Empathy Test is out with their new EP 'Throwing Stones'. A release that completely blew me away and I simply had no choice but to give it the highest score possible. I was lucky enough to get an interview with this amazing duo from London.

For those who sadly don't know about the great duo that is Empathy Test, could you tell them?

Isaac/Adam - "Empathy Test is an electronic pop duo from London, UK. We are Isaac Howlett (vocals/synths) and Adam Relf (production/synths) and we've known each other since we were kids. We self-released our first EP, Losing Touch, back in February 2014 and are releasing a second EP, Throwing Stones, on Stars & Letters Records (New York) today, 9th December. We write, record and produce our own music as well as doing all our own design and artwork. We use a lot of original '80s analogue synth sounds and have a dark, cinematic sound with influences from '80s sci-fi movie soundtracks, '90s indie guitar bands and modern dance music. Our emphasis is on making intelligent pop music. We write catchy songs with infectious melodies that people can still find a strong emotional connection with. Well, that's what we hope to do, anyway."

When did you start making music and how did Empathy Test come together?

Isaac/Adam - "We have both been writing and recording music for many years and have collaborated on projects in the past, but Empathy Test has been the project where we have finally found a sound that works for us both, as well as with our individual styles and influences. We had also reached a right point in our lives where we were finally able to work together effectively. In some ways, Empathy Test is just as much about our friendship as it is about the music. We have known each other for many, many years now and our relationship has gone through lots of ups and downs. In 2010, Isaac left London for a period of three years, signalling the end of a previous musical collaboration and also the start of a long period of very little communication between us. When Isaac finally returned to London, refreshed and ready for a new project, our friendship was rekindled and we started work together on some new music. This time, the stars have aligned, so to speak, and everything has fallen into place in the best possible way."

You've already released a great EP called Losing Touch, and now the second EP, Throwing Stones is out. Do you feel the new EP is an extension of the last one or is it a completely new beast?

Isaac/Adam - "We would say the Throwing Stones EP is a natural progression. First and foremost, you can hear a huge difference in the production value between the two EPs. With Throwing Stones, Adam threw himself whole-heartedly into producing his best work to date, because this time we knew that a) people really were going to listen to it and b) Stars & Letters Records were waiting to hear it and were going to sign us based on how good it was! He went a bit crazy in the process and locked himself away in his room for days. But he did an amazing job and it really shows. It took Stars & Letters less than 30 minutes to receive the email, download it, listen to it and reply back saying they were "100% on board" for a release. The Throwing Stones EP has a more confident and mature sound to it; if Losing Touch is the slightly naive, mood-swinging teenager, Throwing Stones is the young adult preparing to take on the world!"

Where do you find the inspiration to write the lyrics, is it usually based on personal experience or is it totally random?

Isaac/Adam - "The vast majority of Isaac's lyrics are very honest and confessional, taken directly from personal experience. Song writing is quite a cathartic process for him, a way of speaking the unspeakable and getting things off his chest. There is an autobiographical thread that runs through both of the EPs that deals with a past relationship undermined by insecurity and overshadowed by the sudden illness and subsequent death of his girlfriend's father. It starts with Losing Touch ("When you're feeling alone, and you're colder than stone/Call me you know/It's always been you") and continues in Last Night On Earth ("She sings me the saddest of songs/I cannot help but sing along"), Throwing Stones ("But I know you'll only turn away/Because you've got nothing left to say to me") and appears again in new song Siamese (I do my best to empathise but I/Haven't got a clue what you're going through"), a track which will no doubt appear on our next release.

Elsewhere, Where I Find Myself, which was written during Isaac's sabbatical from London, is perhaps the bleakest moment lyrically, dealing with the breakdown in communication that signalled the end of another relationship ("These terrible silences, these horrific injuries are/Simply where I find myself now"). Kirrilee provides a welcome respite from that sadness; a chance meeting with a happy-go-lucky soul from the other side of the world reminding him to just be himself and enjoy the moment ("We've only a short while here so just be yourself") while Here Is The Place is about embracing the idea of death and choosing your final resting place. Holding On is more abstract, and difficult to pin down, it's more about creating a mood and an atmosphere than anything biographical. Hope For Me is in small part a collaborative effort, in that Adam provided the line "Every time you hope for me/This is what you get for me" and Isaac built his song around it. It's basically an apology for failing to be what someone needs."

