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Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate)

author DR date 29/02/12

We recently sent an email to Keith Latinen, of the band Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) and the record label Count Your Lucky Stars Records, asking him if he wouldn't mind us shooting a bunch of questions his way. Not only did he ever so graciously agree to answer them, he gave eloquent and interesting answers, and we are extremely grateful for that! Read on to discover what he has been up to, both with Empire! Empire! and Count Your Lucky Stars, how Count Your Lucky Stars was formed, why he thinks vinyl has boomed in recent years, and plenty more!

RF.net: Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! What's new with you, your band, and your label?

Keith: That is a loaded question, haha. With the band, we have been on tour a lot, with the next one starting on March 8th with my good friends Parker and Warren Franklin. Tomorrow, I am going back into the studio to record vocals for the last three of a batch of nine songs that will end up on various splits/projects. I am very excited to get these finished, as some of them are projects I agreed to years ago. After this next tour, we are playing at an awesome Michigan festival called Bled Fest, and then doing a week in Canada in May.

As for the label, things are just as busy, if not more. We recently announced six new artists to our label- all of whom will be having releases in the coming year. The other artists on our roster are active as well, so you can expect this year to be filled with a lot of great releases.

As for myself, well, you get the idea. There is very little time for me to do things besides music, but I fill that little precious time watching sports and sitcoms [Ed note: How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Friends, Parks and Recreation] with my wife.

RF.net: How did Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) get started?
Keith: Empire! Empire! was originally a solo project I started because my main band at the time was about to record an EP, and I was the engineer. It was to be sort of a guinea pig so once we got to recording our album, I wouldn’t be so bad at it. That band petered out, and since I was already pretty far into this, I figured I might as well use it as a starting point for a new band.

RF.net: Your sound bears strong resemblance to 90s bands like Mineral and American Football. Was this a deliberate choice or did any resemblance naturally occur?
Keith: Those are two of my favorite bands, so it was no coincidence. I’m 29 now, and I started getting into this style of music when I was 15 or 16. So, essentially, it’s what I grew up on. That, and 90’s alt rock (which I still love). I actually had a 90’s emo band in the late 90’s, though we weren’t very good, haha.

RF.net: I've noticed that reviewers often praise your lyrics. Is this an element of song-writing you focus on particularly?
Keith: It is the most important part of the song to me. It’s the part I agonize over, the part that keeps me up late into the night. I was an English major in college, and it was there where I learned the economy of language- that is to say, making sure every word (or the absence of) counts. My standards for lyrics are that if it can be read independently from the music as a complete and separate work, then I have done my job.

RF.net: Is there a reason you seem to prefer releasing EPs and Splits rather than saving songs and releasing more full-length albums? Is it a financial thing or do you prefer that your music is consumed in small doses?
Keith: I think that this is my biggest regret of our career. I don’t regret doing any of the projects I have done, but we could just as easily released at least two more full lengths by now. I have trouble saying no, and everyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for pet projects and rare tracks. EPs and 7 inches just sort of happen, but planning a full length takes a lot of time. An album is meant to be a complete body of work, so I was never tempted to just combine the songs from said projects. For the EPs, it was like one label would ask us, or we were going to Japan and wanted to make something special for it, etc. It kind of snowballed, and there are almost 40 songs officially released, with only one full length. Couple that with a lot of touring and trying to get our name out there, and here we are.

I actually think the opposite about those releases. Mostly, all these rare tracks and EPs and splits are for your diehard fans and friends, but full lengths are what people constantly go back to. Our full length came out in 2009, and it is still easily the most listened to out of all our releases.

RF.net: Do you have any plans to release another full-length?
Keith: Yes! This is 100% our priority as soon as I get back from the next tour. Cathy is taking a week off of work, and we are just going to hole ourselves up in our apartment and write. After the guitar is done it’ll be pretty easy, considering I will also be playing bass, drums, etc., and I can take all the time I need. So even when she goes back to work, I can finish writing the other parts. To ensure this happens, we have canceled everything but a few one-off festivals and shows for a while. [Ed: Keith later added: "Also, we are hoping to have this out by Fall. It will be out this year, 100%]

RF.net: How was Count Your Lucky Stars formed?
Keith: My band was looking to release a 7”, and there seemed to be little to no [label] interest in it. We had self-released our first EP and had sent off a number of copies to a distro/label in the UK called strictly no capital letters. We had a series of MySpace messages where I hinted about the possibility of wanting sncl to release it, and they took the bait and told me they were interested in doing it. Andy, who runs sncl, wanted me to find somebody in the states to fund/distro the other half of it, and we just thought we might as well do it ourselves. I had never really given much thought to starting a label before then, but it seemed like a good time because we had a lot of talented friends who were going unnoticed as well.

