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INTERVIEW – Sanny Veloo, Empra, September 2013

| 1 October 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Everything seems to be coming together for Empra right now, with the band kicking around the country with their brand spanking new EP Strange Condition, the title track for which has been shortlisted for a Vanda & Young Songwriting Award.

Empra Sanny Veloo

A national tour in support of their debut self-titled album in 2012 made people sit up and listen to the band – Sanny Veloo (Lead Vocals, guitar), Matt Agius (Bass), Matt Gault (Lead Guitar) and Matt Cattanach (Drums) – and they followed that up by taking out the prestigious Live Nation Global Band Competition at the Los Angeles House Of Blues, scoring a helpful cash prize and international representation as a bonus.

“Yeah, we’re really just building from strength to strength,” reckons Veloo, “we’re really lucky we had a couple of good breaks. We even had word that Triple J radio are getting behind the new EP! They don’t play much rock n’ roll nowadays so that’s exciting.”

The Strange Condition EP sees the bands sound having progressed from the Foo Fighters-like debut album to a more modern pop-rock sound, whilst still retaining a strong organic feel and keen ear for hooks, hooks, and more hooks.

“It’s kind of like an in-betweener,” opines Veloo, “from where we are right now and where we’re going to be next year when we finish the album. It’s kind’ve like we didn’t wanna just do something that sounds like part 2 of the first album – we really wanted to try to do something that sounded more like Empra, the way we were at this point – something that sounded fresh, but still rock n’ roll.

Empra will perform at Geelong's Barwon Club on June 15.

“It’s pretty much an experiment!” he admits with a chuckle. “I told the guys ‘all of us have to start listening to new shit, like, right now.’ We’ve listened out to all our old shit and memorised all those old CDs, so… I’ve been listening a lot of Japandroids, Alabama Shakes, Cage The Elephant, Born Lion, British India – a lot of new rock n’ roll that’s emerging in 2012, 2013.

“All of us have, actually, and we’re just trying to build on the foundations we have, which is a very 90’s alternative rock foundation, and we’re trying to just soak up all the new vibes and put that into what we do. Hopefully that turns up something more fresh.

“But we made a conscious effort to listen to a lot of new music,” he stresses, “like, shitloads! Even hip hop and that sort of stuff – everything seems to have a bit of cool that you can go ‘hey that bit here, or that bit there is really rockin”, and then we go ‘let’s do this song this way’. We’ve actually been saying, because we would usually do things one way, let’s deliberately not do that, let’s try and do something else!”

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Veloo says that while the new material may be a bit different from their debut, it still rocks in the live arena.

“Actually it sounds a lot heavier when we play it live. We just naturally play the songs harder when we play them live – I don’t know why. I think we’ve recorded the EP, we’ve made these songs, and we kind of made the songs more edgy and heavier for our live set, so it’s kind of even with the rest of the stuff that we play. So when you come check us out live, it sounds more rocking than what’s on the CD.”

Preserving the live feel of the songs and trusting producer Haydn Ing (Calling All Cars) was important to getting the EP that Sanny & the Matts were after.

“In this recording we preserved that energy of the first couple of takes,” admits the Singaporean-born singer, “but sometimes you’ll know that you fucked up a little bit, and no-one else in the studio noticed it, so you keep quiet about it. But you’re always thinking, ‘I know I fucked up that bit there’. You always think you can do better, you know, but you can’t keep wasting time redoing stuff and it getting worse and worse. You need some guidance [from a good producer]”

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“First of all, I’m total fans of their work, man,” Veloo says of the Oh Yeah Wow video production team who came on board to make the striking Strange Condition video clip the work of art it is.

“They’re geniuses, all of them, geniuses.” He continues. “So I gave them a call and I said, ‘hey, I’m Sanny, I know the guys in British India’ and dropped a couple of names, and asked them can they do a video for this song? And they said they loved the song, and sent through a budget and, wow, we can’t afford that, man!

“Then I talked to them and somehow convinced them to let a new staff member do the video clip as their first project, and they got back to us after a while and said, ‘look, we’ve figured out a way we can do this at a price you guys can afford.’ So they got this new girl who had just joined the company, Donna, and she & Jai did the video! It was all her idea man, she listened to the song, and she came up with the script and blew us away.

“All I said to them was that the song was about an on and off, and on and off, and on and off again relationship,” Veloo explains. “Everyone has a friend who keeps breaking up with their girlfriend and getting back together, that kind of thing.

“So they wanted to tell that story with the metaphor of how humans are always messing with nature, and if you keep messing with nature, it’ll fuck you in the arse, you know,” he laughs. “It’s that to and fro thing in the relationship, in the video, and telling that story with a positive environmental conservation message. They came up with that and we were like ‘yeah, that’s great man – it sounds really cool.’

“We were wanting something we’ve never done before, and then Donna suggested we do something with Balinese Wayang shadow puppetry. I’m familiar with that stuff so I was worried it would look too traditional and religious, but she said ‘don’t worry, I’ll make it look really cool’! Our main requirement was that the actions were funny – that was the only thing we told them. They did everything else, man, and we saw the first draft and thought, ‘wow, this is fucking cool shit, man – some groundbreaking shit!’ “

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While many bands choose not to enter band competitions, Empra took the plunge with the 2013 Live Nation International Band Competition, and scored flights to L.A. for the finals.

”We looked at it as this was an opportunity,” he says, matter-of-factly. “If we do get into the finals we can get a paid trip to L.A., and while we’re there we can do a couple of shows and meet some people. Why not, man – what’s the harm in trying?

