Interview with Alesana frontman and guitarist Shawn Milke | By Kriston McConnell
Alesana is a band that many music fans are familiar with. They have been together for over a decade, and at this point has spent more than half of their musical career crafting a complex story that most musicians can only dream of creating. The effort they put into writing a unique story for within their music has now culminated into a book. Shawn Milke, the lead singer and guitarist in the group, had stated in the past that he wanted to write a novel. Well, he finally was able to make it happen. We had the opportunity to interview Milke about the book, and any future plans he may have for Annabel.
This new chapter in the Annabel series has been a long time coming. All of Alesana’s albums have been inspired by literature, including their albums prior to The Emptiness. It seems like this was planned all along, but the idea for an actual novel did not materialize until the band was well into building the story through their music. They did not anticipate writing such a complex story when they first began their exploration into Annabel’s universe back in 2009. Milke explains. “After the success of The Emptiness I began to think about the idea of a novel. Once we wrote A Place Where The Sun Is Silent, and we ultimately decided it would be a trilogy, that’s when I first gave real consideration to developing a full novel.” He continues, “I think my desire to finish a book, to accomplish that very daunting goal, was my number one driving force.”
Each album in the trilogy was inspired by various works of literature. The Emptiness draws from Edgar Allen Poe, A Place Where The Sun Is Silent draws inspiration from The Inferno by Dante Alighieri and Confessions was inspired by the Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle. With the band’s history of utilizing other works of fiction, it seems only natural that the band would pull ideas from other storytellers for their novel. Milke explains that the book draws from the themes that have already been established, in addition to bringing in some new ideas and inspiration. Milke elaborates. “It combines all of the inspiration, really. I also drew from Paulo Coelho quite a bit in terms of the message I’m trying to send in the overall theme. Coelho had a great way of hiding his themes in the narrative while also, almost ironically, beating you over the head with it. Once you catch it it’s like ‘Ohhh, right. Now I see.'”
The album trilogy offers a high level view of Annabel’s story, and the novel dives deeper into the gritty details. Not only do we learn more about Annabel’s universe, but we are introduced to some new characters. One of which is Roderick, who is Milke’s personal favorite character. “The book definitely expands the universe quite a bit.” Milke adds, “To put it in perspective, the short excerpts that accompanied the records were roughly 24-36 pages. The final version of Annabel in paperback is 296 pages. The previous releases were just a small sample of the story. There are a couple of new and very important characters, as well as some twists and turns that take everything up to this point and completely flip it on its head.”
Earlier this year, the band revealed a two part music video for their single, “Comedy Of Errors,” which is basically a short film. The video was a hit, as fans seemed to enjoy the idea of the story coming to life on screen. There can’t be too many films out there that began as a concept album trilogy, morphed into a novel then transformed into a film. Milke seemed intrigued by the thought of the story continuing on screen, but does not have any solid plans yet. “That is definitely a fantasy of mine. I’ve had some early conversations with my sister-in-law, Rita Baghdadi, who directed our music video for “Fatima Rusalka.” We’ve bounced some ideas around.” So if the novel is a hit, if they don’t opt to hit the big screen, could we see additional novels in the future? According to Milke, that all depends on fan response. “I definitely left the story open for more possibilities at the end of Annabel. There is potential for not only continuing her story, but to also explore some newer characters in more detail. I already have some ideas of where I want to take everything from here so if the fans want more, I’m ready.”
It’s natural for fans of Alesana’s work to want closure to a story that has been in the works for nearly a decade. We want to know what happens to all of the characters. So with that in mind, will Annabel finally offer some of that desired closure? When asked if fans will have more answers or more questions after they’ve finished reading Annabel, Milke kept his response short and to the point. “If I did my job properly, they will have both.”
Alesana have set themselves apart from their peers since the beginning. Milke and the rest of his bandmates have intentionally innovated in such a way that will allow them to leave a mark on the music scene. Their decision to pursue a complex storyline is driven by their desire to to commit to a vision and see it through until the end. That is how Annabel’s story began, and that is how it will end – whenever that may be.
“The band is a huge part of me, and a huge part of our fans. They deserve all of the passion and creativity we can muster.”