by A.J. Wachtel
What do the great vocals on power pop/new wave band The Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” the iconic signature guitar lead in new wave group The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl,” the thumping bass on retro/garage rock ensemble The Chesterfield Kings’ “I’ve Got A Way With Girls,” and the powerful pounding on punk/new wave quintet Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” all have in common? The gifted artists who brought us these audial pleasures, Wally Palmar, Elliot Easton, Andy Babiuk and Clem Burke, have pooled their talents, formed a new group, and will release their self-titled CD in early August 2014. Fasten your seat belts, everyone. The Empty Hearts have arrived.
Noise: The Empty Hearts has you on guitar from The Cars, Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings on bass, Clem Burke from Blondie on drums, and The Romantics’ lead singer, Wally Palmar. Press releases are calling you a “supergroup.” Is this a good-description or a bad billing for the group in the long-run?
Elliot Easton: It’s funny you should ask that because we have joked that that’s the last thing we want to be known as! We think of ourselves as a bunch of old friends who have always wanted to get together and make music for the sheer joy of doing it, and it works! Of course, journalists will want to find a neat, convenient tag to put on the band. I guess you could be called worse things. Ha ha!
Noise: Is there any difference playing guitar in The Empty Hearts and in The Cars? Do you have the same role in both bands?
Elliot: My role in The Empty Hearts extends to writing, which has been very fulfilling for me. Beyond that, all I’ve ever tried to do was play as best as I can, never forgetting that it all exists to frame the song. We may be different from The Cars stylistically, but the principles are the same.
Noise: Your new CD, scheduled for an August 5 release, is produced and engineered by Ramones technical supervisor, Ed Stasium. What do you like about the final mix and his part in the process that make this new CD special?
Elliot: I’ve worked with Ed before and it’s always a blast. He was an integral part of the process and I think he maintained the spirit of fun that permeates the album. You can hear that we’re having a good time, and Ed did a great job of preserving that.
Noise: Care to share a cool story about having The Stones and Faces keyboardist, Ian McLagan, playing on some cuts? How did this happen and what is Ian like?
Elliot: It was just great to have someone whose music you grew up loving come into the project and have him sit down and play your songs and like them, and add that magic touch.
Noise: You’re planning on an October/ November tour of the U.S. Do you have any New England dates scheduled yet and how do people find your band news and future tour dates? On the tour, can an audience expect just new Empty Hearts songs or will you be adding any material from your band mates’ other groups? Are you rehearsing any Cars tunes for the tour?
Elliot: We’ve just begun booking the dates, and I know we won’t be letting the New England fans down! Folks can keep up on our activities in a few ways. They can check our website or like our Facebook page to get updates on the shows. Yes, we will likely be playing a few songs from The Cars, Blondie, The Romantics, and The Chesterfield Kings.
Noise: I heard you cut the new CD in five days and you actually recorded four or five of the songs in one take. That’s unheard of today. Can you hear the difference in the music?
Elliot: Absolutely. The live interaction in the studio is a completely different vibe than the sound that you get when everyone puts their parts on separately in a vacuum. With everyone playing, you get the atmosphere of the room with all the instruments reacting against each other, creating their own harmonics—a special and exciting ambience that cannot be created any other way.
Noise: Fact or Fiction: Steven Van Zandt hand-picked your band’s name. Care to comment?
Elliot: Absolutely true. He’s one of those guys who likes to come up with band names, so he gave Andy a list and we loved The Empty Hearts!
Noise: In 2013, Gibson launched the Elliot Easton Tikibird Firebird – a modified version of their Firebird. How is this selling and is it still available?
Elliot: The guitar is still selling and it is still available. I’m very proud of it—it’s a great guitar!
Noise: I read a recent quote of yours that you “wanted to get back to the garage and play straight forward rock ‘n’ roll.” Are you successful on this new release?
Elliot: I think so, absolutely. I guess others will have to listen and decide for themselves.
Noise: In 2013, you reunited with the surviving members of The Cars and released Move Like This, the band’s first new music in 24 years. Any future plans for The Cars, or is it still contingent on if and when Rick Ocasek writes any more material?
Elliot: There are no future plans for The Cars at this time.
Noise: Of the 12 tracks on your new release, what are the writing credits? Are there any collaborative or group efforts, or is every song composed solo and the band basically just backs the writer’s original ideas and efforts up?
Elliot: Some of the songs were begun individually. But we all helped to finish them, regardless of who had the original idea. It was all a collaborative effort, every step of the way.
Noise: Whatever happened to your band Tiki Gods, who just released Easton Island last year? You released that CD in a very interesting way. For the first month, it was available only as a MP3 download at Amazon and iTunes until it was distributed as a physical CD. How did this work out and will you ever do it like this again?
Elliot: There were things I would have done differently, especially learning from The Empty Hearts experience. I’ve learned that I’m not a record company, nor do I wish to be. I call it my mid-century crisis. Ha ha!
Noise: You played on Stray Cats’ bassist Lee Rocker’s 1998 No Cats, specifically “Rumblin’ Bass” and “One Way or Another.” You two know each other as young boys growing up in New York. Care to share a cool story about you two hanging out in your youth?
Elliot: Although Lee grew up around the corner from me, we really didn’t know each other. He was friends with my younger brother. They’re five years younger than me so I never saw them in high school or anything. It was later, when Brian, Lee, and Slim Jim had started a band called The Tomcats that my brother brought them to my attention. But I was already living in Boston and making records with The Cars by that time.
Noise: What’s in the future for The Empty Hearts?
Elliot: Hopefully, lots more good music, great live shows, and lots of laughter!