One of the best tracks on Emery's new album, ...In Shallow Seas We Sail, "Butcher's Mouth" epitomizes the band's charms with a strong vocal element and loud chugging guitars, brushing up against a wafting keyboard-fueled melody. The combination of the high and low aspects, pretty hooks and guttural aggression is the essence of metalcore, and Emery demonstrates a keen ability to balance these in an appealing way. The interlaced vocal melodies predominate over punctuated screeching, deployed mostly as an expressionist angst device. Note how the verse of screaming is countered by a chilly keyboard break, like AC blowing on high, then lingering like an angelic choir.
It's followed by a reprise and outro instead of an additional verse, as they demonstrate the good taste to not outstay their welcome, building immediately to a finish and wrapping up in just over three minutes.
We speak to guitarist and vocalist Devin Shelton from their old stomping grounds in Rock Hill, S.C., the morning after a bachelor party for guitarist and vocalist Matt Carter.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Did someone break up with their significant other prior to the album?
DEVIN SHELTON: No, not at all. I know it might sound like it, but we've been writing about that kind of stuff for years. We just figure relationships are the number one thing people can relate to, so it's about the best content you can go for sometimes.
Tell me a bit about how "Butcher's Mouth" came together?
Toby [Morell, bass and vocals] and I usually come up with parts of the song, and then eventually the band kind of forms it, and the lyrics are written usually last. So Toby had this part he was playing on acoustic guitar, and it sounded ... Like at first, we thought, "It sounds OK, but it might be kind of weird sounding as a song." It just sounded kind of odd to us, and we were like, "Maybe it will work. We can see." So we formed the song, and once we had the music and everything, it sounded OK. We were, "Oh, this might be alright." Then he added vocals to it and everything, and added all this background stuff. It came together and we were like, "This is awesome!" It's definitely one of the best songs on the album. It's kind of funny how it came about that way. We weren't really excited about the song at all at first.
Do a lot of songs start on acoustic guitar?
Pretty much most of them do because we all live in different areas of the country. So pretty much Toby, myself and Matt just play at home on an acoustic guitar, pretty much. Maybe through a little amp, but most of the time it's just an acoustic guitar. So mostly everything translates from that to full-band sounds. That's just kind of how we write.
It seems like that would result in different songs because going from an acoustic to an electric is quite different.
It definitely is, but when you're writing it on acoustic, you can kind of hear something in my mind. I can kind of hear what it's going to sound like. I guess we tend to make it more appropriate for a full-band sound with electric guitar while we're writing it on acoustic. We're not picking acoustic style. We're strumming and making it sound like it could be for the full band.
You moved to Seattle to start the band, and "Butcher's Mouth" sounds to be like some petty jealousies. I wondered if that's something you encountered when you moved?
I think we probably did. I wouldn't say anyone specific, but we all went through some changes. We left our families behind and some girlfriends, a lot of friends. We had friends who maybe wanted to be included or maybe thought it'd be awesome to be able to do that. They just weren't able to do that. I think maybe it went from something like that, a hint of jealousy, but turning into support and being happy for us, that we could follow through and become relatively successful in what we were doing.
It seems incredibly ambitious to move to a new town when the band wasn't even a year old?
We'd never played a show. We only had like three songs that were pretty much written. We had just graduated from college. We were kind of excited about doing something like that and just sort of felt like, "Well if we really want to do the band, if we really want to make this happen, then we need to get serious and go somewhere other than South Carolina" because there wasn't really anything going on at that time. So we were like, "Yeah, Seattle." We've always heard good things about it, and it's obviously about the farthest way away we could go. That wasn't the reason, but it just so happened it sounded the best and it worked out the best. It was definitely a challenge but we really worked hard at it. We wrote more songs and eventually recorded an album, and played shows.
Being in a band together and being on the road a lot, you learn a lot about a group of people. How hard were those first couple years gelling as personalities and not just a band?
We were pretty lucky in that I had lived with our guitar player, Matt, for four or five years, and Toby I had known the last three or four years. We'd become pretty much best friends, so we kind of knew what we were getting into when we were doing it. However, when we got there, we met some new people like Josh [Head], our keyboard player. He started hanging out with us and eventually started playing with us. And then we had our friend [Dave Powell] who was our drummer. He was a childhood friend. We were pretty fortunate in that we were all pretty good friends. We did have to spend pretty much every waking moment together, so that was a little different. You get annoyed and people get on your nerves. Our idea for what would be the best is that you can't take anything too seriously. And if you do, you're going to be made fun of for it.
You guys have competing aspects in a sense, and I wondered how you balanced the atmospheric melodic aspect with the throbbing breakdowns. Was that your plan from the outset?
It kind of was. When we first started listening to that style of music in college, we thought it was cool how the music was so dynamic. It went from super quiet, really pretty parts to all of a sudden being blood-curdling screams. We thought that was pretty cool and thought that's pretty crazy that you can have those two styles in one song, so we tried to do that, and harmonies. We thought competing vocals causes more intensity and dissonance in the music, and when you can get to a resolve of that, it just makes it all the better, and a more fulfilling experience in your song.
Shallow Seas felt harder than I'm Only a Man, which felt like a new direction from the album before it. Was that a conscious thing?
It was, yeah. We didn't feel like when we were writing I'm Only a Man that it was going to be pretty different. We just felt, yeah, we're just writing some songs, and we did want to do some different ideas. We didn't want it to be all super heavy guitars the whole album. We wanted to use some different instruments. We went to one guitar from two before. It was definitely a big shift, but the way it turned out was more different than we realized when we were writing. It was like a poppier kind of thing, but we felt like the lyrics and some of the music was dark, even though it came across as catchy. With In Shallow Seas We Sail, we went in with the intention of taking hold of our beginnings and our roots, and going a little more intense and aggressive with the music. The lyrical content has always been pretty similar, but that's' just what we do.
You're on Tooth & Nail and you're grouped with Christian Rock. How much of a role does religion play in your writing and touring lives?
It plays a huge part. It's not like we necessarily consciously decide to do certain things in our music or anything like that. We're just like anyone else: Who you are as a person and what you believe affects you from day to day, no matter what your job is. It just so happens we're in a creative field and write lyrics and music, so it just so happens what we think and what we feel comes out in our music. That's just natural. We're not writing anything to make people believe the way we do or to force anything down people's throats. We're just writing because that's who we are as people and that's just what we believe and that's just how it is. Just like we write about broken hearts, like you were saying before, it's because we've gone through broken hearts and people go through broken hearts, so we write about our faith from time to time because that's something we're experiencing.
The same thing on the road: We just live like normal dudes and have fun, hang out with other guys. We definitely feel like there's too much separation as it is. People separate themselves from the outside world when they're so caught up in religion or whatever, but we feel we're just people same as everybody else, and we just happen to believe a certain way. That doesn't make us any different. That just makes us have a different faith. It shouldn't separate us anymore than the world has already done. So we want to close that gap as much as we can.
Emery plays with Closure in Moscow, Ivorline and Kiros Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m. at The Brewery. Tickets are $13.