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The Marriage of Music and Storytelling

Cherri's Encounter with Shawn Milke of Alesana


Babies!!! I'm totally excited about talking with Shawn Milke from the band Alesana! I've never done an interview with a band that's created a book based off their music - this is so rad! This is a new way of capturing storytelling, which is brilliant, by the way!! Let's hit it straight up with Shawn; founding member of the badasses of Alesana. Since 2004, Alesana has been charged with continuing their quest for awesomeness and a place in the echoes of our Great Hall of the Music Mansion by being prolific with not just orchestrating amazeball metal-esque music - but music that tells a story; quite literally. With a book that is out now (and from what I hear, sold out) that begins to tell the story of a character, Annabel Lee.


Cherri: Hey Shawn! Dude, let's straight up talk about how Alesana crafts music to short storytelling to novel has morphed over the years. Going back to the beginnings of the band and how y'all started to making your stories come to life through music. I gotta say though, one of my favorite things about music is that it can be equivical to time you can just hear a song and go back to that exact place, right? When I read that the buzz is Annabel (the main character in the book) is; indeed a time came OFF my couch and was all, "NO freakin' way!!!" 


Shawn:  So I'll go back just a little bit. When we first started the band, we wanted to do stories, or what we called diary-entry type songs. Instead of going off personal experiences, we wanted to tell stories. We started at first with popular stories that already existed and putting our own spin on them, like what if it went this way or took this turn, and when it came time to do The Emptiness, we decided we wanted to do our own stories from scratch. And the character annabelle was kinda born off our first record which was based on Greek Mythology, but on a couple of songs we sorta tried to write our own stuff in terms of the made up stories - and the song The Last Three Letters - was about this woman, I won't get into the details - but it's where the idea for her to be born. And when you read the book you'll see where we pay tribute to that fact. 

The Emptiness was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, we wanted to create a universe a lot like his, set in a certain period - we wanted to be scary but not horrific.

anabell lee quote poe

So we named our protagonist character Annabel as a tribute to Poe because the last poem he ever wrote or published, was called Annabel Lee. So we named her after this and not that she's like that character, it's just in name only - or a nice homage. 


So it takes place in the 1800's but pretty early on in writing that I mentioned to Dennis 'how cool would it be if Annabel could, somehow be, a time traveller.' And we kinda laughed about it, but i've always been obsessed with time travel. So, ya i'm a big nerd when it comes to that and and the time, we had zero clue how we were going to get that in so it just kinda sat in the back of my mind. when we did the second record in the trilogy we still didn't touch on time travel, we went way more abstract. So when it came time for Confession, I was like here's my pitch and how we can incorporate time travel. And when you read the book you'll realize that time travel it isn't what it is on the surface. It's pretty cool the way it all turned out.


Cherri: First of all, I've always equated music with time travel - because you'll see me reference this a lot in my interviews because it is so poignant. You can literally hear a song from when you were 4 years old and hear it when you're older and almost go back and have a complete sensory recall; where you were, what you were wearing - hell even smells. When I saw that, I was like 'wow, that is totally rad and it kinda plays into what I thought that music really is. For me personally when you marry time travel with a story set to music - that is a completely off the wall amazing way of molding a totally new craft, right??


Shawn: It's cool that you'd pick up on that. That's part of the fun of writing stories and creating fictional universes - I love when our fans/readers draw their own conclusions of the way we approach things - that's the most rewarding thing about writing. 


Cherri: So here's the cool thing - like your readers and fans - is what you're creating a direct message to them about the issues that Annabel touches on or is this a subtle way of addressing some of those issues - like mental illness, suicide, love - these social aspects that are wrapped up with Annabel? I know you're creating this from scratch, but these underlying issues that plague the characters - can't be just chalked up to creativity, ya know? 


Shawn: I think that the way I've always been with my writing, since day one, I never want to be entirely direct when it comes to my beliefs, I think it's kind of arrogant for someone to say this is exactly what i want you to hear or think from what i'm telling you. I like to create universes with metaphors and such and they might mean something to me in the world i'm writing about and it might touch on some of the issues, which is entirely intentional, but I don't want to tell our fans what they're supposed to glean from it.  I want them to take away whatever they need to take away from it. I love hearing the way our hardcore fans interpret it or the new fan interprets it - it's not necessarily how i wrote it, but I love that they got to that place because of it. 


Cherri: With my home base in Dallas - we get a ton of bands that roll in and out of here, which is awesome but it's not like everyone can go see a new band every night of the week, you know? Honestly, the radio market here sucks. The market isn't geared to introducing new bands, no matter what genre. So for me, getting to know a new band's artistry from the jump is freaking so exciting! And I dig that you want your audience and fans to go in to this with no expectations because that is totally where I was when I started my Alesana journey. With that said, how has the feedback been from your fans - like how has the feedback been from the request to have an open mind and just start living this journey.


