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Great Interstate, Zodiac Empire


So the 2014 Utah Arts Festival happened this weekend, and showcased a lot of artwork, films, kids activities and whatnot, all under a blazing hot sun that wouldn't let up once. —- Despite the heat, this year was a damned fine festival with packed crowds everywhere you went as well as an array of new artists showcasing their work. This was one of those years where it didn't matter if it was your first time going or your 10th; you still saw something new that was really cool to check out.

Of course, for my coverage, we always focus on the local music. Today, we've got interviews with two rising bands, the first with ambient rockers Great Interstate, and the second with dance/pop-rock group Zodiac Empire. You can check out pictures of both performances in this massive gallery of pictures I took over the course of the festival, which features all the other local performers and musicians I saw as well.

Great Interstate (Matt Morrison, Andrew Goldring, Ken Vallejos, Tate Mccallum-Law)

Gavin: Hey Andrew! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Andrew: I’m a 22-year-old musician, songwriter and recording engineer from Salt Lake City. I got my start in music playing blues guitar (believe it or not) as a little kid. I did that for a few years, and then in high school I started to take songwriting a lot more seriously. Since then I’ve been playing in various bands and doing solo projects, and over the past couple of years I’ve become fascinated with the world of music production. These days I’m spending a lot of my time in my studio recording other bands, as well as getting my new project Great Interstate off the ground.

Gavin: The last time we spoke you were working on Your Meteor. How have things been going with that project and what's the good word on the future of that band?

Andrew: This is awesome of you to ask, considering Your Meteor has been under the radar for quite some time. The band is still together and we are currently recording a new full-length album! My bandmates Tom Roberts and Zeke Hartmann have written most of the material together, and I am handling the production side of things as well as playing drums and guitar on the record. I’m really excited for people to hear these new songs; they are really different from our old stuff. We’ve had a few different lineups in the past, but now it’s down to just the three of us. We haven’t been playing many shows because, realistically, we need a couple more arms to replicate the sound that we have in the studio. We’re planning to release the new album at the end of the summer or early fall, and by then we’re hoping to have a solid live lineup as well.

Gavin: You had been working with Golden Sun, but left the band in 2013. How was it working with them and what led to the departure?

Andrew: Playing with Golden Sun was a really unique experience for me. I was in the band for two years, and over that time we had the opportunity to do some amazing things. However, as time went on I felt increasingly out of place in the band, and that’s when I started to realize what it was I really wanted to do and say with music. To make a super long story short, I realized that Golden Sun didn’t really have any room for me to accomplish my musical vision. My old bandmates, the Meier brothers, are all amazingly talented and they have a pretty distinct vision for what they want their band to be about. That was starting to clash with my songwriting and my personality. I was tired of the music that we had made, and when we tried to write new stuff together, it wasn’t really going anywhere. I was the lead singer, but I wasn’t able to be the band leader so it was a weird vibe for me. I wasn’t having a very good time onstage or on the road either, so I left the band last summer. It was a mutual split and we are all still good friends. I think the boys have really come into their own since I left, and it’s much better for them to be creating the music they want to make without someone like me in the mix. That experience helped me understand what’s important to me, and even though it was really hard to leave a such a good band I’ve grown more as a musician through that decision than anything else I’ve ever done.

Gavin: In June 2013, you released a solo EP called Forgotten Harvest. What was it like putting that album together and how was the reception to it?

Andrew: In the spring of 2013, I had a pile of songs laying around that I had written over the previous years. None of these would have fit with Golden Sun, so I decided to take my favorites and put together a little solo record. I started jamming those songs with my friend Jarith Hughes, who I met that winter when he came to SLC from Australia for a few months. Jarith, myself and Zeke from Your Meteor played a basement show together and it was the best show I’ve ever played. Soon after that, we spent a couple of weeks recording Forgotten Harvest. It was thrown together real quickly, I’m pretty sure all the drums were tracked in like two hours. I was really stoked on the sounds we got. I didn’t get to do much with the record, especially since the lineup wasn’t sustainable. The release show was great and it was awesome to have new life breathed into my old songs; overall, I was really happy with the way it turned out.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start a new project, and what made you go for more of an ambient rock vibe to the music?

Andrew: Well, after I quit Golden Sun, I started to get kind of depressed. I had nothing really going for me musically, and I didn’t really want to do the solo thing anymore. I started writing a ton of songs that summer in hopes that it would become something cool, and it did! Those became the seeds of the new project, and the ambient sound is really just what came out when I started arranging them. I love ambient textures and I write really long songs. I wasn’t able to do any of that in my old band, so I took full advantage of it this time and came up with some drawn-out dark-sounding passages on the new record.

