Interview with Shawn Milke of Alesana | By Natasha Van Duser
When asked to describe the decade-long journey that is the band Alesana in one word, guitarist and clean vocalist Shawn Milke simply responded with “Transcending.” After four full-length concept albums, two EPs and ten years together, the self-proclaimed “sweetcore” band from North Carolina is finally ready to conclude the musical trilogy they’ve been working all these years to perfect. Confessions, the fifth LP the band is to release and the final installment of the long anticipated Annabel Trilogy is almost here, and we got to chat with Milke to learn all about it.
“‘Go with your gut’ is something I stressed throughout the entire process,” explains Milke of the upcoming record. “From the initial writing stages all the way up through tracking, I wanted this installment to feel natural and instinctual and the best way to capture that was to trust our hearts and our abilities, allowing them to shine through.”
This is the third and final release of the three studio albums and accompanying short stories that make up Alesana’s iconic Annabel Trilogy, a three part story centered around the fictional character Annabel and how she interacts with various storylines and motifs found in famous works of literature. The trilogy debuted with 2010’s The Emptiness which was based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and was followed by 2011’s A Place Where The Sun Is Silent which was directly inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Now in 2015 the world will get to hear Confessions, a piece derived from Madeleine L’Engel’s Time Quintet novel series. “Time travel is something I am obsessed with,” explains Milke. “I knew that I wanted Confessions to use it as a centerpiece to the plot and vibe of the record. So many of the standard mechanisms of time travel are present in L’Engle’s work and she tells her story with so many inspiring social and emotional themes. It is a great series and it was a treat getting to pay tribute to it in our work.”
To create this record, Alesana got to pursue many things they were limited from with their past records, including releasing the album through Milke’s own label, Revival Recordings. “[Recording through Revival] is completely different in every way possible,” says Milke, “and thusly far more rewarding. I am trying to build a culture and platform for other artists to realize their own potential and dreams. Good music should begin with the people creating the art, not the industry trying to exploit them.”
Since Milke got more of a direct say in how the album was handled, he was also able to work as a producer for the record, too. “Collaborating with [recording engineer] Neil Engle is always a pleasure and a dance that he and I have perfected overtime,” Milke says. “It is a lot of fun to bring a vision to life on your own terms.”
This vision that became Confessions will finally let fans know what is to become of Annabel and the storylines she has affected for the last five years. “There are a lot of reveals in this installment,” Milke explains of the album’s title. “A lot of characters were wearing the sheep’s wool and they can no longer stand the deception. Our story, at its core, is about self-recognition. Have you ever actually seen yourself without a mirror? Our characters are all forced to answer that question.”
Confessions is set to close a major chapter for the band, one they have been actively pursuing for over half of their decade together. “It is actually fairly bittersweet. To see this trilogy through to its conclusion is very rewarding, and the ending is awesome. However, it is also sad to say goodbye to a character and a concept that we have lived with for so long. Annabel is so layered and rich as a character, literally in some instances. The Annabel Trilogy is a crowning achievement both as a songwriter and as a storyteller.”
While Confessions won’t be released until April 21st, the six-piece will be performing much of their new material live when they hit the road starting April 3rd. “We will be playing so many songs from the trilogy, including two brand new songs that will be released before the tour. We are very excited for this tour, the package is incredible,” Milke notes of the upcoming American shows with Capture the Crown and Revival Recordings label-mates, The Funeral Portrait.
“I can’t wait to one day sit down and listen through The Annabel Trilogy in its entirety,” Milke concludes, “All of the movements rely on one another. I truly love Confessions and it is my favorite collection we have ever done.”