Who does your artwork and what's the inspiration/idea behind it?

Isaac/Adam - "Adam does all of our artwork. He produces a new piece for every track we release, so the visual side of Empathy Test is therefore almost as important as the aural. Adam has always been inspired by film scores and the way that music and narrative are interwoven. There is a cinematic quality to his arrangements and production, which is best showcased in the little breakdowns and musical interludes within the tracks. He also has a knack for layering up the melodies in a way that never sounds laboured or dense - something which is mirrored by the layered shapes and textures that appear in the artwork. In this way, the artwork is inspired by the music and the music by the artwork.

The basic concept behind the artwork is that of synthetic shapes meeting and harmonising with natural forms, almost like Adam is trying to imagine what a computer might create if it suddenly became conscious. As with the music, there is a feeling of transcendence, the mechanical interweaving with the organic and becoming something altogether different. We wanted to create our own world and like our name and our music, it is inspired by a kind of retro-future science fiction."

You're currently on a NYC label called Stars & Letters, what's the story behind that deal?

Isaac/Adam - "The power of social media! We had a few offers from UK-based labels, all of whom were very much in the alternative rock/metal/electronic scene. We're happy to be associated with that scene and grateful for the audience it has given us, but we didn't want to be pigeon-holed as being part of a particular genre. While we might take influences from the past, we are very focussed on creating a new, more modern sound with multiple influences from multiple genres. We think you can hear that when you compare the first track we recorded, Losing Touch, and the final track for the second EP, Hope For Me. Losing Touch is very "'80s synth pop", very dark, "Gothic" even, whereas Hope For Me, while it still retains the '80s influences, has a much more modern and warmer feel to it.

We're pushing forward all the time, and that is the direction we are going. We came across Stars & Letters on Twitter and listened to the cutting-edge electronica of Black City Lights, We Are Temporary, Misfit Mod and Bad Blocks and we thought, this is where we should be. Luckily, when Mark Roberts from the label heard Losing Touch, he felt the same."

You've had some live shows already, how is the live experience for you guys as opposed to recording the music in a studio?

Isaac/Adam - "Taking what began as a recording-only project into the live arena was always going to be difficult. We kind of over-thought it at first and wanted to do too much. We tried for a long time to get a keyboard player to perform with us, and a couple of people dropped out quite quickly when they realised how serious and ambitious we were about the project; they just didn't want that level of commitment. That held things up a lot. In the end, we realised that we just needed to get on the stage and do it. Isaac (who is a guitarist, not a pianist), learnt to play the hooks and Adam the bass lines and then we just got on stage as a duo.

Since then we've found Casey, our live drummer, and for the time being that's all we feel we need. It looks much better with the three of us on stage and it makes a real difference to the energy of our performance having someone hitting something! Personalities are very important to us too, being that our working relationship is generally on a knife-edge (!) and Casey is a really nice guy with a down to earth, no-nonsense attitude. We really needed someone like him to balance things!"

Can we expect an album at some point?

Isaac/Adam - "That's a question on many people's lips. The answer is yes, indeed, although it will be later in 2015 because we have to record it first! Our plan is to take the best two tracks from each of the EPs - we're sure you can guess which - and add to that 6-7 more. We have a few tracks we are working on, which may or may not make it onto the album, but they are Siamese, Everything Will Work Out, Firelight and Making Worlds.

We also have a new song that Isaac has written called By My Side, which is, lyrically at least, a continuation of Hope For Me ("You say that I am empty, emotionally devoid/Blame it on whatever, happened to the boy") and about which we have a very good feeling! We hope it will be "the next Losing Touch or Holding On", but time will tell."

Your sound is amazing, but you need to get your music out there for people to hear and promote yourselves, what's the best way to do this in your opinion?

Isaac/Adam - "The live thing is something that we have barely tapped into as yet. At the weekend we played to 350-450 people at a club in Dresden and the reaction was fantastic. We sold all of the (limited edition, concert only) CDs we had with us and left some very disappointed people who were unable to purchase one. The spike in our new Facebook likes the day after the gig was huge.

But really what we need to happen is for the big guns in music media to notice us and write about us, play us on national radio etc.. That said, what we've achieved over the course of one year is phenomenal and we already have hundreds of fans around the world. We just need to play more shows and keep doing what we're doing basically. We have something pretty big to announce in January/February that should give us a lot more exposure, but we'll keep our cards close to our chest on that for now."

