Interview with Shawn Milke from Alesana: Stepping Stones

Themes found throughout the music of self-proclaimed ‘sweetcore’ band Alesana range from Greek mythology to Edgar Allan Poe, but there’s no time for living in the past. For vocalists Shawn Milke and Dennis Lee, guitarists Pat Thompson and Alex Torres, bassist Shane Crump and drummer Jeremy Bryan, a long list of work awaits them this year.

Only just released last year, their album The Emptiness, alongside a long run of headlining dates and Warped Tour was not enough to cause want for a break. The members of Alesana will be entering the studio to work on a new album between touring the U.S. and overseas. Maybe vacation comes in the form of stepping down and playing as support on their current venture, The Dead Masquerade Tour.

Originally from New Jersey, Milke sent his sympathies to the recent snowfall the East Coast received as he understands how awful the Jersey weather can be. He was safe and sound from the torments of winter, having just started the current tour out on the opposite side of the country. Maybe that’s why he had such an upbeat and cheerful attitude in talking about new material, and even retirement.

It feels somewhat odd seeing you not in the headlining spot on this tour. What are you most looking forward to on this run?

Well, that’s what’s great about this. We’ve been headlining for pretty much two-and-a-half years straight and to be the direct support for Escape the Fate is awesome. It’s nice hanging out with ETF because we’ve been friends with them for a couple years and [we enjoy] being able to be the band that helps gets people excited for the band that they really came to see.

Before the holidays, you guys finished your Two Frail Weeks Of Vanity And Wax Tour, where you played your first album in its entirety. It was said you were retiring songs, but which ones?

We basically retired the whole record. When we go overseas and places that we don’t get to play as often, we’ll still play those songs. Here in the U.S., we may try to put a West Coast run of the same thing for people who didn’t get a chance to get to see it. We’re trying to sort of put the past behind us and let those songs be what they were when they were and move on to the new material.

I see so many bands doing one-off shows playing older records from start to finish lately.

Yeah, it’s a way to let our fans know that we’re not stopping these songs because we don’t like them, but once you got three or four records’ worth of material and you get to play 45 minutes a night, it’s just impossible to play everything. In order to give the new songs the same amount of attention that we gave the old songs when they first came out, we got to stop playing the old songs on a regular basis.

You’re heading into the studio right after this tour. Does it feel too soon?

We are a band that lives in a vein of older music and bands like The Beatles put out several records a year. We don’t believe in riding the tails of a record for too long. By the time the record actually comes out, it’ll be in September, which will be 18 months and that’s been pretty much the amount of time between all of our records. To be honest with you, we would put them out quicker than that if we were allowed to, but they won’t let us (laughs).

If the drive is there to continuously make music, did you ever think about releasing music on your own?

That’s the problem with contractual obligations and stuff like that; they sort of limit you to what you can do outside of your contract. The only way you could ever be able to distribute music non-stop as often as we want would be to have no record label, and we like having a label.

Back in the fall, you changed labels and are now on Epitaph. Why the switch? We knew we were about to fulfill our contract with Fearless and we believe in growing and moving on, seeing what other places offer. No hard feelings towards you, it’s just we want to try something new. As soon as Epitaph caught wind that we were free agents, they offered a deal immediately.

Why did they stand out?

They’re just a powerhouse. We’ve watched what they’ve done with bands like ETF and they signed bands as big as Weezer. They’ve been such a strong and powerful label for so many years that it felt like a step up for us.

For the next album, are you incorporating a particular theme or have you created a full storyline as on The Emptiness?

With The Emptiness, which is a short story I wrote, we based the record on that short story. We’re doing the same thing with this record. For the people who enjoyed The Emptiness, there are a couple pretty cool things they’re really going to enjoy.

Will the music stay true to what fans have come to expect from Alesana or will there be any new surprises?

Pretty much, what we do is take what we’ve developed on previous records and apply that again. This time around, we’re doing some spacier parts with like loose strings, floating kind of parts and we’re also employing a gospel choir on some parts of the record along with the string quartet we used on the last record.

You have been on a non-stop touring schedule, so are you writing on the road or when do you find time?

Writing on the road is okay and we do it when we have to, but generally it’s like we have a two week break at home and Pat and I will use the entirety of the two weeks and just write 24 hours a day, around the clock. Sure it’s hard work, but it’s what we love to do, it’s our dream, so there’s nothing really to complain about. If I’m able to pay my bills and sit at home and just write music 24/7, I’m a happy guy.

Is it always just you and Pat writing beforehand or wouldn’t it be easier on the road with everyone right there to check in with?

We prefer doing it like that. I’m the only member who’s involved in every single step as far as guitars, drums, lyrics, strings, piano and everything. I prefer doing things that way because I like doing one step at a time and making sure each step is perfect before moving on to the next. If you rush, the prior steps are going to be stuff that you usually don’t spend as much time on in making sure the guitars are perfect and then you’ll start the drums before they’re done, then everything’s going to start a snowball effect. Then we’re already in the song and then realize there’s a problem three steps back.

Do you have a tendency to be a control freak or too much of a perfectionist?

Oh no, I mean perfection in music is what makes it great. I’m very open-minded and very good about admitting if I’m wrong about parts or things like that.

You and Dennis write the lyrics and concepts or do the other guys help in the writing process?

Lyrically it’s strictly Dennis and I. The other guys are supportive of it, they know that we are good at writing the lyrics and we show it to them of course, but they would never even dream of asking us to change it because they know how much time we’ve spent on everything down to the finest details.

Have you given serious thought to doing more with your writings than just letting them play out in your music?

We’ve definitely considered like having a script written or something like that, but we’re trying to finish musically everything we want to accomplish. I do plenty of writing on the side. I’m actually about halfway through my first novel that I’m hoping to release by the end of the year and a couple of short stories and things like that. So that’s definitely a dream of mine and the next step is to take it to actual acting performances.

I finally just saw the video for “The Thespian” and obviously it was styled like a silent movie. Do you feel more drawn to older works in the horror genre?

Absolutely, the whole idea of The Emptiness was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. That’s why our main character’s name is Annabel; it’s based on the last poem published by him post-mortem which was “Annabel Lee.” I draw from all generations of art.

Alesana will be playing with Escape The Fate at the Trocadero in Philadelphia Feb. 4 and Starland Ballroom in Sayreville Feb. 5. For more information, go to