Interview: Silverstein - Shane ToldWritten by Josh Lowe
I sat down with Silverstein frontman Shane Told for an interview before the band’s last North American show of 2017, taking place at the London Music Hall in London, Ontario. Face to face in a room the size of a broom closet, we talked touring, Silverstein’s newest record, Warped Tour, and much more.
RMP: You’re just wrapping up a Canadian tour with a few dates throughout the United States. How’s that been?
Shane Told: It’s been good. It’s been really solid. We traditionally haven’t toured Canada nearly as much as the US, and maybe even less than Europe, so it’s always nice to do our home country and realize that there are so many great music fans where we live, and so many great cities to visit.
RMP: As you said, you’ve toured through the US a lot more than you’ve toured through Canada. While Silverstein has never really been a heavily political band, have you noticed that the atmosphere of touring through the United States has changed, especially with the current political climate?
ST: Surprisingly, not really. I think people talk about it a little bit more, but most of the people that are talking about it are the people that are more left-wing kind of people just being pissed off about what’s happening. I know in the US, there are things going on. The fact that there was a Nazi rally in 2017 blows my fucking mind, but I haven’t really seen any of that stuff myself. Not to say it doesn’t go on, but I haven’t seen it myself and it’s been pretty much business as usual. In fact, I’d say we’ve had less trouble at the border in the last year. On this tour, we crossed the border four times, and two of those times we didn’t even have to wake up. They just let us right through without us having to get up and get off the bus or anything. Twice that happened. It’s happened in the past, but it’s very rare. Other than that, I haven’t really noticed much difference at all.
RMP: Where are you drawing inspiration from these days? What’s the songwriting process like for you? For example, some bands will have their guitarist write a full song, send it to their singer, and they’ll work on it before showing it the rest of the band. Do you do something similar?
ST: We don’t have any formulas like that, any sort of cut-and-dry formulas. Every song is different, every song is a different entity. With our band, we have a lot of different styles of music. We have songs that are really heavy, we have songs that are poppy, we have songs that are softer, we have songs that are kind of ambient. We have a lot of different vibes, and I think we’ve always been kind of conscious of that and of keeping each song its own thing. I think as soon as you start getting into a formula of how you do things, then your music’s gonna start sounding formulaic. In terms of inspiration, I think it really is just what’s going on in your life at any given moment, and we’ve done eight albums, so it’s just kind of run the gambit of where I’ve been. Writing records when I was younger, there was that uncertainty of growing up and maturing and not really being sure of what to do or where your direction is. Then we have records where I’m a little bit older, I’m a little bit more comfortable in my skin, and I started writing about other things, like politics a little bit, and I started writing stories. Most recently with Dead Reflection, I was going through a pretty traumatic time in my life that really brought a lot of my own inspiration back into the music, so I think that you really can’t just go down one path creatively. The whole idea of being creative is having a lot of diversity and a lot of difference in things. I don’t even know the definition of creativity, but I’d say that’s pretty much it: having different outlooks and aspects and putting a different spin and shake on things. If your process isn’t creative, then how is your art going to be?
RMP: You just released Dead Reflection, as you said, and this is the first record that Paul Marc Rousseau (Lead Guitar, Silverstein) co-produced. How was it working with him on creating this record?
ST: Well, it’s kind of a funny story. We didn’t go into the record with him as a co-producer. He’s gotten into producing other bands over the past year or so, so he and Derek (Hoffman, Producer), who was our producer and we knew we were gonna work with, they got put together to do a co-production gig for this other band, and they were in Derek’s studio literally right before we were, so they did a whole record with Paul and Derek producing it. Then, a week later we’re doing it. Paul and Derek have already been producing a record, they’re already on that page, so when we started doing it, Derek’s the producer but then Paul’s used to doing that with Derek, so it just sorta naturally happened. At the end of the recording process, we’re like “what do we put for producer?” because obviously we’d paid Derek and we didn’t pay Paul because he’s in our band, but he was a producer and it didn’t feel right not giving him credit. He did a ton of work producing this record, there’s no question. Me and him have typically been the two guys that are there for every note recorded on the record, from drums to guitars to vocals to mixing, but with this record, Paul Marc was especially hands on, and I think we really pushed each other to make this record great.
