Having just returned from tour with The Early November, Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) frontman and Count Your Lucky Stars co-owner Keith Latinen spoke with Punknews staff writer Adam Sever to discuss their new releases, the You Will Eventually Be Forgotten LP and the Ribbon graphic novel, based off of the lyrics from the album, plus working with Bob Nanna and Chris Simpson on the new album and if everything heâs done in music up to this point has been worth it.
Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) will be hitting the road with label mates Free Throw starting tonight and will most likely be hitting a city near you as they make their way to FEST 13 on October 31st.
You recently returned from a tour with The Early November, how'd that go?
It was great. It was a little bit strange because we've never done an acoustic tour before. It was an all-acoustic tour, because they were touring acoustically, so they asked us to tour acoustically as well. We had to rework some of our songs and make arrangements, but I think it ended up working well. I don't know if we will ever tour acoustically again. I'm definitely not opposed to it, but I prefer full band. It was cool to rework things and interesting to play them in that setting, and just playing with The Early November was amazing. I liked them growing up and they are all really cool guys. We had a lot of fun with them. It was also cool to play to an audience that didn't know us at all, which is a large part of the reason that we went on the tour with them, to expose ourselves to new audiences.
Did you play any new songs on that tour or just older ones?
We played two new songs and then we tried to do a good mix of new songs and old songs.
Having recently been a victim of it, what is up with all the bands getting robbed lately and have you taken or will you be taking any extra precautions while touring?
Yeah, I don't know. It seems like there have been a rash of those recently. I'm not sure why. Part of me doubts that they are paying attention to the indie circuit and looking where bands are touring or anything like that. I think that anytime you see a van with out of state plates, it might be a red flag. I was talking to our drummer the other day and he was thinking he might want to sleep in the van more often. I think it really depends on where you are. For example, when Warren had his laptop and his iPod stolen and the rest of our car was broken into, that was during the day, that was during our show, and we took all the precautions that you can, but there is only so much you can do. A lot of bigger cities don't have an actual place for vans to park so you have to find street parking.
Sometimes when bands tour they'll stay at a hotel, motel or crash at someone's house who lives in the city they're playing. Is it worth the effort to unload the van and bring everything inside?
I think a lot of depends on where you stay, sometimes yes, sometimes you are in a safe place, so you don't need to. We try not to stay in places like that for that reason and that piece of mind is real key. Unfortunately, Warren's laptop and iPod were stolen, but that was the only thing of value left in the car. I had brought my laptop in with me in my bag for that very same reason. I'm paranoid of it being stolen. Obviously Warren wasn't as lucky. We are also lucky to in that fact that, so when our van was broken into, they rifled through everything. They left everything but Warren's bag. Like, everything. Normally, I guess if I were a thief, I would just take the bags and go through it later, but they didn't. I'm actually grateful for that. They left my collection of board games that I brought because I'm a nerd. In light of what we could've lost, we feel more fortunate than if everything had been taken. If we had been there overnight and our guitars had been in there, then we could've lost all of our guitars or whatever.
You mentioned in another interview that your wife, Cathy, may be leaving work and will be joining you on tour this fall. Has the band and label become self-sustaining enough for her to do that?
Yeah, I hope so. I've been running the label as my full-time job for a little over four years. Obviously, it's a big leap of faith to try and do that, but I think that it's almost at a point for us where it's now or never as far as making this a full-time thing where we can both financially rely upon it. Today when you called me, we just had a new intern start at Count Your Lucky Stars and I was training him on how to do certain things. We've got a pretty talented staff I feel behind us with interns and we also have someone to do mail order for us, so it's certainly a possibility. We're both very, very excited for it. It'd be nice for her to catch up on sleep and other things. Last night, for example, we were up late last night doing label stuff and then this morning she had to go to work. If she doesn't quit her job, I wouldn't change the label structure. We'd still be doing quite well and it would still be a doable thing. It's sort of like having you cake and eating it too, which we'd love to do.
With the release of You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, do you feel you can finally breathe a sigh of relief now knowing that the album is finished?
