For anyone that has ears, it’ll be clear that Empire is a significant step up for Melbourne based Windwaker. The band’s second EP releases today, and the adoration for the singles can now extend into the entirety of the release. I had the pleasure of taking some time with Windwaker’s guitarist Liam Guinane (who’d driven in his car to get some decent phone coverage for our chat!) in the lead-up to the release of Empire.
Firstly I was keen to know how the ‘Windwaker camp’ were feeling about the EP and its pending release (at the time of writing this). Liam said “I think it’s exceeded our expectations already and it hasn’t even come out yet. [laughs] It’s super exciting. It’s really cool to finally put out a body of work that encompasses all of our personalities. In the past we had one driving personality behind the material where this time around, it’s definitely been more collaborative and I’m really excited for people to hear what we have to offer. Everyone seems to be enjoying the first three tracks that we’ve shown.”
Curious about the collaborative approach that he mentioned, I asked him to elaborate on how that goes down by way of who does what. Though Liam and guitarist Jesse Crofts are relatively new to the band, Liam was present during the writing of Windwaker’s previous EP Fade “as a friend just hanging out and watching them”. For the 2017 EP, Liam describes the creative dynamic as drummer Chris Lalic hands-on with songwriting, and vocalist Will King bringing conceptual lyrical ideas to the table. Of Empire‘s creative process, Liam describes a shift in approach that’s more collaborative.
In his words: “This time around, we’ve now added myself and Jesse who have our own influences and our own ideas. And so this time around instead of say Chris starting off an idea of a song with the music or a demo, the roles sort of got switched a little bit. A couple of the songs – for example “My Empire” – were written by myself musically but then we all got into a room together and were figuring out melody ideas and lyrical concepts. Even kind of just expanding what might have been like a couple sections of a song into a full three and a half minute song. It’s definitely been a lot different this time around. We’ve just been really excited with the idea of experimenting with the different personalities and the different roles that we can take and put in. Like, giving myself more leadership in melodies. That sort of thing.”
The process of creating Empire started after the release of the 2018 single “New Infinite”, with the EPs third track “Grey World” being the first song they started as a band. Empire was completed in October 2018.
Of the EP’s title, during my review I wondered if it was talking about the band itself as a creative ’empire’ to sink their individual energy into; with music bring a bright thing in a world that is otherwise challenging and dark. So I asked this of Liam: “Is this where you guys were going with that title?”
Liam: “Sure. “My Empire” I know specifically is definitely more of a positive empowerment song. Yeah, I think you’re kind of right on the money there. Empire as a whole is sort of encompassing this brightness that is otherwise in a darker world. I think that’s a concept that relates to a lot of how a lot of people have been experiencing time in the last couple years.”
Kel: “Is the empire the building of the band kind of thing or is it more abstract than that?”
Liam: “I think it’s more abstract than that. It’s kind of this uppercut to the social pressures that we’ve had. You know, the mental health issues that we can face. It’s sort of building your own mental empire, toward victory. I guess that’s kind of more what it’s saying. At least that’s kind of my interpretation of it.”
Kel: “Cool! So just focusing your energy on building something good, instead of allowing yourself to be more downtrodden..”
Liam: “That’s right. I mean the EP explores a lot of darkness. It’s trying to find that victory throughout that darkness.”
Liam kindly agreed to explore the song meanings of Empire with me, and we began with “Reject”. The EP opener has a self-berating vibe throughout, and I wondered if there was more to it than that, and what that might be. Lyrically it literally refers to not being about to sleep and having a mind that seems out of control, and I was curious of what linked these things together.
Liam: “I know Will really wanted to explore the idea of his journey of going from an adolescent to facing adulthood, and for the problems that come with growing up, and feeling – for lack of a better word – like a reject in society. I know that he definitely was facing a lot of pressures from society and “Reject” is kind of one of those songs that’s asking the question ‘Is this growth or am I just conforming to what society wants me to do?’. ”
Kel: “Cool! It’s good too that there’s room for people to take the lyrics and apply them to their own situations as well.”
Liam: “Yeah, I’m 100% on the theme where I like to leave room for people to interpret it. I don’t like to explicitly tell people ‘This is what this song’s about’. But if people find comfort in knowing that kind of thing, they’re more than welcome to interpret it in that way.”
Kel: “”The Sitch” kind of surprised me when it first came out, because it’s so feelgood, and it’s got you in the video strutting down the road, really happy and everything [laughs] but it also has a bit of light and shade about it. I’m wondering what was the intention behind it?”
