EMAROSA + Sykes
Usually, transition is what can prematurely end a band. Whether it’s the lineup shifting, the sound evolving or the record label logo on the back of the LP jacket changing, transition puts stress on the musicians to try and deliver for an audience that grows increasingly fickle with every passing flicker of their smartphone. Emarosa, however, not only faced these transitions head on, they came out the other side with 131, their fourth full-length and first for Hopeless Records—and it’s easily their best to date. As frontman Bradley Walden explains, it should come as no surprise. “Originally, I turned down the position in Emarosa because I knew I was walking into a situation with negativity,” the singer says, recalling the uncertain time surrounding his first release with the band, 2014’s Versus. “Facing that at first was absolutely miserable. I put a lot of pressure on myself to sound like what people wanted on Versus. For 131, I definitely didn’t care what anybody else thought. I just wanted to make a record with my band that we all loved, and that’s definitely what we did.”
He’s not kidding: 131 is a gigantic leap forward for Emarosa, with Walden’s soulful, stratospheric vocals on full display and instrumentation that recalls alt-emo stalwarts such as Anberlin and 30 Seconds To Mars with plenty of R&B inflection and even a little progginess a la the Receiving End Of Sirens. (Walden even throws in a lyrical easter egg in 131’s final track, “Re:,” as a nod to TREOS.) A huge proponent in pushing the band forward to new sonic spaces was producer Casey Bates (Portugal. The Man, Pierce The Veil), who entered a Nashville studio with Emarosa in early 2016 to create 131. “Casey was so open to everything,” Walden says. “It was definitely the most creative vibe I’ve ever been, and it was so inspiring, and I think that’s why the record turned out how it is. With Versus, I knew in my heart it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But with 131, I’m so proud of this. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. This is the record we wanted to make.”
131 benefited from many helping hands, from Matchbook Romance bassist Ryan Kienle and Beartooth drummer Connor Denis serving as the rhythm section to guest vocalists such as Acceptance frontman Jason Vena on “Young Lonely” (“Acceptance is my favorite band so that was just something special,” the singer gushes) and Walden’s own wife Meeko on “Never.” 131 is also the first album to feature Emarosa’s new guitarist Matt Marcellus, who Walden credits with bringing the ideas for “Miracle,” “Blue” and “Never” to the table. While Emarosa’s lineup may look drastically different than from their inception a decade ago—or even from Versus two years ago—Walden says what makes the band special is still intact. “Jordan and ER have been in this band since day one—they are the soul of this band,” he says of his bandmates. “There are more people contributing to the music, but the soul of the band is still there. It’s just an evolution. I feel like that four-year hiatus Emarosa went through before putting out Versus and now 131, it’s really the band going through puberty and growing up and becoming what they are now.”
While Emarosa may continue to look forward (“I would love to play an arena or a late-night TV show,” Walden confidently says), they have not forgotten their history, using a fox sculpture created by Beth Cavener on 131’s cover to serve as the connective tissue between the band’s past and their future. “A lot of people have asked, ‘Is the fox dead or is it just sleeping or what?’ I love that,” the singer says of the stark image. “I feel like it’s up to the listener to interpret and decide what the fox is doing. I think the fox represents the entity of Emarosa. It’s a very proud creature, it goes through evolution. It’s become synonymous with the band. You see that fox and you see Emarosa. It’s the perfect representation of the band, in my opinion.”
Of course, we have to ask: What exactly is the meaning behind 131’s title? “In a very strange way, the number 131 was synonymous with the record,” Walden explains. “It was the address of where we recorded; lyrically, the record surrounds death a lot and January 31 is my birthday, so there’s some irony there; everywhere we looked, that number was following the record. We just got displayed on the iTunes Hot Tracks playlist, and it has 131 songs on it.”
Really, though, it’s all about confidence—confidence in oneself, confidence in one’s bandmates, confidence in the fans to come along for the ride and, most importantly, confidence in the songs. “On the last record, I didn’t know who I was as the frontman of Emarosa,” he admits. “Through the years of touring and figuring it out and finding confidence in myself and the band, I really let loose and didn’t hold back on performances and neither did the band. Five years ago, Emarosa never would’ve written 131.
“I just wanna have fun with this great record that we made and let people enjoy the music,” he concludes. I don’t have expectations, but I have dreams. I don’t have a backup plan. This is it.”