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Friday, July 15, 2011

Silverstein Feature: From Broken and Easily Fixed to Rescue with Shane Told

Every now and then you get a band that may not be massively popular like mainstream acts, but still popular enough to garner a huge following of heart-broken teenagers and wistful young adults across the globe. When I first encountered such a band in the form of Silverstein 6 years ago, my fate as a Silverstein diehard was sealed. The band became the essential soundtrack to my teenagehood. Amidst the plethora of punk rock, metalcore and hard rock bands that I was devouring back then, Silverstein was the flawless gem among a pile of uncut gems, the audio diary of a troubled me from a parallel world, and ultimately an entity that I could truly connect with and feel for.

And why wouldn’t any normal teenager feel this way? Afterall, these were just a bunch of ordinary guys from Toronto, Canada. As the start of the second millenium rolled in eleven years ago, the band was conceived, even when most of them had only just gotten out of high school; just like any other band everyday kids who were into punk rock, hardcore and emo would form. Of course, the one big difference was that Silverstein eventually managed to land a record deal with Chicago-based independent powerhouse, Victory Records. Frontman and vocalist Shane Told was reportedly said to have been working at a shop selling printer cartridges prior to receiving a call from Tony Brummel (owner of Victory) himself.

As with all first time signees, Shane was obviously elated to know that Silverstein was actually going somewhere then and no longer just a casual thing he and the rest of the gang did for fun, and look how far they have gone today. With the release of 2003’s critically acclaimed “When Broken Is Easily Fixed”, Silverstein quickly climbed in popularity in comparison to the rest of the Victory roster, selling more than 200, 000 copies in North America alone and earning their hit song “Smashed Into Pieces” a slot on the Victory Records Sampler of that era. Things have sailed smoothly for them since then, with the subsequent release of their landmark and sophomore album “Discovering The Waterfront”, which did even better than their debut and paved the way to a highly successful career ever since. It is also not very often you come across a band that has been in existence for 11 years so far that has the same line-up from 10 years ago. Most bands tend to change at least one or two members within a span of 2 to 3 years, some even the entire line-up a few albums later, but to have all 5 members for a decade?

“We don’t know how other bands work, and we’ve all only been in one band, so for us, you know, we just try to respect each other and we know kinda when to leave each other alone and when to talk about problems that we have, but for the most part, we are all pretty easy-going about things and we just kind of do it. I mean, yeah, it’s been good and we’ve all kind of been on the same level, we’ve all got the same goals. I think with the band, we’ve all agreed musically and where we want to go with things, and that is the best thing,” Shane says.

Halfway through the above response, Josh came into the changing room to retrieve something and jokingly tried to elbow one of his pals in the face, as if trying to show that they were really not that tight as a band. Flashing a cheeky grin after he was done, he exited the changing room. If there’s another thing I love to see in my favourite bands, it would be a sense of humour!

One remembers fondly of the early days when Shane’s screams and growls were still raw and his singing had a weak tone range (c. “Summer’s Stellar Gaze”, “When The Shadows Beam” and “When Broken Is Easily Fixed). The guitars back then just screamed of punk rock and hardcore as well, so it was definitely a real ear-opener for fans when they heard the highly polished metalcore-style single, “Vices”, from the band’s fourth full-length record (and first concept album), 2009’s “A Shipwreck In The Sand”. Never before had Silverstein sounded so heavy and intense. On 2011’s fifth album, “Rescue”, Shane had described its sound to be a crossover of “Discovering The Waterfront” and “A Shipwreck In The Sand”, a melding of the heartfelt ballad approach of the former and the brutal take from the latter; both of which are works of great musical maturity. But what about the lyrics? How much more mature have they become?

Shane pauses to ponder about the question for a brief moment before answering, “Yeah, it’s a good question, I’d say so. For instance, early on in our band’s career, I don’t think there were any sort of songs about politics or songs about, you know, the world and issues with that, and I think that as I have gotten older, those things have become more important to me. I think that’s one thing that’s sort of come out in our music a little bit, it’s making statements about certain sort of political issues in that, so I think definitely, in that sense, it has. Yeah.”

In case any of you reading this still doesn’t know, Silverstein are a bunch of guys who care a lot about animal welfare too. Music isn’t everything in their lives, and they are really zealous in their beliefs, being practising vegetarians/vegans since they were teenagers. They are strong supporters of the animal welfare website, Peta2.com, and according to their interview on that website, they have always found exploiting animals for food, fur and other products just not the right thing to do.

“Well, we are only both vegan [points at Billy Hamilton], and the rest of us are vegetarian, and I think if you asked each one of us, we’d give you a slightly different reason, further reasons [on why they turned vegetarian/vegan]. I’d say for me, I think you can live a healthy lifestyle, if not, a more healthy lifestyle than somebody who eats meat, without having to harm a [sentient] living thing. So that’s personally, for me, why I do it.“

By the way, Shane really fell down at the end of the music video.