RMP: That’s awesome. It really paid off, because this record sounds great. It’s my favourite you guys have ever made.
ST: Thank you! It’s our favourite, too.
RMP: To go back to what you said about being in a really dark place going into writing Dead Reflection, when you were going through that, did you consciously decide that you were gonna write a record based on it, or was it something that flowed naturally for you, or were you like “I’m feeling all of this negative energy, I need to write a record.”
ST: To be completely honest, when we started working on this record, I didn’t really know which way was up. I wasn’t okay. So, it wasn’t like I had a conscious effort to be like, “oh, hey, there’s all this stuff going on in my life, bad stuff’s happening to me, I’m gonna go use that.” It was like I couldn’t understand that that was even happening to me. That was my life. There was no way I couldn’t write about it. It wasn't like I’d wake up and have my cereal and drink my orange juice and go through my life and the things I’d have to do and be like “By the way, I’m kinda sad sometimes.” I was just sad all the time. It was completely over me, so there was no possible way of writing about anything else at the time. What’s crazy about it, I’ve mentioned it a few times but maybe not as eloquently as I’m gonna try to put it now, is that the band’s never been away from me. The band has been a constant in my life despite things coming and going, relationships, or different problems I’ve had over the last 17 years. The band’s always been there, and I knew that we had to do a record. The studio time was booked, I had to make this record, and that was the only light at the end of the tunnel that I had, was making this record. When I started writing it, I knew that it was gonna be about what I was feeling, because that was all I could feel, but it was like once I stared writing about it, I started understanding it, and then once I started understanding it, I started realizing how therapeutic it was to me. When you’re writing a record, you’re usually writing about something that happened to you in the past; something that you’ve felt, but when you’re writing about something so present, like we’re in the studio and I’m feeling this way and it’s literally going on right now, it was almost like by writing certain words I could almost change my future. By making an understanding of what I’m going through, I was able to say “if I write this song about this happening to me because I think it’s going to happen to me, then it won’t happen to me.” Then I can understand that this is what I need to do to not let this happen. It was really crazy, and the record kinda saved my life. As dramatic as that sounds, I think that if we weren’t making a record, and we were still out on the road or we had a long break or something, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me, but we had to make the record. I knew we had to do that, and I knew it was something that I still had in my life. It was the only thing left for me. I knew I had to do my best, so I did, and I think if we didn’t have that at that time, there’s no telling what would’ve happened.
RMP: I’m really glad you made it and that you pulled through.
ST: I am too! That’s the thing now, I say all this dark shit and everything, and it’s all true, and people are like “are you okay?” and I’m like “Yeah, actually. I’m better now than I’ve ever been.” Happiness is a funny thing. So much of it is relative to what you have gone through before. I used to think I was happy, but I wasn’t, and it took me walking through hell to realize. It was like I was here (holds hand in mid-air), then I was here (lowers hand in mid-air), but there’s still all of this (gesturing to the space above the points where his hands had been), and you don’t realize that. A lot of people who are depressed don’t realize that, that life could be better than you can even imagine, and that’s kinda where I’m at now. It’s a really good time in my life.
RMP: Does it bother you to revisit these songs that you wrote when you were in such a dark place?
ST: Yeah, it does. It does, to be honest. It can be hard, even onstage, and I know it’ll wear off, because there have been other songs in the past that mean a lot to me, and now I sing them, and I either don’t think about the words or just kinda chuckle about it, but it hasn’t been that long and I still think of songs, and I’ll sing a certain line onstage one day and I haven't thought about that line in a while, and I’ll be like “oh yeah, that line is kinda fucked up,” and I’ll think about something specific, and it sometimes does take a little out of me. At the same time, I think it’s okay to sometimes be reminded of some of that stuff, because it reminds you of how much better off you are now, and it can also kind of keep you away from revisiting some of the dark past that you don’t want to fall back into.
RMP: You also have a podcast that you’ve been producing for a couple years, Lead Singer Syndrome, you just put out your 100th episode a couple of weeks ago with Tim from Rise Against, when you were producing this podcast, did that help you try to keep a positive mental attitude?
