Emery is shooting for the best of both worlds: artistic integrity and popular success. According to vocalist and guitarist Toby Morell, the band has been working to craft their style as musicians and songwriters, while working diligently to establish their career as a band.
With three full-length albums selling more than 250,000 copies collectively and many hours logged on the road, the close-knit members of Emery—Morell, bassist Devin Shelton, guitarist Matt Carter, keyboardist Josh Head and drummer Dave Powell—have generated an increasing amount of interest as they continue to push the envelope with their music.
“Almost anybody can tune a guitar to drop D and play breakdowns,” Morell says. “What we are going for is to keep becoming more artistic, not just settling. A lot of people think ‘selling out’ is writing a record that is trying to get pop success. We felt like selling out was writing the exact same record again.” The band added their third record, I’m Only a Man, to their repertoire in October 2007, showcasing their experimentation with mandolin, slide guitars and other instruments. In light of their growing success, the title of the album reflects the realization of their need for God.
“At some point, we as people think we’re more than what we are, and that can get us into a lot of trouble,” Morell says. “We need to realize that we are only human and that we need help.”
In early 2008, Emery headlined a tour that spanned more than 40 cities across the country, sharing the stage with Mayday Parade, As Cities Burn, Pierce the Veil and Cry of the Afflicted. After having spent long hours on the road and in the studio, Emery’s growth as a band and as friends has translated into a better, more seamless performance onstage. Their relationships, Carter says, resemble brotherhood more than anything.
“We get in a lot less arguments than when we first started the band,” he explains. “Everyone’s so much closer now. We’ve been together and have had so many good times and fights. We know how each person is, what buttons to push and what buttons not to, how to get along and respect each other.” The band began after various members graduated college—Morell, Shelton and Carter all attended the same university in South Carolina, where they played in separate bands—and together moved to Seattle in 2001. Shortly afterward, they added Head to their group. For three years they lived together, sharing one cellphone and dividing the minutes among each other because they couldn’t afford to have individual phones. They funded their first album, The Weak’s End, out of their own bank accounts, which paid off when Tooth & Nail picked it up for release in 2003. Over the years, various band members slowly moved across the country as their career continued to grow. But despite having members living coast-to-coast, the band has maintained a tight sound and close relationships, both on and off the road.
“The experience of being in a band is certainly a blessing, something I feel like we’ve been lead to do,” Head says. “Through all of the crazy stuff that has happened to us, it’s obvious this is what we’re supposed to do. It’s amazing that it’s worked out.” Amidst a musical career that is at full speed, Morell says the band makes an effort to stay down-to-earth and genuine with others. He also emphasizes the value their Christian faith holds in their lives and their music. “We have just as many problems as the next person,” Morell says. “Our answer is God. We always want to portray that in our lives, because if you’re actually living it, it means something to people.”
Admittedly, the band has faced challenges with the extensive touring schedule they’ve maintained over the past few years. Their time away from friends and family can be taxing, but they still find value and purpose in doing what they truly love. “It definitely gets tough sometimes,” Morell says. “But it’s cool going to all these cities and [seeing] people there singing every word of our songs and paying to see shows. There are so many people out there who support our band. Our fans keep us going.” Before and after their most recent tour, the band was in the studio working on a new EP, which will feature primarily new songs, along with a few of the band’s earlier cuts and possibly a remix of one or two old songs. The band hopes to release the EP on Tooth & Nail sometime in the summer or early fall. In the meantime, they have spent time discussing and evaluating their next move as a band and as individuals.
“It’s a big milestone for us, having accomplished things we didn’t ever expect,” Carter says. “This is a refueling point, where we’re going to figure out what we’re going to do for the rest of our career.”
The band is entertaining the idea of working on solo projects and perhaps writing yet another album together. In hindsight, they count the success of their albums and the forward motion that resulted as some of the most significant events for them.
“At the time our first record sold 50,000 records, when we didn’t even know if we were going to sell one, it was an amazing point to realize there were people out there who knew who we [were],” Carter says.
Looking at what the band has accomplished and what lies ahead, the members of Emery are grateful to pursue their passion as a career. Despite the many inherent challenges of writing music and touring, they work to keep a healthy appreciation of where they are now.
“We get to live our dream,” Morell says. “Our greatest reward is getting to do what we love. We’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to keep it going.”