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Sean Van Vleet of Empires on Picking Up Trash and Meeting Black Francis

by Nicole Frehsee on Feb 14, 2011

. Photo by Tom Conrad .

What's been your crappiest day job?
I worked in parks and recreation once one summer, I was on trash duty. It was awful, six o’clock in the morning. I learned how to speak a little Spanish, because the guy I was working with didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, so that was the one cool thing about it. It was really cool, we figured out new ways to communicate. But the job was really shitty.

Did you have one of those little sticks to pick up stuff with?
No, we definitely used our hands and gloves. I don’t know how much money this park had.

 What is the best show you’ve ever played?
I don’t know the best show we’ve ever played, but my favorite show was when we opened up for Grand Duchy, Black Francis’ band with his wife, and that was really, really cool for us, because that’s freakin’ Black Francis.

Did he give you any advice?
No, he introduced himself as Charles, and back then, I didn’t know what his real name was, so I was like, “Yeah, okay, I know who you are…” I was really excited to meet him and talk to him and his wife a little bit.

What was the worst show you’ve played?
There’s a town called Altoona, Pennsylvania. We played this show to a parking lot full of kids, probably 200 kids in the parking lot, and I think only five of them only came in to see the show. It was like 100 degrees, and it was wretched, it really was.

What is the best show you’ve ever attended as a fan?
I saw Thom Yorke play solo at the Aragon Ballroom this year. It was Atoms for Peace, and the show was fucking awesome.

Had you seen Radiohead ever?
When they did Lollapalooza in 2007, I was on a boat, and it was surreal, Thom Yorke’s voice was going around the buildings, it was really fucking awesome. So I didn’t see them, but I heard them. I got my own little experience.

Who are some bands, if any, that people say you sound like?
We don’t get a lot of that. We got some weird toss-up between the Replacements and somebody else …

Are there any you think you sound like?
Not yet. Of recent, I’ve been listening to a lot of Childish Prodigy by Kurt Vile, and that’s become an awesome inspiration.

What do you like about him?
He knows how to do classic rock in this completely modern way, and it’s gorgeous. You hear a little bit of Fleetwood Mac, a little bit of Bruce Springsteen … I don’t know how to describe it. I know it came out in ’09, but I didn’t hear it until recently. Listen to that and the War on Drugs, another band he’s part of. The song “Coming Through” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

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