Do you have any distinctive goals you want to achieve with Empathy Test or is it just about having fun and getting your music out for people to enjoy?

Isaac/Adam - "We just want as many people to hear and enjoy our music as possible, but it would be great if we could make a living from it too. The freedom and satisfaction that comes from being able to live off of your art is something that Adam has already achieved with his illustration, but for Isaac, who still has a day job to pay the bills, it's still something to strive for. However, even Adam has to do work he doesn't want to! If Empathy Test was able to pay our bills one day, we'd both be very happy."

Any touring plans scheduled for the near future or distant future for that matter?

Isaac/Adam - "Yes, definitely, it's just a case of not running before we can walk. We'd also like to find a good booking agency to help us with the organisation and logistics. Obviously, we'd start with a UK tour, then Europe and then beyond. Starting small and building up seems sensible, we don't want to overstretch and get ourselves into debt. The Dresden gig showed us what supporting a bigger band (in that case, Kirlian Camera) can do for us, so a support slot on a tour with a major player might well be a good place to start."

If you had to listen to one album for the rest of your life, what album would that be?

Isaac/Adam - "Wow. That's a tough one to call. Isaac would probably have to say Paul Simon's Graceland; the song writing and lyrics are phenomenal. It caught his imagination as a child and still does. The Boy In The Bubble is particularly brilliant: "It was a dry wind, and it swept across the desert/And it curled into the circle of birth/And the dead sand, falling on the children/The mothers and the fathers and the automatic earth". Adam would probably go with Radiohead's OK Computer, or one of his favourite soundtracks."

Thanks a bunch for doing this little chat. If there's anything else you feel like your listeners should know about, now is the time to say it.

Isaac/Adam - "We'd like to thank Brutal Resonance for making Throwing Stones one of your albums of the year and for giving it the best review we've had to date, it really meant a lot! To everyone else, we'd like to invite you to buy our EP, follow us on Twitter or Facebook and we hope to see you at a show someday!"
Empathy Test interview
December 11, 2014
Brutal Resonance

Empathy Test

Dec 2014
Empathy Test is out with their new EP 'Throwing Stones'. A release that completely blew me away and I simply had no choice but to give it the highest score possible. I was lucky enough to get an interview with this amazing duo from London.

For those who sadly don't know about the great duo that is Empathy Test, could you tell them?

Isaac/Adam - "Empathy Test is an electronic pop duo from London, UK. We are Isaac Howlett (vocals/synths) and Adam Relf (production/synths) and we've known each other since we were kids. We self-released our first EP, Losing Touch, back in February 2014 and are releasing a second EP, Throwing Stones, on Stars & Letters Records (New York) today, 9th December. We write, record and produce our own music as well as doing all our own design and artwork. We use a lot of original '80s analogue synth sounds and have a dark, cinematic sound with influences from '80s sci-fi movie soundtracks, '90s indie guitar bands and modern dance music. Our emphasis is on making intelligent pop music. We write catchy songs with infectious melodies that people can still find a strong emotional connection with. Well, that's what we hope to do, anyway."

When did you start making music and how did Empathy Test come together?

Isaac/Adam - "We have both been writing and recording music for many years and have collaborated on projects in the past, but Empathy Test has been the project where we have finally found a sound that works for us both, as well as with our individual styles and influences. We had also reached a right point in our lives where we were finally able to work together effectively. In some ways, Empathy Test is just as much about our friendship as it is about the music. We have known each other for many, many years now and our relationship has gone through lots of ups and downs. In 2010, Isaac left London for a period of three years, signalling the end of a previous musical collaboration and also the start of a long period of very little communication between us. When Isaac finally returned to London, refreshed and ready for a new project, our friendship was rekindled and we started work together on some new music. This time, the stars have aligned, so to speak, and everything has fallen into place in the best possible way."

You've already released a great EP called Losing Touch, and now the second EP, Throwing Stones is out. Do you feel the new EP is an extension of the last one or is it a completely new beast?

