Band Interview: Silverstein, September 2009

An Interview with Shane Told of Silverstein

Gods, I used to have an ugly haircut.

Montreal, QC

September 26, 2009


By Aaron Binder
Photography by Emily Sheff

Where the Kids Play

Everyone wants to create greatness, something that will be remembered, something that people will be able to look back at 5, 50, 500 years later and say ‘this is a masterpiece’.  Human nature has determined that we all want to be remembered for something more than just our basic existence; to believe that we will not be just another John Doe on a gravestone is what drives us at our core to excel at whatever it is we attempt to do best.

It is a grounded nature that has preserves the spirit of greatness though, and it is exactly that type of nature which will determine who is remembered from current generations as well.  The difference now is that culture has become so fragmented that it takes more work, more determination, more sweat equity to become truly exceptional and grandiose on the world stage.  The positive side of this is that there truly is something out there, some culture for everyone.

This has opened up the opportunity for people, bands, artists, icons to become somebody in a niche of their own.  Silverstein is one of those groups.  It has been almost a 10-year journey for them to achieve the status that they have gained.  They will tell you themselves that they never actively sought out to become the band that they are today, but they enjoy they fact that they have arrived where they are today.

The year of 2009 marks an important date on their calendar; their fourth full-length release, A Shipwreck in the Sand, has already achieved legendary status.  Their touring schedule has ramped up and even though they are already well known for their extensive schedule, the current set of dates have become must-see events across the world.

It is almost mind-boggling for most people to realize that a band from Burlington has achieved such highly regarded status in the punk scene.  Stepping onto their tour bus is sign enough that they have managed to become something of value to the music world.  Where 20 years ago only bands that had truly made it in the commercial world would have been able to afford such amenities, Silverstein has managed to become one of those niche bands that could.  In a fragmented world, they have become the best in their game and they deserve it.  The band has put in countless hours devoted to making the best music possible, they have put in sweat, blood and tears on tour and have still managed to come out on top.

The pop world may never know their name, but for years and years and years to come, there will be a following and they will all be clamouring one name, wishing for more, begging to keep it coming.  Their heroes may never reach the same lofty heights as Jesus or Cleopatra, but that’s not what they’re trying to do anyway.  Regardless of how popular they become, the following will remember their heroes, they will listen with ears open, they will whisper, they will talk, they scream one name, the band that had been there all along for them where all other historical figures became obsolete…Silverstein.

Shane Told of Silverstein

Here is the interview:

Aaron: Tell me a little bit about the thought process behind your new album, what was it like stepping out of your comfort zone on the concept?

Shane: It was hard.  It was a big challenge and I think if I knew how much work, how much more it would be than just a regular record, then I think I wouldn’t have done it.  Writing music and writing the lyrics, which is two steps, and putting a concept in there was like a third step, you have to spend more time working on it, everything has to line up.  We wanted to do a true concept record where you have a beginning, middle and end of a record and have it flow and have it tell a story throughout, you have to do a lot of planning.  It was very challenging, in the end I’m glad and I lost a lot of sleep over the record and went a little crazy in the process but I’m happy with how it came out.

Aaron: I suppose a little craziness is never a bad thing.  The concept itself is based around a middle-class story, what drew you toward writing something like that?

Shane: Well, I wanted to write a political record but I didn’t want it to be a ‘fuck you government’ or ‘fuck you president’, I didn’t want it to be…I mean, Bad Religion has done that, we don’t need another record like that, so I wanted it to be more from the point of view of the everyman, the typical American family and the kinds of things that they’re going through.  So that’s where I came up with the idea to tell it like a story and throw some political things in there to try and tie it together and try to get people to understand and go deeper into it instead of writing a story about just domestic problems.

Aaron: Being a Canadian based band, some people would find it strange that you’re writing about an American family, do you find most of your influence social and musical come from the States instead of Canadian culture?

Shane: I think part of being Canadian is how heavily we’re influenced by American culture, and America ’s economy and America ’s social structure.  When they say we’re the 51st state, people may get offended, but you can’t really completely deny that there’s some truth to that.  We’re neighbours and we share a lot of things.  I spend a lot of time in the US , but it’s hard, my dad worked for a company in Canada which was an American based company.  He took a lot of stock options in an American company and of course, when the American economy goes down, so do the stocks.  Someone like that, and I’m sure a lot of people in the middle class families lost a lot of savings in the stock market because of the US economy, it really affects everybody.

Aaron: So with this album you’re trying to tell people to pay more attention to their lives and everything that’s going on…

Shane: Yeah, I think people should be involved and have a voice and do all those things.  I just want people to be informed and make good choices.  I don’t think that things are going to change overnight, but I think with younger people coming out and getting involved in voting and politics and stuff, I think it all helps.

Aaron: How have your fans reacted to the album so far?