ST: It’s funny, because that was the one thing that I had to do every week. I knew I had to get that podcast up every week, and it was something that I had that was a goal. Like I said, I was in this dark place, but that was an hour a week where I was like “okay, I gotta call this guy on the phone or I have to meet with this person. I have to do this. It isn’t about me, it’s about this project.” Yeah, I think that was another thing that really helped me out. I talked a little bit about some of the shit I was going through on the podcast, but I tried to keep myself out of it as much as I could, but it was therapeutic to me. It was more just that I had a routine and had people counting on me to be there and to have that show up and running.
RMP: You said that coming onstage and performing these new songs sometimes hits you pretty hard, but ultimately, do these live shows help you feel better about everything?
ST: Yeah. That’s a great question, because when I was going through all this shit, we’d come home, and we had three months off, and I’m like “Oh my god, what am I gonna do with three months?” So I sat in my apartment, drank, smoked, did whatever self-destructive things I did, because I had no direction, other than the podcast. If I had something to distract me or if I could go work, that would be great, but I really didn’t have anything. I was supposed to write a River Oaks record, my solo project, but I couldn’t get my head in the right place to do that at that time. Then, once we went on tour after three months, you get onstage again and you start playing, people come out and they’re having fun and they’re like “oh my god, your show was amazing, you’re so good!” It makes you feel something. I felt kind of worthless for three months, and I kinda forgot how good it feels to get back onstage. Every show we’ve played on this tour has been awesome, it’s been that thing where I’m like “yes! This is why I do this.” because it makes people happy and it makes me happy.
RMP: You’ve been a band for 17 years. You’ve probably played thousands of shows at this point. What are you guys doing to keep shows fun for you and fun for your fans who might’ve seen you already a couple times?
ST: No two shows are the same. One thing we do that a lot of bands don’t do, and I’m surprised more bands don’t do, is that we always switch our setlist. For me, the idea of going and doing a tour like this tour, 25 days, and doing 25 sets that are exactly the same would bore me to tears. Instead of doing the same 18 songs, we have a pool of about 45 songs that we know how to play really well, and we pick from that so our setlist is different every day. I think we're playing “Face of The Earth” tonight, which I don’t think we’ve played this whole tour, but just like that we’ll bust out something we haven’t done in a while. That keeps it fresh for us, keeps us on our toes, and keeps us from feeling like we’re going through the motions. For a lot of our fans, especially these last few shows in London, Hamilton, and Oshawa, a lot of people will come to all three, a few people from Michigan even came over to the Hamilton show. I think that keeps it fresh for everybody, it keeps us honest, and every show is its own thing, why would you not make it its own thing? It’s always different; different songs, different environment, different people. You can play the same song; like you’ve said, we’ve played thousands of shows and probably played “My Heroine” close to 2,000 times. It never gets old. The crowd’s always into it, they’re always different, it’s always a different venue, different environment, and you never know what’s gonna happen. That’s what makes it special.
RMP: You guys are hitting up the UK next month, then you have a huge US tour lined up with Tonight Alive, Broadside, and Picturesque coming up in the new year. What can fans expect to see on that tour? Are there any special plans?
ST: Well, we always wanna play some new stuff. Most of our fans wanna hear the new stuff, too, which sometimes surprises me, because for my favourite bands, occasionally I’ll go see them, and I haven’t really checked out their newest record. I guess I’m just a bad music fan, because our fans are crazy. They’re all up on it, like “are you gonna play this one? What about this one?” and we’re like “We haven’t learned it yet!” so it’s crazy. We try to mix it up and play something from every album, and with a tour like the Tonight Alive one where it’s co-headline, both bands playing long sets and sharing some production and lights and stuff, we can put on a pretty cool show for that. We’re really looking forward to that and just having a lovely time.
RMP: Speaking of massive US tours, Warped just announced that 2018 will be the final year that it travels across the country. How does that make you feel, especially after having made so many appearances on that lineup?
