Staring Deep into ‘Empath Eyes’ with Founder Jeff Warnock [Interview]

Pursuing a passion in music and digital media, Empath Eyes founder Jeff Warnock has proved his commitment to learning his trade over years of practice. Elevating his homemade studio into a full-service digital marketing agency, Warnock has found that adapting to change is the key to success. Not only has Warnock created a comfortable life for himself by building his brand from scratch, he has allowed it to construct a base for his new music project. While he has found success in branding his marketing business, Empath Eyes has also found its home as the name of his band.

Leading up to Empath Eyes’ January 4th show at the Marquis Theater, Warnock sat down with Compose Yourself to talk about the origin of his business, his background in music, and plans for the upcoming show.

Compose Yourself: When did you first start Empath Eyes?

Warnock: So, Empath Eyes started as a recording studio in Boston when I was in school at Northeastern. As I transitioned into kind of bigger and better things, it became more of a multi-media production house. And during that time, I was performing a lot of different solo projects. Mostly Ableton DJ sets with a good live guitar on top of it, and I had all these ridiculous names for it. Once I started playing with this group of guys, we were kind of looking at some different options for names. I realized that the branding for my studio was pretty much already done. Since this was the most into the music I had ever been, in terms of actually producing and composing and writing, I said, ‘well this seems right.’ I’ve always loved the name, Empath Eyes, and instead of just being Empath Eyes Studio, we’re now the Empath Eyes Live Band.

Our original band was called All Time Flow. I got introduced to them by doing a video gig with this production company – they were setting up some gear in a warehouse. It was a three piece at the time, and I saw them doing a lot of Ableton stuff with a drummer, keyboardist, and DJ. I kind of invited myself to their next rehearsal and I showed up the next week with my gear, and I got a lot of weird looks because only one of them really knew who I was. Anyway, it went really, really well and by the time I left, I was in the band.

So, All Time Flow lasted probably about six to eight months. We played a big gig at the Barkley Ballroom, and then just, for a lot different reasons, All Time Flow disbanded. Me, the keyboardist and the drummer kept playing in my basement. Shortly after, I met this kid from Beanstalk festival named Christian Sheridan. We call him Sheri for short. We invited him over for basically an audition jam kinda thing we were curious to see what he could bring to the table – because two keyboards could be a little weird, but Sheri definitely made it work. The styles between them are completely different. Ryan was much more legato and big, and Sheri was very funky and organy. So it worked really, really well because we don’t have a bass player. He kind of became the rhythm section in a sense. It really rounded out the sound in the good way.

So, we had been working pretty hard for probably the past four months or so and Nate, the drummer, and Ryan the old keyboardist decided that they couldn’t invest the time anymore into this project for a number of different reasons. So, Sheri and I kind of looked at each other like, ‘Okay, well, what do we do?’ The show must go on, obviously. So, now, it’s going to be more or less an electronic duo at the base of us, me and Sheri. Just like the way Thievery Corporation and Emancipator do it. Usually, there’s a kind of a core, a group of one or two people who are running the show, and they have a Andrew Escudero is going to play with us come along when they play the big gigs. So that’s kind of how we envision this going forward. And we’re fortunate enough that the drummer from the opener for our big upcoming show at the Marquis, Andrew Escudero to play with us. He performs as The Boundless and thankfully he was down to help step in for the show. So within a couple hours of the other guys exiting, he was over and working through the songs and made us feel a lot better about this show. So I mean my experience, whether it’s with the business or music, has always been about pivoting and never trying to force anything that’s not meant to be.

Backing up even further, what sparked your initial interest in music?

That’s a great question. So I grew up on a healthy dose of classic rock. Both my parents had pretty great taste in music from different sides of the spectrum. My dad, was definitely great with the real classic rock; my mom was more of just the Earth, Wind, and Fire – into the funk and the soul. So, as I matured and started producing my own music, I just became more open minded. I found electronic music when I was a freshman in college. I started to go to every EDM show that I could see. It was a lot of fun for a really long time. Then, one day, just woke up and it was like, ‘Okay, this kind of feels a little bit like the same song and dance’ for lack of a better phrase. It was probably my first or second Camp Bisco that I made the transition into jam bands. I saw the Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe and Umphreys and stuff like that. I remember thinking, ‘okay, wow, jam music like this makes sense.’ And so I kind of rode that wave, too. And then towards the end of my college career, I even started getting bored of those shows. Even though I was picking up a camera and working some stuff here and there, it still felt like I knew I wanted to be involved in music in some way, but I’d kind of given up on performing music for a little while. I always knew that I loved music. I loved a lot of different types of music, but I wasn’t quite sure how it all fit together, and this was the first time playing with a group that could do that.

