Interview with Shane Told of Silverstein

Photo: Brooks Reynolds

Since the release of their debut album eight years ago, Silverstein have trod a path that firmly connects their propulsive drive to their innate sense of musicality. With their brand new record, ‘Rescue,’ the Canadian rockers have once again stayed true to their sound, delivering songs that are both catchy and heavy. Balanced amounts of powerful screaming and clean vocals over a solid rhythmic foundation help to make ‘Rescue’ one of the most notable releases of the year. Highlights include “Intervention,” “Burning Hearts,” and “Texas Mickey” (featuring Anthony Raneri of Bayside).

A few hours before their first show on this year’s Take Action Tour, Rock Edition caught up with vocalist Shane Told to talk about the band’s new album, shows, and future plans. Check out what he had to say below.

How’s your day been?

It’s been a hectic day. We’re starting out our tour in Boston, and there’s just a lot to do. It’s been stressful, but now we’re done and everything worked out great. I’m really looking forward to an awesome show tonight.

It doesn’t seem like you guys ever slow down.

We’re not scared of work, I guess. It can be both a curse and a blessing sometimes. We enjoy what we do. We figure if we’re going to do it, we might as well do it full-on. Our new record hits the stores on Tuesday, which we’re really excited about. We also have a new video in the works and lots of touring all over the world. It’s crazy to think of all the touring and stuff we’ve done and the record hasn’t even come out yet. It’s good.

Let’s talk a little about this new album. You guys made some initial demos, hit the road, and then came back to the studio to record the tracks, right?

That’s exactly right. A year after ‘A Shipwreck in the Sand’ came out, we were officially free agents because our contract with Victory [Records] was over. We weren’t sure at that point what label we were going to sign to, so we decided we should get into our practice space, write some songs, and make some demos to play for some people. That’s kind of the first step we took. It was great because there wasn’t pressure. It’s not like we had to write the songs for a release date that was coming up in three months. We went on tour, came back to the songs, and tweaked them a little bit. We found that by the time we were all done writing for ‘Rescue,’ we had tons and tons of songs. We were then able to choose the songs that had the most staying power and the songs that were still our favorites. We knew those were the songs that were going to be our fans’ favorites for years and years to come.

For ‘Rescue,’ you guys chose to work with a new producer.

Yeah, we did. It’s funny how that happened. We went to make demos, which we were just going to do locally with a guy that had done some demos for us in the past, but then we heard a couple of new local bands that came out that both sounded awesome. It [just so] happened to be the same guy that produced both of them — a guy by the name of Jordan Valeriote. We went in just to do demos with him — I think he was only like 22 at that point — but we liked working with him so much that we decided to do the whole record with him. He impressed us that much; not only with the tones he was getting and his work ethic, but also his musical ideas and sense of musicality was incredible. He was really great to work with. I think he did an amazing job and he’s kind of our guy now. We’re stoked.

Was he familiar with Silverstein’s catalog?

Absolutely. He grew up going to our shows and stuff. It’s almost like he was a bit of a fan.

Were a lot of fresh ideas brought to the table this time around?

We really did things the way we wanted to do them, not the way we thought people were going to expect us to do them. Let’s say you write a verse and you write a chorus, and you’re not sure the direction you want to take the song, sometimes we would be like, “Fuck it, let’s put in a part here that we just want to put in. We don’t necessarily have to go by some perfect song structure.” We kind of went by feel a little bit more.

Do you find that a lot of your songs are written from top to bottom or are they sporadic?

It depends. There’s certain songs that are very top to bottom. Like, you might come up with an intro riff and then you figure out the verse and chorus and structure. Other times, the first part written might be a breakdown idea or an outro. I think it would surprise a lot of people if they heard what the final product is compared to how it started. From a songwriting perspective, I think it’s really interesting.

Luckily, people will actually kind of be able to get a taste of that if they pick up the deluxe edition of ‘Rescue.’ I believe it features a few demos.

Yeah, the demos definitely show how the song progressed a little. I mean, they’re not hugely different than the song, but there are some differences. We just wanted to show a little bit of how the songs changed. It’s something cool for people to see.

Have you ever thought about having the band self-produce a record?

Well, that partly was what this record was. When we went in to make the demos originally with Jordan, we didn’t really want his feedback. He was just there to record it; he wasn’t there to actually produce it and get the best performances out of us or help arrange the songs. Myself and the band pretty much did all that. But, the more we worked with him and asked him what he thought, his ideas were always right. [laughs] That’s why we ended up choosing to go with him. I wouldn’t say that we didn’t have a hand in producing the record. We definitely did. With us, I just think it’s good to have someone there to bounce ideas off. I don’t think we’re too good for a producer. I think it’s ultimately going to make the record better, so why not do it? I don’t feel the need to not work with a producer to make some sort of point.

Right. It’s just interesting how bands sometimes decide to drop that extra helping hand.

