Mon, 17 Mar 2014 10:49:05
"We just wanted to make a rock 'n' roll EP with The Decade, as crazy as that sounds," exclaims Alesana singer Shawn Milke. "With the full-lengths, we get really big with the string quartets and choirs. These are straightforward rock songs. It was a break from the exhausting process we normally use."
Alesana definitely accomplished that mission. The Decade EP shows another side of their multi-faceted sound, eschewing the grandiose and immersive narratives for an equally immersive collection of hard-hitting rock tunes. The group manages to churn out some of their most powerful songs to date here, elegantly merging epic scope and pummeling riffing for a delightfully dark and definitive offering.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Shawn Milke of Alesana talks The Decade EP, Edgar Allan Poe, and so much more.
What ties The Decade EP together?
I would say it's the fact that we wrote them in pretty much a collective setting. We weren't pulling parts. We're constantly writing, and we're always pulling parts from months ago and piecing things together. With these, it was really, "Let's sit down and write these six songs". Conceptually and lyrically, they're very tied together because this EP is about us for a change. Normally, we're very literary. We tell stories and create characters. I think that's what gives it the cohesive feel.
What made you get more personal?
We're working on the conclusion to our trilogy right now. We're shooting to record that this summer. We're releasing things on our own label now. The opportunity to do an EP with Artery came up. They really wanted to do one with us so we were like, "In the meantime, let's do an EP while we're finishing writing the new full-length. Let's step outside of our comfort zone and do a record about us for a change". In ten years of being a band, we'd never done that. When I realized it was our tenth year of being a band, I thought, "We should call it The Decade and make it this full circle, self-effacing view of everything we've accomplished".
What's the story behind "Double or Nothing"?
It's the idea of sitting at a poker table at three in the morning. You're about to run out of your money, and you decide to double up anyway. It's about us making our decision to leave home and start touring. We had become pretty popular in our hometown, and we thought, "Maybe we could be popular in other cities?" We knew we didn't want to do anything half-assed. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it for real. The idea of "Double or Nothing" is, "Here it goes. We're either going to succeed or we're going to fail, but we're going to die trying".
Where did "Second Guessing" come from?
It's the idea of reflecting on our career. We've always been about the art behind our music, and we care very much about the songs we write. We've had many opportunities with different labels and tours we could've done. It's like, "Well, if you guys just do this tour with this style of music, you could get bigger than you are". While we've had opportunities to make decisions about our band based on financials, popularity, fame, or what-have-you, our decisions always come down to what's best for the art we create. That's the reason we do this. It's a big reason we love what we do, and it's why we have a section of our fans that are like a cult following, because they realize we respect our art so much. The idea of "Second Guessing" is, "Was that the right decision?" It's a back and forth, left-brain and right-brain look at the choices we made.
Is it important for you to paint pictures with the songs?
Most definitely, man! That's been our goal since day one as a band. With the trilogy we do, we always release short stories with it and make sure the artwork reflects it completely. Our whole idea was, "We'd love it if people could close their eyes, listen to our music, and actually see what we're singing about and not just hear it". That goes back to this idea of really caring about the art behind everything and not merely writing a collection of songs because a label will put it out, and it'll be really popular. If we truly love the pictures we paint and the way we construct everything, our fans will as well. That's always been the end goal for us even with something like an EP. I think some fans were thrown off when they found out we were doing an EP in the interim because they sort of expected us to be throwing six songs together and putting it out since it's not part of the storyline. A lot of our most devoted fans threw a little bit of a fit. We basically said, "We're still Alesana. Even if it's not part of the storyline, we're still going to treat it with the same attention and respect we do all of our music".
How connected are the ideas, music, and the visuals?
It's really on a case-by-case basis. I always see the end game when we're in the beginning phases. That's how my brain works. There are times it's hard to explain even to the people I'm working with. I just know it's going to get to this point both lyrically and musically. It goes back and forth both ways. A lot of the story things get written on their own. When it's time to turn those stories into lyrics, the music helps a lot. Generally speaking, we write our vocal melodies and screaming patterns before the lyrics because we don't want to write our words and have to force them into these patterns and such. It's more like, "This is the groundwork". Having the parameters to go off of actually makes the lyric writing a little easier.
Who are your literary influences?
Edgar Allan Poe is my biggest by far. That's why the lead track on the EP is called "Nevermore". It's a reference to him. There's also a spot on "Ravenous" that cuts to piano and you just hear a heart beating as a reference to The Tell-Tale Heart. I had all of these ideas to get his influence in there. I'm a huge fan of all horror styles of writing. My favorite two styles are horror and romance. It's why our styles have leaned that way. Dennis brings in a lot of fantasy elements as well. It's cool because we come from slightly different backgrounds. When we collaborate, we get this bizarre fantasy romance horror thing.
When did you first get into Poe?
I was young. It was the first time I was required to read him in freshman year. When I read his writing, I feel like I'm sitting there with him having him read it to me. That's what we try to do.
I'm always watching movies and television. The main things I was watching were Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy. I highly doubt that has any meaning behind the songs, but those were the two things I was into the most.
If you were to compare the EP to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
It would have to be some sort of biopic. One of the big things I do when we're working on any kind of record is watch the uncut version of Almost Famous on repeat. That would have the biggest influence in there. I was watching a lot of Pirate Radio too. It's that thing. There's no beginning, middle, or end. When the movie begins, you pick up and see where the people are. You're with them until the movie ends, but you know a lot happened before and a lot happened after it. You're invited into a couple of hours.
What artists shaped you?
Well, The Beatles are the reason I started playing music. My dad was a huge fan. Michael Jackson was a massive influence as a younger kid. I go to him for inspiration on vocal melodies. There are three bands I come back to when writing a record because I want to make sure there are influences are somewhere in my mind while I'm writing. Those are Mae, Between the Buried and Me, and Sigur Rós. They're such opposite ends of the spectrum. We want to get heavy and weird, soft and beautiful, and ethereal and atmospheric all at the same time. The goal is to keep striving to push those boundaries even further with each release. My wife and I named our little dog Mae!
What's next for you?
After The Decade tour, we go home to record the full-length that will conclude the trilogy. Our fans will be excited about it.
What's your favorite Alesana song?
See our first reaction to The Decade EP here!