Interview: Empra

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 26.07.12 | Issue # 298



“He’s like the coolest famous guy you’ll ever meet. No fucking attitude, man!” Empra frontman Sanny Veloo says of pop sensation Gotye (aka Wally de Backer). Daniel Cribb gets the full story.

The debut album from Melbourne’s Empra began as a solo project – a way for vocalist/guitarist Sanny Veloo to pay tribute to Wayne Thunder, his best friend and the drummer of his previous band The Suns, who passed away far too young. It started off as a simple idea and, after a slew of complications and a few happy surprises along the way, became a full band endeavour.

Veloo has been overcoming obstacles since his early days on the road with Thunder. One of their earlier bands, Boredphucks, were playing a festival in their hometown of Singapore when, through swearing, they unintentionally incited the crowd to climb onto the stage and go crazy. The power was cut, police called and Boredphucks were arrested and charged with violating the Public Entertainment Act. The band then moved to Australia, which is when they changed their name to The Suns. “Believe it or not, those guys in Singapore had no idea we were the same guys and they got us back,” Veloo explains. But a return to Singapore ended badly after, being the punk rocker that he is, Veloo climbed a Marshall stack during the final few minutes of their set and fell off, landing on his elbow and fracturing it in five areas. Veloo required surgery to replace his joint with a metal one. He recalls the terrifying moment when a specialist gave him this news: “You’ll never play guitar again and you will struggle to regain use of your arm.”

The self-titled debut album from Empra proves that prognosis wrong – but it wasn’t an easy record to put together. When Veloo first entered the studio, a simple handshake deal with an unnamed engineer ended in the loss of his life savings and having to re-record the entire album. “The mixes they delivered sounded worse than my fuckin’ home demos, which I did in my bedroom. It turns out the producer just really didn’t know what he was doing and he did not want to release the tracks. I had to go see a lawyer, then he threatened to sue me and threatened to bankrupt me… during that time the band formed, I found a guitarist and drummer and we had a whole bunch of new songs and we were playing a lot of gigs. It started to sound like a band and not one guy’s solo project.”

The second attempt at the album allowed for a notable keyboard cameo on their balladSabrina. Before Gotye (aka Wally de Backer) was number one on charts all over the world, he played in retro rockers The Basics, who gigged around town with The Suns on a regular basis. “Wally knew Wayne and I called him up and was like ‘Hey, dude. I’ve got this song, can you come do your Gotye thing on it?’ and he said yes even before he heard the song,” he explains. “He’s like the coolest famous guy you’ll ever meet. No fucking attitude, man. Sometimes we do shows with [local] rock bands and some of these dudes have more attitude than Gotye,” he laughs.

Starting from scratch paid off and the end result provided the closure he was searching for. “Just by having this thing done I feel like I came to terms with a best mate’s passing. That part of my life has been honoured and I can move on to the next stage of it. It was very important for me, not to give it up, because I made a promise to my best friend and I wanted to honour that.”