New Audio: Denver’s Instant Empire Shares An Anthemic Meditation on Death

Denver-based indie outfit Instant Empire — Scotty Saunders (vocals), Sean Connaughty (guitar, keys), Lou Kucera (guitar), Aaron Stone (bass) and Matt Grizzell (drums) — formed back in 2011. Since then, the Denver-based quintet have chronicled the human condition through their work, while garnering comparisons to The National, Bright Eyes, The Hold Steady, Death Cab For Cutie and Manchester Orchestra, among others.

When the pandemic struck, the members of Instant Empire started writing songs — a lot of them. During the earliest and worst days of the pandemic, writing songs gave the band an outlet to grapple with deeply universal issues that hit close to home: death, stinging, a slow-burn disintegration of hopes, dreams and expectations, the inevitable reflection on the past, and living in the wake of uncertain, uncomfortable future. Over the past few years, the members of the Denver-based indie outfit saw parents and friends die, health issues of friends, family members and even themselves, long days and nights in and out of hospitals, lost jobs, lost opportunities and an incalculable sense of isolation. Naturally, all of that would up coalescing into the material they had been writing.

The end result is the Denver-based outfit’s fourth album Standing Eight Count. Slated for a March 31, 2023 release, the album reportedly sees Instant Empire at their most expansive musically and thematically. “It felt like the canvas we were working on had been broadened,” the band’s Scotty Saunders explains. “An undercurrent of deep personal struggle permeates these songs. Broken and battered characters, on the ropes, but still standing, still fighting the good fight … this theme is woven in and out of the 11 songs that make up the album.”

“The title of the album is a boxing reference … and legitimately at the time of writing this album, life was knocking us around,” Saunders says. But what do you do, right? Hopefully, you keep getting up. Fighting the good fight. During the writing of this album, I also was spending a fair amount of time around my father-in-law, who had suffered a series of severe strokes. It was heartbreaking. He was in a really rough spot physically, but he loved watching boxing. He wasn’t a man that showed a ton of emotion, but he’d sometimes start crying in a really good match. Most nights we’d flip over to Showtime and we’d all watch these fights because they brought him some joy. None of us were super into boxing, but sometimes you just find yourself watching a shit ton of boxing because your sick father-in-law wanted to watch it … some of that probably seeped its way into the album, even if in an abstract way.”

Produced and engineered by the band’s Sean Connaughty at their own studio, the album also reportedly sees the band crafting material that aims to be a companion to listeners to all the strange and difficult times they’ll encounter — especially now.

Standing Eight Count‘s latest single, “Tiny Flashes” is an urgent and muscular song built around angular guitar, twinkling keys, a propulsive groove set up by Stone and Grizzell, rousingly anthemic hooks and a blazing guitar solo paired with Saunders’ vocal, which expresses awe, bemusement, resiliency, longing and despair within a turn of a phrase. The song deals with death and grief — but not from the perspective of the survivor; but from the perspective of th person that died.

“My father died a few months before we started writing songs for this album. Around the one-year anniversary of his death, Sean sent me a demo for what would become’ Tiny Flashes’. At the time, I’d been reading a fair amount about the idea of liminality, specifically the Buddhist beliefs in transference from life-to-heaven,” Instant Empire’s Scotty Saunders explains. ” As you’d expect, my dad was on my mind a lot at this time … and I ended up writing this song from my dad’s perspective during the time he was in transition from life to the afterlife. What would it feel like stuck in transition, holding on to the past? This was my attempt to interpret what that might feel like … I imagined you’d almost feel weightless and not rooted to anything.”

“The song plays around a bit on being suspended between life and death, and in the second verse gets really granular as I imagined what it might feel like for my dad to be suspended with only his thoughts and his memories just cycling on an infinite repeat. I tried to just list out memories he might have and might be cycling through. You have to let go to move on … but I imagined the process of actually letting go here would be awful. Almost unachievable. I imagine there would be more questions than answers as a soul passes through a liminal state — so that came out in the lyrics.

Musically, this song really underwent a metamorphosis. It started out as a really sparse piano based tune when Sean first started writing the music. As we started building out the song, and particularly once Matt came up with the drum parts, it started to sound really muscular. The last element added to this song was Lou’s guitar work, and the bridge solo he lays down here really gave this song so much attitude and vibe. We had no idea this song was going to sound like this when we began. Tiny Flashes serves as a really powerful moment in the larger context of the album, and the music ultimately provided the perfect foundation of urgency for the lyrics.”