MaineList Article: Emptyhead


What’s a band with members as far north as Fort Kent and south as far as Massachusetts doing in Old Orchard Beach on a Friday night in May? Having fun with friends and family of coarse!

I was delighted to meet with Emptyhead, a passionate hard rock act who’s origin began in 1996 in Frenchville, near Madawaska and Fort Kent. After all this time, the band is still booking gigs, and keeping it fun.

Covers or Original?While listening to the demo songs available on their myspace profile, I envisioned a decent original rock band, the vocals reminded me a lot of “Eddie Vedder” from “Pearl Jam”, but the band had a style of their own. Hearing them perform live gave me a different perspective of the band’s versatility.

First of all, I was not previously aware that they are more a cover band than original band. This was not a problem, especially for me, a guy who enjoys singing along and dancing to familiar songs. But I seemed to have gotten the impression that Emptyhead was purely an original act.

“Yeah, we do a lot more covers than originals on most gigs, but like any band, we look forward to doing all original gigs whenever possible too.” Remarked Keith, the band’s lead / rhythm guitarist.

The band covers an extensive library of hard rock material, including hit songs by bands like; “Alice in Chains”, “Stone Temple Pilots”, and of coarse “Pearl Jam”, plus a wide variety of popular 90’s Alternative. “Tool is always a crowd favorite too. Plus, as a band, we really love playing Tool.”

BookingCompared with a busier schedule in days past, Keith explains that Emptyhead isn’t booking as regularly as they used to. It must be hard to make a commitment with members living so far apart. “Back in 1996 through around 2003 we were playing virtually every weekend. This was an excellent experience for us.” Said Keith, who before joining forces with Emptyhead, was spending his time jamming with his dad.

But now with circumstances changed, members spread out across New England, and two members of the band having recently become fathers themselves, the band has had to slow down their booking schedule just a bit.

This wasn’t the band’s first gig on The Pier. In fact, Emptyhead is not new to the Old Orchard Beach scene at all with previous experiences performing in places like; “Mr.Goodbars”, “Club Mirage”, “Referees”, and even once or twice at “The Crazy Clam” for some outdoor fun in the sun. “We have also done one or two of those gigs that “The Salvation Army” puts on right out in the courtyard of Old Orchard Beach too. But this is our fifth year on The Pier.”

Jimmy Albert Pier Patio Pub

I spoke with Jimmy Albert, owner of “Pier Patio Pub” on The Pier in O.O.B., who manages all of the booking for gigs on The Pier.

”These guys are really good.” Jimmy stated, as he watched the band perform from across the room. “If you want a solid rock band that’s been around for a while, they’re tight, and good. I’m honored to have them open up for us this summer.”

Jimmy has booked countless bands over the years, and has recently acquired a new restaurant / bar which he has named; “Jimmy The Greek’s”, which has been known for many years previously as “The Village Inn”, on your way out of Old Orchard heading towards Saco.

Bil Moriarty & AmberleeThrough the evening, I spoke with a few other people too, until I discovered “Bil Moriarty”, a resident of Biddeford, and his fiancée “Amberlee,” who were out to show their support for the band.

“I’ve known these guys since 1997, when they played “Old Port Tavern”. I remember the very first song I ever heard them play, which was “Machine Head” by “Bush”. I wasn’t so much a Bush fan, but when I saw these guys playing, they caught my interests.” Bil divulged.

Bil’s memories carried him through many moments in time, as he continued to tell me interesting stories about his experiences with the band. “Me and a friend put together a Newsletter mailer, and actually, Emptyhead was our very first interview.”

“I also have a warm spot in my heart for Emptyhead. They are like family to us both.” Said Bil’s fiancée, Amberlee, who seemed equally excited to be there.

FamilyIt’s funny she used the word “family” to describe it, because one of the more interesting things that I discovered about the band while interviewing them was that two of the members, are actually father and son.

While chatting with both Doug and Bryon Clapp, father and son respectively, I came to realize that some of the other members of their immediate family were also present in the room. Two sisters, and Bryon’s mother were at the bar also sharing the experience as a family. Despite the extremely long drive, and over a decade of booking, it was awesome to see this kind of continued family support.

“My brother would have been here too, if he didn’t have to work” Bryon said, defending his brother’s absence.

Michaela Firlotte - Pier Patio PubA new face at the Pier Patio Pub, “Michaela Firlotte”, gave her youthful opinion about the band too. “These guys are energetic, and I can tell they know how to keep the crowd going. People are dancing, and having a good time.” Michaela noted as she meandered around the room selling shots to guests at the pub.

Michaela’s own musical preference includes some rock music, but she admits to having a wider appreciation for music including some country, hip hop, and even some “Brittany Spears”. “My favorite rock band is probably Creed.” She said.

