Post-hardcore heavyweights hit Cleveland

Denise Wright

Alesana’s Shawn Milke shares his thoughts on tireless touring, the band’s re-direction and another new album

Shawn Milke, guitarist, vocalist and pianist for Alesana, seems like your average punk rocker, complete with heavy eyeliner, pink nail polish and tight girl jeans. But Milke is missing one thing–the rockstar attitude.

Milke’s the type who laughs when you ask him what being famous is like and who’s so humble he’d probably never describe himself as such.

But Milke’s actions speak loud enough. He’s out talking to fans at every show. After signing at least 30 autographs at the House of Blues in Cleveland last night, Milke tells me he’s going to grab his Hoodie so we can go find a place to sit down for the interview.

As he pulls the sweatshirt over his head, a group of five more fans approach him, pens and cameras in hand. Another small line forms in front of Milke, who seems in his element as he musters up his best gangster pose for a picture.

Milke wraps it up, and we make our way over to a nearby pizza shop to sit down and talk:

Q: First things first, how is your band name actually pronounced (“Alice Anna” or “Alice Awna”)?

A: It’s pronounced “Alice Anna,” like two girl’s names. I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question.

Q: I read that you guys got that from a street you lived on when you were first starting out? Is that true?

A: Yeah, in Baltimore I was in a pop punk band about five years ago, and Patrick who’s in Alesana with me, he joined that band. We realized that we wanted to start something different, so we quit that band. We lived together in a house on Alice Anna Street, so when we decided to move to North Carolina to start the band, we took the name with us. It’s kind of like a cheesy way of remembering where we started.

Q: You guys have a few line-up changes lately, with Jake now permanently on rhythm guitar. How did that all come about?

A: Shane left temporarily; he comes back tomorrow (Nov. 14). Originally, Jake was just filling in for Shane while he was gone. And then Adam had a weird life-changing experience, and he just decided he didn’t want to tour music anymore. We were in Florida when he told us that, which is where he lives now. So it just made sense to just leave him there. It was easier for him, easier for us. So we had our friend Alex from Greeley Estates fly out just to finish this tour until Shane came back.So now Jake moved to guitar, Shane’s coming back to play bass, so our official line-up is Jeremy, Pat, me, Dennis, Jake and Shane.

Q: I know you guys have had some line-up changes in the past too. Do you think that hurts the morale of the band at all?

A: Not as long as the core stays the same, and the beliefs and ideas stay the same. I really don’t think it matters. If we lost certain members, not to say any member of the band is more important than others because that’s not the case at all, but I guess the overall contribution of some members would be hard to replace. The original three members of our band are Dennis, Pat and I, and I really feel as long as the three of us stay together, you know, everything will be fine.

Q: You guys have quite the track record as far as touring goes. What’s the schedule been like?

A: We have our first break coming up December 7th. Basically, the last three and a half years of my life, we’ve only been home for a collective two months. The last time we had a break from touring was last December 15th through March 20th. We spent all but two weeks of that in L.A. recording (“Where Myth Fades to Legend”). It’s almost gotten to the point like when I’m at home, I feel homesick. We’re all very excited to have a break finally, though.

Q: Why the rigorous schedule?

A: Why not? That’s basically how we say it. (pauses) If you’re gonna make music your career why sit at home doing nothing when you could be out making more people know about your band? It kinda just always was that way (for us). We reached a point where like after two years we were like, ‘We haven’t gone home.’ We didn’t really notice it. And it sort of helped build our story-like our manager, our label, the reason they wanted to work with us initially was because of that. They knew we’d work hard. Believe or not, a lot of bands fall apart ’cause they don’t stay out on the road.

Q: Do you guys ever get sick of each other with being on the road together all the time?

A: Surprisingly, not. We’re honestly like brothers. We all have our moments of course, you know. But it’s bizarre. It’s almost like dating somebody, you learn when somebody’s in a certain mood and you just know not to mess with them. It really keeps the fighting to a minimum.

Q: What’s this tour been like so far?

A: Amazing. (It’s) by far the biggest one we’ve ever been on. The whole thing for us is like we were on bigger tours when we were smaller, but we were the band nobody knew about. It’s really exciting to be on a tour this big and still have so many kids who came specifically to see us. You know, it’s kind of surreal.

