The Early November has always been ruled by nostalgia. Frontman Ace Enders was only a teenager when the band started life in New Jersey in 2001, but even then he was already lost inside his past, forever trying to recapture that most impossible of things to capture – time, as well as everything that happens inside it. It’s ironic, then, that Twenty manages – as much as is possible – to do that. A celebration of the two decades that have somehow passed since debut EP For All Of This came out, these 10 songs don’t just get lost within the past, but also redefine it, bringing it fully into the present. Recorded and produced by Enders mostly at his Ocean City, NJ studio, with founding drummer Jeff Kummer in tow, Twenty effortlessly straddles the divide between then and now, its 10 songs casting a backwards glance at the days and years gone by, while also looking forward to the future. A collection of both brand new tracks and older ones written during the course of the band’s life to date, the result is something of a paradox: this both is and isn’t a new Early November record.
“Ace and I have been in the band from the jump,” says Kummer, “so I know every single song we’ve ever recorded, as well as all these deep cut songs fans have loved along the way that never got to shine. And now they get to come to life in this re-recorded form. And then there’s new stuff that people have never heard, so it’s the best of both worlds. To go back to those older songs some 20 years later and think about where you were as a kid, we honestly felt like kids doing it all over again. Because that excitement just comes right back when you’re working on something that was like so innocent and fresh, because you were starting a band that you knew had something and you really believed in.”
“The older songs,” adds Enders, “were all me learning how to become human in some kind of way, so looking back and reconnecting with that person, it was like, ‘I kind of remember that guy!’ Like, I remember who I was and I remember the mindset, and I really enjoyed connecting back to that part of myself. As a songwriter, I write for a lot of other people and I put a bunch of different hats on and put myself in a bunch of different positions, but I’ve never really put myself back in my past position. And it was really cool to do that, and to see and relearn who I was and where I came from.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a collection of old songs made new, though. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Enders and Kummer made the decision that they wanted Twenty to play and flow like any other studio record from front to back, and they spent a significant amount of time ensuring that that would be the case.
“The whole process pretty much took a year,” explains Enders. “Jeff and I got together and narrowed down from 20 or 30 songs the 10 that we ended up running with, which were the ones that we connected to the most, and which we still connect to. For the first couple days we just sat there and went through what would and wouldn’t make sense, and then we started slowly tracking drums, tracking guitars, tracking drums. We tracked everything once, and then over time as the form of it was changing, I wanted to like glue everything together, so I actually ended up re-singing and re-recording all the guitars and everything and re-editing everything.”
The result is a record that truly captures the essence and spirit of The Early November, even if, because of pandemic logistics, the other members – Joseph Marro (keyboards/guitars), Bill Lugg (lead guitar) and Sergio Anello (bass) – aren’t present on this recording. Nevertheless, Twenty gives an overview of who the band were back then and who they are now, as well as the distance between those two things. It begins with “Trees”, a brand new song, but one that sounds like it could easily have been written for either For All This or 2003’s debut full-length, The Room’s Too Cold. Sad, lonely and haunted, it’s a graceful, gentle acoustic song, a hushed lament for lost youth that sounds like the best summer day you never had but still dream about. It’s a sublime opener – just Enders, his guitar and his ghosts – and the perfect prelude for what follows. Immediately, that’s two songs that were initially written around the same time as The Room’s Too Cold – the coruscating, catchy emotional waves of “Make It Happen” and the angular undulations of “Denent”. Both possess a youthful vitality that matches the period in which they were written, but they’re also imbued with the wisdom gained with time and perspective. It would have been easy for these songs especially to sound disingenuous, but they come off as authentic, intentional and heartfelt as ever.
The fact those three songs flow together so well, or that the wistful, romantic, nervous rush of “Five Years” – written around the time of 2006’s epic second album, The Mother, The Mechanic, And The Path – bleeds effortlessly into the bruised, sad strains of new song “The Sand”, demonstrate how past and present dissolve into one across the span of this album. Indeed, it’s as if the whole world disappears, leaving you beneath a vast canopy of stars, in awe of the scale and spectacle of the night, the stars, the universe, staring wide-eyed into infinity. That you feel the same way listening to the final two tracks – “Pretty” and “Open Eyes”, both of which were written around the time of For All This – demonstrates just how sophisticated and vital Early November songs always were. Though imbued with a youthful, hopeful romanticism, both those songs could easily have been written now. In other words, hearing an older Enders channel his younger self only makes them more potent, more compelling, more complete. There is no distinction between then and now – like us, there is only the moment these songs are alive, and then the deafening silence when they end.
“I think being an artist of any type,” says Enders, “means you can probably find the darker places within your mind. So now, being able to do these songs – even if I wrote them 15 years ago – and use them as an outlet in the way they should have been used back then, is wonderful. I’m able to revisit and say ‘Oh – I actually am alright. I actually did do something cool, and now it’s an outlet for me to heal in the same way that I would have used it then, even if I wasn’t able to use it for that. Listening to this album as a whole and realizing how consistent we’ve been all this time really filled me with a lot of pride.”
“The result,” adds Kummer, “was that something really rejuvenated in us. I know me and Ace will never end it, but it felt like we were at a crossroads, like ‘Do we have to throw in the towel now?’ We were just low. But we got each other really ramped up doing this because we just hit the ground running. And when we were finishing it, we really started believing in ourselves again. I don’t know if that has to do with kind of taking a time machine back to your younger self, but I’m sure some of that energy and hopefulness and just pure fun and love for the game comes into play. I listen to this record still and I get so excited about it. And that’s an incredible feeling.”