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Milo's Trip: Ferndale-Based 'Old Empire' to Perform at the Loving Touch

Join MC Frank Woodman on Aug. 23 as he showcases local bands like this curious smorgasbord-pop quintet based in Ferndale.

Gabe Dodson talks about how life - real life - is lived in the moments leading up to and after those perceived "momentous moments" everybody's waiting for. It's best to just let things happen as they will; it's going to work out. 

That's what he had to do with his band, Old Empire, once he'd gotten it started. The songs that formed their first record, 2008's Queen City Quandaries, were born out of a half-finished novel the Ferndale-based singer/songwriter was struggling through back in 2007.

Up until then, the Santa Cruz-born Dodson considered himself just a back-up guy, adding guitar or bass to various bands and unable, as he self-depricatingly puts it, to "carry a tune in a bucket." 

Somehow, his initial idea for the novel, a darkly-comic character-study that found humor out of existential frustartions, translated easily into an album format, into music and melody.

"Songwriting and comedy are about similar pacing," Dodson said. "It's about juxtaposition and how far out you take people with certain references, but then you give them the payoff, like a chorus or hook or...punchline."

Old Empire's second album is nearing a proper release and you'll be able to hear many of their new songs next Thursday at the Loving Touch

Here's one now:
Old Empire - "Decoy" (stream/MP3)

The band's gone through some line-up shifts in its first five years but Dodson's feeling markedly positive about his current quartet: drummer Jeremy Stork, guitarist Charlie Mccutcheon, singer Laura Rock and bassist Mark Biermann.

Line-up shifts and the unintended delay of releasing Isn't It Pretty To Think So can rattle one's spirit at times, but at the end of the day, Dodson just couldn't let go of his songs.

At the same time, though, letting go of his songs is really what he's been doing, year-to-year, with each new Old Empire collaborator: "A song is a song," said Dodson, "and how you present it depends as much on who you're collaborating with in that moment. We're having fun with it and keeping it fresh and it just feels good."

Go with it, in that moment and find what fits best for the songs and the players involved; with that formula, Dodson said, "every show we've played has become my favorite that I've ever played."

"Feelings are hard," said Dodson on finding lyrics. "Feelings are hard, not lives; life just happens. It's about how you feel about it. And so the band has just grown this way." 

It makes sense, then, that Old Empire's blend of pop would be a bit chamelonic; a smorgasbord of sunny, major-chord-mingling sensibilities, spanning jaunty jams, to whimsical waltzes, epic organ-bolstered ballads, to sugary-dashed shimmies, all of it tinged with pensive and poetic lyrics and embossed by three-part harmonies. 

The Clash and The Minutemen are the first two influences dropped from Dodson's lips, but one might also think of an Elvis-Costello-type new-wave-blues when you hear his emphasis upon intertwining pianos / synths or organ sounds with bouyant bass grooves. Their rollicking rattle-ups may appear pop on their surface, but they're heavily back-lit by the gnarlier grit of punk. They can jangle it up with a bit of twangy Americana here and there, too but then scorch in a bit of psychedelic noise-squalls via some subtly-roaring guitar solos.

Just like the name, Dodson said: "vague...but still specific."

Pop or rock... "...I think it's all the same thing," said Dodson, who recorded these albums at Ferndale's Tempermill studio. "Making tunes, I'm influenced by just earnest artists. I always go back to how Old Empire started," (initially featuring his sister, Alexis, on vocals) "I wanted to tap into those early Funkadelic vibes with the band approach where it was really communal with multiple singers."

Their sensibility for harmonization (between Rock, Mccutcheon and the recently-voice-lesson-bolstered Dodson) is on vibrant display via their new, comparably-eclectic, rock jams. This is the kind of band that's having a blast while playing live and you, the audience, can always tell. It's hard, then, not to get into it!

Indeed.

"We like what we're doing," said Dodson. "And you can tell."

Old Empire is joined by Detroit shoegaze/dream-pop trio Pewter Cub (who'll be featured in this column very shortly). Also on the bill is a Philly-based band Site Recites and more locals with Me & the Ghost.

More info on the show via the Loving Touch.

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