WORDS: MALVIKA PADIN
“We want our listeners to feel hopeful, The world is tough, but the great thing is that people do change, people grow. And it’s so worth it to be open and try to understand them and better understand yourself,” says Micah Smith, vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Mississippi-based indie-rock act Empty Atlas, talking about the message he wants people to take away from their honest, transparent music.
Making music that’s fundamentally about people and human connection, the quartet – Micah as well as lead guitarist Brennan Michael White, bassist Alex Ingram and drummer Robert Currie Hansford – broke into public consciousness with debut 2016’s Hestia, which dealt with the idea of home and what it can mean. Four years later, the band explore “the other side of the coin” – as they describe it- on sophomore album Kairos; where they examine the choice to leaving your comfort zone to chase success.
Speaking of the inspiration and message behind the record, Smith says, “”Kairos” is really a direct follow-up to our first album “Hestia.” On that one, I had recently gotten married and was sort of wrestling with what it means to create a new home, what “home” even means to me and to other people. With “Kairos,” it’s really the flip side of that – this idea of leaving your comfort zone, the sacrifice that comes with pursuing your passion. There’s so much belief out there that accomplishing great things has to mean sacrificing your own happiness, and “Kairos” is our way of examining what’s true and false about that.”
“The world is tough, but the great thing is that people do change, people grow. And it’s so worth it to be open and try to understand them and better understand yourself.”
Delving into the album, Smith reveals his personal favourite track and the story behind it, saying “I think “Valleys” may be up there. That was inspired by Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit. I was always such a huge fan of his music. He had this incredible, earnest way of writing about the world, and I just always connected. I wanted him to be able to realize how much joy he brought to the world and how he impacted so many people, and I wrote “Valleys” really just for myself at that point. Then after he died, that song helped me cope. I’d spend time thinking and playing that song on my acoustic, and it just helped me feel a little more at peace. I’m not sure if it’ll be that for anyone else, but I hope it can be.”
Going further into the song-writing in this album,“I often write lyrics with stories in mind, even if it’s not necessarily a narrative song. Most of them start with something in our lives and sort of finding a lens to view things through. Like the single “Maximal,” we’ve played with a lot of bands who have this “all or nothing” stance, where the music is pointless if you’re not sacrificing everything and on the road 99% of the year. And while I totally respect the people that do that, I don’t think it’s always the answer. But I was wrestling with that idea and wrote from that perspective. What I loved most about it was that when I brought it to the other guys in Empty Atlas, playing together brought out even more nuance to it – this sense of almost panic and urgency.”
Weaving such nuanced, emotive stories with their poignant lyricism and gripping melodies comes naturally to Empty Atlas’ whose sound is a product of their individual inspirations and their trust in each other as musicians.
Talking about their sound and it’s constant evolution, Smith says, “ . I think we’ve gotten more dynamic with our writing and layered in more intricacy, where there are always new things to find when you listen closely. As far as where our sound goes next, I know I don’t want to feel like I’m hearing the same exact thing from an artist. I hope we can keep creating music that challenges us and gives listeners something new, while still feeling like Empty Atlas.”
“having people from other parts of the world, even with language barriers, connect to our music is just so incredible.”
Continuing on what’s next for them, Smith reveals their top three bucket list goals, saying “ An international tour, for sure. We’ve yet to get to do that, and I’d really like to make that happen. I think spot two would be something creatively challenging, like I’ve done some short film scores and original music. I’d love to see Empty Atlas to do that on a larger scale production. Beyond that, there are so many songwriters and producers that we’re big fans of who we’d love to work with, so spot three on our bucket list would be more like a list of 50 names.”
On the topic of international tours, Smith recalls the most surreal moment of their career so far, saying, “I’m sure it’s something that a lot of bands have felt, but to me, having people from other parts of the world connect to our music, even through the language barrier, is just so incredible. We’ve had conversations with fans from countries we’ve never been to and in languages we don’t speak – Google Translate saving our lives there – and yet we get to share these experiences together.”
It’s this very togetherness that defines Empty Atlas. Describing the three words that best described Empty Atlas as people and artists, Smith says, “Brotherhood -we’re absolutely friends first, and that’s got to be at the centre of everything we do, Discovery – both for ourselves and our music; we always want to take on new challenges and keep making music that feels fulfilling and has something real to say, and I said it earlier, but repeating anyway: Hopeful – we want to write music that makes you consider your place in the world, the possibilities in front of you, and your ability to change and grow and be there for the people in your life.
Stepping out of their comfort zones yet making it feel like home for anyone listening with their intricate, heartfelt music, Empty Atlas feels like the companion you need in everything from acceptance and comfort to solitude and loneliness.
KAIROS IS OUT NOW ON ALL STREAMING PLATFORMS