Gavin: What was it writing the music for the album and focusing on taking it in a certain direction?

Andrew: Writing the album was great, but compiling it was kind of strange. All of the songs just spilled out of me, so that part was awesome. I had a lot to write about because I was dealing with a lot of interesting circumstances. Deciding what direction an album should go is always the hardest part for me, but I did my best to just create the sounds I wanted to hear and not worry about genres or labels or anything like that.

Gavin: You recorded it mostly by yourself, and only worked with two session drummers in Matt Morrison and Jarith Hughes. What made you go in that direction and how was it working with them?

Andrew: Well, when I first started the project, I didn’t have anyone to play with, so I just started recording all by myself. Jarith came back to Utah for a month, and so I got him to play drums on the album and help me arrange it. Him and I collaborate together really well, and I wanted us to do another project together while we still could since he lives in another country and is getting married. I had started practicing with the live lineup around this time and we had played a couple of shows, but I decided that it would be best for the music if I just finished the album on my own with a couple of friends here and there to help me out. I had Matt, our bassist, play on most of the songs also.

Gavin: What did you think of the final product and what made you go with the name Great Interstate for the project?

Andrew: Overall, I am really happy with the album. Sonically, I think it’s really interesting, and I meant every word in all the lyrics, which is really important to me. I put more work into it than any other record I’ve ever done, and so I was totally sick of the songs by the time I finished it. However, listening back to it a couple months after the release, I am pretty satisfied with the way it sounds. As for the name, it’s nothing special really. I had a list of possible band names and that’s the one that my friends liked and that stuck out to me the most.

Gavin: Did you know from the start that you wanted to turn this into a live performing band or did you start it thinking it would just be a solo thing?

Andrew: I knew that it would turn into something bigger than just a basement project, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like. It ended up just becoming an awesome live band and I couldn’t be happier.

Gavin: You've got an impressive lineup with Matt, Ken Vallejos and Tate Mccallum-Law. What influenced your decision to work with each person and how was it putting the band together with the music?

Andrew: The lineup literally just fell together. I had Ken’s number and liked his drumming, so I called him up and we started jamming some of my tunes. Matt had played drums with me also in the past, but he is a phenomenal bass player as well so I got him to come play bass with us. I’ve been acquainted with Tate for several years; he used to do sound for my old bands at Kilby all the time and he was always a super nice guy. I ran into him one day in front of Nobrow while I was grabbing a cup of coffee and he said he wanted to play some music, so he jumped right in and started learning the songs. It’s been a challenge to take material that has already been recorded and do it justice live, but it’s turning out to be really cool. The live sound is different than the studio sound and I like it that way.

Gavin: How has it been for all of you playing as a band, and how has it been building an audience again with a brand-new project?

Andrew: Playing shows has been a lot of fun! The only thing that’s hard is that we are all so busy with jobs and other bands that it’s been difficult to play live as much as we would like to. Every show we’ve played has been awesome so far though. Our release show at Diabolical Records was packed and the energy was amazing. The best thing about Great Interstate is that we are all experienced musicians, and we all have lots of connections in the scene so we’ve been able to get off on the right foot and do some pretty cool shows for being so young.

Gavin: Do you have any plans to take this band on a tour, or is it more of an in-Utah project?

Andrew: We would love to go on tour; booking it and getting the time off is the hardest part though. We are doing some regional stuff this summer, and hoping do so something a little bit longer in the fall.

Gavin: How is it for you guys to be a part of the Utah Arts Festival this year?

Andrew: We are really excited to play at the Arts Fest this year. I’ve played a few times in the past, and every time it has been amazing. It’s an honor to be included.

Gavin: Who else are you looking to check out this year, and what impact do you believe the festival has on local musicians?

Andrew: Not many of our friends are playing this year, so I’m excited to walk around and hear some music that I’ve never heard before! The Arts Festival is a really awesome thing for local music. It’s great to get exposed to people that don’t frequent the typical venues we play. I’m excited to get our stuff out to some new ears.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Andrew: You can expect a lot more live performances from us, and hopefully some new recordings as well. We’re hoping to put out another EP in the fall of some new music. We’re headed down to St. George for the Fourth of July, then playing the Kilby Court 15th Anniversary show on July 18, and Craft Lake City in August.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Andrew: I just moved my recording studio, Soundcave Productions, out of my house and into a commercial space in downtown Salt Lake! I’m always looking for new artists to work with. If you or your band need some recording, check out my website and listen to see if I might be a good fit for your project. I’ve been working on a lot of cool records lately. Check out Blue Milk by Koala Temple.

