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On the brink of their seventh studio album, rock band Emery set out on a "fan appreciation" tour this summer. A few nights into the tour, lead vocalist Toby Morrell took some time to talk to Jesusfreakhideout's Scott Fryberger about the tour, the album, podcasting, and more...
This interview took place on: June 7, 2017.

Click here for Emery's Artist Profile page.

  • JFH (Scott Fryberger): So I wanna talk a little about the tour. You guys are doing this cool acoustic set before the actual fan appreciation show. What sparked this idea?

    Toby Morrell: Well, I mean, we like our fans! *laughter* We love our fans, and I think what we thought is that if we could make a ticket cheap enough, even if it cuts into our blackline or whatever, maybe people could come and see us for the first time or that it would be worth it for everyone else and they would still maybe buy a t-shirt or something so it still works out financially. We have always been a band that's wanted to try things to see if it works. So it might not make us enough money, and I don't know if we'll be able to do this forever, because at the end of the day, you have to make enough money to make it worth it, because we have families and all that stuff. But we at least wanted to do some shows just to kinda honor our fans, and if you want to come and you've never seen us, or you just want to see us again, it's only ten bucks, and it's worth it. So that was kind of our thinking. It makes the show more fun, and I think it makes it a little easier for people that are on tight paychecks.

  • JFH (Scott): Have you gotten good feedback this early in the tour?

    Toby: Yeah, we have! And we've done a few other shows like this. Basically, as we've gotten a little older, we do more of a leg of a tour and then take a break. So this is a full U.S. tour, but we only do maybe five to seven dates at a time. So, this one started in Springfield last night and it'll go to Seattle, and then we'll take off a month or so and then do the west coast, and then another month or so off and then we'll hit the southwest. But so far it's been going really well.

  • JFH (Scott): What are some of the challenges of planning your own tours in the post-Tooth & Nail world?

    Toby: Well, touring has changed so much, and there are so many other bands and new bands touring. I understand that we're an older band, and sometimes maybe people have forgotten about us, or they used to love us in high school, but now they're married with kids. But I think we've always liked to kind of control our own destiny, so I don't know if it's harder or even that much different. Tooth & Nail helped us put out records, and sometimes they would help us set up a tour or something like that, but for the most part, we've always had booking agents and stuff like that. Now we just do it on our own and just do what we want to do. Like, we say, "Hey, we want to play these towns," so then we rent out places in those towns. Tonight we're at The Jackpot, and we're just renting this place, going past the "old style" where there's a promoter somewhere doing shows. We're just doing it ourselves in a full DIY kind of way.

  • JFH (Scott): As indie as you can get!

    Toby: Right! *laughter*

  • JFH (Scott): Are you guys going to be podcasting from the road?

    Toby: Yeah, we did yesterday. We stayed with a friend and podcasted from their place. That is sometimes a bit logistically tough. You know, our bus broke down, and that's where we podcasted from sometimes because we have a little living room area. But if we had to podcast right now, it'd be difficult because there are other bands playing, and it's tough to find the right podcasting volume or wifi to upload it. One of our hosts is in Charleston, South Carolina, and we're in Kansas. That makes it a little tough, but it's still fun, and you can work it out.

  • JFH (Scott): And you guys are doing a new podcast, the Labeled Podcast. Man that is a great show.

    Toby: Thanks man!

  • JFH (Scott): I listened to the Further Seems Forever episode, and then immediately went and listened to their whole discography and Strongarm's discography.

    Toby: Nice! Man, that's exactly what we want to hear.

  • JFH (Scott): Whose idea was it to do this podcast?

    Toby: With the success of BadChristian, we get questions all the time about podcasting. And right now, as you know, the music industry has changed. How do you care about a label anymore? But we like Tooth & Nail. We didn't quit them because they were rotten to us, we just wanted to be more DIY and more in control. So we like them and they like us, and they've been advertising with us, and it was just kind of an organic thing. And this is a lot more polished with the editing and the interviews and stuff - there's a lot that goes into it. We have to have a budget. The BadChristian Podcast is just us three guys, so if there isn't a guest or anything, it's just three friends talking about whatever we want to talk about. But with Labeled, you have a story that you're trying to tell and all that, and a lot of the old band guys are people that don't want to be interviewed, or somebody might not be a Christian anymore and they feel they don't want to be pigeon-holed. And I mean, I get it. Some of these guys don't want to answer questions about decade-old things and they have to try to rehash stuff. So it's hard to get certain people, but overall, we're really proud of it. It's sounding good, and we've worked really hard on it.

