New Empire – that is Kale Kneale, Jeremy Fowler, Pete Gillies and Kyle Lane – are fast rising through the ranks to cement themselves as Australia’s freshest pop-rock outfit. Guitarist Pete Gillies took some time out, calling from the band’s hometown of Sydney, to have a chat about The Voice, the upcoming London Olympics, and tales from the road.

Earlier this year New Empire’s anthemic single “One Heart/Million Voices” hit #1 on the Australian iTunes Rock Chart. Gillies jokingly explains that the song “stayed there for two to three weeks, and the only reason we got kicked off is that every time The Voice contestants sang a song, that song shot up the charts, and kept knocking us off. We couldn’t get back up there because each week the same thing kept happening!”

On top of the song’s chart success, the video for “One Heart/Million Voices” notched up almost 53,000 views on YouTube in a single month. Gillies says that the song’s ascension has been “pretty quick, the quickest view count that we’ve had.” This amplified enthusiasm can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the song is currently providing the soundtrack to Channel Nine’s London Olympic Games promotions.

Whilst this exposure has opened doors for New Empire, Gillies says “it’s opened up five doors of what could be fifty doors.” Gillies explains that although the band pushed for recognition on the advertisements, all promotion for the Olympics is run by the International Olympic Committee, and any form of advertising on such promotion is prohibited.

This lack of credit not withstanding, it seems that fans of the song have found the video one way or another, and when they do find it, they might be pleasantly surprised. Gillies reveals that New Empire decided to take a risk with their video clip, “we knew the song had a strong message in it, so we said let’s not do the standard rock thing.”

Indeed, the video is not your typical music video. Instead, it plays out like a short documentary, interspersing “One Heart/Million Voices” with the stirring tale of two professional athletes, Ugandan Julius Achonand Australian Eloise Wellings. Both have overcome adversity to inspire hope by founding the Love Mercy Foundation, which came to the band’s attention through friends who were involved in the Foundation’s work with North Ugandan communities.

The song’s video, its message and promotional affiliation with the Olympics have actually come full circle, with Wellings qualifying to represent Australia at this year’s 2012 London Olympic Games. Gillies tells that the band finally had the opportunity to meet the sprinter recently, “after thinking we’d known her for months,” and were genuinely inspired and impressed by Wellings’ stories.

With all the hype surrounding “One Heart/Million Voices”, it might come as a surprise to some to find out that New Empire continues to be a completely independent band. Explaining the fact that the lads are kicking on without a label, Gillies says “for years, yes, it was a conscious decision, but it’s not a big rebellious movement against the music industry. It’s been six years since we started and we’ve continued as independent the whole way through. Sure, there’s been some label interest along the way, but nothing has made us need a label. At this stage we’re happy to keep going on.”

As a bunch of “Christian dudes who grew up playing music in church,” New Empire continues to be a staple act for many Youth Alive gigs. Yet 2011 saw them play some big arena shows with the likes of Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Owl City. Two shows on the Good Charlotte tour really stand out for Gillies, “the first one was the show at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne … there was something really magical about that show. The people, the atmosphere, it just felt really special.”

Gillies goes on, “the final date in Perth at Challenge Stadium, Good Charlotte got us on stage for the last song… we jumped up in the final bridge of “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous” and went completely nuts with the guys from Short Stack. As Joel [Madden] was singing away he chucked his right arm around me, which was pretty special, especially as we had learnt all their songs growing up.”

In 2012 New Empire is changing the pace. The band has just embarked on a national tour which sees them stripping back to acoustic sets in smaller venues, showcasing “One Heart/Million Voices” and their current album Symmetry. “It’s something we’ve never done before,” explains the guitarist, “we really wanted to flip everything on its head. As a rock-out-the-stage rock band, we wanted to make it heaps [more] intimate, heaps[more] personal.”

After their national tour, the band is set to head off on the Vans Warped tour in the States, but Gillies assures that the boys are pretty used to touring with each other, “we’ve spent four years touring extensively, and heaps of time travelling, sharing beds, doing whatever we need to do, but as long as we get our own time everything’s fine.”

“Actually,” he continues, “even if we don’t get our own time, it’s cool”. Sounding like they could almost be a family, Gillies confirms, “yeah, I often send group messages like ‘hey team, hey family’,” then he jokingly exclaims “we’re so close we should have a child!”

Asked about New Empire’s plans on their return from the States, Gillies says “without disclosing too much, there’ll be tours nationally and internationally.” Although there’s no specific plans to record, Gillies confirms that the band certainly has the songs ready, and they really want to get into the studio towards the end of the year, “we’re [very] lucky to have the album sales, and keen to keep doing it.” Whatever transpires, the rest of the year will surely be a wild adventure for New Empire, and the four lads are certainly ready to ride it out.

Symmetry is out now and New Empire are currently winding up their ‘One Heart/Million Voices’ Acoustic Tour, playing Yours & Owls this Thursday 28th June in Wollongong, Glee Coffee Roasters in Tuggerah on 29th & 30th of June before wrapping up on Sunday 1st July at Brass Monkey in Cronulla. Tickets available from the band’s Facebook page.