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The Word Alive’s Telle Smith: “I Don’t Need Everyone To Like Everything We Do”

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 23 January 2020 at 11.37

"I feel as though the cancel culture that has plagued the Internet and doesn’t actually mean anything is now just people who are angry and have an opinion and want to be heard. The easiest way to do that is by being an anonymous person on the Internet, and targeting musicians and entertainers who are sharing themselves in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t." - Telle Smith.

The Word Alive are gearing up to drop their brand new album 'MONOMANIA' next month - and if they seem different to you, that's because they are. They're bolder than ever. More willing to take risks than ever. And more than ever, they're entirely unwilling to compromise and apologise for it.

And this whole new attitude is being spearheaded by frontman Telle Smith, who sees the value in their music as being the community they're building around themselves - not the streaming numbers. This new era of The Word Alive is them at their most honest. 

It feels like you’ve been building up to this album for a long time. Does it feel like that care and consideration you’ve put in is already paying off?
Says Telle: "It really does. I feel like it’s really hard for a band like us who came from the world that we came from to try to not alienate that beginning, but also open up more. We don’t want to be a band that’s just known for breakdowns and for guitar players who can play really crazy parts - we have so much more depth to us musically, vocally and lyrically. For that to be embraced now more than ever is really rewarding for us.

"We’ve been one of those bands that, when we started were just fans of what was happening in that moment - Underøath was massive, A Day To Remember were starting to blow up, August Burns Red and Killswitch Engage were massive. We were like ‘Okay, these are our favourite bands from the scene, let’s try to make music so we can tour with them’. Then as we got older we thought, ‘Well that’s great and we love those songs, but it wasn’t really us’ - we felt like it wasn’t the music that we wanted to be making, and then playing on stage every night potentially 10 or 20 years down the line. It’s hard with music because, obviously it’s subjective, but when someone connects with your art they have two options - they either appreciate that so much so that you can do anything and they go ‘that’s fine because you made this thing that I love, but that’s not for me’; or you have the other side which is you make this thing, and now it’s like you have to stay in purgatory of continually doing that otherwise you’re hated and called sellouts, and that you don’t care about your fans. They are two very extreme differences, and we’ve really been trying to shed the skin of the latter. We’re all growing and experiencing life just like our fans are."

So how exactly have you got to this point?
"For us, if you look at our music as a big picture you can see that what our band has gone through - it’s like a book. You can see the shift in perspective and mentality that we’ve had, and you can see all these personal stories laid out for you. I think that it’s so much bigger than one song, or even one particular style of music we’ve made - we’ve tried to hone in on our own sound though, and that’s what our goal with the last album was. The goal with this one was to figure out what that meant. To be honest it really started with ‘Dark Matter’. Then ‘Violent Noise’ was experimenting a little bit more. There were some songs we loved, but ones we also felt didn’t feel like us as much. So we wrangled it back and started writing way sooner than we ever have with any album before ‘MONOMANIA’. We feel like we weren’t going to do a record until we found that sound, and then we did. It led us to here."

It’s not just in sound that you’ve changed over the years though. It’s in your perception of the world and the scene and every in-between. How do you feel the last 10 years or so have shifted things?
"Things have definitely changed a lot. We feel like the things we were doing early in our career and were celebrated for aren’t so different from what we are doing now - but there are fans that absolutely hate it. It’s hard because we’re not that band that doesn’t give a fuck about their fans. So for us it’s not just us seeing a negative comment here and there, it’s seeing a comment from someone we’ve had a deep conversation from or seen in the pit singing every word.

"The thing is, we saw those people fade away before our music ever shifted. I think the perspective is that everything in the scene right now is so fickle. Fans don’t really allow you time to figure things out, and the only way you can figure things out is by releasing music. I look back and there are bands that I love where I didn’t love every album, but I wasn’t like ‘Oh, they’ve made one album I don’t really like and relate to so I’m out' - I just listened to all the songs that I did love. Yet I always loved it when bands would try something new. I think that might be something from our generation - because we saw it in the generation before us, so it’s easier for us to notice that something isn’t that different or that crazy of a shift.

"I feel as though the cancel culture that has plagued the Internet and doesn’t actually mean anything is now just people who are angry and have an opinion and want to be heard. The easiest way to do that is by being an anonymous person on the Internet, and targeting musicians and entertainers who are sharing themselves in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t. A lot of the people I know started with wanting to make an impact and a difference by just playing drums or playing guitar - everyone started from this point of loving music, so since we’re still there and our goal is still to love what we do we just don’t want to play music that we don’t want to play. Some people, and it’s a loud minority, just don’t seem to be willing to accept that just because we can doesn’t mean we should, or that we should be happy doing so.

"Lucky for us, we’ve stayed true to ourselves over these three records and almost shed our skin and grown. It’s easy for bands to poke fun at the cliché that we’ve matured and grown a lot, and I understand why they are met with eye rolls - yet the way I would word it now compared to earlier in the decade is that we only have so much time on this earth, and in this band so I don’t want to waste it making music that’s hollow or just made for the sake of a few people on the internet whose perception of us is being in this little box. To me, there is no box - if you want to make whatever song in whatever style, that should be up to the artist.

