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New Faces(Interview): My Empire Of Sound “The Confession Of The Machines”

13 Apr, 2014

Very much the project of John Alexander Ericson, My Empire Of Sound is a Scandinavian duo based in Copenhagen and Berlin. Ericson, originally from the university town of Uppsala, Sweden, a one-hour-drive north of Stockholm, established his own studio in Berlin upon moving from London where he lived with his family for a few years. Some of you will know of his father Peter R. Ericson, a renowned Swedish musician and songwriter. John Alexander‘s own background includes founding the synthpop group The Northern Territories, a stint in his brother Petter‘s Brooklyn-based band Alberta Cross, but also a few solo albums where he’s proven that he is as comfortable behind knobs and buttons as he is with a guitar in his lap or on a piano stool.

A growing amount of people making music with machines frequently call themselves producers rather than musicians, which is a bit of a shame as they are mostly quite skilled playing “real” instruments, and not just lucky enough to have learned programming while fiddling about with their home computers. As Ericson was writing songs for his new duo he went looking for somebody to sing them. He eventually found what he was looking for in a chance meeting with Danish singer Sidsel Marie Søholm, whose delicate voice became a strong feature of My Empire Of Sound, both on its own and along with Ericson‘s sporadic singing.

The duo’s new album The Confession Of The Machines has been available through their webshop since last year, but has now had its digital release. It’s chock full of great songwriting and interesting merging of machines and instruments, as if to prove they actually go in perfect harmony if there are any doubters out there. I find some resemblance to Tomorrow’s World, last year’s excellent collaboration between Jean-Benoît Dunckel, one half of Air, and Lou Hayter of New Young Pony Club.

Visions of nightlit cityscapes and lonely autobahns are brought to life in songs like “In A Perfect World” and “The Confession Of The Machines”, while harmonium, spare guitar and piano tells another story in “Where Secrets Can’t Be Found” and “The World Is Waiting”. If the main focus here was on making emotions and humanity shine through modern day technology without coming through as cold, then consider it mission accomplished.

Continue reading as John Alexander tells their story below. Oh, and don’t miss out on his fabulous playlist(links further down) with songs that has inspired him, made exclusively for Songs for Whoever.

Could you tell us how you ended up in Berlin and how things began with My Empire Of Sound?

Me and my family moved to Berlin a couple of years ago, after six yeears in Hackney, East London.

After having done quite a few solo project, and having toured a lot un the UK with my brother´s band Alberta Cross, I felt like trying something different.

I had written quite a few songs but didn´t really feel like singing them myself. So I simply started auditioning and trying out singers both in London and in Berlin. After listening to about 30-40 singers I started to get a bit fed up…one evening I was checking online what gigs was on in Berlin and came across this international singer/songwriter contest that had taken place in a bar the night before. I googled the artists and Sidsel Marie was one of them. I liked her voice, saw she had another gig the same evening and I went there.

We started chatting, had a couple of vodka shots, and then decided to try and record a couple of songs together. Sidsel, who´s living in Denmark, flew back the next day, but came back a couple of weeks later to start recording in my studio.

Was the main goal to find a career with My Empire Of Sound, or rather a logical consequence of you both making music together?

We never thought that far when we started. It was more like “let´s try a couple of songs first and see if we like it”. I think the first track we did was “Early Morning(A New Beginning)” which is opening the album. I think we both felt, pretty quickly, that it was worth recording a couple of more songs.

The song “In A Perfect World” has this undeniable urban, metropolitan sound. Is it affected by having been written in Berlin?

“In A Perfect World” was written just after I moved to Berlin, so I believe, mentally, I was probably still in London. But sure, it has an urban or “big city feel” to it. The track is based around this hypnotic driving base line which is very much inspired by Giorgio Moroder. He actually had his famous studio in Munich but I hear it´s sadly not there anymore.

Despite your music being based on synthesizers and drum machines it also uses a lot of acoustic instruments. Could it have been made without one or the other?

No, I don´t think so. I don´t really think too much on what instruments to use when I arrange or produce a track. It´s more about what sounds good or feels good. I had an idea that this would be a quite electronic sounding project, but then again, I like mixing acoustic and electronic instruments. In the middle of the album recording I also bought an old beautiful acoustic upright piano which we´ve used a lot.

How do you split working duties within the group?

I write the songs, play the instruments and sing sometimes. Sidsel usually do the lead vocal and helps with vocal arrangements and backing vocals. I also had help from my swedish colleague Stefan Sääf who engineered the album and co-mixed it.

Has it been difficult to reach out with your music, i.e. hooking up with record labels?

I´m signed to Misty Music Publishing in Sweden but we´re releasing the album on my own label Warsaw Recordings. We haven´t really gone label shopping. I´ve previously worked with both major and indie labels, but I honestly don´t know if you really need a label these days. I think most bands right now are trying out different approaches to releasing music.We justed signed a licensing deal with a label who´s going to release the album in Mexico and I can imagine doing more things like that, but I would´t want to sign a label “exclusive”. Not the way the industry looks today. Feels old fashioned. I want to own my own music.

Is there any particular market you’re aiming for?

Again, we really didn´t think that far ahead. We´ve had great response from Scandinavia, Germany, USA and South America so we´ll see what happens. It´s early days still. Our first album is just coming out these days so we don´t have a master plan apart from keep on keeping on. There´s obviously no massive promotion campaign behind the album so it´s really “word by mouth” which suits us pretty good at the moment.

Do you do live gigs?

We´re gonna do a couple of acoustic gigs in Berlin now in May.

We both wanna play live and I don´t see My Empire Of Sound as a studio project. But having said that, we live in different countries, and it´s expensive to tour, but if there´s enough interest, and there´s a way…we´ll hit the road.

Finally, what are your plans for the nearest future?

We started recording about two years ago now and we already have around twenty songs to choose from for a second album. So we´re playing with the idea of releasing a second album later this year already, or latest next winter. We´re just mixing a new track that we all really like and might release that as a new single this summer.

That might not be very logical or clever since it´s not on the debut album but then again, why not?

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