A certain galaxy far, far away’s favorite metal band is back to melt our faces off with more Star Wars tracks. Bursting onto the scene in 2015 with their version of the “Maine Theme,” Galactic Empire catapulted into the stratosphere as a prog-metal group to watch. The band consists of guitarists Erik Ryde, Cotter Champlin and Brett Anspach; drummer Grant McFarland and bassist Carson Slovak. They perform dressed as Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers and various Sith lords.
As for their discography, Galactic Empire has released two studio albums: a self-titled debut in 2017 and Episode II in 2018. Now, they have a third go-round on the horizon, entitled Special Edition. Their highly anticipated third album includes theme songs from popular Star Wars series such as The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Grant McFarland about Galactic Empire’s origin story, the band’s musical inspirations, the creative process, Special Edition and more.
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This interview is edited.
Melody McCune: We at Geek Girl Authority love a good origin story. What’s your origin story? How did Galactic Empire come to be?
Grant McFarland: It all started in 2013 with a drum cover video of myself playing along to the London Symphony Orchestra recording of “The Imperial March.” I always imagined guitars replacing the orchestra, and in 2015 I finally got around to arranging and recording the guitar parts. I showed the recording to my studio partner, Carson. He said, “This is awesome; we should do more of these.” So, we created an entire album.
We decided to shoot a music video for the “Main Theme” and figured, “Why not shoot the video wearing costumes?” We released the music video the same day The Force Awakens
was released. The video went viral that week, gaining over 10 million views. We started getting lots of press coverage, and people were asking when we would play live, so we took about a year to develop a live version of the band with new costumes. We gradually continued to grow as we did US, European, and Japan tours over the last few years.
MM: What are your musical inspirations?
I’m a classically trained cellist, so John Williams
was the main inspiration for this project. We combined that with our love for rock and heavy metal music that we produce in our studio, Atrium Audio. Some of our favorite bands are Meshuggah, Animals as Leaders, August Burns Red, Rivers of Nihil and Erra.
MM: What was the impetus behind putting specific tracks like “The Imperial Suite,” “The Mandalorian,” “The Bad Batch,” etc., on your upcoming third studio album Special Edition?
GM: With our third studio album, we wanted to bring the new generation of Star Wars music into our repertoire. We decided to pick fan favorites with the most memorable and iconic themes that would translate well to our style. These songs seemed like a natural fit.
MM: Your songs are incredibly technical and layered musically. Can you talk about your creative process when constructing arrangements of the Star Wars tracks we know and love? Particularly regarding Special Edition?
GM: It starts with the original recording of the song. I quantize the performance to a grid and then loop small sections at a time. I’ll pick out the melody, harmonies and chord structure in the orchestral arrangements and translate those parts into rhythm guitar and lead guitar parts. Once that is done, I can easily arrange the bass to match. Then, the fun part is adding drums to accent what the orchestra is doing but give the listener a very obvious beat to follow.
MM: Describe Special Edition using three words.
GM: Progressive. Star Wars. Metal.
MM: What’s the motivation behind dressing in character for your live shows, and what can fans expect when they attend them?
GM: After shooting the music video in costume, we had to continue with the same trajectory for our live shows. It wouldn’t be the same without this. We like to have a lot of fun at our shows, so there are plenty of Star Wars-related activities, cosplay amongst the fans and families with their kids. It’s a great time.
MM: You released the Jurassic Park theme last year. Would you consider branching out to cover other works by John Williams?
GM: Jurassic Park
was the first time we branched out and released something that wasn’t a Star Wars
theme. It went well. We would love to release other movie themes by John Williams and even other composers. Expect to hear more of this in the future!
MM: What was the Star Wars movie that made you a fan of the franchise? Was there a defining moment growing up when you knew you’d love this galaxy far, far away (sorry, I had to) for life?
When I was a kid, I found a bootlegged VHS tape on our coffee table that had the words “Star Wars” written in pencil on the label. Ever since I popped it in and watched it, I became a fan for life. I got lost in that movie (A New Hope
) and the sequels to follow. I memorized every line as a kid, had over 70 novels, a massive collection of toys, Legos, collectibles, video games, costumes, etc. It was a huge part of my childhood.
MM: Do you all have a favorite Star Wars property?
GM: The Empire Strikes Back
is, hands down, the best Star Wars
movie. An amazing sequel that was even better than the original. George Lucas
changed the landscape for special FX and paved the path for filmmakers moving forward with the tech he developed with ILM and his future endeavors.
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MM: What’s on the horizon for you after releasing Special Edition? Do you have plans to go on tour?
GM: We have several shows announced now, with more tours in the works. Stay tuned for more announcements!
May 4 – Livestream on Twitch
May 5 – Lititz, PA @ Mickey’s Black Box
May 6 – Neshimany Creek Brewing Company
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