Yeah! You know how long this has been for us. We've been thinking that this would've been done years ago. A good part of the reason was because we were so busy with the label. It's a much more undertaking to write an album and do everything for it. You really have to set aside time for it, to do things and stick to it. It always used to be like, "This release needs to come out or this artwork needs to be checked, this needs to be proofread or this needs to get to our distributor or whatever," and so it was easy to put our album on the back burner. We finally were like "We have to get this done. This has been too long." We obviously had a continuous output of stuff, but nothing is as significant as an actual full-length is. We kind of just put the pedal to the metal for that and finished it. I have it right now, we have it, obviously. When I was holding it physically in my hands, it felt very, very good. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is basically split into three separate projects, the lyrics by themselves, the lyrics with the music, and the Ribbon graphic novel. About the lyrics, leading up to the release of You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, you've been releasing the lyrics to the songs in advance, what is the reasoning behind this?
I wanted people to get to know less of the lyrics and more of the poem and more of their own separate body of work. My standards for writing lyrics are, if they are not strong enough to stand alone by themselves as their own body of work, then they are not good enough to be song lyrics. In other words, if you read it and you think these are sloppy lyrics and they can belong to a song but not to a poem itself, then I failed. I wanted it to stand on its own and be its own entity. That's also why I am really enamored with the idea of a graphic novel, because if the lyrics are silly and poorly done, it would be really highlighted in the graphic novel, because the music isn't there as a crutch.
A lot of the lyrics on You Will Eventually Be Forgotten deal with death and near death experiences. Was this intentional or just a coincidence?
I don't think it was intentional. I think it was a subconscious thing, because I didn't sit down and think "What am I going to write about?" I think a lot of what the album is about is everyday experiences that could have very well changed everything, but didn't, but at the same time changes you. Like in the car accident that happened with my wife and I. Obviously, it could've been very severe and she could have been severely injured or she could have even passed away. Those are very real possibilities. None of these things happened, but they definitely changed your perspective on how fragile life is and how beautiful life is. Anything could change at any moment. I guess I can't speak for everybody, but a large group of people have had those things happen to them. Like a lot of people have been in accidents and walked away or with minor snow damage or they have had accidents and major things have happened. Anything can happen in the blink of an eye and it's important to try to realize how that can happen and how fragile life is, but at the same time not letting it cripple you overly thinking like, "Life is so beautiful, but anything can happen so I'm afraid to go anywhere or do anything." You have to have that balance between appreciating life and still being able to carry out with life. For example, with us going on tour, that exponentially increases the amount of times that we could get into a car accident or for bad things to happen. I think that's what the album is about, appreciating life, but not crippling yourself appreciating life.
You tend to write the lyrics for songs after the music has been completed. Having a set of songs like you did with You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, do you write the lyrics for specific songs or write the lyrics and see what fits best with each song?
What I do is take the track when it's recorded and then I sit down and I listen to that track a bunch of times while thinking what can I write this about. It's very rare, if ever, will I start writing lyrics for one song and move it to another song. It's usually just one song with one subject matter and it'll just sort of come to me as I'm listening to it. I never write the lyrics first and I rarely ever write the lyrics for one song and then transfer it to another. It seems to be, for me, the process that has worked out. Write the music first, then write the lyrics specifically to that song, then move on to the next one.
What was Cathy's response to being referenced in the lyrics so much?
I think at this point she has gotten used to it. I also think it's one of those things where like…Obviously, they're very personal lyrics and autobiographical, but I don't think and I kind of like this, but I don't really think of how much of myself I'm putting out there or how much of our personal lives I'm putting out there when I'm telling a story. I sort of turn myself off of that spotlight and Cathy does too. For me, I write the song and it's done and then I sort of move onto the next thing and then…Sorry, I lost my train of thought because one of our interns is here… You do put a lot of yourself out there when you write songs. It's interesting when people come up to me and they want to talk about specific events that sometimes I forget that I voiced in songs. Then sometimes there are those moments where I realize, "Oh wow, I really exposed a lot." That's another thing I don't think about too much because if I thought about it too much, I would become more guarded with things. Which is actually how I wrote earlier like on What It Takes To Move Forward. I was re-reading the interview I did with you around the time of your first album and you said back then that a lot of your lyrics were guarded and hidden behind what the meaning actually was.