“All we wanted to do was get free flights into L.A. That’s all we wanted!” Veloo laughs, “We were excited – we got into the finals and we realised if we win we’d get all this money that was gonna help us pay for the shit we wanted to do. Why not, man – we just tried our luck… and we got it! If it’s a good prize and… I guess it was really great exposure, meeting the people at Live Nation who are really on our side right now, and because of the win we got to play with Fallout Boy as well. There was just too many plus points for us not to do it – and once we got in the finals, we were L.A. for a week so what the hell, just do it, man!”

The win was far from a foregone conclusion though, and in the end it came about in the strangest of fashions.

“We represented Australia against 3 American bands, 2 British bands and one Italian band,” Veloo elaborates, “and some of the bands were just really good – I didn’t want to watch any more from backstage!

“Then my mic failed when we were doing our set!” exclaims Veloo, “and I was just ‘oh fuck this, man, not right now!’ but okay, fine, I jumped down into the crowd because the mic failed, and fortunately they sang along, man.

“It was really cool because the judges, they said it was BECAUSE of the mic failing and how we handled that, that’s why they made us win. Because they said, that’s what a great rock n’ roll band is like, they keep everybody into the show and make everybody feel good – that’s why we won! So, thanks, we won because the mic failed!”

There’s an audience shot You Tube video of it happening which imparts some of the magic of the moment.

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“How fucking cool is that man,” he says, still in awe of the achievement. “We’re still… wow! It was one of the highlights of our career so far, man. We got to play at the House of Blues, which is one of the coolest venues I have ever stepped into in my fucking life, man. I love that place. We played on the main stage – and did you know the main stage is built over one tonne of actual mud from the Mississippi River!

“You stand on the stage and you’re standing on the foundations of blues, where rock n’ roll emerged from! So you better play properly – you gotta respect the stage, man. And the people there are so beautiful. All the staff were really nice people.

“And after the show the manager offered us all jobs as well! He said if we’re ever in L.A. and need a job, we know where to come to and work as bar staff or waiters, and he’ll hook us up! So we got four jobs at the House Of Blues waiting for us if ever we’re in L.A. and out of cash!” he laughs.

The Strange Condition tour is set to showcase not only the excellent new EP and feature favourites from their debut album, but also material that is slated to be recorded next year for Empra’s follow-up record.

“We have actually written a whole bunch of new songs we’re getting ready to record next year,” Veloo elaborates, “so we’re going to be trying out a lot of new material as well. And we’re gonna do a big set – a decent 1 hour 15 minutes set. We might even do more if the crowd want us to play more – we might do an encore, it depends on the crowd – I don’t know, they might want us to fuck off, you know!”

Veloo was effectively banished from performing in his native Singapore after an attack of the swear-bears whilst on stage with his first band The Boredphucks. A small riot followed his outburst, shutting down the music festival he was playing on, and it wasn’t long before he was en route to Melbourne.

A support slot under Fallout Boy earlier this year marked the first time he had played at home since that unfortunate event, and Veloo explains that it was an emotional homecoming for him.

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“It was the first time my family sees Empra,” he says, “and it means a lot to me that my family sees the band, and what I’ve been up to in Australia for the past three years. And the first time my family see Empra, it was with Fallout Boy in front of 3,400 people – they were all so pumped, man.

“My whole family was there, my uncles, my aunties, my cousins and there was this really beautiful moment – my young nephew who is like, eight years old, was on his Dad’s shoulders, and he was wearing this bright, luminous green cycling type jersey. So from the stage I could see him and pointed at him, ‘hey check out that guy there in the luminous green, that’s my nephew’ and the whole place turned to him and cheered! So that was a pretty cool moment.

“It was the first time we’d actually played on such a big stage, too,” he goes on, “so we were like, ‘fuck man, this stage is so big’ – I don’t think we were properly used to it – we probably need more practice on bigger stages, and to build up a big stage show – but it was a fucking great experience and it sounded great, man, we loved it.

“Then we did a small pub show, two nights later, and that was just intense – crazy, man, The Singaporean people really love to drink, man, I can tell you that!” he laughs, “They were one of the drunkest crowds we have ever played to, man. In Singapore people can actually drink on the street, and in the fucking QUEUE people were drinking bottles of vodka, man! I thought ‘wow, this is gonna be an interesting show!’”

With so much happening for the band, are they feeling the pressure to go one better each time?

“No, not at all,” laughs Veloo. “I don’t really care about all that shit. All we care about is trying to write good songs, you know. The pressure I feel as a songwriter, is only to try to write good songs. We just push the music in the band, everything else happens around that. That’s where I feel the pleasure really – just coming up with great songs.”



Saturday 21st September – The Workers Club, Melbourne
with special guests: Dead City Ruins & Drifter

Sunday 22nd September – The Workers Club, Melbourne
with special guests: The Demon Parade and Palace of the King

Sunday 29th September – The Rosemount Hotel, Perth
with special guests: Hailmary & Ragdoll

Friday 4th October – Newmarket Hotel, Bendigo
with special guests: Blackbird & Andrew Swift & The Rattlesnake Choir

Saturday 5th October – Crown and Anchor, Adelaide
with special guests Lipsmack & Angels of Gung Ho

Thursday 10th October – The Annandale Hotel, Sydney
with special guests Bonez, Delorean Tide & Vida Cain


Category: Interviews

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