How does a Los Angeles band with dark, edgy lyrics become a darling of the fashion world?
Early Morning Rebel is following a strategy of ingratiating itself with fashion figures, for whom it claims to have a strong affinity. “There’s something about designers that we love, mostly on a creative level,” says Nathan Blumenfeld-James, Early Morning Rebel vocalist and founding member. “It’s cool talking to designers about their bodies of work and how they’re inspired by music.”
This story first appeared in the May 11, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
While taking in the fashion scene, EMR forged ties with Hedi Slimane. “We got to work with him on photography,” says Dustin Bath, a musician, photographer, director and sound mixer. “He’s inspired a lot of our aesthetic.”
“In London, we were really into the up-and-comers,” Blumenfeld-James says of the band’s performances there last fall. “At that point, they’re taking risks. One of those designers, Francesca Marotta, is building her next show around our music.”
The band also talked to Jeffrey Michael and Mark Thomas Taylor about performing for their runway shows. Zandra Rhodes is leading a Cultural Olympiad project in Coventry during the 2012 London Olympics and Blumenfeld-James hopes EMR will be a part of that given they performed for her On/Off event in September.
The group, which formed only eight months ago, had its first brush with larger fame in January when its single, “Life Boat” was featured on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “We’re fans of what they do,” says Bath. “[The show] is a catalyst for music and [the producers] have great taste.”
“Life Boat,” about losing someone to their dark side, is autobiographical. “Someone’s actually really suffering and I can’t save them,” Blumenfeld-James says. “There’s a hopeless quality to it, but it’s also hopeful” when you realize you aren’t responsible for them. Another EMR cut, “Burn Us Down,” aired on a March 18 episode of A&E’s “Breakout Kings.”
“There has been a darker quality to this body of work,” Blumenfeld-James admits. “It’s a way to express some elements of pain. Some of our songs have a harder quality than ‘Life Boat.’ All our songs are about direct experiences.”
Aware of the importance of first impressions, especially in fashion, the band carefully cultivates a look that enhances their appeal. “Our long-term goal is to have our own fashion brand,” Blumenfeld-James says. Bath’s girlfriend, a designer who works with private clients, is giving them tips. Both men’s staples include James Perse white T-shirts; unique leather bomber jackets often found in Europe; vintage boots; hats from a Venice, Calif., hatmaker, and sunglasses by Oliver Peoples, Dita and the occasional pair of classic Ray-Bans. The band has a network of Los Angeles designers who outfit them with custom garments such as Glen Wong, “our very own denim maker who does our custom jeans.”
EMR is commercially savvy enough to know the difference between a highly personal song that taps into the band’s raw emotions and “writing something that a model can walk down the runway to,” Blumenfeld-James says. “We wrote ‘Life Boat’ specifically with ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in mind. When we’re collaborating with TV shows or brands, it’s about the music complementing the brand or scene.”
While EMR is starting to take off, Blumenfeld-James and Bath aren’t ready to give up their day jobs — shooting freelance music videos — just yet. “It’s a tough game,” Blumenfeld-James says of the music industry. “We have our own studio in Venice. We’ve been fortunate to make some money and support the brand.”
EMR’s schedule is picking up. The band performed in New York City on Monday and Tuesday. “Burn Us Down,” will be released later this month, followed in August by another single, “Find an Easier Way.” A West Coast tour is in the works and a new album is due out in the fall.
All this leaves less time for personal pursuits. Bath, an avid surfer, would like to spend more time in the ocean, while Blumenfeld-James, a foodie, loves restaurants. “Our work always takes priority over everything,” he says. “It’s hard on the women in our lives.”