Hearts of Iron:Emperor Zero

Speaking Art, Inspiration, and North Korean Forestation Policies with Emperor Zero

EMPEROR ZERO Matt Boswell (vocals and guitar), Matt Whittle (bass), Adelaide Bogros (vocals), Howard Sherrington (guitar), Danny Blows (drums), Anh Nguyen (percussion)

Manchester, UK is known for inspiring legends. From The Smiths to Factory Records and New Order. Go back on your favorite records and a great deal of them are most likely Manchester influenced, or based. With each new legend, the creative palette grows wider and even more immense, with a sound and inspiration for everyone. What breeds this is the abundant amount of creativity, dedication and passion, drawing from all facets and places to come together and create something unforgettable in artistic camaraderie.

Emperor Zero, are prime examples of such artistry, combining their roots and Manchester influences in a whirlwind of guitar brilliance, creating a well-crafted post-punk sound that is powerful, potent and strong as iron.

How did the band start, and where did you meet?

Matt Boswell: It all started a few years ago when Howard and I were both out for a mutual friend’s hen do. Very rock ‘n’ roll! We didn’t know each other at all but I got chatting to him in the smoking area of a bar in the Northern Quarter and by the end of the night we’d become best mates and agreed to form a band.

You guys have an incredibly deep sound, where do you draw your inspirations from?

MB: The musical influences we bring to the band are very diverse. Between us we’re into all kinds of different stuff, from the blues and jazz to techno and post-punk.

In a few of your tracks, you feature audio clips from old films, or documentaries, which adds a unique touch; how did you get the idea?

Matt Whittle: Mogwai.

MB: Yes, I don’t think we’re being particularly original on that score… Songs like ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush also spring to mind. It’s interesting that we do use so many film and documentary samples though, as this was a feature of lots of the albums I really liked when I was first getting into music as a teenager, albums by bands like Manic Street Preachers and Primal Scream.

“Heart of Iron” is an amazing track with equally beautifully written lyrical accompaniment. Are lyrical duties shared, or just come from one member?

MB: Thank you. That’s just me.

MW: Matt approaches lyric writing the same way Kim Jong-un approaches politics.

MB: You know I was actually thinking it might be interesting to write a song about North Korean forestation policy.

MW: No. Just no.

MB: Come on, it’d be interesting. It’s all kicking off over forestation in North Korea at the moment. There were all these ministers who disagreed with Kim Jong-un’s policy and he had the lot of them shot! There’s definitely an Emperor Zero song in that.

Music is a branch of art, but the two sadly and hardly intersect much in music. Do you feel visualization, or use of it to add to the experience is often overlooked?

MB: I think more progressive bands have traditionally put quite a lot of emphasis on the visual side of their music, whether that’s in terms of videos, artwork or live shows.

Visuals are incredibly important to any band’s identity: our sense of a band like Joy Division or The Velvet Underground has a lot to do with the artists they collaborated with. Visuals are certainly very important to us. The issue is always trying to find an aesthetic that’s your own. Avoiding convention, cliche…

We’re very lucky to have friends who are very gifted visual artists, and who are always keen to collaborate, and we’re really, really proud of the artwork and videos that people like Natalie Curtis and Steven Cherry have done for us.

The US is home to great music acts but in terms of legacy, Manchester to me is still a huge staple in the evolution of music, with acts like The Smiths and New Order. How has coming from Manchester affected you as a sound, and has it upped the stakes, or given you confidence?

MW: Manchester is very cosmopolitan city that’s always been quite forward-looking in terms of drawing in influences from America and other places.

MB: None of us are from Manchester originally, we just met here. Adelaide is French, Anh is Vietnamese. Matt’s from Glossop, which is about ten miles away, but that’s about as close as we get. I think the main thing I’d say is that being in a band that’s based in Manchester right now is very much a good thing, as it’s a very creative city with lots of interesting things going on.

You meet lots of good people. Not just musicians but writers, photographers, artists…People are always keen to collaborate, play on each other’s records, put on shows together, find new ways of doing things.

I think our label SWAYS is a very good example of that. I love the fact that our last song was released in the form of a weird silver pendant made by our friend Helen and a bunch of sordid photos. There was a digital download too but apparently the download code doesn’t work. I’m into that.

What is your favorite gear to use?

MB: We have vastly different approaches to the technical side of making music. Howard is very knowledgeable when it comes to guitars and he’s started to record some of our new songs too. Matt, on the other hand, has a more back to basics approach.

Where is a dream destination to record?

Adelaide Bogros: Somewhere in France in the middle of nowhere. It’d be good to get away from everything and just get on with it.

And what producers do you look up to?

MW: Phil Spector.

MB: Sticking your neck out there…

More and more artists have contributed to scoring films, from older acts to newer ones, like M83. Have you ever wanted to dabble in it? Just as your music has the unique & beautiful capabilities to mold & fit itself in any facets.

MB: It’s not something that we’ve ever really thought about as we’re focusing all our energies on our new album right now. It would be an interesting thing to do though. I’d like to think about ways we might link visual art and music in ways that go beyond the conventional music video.

What is one lesson you feel every new act should remember, or one piece of advice you’d give?

MB: I don’t think we’re in any position to be offering anyone advice…

MW: Never join a band that’s got Matt Boswell in it.

MB: Apart from that.

And finally, complete the lyric as you would like, by adding or just as it is: I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black. With flowers and…

MB: bodies in the back…It immediately makes me think of the opening lines from ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ by Jeff Buckley:

‘Looking out the door / I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners

Parading in a wake of sad relations / As their shoes fill up with water.’

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