Vocalist for 20 Bulls Each, guitarist/vocalist for Punk/Psychobilly/Hardcore trio, Skeleton Crew, one half of The Lost Art Podcast and now, the brainchild behind ‘EMPIRE‘ a project that Cummins took on back in late March as the shadow of the global Pandemic loomed over Ireland causing just about everything that could be considered to be ‘fun’ to grind to a sudden halt.
OD – For those who don’t know, or not aware of who you are and what this is all about, can you walk us through ‘EMPIRE’?
CUMMINS – ‘Empire‘ is the project I started during the COVID-19 lockdown. I haven’t played with a band in a few years, I spent most of my youth and up to my mid-thirties touring and recording with two bands “20 Bulls Each” and “Skeleton Crew” and to be honest, I was burned out trying to juggle real life and music.
I just lost all interest in everything, I’d dread the days leading up to rehearsal and gigs. Strangely, I enjoyed the rehearsals and gigs themselves, but I would have a hard time getting myself motivated to get moving for them.
I think driving across America and Europe in a van was great fun the first time, but when you get two hours sleep and have to get up at 6 am to drive 10 hours to play some shithole in Bumfuck, Iowa a million times in a row it just gets old. [Laughing]
Then I got old, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Not properly anyway. So, when the pub I run, The Thomas House was closed down due to the virus, I kinda started messing around with guitars again. It wasn’t long before I set myself the project of recording a few songs.
I didn’t know it was going to be an album, maybe an EP. I have guitars, basses and keyboards in the house so I said I would try and do it without spending a single cent. Just to see if I could actually do it.
OD – Did you have an idea as to what kind of music you were going to create at this point?
CUMMINS – No, I had no clue as to what type of music it would be. It kinda ended up being a weird mash of three of my favourite records. The Downward Spiral (1994) Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead‘s OK Computer (1997) and Wu-Tang’s ’93 classic debut – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Each song was written on the fly, I had literally no idea what I was doing. It just fell out of me. Chords, riffs, lyrics, all that. I just banged it into ‘Reaper‘ (a free recording suite) and it just all happened. If you asked me how to play any of these songs right now I couldn’t tell you. I would have to sit down with headphones and backwards engineer them.
OD – With regards to the name, what was the premise behind ‘Empire’?
CUMMINS – It’s one of those names that’s been with me for years. There are a few other bands with “Empire” in the name, but who cares! It’s not like I’ll be performing in Croke Park Stadium with this.
The name got hammered home a while ago as I’ve been reading the Malazan Book Of The Fallen series of books by Steven Erikson [pictured below] and its blown my mind. The story follows a group of military sappers (battlefield engineers) who are on the front lines of an Empires army; as it expands across the world. Not enough people have read these books, so I figured I’d get to talk a bit about it if I was asked (like here!).
OD – Your past is one that is very reflective of the Irish music scene, and by that I mean the side-stepping on underground artists from most [if not all] media platforms because the music doesn’t fit into their mainstream model.
Do you feel that your past experience in 20 Bulls Each and Skeleton Crew, as well as your eclectic DJ events as a whole, resulted in “Empire” being somewhat of the bastard child from the last 10/20 years of your musical life?
CUMMINS – This 100% reflective of my life in the last 10 years. Knocking the bands on the head and trying to be a real human instead of a road warrior.
I think I’m more comfortable now with the music I like. For years, especially in [those] scenes, everyone was competing with everyone else to “Out Punk” [sic] each other or whatever. I’m done with all that. There is nothing wrong with listening to Oscar Peterson while washing the dishes or UNKLE while walking home.
It’s literally all just music. Notes and chords. All the same stuff, vibrations in the air.
The stuff I do DJ-wise in the last few years really opened my eyes up to the fact that as people get a little older, they leave the scene nonsense behind.
The Pazuzu nights I run every month prove that. People dancing to Rocket From The Crypt and other driving rock music who won’t sit down when the Prodigy is played. Good is good, and loads of really bad music is great too.
The Lost Art Podcast I started with Paul Cooke (Helmut) was the thing that nailed this idea to the wall.
We have a huge listenership every week and its great fun sitting around talking about all types of music. You know! You’ve been a guest!
