The Early November
Photo: Courtesy of Pure Noise Records

The Early November Ask What It Means to Turn ‘Twenty’

The Early November’s Twenty is an innovative retrospective album exploring memory, nostalgia, and aging. Ace Enders and drummer Jeff Kummers talk about its creation.

The Early November
Pure Noise Records
14 October 2022

The Early November have released their latest album, Twenty, today, and singer/guitarist Ace Enders and drummer Jeff Kummers spoke about making Twenty and the meaning of the release for them as artists. Honoring the Early November’s 20th anniversary, Twenty blurs the line between a traditional B-sides collection and a composed album. Mixing older songs with new ones, all freshly recorded, the band’s album presents a thoughtful take on their career. More broadly, it also poses questions about nostalgia, aging, and the legacy of 2000s alternative music.

The album comes out in the middle of a revival of 2000s genres such as post-hardcore, pop punk, and emo. Symptomatic is the legacy-ification of early 2000s artists such as Avril Lavigne and Dashboard Confessional, who have been recognized as voices of a generation; the creation of high-profile (and pricy) festivals such as When We Were Young, headlined by My Chemical Romance and Paramore; and the emergence of a new generation of diverse and interesting artists who take inspiration from the aughts. (The list is sprawling, but think the Linda Lindas, Willow, Meet Me @ The Altar, and Tetrarch as just a few examples.)

When heard against this moment, the Early November’s Twenty represents a unique perspective. Self-consciously confronting themes of memory, nostalgia, and innocence, the record proudly embraces the passage of time with its title and the process of rediscovery that led to its creation. During the conversation, Enders and Kummers spoke about the process of letting the past bleed into the present, revisiting their youth, acknowledging the present, and why they are forging their own path, zeitgeist be damned.

This record is partially a retrospective release, partially a newly recorded album. What were you trying to do with the project?

Enders: We realized that we had been putting off a B-sides album for quite a while. We have these songs that people ask for that were never properly released. We decided originally it was going to be old songs [and] a bunch of new songs. Jeff and I sat down and looked through all the B sides. It was this look back into being young, naive, and just writing songs, because that was the only thing we did then. It was overwhelming because we had so many of them. The whole idea was to give something special to all the people who have been supporting us for the past couple of decades. The main thing for us was making sure that we do it right, and that we stay true to it, but we still do it a bit more modern. It even carried through to the new songs that are on the album. When you’re an adult, everything you do has this underlying purpose. You forget what it’s like to be a young musician. The purpose is just to get better.

Kummer: What you’re saying about the youth part of it, it was really tapping into an innocence when making this record. I was just thinking about it yesterday. Someone asked about how personally I approached songs. When I went in to record, I didn’t overthink anything. I just went in, played, and let it flow through me. I just wanted to grip it and rip it. It felt very natural.

That’s interesting because I would think it also takes a lot of reflection and effort to sift through older songs.

Kummer: We’ve made so many different records. Every single one is different, even this one. Sometimes overthinking, you have to do that with certain projects. This one was a very natural record to make. We listened to everything that we had ever recorded that we never put out. The memories and stories that triggered, with me and Ace just sitting in the studio – that was the perfect jumping-off point to start this record. The other part was we were always writing. You ride it and you see how the puzzle pieces fit. That’s how we ended up where we are because all these things were popping in toward the end of the record. Then we’re like a bunch of little kids just jumping around, like, “we’re almost there.”

I’m curious how you approached structuring the album and thinking about its shape, especially given that you weren’t writing the songs as a set the way you might when writing an entirely new album. It doesn’t feel like a standard B-sides release where you took a bunch of older recordings and threw them together.

Kummer: That was intentional. We wanted it to be an Early November record, especially at a 20-year mark. You want to do something that’s special. But we’re an album band. You don’t see us putting out a ton of singles. We really thought over that process. As far as track listing goes, me and Ace went over that for months, even what we recorded and what we would leave off with this record. That was at the heart of it: make a good record.

It’s interesting you speak in terms of innocence. I wonder about the other side of the equation. Have you both also noticed that you’re also older and looking at it from another perspective? That’s the flipside of nostalgia, the sense of things that have changed or been lost.

Enders: There was a lot of thinking about how things have changed since then. It was a process for me to go back to songs. I have vivid memories of burning them onto a CD-R right after I wrote [them] and being like, “I’m gonna show this to somebody, who’s going to show it to his cousin who knows a guy at a label, who’s gonna show it to this person. And the next thing, I’m gonna be on tour.” It sounds cheesy, but it’s like taking a time machine right back to that area or that place in time and feeling a feeling that you haven’t felt in a long time.

