Alesana

author TL date 03/02/12

North Carolina sixtet Alesana are a band who, throughout their history, have polarised music listeners all over the place, with their flamboyant, theatrical take on what you can call emo or post-hardcore or whatever fits your own personal labelling system. Personally, I was convinced they were everything I hated about music, until I saw them live and suddenly understood the band in a way that made me quite fascinated with them. Hence I didn't hesitate when the band scheduled a second show in Denmark, to weasel myself into an opportunity to talk to singer/guitarist Shawn Milke about the band's fans, shows and musical direction. Check out our chat right here:

RF.net: You're obviously in the middle of your European tour right now, so if you could just please help us catch up, tell us how it's going?
Shawn: It's going well. It's a lot colder than we've been used to when we've come over here in the past, which is a little disappointing because it's hard to sight see. Shows have been great and everybody's having a blast.

RF.net: While outsiders may think that the bands on your current tour (Ed: Glamour Of The Kill, Iwrestledabearonce, We Came As Romans) are quite similar, fans of the genre will recognise that your music is actually very different. Is it a concious choice for you guys to get on tour with so differently sounding bands, and what do you think it means for the shows?
Shawn: That's kind of always been out goal. Especially when we put packages like this together we try to get as diverse - you know still inside similar genres - but get as diverse as we can. It keeps the shows a little more interesting - less mundane, less boring. I think it helps open kids' eyes to different sides of the same type of genre.

RF.net: I've seen a lot of young people today in the queue and coming in for the show - and we were talking to Beau (Bokan) of Blessthefall the other day, about playing to a young audience and I'd also like to ask you: What does it mean to you guys to have a lot of younger fans come out and enjoy the show? What difference does it make to you guys?
Shawn: I think it's cool - you know - for people to be affected by music at such a young age. I know that I was, and I really think it's great. We love seeing people of all ages at our shows.

RF.net: Do you think you'd ever worry about the band appealing more to young people that to people closer to your own age?

Shawn: No, I don't think so - As long as people like your band for the right reasons, then you can't be doing anything wrong.

RF.net: You guys are often lumped into the whole emo/screamo/post-hardcore scene and I saw that you're selling a t-shirt at the merch table that says "Your scene is fuckin' dead. Are you trying to make a little bit of a statement with a t-shirt like that?
Shawn: It's more just like.. It's so silly how music seems to be more about genre and scene and all this absolutely superficial stuff. You should like a band because you like their songs. Just because you like one band that sounds a certain band doesn't necessarily mean that you'll like another band that sounds the same way. The statement we're making is don't expect us to simply be a scene band. We never were.. like, we got lumped in with it, but it was never our intent. We're super literary nerds, we tell stories and every record we make gets way stranger and weirder, so I guess it is a bit of our little statement saying we're not a 'scene' band.

RF.net: With bands in this 'scene' we're talking about, it seems the norm to be singing about things that are really up close and personal to them, but as you mentioned, you guys have always cited literary inspirations - How much of your music would you say is personal to you, and how much is fairy tales and imagination?
Shawn: Well, it's personal to me because they're my stories. Anything that you create you're going to have a personal attachment to, it's just a different kind of personal attachment. Instead of it being a diary entry, I sing about characters that I've created and stories that I've told. A lot of yourself goes into writing a story. When you create something from scratch it's a pretty emotional experience and you want people to like it but as far as - you know, are Dennis and I personally in any of it - I would have to say no. We're just really telling stories.

RF.net: The latest album "A Place Where The Sun Is Silent" seems to have you guys scaling the more simplistic hardcore dynamics back a little bit, going instead for an even more progressive and theatrical approach. Is this a course that you feel like you're set on for the future, or was it more like just an approach you took for this album individually?
Shawn: No, it's been the goal since day one. I've definitely mirrored our writing curve after Silverchair. They released "Frogstomp" which was really just dirty, sloppy, under-produced and then with each record - it's almost like you could see the band was already thinking in that direction, ten years before their 2002 album "Diorama" came out. And that's always how we've been. We've always wanted to write a big theatrical record, and our whole idea is to eventually make that record exactly the way we've always wanted.

RF.net: So this really has nothing to do with you trying to set yourself apart from the kind of scene bands that we talked about before, who maintain a more simple clean/scream dynamic?

