Denver’s Instant Empire recently released its sophomore EP, Heavy Hollow. On the new EP, the band went for a huge, wide-open sound—and succeeded. The new release is filled with big, arena-ready tracks, so it makes sense that the group has drawn favorable comparisons to Death Cab For Cutie.
The first track on the EP, “Counting Backwards,” weaves a tale about a woman who doesn’t have the life she envisioned when she was younger. The slow-building song is infectiously catchy and anthemic, with shouts of “Hooray! Hooray!” acting as a glorious climax. We recently talked with singer/guitarist Scotty Saunders about the EP. See what he has to say about the recording process, as well as the lyrical themes on “Counting Backwards.”
The EP sounds big: big sounds, big emotions. Did you set out to make the record like this, or did the music just end up that way?
Since our lineup solidified, I think we’ve always tended toward big sounds and big emotions, whether intentional or not. Part of that “bigness” likely stems from the fact we have six guys bringing ideas to the table, so we naturally gravitate toward a dynamic sound. But part of it also stems from the fact that, at least lyrically-speaking, we try to find an emotional resonance in the stories we tell, and that seems to lend itself to big topics. So while we never sat down and said, “Let’s make a big record,” we have always been drawn in that direction.
What was the recording process like for Heavy Hollow?
The recording process was a labor of love. And I should stress the labor part, as we had to track the record three times essentially. We started recording in late October and didn’t wrap up tracking until March. For Heavy Hollow, we really wanted a bigger and more natural-sounding rhythm section. So we tracked drums and bass in one day at a professional studio here in Denver called Side 3 Studios. One of their engineers, Andy Flebbe, dialed in some killer drums sounds. We then went on to record everything else (guitars, keys, vocals) ourselves at our rehearsal space.
This is where the “labor” part came in. The first time, our hard drive crashed mid-process. Like idiots, we hadn’t backed it up, so we had to go back and re-record everything except drums and bass. The second time around, we had a hardware failure and realized we needed better converters to get sounds on par with the rhythm section. Finally, the third time was the charm. The arrangements were definitely better for it in the end, but for our future releases, we hope to do things a bit differently.
In the beginning of “Counting Backwards,” you talk about a town you love. Is this a nod to your hometown of Denver?
Denver is a very special place for all of us, for sure, but I think “Counting Backwards” could be about any town. This song is written from a woman’s perspective and really explores the dichotomy of her life. By all accounts, she’s got it great; she lives in a beautiful town that she loves, she’s got good kids, a solid husband. She knows she should be thankful for all these things, but this wasn’t the life she’d envisioned when she was younger. Her dreams of traveling, seeing the world, experiencing life to its fullest—these “What Ifs?” are crushing her. You know, you wake up one day and realize that this is it—this is my life. No matter what town you’re in, there are always those feelings of being trapped and constrained by the choices you’ve made. That’s really an interesting idea to me, and I hope we convey it in this song.