  • JFH (Scott): I'm not much of a podcast listener. I have a couple that I listen to regularly, but I subscribed to that one immediately.

    Toby: Awesome!

  • JFH (Scott): So you guys are working on a new album, of course. Where are you in the recording process?

    Toby: We've gotten together several times to work on some songs and throw some ideas out there. Every record you write, you want to try to figure out who you are, where you are, what you want it to sound like, and what are YOU going to be happy with. I've always felt that way, that I want to be happy with the record, and I want to be the biggest fan of it. And if I like it, hopefully everybody else will, too. But right now, we're still in the beginning stages of figuring out what the record is going to sound like, and we're really getting somewhere. It's going to be a neat record, and I'm really excited about it, but we're still figuring out the sound and what we want to do and what we don't want to do.

  • JFH (Scott): When I first listened to You Were Never Alone, I had no idea that it was a concept album. Then I heard on Matt Carter's Break It Down Podcast that each song was a story from the Bible. Are you planning to do anything thematically with the new album?

    Toby: I don't know. I was thinking about maybe doing that, but I don't want to be pigeon-holed into having to make every record some kind of story or something. I like listening to songs individually, too, like a bunch of really good singles. So I'm thinking maybe more like that.

  • JFH (Scott): And you guys are working on reimagined songs as well for the Indiegogo backers. Is that finished?

    Toby: We're still working on it. The guy who's touring with us is recording it and coming up with a lot of the arrangements and stuff, too. He's a phenomenal musician and producer, and he owns his own studio in California. But yeah, we're probably halfway through those, if not a little more.

  • JFH (Scott): And you guys passed your goal on Indiegogo...

    Toby: Yeah, it ended up great! That's one of the things that's really neat about doing this yourself. You trust your fans, and they always come through. Our fans want another record, and they get to decide - you know, if they don't care, then we understand. But if they want another record, and we want to to another record, then we should. It works out really well.

  • JFH (Scott): Did you fund the new Matt & Toby record yourselves?

    Toby: Yes, we did that ourselves, and we worked with Zach Bolen from Citizens & Saints. He's amazing, and I'm so excited about this record. It's actually the next one coming out. This record really feels like it's pushing the boundaries of what people tend to think about Christian music or music that is about our God. I really like stuff like that. My biggest critique of Christian music it's safe, it's not dangerous, and it doesn't push any boundaries, and it reeeeeeally seems artistically stale.

  • JFH (Scott): You were talking about a song like that from some church on a recent podcast episode.

    Toby: It was Seacoast Church, which is a church I really love, don't get me wrong. The musicians are amazing, but why were they playing it safe? The Church used to be known for art, whether it be paintings or the Sistine Chapel or some amazing music that came out. Now, I just feel like we're very commercial and we set a really low bar and we just try to hit people with the lowest common denominator. And I don't know if it talks about Jesus that much. Out of the context of helping "you," I don't know how much glory is given to God. It's always like "God helps you," you know? "You're in this situation, but God's gonna get you out of it." But I really appreciate music that's about the glory of God, the goodness of God, and all these amazing characteristics and qualities. So, on this Matt & Toby record, we tried to play songs like that. And of course, you are you, and you're going through tough stuff. But we reimagined and rearranged a bunch of old hymns and there are several originals on there, and it's really neat. The name of the album is I Quit Church, because I worked at two megachurches, and I quit them both. And it just kind of talks about that and what we thought and how we felt, and it doesn't wrap it up in a nice little bow of "Jesus makes everything better." Because sometimes there are months and years where it doesn't feel like that at all. So why would there always be a song that ends that way? And we wanted to capture that. The mood is really mellow. I love when there's a record that I can put on in the background and just do whatever I need to do around the house and it's just there playing. I love that. I know the record, and I'm so comfortable with it, and we wanted to make a record like that, but it's still very Christian, and very much about Jesus.

  • JFH (Scott): Man, that's awesome. How long have you been working on I Quit Church?

    Toby: We've been working on it for about the last year. We had some ideas and we were working on some songs, and then we wrote some new songs, and turned it all over to Zach to see what he wanted to change or rearrange... It's been really great. He's a phenomenal musician and producer now.