RF.net: Are there any difficulties being in a touring band whilst maintaining a record label? If so, what are they?
Keith: Yes, definitely. The two are so interconnected, yet both demand so much of my attention. Cathy works a full time job so we can do both of them and pay our bills, and it was only about a year ago where I was able to quit my job for the band and the label. She still goes on tour when she can, but while I am gone, she takes on most of the responsibilities that you can only do from the office. Mail order takes a lot of both of our time.

RF.net: What do the day-to-day operations look like for Count Your Lucky Stars?
Keith: There is no straight answer for this, as it depends on the day or the week. Last week we announced all of our new artists, so it was a lot of time promoting on social networking sites, etc. I will tell you that I never imagined spending so much time on a computer. I have lost countless hours waiting for things to upload, haha.

In the morning I try and catch up on email. We send mail order once or twice a week, depending on how busy we are or if a new release is out. I talked to our bands a lot; I talk to album reviewers, graphic artists, pressing plants and various news sites. I spend too much time home alone on the computer.

RF.net: Almost all of CYLS releases are streamed in full for free on Bandcamp. What kind of effect does this have on record sales vs the artists that you choose not to stream in full?
Keith: We stream every release on Bandcamp. Sometimes we will delay it if a various site has an exclusive stream, etc, but they all end up there. I think that I might have answered this question differently even as far back as two years ago, but I know that it’s very easy for anyone to download an album, and I would rather they do it at our Bandcamp, or at least listen there first. All of our other releases are there, so if they like one of our bands, maybe they will try out another. We also have three free CYLS samplers you can get from there. Not only is it good business sense, but it gives everyone a chance to hear our artists, and all of our artists a better chance at being discovered.

RF.net: CYLS seems to favour vinyl as much as it does CDs, if not more. Why is this, and why do you think there has been such a boom in vinyl sales in recent years?
Keith: We definitely favor vinyl more. People don’t buy CDs anymore because they can just download it. Even if someone does buy a CD, they are probably going to just rip it onto their computer and let it sit on a shelf. It’s a shame because I love CDs. I grew up on them; I still think they sound the best. But vinyl offers so much more for the listener- it’s more of an experience. The art is bigger, the sound is warm, and you can’t skip tracks easily. The album is experienced as the artist intended it to be. If people are going to still buy physical product, 9/10 it will be vinyl. We also include the digital copies, so you aren’t missing out on that.

RF.net: Was it always your intention to sign bands to CYLS who have that elements of that nostalgic 90s indie sound?
Keith: My intention was always to work with artists I love. Since I love that style of music, it isn’t really a surprise that we ended up with a lot of bands like that. I think there is a misnomer about our label though. We have a very wide and varied roster, from heavy stuff like Cloud Mouth and The Reptilian, to lighter artists like Boris Smile and Empire! Empire!, and a lot in between. I get that people find it easy to pigeonhole things, but we really do have a lot to offer.

RF.net: Are you happy about CYLS staying a niche label or do you see them as becoming a seminal label much like Drive-Thru was?
Keith: I sort of felt like Drive-Thru was a niche label too- just that they had a much wider niche. You still came to expect a certain style of artist for them.

I want what is best for my artists, so I will always be pushing and growing if I can. Of course we would like to be thought of as a seminal label, I think we have the roster for it already. This year will see us reaching our 50th release, so we also have a pretty decent sized catalog too. It isn’t always as easy for us because we don’t have artists that are instant [commercial] hits or anything, but I think that our roster writes music that will hold up over time.

RF.net: One thing that we can't not ask about is file-sharing. One argument for it is that if people download your music at least it is getting heard, however this obviously has financial ramifications; being in a band and running a record label do you see this from both sides? Or have you sided on a particular side of the fence, either in support of file-sharing or against it?
Keith: I think that this is a dead argument on our level. Maybe the major labels still have a dog in the fight, but if you ask any label or band our size, the answer will be the same. We want our artists/music to be heard, and there will still be enough people that care enough to make the purchase. It’s mostly a good thing, and if nothing else, things are certainly not going to ever go back to the way they once were.

RF.net: What music is currently dominating your playlist? Anything you'd recommend we check out?

Keith: I am digging the new Jealous Sound record, and Cathy and I recently went to see the Promise Ring reunion show, so there has been a lot of more of that too.

RF.net: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Do you have anything to add?

Keith: Two things! One, we have a brand new sampler at CYLS which you can download for liking us on Facebook. Two, check out lasagnacat.com- probably the funniest site of all time. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me rattle on, I can be a bit long-winded!

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