I met up with Emery’s lead vocalist, Toby Morrell, on the first night of their We Do What We Want Tour in Towson, MD. We discussed the loss of the band’s other lead vocalist, Devin Shelton, hypocrisy in the Church, plans for an acoustic album, and Toby’s love of old hymns and Mexican food.
The first thing that comes to mind to talk about obviously is losing Devin as part of the band. And maybe this is too private, so if it is you don’t need to say anything, but the facebook post didn’t say really say why he was leaving…
No, it’s not too private at all. He actually has a possible job offer or two or something like that, and him and his wife are kind of wanting to start a family, and she would prefer him not to be on the road. And he’s been in the band for ten years, so it really, I mean we’re still great friends. It’s not even like a… It’s just he wants to maybe do something else in his life. So it’s kind of like a sad thing. It’s funny, this is the first day of tour, and I was telling somebody else it’s kind of weird walking around the bus. I keep thinking, “There’s somebody missing.” Like, where? Ok… I keep recounting, like, “Who’s not on the bus,” when we stop at a gas station or something, and then it’s like, “Wait, it’s just Devin’s not here.” So it’s definitely a huge change, but we think it’s good for him. He thinks it’s good for him. And honestly, we haven’t ruled out… maybe it’s even a season. Maybe Devin would eventually rejoin, or we probably will do at least a few songs with him here and there or something like that. So I wouldn’t say forever. So that’s why we said “indefinite hiatus” because I always think there’s probably a chance that he could come back, depending on what goes on in his life, you know?
How does that effect playing the older songs live?
Well, I sing a lot of songs myself, just lead, so at this point we probably won’t do any songs on this tour that Devin sang lead on. Eventually we probably will. I think we might just go back and do some, and I would just sing them. Kind of just like any band that got a new singer, right? He would sing the old songs. So I would assume that there would be a few songs of Devin’s that people would still want to hear, and I think I could sing them, so I think we would probably do that. Not this tour, because it’s the first one and we just want to see how hard it’s gonna be, but that’s probably what will basically end up happening.
And you just announced you’re joining the Solid State roster. What brought about that decision?
Well this record, besides the last two songs, is for sure our heaviest record. And we talked to Tooth & Nail, and it was just an idea that came up. We just thought it was a really cool thing, because there’s a bunch of bands on that label that we know and are friends with, and it’s a big ego, pride-boost for us to be on that label as well. I mean, Tooth & Nail and Solid State are the same company, but to be on a different label or whatever, I think there’s a lot of people who are a Solid State follower. A band comes out that’s on Solid State, and they want to check it out. Since our album, in our opinion, is a lot heavier than in the past, us and them thought it was a really good idea. So we’re pretty excited. It’s just a whole other way of marketing the music, as well, so it’s kind of a good thing for us for sure.
Speaking of the new album, I have a couple of questions about that. First one, what inspired the artwork?
Well, we actually… The guy that does artwork at Tooth & Nail, Ryan, we… I had some ideas, and I talked to him and said I wanted to do something that was somewhat controversial or could be thrown up in the air or make people think. Because, we’ve done a bunch of different stuff, and I was like, you know, I wouldn’t mind something where the artwork, it actually, at least… it’s almost sometimes now cliché like “Oh, that’s some artwork, whatever.” And half the time people don’t buy a CD anyway, so it’s just a picture on a screen that they see a billion of a day. So we wanted to do something that stood out, and the original intent when I told the guys I wanted to name this album We Do What We Want and everybody agreed, they liked the title, it was like we’re at a point in our career where we’re able to do what we want, and we’re just gonna do that. We’re who we are. We know who we are. And that’s the product that we create, the songs that we write, we know where we’re headed.
But with that whole controversial aspect, he brought us a bunch of different things, and there were a few that we thought we might go with, and then we were like, “No,” and one picture didn’t end up working out, so he said, “I want to try this…” And he sent it to us, and we thought it was so awesome, because it captures a lot of the… Not only does it capture another aspect of “we do what we want,” with it being a Bible, it encapsulates what we feel like American Christianity has gotten to. Like, it’s kind of like a thing where we’ll hold this book up, or we’ll say, “Yeah, this is who we are,” but in reality, the truth is written right on the cover. We’re gonna do what we want anyway. So there’s a lot of hypocrisy. And that’s not only for American Christianity. That’s maybe even America in general, a lot. And I’m the biggest hypocrite of all. That’s the way I am too, you know? So that book, the cover’s just as much about me and our band as it would be anybody else. So we just thought it would take a little for people who are Christians and non-Christians to see what they thought. And it’s got some really cool responses once the artwork was out. A lot of people were saying different things, and I thought it was really neat, like it actually did make people talk. It worked. It got people talking which is what I think the artwork should be anyway. “Oh, let’s discuss this. What does it mean?” That’s the best part about artwork.