  • JFH (Scott): I like his solo album a lot. And I love what he did with the last Kings Kaleidoscope album, too.

    Toby: Oh yeah, both of those bands are amazing.

  • JFH (Scott): Now, not to start any sort of controversy or anything, but I know a lot of our readers would want to know if there will be any rough language on I Quit Church.

    Toby: No, there won't be. No controversy! *laughter* I mean, it's one of those things - like, there could be, but I'm not going to put a cuss word in there just because it's a cuss word. I'd want to do it because it fits artistically. Like with Kings K, he said "My fear is f***ing violent." He meant that! He wasn't trying to say "Oh, look at me, I said the f-word!" He was saying "No, this is real. I'm using an appropriate word for this context." I mean, you can use any word you want, but for Chad Gardner, that's the word that described it best. So why would you try to hide that because somebody might think "Oh, you're bad." It just goes back to the idea of not being safe. Jesus' whole story, His whole life was unsafe. It's not safe. I mean, nobody thought, "Oh man, what a cool dude, hanging out with a prostitute." They probably thought He was having sex with her. They thought He's a glutton and He's a drunk and He hangs out with tax collectors. "He's not a good dude." He got all that, and He said "I don't care what you think, I'm going to be this way." And it was dangerous. It cost Him His life. But Americanized Christianity just feels too safe. It's like trying to protect everybody from everything so you don't have any original thought. And that's the worst feeling in the world to me. Too many good musicians in the Church, and too many incredibly talented people are being told "This is what you're allowed to do. Talk about climbing the mountain or being in the valley." It's not art. It just isn't. It's a product to sell. And it just devastates me when you have this much talent, this much money, this much influence - to not take chances just seems silly.

  • JFH (Scott): Switching gears a little bit - earlier you said you had some history here in Lawrence, like getting engaged a couple blocks from here. Do you have any other cool memories of this area?

    Toby: Well, we recorded The Weak's End right down the street in Eudora with Ed Rose. This town has actually been a big influence in our careers and lives. A lot of bands have recorded with him, and we thought it would be really awesome, so we worked really hard and saved up our money to record the album. So yeah, this town means a lot to our career, for sure.

  • JFH (Scott): Now you guys are running BC Music and doing several podcasts. Has that taken as your day jobs?

    Toby: Yeah, the podcasting that I do has become a big part of how I make a living for sure. Music and podcasting.

  • JFH (Scott): You just signed Lowercase Noises recently. Do you plans for another other signings?

    Toby: I don't really know. I mean, if there's a band that shows up that we like and they like us and want to work with us, then yes. I don't know if we're actively seeking that stuff out, but if something falls in our laps, then we'd consider it. There are a lot of good bands out there, and good people pushing boundaries. I think with our music and BC Music, the biggest goal is - you know, I was always told that you've got to make music congregational so everyone can sing it. But most songs that have ever really lasted for me was like that. In fact, I would say that most songs that I would call my favorite are songs that, when I first heard them, I didn't understand them. But I had to work through it and wrestle with the song and music, and I think that's what we're trying to do. I would love to just not have congregational, spoon-fed songs. I want songs that you have to think about and wrestle with. It's okay to wrestle with a tough lyrics or a lyric that you disagree with. That's a good thing! That shouldn't be something we're afraid of, and that's the kind of music we want to put out.

  • JFH (Scott): On that note, and I think this is my last question, what are some albums from 2017 that you've been listening to a lot?

    Toby: Let's see... honestly, the new Kendrick Lamar, which is hilarious, because everyone talked so highly of it, and I listened and thought it wasn't that good. And then something about it made me wrestle with it and keep going back to it. So I've been listening to that. Then there's this band I really love called Warpaint. It's a really cool band, and I think they might all be ladies, but I'm not sure. But they've got a really neat vibe.

  • JFH (Scott): Alright, well is there anything else you'd like to add?

    Toby: The pre-order is still up for Matt & Toby's I Quit Church, and you will not be disappointed. I think it's a great record, and I'm not just saying that. I think it's one of the best things we've ever done, and I'm really loving it!

    Emery will be touring all summer! Keep an eye out for Matt & Toby's I Quit Church and Emery's forthcoming full-length record on BC Music!

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