Yeah, exactly. It's almost like an 180 in that. I recently had come across an interview as well, and I'm not in the habit of reading old interviews, but for me, it's sort of like…I also have a Live Journal that I used to use in college a lot and now it's an artifact. I left it up, it's private, if someone would search for it, they wouldn't find it, but I left it private to sort of remind myself ofâ¦You know it's a real time stamp of who you are and sometimes when I reread those old Live Journal entries from early college, I sort of grimace, like I can't believe I wrote that, but I did write that. Reading an interview is sort of the same way where I'm like, "Wow, I really was a different person at this time. I really did operate differently and write differently." That interview that we did is very much like that too. It's strange, because I remember saying "Oh, I'll never go out and say something directly," where that's all I do now is go out and say something directly. It's very strange. It happened slowly. It wasn't like one night I woke up and was like, "I'm going to write incredibly literal lyrics opposed to writing incredibly metaphorical lyrics." It's been an evolution, but it'll be interesting in that regard because I know there are a lot of people who have only listened to What It Takesâ¦ and now this will be their second real taste of us and it sounds a lot different now. There has been a trail of 7-inches and EPs and stuff that if you follow that trail, both musically and lyrically, it will make sense how we've arrived here. That will be a big gap for a lot of people. I'm actually kind of interested to see how people react that way.
After listening to the album a few times, and other music of yours, where Cathy is referenced, it's almost like Cathy goes from being this actual person to a fictionalized character in this world that you've written. It's kind of like how Snowing used the name "Melissa" in their songs. For people who don't know Cathy, your music becomes this fictionalized world of you and your wife's adventures and the graphic novel illustrates that.
Yeah, it's interesting. Like, Melissa, for instance, is a real person too, we know each other. That's interesting to think of…I guess I've never even thought of that, what you sort of unintentionally do when you write about a person and kind of put them up on a different plane of existence for your listener. I know a lot of people are like "Oh, wow" when talking about Snowing. Like who is this person, I'd like to meet this person or things like that. I guess I never even thought about that as being a side effect, kind of putting her up on a pedestal. I love her very much and she's my wife, so I'm just writing about what I know. I guess it's an unintended side effect of doing things. Now for my brother, we were counting, and my brother and Cathy are tied for references in the new album or for being near an event, when the song took place or whatever. In "A Keepsake" I wrote about a canoe trip that I took with my dad, my brother and my uncle, and I showed all of them, we were all together for my brother's birthday, I showed them that song and it was really interesting to actually show the real people in the song the actual song and see how they felt about it. I had talked to all of them when I was writing the lyrics to fact check the stories and make sure everything was accurate as possible. It's different entirely to read and listen to something then it is to talk about something. I also thought about that, going down that same train of thought, I suppose, in one of the songs, I wrote about the Apple Fest, which is an annual event that happens every year in Fenton, and it's just like a small town, tiny carnival. It's not a big deal at all and I thought to myself, "I wonder if anyone would actually want to go to the Apple Fest now" because we reference it in the song. They would probably be disappointed going. It's a fun, small town carnival, but that's all it is. I think sometimes people build up, when other bands that they look up to write about it and they picture it being much more of an event or a place and then sometimes it's just and actual place. You can't quantify that. I know with writers, like Hemingway, I want to go to the places where he was. Or, for example, one of my interns is a huge Wonder Years fan and I guess they wrote about this diner right in Philly or something like that, I'm not entirely positive, but we went and we ate at that diner because she really wanted to eat at it because they wrote about it. So, I guess it is a powerful tool. From the writer's perspective, it's very different from the audiences. Let's say you are a huge Empire! fan and I can't tell you if you actually went to something like Apple Fest, I can't tell you how that would make me feel. If I were to go visit one of my favorite author's sites where he wrote a lot of stuff, I would probably feel differently. I'm really rambling here, so I apologize.
At what point in writing the lyrics did you decide you wanted to turn it into a graphic novel?
I can't really remember actually. I think I was mostly through the lyrics. I think it was probably 75 percent done with the lyrics. When I thought of that too, I didn't want me turning it into a graphic novel, changing the way that I wrote the lyrics either to be like, "Oh this would be easier to illustrate, this would be easier to write" or something like that. I didn't overly think about it that either. Then when it was truly done, when it was finished, I was like "Ok, let's try and make this real, let's try and make this into a graphic novel." So I would say about 75 percent of the way through and I definitely tried to not let that shape the way I wrote things either.
