Course Of Empire
Course Of Empire
Home base: Dallas, Texas
Line Up: Mike Graff, guitar; Vaughn Stevenson, vocals; Chad Lovell, drums, Michael Jerome, drums; Paul Semrad, bass
Album: Telepathic Last Words
Label: TVT Records
Co-producer: Jon Fryer (NIN, Gravity Kills)
Web site:

After suffering the demise of Zoo Records, the band built their own studio which allowed them extra time to "get it right" as they say. These guys first captured my attention with the double drum attack, then the writing is still intriguing; so let's just say the band is multi-talented. Don't miss their live show. It's a killer. Named after a 19th century painting by Thomas Cole, you have one classy hard rockin'group.

Q&A with Mike Graff

SR:Sheila Rene': Hello, hello hello.
Mike Graff: Has anyone else called you today? Okay, I guess I'm your interviewee.

SR: No problem.
MG: I've talked to you before haven't I? Yes, and I also have an interview out there with Vaughn in '94. I remember talking to you about Ozzy.

SR: I love the guy so that's a possibility.
MG: I know what the connection is now. Dave Bianco who remixed some of our stuff this time around has also worked with Ozzy.

SR: Mike, what a wonderful album. It rocks and rock and rocks in the right groove for me. Lots of musical surprises.
MG: Thanks. It's somewhat varied, but it feels really good. We had a while to step back and take another listen while we waited on all the legal mess to wind down. We were able to fill in the holes on the songs that we thought needed help. We were really lucky to be able to go back and remix some of the tunes with Bianco. "Information" was one of the songs we worked on.

SR: ...Working in a filling station, tell me about the information...A cool song. ...The new Beatles are comin'.
MG: (laughs) That might have been an Oasis reference, so you'll have to talk to Vaughn on that one.

SR: Why did it take so long to get out of a deal with Zoo who folded?
MG: Originally, we set about doing the album and writing. We decided we needed to be in on the digital revolution instead of blowing all our cash in someone else's studio. We made our own. A lot of times what happens is we do demos, off the cuff that are priceless moments to try and recreate. You go mad because you can't always do it. Half the time we're still writing the song. That way you're able to capture all the happy moments you pull off and hold on to them. Building the studio just turned out to be a larger task that we thought it would be.

SR: You guys know what you want. Don't you think it's time to take over your own destiny in the studio. You can keep that money around for better things.
MG: The record coming out now is so much better. After we finished working with Jon Fryer in our studio doing our stuff Chad learned a lot about production and easily stepped in to help on some tunes as well. Chad is doing some work with a local band called Doosu. They're really a great band and got some attention from the Grammy's a couple of years ago. "Automatic Writing #17" was a song he reworked as well as "Blue Moon" the Rogers and Hart classic.

SR: You also used Benny Goodman samples on "Initiation." I will now think of CoE when I hear that song. There are so many layers on this work, so I recommend headphone right out of the box.
MG: We're happy with it. It has all the things that I get off on. Some records you listen to give off a mood that you want to stay with. You get heavy moments and some ambient moments.

SR: Stevenson writes most of they lyrics. Is there ever a time when you don't understand what he's talking about.
MG: I come up with the guitar and get with Chad and we put drums to it. Vaughn takes it home for his input then we work on it in rehearsal. He starts digging through his box of writings.

SR: You didn't know just how current the songs would be. For instance, "Automatic Writing #17" and "Houdini's Blind" is all about the crazed media over stepping their bounds in the private life of celebs.
MG: (laughing) It is an indictment of the media and the power to make or break someone. The absurdity of the tabloid culture that we've evolved to.

SR: Do you ever run into problems with the press?
MG: We've had some pretty crazy things happen with fans, but those stories are not ones we could print.

SR: Jon Fryer is known for his c
MG: He's incredibly talented and he taught us a lot. He's one of those guys who has worked with a lot of truly amazing artists and just about all the groups coming out of the '80s. We feel that we got lucky as we needed help and he was at loose ends hanging out in Dallas. Who knows why. He was hanging out with guitarist John Lacy, who plays with a group called "The Beautiful." Our timing was great.

SR: What kind of schedule do you work?
MG: We show up about noon and work until midnight. I'm not a morning person. Paul is the only member in the band who likes to get up early.

SR: I have two spellings of Fryer's name. Any idea which is correct?
MG: No, I don't. Have you ever interview him?

SR: No, not yet. I did interview the head Nail on the last album. Trent is one intelligent and talented fellow. A joy to talk with. Fascinating, to say the least.
MG: I met Trent one time.

SR: Another tune right in the groove is "Coming Of The Century." We are coming up on 2000.
MG: That song was originally written for our first album in '89. When it came back around for us to quickly write and record some new songs we thought of this one. The song is great performed live. Now that we were producing our own material we left it pretty raw. . . more of a punk rock sounding tune.

