MEB staffer Shaun Tan recently caught up with Alesana vocalists Shawn Milke and Dennis Lee, where they spoke about the new record, Dante’s Inferno and band’s they’d like to tour with.
MEB: I know Alesana are very big on concept albums, so how will the new album be incorporating the theme of the “seven sins?”
Shawn: We derived our influence from “The Inferno” by Dante Alighieri for this record, so… I mean, obviously it’s about the sins, but it’s not necessarily just… the sins, you know? It’s more like a…
Dennis: (cuts in) Yeah, it’s more of a way of looser interpretation than like, one level. It’s not like one through seven or just the sins. There’s a lot of things about sin that are in the album, but it’s not straight up just that.
Shawn: It’s interesting because with The Emptiness too, originally we were going to do horror – which it was horror – and we were going to do each song in a different horror theme, and then we ended up doing a much looser interpretation of that too. So both records, we started with a very like “it’ll be this, this and this” and then it just like, it just gets looser and…
Dennis: We get sloppy. (laughs)
Where does the title of the album come from?
Dennis: It’s a line from pretty early on in Dante’s Inferno, and it’s interpreted cause obviously that was written in Italian, and there’s a bunch of different translations, and the ones we looked at had something about this sun being silent and stuff, so…
Shawn: I mean, we just love the idea of hinting at what this record was about, rather than just going out and saying it, you know? Like the “circles of hell” or something like that.
Dennis: We’re very roundabout guys like that…
Shawn: Yeah, we try to be as loosely interpretive as we can.
When it comes to actually writing the stories, how do you guys as vocalists manage the interpretation of that story into the lyrical content?
Shawn: I think that’s fun, because it forces you to write the story in two different ways: one with, you know, all the prose and everything like that. Then it’s having to find the most important things, and having to fit those into rhyming structures and actual poetic scheme. So we technically write the story as, you know, prose and poetry at the same time.
Dennis: We create a vivid picture of what’s going on in your mind, that you’ll be able to dissect…
Shawn: … that makes it so much fun, like we play our songs live and I get to picture the story the whole time we’re playing it. Yeah, it makes it really rewarding for us.
What went into the decision to release a double album, instead of say, two EPs, or just a really, really long single release?
Shawn: Finances were part of the reason. We initially wanted to two EPs; we wanted to release a first one, and then a couple of months later, release another one… but I think that in this age of the internet, and the way music gets delivered now, it’s impossible to do things like that. But artistically we still wanted to keep the story in two acts, like a play, and so that’s why when you see the artwork, it’s released as act one and act two, but it’s all the same.
MEB: The progression into writing concept albums, did it come out of pressure to not just be another “Hot Topic” band or just a natural, artistic progression?
Dennis: We wanted to do…
Dennis and Shawn: (concept albums) from day one…
Shawn: I wouldn’t even say that it was pressure, because we’ve always considered ourselves to not be just a “Hot Topic” band. Like, our first full-length was based on Greek mythology, so it’s not something we just all of a sudden started doing – we just honed it and sort of… I don’t want to say perfected cause that’s a really like…
Dennis: I remember people were freaked out, like our label and stuff, when we told ’em what we were going to do. I don’t think they were thrilled initially but Fearless Records was behind The Emptiness 100 percent…
Shawn: … and that’s what made it cool, because we went to them and we were like, “we’re doing a story record” and they were like “do you mean a concept record?” And we were like, “yeah” and they didn’t want it. But then they heard it, and loved it and now with Epitaph, they already loved the idea that we did that, so they never even questioned it.
How does the album art actually tie in with the music?
Shawn: Well conceptually, that’s where our story begins, as our protagonist is running away from something. He’s running towards this beautiful golden city and then he’s tempted by this woman on the front and he follows her into this dilapidated house of horror and you know… I think the number one theme on the record is temptation, just the idea of no matter how perfectly well you know you should be doing something, temptation can always get in your way. And that’s what the front cover is, that decision; you’re his eyes and you’re seeing it the way he will. The cool thing is, the guy and the girl who were in the shoot for the album, they’ll also be playing their roles in the music video.
Will this album have more in terms of videos to give fans a taste of the album? Because I was a big fan of The Emptiness, but it sadly only had one teaser video, and I expected a lot more.
Dennis: Well it depends on how much money is going to be thrown at us, you know?
Shawn: Exactly. It’s up to Epitaph, cause if it were up to us, we’d make a movie, that’s what we really want to do. So we do have plans to shoot a music video right after this tour; it’ll be for the song “Lullaby of the Crucified.”
Shawn: He never knows anything. (laughs)
How many new songs can we expect to hear on the tour?
Shawn: (For the Asian tour) We’re only playing one, and the reason for that is we’ve never been here (Asia). So we have three records worth of material that we want to play and in America we’re about to do a headliner, and it’ll be just The Emptiness and A Place Where the Sun Is Silent, because fans there have seen it so many times. It gets to a point where if you haven’t seen us play the old songs yet, it’s kind of your fault. But when you come to a brand new place, you know, it’s only fair to play all the back material as well.
Do you think the fans dig the conceptual stuff off the newer Alesana records, or do they want to hear the older material at these shows?
Shawn: It’s kind of 50/50 really.
Dennis: Yeah, I don’t know. I think some people are generally just really excited that we do concepts and stuff and they get really involved in it, and then there’s probably 50 percent of these kids who don’t give a shit.
Shawn: We still have kids coming up to us and saying, “You didn’t play enough of Frail Wings at the show.” Well it’s like, that record is six years old, so it’s like, we want to play the new stuff. That’s how any artist should be. We love that record, we appreciate that we did and we had a great time with it but it’s time to move on and do the new stuff we want to do.
Favourite bands you’ve toured with and want to tour with?
Shawn: A Skylit Drive definitely are our best tour mates for sure.
Dennis: If I could tour with anybody, I’d tour with Muse.
Shawn: I would tour with Mew actually. The Mew, Muse, Alesana tour (laughs).
Last question, if Alesana had to cover a song from any band, what song from which band would it be?
Shawn (looks at Dennis): We’re going to disagree big time on this one. (laughs)
Dennis: I’d say we should do “Suspicious Minds” but…
Shawn: No, actually I was about to say I disagree but we actually – I’m sure every band does this – we talked about doing a cover record just for fun, even if we paid for it ourselves and just released it on iTunes or something but, that’s the one song that he and I both want to do, “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley. And probably uh, “Freak on a Leash.” (laughs) “Got the Life” by Korn was the other one I wanted to mention.
Alright, thanks so much for your time guys, can’t wait for the new record.