The Empty Suits: “It’s Rock N’ Roll”
You would assume that I could probably describe the sound of the Empty Suits’ latest album with at least some degree of accuracy, with me being such a huge fan of hard-driving, straight-ahead rocknroll music. But no, I can’t. Not quite. And that first sentence proves it.
It was pure fucking luck, the night I accidentally heard this band for the first time. I was catching a friend’s show at The Olympic, and lo and behold, the opening band was the Empty Suits. Another buddy was standing next to me as the band took the stage, so I leaned over and asked him, “You ever heard these guys?”
“No, never. …But I think I’ve seen that bass player in another band.”
And this, dear reader, was all the info I had as I watched this band rip into one of the most effortless, most fun, and most kickass sets I have heard in a long while. It was an album-release show for another band, and yet before it was over, I found myself wondering, Why the fuck aren’t these guys headlining? Or touring nationally? They’re that good. No foolin’.
Van Nielsen (vocals and guitar) and Zack Maier (drums) make up the backbone of this band. A couple weeks ago, they kindly met up with me in a back booth at the Flying Pie on Fairview for an interview. I wanted to know everything about the band and their new EP, so I started by asking them if they were from Boise, originally.
Nope. Turns out Van is from Spokane (and then Louisville), and Zack is from Burley. Which begs the question, how did these guys get together?
“We met here. I was sittin’ on some music and I wanted to put something together, so…it never really lined up when I lived in Louisville,” Van explains. “Then when I came here, it was really fast. I found Zack within, like, a month. …We met on Craigslist, basically.”
“I think our first show was in November of 2018, and it was at the High Note,” Zack says. “Van and I practiced for a couple months before that, and then we added a bassist.”
At the mention of a bassist, my ears perk up. After all, there’s a bassist with them at every live performance, but there’s no bassist here for me to interview. In fact, the new EP credits only Van and Zack, with Van handling the bass duties. Confusing, right? So I ask them, Who’s the guy playing shows with you?
“That’s Will,” Van tells me. “He plays in Bonehaus–he’s actually a guitar player. He’s a great guitar player.”
“He’s awesome!” Zack chimes in.
This prompts a digression about Bonehaus having a few underage members, and the difficulties of booking all-ages shows in Boise. Bereft of a dedicated all-ages venue from the mid-’00s to the mid-’10s, our town has seen a promising batch of venues pop up over these last few years. Zack and Van sing the praises of The Regal Beaver (which, until recently, was called Donut Daze) and Deathproof Coffee, and I tell them about CRLB, which had only just opened up the week before.
Steering the conversation back to their band, I ask the guys about the recording of their new EP. Specifically, did the guys (as with the demos I heard this last summer) engineer, mix, and produce it?
“Yeah,” Van nods.
“Yep, we did,” seconds Zack.
Didn’t send it off to have it mastered or anything like that?
“We thought about it,” Van says, and Zack elaborates. “We originally were going to send it out, but then, as we… It was a lot of just trial and error, and scientific method.” He says this last part in a self-effacing way.
“We learned a lot, man,” Van admits.
Zack goes a bit further. “I had had that [experience] before, where I had done a project and then I sent it off to somebody else. And it didn’t fit in the parameters that they worked with… Granted, I didn’t know what I was doing! But with this one, we could send it off to somebody, and they might be like…”
Like, ‘It’s not formatted in such-and-such a way’? I ask.
“Right. And by the time we got to that point, we just figured we were better off kinda deep-diving on YouTube.”
Van enthusiastically agrees. “Yeah, Youtube! Thank God! If I had had that when I was a teenager!”
Zack mentions other perils involved with having an outside production and mastering service handle their music: the hassle of constant interaction regarding every little detail, the uncertainty of being ‘on the same page,’ sonically speaking, as an outsider.
“We like things a little ‘blown out,’” Van explains, regarding their ideal sound. “I was afraid of handing it off to somebody, and they tune it up, they ‘clean’ it so much that it just feels kinda dry…and that ‘raw’ part of it’s just kinda gone.”
As for the finished product, which is now available for streaming and download at Bandcamp (see link below), I see there are plans for CD and cassette release on December 14th? (They nod.) With an extremely limited vinyl release set for early 2020? (Ditto.) How and where is this being done?
Zack gives me the run-down: “The team we’re working with is called Little Elephant. They do lathe-cut vinyl. So right now, for our first press, it’ll probably only be like ten units. A super-short run, yeah.”
In promoting the album, it goes without saying they will likely be playing a few local shows in the coming weeks and months. So I ask them where they’d like to play.
Van mentions Donut Daze, aka The Regal Beaver, and he praises the improvements the venue has made to make it more performance-friendly. New stage, better sound, etc.
“The Olympic’s rad,” Zack enthuses. “I mean, they dial you in.”
Van agrees. “They always dial you in! Every time we play there, I’m like ‘Oh, man, I can hear myself perfectly [in the monitors], and no feedback.”
As for bands they enjoy sharing the bill with, Zack doesn’t hesitate to list a few. “When we played the shows at The Olympic, we played with a lot of really cool touring bands, I thought. But locals? We really like The Seatopians. Uh, we played with Dirt Russell, and they shred.”
“Yeah,” Van gushes, “Dirt Russell’s great!”
“We’re trying to line something up with The French Tips. We’re hoping to, after the start of the year,” Zack tells me.
And Van picks up the thread: “I really like watching The French Tips, and Lloyd and Savior. Which is funny, because Lloyd’s booking all these shows at the Regal Beaver, but we still haven’t played a show with his band yet! But, uh, he’s been a really cool friend, and really supportive.”
Any plans to tour?
“Yeah, we’ve talked about it,” Zack says, a bit hesitantly. “Maybe just doing the northwest circuit.”
“We’d like to up and do that route maybe next summer, or early Spring,” Van says hopefully. “I think we could put something together. ‘Cuz I know enough people on that route where we can probably get a spot to sleep, and a couple of spots where I know we could get decent gigs at… Probably after Treefort.”
Anything else we should expect from you in the future?
Matter-of-factly, Van confesses, “I’m sitting on a handful of other songs right now. Some we play live, and some that are in the works.”
So keep your eyes peeled for these fellas to play at Treefort this coming Spring. They put on one hell of a live show. And, as for the immediate future, you can catch the band at The Regal Beaver this Saturday, the 14th, for their Album Release gig. The show starts around 8pm, and features supporting acts Chief Broom and Vermillion Sun. They will have the new album for sale, and likely other merch, so bring a few extra bucks.
If you can’t make the show, follow the link below to their Bandcamp page, where you can stream and/or download their album. I can’t possibly recommend it enough. The songs are fantastic, and the band just plain rocks. More than anything, the adjective “fun” comes to mind. It’s a fucking fun album. And I say that with zero sarcasm. So wrap those songs around your ear-holes, people. You may find yourself with a new favorite band.
New Cassette by James Plane Wreck