The new album, The Devil Is In The Details, from Oregon musician Michael Dole, aka Empire of Gold, is burning and smoking with lo-fi, deep lyrical content and alt rock and grunge-inspired angst. It’s grunge and alt rock like it used to be.
His life story is one that has been shaped by childhood trauma and personal struggles, but even more so by confronting his troubled past, overcoming it and prospering.
Thanks to shear personal strength; a loving family that stepped in to care for him at the age of eight; good friends; music, and a new life in the Pacific Northwest, Dole has beaten the odds and has come out even stronger.
He has lived in towns and cities in California, Mexico, Colorado and Illinois. He now resides with his girlfriend in Hillsboro, Oregon, a city that abuts Portland’s western outskirts.
Dole was born in the San Diego area, but grew up predominantly in Tecate, Mexico, until the age of eight when his father was tragically shot and killed by Dole’s mother.
After his mother was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison, his father’s sister effectively adopted him. That’s when Dole moved to Sandwich, Illinois, a small city 60 miles southwest of Chicago. In this safer environment, he prospered during his formative years.
At the age of 14, his aunt bought him an acoustic guitar for Christmas. It was his first guitar. Lessons at a local guitar shop were not satisfying and after a year, he quit. He set out to use what he learned at the guitar shop to listen to songs and teach himself. “I would play along with my favorite songs on the radio to the point where I could find the chords and notes to play along fairly quickly.”
Dole says that guitars and bass have always been his chosen instruments. “I have always been driven by guitars more than anything. When I was a kid, I didn't listen to lyrics, drums or bass. I was all about the vocal melody and riffs.”
As a pre-teen, Dole listened to rock music on the radio, making his own mixtapes on cassettes. He soon graduated to the metal scene, buying CDs from bands like Mudvayne, Slipknot, Soulfly, Coal Chamber and Deftones.
“Slipknot’s debut album is what really attracted me to taking guitar and song melodies more seriously. It was the beginning of my foray into song structure and trying to write engaging albums from start to finish.”
Later, he began listening to many other artists and bands using strong melodies, including Green Day, Death Cab for Cutie, Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes.
“I always kept an open mind to different genres which gave me the ability to have a wide range of musical influences.”
When he turned 17, Dole moved from Illinois to California to attend The Art Institute of Los Angeles in Santa Monica. “I became lonely and depressed quickly. That is when I started picking up the guitar and writing music in a big way.”
It was also during this time that Dole struggled with substance abuse. “ I spent four years there mildly struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.” However, before things got too serious, he decided to move back to Chicago. “I moved back to Illinois to be closer to friends and family and to get away from bad influences.”
During these years, roughly from 2005-2013, Dole wrote and recorded a wealth of material, encompassing hundreds of song ideas, demos, and fully completed songs. He taught himself different chords, melodies, and song structure. He became a student of alt.-rock and grunge.
But it wasn’t until 2014 that Dole released his first demo, “Dead of Winter.” The following year, he released his debut EP, Acoustic Sessions, followed in 2015 by his second EP, Raw. This EP was a stark departure from his debut EP - from acoustic to full throttle grunge within a year.
Sleeping Bag Studios proclaimed: “[He's] like a musical call-to-arms in epic, like, Braveheart-esque style...these huge guitars and drums could lead me marching into battle any ol’ time."
For his 2016 debut album, the blazing lo-fi release, Crass, Dole was resolute, at all costs, not to allow any noticeable signs of fine-tuning in the recording or production.
The album has a loud, buzzing, harsh and angry sound. “I like when people call my lyrics and sound brash and crass,” he says, “hence the album name. I love my guitars loud like sludge metal - which is the biggest reason for the drums and bass being lower. “
Among the standout tracks on Crass include the Nirvana-inspired, “Intoxicated,” and the tragic, blazing guitar and bass of, “Jack & Cocaine,” as well as the sluggish, edgy, “No Sleep”; the 90’s alt-driven “Beautiful Mistake,” and the punk/garage rocker jam, “Dumb.”
From 2016 through 2017, Dole proved himself prolific, releasing a total of four new EPs in less than two years - Kick Me (2016); Solace in Wonderland, Vol. I (2016); Dirty Thirty (2017) and Rotten Apples (2017). They are remarkable contributions to the DIY world of alt rock and grunge. Songs like “Neurotic” and “Trapped In A Jar” are particular standouts with listeners.
Part of Dole’s hardcore DIY ethos is evident in the fact that he does not have - nor does he desire - a band and because he refuses to change his raw, punk-inspired garage rock sound to satisfy any of the industry’s “predetermined, cookie-cutter format.”
“I will gladly wither away for the rest of my life as a blue-collar worker rather than seeing my music be overly produced,” he told one blog defiantly.
Dole gets a bit testy when it comes to this particular topic. He is not a fan of the endless refinements that go into modern popular music, where the line between human, tech talent and skill sets has essentially vanished.
“I'd rather people hear the passion and hard work of ONE man's efforts, instead of critiquing or caring about the overall production value. Because it’s supposed to be raw and unrefined.”
“I think there is a craving for raw, loud and melodic rock that was the early 90s. That is what catapulted Highly Suspect’s album Mister Asylum back in 2015 saying ‘they were the closest thing to Nirvana.’
Rotten Apples - EP - 2017
Dirty Thirty - EP - 2017
Solace In Wonderland, Vol. I - EP - 2017
Kick Me - EP - 2016
Crass - LP - 2016
Raw - EP - 2015
Acoustic Sessions - EP - 2014
Dead of Winter (single demo) - 2014