Zodiac Empire (Camden Chamberlain, Eric Stoye, Ransom Wydner & Stephanie Webb)

Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little about yourselves.

Camden: Zodiac Empire is all about fun, smart, relatable music and hooks for days! We have a lot of fun together and we think that comes through in our performances and recordings. We come from really different music backgrounds – Ransom's a rocker, Eric's a jazz guy, Steph's into folk and I'm really into electronic music. This eclectic blend of styles is sort of our trademark. Also, we're time lords.

Gavin: All of you are involved in other musical projects, what's happening with those bands at the moment?

Ransom: Yeah, we like to stay busy. King Niko is working hard on writing a sweet new album with our equally sweet new drummer Whil McCutchan (from Yaktooth), but we're also gigging. We just played Velour's Battle of the Bands. BassMint Pros is always making new music and getting around. We played the Arts Fest on Friday night at The Round and [we're] doing a short tour in New England this fall. I do some session vocal and songwriting work for Warner Chappell, too.

Camden: Besides Zodiac Empire, I have been starting to write a lot again for Cavedoll, which has gone back to a format of being strictly a recording project where lots of different people are involved and my primary role is that of producer and main songwriter. I'm really excited about some of the songs in the pipeline as well as the new array or incredible musicians I'm starting to collaborate with, not to mention some old faces that I can never get enough of. Also, my girlfriend, Maya Coppola, and I are starting to work quite a bit on each other's next albums, in terms of songwriting and producing new pieces together as well as being perfect sounding boards for each other.

Eric: Aside from ZE, I host a weekly open jam at The Woodshed with Max Muscolino and Jimmy Lauscher as The Deadlake Trio, perform weekly with a pop-jazz trio (Dave Bowen Trio) at the Grand America, perform and collaborate with many other local and touring acts, do session studio work, and teach private drum lessons

Stephanie: I've been doing a lot of songwriting as well as collaborating with George Nelson and Kaleb Hanley on their albums.

Gavin: How did you all come together to form Zodiac Empire?

Camden: Zodiac Empire started as myself and Ransom sort of reinventing Cavedoll last summer and spending all their time together because they're in love or something. Steph and Eric joined up in August and we played our first gig together at a show for KBER as Cavedoll. We confused Cavedoll fans for about a month or two more, then changed our name to Zodiac Empire.

Gavin: What was it about your collaboration that made you originally think it would work well, and what made you decide to go in a more indie-pop direction?

Ransom: Camden and myself have always had fun working together, and I wanted to be in a band with Camden since he moved to Salt Lake, got obsessed with Cavedoll and MySpace stalked him. They did a cool little side project a while back called Wires with Reid Laitinen (King Niko), Brian Jensen (DDJ), Van Christiansen (The Suicycles, Danger Hailstorm) and Rob Roake (The Suicycles). About a year ago, they were writing a bunch of songs, literally thinking of doing a two-man group where one of the men (myself) can't play a single instrument—it was totally nuts. Anyway, Camsom (as Cam and I will be known henceforth) were just geeking out for weeks, writing a bunch of songs when me and Steph met. Steph was doing folk music as a solo act, and Camsom asked her to sing on some songs. Camsom was way into Grouplove after playing with them at Gallivan and super into the idea of a male/female vocal project like what Cam had done with Cavedoll and The Suicycles, so Steph joined up. Steph suggested Eric on drums and somewhere an angel got its wings. We played around with a lot of sounds before deciding to take advantage of Steph's acoustic guitar skills in more songs. From the start we knew we wanted to be a pop band – more pop than anything any of us had done up to that point. We found that the songs we wrote with a focus on juxtaposing super electronic synth with acoustic—almost folky—guitar were our favorites and moved that way.

Gavin: Originally you started out as a five-piece. What made you shrink down the band and how did it affect the way you recorded and performed live?

Camden: The four of us are the original group, but a couple months into recording we wanted to try more electric guitar and a more traditional rock sound, so we talked to the best guy in town: Skyler Arbon. Skyler is RAD, and we played some amazing shows at Sundance with him, plus some shows around town. There was no messy breakup or anything—we just sort of went different ways. He's a really busy guy, and Zodiac Empire is pretty time-intensive. Focusing more on acoustic guitar melodies has helped define our sound as something we feel is pretty unique. OK, we're lying. The real issue was Skyler's glorious hair made Ransom jealous.

Gavin: You have a couple demo songs online. What made you decide to put samples out rather than go for full singles or put together an EP?

Ransom: We actually did release an EP as Cavedoll called Late Nights/Bad Decisions, which includes a couple songs from our upcoming album. Cam runs Kitefishing Studio, so we have TONS of material recorded. We just want to put our best foot forward and show people the record me made in L.A. before anything else. It's been really hard being so clandestine about the whole thing—keeping the songs under wraps and whatnot—but what fun would Christmas be if you watched your parents shop for and then wrap your presents? You gotta have a little surprise.

Gavin: You've been together less than a year, but your presence in the music community has fans at least curious. Have you found it harder or easier building an audience after already establishing yourselves?

Camden: It definitely helps that we all have contacts and networks of support from our other projects. We've had a much easier time booking shows, etc., than we would have had if we were all new to this—we've hardly had to do any bribing at all. At the same time, it is a little tricky when people have expectations about what we'll sound like based on other or previous endeavors. We changed the name from Cavedoll for exactly that reason—people expect Cavedoll to sound a certain way, and we sound completely different.

Gavin: What's been the biggest challenge so far, and how did you overcome it?

Ransom: Making our record was a massive undertaking. We needed to raise a substantial amount of money and commit weeks of our time and attention. With other projects, jobs and responsibilities, it seemed sometimes like it just wasn't possible. With the help of our amazing friends, families and fans, though, we were able to raise the money and make it happen. We all feel a little overwhelmed sometimes, but every one of us wants to make this our career and we do a good job of encouraging (and pestering, when needed) each other. Myself and Steph are literally ALWAYS making out, too, and Camden is starting to get envious, so that's a looming obstacle to overcome.

Gavin: There's been talk for a while about putting together an album, including recording sessions in California. What's the current status of the debut album?

Ransom: Without sounding too L.A. about it, we're currently shopping the record around and looking for a partner in the form of a label, distributor, etc. We'll be sending out copies to our IndieGoGo supporters in the next couple weeks, and we'll release it to the public as soon as we can after that! The hardest part, right now, is airbrushing abs onto Camsom for the album cover. Steph and Eric have these ridiculous abs and it just sort of looks uneven right now, so that's holding things up.

Gavin: Once all of that is taken care of, are you planning to do any touring?

Eric: We absolutely plan to tour! Once we have a gameplan for releasing the album, the biggest part of promoting it will be touring. We've got big plans, for sure. Our van, Jean Claude Band Van, is just itchin' for a long string of shows.

Gavin: With all the work you've put into the album so far, are you keeping it local on Kitefishing, or are you looking for a national label for release?

Camden: We're looking for a national label/distributor for sure. The support from our fans, friends and family has been incredible, and a lot of time and money has gone into producing the record so we want to go big with the release and promotion. There's a lot to be said for doing it all yourself, but Ransom already sold his soul to the devil for a major record deal and we're sort of banking on the devil keeping his word.

Gavin: What are you hoping to achieve with this new band in the long run?

Ransom: Literally all of it. Everything. We all want to go the distance with Zodiac Empire—national touring, radio, the works. We have a ton of songs already, and we can't wait write more and put out ANOTHER album (and another, and another and so forth). When Donny and Marie Osmond are singing backups for us at the Usana Amphitheater, THEN we might be satisfied.

Gavin: How is it for you guys to be a part of the Utah Arts Festival this year?

Camden: To play the Arts Festival in our first year together is a huge honor! Collectively, we've all played the Arts Fest a number of times, and those shows have always been among our favorites. There's face painting and tons of great food, and the jerks at the DABC failed to keep beer out of the festival, so what's not to love?

Gavin: Who else are you looking to check out this year, and what impact do you believe the festival has on local musicians?

Ransom: Oh wow! Where to start? Candy's River House, Better Taste Bureau and Watches are just a couple of the acts we're looking forward to! The Utah Arts Festival is such a great showcase of local talent alongside some of the best artists in the country. One of the best things about it is that it gives bands a chance to perform to a crowd of people who may not have ever seen them otherwise. You have your fanbase and you have the demographic who go to bars or the kids who go to all-ages shows, but the Arts Festival attracts EVERYONE.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Camden: Zodiac Empire plans to be BUSY for the rest of 2014 and well into 2015. If all goes according to plan, we'll be playing shows all over the place, putting out at least one more record right away (B-sides for the rad songs that didn't make the album) and doing every single thing we can think of to promote our record! We got this old book of spells and blood magic, so we feel pretty confident.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Ransom: We'll be playing two shows with Lindsay Heath Orchestra for their CD Release—Aug. 1 at Shred Shed and Aug. 2 at The Urban Lounge. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date. We have LOTS of things coming up: music videos, all our fun Indiegogo rewards, etc.