We got to chat with Alesana vocalist Shawn Milke on their 10-year anniversary tour celebrating their 2006 release On Frail Wings Of Vanity And Wax about the past, present and future of the band. Milke discusses where the band were circa 2006, the choices they made to get them where they are today, and what is in store for the next record (which is already underway).
Vocalist JT Tollas of Famous Last Words talks Twilight Zone, their new 1950’s era concept record, and why he never actually thought about what his own last words would be until now.
Revival Recordings, a.k.a. the record label headed by Shawn Milke of Alesana, will release an acoustic compilation on January 29th. The compilation, simply called It’s All Acoustic, will feature acoustic tracks from all of the artists on the label (The Funeral Portrait, The Things They Carried, Megosh, etc.), including new versions of fan favorites as well as brand new songs. It’s All Acoustic also comes after the recent signing of Famous Last Words to the label. So be sure to give those guys a listen and stay tuned for what comes next!
Being that it is October and Halloween is clearly the most fun holiday, this horror-inspired music video by Disruption just had to be our pick of the week. The band’s music video for “Skylines” starts out with the classic trope, “Whatever you do, don’t watch the tape.” We are then introduced to a nightmare figure with a top hat and talons and–surprise, surprise–Shawn Milke from Alesana, who, given the dark and creepy nature of the video, fits right in. After an exhilarating intro, the song alternates between several rounds of guitar soloing and pretty standard metalcore strumming. While this is the band’s debut music video, Disruption has some killer potential, and we sure won’t hesitate to bang our heads to this one. Check out the video for “Skylines” below.
Alesana is about to embark on a spring tour in support of their fifth studio album, Confessions, set for release on April 21, 2015 through Revival Recordings. Confessions will mark the long awaited third and final installment of the Annabel Trilogy. So far they had only released one track from the upcoming record, “Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen,” and today, the world gets to hear single number two: “Comedy Of Errors.” As with “Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen,” this new single shows that Confessions will most likely be taken in both a heavier direction as well as a more theatrical (I know, hard to believe) direction than The Emptiness and A Place Where The Sun Is Silent. And in truth, we couldn’t be happier.
You can check out both singles below.
For more on Alesana and Confessions, make sure to check out our interview with Shawn Milke.
“I control my vision and my vision is you, the fans.”
Alesana have led arguably one of the most prolific careers of any hardcore band of the past decade, not necessarily in terms of the amount of albums released, but in terms of the amount of work put into each record. Anyone would be hard-pressed to name a band as consumed by the art of storytelling and as loyal to their artistic vision and their fans as this theatrical six piece sweetcore family. Yes, family, because that’s what Shawn Milke (vocals, guitar, piano) insists good music is all about. In the interview below, HXC picks Milke’s brain about the upcoming Alesana record, the self-started label Revival Recordings, and why there’s no place for ego or dollar signs in true art.
HXC: Why did you choose Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet as a lens to finish Annabel’s story?
Shawn Milke: Well Dennis and I really wanted to involve time travel in the third installment of The Annabel Trilogy. Whereas with The Emptiness and A Place Where The Sun Is Silent we chose the literature and then built our story in support of it, with Confessions it was the other way around. We decided on time travel and then discussed literature that we enjoyed surrounding that concept. L’Engle writes with a social conscience at the core which is something we love to do as well. There are several really cool allusions and nods to L’Engle throughout Confessions.
A Place Where The Sun Is Silent was even more winding and complex than The Emptiness in terms of sound. Sonically, what can fans expect of Confessions?
It’s intense. When describing the record to my wife I’ve used the phrase “panic attack” to explain several of the movements. There is a lot of chaos but on the other hand there is also a lot of super spacey and atmospheric passes. After all, this is a story about bending time and space. There are a lot of moments where you feel like you need to catch your breath. Several of the tracks are more progressive than anything we have ever done and that was very intentional. The storyline is coming to a climax and, especially with a handful of the songs, I very much wanted the listening experience to mirror the intensity. In the past we have had labels to please and “singles” to release so we would re-structure certain tunes to fit that particular mold. This time around it was about the album as a whole, about the whole creative experience being true to itself first and foremost. This was the most organic approach to writing a record that we’ve had since On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax in terms of going with our gut. Pat and I were very on the same page musically and Dennis and I brought the story to life lyrically in a way that we never have before. It was a blast and I’m very, very proud of Confessions.
Why did you choose the track “Comedy of Errors” for a short film?
The decision to use Comedy of Errors for our short film/music video was an easy one. Stylistically, it is all over the map and really showcases what Confessions is all about, musically. It is the third chapter in the story and is a pretty critical turning point in terms of setting up the rest of the prose. Working with director Justin Reich on this was awesome. It is a dream come true to get to do a music video that is more a short film than anything.