Q: Any crazy tour stories?

A: One of the funniest ones is still from the first week we were ever on tour. This girl came up to us-this was back when we still needed to crash on people’s couches-and offered us her place, so we go there. We had the next day off so we were like ‘All right, let’s do laundry,’ so we’re like walking around in our underwear. We’re doing laundry and making food from the cabinets. Turns out, the girl was just like squatting there. It wasn’t her house. The owners came home, got very upset that there was a band just living in their house. That’s definitely still takes the cake as the best story.

Q: Who would you like to tour with in the future?

A: Of course, I would love to tour with Between the Buried and Me, but that will probably never happen just because of stylistic differences. They’re like one of my favorite bands of all time. We’re headlining in the spring, and we’re taking out Fear Before the March of Flames, which is a band I actually love.

Q: In general, what are you currently listening to?

A: Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Between the Buried and Me. Whenever I drive late at night, I usually listen to like The Beatles. I listen to a lot of softer stuff when I drive. I’m a huge Mae fan, and they actually just recorded their record in Philly, which is where I’m from, so that’s pretty cool.

Q: What about when you guys first started out? Who were you inspired by?

A: The whole point of what Pat and I always wanted to do was find members that all had entirely different stylistic preferences. And instead of trying to make a band where it was like blending all the same stuff, (we could) just be really abrupt with all of it. I was always the pop punk kid. That’s the stuff I grew up on. Dennis, who’s our screamer, grew up on like North Carolina metal. So I never listened to the crap he listened to, he never listened to the crap I listened to-now we both listen to everything. So it was the whole idea of writing a song and just having things happen that you wouldn’t expect.

Q: So that layered sound that you guys have was your goal from the beginning?

A: Absolutely. That’s why like, as a band, the thing we’re most proud of with our music is that the vision we had, like what it sounded like in our heads, is actually what it started to sound like. It became like our thing, people would know it was us when they heard it. We obviously get compared to a lot of other screamo bands and stuff, but most people will always tell you there’s something a little different about us.

Q: You guys have three guitarists and three vocalists. You’re obviously very live-driven. Do you think that’s given you an advantage?

A: Oh, the whole reason we got the third guitarist slash vocalist was so that when we played our record live, it sounded the same way it sounded on the record, you know. A lot of bands will cheat and add harmonies and have things that are not there. As a vocalist, that’s the thing I’m the most proud of. A lot of vocalists will be lazy on stage and not try to hit the high notes. I make sure, like if I’m tired, I don’t talk all day so I can still hit what I need to hit.

*At this point, a man walks up and asks Shawn what band he’s in.

Shawn says, “Alesana.”

The man replies, “Oh, I saw you guys Monday night in Buffalo.You guys are awesome.”

“Thank you so much,” Shawn replies with a laugh.

As they carry on a conversation about Monday’s show, I can’t help but think that for such a recognized person, Shawn seems to take it all in stride, becoming more down-to-earth with each sentence.*

Q: You guys are known for putting on a very energetic show. Do you ever find it hard to keep up that energy on stage?

A: That’s one thing that we just really focus on. Every night before we go out and play, we just get in a circle and we do what we call PMA, which is positive mental attitude. We all have it tattooed somewhere on ourselves. (pulls back his black finger glove and his sleeve to reveal the PMA tattoo on his hand) We just get in a circle, and we all put our hands in the middle. Somebody says something positive and gets everybody fired up. We always make sure we go out as one unit, not as six different guys playing. If anybody goes up there with anything that’s on their mind or if they’re distracted in any way, it could completely just screw everybody up. So we always give everybody a chance to get something off their shoulders, get it off their chest. For the half hour or for that hour, we’re Alesana. We’re not six people, we’re one band. We’ve always been that way. I still remember a show in Michigan, we played a bowling alley. And there were two people there, and they literally stood like all the way in the back. And we still played just as hard. Our whole motto is like ‘Two kids or two millions kids, you’re getting the same show.’ Granted, way more fun to play for a lot of kids, but if you paid money to see us, you’re going to see the same show we always do.

