The Word Alive's 2010 album Deceiver helped the band go places all over the world. I'll be honest, this album definitely had to grow on me as I listened to it more. Known for a great live show, The Word Alive has been consistently on tour since the release of Deceiver, including a spot on 2010 and 2011's Warped Tours with bands such as The Acacia Strain and Winds of Plague.
I spoke with lead vocalist Tyler "Telle" Smith about the band's upcoming sophomore effort, Life Cycles, their upcoming direct support slot on this summer's All-Stars Tour, and more.
First off, you recently got off tour with Escape The Fate and Attack Attack in the U.S.; how was that tour for you guys? Did it feel like you were playing to the same crowd you usually play to, or was it different?
I think we definitely played in front of new kids every night, and that's good for us as we prepare to dive into a new album cycle. The more new fans the better! The tour overall was great, and we had a good time with all the bands. Some great dudes on that tour for sure which always makes touring easier.
And following up, you just wrapped up a tour in Europe. How were the crowds over there?
Europe was amazing, and the crowds almost every night were above even what we had expected and hoped for. We'll be a band who hopefully continues to make the trek about 2 times a year, and I really am looking forward to coming back as our fanbase expands overseas.
How do they compare to crowds we'd see here in America?
Well aside from the Slam Dunk Festival shows we played, they are much smaller. We have only been there 3 times, so imagine it being the 3rd time a band is touring in the States, you probably aren't selling out shows left and right.
However, we've built up a strong following, and the kids who do come are great. There's definitely more old school push moshing, and a lot less standing around in the back with arms crossed. People aren't afraid to get pushed around in Europe that's for sure!
What song on your setlist do you look forward to playing the most every night?
Right now it's kind of tied between “Wishmaster”, since it's a brand new song and kids have been loving it, and our song “Lights And Stones”; It's just a really meaningful song with a great message that is my personal favorite to perform every night. I really get a good feeling about life and how far I've come from growing up in Kettering, Ohio, not thinking for one second that this would be my life at 25 years old. I get humbled every night while playing that song, love it.
You have a new album, Life Cycles dropping July 3rd on Fearless Records. First off, what's the meaning behind the album title?
It's just meant to encompass many of the songs on the album. I wrote a very diverse record, lyrically speaking. Tony and I had been discussing album titles, and how to figure out something that could relate to each song, and we came up with that. Really, he did I just added the "s", haha. A lot of the songs are about different aspects of life, and even questioning beliefs and why we are on this Earth in the first place. I think it's the perfect title.
The album cover has bullets coming out a prescription capsule; what's the idea behind that image?
Again, Tony had this great idea as a metaphor. We went with it and our good friend Aaron Marsh was able to capture the feel we wanted. We wanted it to look and feel real, something timeless that people would remember this album by many years from now.
The metaphor is much more broad than just as it appears, which is that much of the world chooses to mask their problems with pills, therefore cutting themselves off from the world; or to put it bluntly, that you aren't really living if you mask away your life, and therefore are killing yourself. This metaphor is meant to represent all vices though. Obviously we could put a million of them up there, but people as a whole choose denial, pills, alcohol, drugs, relationships...anything they can to hide how they really feel or even skim through their lives by muddying up their experiences. Life is amazing, both during the good and the bad; it's crazy to think how much we can take, and then also how much we can rise above throughout our lives.
How long did you spend writing this album? What were the most significant challenges during that writing process?
Well that is hard to say, there were bits and pieces starting to be fleshed out around the time we recorded “Lights And Stones” and “Apologician” for our Deceiver Deluxe Edition re-release. I think though the first full song came together by early 2011.
Many songs were thrown out or not finished, we tried to have a higher standard for which we judged the songs by. We in total probably wrote over 25 songs. We tracked 17, finished recording 15 and will finish and release a 16th song at some point this year I think. Who knows when we'll release it, but we will.
I'd say the most significant challenge was just figuring out who we were as a band, and trying to define that more so. We knew that we didn't want to have any songs on this record we shouldn't play live. On our last record we tried a few weird songs, songs we all loved and still do, but not songs that were beneficial since they really didn't make sense to play live. We wanted to have a CD filled with great songs, and had to do the majority of the writing on tour. We tour probably just as much as any band around, and so this record was divided up in a way we never have tried before. It was Tony's songs, and Zack's songs.