You use several different media to tell your stories; film, literature–even the instrumentals on your records help narrate what the lyrics are saying. Why do you like taking this multilayered approach?
I love for our records to be multi-dimensional. A fan can choose to simply enjoy a song or they can dive headfirst into our fictional world. The idea is for the music to tell a story on its own before it’s even concerned with the lyrics and prose. The more layers you create, the more emotions you can convey. When you’ve layered something so dynamically and drastically it can then become the absence of layers that conveys the emotion. A brief moment of silence or a single cello can be just as effective as a full blown orchestra behind three-part guitar harmonies, layered vocals, and screams. It’s always about the push and pull, the building of the tension. Dynamics are everything.
How does it feel knowing The Annabel Trilogy is ending?
It is extremely bittersweet. On one hand I am extremely proud to see Alesana see the trilogy to its completion. On the other hand, Annabel has been a part of our creative psyche for the better part of nearly six years. It is tough to say goodbye to her but I am also pleased with her sendoff. It was a pleasure spending so much time with her and it is because of her that we have developed one of the most dedicated and caring core fan bases in the world.
It’s still early in the game to think about next moves, but do you see yourselves taking on other concept efforts this size in the future?
It’s hard to say, but I don’t think we would do quite this magnitude again. I’m very big on, “Okay, we accomplished that. Now, what can we do that is different and challenging?” We’ve done a trilogy so to do another one would feel like regurgitation. I have several ideas for our next EP that I am super excited about and it would create a whole new set of storytelling challenges.
You’ve earned yourselves an intensely loyal cult following over the years. How do you think that idea of community translates to Revival Recordings?
The hope is that our most core fans will also believe in the positive and artistic community we are creating at Revival Recordings. Music is the flame that lights my artistic world and I will only sign bands who push themselves as hard as I have, creatively. Positivity, open-mindedness, and a lack of ego are all major prerequisites for what we are trying to build. Good Music By Good People is not just a slogan, it is a way of life for our family of artists and our team.
What exactly are you trying to revive?
The belief that good art is paramount. I understand that the music industry is, in fact, a business and, in order to sustain a career, money must be made and success must be had. However, success is in the eye of the beholder and here at Revival we stare through a lens built by art, not the industry. Surround yourself with the right people and keep your focus on the art, the songs, the music itself and you can only win. It is up to us, the fans of great music and art, to not allow the industry to dictate what we enjoy. Fight for what you love and together we can revive an otherwise narrow-minded, dollar sign driven industry controlled by the few.
Revival is a very DIY project, much like Alesana’s overall approach to making music has been. Why do you think “doing it yourself” is so important?
If you do it yourself then you have the power to dictate your goals, your dreams, and your destination. I refuse to be told by some industry drone what my vision should be; I control my vision and my vision is you, the fans. I will be striving to develop great bands comprised of good people who do things the right way for as long as I’m allowed to live on this earth and I’ll be damned if I will ever base my decisions off of the opinion of some corporate zombie who wouldn’t know a good record if it kicked him in the ass.
What did you eat for lunch today? We’re betting it wasn’t brain in blood soup, but in case you were craving some you can find it right here in The Funeral Portrait’s new music video. Produced by none other than Shawn Milke of Alesana/Revival Recordings, this is not your standard performance video. “Casanova (C’est La Vie)” captures the theatrical nature of the Atlanta, GA band in a bizarre montage of unnerving portraiture, blood and guts, and femme fatale. Not a fan of red corn syrup? The song, taken from their debut EP For The Dearly Departed, is a fun and charismatic romp regardless.
Like what you hear? Read more about The Funeral Portrait in an interview with vocalist Lee Jennings.
This interview was originally published through Taylor Markarian’s Grimm Rock Review and is re-published here via the author’s consent.
New bands pop up all the time. While that much is true, they don’t usually get the same kind of introduction The Funeral Portrait has received in the last year. Working closely with producer and Alesana vocalist/guitarist Shawn Milke at Revival Recordings, these five Atlanta rockers already boast quite the resume. The band’s new EP For The Dearly Departed debuted in the same week they wrapped up the Chaos Is A Ladder tour with Alesana, Megosh, and The Things They Carried. After taking a moment’s breath from the, shall we say chaos of touring, vocalist Lee Jennings gave GrimmRockReview an in-depth look into the EP, the band’s near father-son relationship with Milke, and what it means to revive the music industry. And Hodor. Can’t forget Hodor.
