Meet The Local Bands Of LouFest: Pretty Little Empire

By Rachel Brandt
In Culture

If you find yourself at LouFest Music Festival in Forest Park today, make sure you stop by the Shade Stage at 12:15pm for St. Louis-based Pretty Little Empire. Empire’s full-bodied songwriting combined with a leave-it-all-on-the-stage attitude makes them one of the best local groups to see live. We caught up with the talented Empire bassist, Wade Durbin—who also has a great sense of humor—to find out what makes them tick.

Pretty Little Empire ALIVE Magazine LouFest

Pretty Little Empire by Jamie DeVillez

ALIVE: Who are your other band members and what do they play?
Wade Durbin: Justin Johnson plays acoustic guitar, writes the lyrics and sings lead vocals, William Godfred plays lead guitar and sings and Jason Potter plays drums.

ALIVE: Who are some of the bands you’re most inspired by?
WD: Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, The Pixies, The Ramones, Guided By Voices, Big Star and Arcade Fire.

ALIVE: When you’re not playing shows, where will we find you?
WD: Watching movies, usually. We try to make it to the Skyview Drive-in in Belleville as often as possible. In fact, their main drive-in screen ended up being our latest album cover. When the season’s over, you can catch us at the Hi-Pointe’s monthly midnight movie showcase Late Nite Grindhouse. The programming over there is finely curated and reliably sleazy.

ALIVE: What is your pre-show routine?
WD: Before a show, we always try to find something to eat. It’s harder than you’d imagine. Load-in times can be ridiculously early, and if you’re playing a club that doesn’t serve food, you’re screwed if you didn’t plan ahead. Waiting until after the show to eat can be a very hit-or-miss proposition; you’re usually left with the options of fast food or 24-hour diners. We’ve learned that on tour, several days in a row of fast food will pretty much kill you. As a result, we’re usually the guys that will have some gas station salads with us during soundcheck.

ALIVE: When did you get together and how did it happen?
WD: December, 2008. Me and Justin’s previous band, Kang Rhee, had reached its logical end point. At one of the very last Kang Rhee shows, William Godfred (a co-worker of Justin’s) had a band called “Heir to the Throne” that opened for us. Will’s talent and energy were undeniable, and Justin made him an offer to help form a new project. Things moved fast for us. Our first practice was December 2008, our first show was in April 2009 and our first album came out in September 2009. Just an amazingly quick turnaround, really.

ALIVE: Finish this sentence: We are never without…
WD: …our beloved tour van, which we’ve named Peggy Sue. She’s a faded pink 1988 Ford Econoline. A few years ago, Peggy was in the shop and we had to tour with a rental, but it just wasn’t the same. We just couldn’t get comfortable in that thing. Peggy Sue is almost like our fifth member.

Pretty Little Empire by Kathryn Andel

Pretty Little Empire by Kathryn Andel

ALIVE: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
WD: Once we were loading our gear and the clerk at the market we were parked in front of came out for a smoke. He talked to us a bit about the band and then offered us what he considered “crucial” advice, and that was “Don’t ever let them pay you in heroin cause it will ruin your life.” That’s pretty good advice we think!

ALIVE: Where is a place you’ve always wanted to perform?
WD: As many different venues as possible! Actually, we’ve been very lucky in STL to have been asked to play at a variety of iconic locations: Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, Off Broadway, even under the Gateway Arch on the 4th of July! It’s hard to top that. Outside of our region, I’d love to play at some of the famous clubs across the US; I’m thinking the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia and First Avenue in Minneapolis. Since Purple Rain is one of our most-watched films while on the road, playing at the main setting would blow our minds.

ALIVE: Finish this sentence. If we were superheroes, we’d be …
WD:  … The Fantastic Four, no question. Justin is our Mr. Fantastic: he’s our fearless leader, yet he’s quite flexible. Will’s the Human Torch, obviously. He’s the youngest member and a bit of a hot-head. Jason Potter is Ben Grimm: he’s the muscle of our group–just a total battering ram onstage. That makes me the Invisible Girl, I guess. But the metaphor still works! My powers lie in stealthy competence. It’s been said that nobody notices the bassist unless they’re screwing everything up. Since I’ve lasted six years in the band without ever being mentioned in a single album or show review, I guess I’m doing something right!

ALIVE: What would be the title of your band memoir?
WD: “Chicken & Doughnuts: Rise of an Empire.” I hesitate to share me and Will’s big idea for what we’re going to do when PLE folds, but we’ve been planning on opening a chain of fried chicken restaurants/doughnut shops. The idea is that you serve nothing but chicken and doughnuts: no side dishes, no coffee. Strictly counter service. We’d have a bank of a half dozen full-size deep fryers on hand, and everything gets fried in the same grease. As such, the doughnuts taste vaguely of chicken, and the chicken tastes vaguely of doughnuts. Our lunch special would be two pieces of chicken and two glazed doughnuts for $2.99. Everything would get a dusting of powdered sugar. The name of the place would just be “Chicken & Doughnuts” on an enormous neon sign. Since we’re already planning for C&D to be wildly successful, any mention of PLE in our memoir would really just be a footnote as to how these brilliant young entrepreneurs first met.

ALIVE: What would be the three songs from the soundtrack of your lives?
WD: “Watch Me Jumpstart” by Guided By Voices, “Thirteen” by Big Star and “Hey” by The Pixies.

Thanks, Wade! We’ll be on the scene for the band’s set at Loufest today at 12:15pm on the Shade Stage. Get to know them better on their website. We’ll see you at LouFest.

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