From left, Empath is Randall Coon, Emily “Jem” Shanahan, Garrett Koloski and Catherine Elicson. (Courtesy Troy Memis)

For Empath, friendship is the great creative spark

Philadelphia noise rockers thrive on collaboration

For some groups, producing music is a profession and nothing more. Band members congregate to write songs, record and then tour, before retiring to their separate lives, off in separate cities with separate priorities.

Empath is not one of those bands.

The four musicians in the noise rock group from Philadelphia — which plays Bottom of the Hill this week — hang together, drink together, create together, and — if one conversation with the band is any indication — genuinely enjoy one another’s company.

“We hang out all the time, so when we’re on tour, it’s not a huge deal,” says drummer Garrett Koloski. “It’s more like, we get to all chill at a different bar, instead of the one we are always at in Philly.”

Like similarly close-knit groups Broken Social Scene and Yo La Tengo, Empath’s sound encompasses wondrous dichotomies. Organic sounds blend with the synthetic, leaving the listener curious as to where the guitars end and the synths begin. Lyrical narratives extolling the virtues of connection are buried beneath waves of dissonant, sometimes violent, feedback and white noise. Catchy hooks and melodies spar with squawking, shrill evocations.

“To me, those juxtapositions always sounded right,” says singer and guitarist Catherine Elicson. “I think it would be heavy-handed or corny to be just like, ‘I’m pissed off and not try to reach for something deeper.’ We try to make songs that have a spectrum of emotions.”

Empath particularly emulates Times New Viking, a dearly-missed cult band from Columbus, Ohio, that also specialized in producing pop hooks hidden beneath waves of lo-fi distortion. Due to that band’s penchant for recording on four-track equipment, it was labeled “shitcore,” for its offbeat sound quality. One recent critic labeled Empath as a “shitgaze ” band, a play off the shoegaze genre.

Empath has no qualms with that distinction: “I’m kind of obsessed with shitgaze now,” says Koloski.

From the band’s name, with suggests a feeling of deep understanding, to its complex, egalitarian sonic structure (synth player Randall Coon and keyboardist Emily “Jem” Shanahan offer equally stirring contributions as their bandmates) to the way the members effortlessly converse with another, everything about Empath feels predicated on mutual respect and admiration.

“It a lot easier to work in a collective and collaborative way if you’re friends with everybody, as opposed to say, everyone works for Catherine,” Coon says.

The comment nicely summarizes the Empath ethos nowadays: Different day, different city, different bar, same unbreakable friendship. There is no way one can talk shit (gaze) about that bond.

IF YOU GO

Mannequin Pussy, Empath

Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31

Tickets: $12 (sold out)

Contact: (415)-626-4455, bottomofthehill.com

Pop Music

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