A lot has been happening for The Funeral Portrait recently. Let’s start with being signed to Revival Recordings. What was it like for you to have your record produced by Shawn from Alesana?
Oh my gosh, that was the weirdest thing of all time but the best thing. We were in a band before called Cosmoscope and I sent him our record and he loved it. Then about, I think it was seven months later, we finally got to really sit down and talk and figure it out. We went up to Raleigh, which is about six hours from us because we live in Atlanta, and we locked ourselves in the studio for about two weeks with him and the engineer, who’s phenomenal, and we hashed it all out.
Do you find that you have similar approaches to songwriting? Because there are definitely some ties between the way that an Alesana record is put together and the way that your EP is put together.
I would by far agree with that. That helped us a lot, because we did and we still do look up to them as songwriters and Shawn as producer, and we sent Shawn all the demos and the ideas for the songs beforehand and he sent us back some revised versions and it was just phenomenal. Just to see the little tune ups that he could do that helped us take the songs to the next level.
So it felt more like you were collaborating on it?
Yes, definitely. It definitely felt more like it was a big team; like he was the coach, and we were kind of his…
Alesana’s recent The Decade EP and Revival Recordings itself seem to be articulating the same thing— a need for greater artistry and musical innovation. How does it feel to be taken up underneath that wing? Do you think The Funeral Portrait fits that bill?
Oh, completely. When we recorded before we met Shawn, it was more like someone was just pressing record. They weren’t ever really producing us or helping us along the way, whereas with Shawn and everybody at Revival, they just love it so much. They love it as much as we do. Shawn always calls us “his kids.” That’s how much he loved us and how much he actually cared for the music. You don’t see that a lot nowadays. So many of these producers and labels, they sign these bands, and they say, “Here’s $10,000, go record a record.”
Right. Music has become more institutionalized, almost. I feel like listening to your EP and putting that in conjunction with Alesana’s work recently, it’s more of a “let’s see what we can do artistically” or “how far can we take this?” approach.
It’s become so cold. It’s become so robotic, even. Not just the music itself but the way that the industry has been working. I’ve heard of labels nowadays signing bands before they even see them live. That to me is just crazy. Because seeing a band live, that’s the passion, that’s the rawness, thats the real life. To us, that’s something we’re really, really strong about—about performing this live and about the passion. Shawn believes in that more than anything. It has to be real. Yeah, the record, you know, you can fake guitar tones, but the feelings have to be real, they have to be in your heart first.
I feel like that leads to a more earnest and a more dynamic product.
Completely. People who listen to the EP or to records, they can believe it more and they can relate to it more. Because if they actually know it’s from the heart then they can put their heart into that band.
Well let’s just go ahead and talk about the EP. It just came out September 23rd and it’s calledFor The Dearly Departed. What have the reactions been like to it so far?
It has been insane. This is our first EP. This is our first time on a label or with any help at all. Everything else that we’ve done prior to this, it was all DIY. We paid for everything ourselves and we had no help. It’s crazy to play a show [now]. We played a show in South Carolina at this place called Ground Zero on this past tour with Alesana (that we just got off of on Saturday) and there were kids there that already knew the words. That just blew me away. There were people out there who wanted to buy the EPs, who wanted to buy the shirts, wanting to talk with us. And they sang the words? That is more than anything we could ever ask for.
And it is just an EP. It’s six songs, but to have that kind of reaction speaks volumes.
A lot of people have even started asking, “Whens the full-length?” We’re just like, (out of breath) “Give us some time!!” We spent over a year working on these songs. Demoing them, to recording them, and now to releasing them—it’s pretty much been a year. So far we’ve seen so many positive reviews like, “BEST EP OF 2014” and stuff like that. We can’t even believe most of that stuff. When I’ll read a review or that you even wanted to talk with me about this I was like, “Are you sure?” It’s unbelievable.
(Laughs) Well, with this EP it definitely comes across that you’re trying to tell a story. You even reference the reader several times as a character, almost, within it. What story are you trying to tell?
A good bit of it is Juergie (Landstrom, Guitar/Vocals) and Stephen (Danzey, drums). We sit down together and write [the songs] that way.
So it’s more of a full-band effort versus one person writing?
Yeah, it comes together as a band. So kind of the small concept, what we like to keep it as, is actually the five stages of loss and grief. There’s depression and there’s acceptance and there’s bargaining, and all of those. Our first song is the incident, that’s what we like to call it even though it’s called “Casanova.” It’s the incident of when you lost the relationship, when it actually occurred.
I don’t think I’ve ever really heard that approach before.
We all wanted each [song] to talk about one emotion. Depression is very minor key, it’s very depressive. Acceptance, which is of course the last song, leaves you thinking things will be okay.
