"Empire of Parties"
I wrote Empire of parties after I was told that a man with whom I was close friends and bandmates with in my early twenties had died. He was the first person in my peer group, the first of the people that I had bonded with in my youth to die. So it was a powerful thing to hear.
I was in my late thirties, and living in London at the time. As you might expect, getting news like this about someone that you were close to when you were younger but grew estranged from by time and distance makes a lot of old memories surface. I am not usually one to dwell in the past, especially when it comes to making music, but because my primary source of musical inspiration is personal experience, I was moved to write about the time that we spent together.
I wanted to write something that was a eulogy, something that honored him, but also something that captured some of the less perfect things that happened during those times, and in those places. We lived in downtown Sacramento when he and I were friends, and we were both active in the musical subcultures there. I also wanted to capture something of the experience of living in a small city, of our attitudes about that city feeling like a tightly knit clan of outsiders. The place felt very small, which looking back was both a blessing and a curse. We could feel like it was our city, but we, or at least I ached to get out and go somewhere bigger to try other things.
The song is called empire of parties, because that’s one of the things he did really well. He threw amazing parties, and over time made a living out of it. He went from hosting all night smoking drinking subculture house parties to being a DJ at a local bar. Over time, he turned a slow local bar into a huge dance party success. It was really an empire of parties that I remember as the arc of his story while I knew him. In that sense, he was very much the glue that held our little group of people together.
As the lyrics imply, we were very, very poor, and smoked a lot of cigarettes. We and the rest of our friends spent a lot of time sitting on each other’s porches smoking and talking, or walking around the city smoking and talking through the night. We were arrogant enough to think we had all of the answers. The way you do when you are young.
From my point of view, one of the things that made him so charming was the kind of lonely sorrow that he had behind his eyes. When he brought you into his attention, you felt like he really wanted you there. The other side of him though, was that he didn’t really care about how his actions would impact other people, and that caused a lot of pain. In that way he was just needy and selfish. The way I think a lot of charming people really are.