Prior to hearing The Emptiness in its entirety, James had the opportunity to send a couple questions over to Fearless Records own Alesana. Over the course of the questions below, James and Alesana discuss the new record, touring, the band’s stance on religion, and a lot more. Check out the conversation below and be sure to pick up their epic new album, The Emptiness, when it hits stores next week [Jan. 26th]
An interview with Shawn Milke of Alesana:
UTG: Hey guys, how does the day find you [what are you up to, etc.]?
I am doing very well, thank you. I’ve been crazy busy preparing for our upcoming headlining tour, The Emptiness Tour. I’ve also been writing a lot for my new side project with my sister, Melissa, and Alesana bassist Shane Crump. The project is called Tempting Paris.
UTG: So, last time we talked, you were on your spring headlining run, hadn’t recorded a single note of the upcoming record The Emptiness, but you mentioned you had a title and most of the album written. How does it feel to be on the verge of unleashing this project on your fans? I mean, it’s been at least 9 months since that conversation took place.
This is a very exciting time for Alesana. We spent an entire year preparing, writing, and recording The Emptiness. It is the record/story we have always wanted to create and I can’t believe we are so close to sharing it with our fans.
UTG: Now, I’m understanding this is a bit of a concept album. Care to expand upon the story a bit?
The record is not really a concept record, but rather an actual short story that Dennis and I wrote. The story, also called The Emptiness, is eleven short chapters and the eleven tracks on the record represent each chapter of the story. It takes place in a small town called Slough in England during the turn of the 20th century. The story follows our main character, The Artist, his lover, Annabel, and his nemesis, The Thespian. It begins with The Artist waking one morning to find his lover slaughtered in the bed next to him. The horrific and twisted love story unfolds from there.
UTG: The two songs you’ve already put out, “The Thespian” and “To Be Scared By An Owl,” seem to have a lot of religious references. Whether it’s the idea of heaven that we take from “searching the skies” or the obvious mention of God turning away and the gates of heaven being closed. Is there a direct message you’re trying to send with these comments or are they all a part of the mass story?
It is not our intention to have coercive religious undertones in our lyrics or our story. Alesana is not a Christian band but rather a Christian-friendly band that prides itself on treating people with love and respect, our world with care, and acting with patience and understanding when it comes to the beliefs of others. We are not hear to force our beliefs and opinions onto anyone: and we certainly would never use religion as a way to promote our band or to persuade people into liking our band. Having said that, our story is based upon fictional characters and any religious references we make are through their eyes. In a time and place such as England in the late 1800’s, religion played a big part in many people’s lives, likely even more so than today. Our “searching the skies” reference was a way to paint the image of someone staring above into the distance in memory of loved ones lost. Our reference of God turning his back and shutting the gates of heaven was a way to portray lost hope. This religious reference just felt like the strongest way to allow the reader/listener to really understand the empty feeling that our character was experiencing in that exact moment.
UTG: When it comes to writing a larger record like The Emptiness is it harder to choose the quote/unquote “singles” as the record is meant to be taken as a whole?
It was definitely difficult selecting only certain songs. This record/story is definitely meant to be experienced as one piece. However, we paid special attention to making sure that each song did not depend on being part of the whole. Basically, the songs work perfectly together but also on their own. We ultimately went with “The Thespian” as our main single because it is such a turning point in our story and it really showcased all of the different characters, emotions, and dynamics of the whole thing. We shot a music video for this song in November and it turned out incredibly well. We can’t wait to release it.
UTG: How do you think fans will react to this record compared with the previous two? I mean, the Sophomore release is infamous for being the make or break record, but it’s also the point when people start yelling “sellout” and whatnot. Now that you’ve conquered that obstacle and by all visible data, come out bigger and better, what do you think will be said about this release?
There was definitely a great deal of pressure with the second record. It made it more difficult to write because we felt like there were so many obstacles to avoid: sounding too much like the first record, sounding too different from the first record, selling out too much, not selling out enough, less screaming, more screaming, etc. Luckily for us, our fans reacted well to the material and stuck with us through the growing pains of going from being a new band to being a band with more than one record. Having that pressure gone this time around was a beautiful thing. Patrick and I went back to our roots. “On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax” was written entirely in our apartment with “Almost Famous” playing in the background and cold Rockstar by the boxful. “Where Myth Fades To Legend” was written almost entirely on the road. We decided to be honest with ourselves and our growth while bringing back the spark that made our first record so special. It was important to do it the old way once again, so Patrick and I did just that. We sat in my apartment for six weeks straight, went through two copies of “Almost Famous” and drank enough Rockstar to stay awake for a year. It was a nostalgic and beautiful experience and the approach is evident on The Emptiness.
UTG: Speaking of the previous album, many complained about how clean and well produced it sounded versus the raw feeling of the first album. How would you compare this record to the sound of the previous two?
I don’t think some people realize that the reason a band’s first record tends to sound so raw is because they make it with virtually no money. I certainly understand how one can fall in love with a record and when the following records sound better, or “different”, it can feel disappointing at first. However, I can only hope that these same people eventually look past the quality of the recording and focus on the songs themselves. The Emptiness is not nearly as raw as “Frail Wings” simply because we recorded The Emptiness in a beautiful studio with a great producer and far superior gear to the gear we had back then. That being said, The Emptiness definitely brought back the raw honesty in our songwriting that was apparent on “Frail Wings.”
UTG: Moving on, I have to ask, where did the idea for the name “You’d Be Way Cuter in a Coffin” come from for the recent tour?
“You’d Be Way Cuter in a Coffin” was actually the original name of the opening track on The Emptiness. After the entire story and record were written we decided that the name was a bit too modern with the use of a slang such as “cuter” so we changed the name of the track to “Curse of the Virgin Canvas”. We loved the old title a great deal and ultimately decided to name the tour with the old name as a way to sort of foreshadow the record release tour.
UTG: Many people say you guys write a lot of bleak music for the sake of being bleak or to tap into the pockets of depressed teenagers and that it’s mainly a front, how do you respond to allegations of this nature?
Allegations like this are a joke. I don’t find our music bleak at all and the people who judge us as such are paying absolutely no attention to our music. They are simply pigeonholing us and lumping us into a genre in order to make it easier for them to dislike our band. Our old records had songs based on famous stories in Greek Mythology and famous fairy tales, most notably by The Brothers Grimm. Our new record is a story we wrote inspired by the tellings of Edgar Allen Poe. There is nothing bleak about our lyrics at all and if someone interprets them that way, it is their unfortunate mistake. Our band is filled with fun-loving, caring, honest, and dedicated guys who just love to write and perform. Quite frankly, the people who have misinterpreted our music as bleak and depressing have probably never studied Poe, or Greek Mythology, or The Brothers Grimm, so honestly we could care less about their opinions. We make music for ourselves and for our fans, not for the people who sit around looking for something to criticize.
UTG: Before I let you go, I’m sure you guys will be on the road for basically all of 2010. Care to fill us in on what you know as of now?
2010 will find Alesana headlining Japan, the entire US, all of Europe, and then a spot on the entire Vans Warped Tour. There will be many chances to rock out with us, so come one, come all!
UTG: I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other not too far from now, but to close, do you have any last/closing thoughts you’d like to share [can be about anything, not just Alesana]?
Situations like the earthquake disaster in Haiti show us that life is short. Remind those who matter in your life that you love and care about them. Don’t waste time. Listen to your dreams and do something about it: and do not forget, January 26th, 2010 The Emptiness will haunt you…
thank you very much for the interview, take care.