Community is a binding attribute that keeps the Chicago music scene alive. Quality is what keeps it wonderful. Nestled in the diverse neighborhood of Humboldt Park is a warehouse basement where those two aspects collide in a thunderous roar. Emperor Custom Cabinets is growing faster with each beautifully hand-crafted piece of musical artillery they create. Including members of the long-running Chicago heavy hitters Raise The Red Lantern, Dylan Patterson, Sean Patten, Chris Milkent and Craig Thompson are the owners and operators of this company, which gives back to the rock ‘n’ roll community. I caught up with Patterson to talk about the shop.
How did Emperor Cabs start?
Craig and I worked at a roadcase company. I bought a Sunn cabinet for $300 and a year later I wanted another one and the price was double. We started talking about building cabs and I met Sean. He was like “let’s build some cabs,” so I built one and never stopped. We kept on building them and came up with some really cool shit. We built the first cab in 2005. At the time no one was making heavy-playing guitar cabinets. It was all mass-produced crap. We started in a tiny four-room apartment and ran this company from scratch, hovering around the poverty line. We built our first ten cabs there then moved to the new shop which was built from the ground up. It was a basement no one had been in for about forty years. There was no electricity. We’ve probably made close to 400 pieces between cabs and cases.
When bigger bands use your gear, do you approach them or do they approach you?
We never approach them, its all word of mouth. The bands that use [our gear] are bands we really like and respect. They see bands they play with and like the way they sound. MySpace and the Web site help, but word of mouth is number one.
How does Emperor Cabs as a company differ from other custom shops?
We keep it as punk rock as possible. We’re the same as our customers. Most companies have dudes in there fifties building these things. We play these cabinets every day. They aren’t new age or processed. They sound loud, warm and distorted. Most companies veer away from feedback or dirty distortion. Heavy metal is supposed to be distorted. We bring the power back. We make these with our bare hands and try to hook it up for our friends and anyone that wants good sounding gear. We match or beat any other company out there. We’re a personal company. We’ll have you down in the shop, drink a beer and talk about the cabinet you want. Sunn and Fender are big influences. They both started out in garages and became this huge deal.
How have you reacted to the success of the company?
It’s awesome. It’s happened really fast. There isn’t really profit from it yet, but it’s been a long road. At the end of the day, every day, there is an awesome band playing our gear. A ton of successful bands play our stuff and it feels great. Meeting people is cool too.
How has Emperor contributed to the Chicago music scene?
We do a lot of backlines. Bands from out of town will come and play shows using our own personal gear. Sean also sets up a lot of shows and helps local bands. The shop is like the meeting place. Even if you don’t know us, you can show up, hang out and have a beer. It’s also a place to crash for the out of towners we play with. It’s a positive environment.
Is louder always better?
No, haha. Tone is always better. I’ve seen a lot of bad loud. I’ve been bad loud. Heavy is always better. Heavy is good.
Emperor Custom Cabinets, emperorcabs.com
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