Also, within these six songs you blend a lot of different styles of rock, so many different genres together. Are there particular moments that you would use a particular style? So, “This part of the song gets a more theatrical quality versus strictly hardcore.” How do you figure that out?
When we were a band before, we didn’t actually have the heavier side. This kind of came across as we wanted it to be Jekyll and Hyde-ish, where I was the more upbeat singer, the clean singing, and then Juergie would be more the Hyde, the evil screaming inside my brain. It was more, “What would we be able to tell the story with?” (Sighs) This is so hard to explain. We just kind of do it. If we felt like the emotion really needed to be soft and sweet that could just be the vocals, but the drums and the guitar could be just chugging and we could be really heavy. But if the vocals were soft, it would still give off this feeling of being shy.
Even the artwork for the EP seems to be a visual representation of your band name.
We are a very, very visual band. We love to take it to the next level. I think a lot of bands forget that step or they want it to be more minimalist. We were all sitting around the table one night and threw around ideas. We sent it over to Shawn and about two days later he sent us something back and we were like “Oh my goodness, this is exactly what we wanted.” You can look at the album artwork and be like, “I understand these songs.”
So you just finished up the Chaos Is A Ladder tour. What was that like?
That was crazy for us. That was actually our first tour ever. We’ve played out of state before and we’ve played over, I would probably say, 220 shows as a band. We were only a band for two years before changing the name and changing the style, but [we kept] the same members. But we never really toured full-time and it was definitely a huge shock to us. We didn’t know that there would be kids in Orlando that are huge, huge fans of Revival that already looked us up and already knew the songs before the EP came out. They would find out where the stream was of the EP or who was premiering this song or where the lyric video was. There were kids all over the east coast that already knew songs. That blew us away. To even think that a band our size would have three kids each night come up to us and be like, “Hey, you guys are awesome. We love the EP so far.”
I guess doing a tour with Alesana and Megosh for your first tour isn’t a bad thing to do.
(Laughs) That’s what everybody kept saying! For us, we couldn’t have asked for a better tour. Hanging out with those guys every night and learning—we learned so much. That is even the biggest thing that I can take from it, is that we learned the right things. Like where to spend the money when we’re touring. When never to get a hotel. How to ask people for a place to stay, or whenever weird situations come about. What we gained more than anything off this tour is that when we go on our next tour, whenever that is, and it’s with bands we don’t know, we won’t stand out as much because we figured it out a little bit on this tour.
So it was really kind of a mentorship program (laughs).
No, really and truly, that’s exactly how it was.
Since the tour is called “Chaos Is A Ladder,” are you Game Of Thrones fans?
I am, I completely am, and I know Shawn is too. So when I found out that the tour was named that I flipped out. Because that scene, that little rant there at the end of that episode…I was just like, “This is the coolest thing ever.” Actually, Alesana every night, their intro was that little monologue to get people pumped up.
Did you feel like the tour was adequately represented by the sentiments in that monologue?
Yes, definitely. Because to be honest, what it felt like is Alesana is kind of handing down their position. They’re helping these smaller bands. Even Megosh. Even though they’ve toured with them three times, four times, they were small. I feel like [Alesana is] building a ladder, in a way. And it is a crazy one. Especially being on tour, it’s constant chaos.
I have to ask: Who is your favorite character on Game Of Thrones?
Of course, I’m a huge Peter Dinklage fan. There’s this YouTube video of someone singing “Peter Dinklage” over the whole entire intro. But to be honest, I think my favorite character is Hodor. Do you know why? It’s because he is the comedic relief so many times when you need that laugh. Someone’s head gets cut off and then—“Hodor.” You’re like, “Thank you. Thank you for not giving me nightmares all night.”
That’s kind of funny that that’s your favorite character, the one who provides comedic relief, since “The Funeral Portrait” isn’t the most comedic of names.
(Laughs) Exactly! That’s the thing too, is we are the biggest goofballs of all time. We’re a serious band, but we’re ridiculous.
What character do you think you would be if you were cast in Game of Thrones?
You know what, I’m going to go with my favorite character, Hodor, because I’m always the end of the joke. I’m always the last guy to get the joke.
How would you sum up your band in one word?
Exciting. We want it to be building. Here’s the dramatic entrance and here’s the soft, quiet exit. Live, we go crazy. Every night, we look at each other—“Hey, I’m gonna make sure the crowd watches me tonight.” Chris, our bass player, will push me out of the way on purpose so that way he can get in front of me. We like to make it an exciting show.
Click HERE to check out the full stream of For The Dearly Departed.