Art Rock

Meet Philly-Based Noise Punks Empath, Coming to Houston

Empath will play at The Secret Group on August 23.
Empath will play at The Secret Group on August 23. Photo by Troy Memis

Empath, a four-piece experimental noise rock group from Philadelphia, will play their first show in Houston at The Secret Group next Friday, August 23. The quartet is currently touring with fellow Philly-based punk rockers Mannequin Pussy, who will headline the lineup at Secret Group. A previously scheduled Houston show with singer-songwriter Sasami was cancelled due to inclement weather — imagine that.

Formed in 2015, the group met while three of its four members lived in a West Philly punk house. "Our friendship was solidified when Garry and I got really gassed and talked loudly through a performance art bit in a neighbor's basement," says keyboardist and guitar player Randall Coon. "I feel bad for being disruptive but love is love." Like so many shared row houses in that part of Philadelphia, the home became the genesis for Empath's unique brand of rhythmic, chaotic psych rock — a laboratory for developing their sound and identity.

"Noise music" has become both a polarizing and extremely broad categorization. Like "rock" and "pop" the word is an umbrella term for a poorly understood and vaguely defined style of musical composition. From its bizarre, eardrum shattering beginnings, noise has referred to music composed through heavy (or exclusive) use of white-noise feedback loops, amp distortion and various found and non-musical sounds. While this general rule is true of all noise, the result can be hard to categorize.

"The noise scene sometimes tends to be heavily male dominated and both room clearing and punishing at times. We're trying to make a more inclusive sound, perhaps highlighting a different sort of voice than is usually heard in this style of music," says Coon.

Unlike the brutal soundscapes of the electronic and power noise scenes, Empath's layered and psychedelic tracks weave together soaring vocals, found noises, breakneck drum riffs and heavy instrument distortion for a sound that, while at first disorienting, melts into one cohesive and inexplicably nostalgic sonic experience. "The lyrics draw from emotional memories," says Coon. "I think that can help drive a sense of nostalgia. A lot of the songs being based around happy sounding chords while not being straightforward pop songs adds to that vibe. We try to convey a sort of dreaminess."

Empath recently signed to Fat Possum Records (The Black Keys, Townes Van Zandt) who will soon release the band's debut album, Active Listening: Night On Earth in a deluxe packaging with their latest EP, Liberating Guilt and Fear. Along with New York-based indie pop group T-Rexctasy, they will open for Mannequin Pussy at The Secret Group on Friday, August 23. For information, visit thesecretgrouphtx.com. $12-$15.
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.
Contact: Carlos Brandon