Interview: The Early November

The Early November

This past week, I was able to schedule a Zoom call with Ace Enders and Jeff Kummer of The Early November to discuss everything that went into the band’s new self-titled record that released today. In this interview, I asked the band about the creative process behind key tracks like “The Empress” and “The Fool,” their best memories of growing up through the Drive-Thru Records era of music, and what they’re most looking forward to on their upcoming tour.

Thank you so much for your time today guys. So, first of all, you guys are releasing your seventh studio album and this one’s going to be a self-titled effort. So why at this point in your career did you choose to make a self-titled effort?

Ace Enders: I think it’s because of a couple reasons really. Mainly I’d say it’s because we want to leave the door open for the…I think the best way to say is it’s the exclamation point, versus the period, of where we are in our career, and I don’t think we’ve ever done a self-titled <album> and this one feels like getting back to our roots the most. In the sense of how the songs are written to the mindset and just the overall wanting to be that we probably will make another album, but if the chances are we don’t, it felt like a good one to be like this is us right here. Twenty something years later, this feels like it’s still true to who we are and the old exclamation point instead of the period. 

That’s awesome. Can you talk about the song “The Empress” and what went into the writing recording process of that, and also some of the lyrical inspirations behind it?

AE: Yeah, so “The Empress” is I think the thing that happened first with “The Empress” was the rhythm that just keeps happening. That feels like you’re on this very repetitive thing and that sort of sets the tone for the rest of the song for what it was going to be about. That’s a very monotonous thing of going through life or whatever situation you’re going through but in a very mundane way and musically I feel like it attaches to the vocals in a very good way, in that sense. I’m trying to recall the lyrics here as I’m talking but it’s just like that idea of going over everything. I feel like Jeff and I just went over this and he probably goes over it like a million more times too. Yeah, you probably have your head wrapped even though I wrote the lyrics you probably have your head wrapped around the answer probably better than i am doing right now because I’m struggling to remember the lyrics…but yeah I think originally it was just that feeling of like going through the motions time and time again and finding reasons to keep investing yourself in it and getting beat up and what-not. You do a couple of these <interviews> and it doesn’t even have to take a lot and then you get self-conscious because you’re saying the same thing and am I talking about the right song? I want to make it interesting…

No, that was good! What are some of your favorite memories of the Drive-Thru Records era? 

Jeff Kummer: I guess I’ll jump into this one. I think the camaraderie around it there, especially for a band like us that was just getting plugged into this realm, and we were just starting to tour. We toured a lot with the bands that were on our label and there was, for most bands, there was this kind of <feeling of> we’re already connected in a way and we take care of each other in a way. The Starting Line was a band that, even before Drive-Thru Records, that this band associated with us and played a lot of shows with us, and they took us under their wing. We played a lot of shows together and Senses Fail was a band that got signed right around the same time as us, so we immediately clicked with them just having the same kind of experiences with them. And Steel Train was another one, so it’s like you have a shared experience with some of these bands that are coming into this world at the same time as you, and then other bands that you probably have played a bunch of shows with prior to even getting a deal. And The Starting Line, specifically Kenny, being so pumped for us, and it was just one of those things where it was exciting. I think about how fun the shows were because not only are you getting to travel the country, and out of the country all over the place, and do what you love. But you get to do it with these friends that love it just as much as you and it’s so fresh and exciting. I think it was a time where a lot of us on that label didn’t really get hit hard with the realities of the music industry quite yet. Not all, but some. And I think that it was a lightning in a bottle kind of thing.

Anything to add to that, Ace, or any distinct memories from that time period? 

AE: Yeah, when I think back on everything, it was just so fast. It was a different time, and it was a different world. Even though it moved so much slower with the way the internet didn’t overtake the music industry…well, it sort of did, but I mean not in the same way that it is now…But it still just felt so fast and I love what Jeff said about the camaraderie. It was like a family over there. It was a really cool experience, but that came with a lot of weird baggage as well. In the scene it seems so trivial and pointless now, but back then people looked at you in a different way. You weren’t respected by the cool kids. But a whole group of people rooted for you because they love Drive-Thru…Itt was a very weird mix of things. But it was something I’m really grateful for. And I remember coming into it, we got signed and then we went on Warped Tour, and we flipped a couple vans, we lost all our gear twice in like two months, and we had a tour with Allister after that and The Starting Line, and it was just high quality. And with Taking Back Sunday, it was just a whirlwind of things going fast, and before you know it felt like we went from playing in a small Philly area to headlining, and just not even understanding what was right in front of us as we were going through it. And like I said, it was a very fast time, and then it was also a double-edged sword because I feel like by the time we blinked and turned around it’s like, oh wait a second, we’re already on it. It felt like we were on the top of a roller coaster, and you could see the ground now, and it’s like uh-oh, reality’s coming real quick at about 500 miles an hour. And then you’re hit with streaming, downloading, and business, and it’s like okay wait a second, we just did all this stuff and all this hype. But now we’re getting hit with all of these other things and it was just really fast, is the best way to describe it for me. Just because that’s the lens I looked through. It was a beautiful time and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