Shawn: I think our most core fans, they know what we're going for. They trust us and know what kind of journey we're going to take them on. We're very straight up on how we communicate to our fans. Like you may like this record, but you're not going to hear this record again - they'll never gonna be the same record. We're going to mature, grow and that will be reflected in our music and we're going to lose people along the way, but we're going to gain people too. We're going to write records the way we want to write them - for where we are, that makes sense for where we are as people and storytellers.We always want to be the band that survived time we didn't want to be a band that was popular because that one thing was popular that one year. We wanted to build the band to something that every generation of fan that came along we'd received the same amount of people buying into what we're doing. This is happening now because when we're on tour, people will come up to us that are 28 years old and say they've been fans since they were 16 the first time they saw us - then we'll have a 50 year old show up. So we're getting - well and this is where the honesty is - that we're not entirely full of crap. We're going to do or create what we want and people are either on board with it or not.


Cherri: This is totally relevant to where music is now. We've gotten away from the "art" of creating music, if you will. I love the fact that you coupled writing with music. It brings a new element to how art can be offered to the public. It's even better that you're doing this for you (as a band) and not for the wrong reasons. You can see the humility in your music because your fans see it and that's one of the reasons I think you're gaining such ground; because it's not for the wrong reasons. This is for y'all. Totally admire this quality; totally.


Shawn: I think that sometimes being artistic and being proud of that artistry and what you're trying to do can ultimately come off as being arrogant. When you call us artists I'm humbled by that because i've never considered us to be just a band. We put so much into what we're doing - not just to be rock stars and playing records that just sound like everything else. We've been ok with being exactly what we are. We wouldn't be Alsesna if we did fall prey to what's "popular" or want to do what we do for anything else but creating the art. 


Cherri: I love the Chapter One YouTube thingie...**as I'm stammering to figure out the right word** - what do you call that video thing?

Shawn: We struggle with what to call it too!!



Cherri: That is great because you hear and visualize as the words are going across the screen. You can hear her (Anabell's) voice and you kind of get this whole picture - even more than if you were just reading. It's just totally cool! Do you have anymore plans to do these chapters?


Shawn: It's a unique video to do, but the main goal is to turn this into a graphic novel. The way that i've been visualizing it, there's so much imagery - I really want to see that go into a graphic novel. The cover art of the book is in vein of a graphic novel type.

AnnabelTrilogy BookCover 3x5



Cherri: Right, and who is your artist. Who did the cover art for the book?


Shawn: Believe it or not, a friend of mine that I've known since I was 13 years old, his mother is a retired art teacher. I came up with the idea about the graphic novel and what I envisioned the cover to look like, I just went to her and gave her the ideas I had and she was happy to do have a creative outlet and do something like this for us. 


Cherri: In terms of you personally, what does music do to quell your demons; the things that haunt you which allow you to write songs or the fantasies that you write about? How does music make it better for you; inside your skin? How does it help with what you're going through now? 


Shawn:  I think music - the great thing - is that there is music for every kind of mood that you're in. It's incredibly important to have a huge an open mind about music and not just limit to :metal, or whatever you're into. We only want to think that people benefit or relate to music from their favorite type/genre. Being diverse is so important - and having the ability to seek out a song based on how I feel is so important to me. 


Cherri: It's so hard sometimes to get back to what we love or enjoy. I have been an avid reader of like Tolkien and fantasy type of books my whole life. I started reading The Hobbit when I was like 6 and ow that I'm busy "adulting", it seems like I don't have any time to do those things that used to be what I did to relax, escape, rewind...I blame the internet. 


At this point we discuss the energy that our children have and that we wished we had. Shawn has two boys and I have two girls and so we threw around battle stories of how at the end of the day, when the kiddies are all tucked in bed asleep, and the boy noises and girl chatter have ceased; how it's unfathomable how we continue to even move out of sheer exhaustion!!!

Cherri: I know you're about to head out on tour soon - when does it start and more importantly, I can't wait for the date in Dallas (October 8th) so I can witness what this brilliance is truly about! When does tour start for this push?


Shawn: We leave around the end of Sept and are out for two months.


Cherri: I am stoked! I am really looking forward to this show and more importantly getting the book! Again, so rad that this is a culmination of so many different ways of artistry - there's that word again! I'll most def see you guys in October! 


Shawn: It's been great - thank you! 


Cherri: Leave us with some kinda hints or spoilers for the book - can you?? 


Shawn: The cool thing is, that the book is completely abstract. But all the answers are there in the pages. I will say, that it leaves the door open to continue it will...

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cherri bird red 2Cherri Bird is an independent but selective wordsmith focusing on all that entertains the brain; music, photography fiction & non, & poetry. Follow her on social media outlets:


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