Following up an impressive sequence of conceptual outings, the UK's My Autumn Empire premiere the sweet solstice sun-soaker “Summer Sound”, taken from their latest LP The Visitation. The band is comprised of epic45 member and co-operator of Wayside & Woodland Ben Thomas Holton along with fellow '45er Robert Glover, with Holton commanding all the instruments, sciences, fictions, and truths in a release that ventures further down experimental-pop-pathways than their previous efforts The Village Compass and II. Everything we've heard from the Staffordshire indie scene—the bright sun bursts from Rob's Field Harmonics, the legacy of epic45, the homegrown imprints of Make Mine Music and Wayside & Woodland—all pushes the record needle from psych-album-power pop sensibilities dovetail into the future of new technological expressions.
And this is where “Summer Sound” hits, with spring break partying drawing to a close and the clouds finally breaking to reveal the sun. Taken from a full-length that fuses thematic sci-fi tones and an affinity for Doctor Who actors Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, Holton adds in real life alienation, adventurism, and ambition to create bright electric indie orchestrations. In over five minutes, My Autumn Empire takes you through a grand entrance where vintage synths steal the space in front, guitars settle in the fray of background vocal choruses. Those tell-tale power pop pianos are given their appropriate narrative sections as the song slowly moves into an entirely different mode of operation (the old second-song-compacted-into-one trick). Sending things off with the lines, “That Tuesday you came home / And you said that you'd been alone / I think about it from time to time / I don't know why / I don't know why,” the song concludes with a compelling outro. Some might find the finale of “Summer Sound” akin to placing Brian Eno in the songwriting chair on “A Day In the Life”; Holton and his Empire have built something of an imaginative size massive large enough to obstruct the infamous Abbey Road cross-walk.
We had an opportunity to talk with Benjamin Thomas Holton about The Visitation, sci-fi underpinnings, the world of My Autumn Empire, the unknown future of epic45, and more.
Being that you have founded the imprints Make Mine Music and Wayside & Woodland, what is your perspective on the current global state of the label and indie music?
I can see that having a particular niche for your label is pretty important (i.e. ambient/noise/drone etc.). What's harder to do is push a label whose roster varies and are all trying to make what they consider “pop.”
As for indie music, I've watched the trends come and go over the last few years—the folky, Americana “authenticism” that gave way to the washed out mid '80s dream-like sounds that seem to be the pinnacle of “indie” popularity at the moment and have always remained slightly cynical and somewhat removed.
What we've done with the labels is basically all make the music we're passionate about and try to get it out there without consciously trying to conform to any prevailing trends or fashions. Silly really, we'd probably be a hell of a lot more successful if we did, ha ha.
What do you feel is that connection from those modern power pop piano-dotted constructs to your more electronic and synthesized sides and fusions?
There's definitely a connection between the two, in my addled mind anyway! “Summer Sound” started as an instrumental, a kind of homage to British TV themes and schools programs of the '80s, which is more along the lines of what I've done before I guess. Then I heard the transition to a piano section in my head and just went with it. It's all just music I make really and I'm trying to care less whether or not a new project bears much relation to the last. It's fun not fully knowing where you'll end up next!
I understand you're a big '70s and '80s, sci-fi/Doctor Who fan. Who is your favorite Doctor, and which particular season/era are you the most fond of?
I am indeed and I'm eternally torn between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Pertwee's first season in 1970 is so mysterious and bleak, all set on earth, with things invading, I love it. He plays the Doctor as a kind of action hero with a healthy contempt and frustration for officious figures of authority. Beautifully played.
On equal part is Tom Baker's final season in the early '80s, which centred around the themes of decay and entropy. Tom plays it broody and sullen, existence seemingly a weight around his neck symbolized nicely by his massive scarf which seems bigger than ever. It helped that Baker knew he was leaving the show and constantly quarreling with his wife to be, Lalla Ward, on set—really adding to the tension and downbeat atmosphere. Superb.
Favorite ELO album?
That would have to be 1981's Time, a beautiful, woozy synth-heavy concept album about a man trapped in the future, longing to get back to the '80s!
Favorite Wizzard album?
To my shame, I must admit I don't own a Wizzard album but do feel the need to investigate, possibly more so Roy Wood's solo stuff. I did, however, go to college with his daughter, Holly. Does that count?
Favorite singles or albums from their previous project, The Move?
Again, I really need to investigate further into The Move. “Bye Bye Blackberry Way”, “Fire Brigade”, and “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” are all ace though!
What's next for epic45 and My Autumn Empire?
More gigs for My Autumn Empire both with the full band and solo. Solo, I'm triggering things with my feet and possibly sometimes my chin, whilst playing the guitar and hoping it all fits together. Nothing like making it hard for yourself and adding the risk of it all falling apart. Keeps you young. Or old, I can't remember. More video projects too, as I enjoyed working on the last one. Possible EP before the year's out too.
As for epic45, who knows…
My Autumn Empire's The Visitation is available now from Wayside and Woodland Recordings.
Cach Ben and the band playing the following UK/EU dates, May 3 at Union Chapel, Islington, and July 4 in Toulon, France at the Rockorama Festival.