That’s awesome. I remember a lot of that time got documented through some of those Drive-Thru Records compilations and DVDs, so that was cool seeing you guys kind of grow up in front of everyone else’s eyes too. So, I understand that you guys are going to be going on tour with Hellogoodbye, Hit The Lights, and a few others this summer. Can you talk about how you’ll be crafting the setlists for these shows? Obviously the record comes out this Friday, so people will be excited about that too.

AE: I’ll just give my two cents real quick. Jeff is the setlist guy, he always has been. He’s always the creator of the setlist, but I thought we should break it up and play a bit of everything from all the records. But Jeff really put a lot of time into trying to carve out the best ones. But yeah, we try to hit everything.

JK: Yeah, it’s tough, especially when you have this many songs at this point. It’s very stressful, but I look at making just a great playlist, and I’m pretty good at making playlists, so i’ve been told…So, I think we’ll be just fine there as far as the tour goes. Putting the tour together was also a blast because we wanted to create something and grab bands from our “niche” as well. And we went all over the map just seeing who could do a full tour with. It just so happened that we could puzzle piece this thing together. Super happy that we have Spitalfield, Hellogoodbye, Hit The Lights on it and we also have Cliff Diver through the whole thing. But yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. A lot of new stuff by the way. Going back to a lot of the new stuff off this new record and we’re touching on everything, so we’re really excited about the tour. 

That’s cool! I think you guys at the tail end of your tour are doing the Emo’s Not Dead cruise?

AE: Yeah, next year in February! I’ve never been on a cruise before. So Jeff and I are going to share our first cruise experience together. 

That’s fantastic. Hope everything goes smoothly as you set sail for that. 

AE: It better! <Laughter> 

So what has gone into your guys’ songwriting evolution from the beginning days of The Early November to now with the self-titled era?

AE: I would argue that it hasn’t changed all too much. I think that it’s the same principles of having an idea with an acoustic guitar, either i’ll just show Jeff that idea, or present like hey, these are some thoughts I have that i’m not sure i’m going to be able to do that, or i’m not sure that could work melodically rhythmically with the rest of the song…and it’s usually either in demo form or raw with an acoustic guitar. And it’s always kind of been like that. I mean we’ve pretty much stayed like that. I think the things that have changed is the ability now to go back and say okay, we don’t have to structure it. I got it in my head at one point of too much structure in the music. And too much trying to make it a certain way to fit a certain group of rules, that you feel like it shouldn’t be competitive with your peers, but if anything I feel like this really gets back to that naive way of writing and tripping into things that are kind of cool, and not really worrying about why they’re cool, not worrying about how the tension fits together. Just letting it be and that’s kind of how it’s changed. The going back into that way for the recording process of what we attack. That’s really the only <change> because fundamentally it’s strange, but we’ve always kept this kind of thing where this is how we communicate and we get into a record, and then once we get into the record, we start recording. We’ve done it all every which way, and it is actually very cool and exciting, even with this record. Traditionally, we go back to the old days. Drums, bass, guitars, and all the other instruments, and vocals. And now it’s just every which way. Maybe the song has every single thing except drums, and I jumped in there hearing something that has different pieces as opposed to a piece or two. Or it’s just everything that influenced me, and I think that’s everything in a different way which is from my head. Just a very cool, different kind of creative way to take a look at things and instead of trying to overdo something rather than what’s best for this <band>. We’ve been doing it together for so long, it’s like second nature. 

What’s the best way for you guys to test out feedback to new material to see if something’s working on a song? Is it hitting the road and getting fan feedback in real time, or do you have a trusted ear that you guys either bounce ideas off of? Whether it be a producer or someone else? 

AE: I wish that we did, honestly! I wish, I mean back in the day we did, we used to play songs live, and I just got off an interview where we were talking about back in like the early 2000s or mid-2000s where you’d write a bunch of songs and then take it on tour because you were touring constantly and you would be able to filter it out that way. Now touring is so much less than it was, and again, people’s attention spans are even shorter. So if you play a block of new songs, people are gonna be like, “I think i’ll go to the bathroom now…” And so I wish that we had an ear to bounce things off of, but honestly it’s just a couple friends here and there, and they’re usually like, “Oh that’s cool, man.” I don’t know what that means! 