That innocence, it’s okay to be a little naive. I was on my 20th birthday right around when Drive Through [Records] picked us up. I didn’t know much of anything. Even now looking back and trying to figure out some of those recordings, I’m like, “What was I even doing?” I have no idea how my brain put that together. It allowed me to get in touch with the artist that has evolved so much from there. There is something that a lot of artists, especially when you’ve been around for a long time, you lose. You start writing for other artists, you start doing production, you start comparing yourself to other bands. That’s natural. You can’t help it, but you drift away at some point.

The Early November
Photo: Courtesy of Pure Noise Records

I wanted to open the conversation up to a broader phenomenon. It seems like we are entering a very nostalgic moment. There are bands from that era reforming or releasing new music and things like the When We Were Young festival. It’s interesting both because we’re seeing these 2000s artists emerge as legacy artists as well as the aging of fans. Artists seem to be doing different things in response. Some are doing reissues or anniversary projects. I thought it was interesting that you called your album Twenty since you’re directly acknowledging the passage of time in some way.

Kummer: Every artist is handling that nostalgia a little differently. We’re trying. We’re handling and navigating it. What’s right for us? Who are we? What type of band have we always been? That’s how we handle the nostalgia.

Enders: I’ll say this – I’m all about nostalgia, and I do see how it’s panning out. I have a bit of a different way of seeing the whole nostalgia comeback, and that’s because I don’t have anything to come back to. I have never stopped and chosen something else. We stayed through the times when nobody cared about this music. We stayed through the times when people loved it. When it comes to nostalgia, I respect and love that everybody’s able to get out there and do it again. People need confirmation to do something. My confirmation has always been to help. Music is relief.

Yeah, there’s a moment right now. But at the same time, the bigger picture for me is: what is going to happen after this moment? Whenever things like this happen, I’m always thinking, “when nobody cares again, who’s going to be there?” I still am going to be grinding every day to try and make a record that’s better than my last one, to give to either the thousands of people who care, the hundreds of people who care, or the tens of people who care. Life is still there to be lived. I don’t want to get lost in the idea of excitement. That is not something that I can hang my hat on at the end of the day. My career is not going to be hung on “Remember that time we came back for that festival period.”

Kummer: [Laughs.] That speaks to the record. We didn’t say it; someone else said this, but it does ring true: “It’s got one foot in the past and one foot in the present slash future.” There was a fire lit under me and Ace, this rejuvenation of this band where we were at a low. This record is tied to what we’re doing moving forward. We’re working on the next record; we’re planning ahead, which is something. This energy that we have taken from nostalgia. It just so happens to work out for us because it’s a 20-year mark in our career.

[It] feels great, going back in time. At the same time, that’s not where we live. We can step in there at any moment, but we’ve got our next record ready to roll. That is taking us forward. We enjoy nostalgia. I am probably one of the most nostalgic people ever. Even the content that we roll out is nostalgic in nature. But we don’t want to lose ourselves in that. This moment that everyone is enjoying, how does it work right for us? We’re very clear on how it works for us and what would be off-brand for us to do.

You’ve mentioned your fans several times. I’m curious about that aspect. This project seems very self-consciously fan-centered. To what extent do you think about your audience as part of the creative process?

Enders: Over the course of the past couple of decades, we have developed relationships with fans or met enough people and heard enough stories to understand how important it is for some people. I’ve been in some pretty dark places in life. Pretty hard times of being like, “I can’t do anything anymore.” Maybe feeling like the worst person in the world for some reason. Life has been kind enough to me to present someone to say something like, “a song that you created walked me off a ledge once” or “something that you said at this show helped me realize that there’s more to life.”

You have a mission in life, whatever it may be. I’ve always said I want to help people. I don’t know exactly what that means, but that’s the person that I’m trying to connect with: those people who have been there for me when I needed it. We’ve seen so many people over the past 20 years. When you play a big festival, there are 20,000 people there. You don’t see every single person. It’s the people that are there when the room is filled with 10 people, those people that are going to come no matter what – that’s who it’s for. Obviously, it’s for everybody, and we want everyone to enjoy it, but the motivation was giving back to those people.

The Early November
Photo: Courtesy of Pure Noise Records