ST: Yeah, we did a lot of it. We did it in ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’13, ’15, and ’17. If you look back at it, I think we’re one of the bands that have played Warped Tour the most. For us, that’s part of where we cut our teeth and got our popularity: from people coming out and seeing us on that tour. It’s sad to see it go, especially with us being close with so many people that run it, but I think it’s good that they’re gonna go out on top. It makes sense. I’m sure you’ll see a lot of the classic Warped Tour bands coming back and doing maybe not the whole thing, but doing select dates. I think it’s gonna be emotional. Not just the last show, where everybody’s in Florida. Every day will be emotional, because everyone who’s going will realize “this is my last Warped Tour.” It’s gonna be really special. Personally, I went to my first one, which was actually in London, back in 1997. They did it at… Western? Like, the fairgrounds or something. They didn’t do a Toronto date that year. ’95 was the first one, and I didn’t even hear about it. ’96 they did it at Mosport (Park, Bowmanville, ON), and I couldn’t get a ride. NOFX was playing and I couldn’t get a ride. So I’m like, “I’m not fucking missing this in ’97,” and it ended up being in London.
RMP: Who was headlining it that year?
ST: Well, “headlining”, y’know, it’s Warped Tour, but Pennywise played last at that show. Lagwagon, Millencolin, Blink-182, Reel Big Fish, Sugar Ray, a lot of bands. So that was the first one I went to, and it was in London, which is insane. I’ve been there, either as an attendant or a performer, every year since then. It’ll be my 22nd year next year, out of 24 Warped Tours.
RMP: Speaking of Warped Tour, I was watching a lot of your concert footage, and there’s on video that stood out to me. It was at Warped Tour, and you guys were performing “Stand Amid The Roar” and you came down and actually stood on top of the crowd and had them hold you up by your legs. Is that sort of thing a regular occurrence?
ST: Sometimes. I think I used to do that. Was that from this past year?
RMP: I’m not sure, but it was recent. Definitely in the 2010’s.
ST: If you look back at ’04, ’05, ’06, I think I was this fireball that was trying to just have every show be this awesome thing, and just trying to wow the crowd, so I probably did it all the time. Then I started getting a little older and realized I’m probably gonna hurt myself or hurt somebody, because I was pretty reckless. I climbed up on speakers, jumped off, y’know, I’m probably like 20lbs heavier now. Jumping off, doing that, I’m surprised I never hurt anybody.
RMP: Were you at Jason Butler (Letlive/The Fever 333) level?
ST: Never that crazy. That guy’s a fucking animal, but I definitely had my moments. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out in the crowd and stand on people or whatever, but my speaker-climbing days are done.
RMP: It sort of represents this interesting relationship between you and the fans, because obviously you love your fans, but you’re putting all of your trust in them when you go out there for them to not drop you.
ST: They’re putting their trust in me, more importantly. It’s one thing if I do something stupid and I get hurt, but it’s a whole other thing… I was in Germany one time, and in the heat of the moment, I stacked up the rock boxes and just jumped. It was a pretty far distance, so I didn’t really jump up and down, I kinda jumped in, because I had to clear the barricade. I pretty much just plowed into some girl’s face and I broke her glasses. She came up after the show and was like “you broke my glasses” and I’m like “oh my god, I’m so sorry,” and I paid for them. It was ike, 700 euros. I’m like, “Shit. I never should’ve agreed to that.” That taught me a lesson, though. Sure, I can get hurt, but if I hurt somebody else, and hurt them really badly… Everybody comes out to have a good time. They don’t come out to get hurt, especially by the band they’re seeing. I just try to be more careful now, and I guess that just comes with maturity, not doing anything stupid.
RMP: As mentioned before, you have a huge US tour coming up in the new year, can you tell us anything else that you’ve got planned for 2018?
ST: In terms of North America, we don’t know yet. For the rest, we’re doing a lot of European touring, we’re doing a lot of festivals over there.
RMP: You guys are playing Impericon, right?
ST: We’re doing Impericon, yeah. That’s cool. We’re doing a bunch of other stuff in Germany and all over Europe. We’re gonna be busy. We put out a record this year, so next year is gonna be pretty much all touring. There aren’t really gonna be any breaks for writing or anything, so people can look forward to that. You’re gonna see some videos coming out, too.