Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Mastered by Sam Patlove
We have a photograph on our wall of our oldest daughter as a three-year-old, not longer ago now, that is exactly like all of Empress Hotel's music. In it, she is running on our backyard, just being young and herself. It's a shot from the side, with the bottom third of the picture a rich green grass, and she's completely off the ground, not making contact with it. She was running and had jumped or leapt forward just as the shutter clicked, capturing the look of pure, untainted giddiness/happiness/elation/excitement for life. It's one of those photographs that we already look at there on the wall, commenting about how old she's gotten and how much she's changed just in a year. She's growing up, but in that photograph, she will always remain in that year, on that autumn morning with a dampness still scattered through the blades of grass. It's a photograph that someday will bring all kinds of happy tears, our baby as a child, without a single care in the world - evidence of that, right there. You hope that it will always remain that way, but us adults know better than to think such frivolous thoughts. It can't stay like that.
The New Orleans, Louisiana group made up of lead singer Micah McKee, singer/keyboardist Julie Williams, brothers Ryan Rogers on guitar and Eric Rogers on drums, bassist Patrick Hodgekins and keyboardist/percussionist Leo DeJesus takes us to places that - while they can be enjoyed now, as they are - will likely be looked at later, fondly, only as they were. To be put simply, we can never go back there again, these moments in their songs are gone, but frozen so eloquently that we listen and sigh as we feel them again as mere figments or aberrations. We feel that woozy nostalgia of easier times, or less hardened temperaments. We feel that we could still be people willing to walk barefoot through mud puddles or be tickled without recoiling, just letting the laughter overtake us, bringing on the convulsions and coughing jags. Empress Hotel songs feel like kite weather - wide and blue, an ideally expressive breeze, nothing on the calendar - open for embellishment, for adventure. McKee sings on "Here Comes The New Challenger, "Your song's giving me dancing feet/Your feet follow me to the street/Your street leads me home/Never ever gonna leave this town alive/Never ever gonna take you out tonight," and it sounds as if we're covering distance in an automobile, with the top down, with an empty mind. It brings to mind the times that we can't recover, but which stick to us lovingly.