SR: It's one of the highlights on this album for me.
MG: Another reason apart from the fact that it is almost time for a coming of the century, was the Zoo connection. We didn't know if this album would be released or that we would even be a band. We considered packing it in... and finding a new label. We just stuck it our and we survived. The song is a celebration of our existing ten years later.

SR: On "Kaptain Kontrol" you open with a Beatle-esque ...who, who, who's.
MG: You're right there is some of that on the label. I don't know where it came from. There some elements on "Ride The Static."

SR: The static song reminds me of a Fellini sound track.
MG: (laughing) Oh, really. Wow. The way we go off on the guitar with a little oddness in the middle. I can see where you're going with that. Is he still around?

SR: No, he stepped over to the other side a couple of years ago. That reminds me of the "Houdini's Blind" cut. He really did say he would try to contact his wife from the other side. But, who knows.
MG: Yeah, a lot of the lyrical elements on this record have to do with naturalism. Paul is into that kind of stuff. He was a Houdini fan for a while. Actually, when we recorded the album early on we didn't know if it would be released and this song was written at a point before Fryer came in. The track says that he climbs into the box and he gets stuck. It's that moment of panic when you realize that fact. The song was having a laugh about it all including the fact that we were in over our heads...writing an album, recording it in a studio we were building and all before Zoo folded.

SR: (laughing) ..."We're doomed but the show must go on."
MG: There are some other tunes that have to do with the Houdini element. There is a lot of spiritualism in these songs "Automatic Writing #17" was a method Vaughn was using to discover lyrics. It got him into a little trouble in ways but you should talk to him about that. His left hand became haunted.

SR: I was going to talk to Vaughn about the February 26 eclipse we just had with all the planets lined up in a formation that has been written about by lot of believers...a three dimensional cross. Something that won't happen again for hundreds of years.
MG: I was not aware of the date at all. I'll e-mail a copy over.

SR: Who's handling your e-mail?
MG: Chad is the man. He's our computer guy.

SR: You can't do biz today with e-mail capabilities. Machines are getting faster and faster. I buy the top of the line-fast and the next day they come out with something even faster.
MG: I remember reading about a harmonic conversion in '87

SR: Let's talk about the guitars you used on this masterpiece?
MG: "The Information" was mostly straight Les Paul through my Ampeg solid state pre-amps through red boxes and also Marshall amps miked. We actually used a DP4 on some tracks. That's the insonic DP4 that goes straight into the board. I used it on the beginning of "Persian Song." It's a dry Eastern sounding telecaster guitars. On "Blue Moon" I borrowed a Gretch Country Gentleman from one of the boys in Strap, through my rig. I have a guitar built by Bob Bradshaw and he helped me put together certain effects. I had things scotch taped together for years and he really got me organized. He's quite a genius.

SR: Have you gotten into the "X-Files" yet?
MG: Chad has at times. I'm usually not at home. We're all fans of Art Bell. Have you ever listened to his show?

SR: I don't know that name.
MG: He's on AM 560 radio out of Dallas. He's on for about five hours during the middle of the night. It's coast to coast. He gets all kinds of calls about UFO sightings and associated subjects. All the conspiracy-minded listeners really get into that stuff.

SR: I like talk radio. In San Francisco I slept with KGO on. At least you get various ideas and it helped me solidify my own thoughts. What we do know for sure is that our government does not tell the truth about anything.
MG: Oh, yeah there's no doubt about that.

SR: "Freaks" ...It's not my fault, it's not my fault.
MG: It is about people who come out of the woodwork who ingratiate themselves into your private life. They think they know things about you that aren't true. There are fans who really follow the band that are sane people and every once in a while you'll run into the fans who need a reality check.

SR: You don't know what they'll do next.
MG: They are so unpredictable. They've built up these ideas of who we are as people and how deep our relationship is with them when we've really never spent time with them. I've discovered a couple of people who have posed as members of our band. My girlfriend met another girl who was wearing our T-shirts and she had made up some story about one of us being her boyfriend.

SR: What a gas. Take me to meet "Kaptain Kontrol."
MG: Okay. (Laughing) You're talking to him. I'm the control freak in the band. Truthfully, I don't know where Vaughn came up with the lyrics, but at the point when we were working on the tune who was supposedly writing but we hadn't seen him in a couple of months. I was kinda P.O.-ed at that point and he was being lazy I thought. So I'd been calling him up saying 'man let's get to work on these songs.' When we finally get him into the studio, he has this song. I'm listening to the lyrics and they say 'Kaptain Kontrol" is calling again. So I automatically thought he was writing about me.

SR: It was about here that we ran out of tape. So you're just going to have to go see the show and ask Mike what happened after that.