Going back to Silverstein’s history, many music fans and critics have labeled Silverstein as one of the main pioneers of post-hardcore. So, had it really been the band’s intention to come up with such a crossover style right from the start?

“It was, absolutely. I think we came from a background where we had a lot of different influences, you know, and we had a lot of different styles of music that were popular in our hometown and it was very all over the place. It was everything from punk rock to hardcore to ska to emo and for us, I think we loved all those kinds of music equally and our whole intention was just to bring them together and fuse them together. I think that’s where we kind of got our sound and it’s great, you know, that worked out like that, so it’s a special thing.”

After hearing that, A Day To Remember just popped into my mind, and I promptly questioned Shane if they were really good friends since they seemed to be playing in a style quite similar to Silverstein’s.

“Yeah, and we know them really well. I guess I don’t know how much of an influence we were on them, but it’s interesting you know, and I think they are a little bit different ‘cos they are tuned down a little more lower and they kind of do a little more of the double-kick, breakdown thing, and we don’t do it as much, so I think we have different sort of takes but I think our influences are kind of the same.”

Having been on their debut label Victory Records for a good 7 years, one might at first think that Silverstein would feel a little regretful for leaving the label that groomed them to become what they are today. But surprise—it turns out that even these affable guys have gotten sick and tired of Tony Brummel’s overly-business approach to the art of recording music. Shane had mentioned in interviews on other websites that he was disillusioned with how Victory Records was run more like a corporation than an independent record label because “they are very driven on what’s gonna sell, how many copies of whatever they’re gonna sell, and a lot of times that held us [Silverstein] back from a lot of the things that we wanted to do.” (as extracted from AMP Magazine)

“No, absolutely no regrets. I mean, we did four albums with them and we had the best of times and there were the worst of times as they say, and you know, we just decided that we had some other options on where to go, like other labels and the business side, and Hopeless [Records] is a much better fit for us as a label,” Shane says with surety.

And about his own record label that was set up to help fellow Canadian bands, Verona Records? Well, Shane still does it on top of Silverstein. “I still do it, yeah,” Shane says. “And Counterparts was the last band on it and they are actually on Victory Records now. And I did some other great releases, and I continue to help out bands that are Canadian and stuff.”

Moving on to the million-dollar question, I asked Shane how he switches between his harsh vocals and clean singing so effortlessly, and how he ensures his voice is well taken care of. I must have been the millionth person to ask him that.

"A lot of people ask me that, and I don’t know, I just do it. I don’t have a lot of training, I haven’t taken all those lessons and stuff, I just kind of do the right thing. It’s something that I enjoy and I enjoy switching it up. It gives our band a lot of dynamics I think, between soft and heavy; and I like it."

“I drink a lot of water and I try to get a lot of sleep. Other than that, there’s no special remedies. It’s like some people say they don’t eat dairy or whatever, that messes them up. It doesn’t affect me, I mean as long as I’m drinking enough water and sleeping enough, I’m pretty good. Oh, if I get sick, that sucks too.”

As with many foreign bands whom are on their virgin visit to the little sunny island of Singapore, Silverstein were pretty excited about seeing some of the famous tourist spots. Bassist Billy Hamilton was so taken with the Merlion that halfway through the gig, he proclaimed that his next tattoo was going to be that of a Merlion, and that “that shit is cool, man.” Silverstein was also supposed to drop by a local radio station by the name of Power 98 for an interview in the morning of their first day in Singapore, but only Paul and Billy managed to turn up in the end as the other three were beat from the long flight the night before and resting up at their hotel room. This was especially understandable for Shane since he had to recuperate his voice from a soldout night at Taipei, Taiwan the day before. Since Shane wasn’t there while the deejays asked them what had they thought of Singapore before they arrived, I decided to pose the same question to him.

“Right, what I think of it? You know, it’s funny ‘cos I have a very good friend that I grew up with who was from Singapore, so he’d go over every summer and he’d always talk about how nice it was, so I always kind of pictured it how it is I guess. But then it’s funny what you hear about in the news, like the kid who spray painted the car and got caned—I’m sure you guys remember that ‘cos it was big news—and you know, you hear about the drug-smuggling and how they put people to death and stuff. So you hear that stuff, and I think you come here and you are a little bit scared that it’s gonna be really like everywhere you go there’s going to be police and stuff, but it’s really not. It’s like a lot more laidback than I thought, so I was thinking it was going to be a little more like uptight, but it’s actually pretty chill.” [ZLM]

- Wraith

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