(Shawn looks at his phone)

Just throw this in there for fun and let everybody know, they need to go on YouTube and look up ‘”Slipknot Shreds.'” It is the funniest, most hysterical video you’ll ever see in your life. They’re called (something) Shreds, like “Eric Clapton Shreds” or “Santana Shreds.” They take live performance shots of these bands.and they overdub everything and make it sound like they’re just playing terrible. That doesn’t even do it justice. You have to look up “Slipknot Shreds.” Literally, one of us in the band will pull it up at least fifteen times a day, and we laugh just as hard every time.

(Then Shawn comments on my recorder and asks me some questions about it. He says he’s mentioned the idea of using one to Pat while working on songs.)

Q: What was your mindset going into “Where Myth Fades to Legend”?

A: Lyrically, it kind of just came together on our first album to have a theme, not a concept, but a theme. That’s why we did “On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax” all Greek mythology-based, except for a few of the older songs that were already written. We just got fantastic feedback from that, so we said, ‘We guess we’ll just make that a staple of our band.’ We chose, for the new one, the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm. (Dennis and I), you know, we’re both nerds, so we were familiar with the stories already. He picked his favorite, I picked my favorite. And the same way we did with the Greek stories, we write from character perspectives. That’s what people don’t get when they read our lyrics sometimes. They can come off as a little “hokey.” I think in the future, when we print out booklets, we’re going to start printing them with who’s saying what. The lyrics are going back and forth between characters or just conscious thought. I don’t think people really get that. Bu it’s a lot of fun to write that way. We write collaboratively, not separately. With the new record that we’re doing, starting in May, we aren’t revealing what we’re doing yet, but it’s going full concept from stage one to the last stage. Each song’s going to be its own individual story that’s tying one whole story together.

Musically, it’s all about dynamics for us because we are heavy, we are soft, we are poppy, we’re “dancy.” We basically just took all those and made them more extreme. The heavier parts just got nastier, the catchy parts got super “dancy” and poppy, so we’re just going to continue to do that. We’re going to try to add more instrumentation in the new record, like string instruments, more piano arrangements and stuff. We want it to be like when we play live, we can pick a chunk of the record, and it will feel like you’re almost watching a play.

“Sweetheart, You Are Sadly Mistaken” (from “Where Myth Fades to Legend”) is a good snapshot of where we’re moving musically on the new record. “Sweetheart” is very, very dynamic and the abrupt parts are very abrupt. We’re definitely going for more of that. We were very abrupt when we first started writing and then we kinda shied away, and we kind of wanna bring back that very harsh thing. Not every single song on the new record is going to focus on making sure there’s a chorus here, chorus there; there might be songs where there’s no repeated parts. It’s just going to be way more loose. (pauses) Structureless.

Q: Do you feel like that’s risky at all?

A: No, because for one, our hardcore fan base-that’s what they’ll want. That’s what they like about our band, and we’ll still have at least two or three songs on there that will be more “everybody-friendly.” It will be surrounded more by what we really want to do. I expect our fans to be extremely happy with it. We don’t want to keep getting more and more like other bands that sound like us. We want to make sure people realize that our sound is a specific sound. We want to make very obvious this time around.

Q: Can you tell me anything about the concept for the new album?

A: Time travel, that’s all I’m gonna give you. That’s a very small part of it, but it’s my favorite part.

Q: What do you guys hope to accomplish in the upcoming year?

A: (Alex from Greeley Estates, my friend who plays bass, myself and a couple other Alesana members) have a project on the side. We’re recording in January. It’s called Wake Me Up Juliet. For anybody who likes the parts on our record where my sister sings, her and I are doing a piano, vocal thing called Tempting Paris. Those two will probably come out around the same time-probably late winter, early spring, something like that. We’re also doing an acoustic Alesana record in between the record that’s out now and the next one.We’re going to pick our most popular songs and our favorite songs and hopefully preview a couple of the new ones. We’re a band that definitely loves making music, so it’s not like, “Hey, it’s time to do a new record. Let’s write.” We’ll use any excuse we have to do something creative.

Contact all editor Denise Wright at [email protected].