From Empool to Destroy All Monsters to Empool… Ben & Laurence Miller… Part 2

Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond

From Empool to Destroy All Monsters to Empool… Part 2 (continuing from Part 1)

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, due to space restrictions, not all content and contributions made it in to our book. In addition to wanting to share all of this extra detail I have to say that Empool, in their own right, are a band that are well worth listening to. Of all of the different parts of research involved in writing the book, Empool were one of the most exciting aspects. Below are further recollections from Empool founding members, and Destroy All Monster members, Ben and Laurence Miller.

Niagara, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Cary Loren formed Destroy All Monsters in 1974. In 1976 Mike and Jim left to pursue their respective art careers in earnest, there departures left a hole in the band. Enter, the Miller brothers…

I asked Ben and Laurence what prompted Empool to come in to existence, and why the name ‘Empool’?

Ben: When Laurence first formed Empool, I had been terribly discouraged as a musician solely interested in creative, non-conforming music. The experimental era of the late 60’s had disappeared either by default, or mutation into a commercial commodity.

In general, The 70’s sucked. I was veering toward 20th Century composition as well a Jazz influence. I considered dropping out of music altogether, tired from the stress of not knowing how to proceed. But Empool eventually inspired me to join. My finest memories were the latter sonic excursions which had a Music Improvisation Company feel to it. ‘Repercussion’ is one of those, which is included on our new record ‘EMPOOL Does; Do, Did, Done’.

Empool
Empool

Laurence: I was through with college – in so many words – and wanted to try forming another original band. This time I wanted to integrate quirky pop songwriting (think Brian Eno/Robert Fripp/Captain Beefheart/Syd Barrett), as well as purely free form improvisation against home recorded soundtracks. I wanted to do my best to capsulize and express my then existential post-psychedelic view of life.

Andre Cynkin & Ben Miller with a broken bass string...
Andre Cynkin & Ben Miller with a broken bass string…

I met a musician named Andre Cynkin who was into some of the same music I was. He played electric guitar and Farfisa organ. We started out as a two-piece playing along to my original prerecorded analogue tape soundscapes, but the band rapidly grew from there, shifting through various forms of schooled and not so-schooled musicians, friends and family, jamming/improvising together on a regular basis.

'Empool Does; Do, Did, Done'
‘Empool Does; Do, Did, Done’

There were times where we, as a band, clearly went beyond our capable means, while other moments were absolutely brilliant. Repercussion for example, a 20 minute improvisation showcased on Side B of our LP ‘Do, Did, Done’. An amazing collective interaction in sound. As for the name, well – I simply hallucinated that on my girlfriend’s living room wall, back in 1972…

The Miller brothers contributed greatly to the early incarnation of Destroy All Monsters, though the time with the band was short lived, they both contributed a lot of unique styles and ideas.

Ben: The early days were fun when Destroy All Monsters and Empool made their transformation into what people now consider the punk version of Destroy All Monsters. It was a step down from what Empool was doing, but the energy was high and the odd combination of psych-noise (Empool improvisation) and extremely simple chord progressions (Destroy All Monsters songwriting) was in some way a relief in my creative perspective.

This time frame for Destroy All Monsters, early 1977, was a fascinating ride. The Punk Movement had hit full stride and there was a serious buzz in the air. Bands who exclusively played their own music could FINALLY be allowed to play in clubs! That was a revolution. But with the departure of Cary Loren and the push to be more professional as a viable group on the Detroit-Ann Arbor scene forced our sound to strip down and become far more traditional overall. Laurence and I were no longer using lots of foot pedals and there was no free-form improvisation – something that was initially so prominent with Empool. By the time the first 45rpm was made, Destroy All Monsters no longer had an “Emplic” influence.

Laurence: Empool merging with Cary & Niagara’s songwriting was an interesting challenge. Empool simply improvised a peripheral atmospheric collage of sorts, enhancing the rather rudimentary song structures they offered. What we played somehow complimented their material and we were all having good fun with it.  Cary’s talk of Ron Asheton in the picture and financing a studio recording made it all seem worthwhile, so we stuck with it. Empool slowly faded into the sunset.

Soon Destroy All Monsters was opening up for Sonic’s Rendezvous, The Ramones, Devo, Pere Ubu, The Stranglers, and other upcoming new bands. It was a whirlwind of unexpected excitement, and yes – heavy partying. Studio recordings, performing regularly both in & out of state, interviews, record reviews, radio play, etc. We had David Keeps as business manager, Hiawatha Bailey as roadie manager, George Christman as personal manager, Sue Rinski as photographer, and Andrea Brown as videographer. Everything changed for us and felt so new.

I wrote a few “relatively normal” songs which the band did a good job putting together. It all kind of ran together reasonably well. My guitar playing complimented Ron’s, and his mine. However, the whole punk scene was a bit rough around the edges, and Ben and I wanted to go beyond that, musically. Destroy All Monsters eventually settled into a stock-rock Detroit metal-punk sound, if I may say so, Ron & Niagara were hours late to every rehearsal, and the hangovers just got worse and worse. It was time to throw in the towel.

To be continued… Part 3 HERE.

Available now as a paperback, worldwide, via Amazon Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond.

Elsewhere… Bastard, The Damned, The Lords Of The New Church & More: The Authorised Biography Of Brian James…

The New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders & More: A Book About Johnny Thunders

Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond…

The Cramps, Beast & Beyond: A Book About Bryan Gregory

Copyright © 2019 John Wombat & Ruth Moreira

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