Liam: “”The Sitch” was one of those songs that we were very scared to put out because it was so different musically speaking, and it kind of covers – like you said – a lot of different shades. We go through many different moods as the song progresses. That song, we kind of wanted to take an almost hip hop approach with the concept of the lyrics. We wanted to write a song that was like ‘We have people trying to leech off us and have disingenuous intentions’ and we wanted to cast them aside a little bit and try to focus on our own lives, and accept our lives for what we’re trying to accomplish. But then it kind of goes into the bridge section where I’m singing. Sometimes when you encounter so many of those interactions, you can kind of feel sort of run down. We wanted to explore this idea of feeling dark from these situations but then have this positivity of like ‘We’re going to push through it now’. That’s kind of what this song’s about.”
Kel: “Yeah – it has that kind of feel; ‘This is how bad it feels, BUT I’m also not going to surrender’.”
Liam: “Yeah! I think with how much the video explores that too. It all comes together a little bit.”
Kel: “I love the video, it’s so good!”
Liam: “It was a lot of fun. It destroyed us, like mentally and physically.”
Kel: “Oh really!”
Liam: “It was over the course of two very very long days. But yeah it was really fun to work on that video. I think Windwaker has a habit of showing a real serious side to it, but “The Sitch” was kind of different. It was kind of showing that we can be a bit fun and playful at the same time, you know?”
Kel: “So true. With metalcore you don’t expect to see that. It’s all darkened rooms and riffs and scowls.”
In listening through the EP, “Grey World” was really sonically different to the previous two songs. I was curious if contrasting/different sounding songs was intended.
Liam: “Like I said, “Grey World” was the first song. It took the longest to finish, but it was one of the first ideas that we really latched onto and really wanted to keep on the record. Musically speaking, it was something super different. It wasn’t until a lot later that the lyrics came. I know for Will this is kind of going back to feeling the societal pressures and he was really scared about failing if he didn’t follow something that was a traditional career path. So this is sort of his way of being like ‘Let’s get away from this grey world and find something that’s a bit more abstract and different’. I think the music captures how abstract it is with its textures and stuff, especially at the beginning. I feel like we did a pretty good job of creating an environment for that kind of idea.”
Kel: “Definitely, like its own little contained world and then you have that chorus that just blows it all out.”
Liam: “Definitely, and it does kind of change pace a little bit towards the middle, but I think that’s sort of the aggressive side of us coming out and we wanted to [laughs] sort of grab everyone by the hair and slam them, you know what I mean? That’s certainly one of my favourite songs and I can’t wait to play that song live, its really different.”
Kel: “Yeah! I was surprised to hear “Reject” at Download!”
Liam: “Yeah we’ve been road testing that song for a little while. We first played that song at Bigsound last year. I don’t think it was completed yet, at least vocally. The song structure was there, but I don’t know if we’d sung what ended up being the final vocal parts. But yeah! it’s a really fun song to play, a real fun tempo that I can kind of just spin around and go crazy. [laughs]”
Liam: “I wrote this song funnily enough about five years ago. [laughs] A really long time ago. I wrote it for a hip hop project that I was doing at the time and the song never got released, but my relationship with Windwaker has spanned over a number of years and Chris and Indey [Windwaker’s bassist, Indey Salvestro] have played that song live with me in its earliest form now a very long time ago. It had changed and became more Windwaker-y when we brought it to the table, and it was a complete accident that it ended up on the EP. We wanted to have two or three interludes on the EP, and this is probably the only one that ended up staying, because it felt like it was the most cohesive and interesting. It also showcases another dimension to what Windwaker can be. I don’t think a lot of bands will do what that song does. It kind of combines this hip hop/R&B kind of sensibility with a more alternative spin to it.
“It’s about this failing relationship, I guess, and kind of feeling a sense of grief and emptiness. Ultimately we all have to pass through those feelings, eventually, to feel positivity. So yeah that song was written a long time ago, but I’m glad it was finally able to see the light of day. I do like that song a lot.”
Kel: “I understand “Arrested” as looking back at a past relationship and having that 20-20 clarity?”
Liam: “Yeah! It’s definitely that. It’s sort of the reflection of a toxic relationship. I know Indey wrote this song, and I know we were both going through some similar things at the same time when he was writing this, so I definitely connected with what he was saying. It was this idea of kind of not knowing you’re in a toxic relationship and holding onto something that is inevitably unhealthy for you. Going through a range of emotions, I think it’s the most aggressive song on the EP for sure. I think it explores that through lyrics. You definitely feel a sense of anger towards this person that’s honestly holding you down emotionally, and making you feel really negative and your self-esteem at an all time low. But then you also are kind of still holding onto this idea of ‘Oh actually there’s still some really good things about it’, and kind of feeling guilty that you want out of this toxic relationship. That’s kind of where that song came from. It’s another one that had been in the pipeline for a really long time, but it wasn’t until a lot later that the lyrics came.”
Kel: “Okay. With that last line ‘My love for you gave way to me’.. I understand that as losing your identity or losing who you are to another? But it could also be seen as you gain it back when they’re gone? Just wondering what the intention was.”
