The Return of the Riff with Empty Ritual

A chat with Matt Evans of Empty Ritual

I was fortunate enough to catch up with my friend Matt Evans, formerly of Asheville punk/hardcore outfit Just Die! and alternative/grunge rock trio Old Flings, over Rocky’s Hot Chicken last weekend about his brand new metallic hardcore project Empty Ritual. We talked about how the band came together, getting back into the songwriting saddle, and their plans moving forward into the rest of 2017!

J – So Empty Ritual, it’s you (Matt), Steve who was in Just Die!, and then…

M – Dave, the drummer from Just Die!, and then this dude Mark, who plays in onj., this post rock band here in Asheville that’s awesome, and then Jake who played in Sundale from Johnson City, he plays bass.

J – Was this a thing that y’all had been talking about for a while?

M – So things with Old Flings were coming to a close and I really wanted to play heavy music again, and I tried to get something going, I met up with a bunch of different people here in town and it just wasn’t working out. I got dinner with Steve and Dave one night, and I was like, “I miss you guys, it’s been almost five years since we’ve played music together” and they were into the idea. We started jamming mid-summer last year and it’s taken until now to play our first show. (laughs)

J – Well I was going to say you guys all have separate, busy lives outside of just playing music together.

M – Yeah we’re all actual adults now. (laughs)

J – Did you guys record the demo here in Asheville?

M – We did! We recorded at my buddy Alex’s house, he’s got a living room/bedroom set-up. He’s not a recording engineer at all, but he is an actual engineer. (laughs) He’s been in a couple bands here in town and recorded all their stuff himself and I knew it would be easier on all of us to have a friend locally record us rather than spending a bunch of our own money out of pocket to go somewhere else.

J – The feedback has been pretty positive since y’all said this was going to be a thing, the preview track got a lot of hits, are you stoked on the response so far?

M – Definitely! We put the demo up online last weekend, and it’s got a lot of plays, but at this point we’re not worried about any of that, we wrote that demo for us. I’m just stoked to play some shows again. We wrote that demo basically as an excuse to hangout with each other. (laughs)

J – Yeah, the demo is rad. Sonically, you guys seem to be going for a straightforward heavy hardcore style. Was there a particular sound you set out for when you first started jamming?

M – Yeah! To begin with I was shooting for a Coalesce, Unbroken, Swing Kids sound, stuff like that. We ended up getting somewhere in there. It morphed from that, more Indecision-y now, definitely a Deadguy influence as well. But I’ll say this, the thing that stinks about Asheville is that no one listens to hardcore, so I’m ready for nobody to like it here. (laughs) But just here, with all my bands previously I wanted us to play elsewhere for those same reasons. It’s definitely hard to find people to play that kind of music here because nobody really cares about it.

J – I was going to say, it’s been a few years since I’ve been to a hardcore show here in Asheville.

M – I booked a straight edge band from DC at The Odditorium, there was another touring band on that show, but people at the show were patronizing the band while they were on stage playing their set. Like cracking jokes about them. I couldn’t believe what was going on. Like, you paid to be at this show, I’m sorry you listen to shitty punk music you’re going to grow out of in the next 3-5 years and can’t appreciate something slightly different.

J – So the name, Empty Ritual, is that a dig on religion? Well, maybe not a dig, but more so a commentary on organized religion?

M – I definitely think so. Steve actually came up with it! Not to talk shit about him. (laughs) Steve is one of the smartest people I know, he’s so bright and well read. But he was throwing out some of the worst band names to begin with. (laughs) I mean I wasn’t offering anything either so I don’t have room to talk. He eventually suggested Empty Ritual and we all loved it. He said the name could be a commentary on religion or hardcore or on society in general. Anytime you do something that’s supposed to be holy or important, but your hearts not in it. Lyrically, that theme is very present on the demo as well. But that’s all Steve, he’s the lyric guy, I’m just the riff guy. (laughs)

J – Obviously you have had a friendship and a relationship with Grant (Bitter Melody Records) for a long time. He’s been such a huge catalyst in helping a lot of great bands here in the Carolinas get up off the ground. Did he reach out to you guys initially when y’all first started writing music and planning to record?

M – Grant is one of my best friends in the whole world, and I mentioned it to him that I was starting a hardcore band, and I think even before I brought it up he said he wanted to help us with a release. He reached out and he’s pressing our demo tapes. He was there when we recorded the demo. He’s just down. He’s got great taste in music. He stands for stuff. The things he believes in, he’s passionate and he genuinely loves doing this.

J – It’s definitely very cool to have the demo be released in a physical format!

M – The cool thing about Grant and Josh (Self Aware Records), I feel like personally, is that if I ever did anything musically, even if it sucked, they would both always be down to help me put something out. Grant put out a Sundale record a few years ago too, he’s always been down for us. It’s awesome to have a friend help us promote it a little more. And to be honest man, I thought I was done before this band. Starting a band from scratch, writing music, playing shows, it only gets harder as you get older. I was like I gotta stop doing this shit. (laughs)

J – I totally understand, especially considering Just Die! and Old Flings were both bands you were in for a number of years, and you guys toured a lot and put the bands to rest on your own terms, final Fest appearances, final tours. A large chunk of your 20’s were put into those projects, so I know it can be exhausting to try and start from the beginning again.

M – Absolutely, but once we started we all definitely knew we wanted this to happen. Steve, Dave, and myself were all in Just Die! for like seven years, so the chemistry definitely came natural for us which helped. I cut my teeth in that band so that Old Flings could do the things we were able to do while we were a band. But I’m stoked. We’ve got the first show Friday, playing Johnson City the next night, I’m excited to play these songs. Trying to play some weekend shows around the state and regionally moving forward.

J – Any plans on new music moving forward into this year?

M – Definitely, writing for a 7” inch or a full length to put out later this year. Obviously Grant will put out whatever we release next. And not to keep talking about Old Flings, but we had offers from other labels to put our stuff out and do something a little bigger, but we just wanted to keep it with Grant and Josh because they always took such good care of us. I mean Grant was in the kitchen with me while I cut and glued together the Spite album cover. You can’t say that about a lot of people. I’m just excited to get back in that scene man, I’ve been out of it for a minute. I sill love all the bands that I’ve always loved, it’s just been a while. All the kids are younger than me now but that honestly just gets me excited for them to see our band for the first time.

J – Always great to have a new hardcore band in North Carolina come to fruition, especially with the sort of sonic influences that you guys take into account. Metallic hardcore has always been my favorite style in the genre and there’s not a lot of bands in this part of the country doing that.

M – That’s why it was such a bummer when Discourse broke up.

J – Discourse and Foundation were my two favorite modern hardcore bands and they broke up within four months of each other. (laughs)

M – But we’re very fortunate to have the new incarnations of those bands playing our first show! I remember hearing the Slow Fire Pistol demo for the first time and being like “oh hell yeah”. I love Riot Stares too. Those dudes know how to riff. More bands should take influence from Refused. And obviously Weak Wrists, they rule.

J – Well I know I’m stoked. Got a caravan coming up from Charlotte for the show. Pretty wild to have such a stacked regional bill come together the way it did, and the best part is that each band has their own unique style.

M – Sometimes the stars align. I’m excited man, I can’t wait to riff!

Empty Ritual‘s first show is tonight in Asheville at The Odditorium with Weak Wrists, Riot Stares, and Slow Fire Pistol. Doors at 8pm. The event page can be found here.

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