How much planning went into the Ribbon graphic novel and how much time did Ben Sears work on it?
I can't say how much time he actually spent on it, but I would imagine a good deal. We gave it to him a couple months before we needed it and then he worked at his own pace. I made a kit for him where I included pictures from all the events that happened. I went to my parentâs house and went through some old photo albums and I also made notes. So like when Cathy got into an accident, what was the model and make of the car that got into an accident with her, and the same thing with all the other events. I tried to be specific as possible. Some of it showed up in the graphic novel, some of it didn't. I didn't want it to be a handicap, so that Ben didn't have to go out his way to include the stuff, but it was there if he needed it. Some of the stuff he really drew upon it, like for example, in the first song, in "Ribbon," the church that Cathy and I got married at is in the graphic novel and it's very accurate. The same thing with how he drew my parents, it's very accurate. He had those pictures to draw upon and it's very cool, because I think that a lot of people wouldn't know if it was accurate or fictionalized anyway, but to me it was very important to get every detail as exact as it could. Like for example, in the graphic novel, throughout the years I've had different hair cuts and the graphic novel actually reflects those stages of me and Cathy's haircuts and et ceteras, et ceteras as time went on too. It's cool to be accurately represented from those time periods.
Going back the music on the album, did writing music for so many splits and 7-inches between the two full-length albums change how you wrote music given the smaller amount of space for recorded music?
Yeah, I think it really helped us trim the fat. The same philosophy that I was applying to my writing style, I wanted to apply to my music writing style as well. For example, if something didn't need to be there, it shouldn't be there. When we were doing a lot of split 7-inches and whatever, we wanted to have more songs. If you do it wanting to maximize the amount of songs on for the space, we found we could put two songs on a 7-inch instead of one. If you look at Year of the Rabbit, where we didn't really realize that, which is our first 7-inch, there is one song on each side, where we really probably could've fit more stuff on that. What actually made me realize it really was when we did a split with Evan of Into It. Over it. and he had two songs on his side versus our one song. I was like, "Oh, why didn't we put two songs on it." For some reason it just didn't occur to me that you could, because growing up, most of the them were singles, there's the single on one side and a b-side on the other side or whatever it was. That opened my eyes to like, "Oh, we should be doing more songs," and from that point on, we've had at least two songs on every split or four songs on a 7-inch. The restrictions are kind of nice, because it forces you to be more concise.
That was one of the first things I noticed about the album was that the music and lyrics almost began and ended together without much else going on.
Right, yeah, there was a couple things that I also really wanted to do and that was one of those where like less wasted space. I don't feel like it's wasted or anything, but that's just our writing style now. At some point maybe we can go back and write longer songs. I'm not closing that door or anything, but right now, this is what fits us. This is just like a different stylistic approach. The other thing I tried to do was, in keeping with trying to do what you do best and just do that, I also decided to not try and push the envelope with my range and so I wanted to stay in my comfortable vocal range as well. I grew into that. With What It Takes… and stuff like that, I'm kind of pushing and exploring, and now Iâve sort of arrived at a comfortable…When I say comfortable I don't mean like we're only going to write like this or we found what we're good at, we're going to stay doing the same thing, but what I wanted to do was not have any weak points on the album, so I stayed with my vocal range too. On earlier stuff, I did some really high, high stuff. Like I kind of wanted to stay away from that some. We dubbed it the "man wail" and my theme was "the 'man wail' is dead, long live the 'man wail,'" so I didn't want to have that. In fact, there was one song that that was prominently featured and I actually went back and rewrote it and re-sang it at a lower medium just so it sits more comfortably with the music. I didn't want anything that would throw you out of the action.
With recording your last full-length, you self-recorded it at your parents' house had a lot of problems with your laptops and latency issues. Did you record all of your instruments by yourselves on this new album and did you record it in a studio?
