virtue of this songwriting method.
What are the themes of the record?
It wasn’t meant to be a thematic album, although it did kind of end up that way. I guess maybe the mantra was, “Life is short and anything can happen at any time. And anything can be taken away from you at any time. Try to appreciate what you have.”
On “I Was Somewhere Cold…” you tell of a near death experience. Did that happen to you?
Everything that happened on the album is factual, as much as was possible for me to recall. The way I approached every song was to write out the lyrics and then call the people who were involved. Working together, we could correct details that may have been a little wrong or misremembered. I wanted this to be as literal and factual as possible. As far as that song goes, it actually happened. I was in a band in college and we were headed out to a practice area. …We got into a pretty severe car accident, and fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. For some strange reason, I was at the point in my life where I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as often as I should have been. But I remember driving out there, and 10 or so minutes before, realizing that my seatbelt wasn’t on and that I should buckle it. I think that seatbelt saved my life.
How does making art with your spouse impact your marriage?
She’s my best friend. I taught her how to play guitar in the early 2000s. We just have a connection. I love writing with her. She brings her own flair to everything. I feel very fortunate that we can share that together, and the unspoken bond that musicians have is definitely heightened because we are in love and are married.
What have been your proudest moments and accomplishments during Empire!’s tenure?
We are going to play with Mineral. And we got Chris Simpson and Bob Nanna from Braid to guest vocal on our new album, which is surreal to me. Those are bands that I idolized and looked up to growing up. We’ve also put out a Zookeeper release – which is Chris’ solo project – and we put out a record by Certain People I Know, which is one of Bob’s other bands. To actually be friends with and to be working with these musical giants… We’ve also gotten to travel. We’ve been to Japan, Europe… And the amount of friends we’ve made. I’ve made so many friends and memories this way.
How did you become interested in contributing to the Blink-182 tribute album?
When I was younger, they were one of the first bands that I got into on my own, without my brother introducing me to them. He’d introduced me to stuff like Hootie and The Blowfish and The Goo Goo Dolls, and stuff like that. When I started doing some discovering on my own, I found Blink-182’s Dude Ranch. I actually remember that my wife Kathy, who was not yet my girlfriend, had a bedroom wall that she allowed people to draw on. I remember drawing both the Blink-182 logo and Jimmy Eat World on her wall. I’ve been a fan of those guys for a really long time.
How aggressive of a tour cycle are you planning for this album?
In September, we’ll be going out for an eight-week tour and we’ll be bringing out some of our friends’ bands. It will be really laborious, but it has been a while since we’ve been able to tour extensively and had something substantial to promote. So we’re going to do it as big as we can. It starts with a date with Mineral and ends with The Fest in October.
Empire! Empire! Tour Dates:
09/15/2014 – Columbus, OH @ Skully’s #
09/16/2014 – Nashville, TN @ Exponent Manor*
09/17/2014 – Atlanta, GA @ Wonder Root*
09/18/2014 – Savannah, GA @ Graveface HQ*
09/19/2014 – Orlando, FL @ Backbooth*
09/20/2014 – New Orleans, LA @ The Beatnik*
09/21/2014 – Houston, TX @ The Summit*
09/22/2014 – Austin, TX @ Holy Mountain*
09/23/2014 – Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves*
09/24/2014 – Oklahoma City, OK @ Marshall House*
09/25/2014 – Kansas City, MO @ Art Closet Studio*
09/26/2014 – Moline, IL @ Blackhawk Room*
09/27/2014 – Chicago, IL @ Township*
10/01/2014 – Fargo, ND @ The New Direction*
10/02/2014 – Sioux Falls, SD @ Total Drag Records*
10/06/2014 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon Lounge*
10/08/2014 – Portland, WA @ Slabtown*
10/09/2014 – San Fransisco CA @ Submission*
10/10/2014 – San Jose, CA @ San Jose Rock Shop*
10/11/2014 – Pomona, CA @ VLHS*
10/12/2014 – Los Angeles, CA @ Los Globos*
10/13/2014 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Nile Underground*
10/14/2014 – Las Vegas, NV @ House Of Wonk*
10/15/2014 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Shred Shed*
10/16/2014 – Cheyenne, WY @ University of Wyoming*
10/17/2014 – Omaha, NE @ The Slowdown Jr*
10/18/2014 – St. Louis, MO @ Fubar*
10/19/2014 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Hoosier Dome*
10/20/2014 – Cleveland, OH @ Mahall’s*
10/21/2014 – Pittsburgh, PA @ The Mr. Roboto Project*
10/22/2014 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Fire*
10/23/2014 – Amnityville, NY @ The Woodshop*
10/26/2014 – Boston, MA @ T.T. & the Bear’s Place*
10/27/2014 – North Haven, CT @ Up All Night Collective*
10/28/2014 – Asbury Park @ Asbury Lanes*
10/29/2014 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery*
10/31/2014 – Gainesville, FL @ The Fest 13
# w/ Mineral & Into It. Over It.
* w/ Freethrow