In the past few years, no band has worked harder than Eye Empire. Straddling the line between hard rock and metal, and with a truly independent, do-it-yourself work ethic, this is a group of music veterans—vocalist Donald “D.C.” Carpenter (Submersed), guitarist Brad “B.C.” Kochmit (Switched) and bassist Corey Lowery (Stuck Mojo, Stereomud, Dark New Day), along with drummer Ryan Bennett—doing everything they can to do what they love. With a two-disc version (featuring 24 tracks) of their debut album, “Impact,” available now and a new single, “More Than Fate,” hitting the airwaves, Eye Empire has returned to the place where you’ve been mostly likely to find them during the past two years: the road, dubbing this run the “Revolution Tour 2013.” When the band played the Recher Theatre in Towson, Maryland, Carpenter sat down with Live Metal’s Greg Maki for a pre-show interview.
LIVE METAL: Before we get into music, because of where we are and what’s going on right now, are you a football fan?
DONALD CARPENTER: At this time of year, I think a little of us that don’t really keep up too much during the season, we all come together. There’s a lot of good stories. It’s a good year. It’s been a crazy playoffs, so I can imagine how crazy it is around here.
So who ya got in the Super Bowl?
Who do I have in the Super Bowl? You know, I have to go with the (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis story. Up to that point, I was enjoying the Tony Gonzalez edge on the other side with Atlanta. I was hoping that Atlanta was gonna pick off San Fran, but that didn’t work. I think from there, I’ve gotta go with Ray. That’s pretty amazing.
You’re a pretty big baseball fan. I saw in the thank-yous, you have Johnny Damon and Bronson Arroyo. How did you meet up with those guys?
I’m a huge baseball fan, yeah. Back in 2003, we, as Submersed, were kind of brought into the business through Mark Tremonti, and Mark has been successful over his career. He’s made many different friends, and one of those friends that he introduced me to was a gentleman by the name of Dale Torborg, whose dad played in the majors—he played with Hall of Famers all throughout the years. He grew up playing with Ken Griffey Jr. in the clubhouse and all this stuff, and he grew up to play professional sports at a certain extent, became a strength coach for the Marlins. He has the whole history, he knows a lot of guys. 2003, he was headed out to meet up with some friends on the Red Sox that year, out in Tampa. He said, “Hey, I know you love baseball. These guys love music. Why don’t you come out, bring some of the demos from the first Submersed record and make some friends.” So I went out, and me and Kevin Millar and Todd Walker—those guys that are real personable—became friends. Right off the bat, we hit it off. That year, it was a little heartbreaking for them in the playoffs, and the next year, they came back and redeemed themselves.
You go through those kind of situations where you live these relatable lifestyles that very few people kind of understand, and you end up becoming pretty close friends. Over the years, I kept up with those guys. I was hanging out with a lot of the Orioles guys, too. Jeremy Guthrie’s a good friend of mine, and Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts and those guys. Yeah, it’s been pretty cool to get to go from clubhouse to clubhouse.
Who’s your team?
Well, see that’s the funny part. I grew up in Texas watching the Rangers lose and deal with the summer heat. But I had Nolan Ryan, and I was more of a fan of the game in the sense that I had these players that I really admired and looked up to. Nolan Ryan I was a big fan of, and as I said, as I gained a few friends in the game, I became a Boston fan, I became an Orioles fan, Toronto, now Guthrie’s over in Kansas City. I just love the game.
How is this tour going so far?
It’s a warm-up. As a band, we have to multitask from multiple cities. It’s challenging at times. One of the things that it does interfere with is our ability to be able to rehearse and prepare for tour. There’s a physicality that comes with touring that you can’t really simulate in a practice room. We’re starting to get our legs back, we’re starting to get a little bit of the swagger back. We have a couple new tunes that are in the set, so every night is really the next time we’ve played it. We don’t really get to sit on it and perfect it. Things are coming together. We’re looking forward to really getting rolling.
You’ve toured a lot in the past couple years, and I know you’ve been in this area a bunch of times. Are you seeing the crowd grow?