Actually, ever since What It Takes…we have gone to a studio, because it was just too much for me. Also, playing all the instruments is enough, so I felt like I didn't have to worry about if the mic placement is right or am I getting this right tone. I just wanted to concentrate on getting the part done. After the Football. Etc., split, we've gone to the same person for everything. His name is Matt Halliday, he runs a studio called the Minx Recording studio. He used to live really close to us and he has since then relocated to Toledo, which is really not that far, it's like an hour from us, but we feel really comfortable with each other and we know how play off of each other. We actually left and tried to record the album with Ed Rose last year and it just didn't work out, it was just not a good personality match, and so we went back to Matt, who we've done everything with, and immediately felt comfortable again and I think got a much, much better product and recorded the album we wanted to release.
One of the hold ups for this album release was waiting for Bob Nanna from Braid and Chris Simpson from Mineral to record their vocal parts. How did Bob and Chris get involved with doing the vocals and how important was it to have them on the album?
I've been fortunate enough to become friends with them, which is still surreal for me because those are my teen heroes. Looking up to Braid and Mineral, to be able to work with them, it still blows my mind that they are on our album. It was really cool to see the reaction when I was able to tell people that Chris Simpson is on this track, and Bob Nanna they would recognize and be like, "Is that really?!" So, very lucky about that. Through touring, one time in Austin, I had been talking to Chris through Zookeeper, through MySpace back in 2010 or something like that, and we had just put out our spilt with Football, Etc. We were going down and playing in Austin, and I think it was maybe the first time we played Austin, but I messaged him and asked him to come out to the show. I didn't expect him to come out to the show, but he came out and we hit it off from there. Now we're putting out his Zookeeper record on Count Your Lucky Stars. I met Bob just through, I can't remember exactly, maybe he came out and played one of our showcases or something like that. I can't remember entirely how we actually met, but he is an incredibly nice guy too. We actually put out one of his records, Certain People I Know, which was the band that he and Damon did after Hey Mercedes and it's an amazing album and I'm glad that it got to see the light of day. I just sort of asked both of them to do it and they agreed to do it. It did take them a long time to do it. Bob lives in Chicago, which is not far from us, and we we're playing a show in Chicago and Mikey from Dowsing has recorded a bunch of stuff, and had Bob just come over to where they were living, where Eric and Mikey were living, and he just laid down the vocal tracks in the basement and did it in like two takes. It was incredible. We had tried a couple times before to get together or for him to get to a studio. It's a tough thing to be able to do. The same thing with Chris, he had tried a number of times and had set up a couple days and it just didn't end up working out for a while and he actually even told me, "I really want to do this, but I understand if I'm holding up your album. If you need to get it out, you need to get it out, we can move forward without that." And to him I was like, "Honestly, you being on this album," and I felt the same way about Bob too, "You being on this album means the world to me so if I have to wait a year, I'll do that." I always think that if I hadn't pushed on and said "Ok, you guys don't have time," later in my life I'm not going to remember the couple extra months or two that would've saved the album from coming out earlier. What I'm always going to remember is them being on the album. Incredibly glad I waited for that and incredibly glad that they were willing to lend their voices for this album. It really, really makes it. To me, it makes it really special.
I know with What It Takes To Move Forward, you had a couple of bonus songs that were released afterwards, are they any bonus songs for You Will Eventually Be Forgotten?
There are two bonus songs that we've actually written the music for but haven't recorded yet, but they are going in the Japanese version of the album. It comes out on Stiff Slack, who also releases all of our stuff. They're written but not recorded yet. I guess I should say, theyâre written and demoed out, but we're going to the studio soon to record them. Unfortunately, the release of the Japanese import will probably be a month or two later than the actual release of the US version. I think it's important to give it something special, to give something more.
Do those extra songs follow along with the rest of the songs on You Will Eventually Be Forgotten?
They do, there is one small difference, but I guess large difference, is that Jon, who was our drummer for a number of years and appeared on the Into It. Over It. split, On Time Spent Waitingâ¦, Football, Etc. split and a couple other random things, he played drums for those songs. I play drums and bass on all of the new album, but he plays drums on the two bonus tracks.
I wanted to talk to you about the "emo revival" a little bit. 2014 has very much been the year of "emo revival" to mainstream media, having been playing emo influenced music for years, do you think all this recent attention to emo music is genuine or do you see it as something to create traffic for websites?