Liam: “I believe the intention was the former. You definitely lose yourself into the relationship; you lose your sense of identity. It’s one of those things where sometimes you can find yourself acting in a way that isn’t true to yourself and you don’t sort of realise that until you find yourself after that relationship has ended.”
Kel: “Mmm! Hearing you say that, it’s just kind of interesting how that theme has extended through the whole EP almost.”
Liam: “Yeah, I think that was something that – whether it was conscious or not – was part of what our experience was in the lead-up to writing and finding inspiration for the EP. I certainly feel that way, and I feel like most of the members have felt that way.”
Kel: “Yeah, it’s really common, so it’s good to have that music that you can kind of lean into and be like ‘Yep, someone else feels like this’. Because no matter what you’re doing, there’s a lot of pressure and expectations and even unspoken expectations, so yeah, it’s good!”
Kel: “”My Empire” is such a stunning song. BIG choruses and a bit dreamy but also fierce. It’s a bit ethereal at times. What inspired this one?”
Liam: “I wrote the music for this one. This is one of the songs that I came to the band with and I wasn’t sure whether or not it was going to make it onto the record. [laughs] I don’t want to sound too musical-ly nerdy.. but I just thought that we’ve written lots of songs in sort of the same keys and scales and I wanted to just try and write something that was.. It was in response to “Grey World” funnily enough. Chris wrote “Grey World”, at least the music came from him to the band, and this was kind of my response to it. Having something that was, harmonically speaking, a little bit different to what we’re normally writing. That’s where the musical inspiration come from. I wanted something really dark and aggressive, but that was also an environment or an atmosphere that felt very clean and.. BIG! I wanted something that sounded big!”
Kel: “Yeah, I think you’ve achieved all of those things!”
Liam: “I always wanted “Reject” to be the last song, but in hindsight I feel like “My Empire” serves as a really good ending for the EP because it’s that one glimmer of positivity that we were talking about earlier. It’s about building up that empire in your mind to charge towards victory with your own mental challenges. That song definitely is a big uppercut so to speak. [laughs]”
Kel: “Yeah! So even though I’m not a ‘music nerd’, I can still hear that there’s something different or fresh or very.. not predictable – that’s not even a way to describe something, but you know what I mean.”
Liam: “I’m glad that still comes across even to someone that’s not musically educated, traditionally speaking. It’s good that that can be recognised universally. That’s where that song came from and the lyrics were sort of more of a positive spin on something that was otherwise a lot of darkness.”
Kel: “True! I wanted to know more about the lyric ‘We’re pulling back on ascension. Are we aligned?’. What was inspiring that? Is it about going with the growth that you’re sort of nudged towards instead of fighting against it?”
Liam: “You can talk about this in a way that for me and Indey is very spiritual, or I think for Will it’s something that’s a bit more .. not literal, but more grounded in reality. He’s very obsessed with the idea of moving forward as a humanity. I think ‘We’re pulling back from ascension’ is sort of stopping us from growing as people. This is sort of injecting my own views into this a little bit, but as a society, we can kind of find ourselves stagnating a little bit because we might not have conversations. Whether it’s about political ideas or whether it’s about the breakdown of our relationships or talking about our emotions, we find it hard to have conversations. The thing without communication is you find yourself not solving anything. So with that, we’re stopping ourselves from actually growing as a society and then as a humanity.”
Kel: “Okay. So we’re coming up against opportunity to grow, but we’re trying to avoid it or whatever. Putting on masks to not be open and communicating honestly.”
Kel: “And ‘Are we aligned?’ is like ‘Are we being who we’re supposed to be?’ sort of thing.”
Liam: “Yeah, and like I said you can kind of look at that in the more spiritual sense. I mean we can talk about the concept of ascending to a greater plane and being aligned, with like chakras and that kind of thing. I know for me and Indey that’s like a really important thing for us. So yeah it leaves itself to be interpreted in many different ways.”
Kel: “Yeah, that’s cool!”
Inspired by Ocean Grove
Wrapping up our chat, I acknowledged the clear presence of the two voices on Empire; Will and Liam working together in vocally sharing the sentiments of the songs. At times it feels conversational, and at others it feels like a strengthening of the point(s) shared. Liam revealed that Ocean Grove were an inspiration to them in this way.
“It was Will’s idea to kind of get me more involved in singing. [laughs] We really were inspired by how Ocean Grove moved seamlessly transitioned between vocalists. You know.. Dale, then Running Touch, and Luke.. and sort of having moments where you didn’t know who was singing. I think we were really inspired by that, so that’s sort of where that came from. And obviously in a live sense, I think it’s good to have my parts to sing and it gives Will a little bit of a break [laughs] from singing really high for 30 minutes straight.”
Before we ended the call, Liam reiterated how collaborative and experimental Empire was for the band, and how they’re looking forward to people taking time with what they’ve created.
[Windwaker image at Download Festival 2019 by Albert Lamontagne]