JK: And honestly, I remember bouncing songs off of friends, and I don’t have any friends that want to listen to anything anymore. <Laughter> Not even my wife! But it’s really just me and Ace bouncing it off of each other and seeing what we think. 

AE: Yeah that made me a little sad, actually…I’m sad now because now I’m thinking of all the things that I would have said right there. <Laughter> I can’t wait to bounce ideas off each other. And we’re gonna get this “test” back on Friday when <the record> comes out and nobody even cares, and then we’re gonna be like, alright, cool…

I think the pre-orders for the vinyl are selling out and stuff like that! <Laughter> So, I think you guys have nothing to worry about…Anyways, can you talk about the song called, “The Fool”? 

AE: That one was like exactly what I was saying before about the naive, falling into parts and it just started with the guitar riff and then built it, and it was a slow build. It was just putting part on top of part, and musically it was like a really freeing experience because it was just like whatever sounds cool. Whatever feels cool is what’s gonna happen and then that’s why rhythmically that song’s all over the place. It feels like it just goes in so many different directions, which is cool for us musically, and then lyrically, I feel like the fool with this thing again and again. And it’s like how many times can you do this to yourself and be honest at the end of the day? So I mean  sometimes, I think for a lot of people, entertainment feels like that. Probably every job field feels like that. You just do the same thing, and you’re like where is it going? Why am I doing it? And the kicker is that you don’t even realize it when you’re there. And I feel like that sort of what lyrically ties it together. I think musically, it’s one of my favorites that we have.

Yeah, that one stood out to me listening to the advance of the record. Great job on that!

AE: Thank you! 

So after 20 plus years of being a band, what keeps you guys motivated for one, and also what keeps you grounded?

AE: I can answer for myself, but I know Jeff’s gonna have his own. I just did an acoustic run, and the last tour that we did as well, it’s the same thing. The things that keep us going, the things that humble at least me, are the stories from people. If you’re playing a show and someone says, “Hey, this is my wife. We met at your show, and we would end up falling in love. Now we have a kid and we named them after something in your song.” The idea that something that we did means so much to someone that it helped them find love, or find strength in themselves, or help them off of a ledge when they needed to get off of it…those things are really what keep you going. Because I’ll be honest, yeah we do great, we have a business that is great and successful and good. But it’s not like we’re sitting here trading Rolls-Royce’s with Jeff every weekend. We’re still in the business and we’re still finding things that are really important to us about it. But the things that are really important are the ways that it has stuck with people, and the ways that people have allowed us to positively impact their life. And from a purpose perspective only, I feel like if I was to take my last breath today, I’d be like, well I feel like I lived with purpose. Because it could potentially positively impact other people ahead of myself. I can show my kids how to live with purpose. That’s what keeps me humble and what keeps me going. 

JK: That’s a big portion, and I could go 40 million different ways with this answer. Another one is just talking about kids, that just sparked something else, showing your kids that it’s not about how much money you make, it’s about doing what you love with the time that you have. I was thinking about it last night, how I met Ace when I was around 16 years old and started doing this. I’m 39 now, and it’s just been my ultimate outlet. It’s been the one thing that just lights a spark in me, no matter what. Never has ever left. When you get down to the core, it’s when you get to the actual making of what we do, creating, and how we put out records, and watching them come out. Getting to play it live and getting feedback, all of that mixed in…it’s the best outlet there’s ever been. And I was also thinking about this…my entire life I think I’ve gone through feeling like an imposter at every single thing I do. I feel like a professional and this is my thing of what I was born to do. Sure, I have other jobs, but this is what it’s always been. And to be able to confidently say that about anything in life is probably one of the best things that you could ever have.

And that’s an accomplishment in its own right. Just to be able to say something like that confidently. You both come across as very authentic, and this has been a great conversation for me just learning about your guys’ music. Any last minute pitches for somebody to check out the new record that comes out this Friday?

AE: The new record  embodies every piece of us that people have come to know, but also every piece of us that we’ve got at this very moment in life. I mean, it encapsulates everything that we are, and we’ve had it in hand for probably over a year at this point, and the songs even longer. It’s been sitting there, and we’ve been listening to it, and we’ve been mulling it over, and like I said, I’m insanely proud of it and I will be regardless of how it is perceived or taken or whatever. I know that this is the time to really check yourself and be like is this a good record. Because after it comes out, and every other opinion and things get thrown in your head, you don’t know what to think. 

JK: The only thing I can say is I’m so proud, and I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this band, and of what we do and how we handle ourselves. 

That’s awesome. It was very nice getting to meet you today, and I wish you guys nothing but the best on tour. Oh, and enjoy the cruise in February!

AE: Thanks so much, Adam. Great meeting you!

Take care!