I think it's probably a mix of both. Just like anything else, you can feel genuine about something and want to boost your traffic or want to find that niche new thing or whatever. I think it's very exciting. You know. You've been covering this since it started, so you too have seen it evolve and grow and I'm assuming, this is probably not even going out on a ledge here, but you too are probably surprised by how much traction it's gained. I didn't expect it to be this big of thing, but it's awesome. All the bands in our scene have worked very hard and I think they deserve a shot at whatever it is. It's interesting to me the other side of things. From what it was before to what it is now, the way the media covers it and sometimes the justice they do to things and the misinformation they have. I feel almost as though one site would say something and then everyone else gets their information more from the original news post or site or story opposed to really digging in and really getting some new interesting facts or things that weren't covered in the first place. When I was younger, the term was being maligned, and it was really strange to me when they started calling bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Hawthorne Heights and all that stuff, Taking Back Sunday, they started calling that stuff emo. I'm not judging the music based on anything else, but it was strange to me that they fell under that umbrella term. It's definitely happening again, like Modern Baseball, The Hotelier, bands like that are very talented bands, but I don't think that they fall under that umbrella, but yet that's how they're being brought in. And even like, I love The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, those guys are some of my best friends, but you know, I'm not sure they're necessarily an emo band in that traditional sense and that's fine too. It's just interesting to watch that label become kind of a blanket term for everything and every band is all of a sudden an emo revival band, even though maybe this band is a pop-punk band or maybe this band is this or that or a post rock band or whatever. That's inevitable though. I'm just happy for the coverage regardless.
Also running Count Your Lucky Stars, have you seen an increase in sales or venue turnouts related to the all the attention emo music has been getting recently?
I think so. Just by virtue of more people becoming aware of something. It definitely makes more orders, and the hope is we get as many as possible. The whole point of running a label, contrary to what some people say or think, when you're in a small punk genre, the point is for everyone to hear your music, so more sales are indigenous to more people hearing your music and I want everybody to hear all of our bands. I think all of our bands our amazing, that's why I find those bands. Trying to get that ball out there so the more coverage we get will lead more people into checking us out and more exposure and that also leads to more word of mouth. I don't want to be that secret that everybody in the scene keeps and nobody else gets to hear. I want everybody to hear it. I want everybody to hear all of our bands.
The last song on You Will Eventually Be Forgotten deals with being away from your wife on New Year's Eve and the stress of it all. The song ends with the lyric "Is this still worth putting our lives on hold for?" Looking back, has everything you've done in the past with music been worth it?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, there is going to be a point in our lives, just like there will be a point in every band's lives, where regardless of how well it's doing or how much it has been worth it, there'll be a tipping point where it's not worth it anymore. I'm not necessarily saying we're at that point or not, but as I become older and Cathy and I want to start a family and real life comes calling a little bit louder, it's definitely something that we contemplate. Sometimes things are going really well and if Cathy is able to come with me on tour, that's going to, that's going to help a lot more. Also, our longtime drummer fills in for us and, like I said has written a bunch of stuff with us as well, he's going back on tour with us and one of my really good friends from Dowsing is filling in on bass for us. It's really nice to be surrounded by friends and to be with Cathy on the road. So that's going to increase the longevity of whatever it is we do. I think that nobody likes to talk about it, but a band could break up at any moment and because we're older and we've been doing this for a long time, I'm aware of that possibility. That doesn't mean we are going to break up now, but that does mean we will at some point break up like every band breaks up. We're just trying to get the most out of it while we're doing this and as far as life experiences and enjoying it and doing what's best for us. When I was younger, I never would've asked that question, "Should I still be doing this? Is this worth doing?" I guess that's just an age perspective for us. Now I can ask those sorts of questions and really think about them. It sort of ties in with the whole theme of the music and the album, which I was saying earlier, which is I'm trying to walk that balance between appreciating life and not crippling it. Same thing with the band too. At some point I might not appreciate it as much and maybe that's when it's time to pack it in. That's not now, and I don't think that's now, but I know that it will be at some point in my life. I'm just being aware of it and trying to appreciate it all.