So we’re actually going to rewind again – I want to know
about your first time picking up an instrument.

So I remember being a really young kid, and I think I think my parents got me a Fisher Price guitar – I remember just sitting down in my basement in this little plastic castle I had and just like playing in there for hours. By the time I hit third or fourth grade, I was playing trombone in the concert band. I was like,
‘Mom, I hate this’ but she wouldn’t just let me quit. She’s like, ‘you have to do this, or find another instrument.’ So I say, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s do this guitar thing.’

Walk me through what made you want to start your own multi-media business.

So, Northeastern’s an interesting school because there’s the co-op program. You go to Northeastern because you graduate with a resume. And so by the time I finished my five years there, I had worked for eighteen months, nine to five, forty hours a week. It was cool because you could learn in the classroom, then you learn in the office and vice versa. After mfirst co-op, I was like ‘I am not meant to work in an office.’ Just wasn’t vibing with me. It wasn’t until the third co-op, which was a software company, that I really felt encouraged. It was the first time I was asked ‘Okay, well, what do you want to do in marketing?’ It was like that feeling when someone first put a camera in my hands. I just knew I had to create something myself.

Walk me through your music production process.

I’m actually feeling very inspired these days; we’ve basically been tracking and we’ve been composing. It’s kind of a new way for me. I’ve never composed this way before. I’ve always started in Ableton, and then after the song’s done, I learned how to perform it. Versus this time it’s like, okay, we wrote songs to perform, and now it’s about getting them into Ableton. It’s almost like the Pro Tools workflow – here’s the song, let’s record it. So it’s been interesting. Before, it was always okay, here’s this part I like – let’s record it and put drumbeat over it. Okay, there’s like one part, let me try to think of something else that will go with it. Now, it’s actually making my job as an engineer easier, but challenging in different ways. It’s got those sub layers. Let’s get some really cool vinyl kicks and snares and make it a thing that could stand on its own as a recording, make it so we can perform it just as a duo, and make it so we could perform it with a band and have three different iterations, on all those different levels. 

So tell me a little bit about the show coming up at the Marquis.

Yeah, so one of my last music related video gigs was this production company called Sofar Sounds. They throw a lot of underground shows all across country and world; they’re international. I remember they had a presence in Boston, and one of the guys I work with got us to come to this one show they had here in Denver a few months ago. The first band that played was RitaRita. They really impressed me because it was definitely really cool psychedelic rock, but performed in an interesting way. So after they finished, I went to just talk to them and ended up having the frontman, Eli, come over to my studio for a meeting not too long after that. Once we sat down and started talking, I was blown away because it seemed like he’d almost read my diary or journal. He had all of these visions that I have a new paradigm of entertainment which he was kinda experimenting with for this upcoming event. It was nice to meet someone who’s motivated, creative, but also a really fun dude to hang around and made good music. It ended up just being this great, little working relationship that turned into like, ‘Hey, we actually need another band for this upcoming show. Do you know anyone?’

So that’s kind of how that developed. He’s seen how hard we’ve been working. And he’s been impressed with how far that’s come, but he definitely gave us a big shot. We have no recorded music out yet. Still working on it. We have never played a show as Empath Eyes. But yeah, it kind of happened organically from there. I helped him out by hooking him up with The Boundless, my friend Andrew and I have been tight since I got here to Colorado. And he does some really cool stuff. Kinda what I was doing back in college a DJ guitar live performance, with a single performer.

So, it’ll be The Boundless opening up first, and then Empath Eyes will play. Then, RitaRita will do the headlining slot to release and promote their new album. It’s gonna be a really, really cool night. There’s gonna be a lot going on – my buddy Casey Mackay is doing visuals – VJing projections. There’s going to be some live canvas painters – it’s just gonna be sweet. It’s an all ages show, and I think the drummer in Rita, Rita is still in high school. So young ones, and also some of my sixty plus year-old clients are like, ‘I can’t wait to come. Put me down for two tickets.’ It’s gonna be a really interesting vibe, and we’re really, really excited to see how it goes.

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