USUALLY, WHEN FAMOUS MUSICIANS JOIN TOGETHER TO FORM a supergroup, the objective is to create a band that hopefully will become more than the sum of its parts from both creative and commercial perspectives. But in the case of the Empty Hearts — comprised of lead guitarist Elliot Easton (The Cars), vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Wally Palmar (The Romantics), drummer Clem Burke (Blondie), and bassist Andy Babiuk (The Chesterfield Kings) — the main idea was four like-minded musicians getting together to have fun.
“Andy called each of us individually back in 2013 to ask what we thought about forming a band together,” recalls Easton. “We’re all old friends. The plan was to play the kind of music that was the reason we all played music in the first place, inspired by the bands from the Sixties who inspired us.”
It’s pretty easy to determine which bands influenced the Empty Hearts when listening to the group’s eponymous debut album released in 2014. Various songs bear distinct hallmarks of the sounds of the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Who combined with the attitude of garage rock bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Pretty Things and the Standells, and guitar riffs that edge into the early Seventies a la Led Zeppelin and T. Rex. Perhaps the most surprising feature of the album was how close it sounded to the musicians’ influences and how little it sounded like the music that each individual was previously best known for.
On the Empty Hearts’ follow-up effort released this year, appropriately called The Second Album, numerous influences are still apparent, but a distinct personality unique to the band has emerged as well. “This album definitely shows growth from the first record,” Easton says. “We had to become a band, and that takes time. Between the first album and this one, we did a lot of hanging and traveling together. We were already friends before, but we became better friends. That’s part of the chemistry. We’re less inhibited and showing more of ourselves. The more we’ve gotten to know each other, the more of our personality has come out.”
The Second Album delivers an even more diverse collection of styles, including hard rockers like “Death by Insomnia” and “The World’s Gone Insane,” the Memphis-meets-Muscle Shoals Southern soul of “Well Look at You” featuring the Uptown Horns, the power pop of “The Best That I Can” and “Come On and Try It” and the wistful balladry of “The World as We Know It, Moves On” and “Indigo Dusk of the Night.” Ringo Starr also makes a special guest appearance, playing drums on “Remember Days Like These.”
Easton recorded all of his guitar tracks at Babiuk’s Fab Gear Studios in Fairport, New York, near Rochester. “Recording at Andy’s studio is such a blast,” Easton says. “Without exaggeration, he has almost everything, from sitars and tambouras to any vintage amp you’d want to play through, all with new tubes and good speakers. There are claviolines, Mellotrons and chamberlains, and even Framus Star basses like Bill Wyman used to play — things you never see much at all. It’s a great clubhouse with all sorts of esoteric stuff that makes it a really fun atmosphere for geeking out and exploring your creative options.”
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