As for the style of music with Empire, I honestly have no idea what people want now in the mainstream, it’s so all over the place. So, I figured if I just made whatever music I wanted, just for myself, then maybe some people with similar musical outlooks might like it also.
OD – How long have you been working on these tracks, or even thinking about doing a project like this?
CUMMINS – I decided to do it on a Monday and started that Monday night. By bedtime I had one song done. I spread it out about two months, but honestly, if I just put a few hours in every night; I could have done it in two weeks. Recording, mixing and mastering – the lot!
I’d been saying to myself for years that I was going to record some stuff, but as with everything else; I just kept pushing it off. I’m going to get skinny someday too…[Laughing]
OD – You make no bones about recording this album totally as a one-man project. I know that you’ve always been a very pro-active person, a problem solver, with an abundance of your own determination and perseverance. When taking on a project like this, did you find that the music itself took on a different form, as you were literally creating every living part of the process as well as writing, recording etc?
CUMMINS – 100% all me. I sent a few rough mixes to a few select people every now and again. Paul (Helmut) is recording an 80s-style Synth-Pop album so, we’d be back and forward with each other talking every now and again.
Because I would just sit down and let the songs fall out of me, I couldn’t tell you what direction any of them were going. I used free drum-loops on every song and I made sure I used Hip Hop style beats to get the Wu-Tang influence in there that I wanted.
I’d layer one or two on top of each other and fuck with the EQ to make them a little off, then lay down a few different guitar tracks and maybe cut them up. The album is kinda produced like a Hip Hop record, and by that, I mean that I would piece the track together with rough-cuts, then play over them again to glue it all together.
As I mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t have a clue how to play these songs again unless I sat down to figure it all out. They are pretty close to a stream of consciousness.
OD – The album boasts 9 tracks and is as ambient and dark in places as it is gloriously melodic. Was it a case of just let it all flow from your subconscious or was there any direct or subliminal tip of the hats to any particular artists?
CUMMINS – I had kinda planned on it being a lot more digital when I first thought about it. I’m obsessed with the Jay Z and Kanye West album “Watch The Throne” (2011) [pic below].
I’ve never heard anything like it, so I wanted to try and mix that with some kind of real low-fi shit.
Once I started, it just took on a life of its own and ended up being this dark in places but mad catchy Grim-Pop album (Yes I just made that up) [Laughing].
As mentioned, Radiohead’s OK Computer, NINs The Downward Spiral and Wu-Tang 36 Chambers were prominent in my mind as I got more into the recording and mixing process.
OD – Now that you’ve released this album, are there plans to do anything live?
CUMMINS – I honestly wouldn’t even know where to start! It could be done and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t picked out my mates that I’d like to do it live with. But for now, I’m happy enough to just try and get some people to listen to it.
OD – Speaking of ‘live’, there was news floating around of a 20 Bulls Each reunion show, obviously that’s on the shelf at the moment, but if all goes to plan can we still expect to see this happen in the near future?
CUMMINS – At this very moment, I should have been sound-checking for that show! We wanted to do 2020 Bulls Each. We had rehearsed and the lads had flown in a few times and we had it all booked and sorted. Maybe next year. I only have a few years left of being able to do that type of music and do it justice, the knees and back are going! [Laughing]
OD – While we have your ear, can you reveal any of the forthcoming plans with Thomas House post-COVID lockdown? For those that don’t know, Thomas House has to be one of Ireland’s most important venue/club/bars, thanks to you and your business partner; who have been nurturing the day-to-day running of the business for close to 10 years.
CUMMINS – The plan is to open on August 10th, but we will see what the Government have to say about that. We’ve renovated the whole place. Its still Thomas House, but its better. I have a feeling there won’t be live shows in the venue for a long time but we have plans to turn it into a streaming studio for bands and DJs to do live events online. It won’t be the same, but it’ll be safer and better than nothing.
OD – Where can people find out more about “Empire”?
CUMMINS – There’s fuck-all to say right now, but people can find me on Facebook, Spotify and Soundcloud. I’m always keeping people up to speed with my projects on the ‘Lost Art’ podcast and radio show which you can find on the official website via this link.
Empire “Pretext to Tyranny‘ is out NOW via all good streaming sites.