It was good to get an opinion from someone from a younger generation, where Michaela wouldn’t ordinarily be inside a bar room at 19 years old, but was able to see the band due to her work as a waitress.

I asked “Jessica Harvey”, one of the bartenders, known to many as “Squirrel” over the decade or so that she’s been serving drinks, what she thought of the band for a more experienced observation of rock entertainment.

“It’s funny you ask, cuz Emptyhead is actually one of my favorite bands who books on The Pier.” She delighted to say.

After working The Pier for the past ten years, I’m sure she’s seen many bands. “I like the fact that they play a lot of Pearl Jam.” Squirrel explained, who happens to be a fan of that genre of music anyway.

Doug ClappEldest member of the band, and father to Emptyhead’s front-man vocalist, is “Doug Clapp”, a seasoned musician playing bass guitar for the band, who started out in Boston before buying 100 acres of land in Frenchville, Maine. Doug thought he was leaving music behind, but ended up finding his own niche through a series of events that were to follow.

Apparently, Doug became a school teacher, and has taught three of the band’s members including his own son in high school with either Art, English or Theater. Over time, it seems that Emptyhead began to piece itself together when Doug and Mark, the band’s drummer, started practicing together.

“I always knew my son could sing. Before Bryon joined with us, we were doing a different style of music; some country, some rock, you know, stuff like “John Cougar” and typical bar room rock songs of the time.” Explained Doug. “My son thought the band wouldn’t know anything that he could sing, but ended up jamming along before the band was fully assembled to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, when we realized the potential to take on a new format.”

Doug Clapp (continued)Doug grew up in the Zeppelin / Hendrix time, and had been jamming to songs from bands like “Cream” since the late 60’s and early 70’s. “I kinda skipped the 80’s, and then was introduced to the 90’s Grunge / Alternative through my son.” Doug admitted, saying; “Back in 1996, any place north of Portland seemed to still be stuck in the AC-DC mode. But once that finally changed, we had the ability to start booking gigs as an Alternative band.”

The first seven years was a lot of traveling for the band. “We went through five vehicles in those first seven years, destroying one engine after another. Playing all over the New England states back then.”

“I had Phantom of The Opera memorized!”

Bryon ClappSon to Doug, is “Bryon Clapp”, the stand-alone front-man / vocalist for the band. Emptyhead is the only band Bryon has been in, apart from the acoustic side-project that Mark and Romain, two other members of the band are known to do from time to time.

“As a child, I had “Phantom of The Opera” memorized with my brother Nick and my sister Rhyne.” Bryon reflected to a time before he was ten years old and some early experiences with singing.

“By 13 or 14 years, I got into “Guns ‘N Roses” and “Red Hot Chili Peppers” but didn’t really figure out my own style until the 90’s with bands like “Pearl Jam”, “Nirvana”, “Nine Inch Nails”, and “Tool” to name a few.” Bryon listed appreciatively.

Bryon Clapp (continued)I know some of the mainstream radio-friendly Tool songs, but Bryon encouraged me to check out the rest of their tracks.

“You gotta listen to the lyrical content to appreciate some of Maynard’s finer qualities.” Bryon seems to enjoy songs that have more passion behind the words, than songs that some bands are throwing out there without too much thought on the song’s actual meanings.

“Eddie Vedder was once my hero, but now I’m trying to develop my own style. I have respect for bands who create lyrics that actually mean something.”

Keith MartinLong-haired, pierced, and ready to shred, “Keith Martin” joined the band near the beginning, and carries his position as the band’s lead / rhythm guitarist. With influences ranging from Randy Rhoads, Pantera’s Dimebag, Metallica, and Slash from Guns ‘N Roses, it only made sense when Keith mentioned a more hardcore original side project called “Ice In Her Veins” from Mass where he currently resides.

While talking with Keith I learned that he’s a collector of guitars, with 53 guitars in his current arsenal. He keeps his life centered around music, while holding a job at a Guitar Center, where he picks up the occasional gem to add to his ongoing collection.

“My favorite guitar from my collection is my black Gibson Les Paul Custom.” Keith remarked without any doubt. “It was a gift from my parents on my 17th birthday.” He actually owns thirteen Gibson Les Pauls, and is always looking for new additions to his growing archive.

“My dad always had a guitar kicking around”

Romain CharetteHolding his ground on rhythm guitar is Romain Charette, who had been in a couple of bands before Emptyhead, including; “Zip Lock” out of Fort Kent which he started around 7th grade. “We actually opened for Emptyhead at a local Ski Resort.” Romain added, reminding me that they had all gone to school together back then.

Another previous band was “Krisco Babies”. “This was kind of like a jam band doing Pink Floyd, and all kinds of fun stuff. We played in bars, and local events, and were pretty much a working band.”

