An interview with Empathy Test

An interview with Empathy Test

About monsters and being human

With their new album 'Monsters' to be released on 22nd May, 'Empathy Test' agreed to answer a few ques­tions. Read on if you want to know how a spon­tan­eous jam ses­sion led to the mak­ing of an album, what The Cure and Eminem have got to do with it and how the lock­down has influ­enced their work as a band. Thank you very much for tak­ing the time and shar­ing your thoughts with us!

1. It’s a pleasure to have you for an interview. How are you doing?

Isaac Howlett: Well, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all totally had enough of lock­down at this point and are really want­ing to get back to rehears­ing and tour­ing as soon as pos­sible. But at least we have this new album com­ing out.

2. We just reviewed your new album ‘Monsters’, which features a single of the same name that first came to life during a soundcheck according to your website. Can you tell us a bit more about how that recording led to a new album?

Isaac: It was last Halloween in Hamburg, on the first tour we did with our new key­board play­er, Oliver. We’d just done sound check­ing for a head­line show at Bahnof Pauli and our sup­port act, SONO, wasn’t due to arrive for anoth­er hour or so, so we just car­ried on play­ing. It was the first time 'Empathy Test' had really jammed as a band. Chrisy, our live drum­mer, was play­ing a sta­di­um rock beat, which soun­ded enorm­ous in the empty ven­ue. Oli star­ted play­ing this undu­lat­ing bass part on his synth and a twinly, catchy lead part. The com­bin­a­tion imme­di­ately soun­ded like it had exis­ted forever.

I had some lyr­ics that had been kick­ing around for a while that I began to sing over the music and I just played around with the melody until it fit. The whole thing had this Placebo Pure Morning vibe to it; a relent­less, driv­ing energy. The lyr­ics I had were from two sep­ar­ate song ideas, one about the end of a party and the oth­er based on a phrase an ex had used, about hangover anxi­ety (“baby, I’ve got the mon­sters”). The weird thing was, when I looked up 'Pure Morning' again later, it turned out to be about pretty much the same thing.

We recor­ded what we had on Oli’s iPhone and called it 'Monsters'. When we got back from the tour, I played Adam the phone record­ing and he was really excited. 'Monsters' was new and excit­ing and cap­tured the energy of our live per­form­ances in a way that noth­ing we had done before had. We decided that the 'Monsters' should be the album title track and lead single, and form the found­a­tion for the entire sound of the new record.

3. The new album is a self-release. According to you, what are the specific challenges of producing and releasing an album on your own?

Empathy Test - Monsters
Monsters (Album artwork)

Isaac: All our albums have been self-released. The main chal­lenge is that you have to do lit­er­ally everything your­self. On the cre­at­ive and tech­nic­al side, we do the writ­ing, per­form­ing, record­ing, mix­ing and mas­ter­ing all ourselves. Adam also does the art­work and we both do the lay­outs for the CDs and vinyl in Photoshop. I set a release sched­ule, find a PR com­pany to do the PR cam­paign (although I also do a fair bit myself), set up the crowd fun­der, and order all the mer­chand­ise (this time: black vinyl, red vinyl, pic­ture discs, CDs, mugs, t‑shirts and art prints).

I also set up the digit­al release on SoundCloud, YouTube, Bandcamp, our web­site, and with both our pub­lish­er and digit­al dis­trib­ut­or. This involves upload­ing all the tracks, adding the tune codes, com­poser inform­a­tion, lyr­ics etc. which is very bor­ing and time con­sum­ing. I also then do all our social media and mail­ing list emails, updat­ing the fans with the pro­gress of the album and crowd fun­der, and shar­ing all the press we’re getting.

Then of course, you’ve got to send out all that mer­chand­ise! We cur­rently have 650+ orders on Indiegogo and 250+ on Bandcamp. That’s over 900 orders to pro­cess, and guess who is going to do them all? Yeah, me. I told myself I wouldn’t put myself through this again but see­ing as how I’m in lock­down with not much else to do, here I am doing it again. Back in 2017, when we released our last two albums, I did all of this while still hold­ing down a full time job, so it’s been nice this time around, to focus entirely on the release.