Shane: It’s been unbelievable; there hasn’t been a single negative thing that anyone’s told me.  People are saying that if it’s not their favourite record we’ve ever made, it’s their second favourite.  It’s great, even the critics and reviews and stuff have all come out really strong, which is a good sign too, so we couldn’t be happier.

Aaron: How do you think it has an affect on your fans lives?

Shane: Well, I mean, a lot of our fans are American, the majority are American, I think that they are going through a lot of the same things that I’m talking about, that I’ve always been talking about.  One of the things I tried to do…I tried to make the concept record and make it tell a story from beginning to end but I wanted each song to tell a story as well.  I wanted it so if someone just heard one song they could take something from that too.  There are a lot of little stories within stories that will help people with things they’re going through and things people can relate to that are important.

Aaron: It’s been a pretty big step for the band, putting out a new concept album and touring behind it.  Where do you think that is going to take you over the next while?

Shane: The fact that we made this record and got through it and it came out so good and it’s been so well received, it really just made us stronger as a band.  Coming out after that first tour, we’re all getting along better than we ever have before and everything was just going awesome.  I think now we feel that the skies the limit, we kinda feel like we can go in a lot of different directions all over the world and just continue to have fun, that’s the main thing.

Aaron: It’s cool because we’re in a tour bus right now, and I remember seeing you guys grow up from that little band with your first record, hopping in your van and going across the continent.  Now you’re at this level where you have the possibility of not just having the tour bus but even more.  Is that something that’s been on your minds as you’ve been touring behind this album, just making it even bigger?

Shane: No…because I think you have to go in small steps.  When we started the band, I would have said no fucking way we’d ever be on a tour bus.  Back then, none of my favourite bands toured on tour busses, maybe Metallica or something like that, but there were no punk-rock bands or hardcore bands or emo bands or whatever, nobody had busses.  So for us to have this, it’s surreal, but now I don’t think of it as that crazy because it wasn’t like one day we just woke up and we were here.

It’s been like…let’s write some songs in a basement, let’s make a demo, let’s play a local show, let’s make a record, let’s do a little mini-tour, and these steps go on and on and on until you’ve climbed up the ladder so slowly yet so far, it’s great.

To answer your question about the future, we still have little goals about what we want to do, we want to go to a lot of places.  The concept record was a big goal that we met.  Goals change as they go because your wants and your desires and your needs change.  So once we figure out what those are and we obtain them, that’s the main thing, and that’s what we’ve been doing for almost 10 years.

Aaron: It sounds like you’re happy with these small goals that you’re happy to obtain and to continue climbing the ladder one rung at a time, but what do you see at the top of the ladder for the band?

Shane: I…I honestly…I couldn’t answer that.  If you go back to the ladder analogy, you have to go one rung at a time because if you try to jump up three rungs, you’re going to fall off the ladder.  If I said our goal was to tour a stadium with Metallica, or even if I went back two years ago and said our ultimate tour would be to tour with NOFX, my favourite band growing up, well I did that, but I still want more.  So I can’t say that there is an ultimate goal…to be the biggest band in the world, I don’t even know if I want that or if I get there that’s all I want.

I think that’s almost an impossible question to really answer honestly.

Aaron: Honesty is interesting.

Shane: I could say that all I want for the next record to sell a million copies.  But you know what, if it sold a million copies I’d be thinking how to sell two million, and that’s just the way human beings are.  If someone has no money and they just want to get back to having no debt, they just want to get back to even, where if someone has ten million dollars they just want to make more.

People that have no money kill themselves less than people that have millions and millions of dollars.  That doesn’t make any sense; it’s all in your head and it’s all about what you want out of things.  I think if you’re happy, that’s all that really matters.

Aaron: Do you think that’s part of the staying power of the band; the fact that you guys are a little more down to earth and realize you need to take those small steps?  Is that an attraction point to the music and the people behind it?

Shane: I don’t know…I can’t really answer that.  I don’t know why anyone likes my band, really.  We try to write good songs, we try to play well; we try to treat people with respect.  We try to do the right thing.  I don’t know if that’s why people like us, I don’t know if people like us because I have straight hair or because I wear skinny jeans.  I don’t know why anyone likes the band.  That’s my honest answer to that.

At the same time, we do our thing, that’s all it is.

Aaron: Very cool, very down to earth.  So what do you think Silverstein is going to do next musically?

Shane: That’s a fine question…to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it.  We were really happy with how our last record came out, they way we made it, we loved the producer we worked with, we loved the studio we worked in, everything about it in the environment.  We just love the sound of it.

I don’t think you can expect a radical departure, I don’t know if we’re going to make a concept record, I’m gonna say that I doubt it unless some idea comes into my head, something that I really wanna do.  For now I think we just want to go back and make a solid record with great songs and a record that people are going to take away from, relate to, and just hold on to.

Aaron: Cool, thanks a lot.

Shane: Thank you.


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