A few different factors led to this excitement and anticipation as the show approaches. For one, it will be Pretty Little Empire's first time playing some new songs, as well as debuting updated versions of some they have played before. It also is the band's only show scheduled for the next few months, as they opted to try to promote the album via blogs and radio play instead of a winter tour. And finally, the new Pretty Little Empire album is one they are incredibly proud of.
"I think we all agree that it's the best sounding record we've put out," Johnson said.
And he's right. With more variation and development in sound than the band's two previous releases, "Pretty Little Empire" takes a 40-minute trip through rustic vocals, clattering percussion and warm, textured guitars. Johnson lets more out vocally than in the past, and on a few occasions, the band moves away from its Americana touches.
"Talking Loud," for example, has a full and vibrant sound, while the end of "Out of Control" takes inspiration from its title and shows a tougher, scruffier side of the band.
"It's definitely the most gritty of all our records," lead guitarist William Godfred said. "I think this record got the best vocal takes from [Johnson] out of any of our records. We just found the right mic and got the right sound."
"Nest," one of two songs not written by Johnson, is a highlight late in the album, with a soft guitar rhythm and smooth vocals. Written by drummer Evan O'Neal, it's one of the older songs on the album, written and recorded in 2011 in Godfred's apartment. Even with the different writers and variations in pace, "Pretty Little Empire" remains cohesive. Instead of tying the album together through lyrical themes, the band opted for common moods throughout.
"A lot of it is pretty spontaneous and happens to do with whatever is going through my mind at the time, but I think there is definitely a mood or a style that fits them together," Johnson said.
With the exception of "Nest" though, the production that went into "Pretty Little Empire" was a lot more ambitious than previous recordings. David Beeman of Native Sound Studios in South City worked closely with the band to make sure the sound was as lush and complete as it could be.
"When Justin and I started recording our first record, we recorded it in my apartment on a digital recorder and I didn't really have a whole lot of a clue what I was doing," Godfred said. "This time, we had 16 or 17 songs that we did rough, live versions of and then we listened to those and started selecting the songs that we wanted to finish."
Beeman suggested that the band do their final few practices before their show at Off Broadway at Native Sound, so they could hear the songs in a larger room with more space than the living room they typically practice in.
"Will's living room is tiny, and they play super loud, and I felt like the songs were dictated by this crowded, loud space," Beeman said. "I suggested that we do the last two rehearsals here before the show because I wanted to actually be able to hear what they're doing."
Johnson pointed out a benefit of the tiny rehearsal space. "When we're at a show, and the sound sucks and we can't hear ourselves, we're able to kind of play through that," he said.
Even though a number of the songs on "Pretty Little Empire" have been played live before, the final few rehearsals served as a way to do some final adjustments on the new songs before Saturday. When I met up with Pretty Little Empire at Native Sound, they took the time to make sure everything on every song was right, from the guitar chords to the intonations on the lyrics.
"There's been tons of tinkering," Beeman said. "We recorded the record over the course of two full years, which is a really long time, because of the almost endless tinkering."
Once the final adjustments are made and the songs are ready to be played, only one other obstacle stands in the way before the show on Saturday.
"If there is a game seven, it would be on the night of our show," Johnson said. "We're really hoping the Cardinals win by game five or six. But if it has to go to a seventh game, we'll try to show the game at Off Broadway."
Photos by Brian Benton.