Isaac/Adam - "We would say the Throwing Stones EP is a natural progression. First and foremost, you can hear a huge difference in the production value between the two EPs. With Throwing Stones, Adam threw himself whole-heartedly into producing his best work to date, because this time we knew that a) people really were going to listen to it and b) Stars & Letters Records were waiting to hear it and were going to sign us based on how good it was! He went a bit crazy in the process and locked himself away in his room for days. But he did an amazing job and it really shows. It took Stars & Letters less than 30 minutes to receive the email, download it, listen to it and reply back saying they were "100% on board" for a release. The Throwing Stones EP has a more confident and mature sound to it; if Losing Touch is the slightly naive, mood-swinging teenager, Throwing Stones is the young adult preparing to take on the world!"

Where do you find the inspiration to write the lyrics, is it usually based on personal experience or is it totally random?

Isaac/Adam - "The vast majority of Isaac's lyrics are very honest and confessional, taken directly from personal experience. Song writing is quite a cathartic process for him, a way of speaking the unspeakable and getting things off his chest. There is an autobiographical thread that runs through both of the EPs that deals with a past relationship undermined by insecurity and overshadowed by the sudden illness and subsequent death of his girlfriend's father. It starts with Losing Touch ("When you're feeling alone, and you're colder than stone/Call me you know/It's always been you") and continues in Last Night On Earth ("She sings me the saddest of songs/I cannot help but sing along"), Throwing Stones ("But I know you'll only turn away/Because you've got nothing left to say to me") and appears again in new song Siamese (I do my best to empathise but I/Haven't got a clue what you're going through"), a track which will no doubt appear on our next release.

Elsewhere, Where I Find Myself, which was written during Isaac's sabbatical from London, is perhaps the bleakest moment lyrically, dealing with the breakdown in communication that signalled the end of another relationship ("These terrible silences, these horrific injuries are/Simply where I find myself now"). Kirrilee provides a welcome respite from that sadness; a chance meeting with a happy-go-lucky soul from the other side of the world reminding him to just be himself and enjoy the moment ("We've only a short while here so just be yourself") while Here Is The Place is about embracing the idea of death and choosing your final resting place. Holding On is more abstract, and difficult to pin down, it's more about creating a mood and an atmosphere than anything biographical. Hope For Me is in small part a collaborative effort, in that Adam provided the line "Every time you hope for me/This is what you get for me" and Isaac built his song around it. It's basically an apology for failing to be what someone needs."

Who does your artwork and what's the inspiration/idea behind it?

Isaac/Adam - "Adam does all of our artwork. He produces a new piece for every track we release, so the visual side of Empathy Test is therefore almost as important as the aural. Adam has always been inspired by film scores and the way that music and narrative are interwoven. There is a cinematic quality to his arrangements and production, which is best showcased in the little breakdowns and musical interludes within the tracks. He also has a knack for layering up the melodies in a way that never sounds laboured or dense - something which is mirrored by the layered shapes and textures that appear in the artwork. In this way, the artwork is inspired by the music and the music by the artwork.

The basic concept behind the artwork is that of synthetic shapes meeting and harmonising with natural forms, almost like Adam is trying to imagine what a computer might create if it suddenly became conscious. As with the music, there is a feeling of transcendence, the mechanical interweaving with the organic and becoming something altogether different. We wanted to create our own world and like our name and our music, it is inspired by a kind of retro-future science fiction."

You're currently on a NYC label called Stars & Letters, what's the story behind that deal?

Isaac/Adam - "The power of social media! We had a few offers from UK-based labels, all of whom were very much in the alternative rock/metal/electronic scene. We're happy to be associated with that scene and grateful for the audience it has given us, but we didn't want to be pigeon-holed as being part of a particular genre. While we might take influences from the past, we are very focussed on creating a new, more modern sound with multiple influences from multiple genres. We think you can hear that when you compare the first track we recorded, Losing Touch, and the final track for the second EP, Hope For Me. Losing Touch is very "'80s synth pop", very dark, "Gothic" even, whereas Hope For Me, while it still retains the '80s influences, has a much more modern and warmer feel to it.

We're pushing forward all the time, and that is the direction we are going. We came across Stars & Letters on Twitter and listened to the cutting-edge electronica of Black City Lights, We Are Temporary, Misfit Mod and Bad Blocks and we thought, this is where we should be. Luckily, when Mark Roberts from the label heard Losing Touch, he felt the same."

You've had some live shows already, how is the live experience for you guys as opposed to recording the music in a studio?