4. What are your personal favorite tracks on this album and why?

Isaac: Well, apart from 'Monsters' and the oth­er singles ('Holy Rivers', 'Incubation Song' and 'Empty Handed'), all of which are crack­ing songs if I don’t say so myself, I’m a big fan of 'Stop' and 'Love Moves'. 'Stop' sounds like 'The Cure' cov­er­ing 'Eminem' or vice versa, with a weird sprink­ling of 'Nirvana' (you’ll hear it). The chor­us involves some real vocal gym­nastics, but where­as a lot of the oth­er tracks are very much try­ing to grab your atten­tion, some of the calmer, more relaxed num­bers like this one, have a really nice atmo­sphere to them. 'Love Moves' is  the album closer and is basic­ally the anti­thes­is of the open­er, 'Monsters', both styl­ist­ic­ally and lyr­ic­ally. It has a really simple, pos­it­ive mes­sage and acts as a palette cleanser after the anxi­ety-laden, claus­tro­phobic intens­ity through­out the rest of the album.

5. In general, what is the focus of your creative process: Instruments or lyrics first? Would you say that you guys share the workload, meaning that everyone of you is in charge of something in particular?

Isaac: 'Monsters' as an album, really rep­res­ents a halfway house on the way to becom­ing a “real” band (as opposed to the duo with live band that 'Empathy Test' was before), where writ­ing is more of an organ­ic, col­lab­or­at­ive pro­cess. Chrisy wrote the drum part for 'Monsters' (the track), but else­where the beats were writ­ten by Adam and then expan­ded upon by Chrisy when she recor­ded the acous­tic drums, adding fills and extra hits and cym­bal work. It was a sim­il­ar pro­cess on most of the tracks, with Oliver and the synths.

Many of the new tracks were formed by tak­ing a pre-writ­ten song of mine, mix­ing it with an instru­ment­al of Adam’s, and then adding a synth hook of Oli’s and Chrisy’s acous­tic drums. I still mostly write with an acous­tic gui­tar and gen­er­ally write the lyr­ics, vocal melody and chords sim­ul­tan­eously, but then often Adam will paste my vocal over a com­pletely dif­fer­ent set of chords and tweak each to fit. In that way, you can come up with some really inter­est­ing jux­ta­pos­i­tions, like 'Bare My Soul' for example, where we dropped what was essen­tially a bal­lad, over a dark gar­age track.

6. Apart from the music, I wanted to point out that I really love the artwork on the singles and albums that you have published so far. I could see that the original artworks have all been designed by Adam himself. Have you been painting or doing graphic design as a hobby or is this your actual profession? Would you be able to tell us a bit more about how the artwork is linked to the music?

Isaac: Yeah, as well as pro­du­cing the music, Adam is our inhouse artist. It’s his main pro­fes­sion and one in which he is also very suc­cess­ful. There was nev­er really any ques­tion of wheth­er or not he would do the art­work and he’s always had very strong ideas as to how it should look and how it is linked to the music. We’re both very into sci­ence fic­tion, the ori­gin of the name 'Empathy Test' hav­ing been inspired by Blade Runner, of course. The art­work explores sim­il­ar themes, the idea of what it is to be human, what it means to be a con­scious being.

7. What are your favorite latest band/artist discoveries that you would like to recommend to the Electrozombies readers?

Isaac: If you like 'Empathy Test' you should really check out Korine, TR/ST, Riki, October Drift and The Slow Readers Club.

8. So far, you have been on tour with bands like De/Vision, Aesthetic Perfection and Covenant, only to name a few. Is there any other band you would love to go on tour with?

Isaac: We’d love to do a tour with someone more main­stream like The Cure, White Lies, Editors, Placebo. I think we have a sim­il­ar genre-cross­ing appeal.

9. You have been playing at various festivals in Europe during the last few years. Which one was your favorite and why? Is there any place (city or location) you dream about for a concert?

Isaac: W‑Festival last year in Belgium was pretty cool, we had 'Echo & the Bunnymen’s' dress­ing room a few hours before they did. 'The Stranglers' also played the same day. But the dream is to one day play Glastonbury, on the Pyramid Stage.

10. Even though the current situation doesn’t seem to allow any specific planning, I still would like to know if you are planning to go on tour later this year to promote your new album. Are there any concrete plans for autumn or winter? Maybe you have already figured out dates and places?