Yeah, I think so. For us, it’s definitely different. People are in a prioritizing situation in their life right now. They’ve got to prioritize this, let’s go out on a Wednesday night or a Monday night or a Thursday night. Still us even, as a band, we’re still trying to work up to be the weekend band. But the thing is that everybody that’s been here has not left. They’re very loyal. As it grows, it’s more of a slow pace. We don’t have a big marketing machine that draws people out. To be honest with you, the promoters out there are pretty lazy nowadays. There’s few promoters that really like to help build the scene, so we’re kind of doing that on our own.
As you said, you guys are kind of spread out, where you live, so after spending so much time with them on tour, have you learned anything about either your bandmates or the band as a whole?
I think when it comes to diversity of personalities in a band, it’s all pretty typical. A drummer’s a drummer. A singer, to a certain extent, is gonna be a singer. For us, everybody brings such talent, such history to the band that there’s a lot of respect there. Those certain aspects that may play in the overall dynamic don’t really affect us as much as most bands. Out here, for us, it was just a matter of finding out how strong each one of us are, because it takes a lot to really be able to come out here and persevere through what would seemingly be futile. We’re pretty confident in each other now that we can handle whatever comes at us.
You had a little time off before this tour.
Yeah, we toured for about 18 straight months, and then we took three months off and decided to write and a new record in that time—nothing that has an immediate release, but we figured that we were gonna get very busy, there wasn’t gonna be a lot of time to be able to stay ahead of the game, and we figured we’d use our time wisely and get a head start.
Is it finished?
It’s not finished. We have a record, and now we have the ability to develop it, maybe put ourselves in the position where might able to do some things with a song that we can’t necessarily do at this moment in time. We still have a new record with “Impact” that has a lot of great songs on it.
You just released a new single.
A new single, “More Than Fate,” yeah. “I Pray,” “More Than Fate”—those were the first two Eye Empire songs for us. Those were our anchor songs right from the beginning, and to go through everything that we’ve gone through in the last three years and for it to kind of come back around to “More Than Fate” to follow up “I Pray” is pretty poignant.
For the new songs, how did the writing and recording compare to the first time around?
Well, for one, I think we were all comfortable with who we were. We realized that we could be as dynamic with our sound as we wanted and our fans were gonna be up for the journey, which was important. That really took the reins off. I think for a band that’s independent and has 100-percent creative control—I think even on the first record, you’re gonna have a tendency to over-produce yourselves in certain ways. And I think this time around, it was really about saying, “You know what, we have fans that are up for the journey, we have a partnership that’s fully behind us, we have a sense of our identity now. Let’s take the reins off, and let’s just take those dynamics that we were able to create on this first record and just push them even further.” For me, it was about lyrically getting better, just growing. I can see where I am and where I need to grow as a lyricist and as a storyteller, not just from an artistic standpoint but from a fan’s perspective—what are we truly conveying and how are we getting that point across? I think we kind of went deeper on that.
Right from the start, this band was very independent and very do-it-yourself. Now you’ve got his partnership (Bulldog Productions) behind you. How has that changed things?
It’s substantial. For a small business, you need a capital venture partner that will come in and bring that operating revenue to where you can expand your business and you can grow and we can expand our fan base. We had gotten to the point where it was only gonna go so far, besides us plugging and retweeting and doing all these things through social networking. We had to be able to put ourselves in a position to get out here and physically build it face to face and grow as a live entity. We’re in a position where we can actually make money off CD sales and put that back in our business, but for a lot of bands, you make your money by going out and touring, you make your money by selling merchandise. For us, we just feel like we’re more effective live. We have to come out here and really show these people what we’re about. It goes beyond the music, and I think there are certain ways you can understand that through social media and networking. But to be able to come out and see it face to face and see the extra time we put into it and the effort that we put into it to connect with people I think makes a difference.
Where do you see your band, specifically, going as far as releasing music? Obviously, CDs are all but dead, even though you said you’re still making money from them.
The days of waiting two years for a new album and all that are kind of over. People are—fickle would be one word, gluttonous would be the other, I guess—with music. We’re just always hungry for the new thing. Even for us, as soon as we put something out, everybody’s wondering what’s coming next. You just have to be prolific. You always have to be busy, you always have to be writing and pushing yourself. You can never really sit idly by and expect things to happen, even for your talent. No matter how talented you are, you always have to be putting yourself in a position to evolve and grow. I think for us, in order to evolve, we have to constantly be challenging ourselves to come up with new ideas and new music, whether it be getting creative with how we connect with our fan base and open up and make it more personal of an experience, or just writing better songs and producing better music. It’s one of those things where you can say you need to put out song by song by song and make it a singles game, or you can say you need to put out a record a year or you need to put out a record every six months. It’s all been done. The Beatles did the every-six-months thing, they did the singles thing. Everybody’s kind of done it. So it’s really what works for you and your fan base, and what gets the job done. I think for us, right now, we’re doing a good job at getting as much out there and putting our heart and soul into it.
Yeah, and the double album—24 songs for 10 bucks. That’s amazing. You have some acoustic versions of songs on there.
Yeah, three acoustic versions. Actually, what we did when we went in to do those tracks, we changed them up a little bit. We didn’t just recreate what was done electrically. We wanted to give them their own sense of purpose. Some people have used the word “audacious” and things of that nature. It was an accumulation of four years of commitment and sacrifice by Brad and Corey starting out, and me coming in and bringing my voice to it, and then eventually with some of the later tracks, having Ryan involved. (Sevendust drummer) Morgan Rose did some of the early drum tracks. To me, it wasn’t a two-album disc, it was really an accumulation of four years of building.
Specifically, with the acoustic stuff—is that a side of the band you’d like to explore more in the future?
Yeah, even with the two-album, we have “Reason,” we have certain songs that are acoustic-driven. We explore that a little more on the new record. It’s something that you can always fall back to. I think that’s the beauty of it. Even before we all fell in love with “Unplugged” and all these things, the reason it was so tantalizing when it first came out was because that was an unseen side of these bands. I think you do want to explore those realms, but it would be kind of nice to have some sense of mystique to where you get two, three, four records into a hard, electric, metal fan base and then, wow, look at this new avenue we haven’t explored.
Since I’ve been following the band, I’ve always been impressed by the design of the website and your merchandise. How important is that, the presentation of the band?
There’s not a detail of this that we don’t take seriously. Brad does all our website design, he does all our merchandising. We’re not control freaks, but we feel like we can present our vision. Brad is a capable artist. He’s able to take the way that we all feel and put that into visuals, so there’s really no need to ask anybody else.
Obviously, you guys have been working really hard the past few years. Is there something that stands out to you as highlight so far in this band?
That’s a good question. I think when you come from a perspective right here where you’re as humble as we are just to have this ability to put ourselves in a position to pay our bills, take care of our families, play music—that’s a highlight in itself. We just went to play for School of Rock this morning, for a bunch of kids out here in Maryland—that’s fun. There’s all these opportunities you have to reach out and touch people’s lives, and there’s been individual stories along the way that are highlights. Every day, when you’re grateful for every aspect—the growth of being able to get into this Bandwagon (RV), out of the van and make it a little easier on ourselves, has been a lot of fun. You just appreciate every little step and every little progress that you make.
Looking forward, what kind of goals do you have for the band? Is it just to keep going, keep growing?
Yeah, we obviously have the new material that we can fall back on depending on “More Than Fate,” which was added to the most-added list in the first few days, and we’re expecting it to jump up the charts here in the next few weeks, and that’s gonna open up different opportunities. The main thing for us is we have to be able to grow our touring business, we have to be able to start getting some better supporting slots, be able to develop relationships with some of these larger fan bases, go out there and get some of these bigger chunks knocked out. We need to have some of these leaps.
Anything else you want to add?
For us, the main thing as an independent band, we can work as hard as we want to, we can get here and spend as much money as we can taking it to the people, but people have to understand how important they are. If they don’t show up, if they’re not active, if they’re not present and accounted for, then it’s all for nothing, and we’re not gonna be able to sustain this. We feel like we have a fan base that really understands that, and hopefully, anybody that comes on board feels the same way.