Guitar World recently chatted with vocalist/guitarist Nathan Blumenfeld-James of Los Angeles’ Early Morning Rebel about the band’s increasing success in the intertwining industries of fashion and music.
EMR is known for their celebrity fan base and their elegant and equally chilling song, “Life Boat,” which has been featured on the hit series Grey’s Anatomy.
Since the interview, the band has released their second music video for their latest single, “Burn Us Down.” Find out what Blumenfeld-James had to say regarding the band’s musical philosophy, writing process and future plans for Early Morning Rebel.
GUITAR WORLD: You’ve been playing music for quite some time. At what point did you recognize a defining sound and driving factor for Early Morning Rebel?
It’s evolved over the course of my songwriting career, so to speak. It’s taken a lot of thought and kind of — focus — to have really been [specific] on one genre for me because I listen to so much different music, and I love so many different styles. When I started writing specifically for EMR I was trying to be very focused on a very particular sound, so I’d like to say it’s taken my whole songwriting career to get to a point where I’m doing something that’s very pinpointed. I’ve written in every genre out there, including country and hip-hop, so this has been really great for me to have focused on this sound.
You guys are immensely inspired by fashion and tend to link it to your music. In what specific ways has the fashion industry influenced what you play?
I really feel like fashion and art together really inspire and go hand-in-hand with music. They are all creative mediums and ways to express yourself, but particularly with fashion in the music world, and music in the fashion world—they really influence each other. Fashion plays a big part in a band’s perception and how they look, and music plays a huge factor in fashion, especially in catwalks when the designer shows their line.
When we were at London Fashion Week, we really saw the marriage between fashion and music really clearly. With fashion, the art and the craftsmanship of making the clothes tied really well into the art and craftsmanship of creating a record or song. We are just inspired by the fashion world and designers, and we really just want to be surrounded by that community. That’s kind of our aim.
Do you endorse any specific names or brands?
Not yet. We’re talking with a bunch of different designers and brands, and we’re kind of figuring out what’s going to be the best partnership for us, but we’re definitely close to making those partnerships.
With your celebrity following in mind, what was your initial reaction to the feature of “Life Boat” on Grey’s Anatomy?
It’s really an honor to have your music chosen for that show. Obviously, it’s a really important show when it comes to music, and they have great taste. They really feature the music in that show, and it really complements the scenes. They used our song really well, and it really dictated some of the vibes in that particular scene. The imagery was beautiful, and we’re just really grateful to be a part of it.
Do you think the scene embodied what the song is really about?
I think it did. I think the music captured the vibe and the emotion. The lyrics weren’t necessarily super specific to what was going on in the scene, but as far as an overall vibe and emotional quality, it worked really well. The song could have definitely been associated with that scene, depending on how you interpreted it. It was actually during a surgery scene, and this woman was having a monologue—kind of a hopeless monologue with a hint of hope attached to it and a little bit of desperation. In that way, it really worked.
With influences such as M83, Morrissey and The Beatles, your music comes out much more stripped and honest in songs such as “Life Boat,” yet with the potential for catchy remixes you can hear at a club just down the street. What would you say is your philosophy behind writing music? Do you strive for taste and simplicity rather than a showy quality?
Yeah. My biggest goal is just to write a great song and be a great songwriter. I always say to myself before I start a song or go into the studio, “It’s really important for the song to work on its own,” even just with me on an acoustic guitar or an acoustic piano. If it can really stand on its own in that stripped down quality and you’re still compelled, then I think it merits the opportunity to take it to the full band and be recorded. In a song format, I feel like that’s the most important thing for me.
What sort of gear does EMR use to produce such a lush sound in the songs that we’ve heard?
We have our own studio and produce all of our own stuff. It really starts with great microphones and great preamps. As far as guitars go, we use really basic stuff, everything from American Fender Telecasters to a Gretsch hollowbody. We use a Dr. Z amp, a Fender Deville, and sometimes I use a reissue Twin Reverb.
As far as pedals go, we have a Holy Grail by Electro-Harmonix, a Line 6 delay, a few OCD distortion pedals, a couple overdrive pedals — we’ve noticed that the simpler we make it and less saturated with the digital stuff, the more lush and warm it sounds. It’s more authentic.
You guys just spent some time in London for Fashion Week. What can we expect in terms of North American tours in 2012?
We’re doing some press in New York, and right now we’re really just solidifying the booking agents and the bands that we want to support or go on tour with in North America. Then we’re going to be in the UK again in the fall to do some touring and the next Fashion Week. We’re planning on being out on tour relatively soon.
Most of your fans are very familiar with “Life Boat”—a darker song with a load of sincerity in not just the lyrics, but the instrumentals as well. In comparison to your single, what can you tell us about the album you’re working on?
It’s really interesting in this band. Half of it is that sort of stripped down and raw quality we talked about, and some of it is our full band and has a more rock quality. It’s still that same kind of dark quality, but the next two singles that we have are going to be with the full band. We do have some acoustic versions of them and some videos that are coming out for them. We always try to maintain that raw energy, but these next two songs are going to have a bit more instrumentation and rock energy, which is always fun to do — especially live when you can plug in your amp and really put on a show.
We have some other stuff coming down the pipe which we are actually in the studio doing that have some more of that sparse energy. There should be a good balance between the ballads and the energy mixed with the full rock sound. We’re just putting on the final touches and making sure all of the ideas are down before we choose exactly what is going to be on the record.
Have you guys decided on a tentative time frame for when you’ll be releasing your album?
Yeah! We’re looking at September 2012 right now. There will probably be a full-length — a kind of extended EP that will be out in the fall.
Visit Early Morning Rebel’s official website for more information regarding upcoming releases and tour dates.