INTERVIEW: Emery (SXSW 2011)

Since 2001, South Carolina post-hardcore rockers EMERY have been connecting with listeners on a level that’s extremely personal. Part of the relationship comes from the ability to transfer emotions to music one can relate to. Despite recent obstacles, vocalist/guitarist Toby Morrell stated the group are still tapping into their life experiences as their upcoming release expresses that and a whole lot more.

Your upcoming album is being coined your heaviest to date; do you think it deserves such a title?

Yeah, it does. We intentionally wrote it that way because we wanted to see how heavy we could get. It’s not an all-screaming-only-break-downs record; it’s definitely still Emery, but we thought we’d take it up a notch and try to get a little bit louder just because we’ve never done that before. We thought it would be really fun to try something new and I think we succeeded
So you intentionally took it in that direction?

When we first started writing the record, our other lead singer, Devin Shelton, was in the band. About halfway through recording an acoustic album, he decided he wanted to move on and do some different things in his life and we didn’t want to put out the record at that time with him not even being in the band. We had already written a bunch of acoustic songs that we are going to try to put out later this year, so we decided that if we were going to put out an acoustic album later, then why not put out Emery’s heaviest record to date? That’s why we did it.
Is the acoustic release meant to counter We Do What We Want‘s sound?

We just thought it would be fun. We’ve done acoustic shows, performances and recordings as a band and we love it. We were just writing that record, and we figured that since we had so many pieces we loved, we were just going to put it out as soon as we could.
Is the record still a work-in-progress?

I wish we had a release date for it. I guess it all depends on the label and timing and all that stuff. We’re starting to record some new music; if we could, we’d put it out this year. If not, definitely early next year.

People ask themselves if we’re just preaching to them. We walk this line and I guess we do what we want because no matter what, there’s going to be criticism..”

Is there something specific you’re trying to achieve with this change in musical direction or are you simply “doing what you want”?

It might be a little of both. We’ve been a band for like ten years, so we kind of know what we want to do. I think with each record we try to capture who we are at the time and what’s going on. We just wanted to make a record that challenges us a little bit.
Is there a secret formula to balancing the self-satisfaction of doing what you want as a band and keeping your fans intrigued?

I don’t know if we have a secret formula. I think if you’re just confident in what you do regardless, then people respond to that because it’s real. If you’re just yourself, I think it’s kind of hard enough to do that and just be honest with people as that’s one of the toughest things to do as a band. If you just try, you might not always succeed. I think if you’re truthful and actually try to do what you believe in and what you think is the right thing to do, fans will respond to that, appreciate your effort and like your music.
Is being truthful something you’ll stick to in the future?

I don’t know. I haven’t given it that much thought, but maybe?

It’s gotten you this far. One way you captured the attention of others is when you revealed the songwriting behind the new album. Do you think lyrics can be too personal?

I don’t know. I think they could be if you wrote lyrics about something that happened in your life that involved another person and it hurt them. In that case, they could be too personal. Honestly, I don’t know because I don’t think I’ve ever gotten too personal. Sometimes I’ve written about things that happened with a person and I turned it into a song about having a broken heart, just to get out some frustration or hurt feelings. All of our songs aren’t necessarily like that.

It might be a heartbreak song about how quickly a relationship went south but sometimes material I’ve written in the past acts like it’s about that but is secretly about something else because I don’t want to be too revealing.
How important is it to create music that reflects your ideas and opinions?

I think it’s pretty important. Not to preach or anything, but we try to write songs that honor God and glorify God instead of ourselves. We try to do that and we get some flack on both sides. A lot of Christians don’t think we say stuff the way they want to hear it. On the other side, people ask themselves if we’re just preaching to them. We walk this line and I guess we do what we want because no matter what, there’s going to be criticism on both sides.

You just have to be true to yourself and write stuff that you believe in. I couldn’t play a hundred shows a year and not believe in music and not have a reason for being up there singing certain songs.
Since you were a main force in writing this album, did you take full advantage of using songs to reflect your opinions?

Definitely. Besides the last song, I wrote all the lyrics on this album and I think that I was able to do that. This album is a little more spiritual, a little more in-depth of what happened in my life recently, with my faith in God and how that has affected me and changed me through the good times and the bad. There are a few stories on there that are personal and describe things that have changed me forever. It was all a part of trying to get a lot of stuff out that I’ve never been able to say before.
Is songwriting more like poetry or personal reflection?

I think it’s more personal reflection and just trying to tell a story. There’s a beginning, there’s a character and something happens to him and you relate to him and thus want to find out if his problem gets resolved. It’s kind of cool leaving things, like emotions, unresolved because it lets the listener retrieve their own meaning.

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