Philadelphia, PA noise-punks Empath share the new video for “Passing Stranger,” the new single from their anticipated upcoming album, Visitor, out 11th Feb via Fat Possum. The chamber piece was shot by Empath collaborator Halle Ballard in Catherine Elicson’s apartment.
Of the video, Elicson says “this video was shot in my apartment in one night. Garrett had ordered a bunch of candles online. We bought some supplies from the deli across the street and also a box of wine. We set up a bunch of colorful lights and props in my studio room and improvised most of the shots. The outdoor scenes were taken on the roof once we needed some fresh air. We ordered Indian food and didn’t really feel like working on the video anymore after eating, so I did a few shots alone and we called it a night. The video was shot by Halle Ballard on iPhone 11 at a high frame rate and on a DV camera. I edited it over the holidays on a copy of premiere pro cc that I have access to via my friend’s login she had when she worked for a documentary filmmaker. She hasn’t worked with him for a couple years though, so I’m grateful the login still works.”
“The beat was inspired by druggy Velvet Underground drums, on top of which Randall began improvising a heavy tremolo on his synth. One of the slowest songs we’ve ever written without an abrasive moment. We finally got to do a fade out. This song was written in a similar way to ‘Diamond Eyelids’ i.e. collaging together memories. This time I pieced together different memories from my childhood, some idyllic, some difficult, but as if it were a story about someone else returning to their hometown. The melody of this song was actually in a really old iPhone voice memo that I had made and forgot about. When I re-listened to it after a year or so, I was like damn this is catchy I gotta finish writing this one. I also wanted a song where I could bust out my sweep picking in a non-cringe way. I hope to be considered at the vanguard of sweep picking in pop music, thank you.”
Inspired by the disquieting scores of Nosferatu (1922) and The Wicker Man (1973) alongside David Bowie’s Low and forever favourites Fleetwood Mac, Visitor marks a seismic shift for the Philadelphia, PA quartet. While the album holds steadfast to the careening, joyous noise Empath staked their name on, Visitor was produced by Jake Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), making it the first release the band has recorded with a producer in a formal studio.
On Visitor, Empath sought to one-up the range of sounds heard on their previous album. During what he calls West Philly Christmas (the week undergrads at UPenn move out and leave piles of high-quality garbage out on the street) Randall Coon recovered a suitcase organ with a sound bank from a Jamiroquai record preset on it, which he later played on the album, in addition to running samples on Ableton and acquiring a brand new synth; Jem Shanahan, who plays a ‘90s children’s keyboard, had Portrait filter it in such a way that it sounded “less childlike”; Catherine Elicson’s vocals, buried deep in the mix on Active Listening: Night on Earth, take centre stage; and Garrett Koloski’s drums are as capacious as they might be in a live set.
“Our approach to songwriting, and what we constantly try to improve upon, is finding the meeting ground between all of our distinct points of view and ideas we are trying to achieve sonically and conceptually,” Elicson says. “We never want to be tied down to one type of song or sound, and we love all kinds of improvisational music. We try to fit everything we love into each song, and hopefully produce something new and exciting through that process of synthesis.”
Visitor attempts to fill space, both physical and psychic, visible and invisible. The album’s cover was photographed by Andrew Emond, who captures the interiors of abandoned buildings. “The spaces look lived in and altered by humans but no humans are present,” Elicson reflects. “The songs are similar in the sense that they talk about the ‘space’ between people. They’re not about specific people per se, but they illustrate the feelings people leave between each other, these subjective experiences. You can think of Visitor as a soundtrack to the memories and feelings that remain in places people have left behind.”
Empath included a series of samples on Visitor, all of which cohere to make the album sound as if it’s disrupting ambient noise. “Audio was taken from films, minecraft, a cassette of nature sounds from the Bayou, recordings of an air conditioner, and a church choir heard through the walls of the warehouse we rehearse in,” Elicson says. “It’s a collage of sounds intended to produce a feeling of hearing life through the walls.” Visitor attempts to bridge the space between. It’s an impossible task, surely, but the result of their efforts produces a transcendent experience all its own.
Empath is hitting the road in the US with Fucked Up later this month. All dates can be found here.
Out February 11th on Fat Possum
1. Genius of Evil
2. Born 100 Times
3. Diamond Eyelids
4. Passing Stranger
5. Corner of Surprise
6. House + Universe
7. Elvis Comeback Special