Interview with The Word Alive

In November, The Word Alive set New York into an electric frenzy on the Get Real Tour with Dead Rabbitts, Our Last Night, and The Color Morale. During this performance, The Word Alive displayed incredible passion at Gramercy Theatre. Everything from instrumentals to Telle Smith’s impressive screaming and singing vocal range was kicked into high gear. A few hours before their set, Cliché caught up with TWA front man Telle Smith to discuss their new music video and their latest album, Real.

Cliché: What can you tell me about the personal touches of Real? I know that you have said that this record is a canvas for how music has shaped your lives.
Telle Smith: I think just the amount of time we put into it. We spent over a year writing and then we spent about six weeks recording, and then with mixing and mastering we took upwards of eight or nine weeks total, which is the longest we’ve ever spent on a record.  And for me, I was able to demo out vocals for all of the songs before I actually recorded them, so just knowing what I was going to do before I went into the studio to actually perfect it was a huge jump for me.  It gave me time to think about what I did like, what I didn’t like, or what I wanted to change or tweak.  And then, when I was demoing things out and recording in an actual studio, I had the actual freedom.  My friend, producer Eric Ron, was helping me demo out all the songs and just getting pre-production for the vocals was this huge change, we’ve never done that before.  So I think it gave me a better understanding of how to add to the songs properly.

The video for “The Runaway” was shot by Jeremy Tremp. How did Jeremy help pull the lyrics and instrumentals into the perfect vision?
Well, we tried something different this time.  I’m actually the one who wrote up the treatment for this video, so I came up with the concept and idea.  His job was pretty much to make it happen, to make it come to life  Jeremy is great, super easy to work with, [and] probably the easiest director.  Him and Frankie Massa who did the “Lifecycle” video, I think they both have done the best job of creating the best atmosphere for a video shoot that we’ve ever done.  The thing about Jeremy is that he knows the band, he knows all of us, he’s obviously very close with Luke from shooting all of his videos, and he was willing to go the extra mile to make sure we got the video we wanted, it was great.

What can you tell me about the flashbacks in the video, i.e. the children learning to play instruments?
Really, it’s just each one tells the story of how each of us began and got our start into music.  It’s really cool; we tried to find fans that resembled us at the ages we started learning, so it was a little bit of a struggle to hunt those people down.  I think overall it came out great and we’re pretty excited about it.

You’ve been writing lyrics for a long time and I noticed with how razor sharp and brutally honest these particular lyrics off of Real are. How important is it to you to maintain an honest relationship with your own work?
I think that it’s really important.  I think that a big part of what I like to write about is stuff that connects with me in a way that when I sing it, it’s like I’m singing it in a way that means something to me.  I’m not just telling a story, I’m telling my story — I’m telling a story of people I care about.  So I think that when we had a booking agent, a good friend of ours who always said, “If it’s real, the world will feel,” and it’s funny because our album’s name is “Real” but that is something that always stuck with me.  I always wrote that way, but that was an encouraging thing because he was pretty much just like, “Keep doing what you’re doing,” so I stick to writing stories that I’ve gone through or feel passionately about.  I think it helps translate into the songs themselves.

The last time we spoke was at Vans Warped Tour and we talked about recreating your live energy on stage, as well as how close recording Real has been to portraying that energy via sound. How has playing Real been so far in regards to that energy?
It’s great — I think it’s definitely pushed us.  I do think that a lot of times in the past, with Empire, Receiver, and even Lifecycles, we’ve changed the songs live to kind of fit what we do, or what we would have liked to have done in the recorded sense.  But Real is probably pretty spot on as far as like, we don’t change too much.  There’s a few things here and there that we might do a little different, but for the most part, we recorded it the way we knew we were going to play it live.  So that, to me, is a great thing and it’s a great feeling to know that we came so close.

“Play the Victim” has a lot of momentum in everything, from the lyrics to the instrumentals. In this song, you wrote about all the negativity in the world that has crossed your path. How do you deal with negativity or unsavory people?
I mean, part of it is accepting that it is going to be there, that I’m going to feel down, that I’m going to feel negative sometimes.  But also having the realization that I think we each control the majority of how happy we are.  You can let something affect you and that can be drastic or just a little bit.  So I think really just understanding that your mind can be a powerful thing and that your mind is stronger than you think.  The media and just the world now… I think they want to make people feel that they’re very weak-minded and very weak physically and I don’t think that’s the case.  It’s unfortunate what’s happening in the world, but I think that trying to be positive throughout that is very important because it’s so easy to hop on the hate train or be aggressive or angry, and I’m not saying that I can’t get those feelings or even relate those feelings, but if the end goal isn’t for something positive, then it’s kind of pointless.  It’s just a lesson I remind myself because I still fail at it sometimes.  But trying over time, I think the power of positivity is a big thing and just in that song complaining about something or doing something over and over again it’s not going to bring about results.  You’re not going get to where you want to be by just sitting there and doing nothing and doing the whole “Woe is me” type thing.  I think every person has it within them to take the power of their own destiny in their hands and we live in a country, as fucked up as it is right now, where you do have the ability and freedom to pave your own way.  I do think that we are fortunate overall.

You guys have taken this record and built a almost a new foundation over your name. I love how Real has the listener follow a sound and then jerks you into another sound, then drops you down to something else. It’s almost like a musical roller coaster. What made you want to branch into different components?
I think that it’s two things.  One, we didn’t collectively have this specific idea of a path that we were going.  We’re all influenced by different things, we all like different music, but we all like what we do at the same time.  So we were like, why not make an album that has everything we’d like to try?  So we just experimented.  We only have one life, so to us it was like, “might as well have fun with it”, and if something does well with fans then awesome but if not then we like songs that we like and for us we can be like “OK well maybe we can not go that route in the future”, so it was kind of testing the waters but we had the artistic freedom to do whatever we wanted.

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Interview With The Word Alive: Photographed by Heather Glock

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