Yeah, well we definitely wouldn’t go into the studio without somebody engineering at least, because we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing. We’re not fucking engineers, producers, or technical people. So we would never do that. I think when bands do that it’s a complete failure — just some band member thinking they’re good at recording when they’re usually not. Then the record sounds like shit, which I think just causes problems in the band. Also, sometimes when bands self-produce, they say they self-produce when really they just got a producer that’s okay with not taking a production credit. [laughs]

I’ve definitely heard that before. The new song “Texas Mickey” features some great guest vocals by Anthony Raneri of Bayside. I know that you’ve been friends with Anthony for quite some time now. Did you just call him up and ask him to come over to the studio?

No, he recorded his part in New York. I always wanted to get Anthony to sing on a track, but they never felt the right vibe for him. When this song was finished, I really felt that he could lend his voice nicely to it. I called him up and asked him if he was interested. He said, “Of course, send me the song.” He went into the studio, recorded it, and sent it to us. We’ve known each other for about eight years now and have been friends ever since.

Did you give him any direction?

I sent him what I had done and told him to do whatever he wanted. He made it his own a little bit. With a guest vocal performance, that’s what I want. Obviously, I want the integrity of the song to be there, but at the same time I want the vocalist to put their own flair on it and make it their own and sing it in a way that’s comfortable for them. He did that perfectly. The demo version is also on the record. People can hear how I sang it and then how he kind of manipulated it to suit his own voice.

Another track I want to talk about is “Good Luck with Your Lives.” I read that it’s about your feelings regarding the music industry.

It has a bit of a double meaning. It’s interesting, and something I do a lot. I’ll write a song that can seem like it’s about a relationship when really it’s not. To me, I enjoy that challenge. I want everyone to take a song for themselves and get out of it what they want. That’s something special to me and that’s what I did with that song. People can take it a lot of different ways.

What’s the weirdest place in which you found inspiration for a song or lyric on ‘Rescue’?

Probably from the TV show Lost. Near the end of the last season, there’s this part where they go to this weird lighthouse and there’s this thing that turns that they set to whatever degree. For some reason, that imagery kind of made me think of this place in Australia that I know. And, it made me think about how I wanted to call a song “Darling Harbour,” which I had kind of forgotten about. It’s really weird how these things all click. The song ended up being inspired by Lost but then kind of being about Australia. It was definitely weird. There is, of course, an Australian tie to the show Lost because that’s where they’re flying from. It’s interesting how all that tied together, and it’s just proof that if you have an open mind, you can definitely find inspiration in almost anything.

Do you keep a notebook on you for when inspiration hits?

I used to. Now I just keep everything on my phone. In terms of music stuff, if I have a guitar around, I usually have a computer around, so I’ll just record it onto my computer really fast so I don’t forget a riff or whatever.

The last time Silverstein played the Take Action Tour was in 2006. Now you’re doing it again! It must be nice to be back with a whole new lineup: Bayside, Polar Bear Club, The Swellers, and Texas in July.

Yeah, it’s great. Great group of bands. It’s for a good cause. We really couldn’t be more excited. The weather’s going to be good now too.

Can the fans look forward to hearing some new songs on the road?

Yeah, we’ve been playing a few, but we’ll probably play more and more as the record’s been out for longer and people are more familiar with it. We always play the old stuff too. It’s nice to mix it up.

And then you have some European dates for the summer?

Right. We go to Europe for some festivals in June. Then, after that, we’ll be doing some more things in North America. We’re currently trying to figure out the rest of the year.

It’s nice to see that the industry hasn’t worn you out yet.

The industry has changed so much since we started the band. It’s drastically different. If you told me ten years ago that people would be buying basically just digital files, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me gas prices were going to be like four bucks now, I wouldn’t have believed that either — well, maybe I would have believed that. Anyway, it’s just gotten crazy and everything’s changed. We’ve had to adapt to the technology and the Internet and everything else. We’re still playing and writing music the same way, but the way that you give it to people, promote it, and interact with people is different. I think that it keeps it fresh for us in a way and allows us to be creative with that side of it. We have fans out there that have been with us since the beginning and new fans that are hearing about us all the time. It’s cool. We still enjoy it.

On that same note, I saw that you guys have reached a fairly large number of “likes” on Facebook now. Are you using your page to get a lot of feedback from fans on the new songs?

Twitter is my favorite, but Facebook is good. We have over half a million fans on there now. It’s definitely a great way to reach people and say, “Hey, check out these songs, our new album’s out, we’re going on tour, etc.” It’s a great way to hit everyone up. It’s such an invaluable tool now. Everybody fucking has Facebook. In terms of feedback, you’re definitely right. Once the record’s been out for a few weeks, I like to ask, “Hey, what songs do you guys wanna hear us play live? What songs are you feeling?” It’s a great way to get the fans’ opinions straight from them. Sometimes we don’t always know what songs people are latching onto.

What’s next for Silverstein?

Well, I think we want to just keep expanding on what we’ve done, but also do things we’ve never done before. I have a couple plans for something musically a little different in the works, like some new conceptually-based stuff. Another thing we want to do is more and more stuff with videos. It’s so easy to stream a video on the Internet now. We also want to do more stuff with our fans like live chats and tour more and more countries all over the world that we haven’t been to yet. Whatever keeps it fun for us is what we want to do.

Pick up Silverstein’s new full-length Rescue.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.