This record is the first time where Zack has written full songs, and you'll be able to tell which ones they are on the record. It's a new vibe, but also The Word Alive at the same time. They are both amazing writers, and while we couldn't be happier given the circumstances, we're already looking forward to writing more material full band again, since we really haven't since we wrote Empire almost 4 years ago.
What specific things went into the bands decision to work with Joey Sturgis as opposed to Andrew Wade, or even someone else? If you wouldn't have worked with Sturgis, would've you gone back with Wade? What sort of differences were there between how Sturgis and Wade operate?
Well the differences between Joey and Andrew are pretty vast in some regards, but they both are great at what they do.
With choosing a producer we narrowed it down to two options, one I won't reveal because I'll leave some surprise for if we end up with him one of these records. We knew we wanted to try something new, and see how that affected our record. Joey has proven that he can get so much clarity in his recordings. We felt that with our last record there were some characteristics that were lost in the recordings that we felt should stand out.
Andrew is a great song writer/producer, as well as a vocal producer genius in my opinion. However musically, the technical parts we had written for Life Cycles we knew weren't really his thing. So that played a pretty big role in it. Joey recorded and produced the music along with Nick Sampson. Between the two of them and the high level of musicianship my bandmates have achieved and worked hard for, they did an incredible job. I recorded the vocals in Van Nuys, CA with Allan Hessler, who has worked with The Used, Story Of The Year and My Chemical Romance.
This wasn't how we set out to record the record, separately, but it just had to work out that way to finish it. This actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me on this record. I was able to spend countless hours working and reworking songs, perfecting takes to get the perfect feel which was a top priority this time around. Ash [Avildsen], owner of Sumerian Records who has become a great friend actually played a role in this. I was staying at his house one of the nights I was tracking and he had me show him some parts and vocal ideas. He told me he wanted me to sing to him as if it was just me and an acoustic guitar, where the voice HAS to carry it's own weight, and that he wanted "to believe what I was singing". This was a moment that changed me as a vocalist forever. I stayed up singing until 6am and the next day when I went in to track, I had found my voice. This record I've been noticing comments [online] on the singles, talking about how my voice has changed; and it's because I sang what I was feeling, and you can hear it in my voice. As opposed to just singing to hit the notes, this way, the character of my voice truly came out and I couldn't be more stoked.
First off, let’s talk about the first and second songs released from the record. The first song is called "Wishmaster". What can you tell us about that song?
Zack wrote this, and it was the very last song that was written for Life Cycles actually. We wanted sort of a “2012 Pt.2” vibe, and I think this song came out even better. It's very heavy yet has a really big chorus. Like I mentioned before, it's one of my favorites to play live right now. Zack wrote and programmed all the synth parts, and I think kids are going to love it.
And now you’ve just released a new song a few days ago, “Entirety”. What's the meaning behind this song? Are you concerned people are going to misinterpret it as a religious proclamation of some sort? The refrain "You're all I have" really sticks out to me.
Entirety is my take on how my current relationship formed. You see neither my girlfriend Pamela, nor myself, had any intention of starting any relationship. She was focusing on her career, and me on mine. That being said, from the day I met her, we've talked every day since. Both of us had previous relationships that weren't so great. Thus, the reluctancy to focus on anything aside from our own personal growth and progression. Entirety is in a sense, a love song. It's however, one that focuses on the changes that go through someone where they realize they've been fighting falling for someone to no avail. I love my girlfriend, and she's been an amazing influence on my life. I wanted to write a song that so many could relate to. It's about how it's not easy to let someone in, not easy to trust these days, but only the ones who are willing to find what they undeniably have dreamed of finding.
What was the most difficult song to write lyrically on this album?
"Hidden Lakes", probably. It's about my grandfather who passed away, which isn't why it was hard. I mean don't get me wrong, I would much rather him be alive today, however, it was more of the pressure to honor his memory and take my time with the lyrics. I must have written and rewritten that song 40 times. I just wanted it to be something, that like our song "Like Father Like Son" was on Deceiver, that many people who felt similarly to their deceased family members, could relate to. I am really happy with how it turned out. It's a very bright song, almost major sounding like a pop song, or "happy hardcore" at times...definitely a different feel for The Word Alive.