And I noticed a lot of the themes you were just talking about are in the lyrics, too.
Oh yeah, for sure. That ties right in. The lyrics of this album, I believe are probably the most spiritual and the most about God and our faith, our personal faith, that we’ve ever gotten into, without being preachy. I feel like every song, basically, is about me, or about us, or about something that anybody can relate to. And maybe even whether you believe in God or not, just some of the pitfalls of life, and some of the things where our self gets bigger than what we wanted it to be. So it really goes into that, “We do what we want.” It doesn’t matter what anybody says to you or what some book says or what is maybe even right, eventually, in certain instances at least, you will do what you want.
Yeah, it’s definitely more spiritual. I noticed that even “Fix Me” directly references Jesus, which is something a lot of bands in this market or whatever don’t really do anymore. So that’s gotta be kind of an intentional decision to use that word. I’m wondering if you could kind of speak to that decision?
Well actually, what’s kind of neat about that song is Devin wrote that song. We had originally, before Devin decided to leave, we started recording an acoustic album, before last summer. And during that, we toured some, and on the tour Devin was like “You know, I’ve been thinking about quitting.” And he talked to us, and we were like, “Man, okay, this is a really big change.” So we thought if Devin’s gonna quit, we don’t need to put out an album with Devin on it, and then we never tour with Devin. We felt like that wouldn’t be the band we are, so we’d be on the road performing stuff that wasn’t exactly who we were at the moment. So we had all these acoustic songs, and the last two songs on We Do What We Want are acoustic songs that carried over. We thought it just fit so well with the lyrics of the rest of the album. And we had never done that before, either, like soft songs at the end of the album. And we were like, “Well, let’s just do it. We do what we want, you know?” [Laughs] We just thought it would be kind of cool. So Devin wrote that song. He originally sang it, which maybe eventually we could even put out the version that Devin sang as well. It’s a little different. But we thought that that one went really well, so we sang it.
And as far as referencing Jesus, I mean, the thing we try to do, no matter what, and this is what we encourage anybody… We do believe in Jesus. That is just as much a part of me as breathing or a broken heart about a girl or eating or anything like that. So I can’t escape it. So if I didn’t say something about it, then I wouldn’t be a real person. And I would hope that, believer or not, whoever listens to our music would say, “Well I want to hear the real story.” You know, we’re not trying to influence people to go believe what we do. I’m trying to convince people, “This is who I am, these are the things I’ve experienced, and what do you think about it?” And trying to get them talking about it. So when we talk about Jesus, it’s just as real as saying anything else, honestly, for us. So I don’t think we necessarily thought “Oh, we’re gonna shock somebody by saying something.” We just thought we’re gonna keep it real, I guess, as cliché as that sounds.
The acoustic album, that’s new songs?
Yeah, that’ll be new songs. I think what we would like to do, it would be mainly all new songs, just new songs that we want to write without a distortion guitar, without screaming, just really showcasing some vocals. I believe Devin probably, well Devin already has written some songs, so some of those will be on there. But what I would like to do too is take a fan poll, or ask fans if there’s any old songs that they would love to hear done acoustic that we haven’t done. And maybe we’d do one or two of those. Maybe. But honestly, most of it would be just new stuff. We just want to put out an actual album. We feel like we wrote our heaviest album we’ve ever done with this new one coming out, so maybe we can go as soft as we’ve ever been, you know, and just go the complete other end of the spectrum. I think it’s gonna be really good. The songs that we’ve written already are awesome. It was really hard to stop writing that record and put out a whole other record. So they’re really really good songs, and I think people will be excited to hear those as well.
Any idea when that’s coming out?
