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A-Sides with Jon Chattman: Empires Strike Back; Fireworks Go Off

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With all the Stars Wars news last week (the casting announcement of Episode VII and the impending "May the Fourth Be With You" nonsense about to occur) , it was inevitable that a Jedi fanboy like me was going to ask the alt-rock band Empires about the saga in some way shape or form when they filmed an A-Sides session with yours truly in White Plains, NY. But, I'll admit I deliberately chose to wait to make an Empires and Empire Strikes Back connection until after I got the bulk of the interview done, and - of course - they nailed two songs live first. But, enough about Star Wars. It's getting way too much press now, and it has nothing at all to do with the amazing alt-rock band from Chicago I'm about to introduce you to or better acquaint you with. Sound good they do. OK, I'll settle down and get to it.

Empires (Max Steger, Sean Van Vleet, Tom Conrad, and Mike Robinson) have such a distinct sound I don't know whether to tell you they sound like The National meets [insert alt rock band here] or simply just say it's quality alt/indie-rock blended with subtle 1980s tones. Let's go with the latter. Any blog can tell you how they sound like. Have a listen, and make your own judgment. Music should be subjective anyway, but I digress. Empires formed roughly seven years ago, and have really been doing everything themselves since. For example, they wrote their own music, produced it, and even released their first album Howl for free on their site. It was all hands on deck again for their subsequent releases, but their upcoming EP and LP finds them putting their faith in someone else's hands: producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Black Angels, Cloud Nothings). I'll let you hear it from the horses mouth in the video interview below, but first watch their performance of EP title track "How Good Does It Feel" and marvel at their sound. You can also marvel at the fact they played it in a classroom within the Music Conservatory of Westchester. If those walls could talk, they'd, well, sing. Anyway, Empires have been touring non-stop since the beginning of the year, and with festival season in full bloom, you can find them all over the map including stops at Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits. Watch the vids below filmed by Sam Cooperman.

* For an exclusive performance of "Please Don't Tell My Lover," click here.

We move from Chi-Town to Motor City with a different sound but similar rock goodness results. Fireworks are a pop-infused punk band that are so much more than I just described them just a few words ago in this sentence. David Mackinder, lead guitarist Brett Jones, guitarist Chris Mojan, bassist Kyle O'Neil and keyboardist Adam Mercer just released their new album Oh, Common Life just came out, and there's so much weight to it that it expands well beyond the Hot Topic shopping circuit. The band, who are currently touring with The Wonder Years, Real Friends, Citizen, and Modern Baseball, took time out from their bat-crap crazy-busy tour schedule to perform two songs on A-Sides (filmed by mitchellwojcik.com
), and it's food for your ears. I don't mean that literally of course unless you can somehow make your ears chew, and somehow connect its canal to your digestive system. Actually, even then that analogy doesn't work. Anyway, the songs are awesome. Oh, and Mackinder fielded some questions, which you can read below just under the video of "Bed Sores." Cheers.

* To watch another exclusive live performance from Fireworks for A-Sides, click here.

Oh, Common Life is a gloriously ironic title for an album. How'd you come up with it?

Actually , Chris came up with the title and we all thought it complemented the themes of the record all to well. I like to think it represent the loss of youth and loved ones, the chokehold of suburbia and basically the efforts to make sense of life in a conventional sense .

The band has been pretty prolific ---- do you have a need to go back into the studio after touring for so long and vice/versa?
I think it's a double-edge sword, the inability to create and produce music definitely scares me. We always [try] to stay busy in that department . Touring obviously is trying at times, but it's been a rejuvenating feeling seeing new and old faces alike at the shows . It's funny they'd want to see men as old as Father Time complain, but hey, I'm okay we a outlet to vent.

How was making this album different than ones in the past?
This one felt incredibly personal compared to others. In addition to the personal contribution to lyrics - just some of the riffs and music I've been harboring with and typing with for awhile. Working with Brian McTernan has always [felt] comfortable but that man is a wizard when it comes to songwriting. [He's] always pushed us and tried to see it from our perspective...[was] a true honor!

You're touring with the Wonder Years, which is a terrific band, but can you admit a little disappointment in the fact you're not playing with the cast of TV's The Wonder Years instead?
Yes. However, The Wonder Years( band) have taught us a healthy amount about puberty, break ups, our first beer and much more. I do wish they threw a post-television show Winnie Cooper in the mix.

That would've been nice. Lastly, what do you make of fan bases who turn on their favorite bands when they hit mainstream radio? For example, I have friends who drank the Imagine Dragons Kool-Aid until they went big.
I always was weirded out by that . Clearly, there are artists whose songs you like more then others, but it's not like those songs you prefer disappear forever. Plus caring is sharing people!

A-Sides "Delve Into Twelve" Countdown
Each week A-Sides unleashes its Top 12 tracks of the week AKA the "Delve Into Twelve"based on the following contributing factors: songs I'm playing out that particular week NO MATTER WHEN THEY WERE RELEASED (think overlooked songs, unreleased tracks, and old favorites), songs various publicists are trying to get me to listen to that I did and dug a bunch, posts and trends I've noticed on my friends' Facebook walls, and - most importantly - the songs my two-year-old son gravitates toward by stomping his feet in approval. Yeah, you read that right. This weeks follows below (LW= last week's rank).

12. "Reverse" (debut) - SomeKindaWonderful
11. "Lanterns" (LW-8) - Birds of Tokyo
10. "Got To My Head" (debut) - Waters
9. "Dear in Your Headlights" (LW-9)- Blondfire
7. "Come with Me Now" (LW-6) - KONGOS
6. "Now Hear In" (LW-7) - Cloud Nothings
5. "Seasons (Waiting on You)"(LW-5) - Future Islands
4. "Blue Moon" (LW-3) - Beck
3. "Fever" (LW-4) - The Black Keys
2. "Alienation" (LW-2) - Morning Parade
1 ."Peaches" (LW-1) - In the Valley Below

About A-Sides Music
Jon Chattman's "A-Sides Music" series was established in August 2011 and usually features artists (established or not) from all genres performing a track, and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometimes humorous) way. No bells, no whistles -- just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and over manufactured, I'm hoping this is refreshing. Artists have included: fun, Rob Zombie, Pharrell Williams, Courtney Love, American Authors, Imagine Dragons, Gary Clark Jr., and more! A-Sides theme written and performed by Blondfire.