Romain had only started playing the guitar around 6th grade. “My dad always had a guitar kicking around. He didn’t really play it so much, but taught me to love music through an extensive vinyl record collection.”

Romain (continued)“The grunge scene is what turned me on to music. It made me wanna buy my own guitar.” Romain’s first influence was “Silverchair” a band composed of youthful musicians (at the time), who apparently helped inspire him to practice on his instrument. “Some of my first influences came from Nirvana, Metallica’s Black Album, and Green Day’s Dookie.”

It wasn’t until around age 19 that Romain joined up with Emptyhead, and has remained ever since. “Doug invited me to try out. He gave me a cover song list, and I eventually graduated into the band.”

Romain seemed to show some appreciation for other local music too. “I love “Dominic & The Lucid”, and will go to see them perform just about any chance I get. Romain explained that Chuck Gagne and Nate Cyr, two members of Dominic & the Lucid, were once members of both Zip Lock and Krisco Babies while Romain was in each of those bands. “These guys are great friends who I’ve known all my life.”

Mark DugalBringing the beat into the band is Mark Dugal, who teaches Language Arts to 8th Graders at “Mt.Ararat” in Topsham’s Middle School. I made a joke with Mark, saying that drummers are the guys that hang out with musicians, when he quickly informed me that he also plays the guitar. As a matter of fact, Mark joins two other members of Emptyhead to do acoustic gigs, where he actually plays an acoustic guitar, as opposed to drums.

“Yeah, I started a guitar club that I teach once a week with kids from the school.” Mark added. “It seems that a lot of the kids are learning the classics, which I’m pretty sure they are becoming inspired to play through Guitar Hero.”

Mark’s own inspiration came originally from “Kiss”. At only three years old, Mark thought he was “Peter Criss”, the original drummer for Kiss when he began learning how to play the drums. His older sister “Lynn”, who was ten years ahead of him initiated him into the hard rock bands of the time. Bands like “Kiss”, “Queen”, “AC-DC”, “Def Leppard”, and music from the late 70’s, early 80’s. He still remembers his first album at three years old which was “Love Gun” by Kiss.

Whos Talking.. Whos Listening..Emptyhead recorded twice at “The Studio” in Portland, the first time back in 1999 with five songs in an EP called; “Spilt”, and then returned to record five more songs, while touching upon their previous tracks to complete their full length CD, entitled; “Who’s Talking… Who’s Listening…” back in 2000.

“Jim Begley engineered us for ten hours a day for three to five days each time we recorded.” Explained Mark.

Their CD sold over 3,000 copies with the help of local radio stations like WCYY and WTOS who helped popularize a couple of tracks from their disc. “Not Property” got a good solid month of air play on TOS after winning their “Battle of the Bands” contest in 2003.

“During that time, we were in Bull Moose Music’s Top 10 for the four weeks that we aired. We were also #55 on WTOS’s Top Bands of the year, which put us right in between “Perfect Circle” and “Disturbed” on that list.” Doug proudly boasted.

The song that TOS aired was; “Not Property”, a six minute track from their CD. The band offered to remix and shorten the lengthy song for TOS to play on the air, but were happy to learn that the station would play the song anyway, despite the longer-than-usual track length.

Since then, “TOS also played “No Real Americans” on the air, and WCYY first spun another of the band’s songs entitled; “Spin” on Spinout.

“We still get a lot of requests for “Not Property”. TOS supported this song a lot, and they’ve really been awesome to us.” Said Keith.

Memorable ShowsOver the many years that Emptyhead has been together, they have had a few cool openings for bands like “Black Label Society” with the legendary guitarist “Zakk Wylde”, also “Blue Oyster Cult”, and even “Skid Row”. “Sebastian wasn’t with Skid Row, but it was all of the other original members.” Mark explained.

Another cool show was their inclusion in the “Loco-Bazooka” in Worcester, Massachusetts. This show had everyone from “Disturbed”, “Henry Rollins”, and more. “This happened right after the September 11th incident, and had an audience of 15,000, which could have been more if not for the 9-11 tragedy that occurred right around the same time.”

Zen and The Art of Naming a BandThe band is not new to being interviewed, having had many experiences with live radio too. WTOS, WCYY, WAAF out of Boston, and WMPG have all invited the band to talk or perform on live radio throughout their travels.

And finally, the band’s name… I usually ask each band where their name came from, or what inspired the band’s name. This question was pushed onto Doug, who’s role in the band seemed to be genuinely appreciated by all members.

“I was into Zen, so the band’s name was something that came from that influence.” Reported Doug. “We rehearsed in the art room at the school where I work. I drew a design of a head with the letters “M.T.” on it.”

The letters were not abbreviations for something, as many observers might have thought, it was a play on words meaning; M.T.Head. So, it seems that the band inherited the band name from this Zen-inspired influence.


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