I would love it if it came out later this year. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ll see what happens. We Do What We Want is the last record on our contract… I’m assuming we probably will re-sign with Tooth & Nail. We love ‘em; they treat us really great. And I think this album’s gonna do well. But I don’t know what they would say about putting an album out so close. So it is a business, and we understand that, but as soon as we can get it out, we will. And I believe we will be finishing recording, I mean, we only have to write a few more songs, or actually just record some songs that we have written, and we can have the record done. So as soon as we can get it out… If it can come out later this year, then it will.
Okay great. And you and Matt just started The Water and the Well, and I know there’s other projects that people are working on as well. Is there any plans for any of those projects to actually release albums at some point?
Yeah. Well, I think the other guys are doing stuff as well, but as much as I know about mine, or me and Matt. I had done a band called, well not a band, but I had written a couple of songs under the title I Am Waldo, and it was like somes psalms that I had put to music and an old hymn. I just wanted to explore that. Like, I love old hymns, so much. I think there’s just so much meaning and so much depth in the songs, and I think they’re just, really a lot of them are so well written and when I hear them, like, I grew up on old hymns, so now when I hear newer songs like in church or something like that, I would like to hear some of the old stuff. So I had this idea, and I was talking to Matt, and I was gonna get him to record it. And we started talking, and he started writing a little bit too, so we were like, “Well, let’s just do it together.” Our goal is to keep it as a two piece, at most maybe a three piece, but try and have as much sound as possible. But it’s a really exciting project because it’s something totally different than Emery. I mean, it’s like total pop, trying to write catchy music that really sticks with you and that we’re really excited about. I think we’re gonna take a lot of stuff from a lot of stuff we listen to. So it’s just really fun to do something totally different than Emery. Cause I think sometimes, I know for me, like if it’s Weezer or something, I don’t really want Weezer to put out something that’s not Weezer, so I can understand that from a fan’s point of view. With Emery they want to hear Emery, cause that’s what they got into, that’s what they like the most. So we don’t want to shock anybody and do something totally different and call it Emery. So we started The Water and The Well to explore that for ourselves, and probably an album for that will come out later this year, almost definitely. So that’ll be really exciting to tour that and do some things with that as well. So it’s gonna be a busy year.
Yeah. And you’re going to Australia.
Yeah, we’re going to Australia like April 19, I believe, for like six to ten days, somewhere around there. And that’s gonna be really fun. Super excited.
You’ve been there before?
Yeah, we’ve been two times before. We played Soundwave and a few other tours. We had a tour with Underoath over there. It was great. We love Australia. It’s a long flight, but other than that it’s great. It’s a really good country.
I know you’ve been there, and obviously you’ve toured the US and Europe. Have you been anywhere else?
Mexico and Brazil. Mexico’s probably almost our favorite place to tour.
Yeah, it’s just so fun. The kids are so awesome, and honestly Mexican food is our favorite food. So it’s like, to get authentic Mexican food is, no matter what, it’s so awesome. I mean, it’s just great. The people, everybody there treats you like, so kind and so nice, and really treats you like you’re a king or something like that. You’re like, “Gol-ly, I can’t believe it.” And the fans are just so happy to see you, and they’re singing every word, and it’s just really neat, you know? And then you go to speak, and people don’t even know what you’re saying, but they’re still so happy. It’s like the biggest ego boost in the world. It’s like, gol-ly, these people just love you. It’s such a great feeling, so really fun shows for sure.
Alright, great. That is all of my questions. Is there anything else that I missed that’s going on?
Well, let’s see. The album comes out March 29, you know that. They actually put “The Cheval Glass” on iTunes early today, so that’s kind of neat. You can buy that song if you want. You can definitely pre-order the album on this tour. So if you come out for a show, you can get the album, and the pre-order package is something like a t-shirt and a book and stickers and whole bunch of stuff, so it’s kind of fun. And I think you get a song immediately, as well. Not “Cheval Glass,” another song, I might not be totally right about that, but I think you get a song anyway, but I’m almost certain it’s not “Cheval Glass.” You get a song before anybody else does.
What’s the book?
They wanted to do a book that looks like the cover of the album, and it says “We Do What We Want.” But it’s like a notebook/journal kind of thing that you can write your own stuff in it. So it’s a cool package.
It is, yeah. Well thanks.
Cool, yeah, thanks so much. I appreciate it for sure.