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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Atlas : Empire

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Steven Gillies of Atlas : Empire from 2019


Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"

All the members of Atlas : Empire have been involved in music for over 15 years in various projects.

I played in post-hardcore bands throughout my teens and early 20s, by which point my influences had changed significantly. My former band were signed briefly and released a mini-album and several double A-side singles between 2004 and 2010. Jamie (Sturt: vocals, guitar and electronics) played in a wide range of projects, from indie/folk bands to solo electro ventures. Rob (Hasebe: bass) grew up playing in punk and hardcore bands in the Toronto area and has toured throughout the US and EU pretty extensively.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

I’d either be teaching and competing in martial arts or working in graphic design/illustration. I started training Shotokan karate shortly before my seventh birthday and was obsessed with martial arts for years after that. I also used to draw to a reasonably high standard and, up until I was 15 or so, I wanted to be an illustrator for Marvel Comics. But by my mid teens, my love for music had eclipsed everything else.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?

The name is actually derived from a song title in my previous band. “Atlas : Empire” represents a lack of boundaries and the desire to push into new territories. When Jamie and I formed this project, I already had the name in mind, as this band would be a new chapter in my songwriting. I still think it’s the perfect name for our band.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

Collectively, that’s an almost endless list! Personally, my influences include Soundgarden, Deftones, Bjork, At The Drive In, The Dear Hunter, Circa Survive, O’Brother, Jeff Buckley, Cave In and Bon Iver.

What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
There are a few top contenders for that slot. I’d either go with “U2 goes Screamo” – that’s pretty hilarious – or a recent quote about our debut album, which stated "The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet is one of those records you’ll argue with your friends about who discovered it first."
MSJ: What's ahead for you?

We’re heading back across the Atlantic in April for our third tour of Eastern Canada. We’ve found a really strong sense of community and appreciation for our music in Ontario and Quebec, so we’re very happy to be coming back again. We’ll also be releasing new music this year, despite our album just having dropped in December 2018. Getting back out to Europe before the end of this year is also on our agenda.

MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

I wouldn’t say we hate it, but I'd prefer if people didn’t find these genre tags necessary. Since Atlas : Empire started back in 2011, Jamie and I have always used the “progressive” tag, sometimes this is attached to terms like “alt-rock," “indie” or “post-hardcore." We definitely combine aspects of all those genres, without being limited to any one sound.

We are not musicians who want to repeat ourselves, or write an album of cookie-cutter songs, stylistically. Our next release could be predominately electronic and mellow, or we could write a straight up alt-rock record. To us, being “progressive” doesn’t mean using irregular time signatures and complex structures. It means evolving throughout your career.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Financially, it’s definitely a hindrance. Specifically, the illegal downloading aspect. But for a lot of artists streaming is an essential platform for distribution. The world has changed, and the music industry has evolved with it. Would I rather our album had 20,000 physical sales than Spotify streams? 100% yes. But that’s not the world we live in now.

In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?

I’m totally fine with that. It’s cool to discover live videos of our performances.

If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Mumble rappers - any/all of them. Do I really need to give a “why?" That style of music is b.s.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

I’d have to say Soundgarden, circa 1994. Chris Cornell and Soundgarden were my biggest inspiration as a teenager to form a band, and I never saw them live.

If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
This is a tough one…again, I'd need the Delorean or the phone booth from Bill and Ted for this task!

Let’s make it one stage? Top to bottom would be:

Soundgarden (Circa 1994)

Jeff Buckley

Bon Iver

Botch (Circa 2000)


The Dear Hunter


Gifts From Enola

Atlas : Empire (of course)

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

I buy albums all the time, recent top played are Aurora by Slow Crush, It Won't Be Like This All The Time by The Twilight Sad and Better Oblivion Community Centre’s self-titled debut

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I saw Mogwai recently. They’re always great live.

Do you remember the first concert you attended?

My first live concert was a festival in Glasgow called “Gig on The Green” back in 2000. I saw Foo Fighters, Staind and HedPe amongst others. I crowd surfed during the Foo's set and got my knee severely dislocated!

Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?

We’re total gear heads, so always! I recently picked up a 1977 Fender Bassman 135w head that’s insanely good! I’ve also become semi-obsessed with Bare Knuckle Pickups and have just installed a set in my Baritone Jazzmaster. I look forward to melting faces with that in Canada! Rob also just got a Digitech Bass Whammy, that's going to be a lot of fun.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

I love Justin Timberlake’s first two albums - phenomenal pop music, so zero guilt on my part.

What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Again, there have been a few. Either playing in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on a national holiday…to five people in a 300 capacity room…or during one of our early shows, when Jamie still played live keys and forgot which bank he used for a certain song. He spent about three minutes (which felt like 10) cycling through what seemed like every sound on his synth, making the most bizarre and random noises whilst the audience looked at us with complete confusion. That was pretty excruciating.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

I'd like to have dinner with Chris Cornell, Bjork and Genghis Khan. The first two, to talk music and Genghis to keep a sense of danger and unpredictability.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?

Mexican food.

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Just thanks for your awesome questions and go buy our album –

MSJ: This interview  is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 2. More information and purchase links can be found at:
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