Isaac/Adam - "Taking what began as a recording-only project into the live arena was always going to be difficult. We kind of over-thought it at first and wanted to do too much. We tried for a long time to get a keyboard player to perform with us, and a couple of people dropped out quite quickly when they realised how serious and ambitious we were about the project; they just didn't want that level of commitment. That held things up a lot. In the end, we realised that we just needed to get on the stage and do it. Isaac (who is a guitarist, not a pianist), learnt to play the hooks and Adam the bass lines and then we just got on stage as a duo.

Since then we've found Casey, our live drummer, and for the time being that's all we feel we need. It looks much better with the three of us on stage and it makes a real difference to the energy of our performance having someone hitting something! Personalities are very important to us too, being that our working relationship is generally on a knife-edge (!) and Casey is a really nice guy with a down to earth, no-nonsense attitude. We really needed someone like him to balance things!"

Can we expect an album at some point?

Isaac/Adam - "That's a question on many people's lips. The answer is yes, indeed, although it will be later in 2015 because we have to record it first! Our plan is to take the best two tracks from each of the EPs - we're sure you can guess which - and add to that 6-7 more. We have a few tracks we are working on, which may or may not make it onto the album, but they are Siamese, Everything Will Work Out, Firelight and Making Worlds.

We also have a new song that Isaac has written called By My Side, which is, lyrically at least, a continuation of Hope For Me ("You say that I am empty, emotionally devoid/Blame it on whatever, happened to the boy") and about which we have a very good feeling! We hope it will be "the next Losing Touch or Holding On", but time will tell."

Your sound is amazing, but you need to get your music out there for people to hear and promote yourselves, what's the best way to do this in your opinion?

Isaac/Adam - "The live thing is something that we have barely tapped into as yet. At the weekend we played to 350-450 people at a club in Dresden and the reaction was fantastic. We sold all of the (limited edition, concert only) CDs we had with us and left some very disappointed people who were unable to purchase one. The spike in our new Facebook likes the day after the gig was huge.

But really what we need to happen is for the big guns in music media to notice us and write about us, play us on national radio etc.. That said, what we've achieved over the course of one year is phenomenal and we already have hundreds of fans around the world. We just need to play more shows and keep doing what we're doing basically. We have something pretty big to announce in January/February that should give us a lot more exposure, but we'll keep our cards close to our chest on that for now."

Do you have any distinctive goals you want to achieve with Empathy Test or is it just about having fun and getting your music out for people to enjoy?

Isaac/Adam - "We just want as many people to hear and enjoy our music as possible, but it would be great if we could make a living from it too. The freedom and satisfaction that comes from being able to live off of your art is something that Adam has already achieved with his illustration, but for Isaac, who still has a day job to pay the bills, it's still something to strive for. However, even Adam has to do work he doesn't want to! If Empathy Test was able to pay our bills one day, we'd both be very happy."

Any touring plans scheduled for the near future or distant future for that matter?

Isaac/Adam - "Yes, definitely, it's just a case of not running before we can walk. We'd also like to find a good booking agency to help us with the organisation and logistics. Obviously, we'd start with a UK tour, then Europe and then beyond. Starting small and building up seems sensible, we don't want to overstretch and get ourselves into debt. The Dresden gig showed us what supporting a bigger band (in that case, Kirlian Camera) can do for us, so a support slot on a tour with a major player might well be a good place to start."

If you had to listen to one album for the rest of your life, what album would that be?

Isaac/Adam - "Wow. That's a tough one to call. Isaac would probably have to say Paul Simon's Graceland; the song writing and lyrics are phenomenal. It caught his imagination as a child and still does. The Boy In The Bubble is particularly brilliant: "It was a dry wind, and it swept across the desert/And it curled into the circle of birth/And the dead sand, falling on the children/The mothers and the fathers and the automatic earth". Adam would probably go with Radiohead's OK Computer, or one of his favourite soundtracks."

Thanks a bunch for doing this little chat. If there's anything else you feel like your listeners should know about, now is the time to say it.

Isaac/Adam - "We'd like to thank Brutal Resonance for making Throwing Stones one of your albums of the year and for giving it the best review we've had to date, it really meant a lot! To everyone else, we'd like to invite you to buy our EP, follow us on Twitter or Facebook and we hope to see you at a show someday!"
Dec 11 2014

Kjetil Haugen

info@brutalresonance.com
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance

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