Isaac: We had tours booked in both the UK (end of May) and America (October). The UK tour was res­ched­uled before it was even announced. We are now look­ing at November, in the week  fol­low­ing the Camden Underworld show on the 20th, but we’re hold­ing off announ­cing any more shows until the situ­ation is clear­er. We don’t know at this point when events are going to be allowed.

We have had to aban­don the American tour because get­ting a visa is so expens­ive and it only cov­ers the time you are due to be in the coun­try. So if we com­mit­ted to it and then had to res­ched­ule, we would lose a min­im­um of £2,000. So the like­li­hood is, we’ll be going to America in March 2021 now. At the moment, it looks like our German tour in September will go ahead, but if there is a  second wave of Covid-19, that might get put in jeop­ardy too.

11. How do you keep yourself updated about new music? Which media do you follow to stay up to date?

Isaac: Mostly through Spotify Discover playl­ist and word of mouth, to be hon­est. I fol­low a lot of music blogs on Facebook too, and some­times I’ll find some­thing there.

10. Which bands/artists were your musical idols when you were young? And how would you say they have influenced and shaped your own music over the years?

Isaac: Jarvis Cocker, Brian Molko, Tim Booth and Robert Smith. They all wrote con­fes­sion­al lyr­ics that you could under­stand and asso­ci­ate with, and none of them were afraid of writ­ing pop music, albeit a little more sub­vers­ive and intel­li­gent than your aver­age. I think that’s 'Empathy Test' in a nutshell.

12. Speaking about “being young”: Which important life wisdom would you like to share with your younger, 16-year-old self?

Isaac: Don’t waste time try­ing to pur­sue that elu­sive record deal, don’t wait around to be “dis­covered” by the music industry, get out there and do it your­self. People aren’t going to back you if you’re not doing any­thing, but they’ll all come run­ning once you have the slight­est bit of suc­cess. Then you say no, and keep all the money.

13. Do you have a favorite quote? It can be from a song, a piece of literature or anything else.


The Smiths, How Soon is Now?"]I am human and I need to be loved / Just like every­one else does

14. Let’s imagine the following scenario: You plan a vacation – would it be rather a tropical or a northern destination?

Isaac: I hate being cold, so tropical.
Oliver: Tropical.
Chrisy: Tropical.

a. On your way, your ship is destroyed by a storm and you get stranded on a deserted little island. Not much is left, but your music player survives. Which tracks are definitely on it? Every one of you, please name 5 tracks.


  1. Talking Heads – This Must be the Place
  2. Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere 
  3. Joy Division – Love Will Tear us Apart 
  4. The Cure – Just Like Heaven
  5. Longpigs – On & On


  1. Dark Sky – Confunktion
  2. Bloc Party – Banquet
  3. Weather Report – Teen town
  4. Sepalcure – Pencil Pimp 
  5. Fugees – Ready or Not


  1. Radiohead – Everything in its Right Place 
  2. Scott Walker – The Electrician
  3. David Bowie – Station to Station
  4. The Smiths – Headmaster Ritual
  5. Ariel pink – Four Shadows

b. Which object would you be missing most?

Oliver: My Prophet synthesiser.
Isaac: In the past I’d have prob­ably said my gui­tar, no ques­tion, but sadly these days it would prob­ably be my phone.
Chrisy: Yeah, I’d miss my laptop.

c. Surprise – you got rescued! Who’s the first person you’d call and what would you tell him/her?

Oliver: I’d call my moth­er to tell her I’m okay, as she’d prob­ably be the most worried.
Isaac: I’d call Oliver’s moth­er too.
Chrisy: I’d call MacDonald’s and ask if the menu has changed.

15. Would you like to share a few kind words to Electrozombies for our testimonials section 'People who spread love'?

Isaac: Electrozombies is one of the few pub­lic­a­tions that still both­ers to actu­ally review new releases and talk about them in a mean­ing­ful way, instead of just copy­ing and past­ing a press release. For that alone, it should be cel­eb­rated. But it also looks great and gives a voice to up and com­ing artists doing some­thing different.

Most popular posts of the last 30 days

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *