So Much For The Afterglow: how the Early November revived their reunion

photo: Danielle Parsons

Reuniting is never easy for any band. Any band whose past may be rooted in bad blood or creative differences makes it all the more difficult to start fresh with their fanbase. However, for alt-rock five-piece Early November, the issue wasn’t a problem of coming back—it was making sure they stayed alive.

Enter Imbue, the New Jersey quintet’s sprawling, dense fourth studio album and second after reuniting back in 2011. Through their latest LP, the Early November reemerge in the spotlight stronger than ever, showing how much progress a band can make if they aren’t afraid to take chances. The band rises like a phoenix from the ashes, wiser, darker and more fascinating than ever before, creating what could arguably their strongest record to date.

Substream recently caught up with vocalist Ace Enders and guitarist Joseph Marro to discuss Imbue and the current state of the music industry in 2015.

We are talking before Imbue comes out, but fans will have heard it by the time they read this. So, as an opportunity to get one final say before then, what are your pre-release thoughts on the album?
ACE ENDERS: For me, it’s definitely one of my favorite albums that we’ve done, if not my favorite. It was created very uniquely—the process was very different for us and what we were used to doing. I think it really made me work as a writer because it was done in two halves. The first half was almost two years ago and the second half was done just a few months ago. As soon as the first half was done, I couldn’t finish it because I was having such a hard time with writer’s block. I couldn’t commit to what I wanted it to be. Eventually, one day it clicked about a year later, which resulted in the process representing two halves. It was the coolest way to write a record, just as a means of getting over the confusing part and then just moving forward takes on a double meaning for me. To me, it symbolized getting over that huge thing that devastated me, which is why it means a lot to me.
JOSEPH MARRO: What we’ve been talking about is that it feels like the most pure record we’ve made, in a sense that it reminds us of how we made records back in 2002 or 2003. We had everything to prove back then, but there was no external pressure—we just said, “Hey, we’ll make a record.” We’d never made one before, so we really had no idea how things were done. Then you go into your second full-length and, whether you have success or sales or fans, there’s now something that you have to live up to and to keep in mind. Then we broke up, got back together and then we thought, “What do we sound like now? What do people want out of us? What do we think they want?” Now, being around for as long as we have, we instead wonder, “What do we want to do?” It’s like we’re back to the beginning now.

Based on what I’ve gathered from listening to Imbue, this is definitely your biggest record to date from a musical standpoint. Tell me, was it a conscious decision to shift from intimate to more bold on the new record?
ENDERS: I think there was really no intention to make it sound bigger by any means, but the one thing I definitely wanted it to be was a lot darker—not that I was super-angry, but for that to be able to have it come across. I always try to be subtle in my delivery, but with this one, I didn’t want to be subtle at all. I just wanted to yell a lot, and I think that’s why I wanted the music to carry that and play off of it. There was no intention for it to be bigger, but as soon as we started rolling, it just sort of happened without me even realizing it until I started to do all of the press for it, which a lot of people have been calling “arena rock.”

What songs on the record are you happiest with in the way they turned out?
ENDERS: I would say “Narrow Mouth” is my favorite song that I’ve ever created, lyrically and musically. That and “Boxing Timelines” would be my two favorites.
MARRO: I like “Circulation” a lot—I love the arrangement of the instruments. Lyrically, I think it’s very visual; You can just see the words he’s saying in your mind when he’s singing them. There are a lot of visual cues. I also like “Narrow Mouth” because it’s just pure rock ’n’ roll. It’s just all of these different influences combining that we’ve been holding for so long, but now it feels like it makes a little more sense where we are in our lives.

The Early November definitely has adapted well and taken a big interest in today’s emerging crop of bands. What is your opinion of the younger bands that are coming into today’s scene?
MARRO: It’s definitely something that I’m super-plugged into because I manage bands that are 22-year-old guys, or at least in that range, which is where we were about when we put out our first record. Now I’m 32, so I’m a little bit older than I was. Right around the time when people started paying attention to bands and labels like Topshelf, Run For Cover and No Sleep, people were starting to take back this kind of scene and genre. I’d hate to kind of pigeonhole anything, but there were just a lot of people doing similar things, reaching back to indie rock’s roots and touring together. Nobody shows up to shows, then some people fill up a basement, then the basement goes to the DIY space, which goes to the more traditional venues and so on. It’s not stronger than ever because it was very strong when I was growing up, but it just hasn’t lost any steam. I think with the ebb and flow of trends, the punk and indie rock scene was in a bit of a downturn when kids just weren’t as interested. Indie rock, punk rock, emo, whatever you want to call it, kind of never goes away—people just tend to pay attention to it, more or less, depending on what’s big at the moment.

This is your first album since 2012’s In Currents, which was your first record back as a band since the band reunited the year prior. Now that the hype of the reunion has dialed down a bit, has it been difficult to rebuild excitement for the band again?
MARRO: It’s challenging. I think, to me, the trick is to not overdo it. We got back together under the assumption that we’d do it when it made sense. We wouldn’t have to tour seven months out of the year to have to keep it going. However, you never want to stop growing—even the Rolling Stones want to keep growing, I would assume. It’s certainly harder to grow as a band. Luckily, we have a really loyal fanbase that have been coming to our shows for 10 or 12 years. They’ve grown with the band from when we were all 19, and now that we’re all in our 30s, they can continue to get excited and enjoy our records because we continue to grow with them. We’re not bullshitting ourselves and pretending we’re in high school—we’re making age-appropriate music and putting on an age-appropriate show. Everyone loves nostalgia, but we don’t want to just be nostalgia, which is why we continue to try to evolve musically. S

A version of this story was published in Substream #46.