A new Empire

Empire is a music venue, but also a jam space, recording studio and photography studio. Penelope Stevens (left) and Chris Griffith (right) took part in creating Empire. (Holly Brown/Bang-On Photograph)

A new arts space in Fredericton called Empire is providing a better home for local creators and hosting touring artists.

Its creation was the solution to local band Motherhood’s need for a more suitable space to practice, along with photography business Bang-On Photography’s need for a studio space.

Motherhood bassist Penelope Stevens said they will also use the space to bring more artists to the East Coast.

“Being a touring artist and having met a ton of artists on the road across North America there are so many people that have these dreams of coming to the East Coast … but it can be really difficult to get shows because the communities are so small and our capacities are so limited.”

The venue is located at 117 York St., where the Centre for Arts and Technology, later re-named da Vinci College, once stood. The space came with soundproofing and a vacant, fully-functional recording studio.

Stevens said after some renovations, the space is now ideal to host shows as well as record.

“It’s a work in progress and the people that are using the space are also growing and developing so it’s fitting,” said Stevens.

Empire is one of the few music venues in downtown Fredericton that’s not in a bar setting. It’s a photography studio and jam spot that also puts on shows, like one’s you would find in a do-it-yourself music venue. Stevens said it’s important for people to experience music outside of a bar. 

“People can have preconceived notions about what a space for music looks like, so breaking down those barriers and expectations is a valuable thing,” said Stevens.

A do-it-yourself music venue, or DIY, is traditionally a space that’s run by musicians, for musicians and is usually open to all-ages. It might be in a grungy basement, an old church, or in your mom’s garage. 

“Having spaces that are used for other things but can also host music, I think it’s valuable for people’s mindset.”

Chris Griffiths, one of the founders of Bang-On Photography and drummer for local band Riversmoke, said the location is larger than both group’s previous locations and has a structure that satisfies their needs better, like providing proper acoustics for live music and a more suitable layout for photography.

Empire will act as headquarters for Bang-On Photography, which conducts operations across Atlantic Canada.

“The space itself is great, [it has] high ceilings [and a] wide area … similar in size to The Capital [Complex] except that it’s wider, so it allows a bit more wiggle room for people watching and the bands have a bit more stage room.”

Empire was christened as Fredericton’s latest live music venue on July 31 when it hosted Fredericton band Motherhood, Quebec band FET.NAT and Saint John band Usse as well as a more recent show on Oct. 12 with Massachusetts band Carinae, Newfoundland band Property and Fredericton band chillteens.

“The touring bands that have come through have said that we have had the best sound that they have had on their tour so far, so we feel pretty good about that,” said Griffiths.

Stevens said that Empire’s intention isn’t necessarily to be a place for local bands to hone their skills. Rather she said it should be a place for bands to show their talent to a receptive audience when they might not get as many chances otherwise.

“It’s more focused on supporting artists that we feel strongly about and that we feel deserve an audience here, but may have faced some barriers [when booking shows in small towns] … We want to bring bands here and show them how awesome Fredericton is, and show Fredericton how awesome these bands are.”

She said they will use their new resources to be an anchor for bands booking tours on the East Coast that will help them to be able to count on Fredericton.

“We are going to guarantee that your show is going to be confirmed early, we’re gonna do good promotion and there will be lots of awesome people there.”

With files from Jerry-Faye Flatt