The Early November

After two decades, it would be all too easy for a band to just phone it in—capitalize on the fanbase they’ve built up in that time and just make a watered-down version of themselves. Not for The Early November, however. Ever since forming in New Jersey in 2001, the band, now consisting of frontman Ace Enders and founding drummer Jeff Kummer— have constantly been striving to find the best and most definitive version of themselves. With this self-titled record, the seventh studio album of their career, the duo have come as close as is possible to doing so. It’s an album that ties the past, present and future all together, and as such, it marks what Enders calls a “period or exclamation point in our sentence”. It’s not a new beginning, per se, but nevertheless something emphatic that signifies, in Enders’ words again, “a pivotal moment” for them both.

“The initial spark of this record was frustration,” he says. “Although we are growing in many ways and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to do what we do, it was born out of feeling like you’re doing the same thing over and over again, and out of this ‘I don’t care’ mentality. Not ‘I don’t care about the world’, but really digging deep artistically and having the view that if this is it, then I want The Early November to finally have the album that’s good enough to be the self-titled album.”

“There have been so many highs and lows throughout the career of this band,” adds Kummer, “but it got very dark. And a lot of this record is coming out of that, but we’re still here with a collection of brand new songs and it feels right. I feel more connected to where Ace’s mind is with this record than I ever have before.”

Interestingly and ironically, that synergy sprang from a more negative place. Because at a time when all these nostalgic festivals, tours and events were springing up to celebrate the emo/punk/post-hardcore scenes that The Early November had been a part of/associated with, the band were either ignored or overlooked. But rather than succumb to feelings of defeatism or inadequacy, resignation or disappointment, Enders and Kummer instead used it as inspiration.

“I remember very specifically what really locked us in together was when all these festivals were starting to get announced and weren’t included,” says Enders. “Jeff and I would look at each other every time and say ‘How come we’re not getting this?’ Or we’d be about to get an offer, but then it falls through at the last minute. And after that happening on repeat, we just decided ‘You know what? If we’re going to do this, we’re not going to care about any of these artificial stamps of approval.’ So the two of us were fired up, because we felt we had something to prove again. Then we went to do the record, and we were just so in tune with where we both were creatively.”

“I feel the thing that connected us,” says Kummer, “was that we’d had something very special that we’d put our stamp on when we were younger in this business, but when you see things come around again and you get left out of a community you thought you were a part of, it hurts. I felt personally like we were getting washed away from existence and being forgotten about, and I didn’t know why and I couldn’t understand it. And that added to our attitude of not caring about any outside approval. And that’s where the emotion and the energy behind this album came from.”

Recorded last spring at Enders’ studio in Ocean City, NJ, The Early November ripples with those very emotions that inspired its ten songs, but also carries within them the creative freedom to experiment that feeling shunned instilled in them. It immediately draws you into its world with the emotive exhilaration of opener “The Empress”. It’s classic Early November—full of highs and lows, youthful turbulence and tenderness, self-reflective quietude mixed with bursts of anthemic melody—and expertly sets the scene the tone of the record, musically and thematically. One of four songs named after tarot cards—“The Magician”, “The Fool” and “The High Priestess” are the others—it pits innocence against experience, infusing the trademark visceral emotion of the band’s songs with a previously unmatched level of introspection.

“Maybe it’s because I’m older,” says Enders, “but when I’m in a hard place trying to figure out what the next turn in life that I have to do to keep me sane is, it’s almost like you find yourself looking at those kind of cards. And when one’s pulled out that you don’t like or that maybe doesn’t make sense, you look into it and try to make sense of it. So it was all about grasping at anything or anybody to tell me what to do, whether that’s a mystical power or a fortune teller. A lot of these songs are struggles, trying to make sense of those very moments—of pulling a card that doesn’t reflect how you want it to reflect and isn’t what you were hoping for—and where they put you ten years down the road. It’s very much looking within and trying to replay those things that keep you up at night.”
It was writing “The Fool” that flung open the door to really explore those themes in full—the possibility of the future, but also the possibility of a future that’s not what you want. It makes for what Kummer calls an “emotionally heavy” record, but that weight is buoyed by their (self-)production. That’s something which drives home the meaning of these songs, simultaneously elevating and contradicting their lyrics, and in the process demonstrating how much The Early November have evolved as songwriters on this album. Whether that’s the glitchy electronics that underpin the soulful longing of “The Dirtiest Things” or the infectious pop hooks of the beautifully earnest “We Hang On”, the melancholy bittersweet explosion of “About Me” (which features Enders’ son on bass) or the plaintive acoustic lullaby of “It Will Always Be”—a gentle acoustic song that’s reminiscent of the band’s earlier years but imbued with the knowledge that comes with age—The Early November is a record that captures who the band have always been, but also who they’ve always wanted to be. It’s a tussle, once again, between past, present and future. None—or perhaps all—of them win.

Hypothetically speaking, if this were the end of The Early November—if this is it, as Enders was thinking when writing these songs—it would be an incredible note on which to leave. Of course, that’s only hypothetical. The truth is that, while it was a consideration at times, this album proves the band have plenty left to give.

“It’s no secret that we’re getting old,” says Enders. “You imagine that if this exists in the same vein that it does now, then yeah, we’ll always play shows, we’ll always do one-offs. There will always be things that we do. But if it becomes unsustainable, then what more can you do? And in the process of making it, I had that mindset of ‘If this is it, I’m at least going out speaking my piece.’ That’s where we were. I don’t feel that way now, but during the creation of it, there was at least a one-second blip where we were both wondering—and then made an agreement to really rock.”

“You’re not guaranteed tomorrow,” says Kummer. “Throughout our entire career, when talking about self-titled albums, we’ve always been like ‘That’s the one where you just kill yourself.’ There are so many self-titled records where it either didn’t land or it screwed up the path of something special. Our mindset was just ‘what will be will be.’ It’s a chip on my shoulder record, but I really didn’t want to look back on this and have regrets. And I don’t have. It really feels like us.”

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