Shawn: Well, I think it's certainly part of it. When you're an artist and you write songs, you don't want to keep getting lumped in with other bands that you feel are.. maybe not at the same place as you are as song writers.. and you keep getting dismissed as just another one of those black haired scene band.. So it's sort of motivation to keep moving forward. We would write these records either way, but it's sort of a bonus.

RF.net: So have you already started thinking in a direction of new music? If so, what do you think it's going to be like?
Shawn: We've already started writing for a new record and.. hmm.. It's interesting because it's going to be a wholly new thing for us now, because we're not really going to do full time touring anymore. We're still going to play shows here and there, but we're really trying to graduate even our live show into a theatre type thing, where, instead of touring the states for six weeks and then Europe for six weeks, we will actually do like a handful of theatre performances, with seats and actors on stage with us.. It starts to feel a bit like you're beating a dead horse when you keep coming to the same places and play to the same people. As artists we start to become a bit suffocated.

As far as the next record, a lot of it depends.. We've got a lot of material lying around from even further in the past than where we kind of are right now. So we're kind of debating whether to do the next record with no concept or continuation, more like just ten or eleven Alesana songs built from some of that.. Or.. We've written a trilogy with the "The Emptiness" and "A Place Where The Sun Is Silent" and there's a third one which we haven't recorded yet. We just haven't decided yet whether we want to release that next or the other kind of album I just talked about. We have two records worth of material that we're working on right now.

RF.net: So you have a pretty set idea about what's going to be like and fans can expect it to get more.. I guess symphonic and theatrical?
Shawn: That's been our goal since day one. Working on "A Place Where The Sun Is Silent", I've never felt better about anything I've been a part of. It was just an intense experience and we really want to keep pushing that. On "The Emptiness" we did string quartet compositions like here and there, but on "A Place Where The Sun Is Silent" they were pretty much everywhere. Next time around we want songs that are completely written to include strings and horns and everything

RF.net: So do you think that, trying to put on these fewer but larger type of shows, do you think that you'll be able to actually have people there playing the horns and the strings and so?
Shawn: That's the whole idea. We really want to sell this as a new experience. This is no longer that black haired scene band playing a rock show - It's a theatre experience and we can hopefully get higher budgets for the shows and have the quartet and the horns and the choirs and the actors and everything up there with us. And really, finally say that this is what we want to be.

RF.net: Are you going to convince your sister (Ed: Mellissa Milke regularly sings on Alesana's record), to come along and sing as well then?
Shawn: Yeah when it comes to smaller scale touring like that, it's much easier to do that. It really wouldn't make sense for her to come on an tour like this because, while she does a lot of singing, her parts are scattered all over, and she'd have to stand around and snap her fingers awkwardly most of the time, but yeah, she's definitely a part of that whole vision.

RF.net: We've been spying on your setlist from the shows on this tour and you've chosen to only play songs from the two newest albums. Any specific reason you've chosen to omit older classics like "Apology" or "A Most Profound Quiet"?
Shawn: I love that you just mentioned that song. Nobody ever mentions "A Most Profound Quiet". I love that song, it's one of my favourites.

RF.net: Really? Hah, I think that song has my favourite Alesana chorus.

Shawn: Yeah, it's funny because, when I do my vocal warmups - I'm weird because I don't do the usual "mimiMIMIMImimiii" type of stuff - I just kind of see where I am at and.. while warming up I always sing "A Most Profound Quiet". Always. Every single night playing, since the song was written.

The main reason for playing the new stuff though is just again that - I mean with the internet fans who like the old stuff can go online and see shows of us playing that any time they want and.. we still do smaller shows where we only play the old stuff but.. For us to really love what we're doing up there, we have to be playing the material that we're currently really into artistically. And that's the two newest records. We've tried tours where we pop in a few old songs here and there and it just sort of slows things down, or at least it feels that way for us on stage. It's just like this weird awkward thing that happens, so we'd rather just stick with the new material even though there's no disrespect, we still love our old material.

