First Impressions: The Mazloom Empire

Photo by Greg Slattery

Photo by Greg Slattery

What started off as singer/songwriter Lawdan Mazloom wanting to simply record an acoustic demo has quickly turned into a full-fledged pop-rock quintet known as The Mazloom Empire. While many of our readers might not know the Columbia outfit yet, anyone familiar with the town’s burgeoning scene may recognize its members from other projects. The band coyly refers to the disparate experience of its members by calling themselves a “group of treasure hunters turned musicians.”  Led by Mazloom, who sings and plays guitar, the ensemble includes two engineers at Columbia’s famed Jam Room recording studio (Brett Kent — who also plays in Shallow Palace — on bass and Zac Thomas on guitar), in addition to drummer Steve Sancho and newest addition, Marshall Brown (of The Marshall Brown Band), on keys and backing vocals.

Now solidified in their rolls, the players have wasted no time in making a name for themselves, releasing a five-song EP in January and completing a brief tour of North Carolina and South Carolina. The self-titled debut (streaming below) showcases the Empire’s diverse abilities as the band crafts sublime dream-pop (“Crystal Chandelier”), jangly indie-rock (“Burn In Hell”) and soaring sing-along choruses (“On the Run”), accomplishing each with unexpected ease. Shuffle’s Wes Gilliam caught up with Mazloom and Kent via e-mail to talk to them about the band’s formation and future plans.

Shuffle: How did you guys get together? It seems like you’ve assembled a veritable “who’s who” from the Columbia scene.

Lawdan Mazloom: I went to the Jam Room to record a solo acoustic demo that my sister pushed me into. The engineer for the session ended up being Zac Thomas, who told me he was into my songs and my style and politely asked if I had any intentions of forming a band. I told him I did not know any musicians and he said he knew some people who would be interested in getting together.

Brett Kent: Zac, Steve Sancho and I had been jamming with a few singers trying to get something going with no luck, then Zac brought Lawdan to one of our jam sessions. We instantly clicked musically and personally, so we just kept going forward with Lawdan’s songs. We started our recording process and realized we had to add a keyboard player and someone who could harmonize with Lawdan. Zac threw out Marshall Brown, who I’ve known for years. He jumped on board and that’s how we got together.

Shuffle: I’m listening to the new EP  and really enjoying it, especially the first song, “Crystal Chandelier.” What can you tell me about writing and arranging that song? I also really enjoyed the fact that you led off the EP with it.

BK: Thanks. We are very proud of the EP. We need to give credit to Zac, who engineered and produced it. He dedicated a generous amount of effort.

LM: Writing “Crystal Chandelier” was one of those spur of the moment, hit in the head with inspiration kind of songs. It just poured out of me in about 10 minutes. At first, I didn’t play it for anybody because I didn’t think it was all that good, but the guys heard me play it at an acoustic gig. They demanded we do a full-band rendition of it.

BK: It is just one of those songs that we could jam on for hours. It felt like a good representation of the whole group.

LM: That’s true, and that’s why I demanded it go first.

Shuffle: The band recently completed a four-day tour of Charlotte, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. How was the reaction in the new places? Any crazy stories you can share with us?

BK: It was amazing. We were very well received at every venue even with the polar storm of ’13 standing in the way. We were lucky enough to book Rachel Kate for the whole tour. She is delightful. We also got to play with The Royal Tinfoil, Mason Jar Menagerie and a few other great bands.

LM: We almost died, and chicks (and a dude) threw underwear at us on-stage.

BK: There was a very scary incident on the I-85 where we almost crashed because of the icy roads. Luckily, Mr. Steve Sancho saved our lives.

LM: Even in Columbia, we’ve only played a handful of shows to get our feet wet, but the Art Bar show was incredible. There was a great crowd, and the other bands were fabulous.

Shuffle: I know that some members of the band play in other projects which are predominantly male-dominated. Is there a different mind-set to this project than those? I know Marshall Brown is used to being the main singer and songwriter in his own group.

LM: I don’t think there is a difference because of the male/female aspect. Everyone brings their own styles and tastes to the group.

BK: It can feel different, but mostly because I think we want to separate ourselves from our other acts. Musically speaking, we all think about ways to support Lawdan’s voice, which is my favorite part of the whole ordeal. Everyone is on the same page of where the focus lies.

Shuffle: Columbia has always been a very interesting music scene in that it seems that it is always changing. How does The Mazloom Empire fit in with a college town with a  revolving door of musical trends?

BK: I love the music scene in Columbia. I cannot count how many local bands I love because there are too many. They are all variations of styles. I don’t think it trends so much as it stays diverse. Columbia has an open taste in music. People love good music no matter the style or trends.

LM: We didn’t even think about it when we started. We just played music that was fun for us, and hopefully people like it.

Sbuffle: In addition to releasing your new EP, I saw that you are planning to drop an LP in the summer. Is this something that’s already taking shape? Any idea of what that will sound like compared to the EP?

LM: We pretty much have enough songs written and ready to be recorded. We aren’t trying to rush anything right now. That is why we chose to start with a five-song EP, so we could do it right.

BK: Everyone in our camp is very anxious about the full-length. We already have the blueprints laid out. Like Lawdan said, we just want to do it right. There is no rush.

LM: As far as the idea for the sound, we hope it will be along the same lines, but we have an eclectic group of songs. There is no telling at this point.

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