Why is this the best record that The Word Alive has ever written thus far?
Easy, that's what we set as our goal and we did not settle in any aspect of creating this record. We put the majority of a year or more, into writing this record and then almost 2 months recording it. We really pushed ourselves individually and then turned to each other to push even harder. We are one of those bands that wants fans to walk away from our shows satisfied every time. And lately, people had been mentioning how they felt we had gotten better live than our previous record sounded. That's the biggest honor to us, and we wanted to capture that "bigger than life, live feel" with this album. That way when they hear it live it's going to translate from the album and hopefully just envelop the listener more.
If you could sit down and learn from anyone about anything for an entire day, who would it be with and what would you learn? Why?
Chino Moreno, he's my favorite vocalist and I would love to pique his brain about his techniques and mindset when going into both writing songs, and performing them.
Do you feel like Deftones are one of the pioneers of heavy music? Also, what one Deftones record made the biggest impact on your life? For me, I'd consider the self-titled album to be the most significant to me, just on the basis of it being such a pivotal album.
I definitely think they are; there are no bands that truly sound like Deftones, or probably ever could. They each are so unique in their song writing, that to get a group of guys together to try to recreate that won't happen. The first record I heard was Adrenaline, and it was so raw and aggressive, but it wasn't until White Pony that I really became a super fan of the band, which I know sounds super typical. I've bought all their records, and always will. They've continually progressed and each record is great to me for different reasons. I still jam all of them, and it's crazy to compare a record like Around The Fur or Adrenaline, to Diamond Eyes. That big of a change, and still going strong just shows how much they mean to their fans.
Eventually, all bands "call it a day" and cease to continue to make music. That being said, after The Word Alive is done, what's the one thing you'd hope people would associate with your band? Would it be something that you all stood for, or would it be something else?
I hope that they remember us as a band who cared about their fans, who continually progressed both musically and as a live band, and a band who ultimately helped shape our genre as we went on. We want to be one of those bands people remember for years to come, and can hopefully influence the next set of heavy music pioneers. We have a long ways to go mind you, but we plan on getting there.
You're set to take off this summer on the All-Stars Tour with a lot of great bands such as Winds of Plague and Stick To Your Guns; what are your thoughts on being on this tour, and what sort of things can we expect during your set?
We're really stoked to try something new; we'd been on Warped Tour the last 2 summers and I think it's good to change things up and try different markets with different bands. We are direct support on the tour and it's our highest billing to date, so the hard work is paying off and we're blessed to be able to play with some really rad bands. As far as what to expect, I hope people can expect to walk away (or stumble) from our set sweaty as hell.
Can we expect hear "Wishmaster" and "Entirety" on the tour?
Yes we plan on playing both of those, as well as "Dragon Spell" which we haven't released yet. We can only play 6 songs, so we'll play our top 3 favorite songs to play live from the Deceiver era, and 3 brand new ones.
The tour has been in talks of adding another week of dates at the very end that includes the Northwest. Have you heard anything in the last few weeks or so that would indicate that it's confirmed?
I have not but I surely hope we get to play more dates, the more the better for us!
After this tour, what's the band's touring schedule look like?
We're putting together a tour for the fall in the States, and then we head back overseas to end the year. A lot of plans in the works though clear into early next year! Hopefully with the release of this next album, a lot more doors are opened up. We are aiming to headline more consistently and we're really looking forward to that.
We're approaching Mid-June right now; what's at the top of your list right now for 2012 releases?
Architects new album Daybreaker and Crosses new EP! Definitely worth every penny for each.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to fans that are struggling to find their place in the world?
It's easy to feel that way and get caught up in it. I'd say just focus on finding out who you are, what you want, setting goals for yourself, and then each day do something that gets you one step closer to achieving said goals. I think we as humans, are capable of so much. The human brain can will away diseases and physical pain, that's crazy to me. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
Just a thank you to all of those who have pre-ordered our record already. People who buy records and support music seem to be in hiding these days, so it's really a blessing when so many people support the art you create. Thank you!
Sweet interview. Telle you are a vocal monster and you guys truly blew me away when I saw you live for the first time with WCAR, For Today, Woe is me, and Texas in July. Keep up the hard work. Can't wait to get my copy of Life Cycles.
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