RF.net: I can see what you're saying but on the flip side - A lot of bands when they come out here to play small venues in places that are sort of developing markets for them, they try to bring their greatest hits set. Do you think it helps your band more though, with your approach, playing only new stuff because it helps you get more into it on stage then?
Shawn: Exactly. I think it just reinforces just how much we care about the new material. It's a way of saying that we're confident enough in our new music that we can play only that and still walk away saying that it was a really good show. That's also the reaction we get. People go "Awh, it would've been cool if they'd played an older song, but damn, their set was still so entertaining".

RF.net: Actually the next question is about the live shows - And granted I've only seen you twice - but it surprised me each time, that you guys seemed more concerned than most bands, with keeping the show constantly engaging to the audience. How much of a point of emphasis is this with your band, what you do on stage above and beyond just standing there and playing the music?
Shawn: It's something we've been very concious of ever since we started the band. If you come to see us then we feel that you should have an experience. That's why we always have the interludes connecting songs. We'll do a lot of shows where we don't even say a word while we're on stage - that first note comes from the piano in the intro, we come on and play eleven songs and then walk off having not said a word in between - and it's part of the way we tell our stories. We're not just six dudes in a rock band going "this is so cool, let's get wasted!" We're trying to really do something new, which is why we're trying to bridge to what we were talking about earlier with the theatre shows. People won't go "What? Alesana is trying to make a theatre show", they'll go "Hmm, that actually kind of makes sense, because I've seen them be sort of theatrical and I can see them doing a show like that". We're laying the ground work for that I guess.

RF.net: We gave people the options of submitting questions on our facebook page earlier, and apparently, a lot of your South American fans got wind of it, and a lot of them would like to know when you guys plan to come and play anywhere in South America?
Shawn: It's such a shame because we really have no control over those things. I wish touring was as easy as "I wanna go there" and then we go there. But we have management, labels, promoters and everybody's doing their thing, and we barely get a say in where we're playing ourselves. We absolutely love South America though, and I actually sent our manager an email about it just week going like "South America this fall, can we please do it?"

RF.net: Like you said before you plan to continue with your music in a more theatrical direction and - we had a fan who asked if you were going to do more stuff similar to your older material - and personally I felt maybe that Dennis (Ed: Lee, screams) had a smaller presence on the new album. How do you see his parts and heavier parts in general continuing to fit in the direction you're taking?
Shawn: It's interesting because when we first decided to find a guy like Dennis and have him in the band, it was never to be a heavy band. We're not really fans of hardcore music, none of us except for Dennis. It was more to bring an emotion into it. You picture a character who feels a certain way and ask yourself what would you want to do feeling like that and the answer is, you'd want to scream. That's sort of where he came from.

It's also interesting because he is the screamer, and he would not say "I was used less on this album". Because we didn't use him less, we just used him differently. And I think that's what a lot of people were caught off guard by going "Where's Dennis", but he's there, he's all over that record. He was just used in a way different manner which we're trying to do even more of going forward. I mean how silly would it be for us to go "Oh, we've got to write a breakdown so that Dennis has a part"? Then those same people who were asking "Where's Dennis" would be the same people to criticise us going "Oh, you had to throw a breakdown in there to have room for him". You just can't please everybody all the time, so all we can do is maintain our integrity as artists and where we want to go with our music.[/iview-a]

RF.net: That was actually the last question I had planned, so I just want to give you the opportunity to say something on your own, if you have anything for the fans and readers?
Shawn: Yeah there are two things - well, other than that we're working on a new record and so. There's a rumour going on online about Alesana going on hiatus and I just want to say that none of that is true. We're working on two albums right now, we're just going to be touring a lot less. My sister and I actually already have studio time booked for the end of March with Kris Krummet for Tempting Paris, our side project together. A lot of people have been asking about that for a long time, and we finally have the time to do it, so we're recording it in March, hopefully releasing it this summer on a new record label I just started.

Also my wife and I and our friend just started our own clothing line called Cabaret. You can go to cabaretstyle.com and go shop online if you want.

RF.net: Before we end, that reminds me - you mentioned working with Kris Krummet - do you think you'll work with him again or?
Shawn: We will never ever make another Alesana record without him. He is our band. He just gets us. From the first day we met him, he never tried to change anything. He said "You guys are weird, you're theatrical, so let's do that". He never tried to stray away from any of it. I had this idea that I wanted to bring horns in on this really heavy part and he was like "okay, cool". He just goes with it and he makes it sound amazing.

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