"I don’t expect everyone to like everything we do. I don’t need everyone to like everything we do. My biggest thing is that I used to let that get in my head. Going into this record, I was in the best mental headspace and healthy place I’ve ever been in my entire adult life, and it has allowed me to share all of the worst things that have happened to me over the last few years. Now I’ve made my way through it, it’s not like I’m wallowing in it. I can share very brutally honest things with our fans and be proud of it - I don’t have to focus on the 1 out of 100 comments that are negative. We have thousands of fans all over the world that love our band and love our music. Some are new fans, some have been here since day one. It would be almost tragic for us to fixate on the small number of fans that over like one or two of our albums and haven’t been going to shows the entire time, and don’t have that much of an impact to make. We just want to make sure our fans right now know who we are and know that we care about them. Whoever is with us for this album and for this ride is who are going to be most thankful for."

The thing is that those who are actually paying attention and consuming your music now see just how much of you you’re injecting into this new music. Having that space and room to breathe to means you’re able to project this different and more confident version of yourself...
"Definitely - the one thing I tell people about this record is to really listen to the lyrics. I’ve told a lot of stories through my time in the band; some are laced with metaphors and analogies and some are about other people. For the most part, this record is so heartbreakingly honest and internal. I feel very vulnerable, but I feel like so much weight has been lifted from being able to get this stuff out and share it. I know that people in this day and age need to be reminded that it’s okay to be real, and you don’t have to hide behind what you think someone wants you to think or say - hopefully fans that may carry weight in their own lives feel that impact. I would hate for any of our fans to feel some of the things that I’ve felt, but worse than that I would hate for them to feel that way but not have an outlet, or feel like they're crazy. Now they’ll be able to know that not only do other people feel that way, but they also have a safe place where they can come and talk about it or sing about it. Seeing fans say things like ‘Man, I needed this song’ in the comments section - they can start building up their own friendships through our band that are healthy for them. We’ve started shifting from the band being this big thing into a community that looks out for each other. It’s almost bigger than the music and that’s so much cooler for us."

It’s refreshing to reach a point as that, especially in a time where there is so much focus on numbers and chart positions. After seeing and doing so much, when you reach that point of clarity and freedom where you can see beyond those things it helps you to see your band and your art in a completely different light...
"I think there’s been a shift where different music has its time in the sun, and people are hearing it for the first time. The thing is that people have been fixated on those numbers for so long. I think one of the good things that has come from streaming taking over is seeing how it’s less about selling music, but more about who is actually speaking to fans. For us, we just want to be honest and be ourselves and that’s either going to be enough to keep us going or it’s not. I’d rather us be the band who are unapologetically ourselves, instead of some of our peers who I know are not making the music that they want to make - that’s just because they’re chasing the glory days or chasing the thing that they feel like their fans want. It’s just that they don’t trust their own vision for their sound or their band, so they’re catering to fans who turned on them the first time that they did anything different. I refuse to cater to people who completely disregard our art and what it meant to them in their lives, or completely disregard how much of a sacrifice it takes to do what we do. I will never back down to that type of fan. I will always listen to a critical fan that’s really passionate about our band and has constructive criticism. Like, ‘I love this, but I feel like this bit missed something’ because sometimes they’re right. There are songs on every album that I wish weren’t on the album, but the reality is that it took making all those songs to make the songs that are actually super special. I’ve learned that not every song is going to be some gigantic hit for our band. Some of these songs are just for us and some are going to be some random person in Arkansas or Bristol who have it as their favourite song. That’s just how it is when you make so much music. We’ve come to understand that we just need to be us."

So what it is about the term ‘MONOMANIA’ that felt like the right thing to umbrella these songs?
"'Monomania' is basically being fixated on one idea so extremely that it makes you go crazy. For me, that represents a lost perspective and not having a healthy mindset or mental habits - so these songs are about the worst place I’ve ever been mentally, physically and emotionally. I wrote the very first song that would end up being on the record in November 2018, just to give an idea of how far back this all started - that song was ‘No Way Out’, and it tells the story of the worst day of my life. Now being on the other side of it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

"For me, the album title and the album cover represents this period of time where you can get so caught up in things where you haven’t done the work or taken responsibility for your thoughts and actions, and you’re trapped in this miserable place. That’s what relates to the ‘Deceiver’ character [2010 album] being in the tank. Some of the worst things in your life will be unavoidable. Some of them will be through making mistakes, but that’s okay - it doesn’t define who you are. Yet I feel like people want to pretend like those things never actually happened to them - they push things away, and it builds up and takes you away from the person that you want to be. When you’re pursuing your true and best self, the best thing you can do is face that. That’s what it is. It’s about putting that part of you on display, and letting people know that it’s real. I’m not going to let it control my life going forward though - that part of your life can’t control you unless you allow it to. If you do, then you’ll be living out repeated cycles and will be caught up in the 'Monomania'."

What do you think the Telle of 10 years ago would think of the Telle that you are now, and what do you wish that you could tell that old version of yourself if you could?
"I feel like I had a very self-deprecating perspective to a certain extent back then - I didn’t have a lot of confidence, and I accepted love that wasn’t real love. I allowed things that weren’t healthy for me for so long that I believed that was as good as it gets. What I would tell myself back then would be that it’s going to get so much better, but it doesn't start for ages. Choosing myself, and choosing to face the trauma in my life made everything in my life possible. I’m making a right choice that’s making me the best person I can, so that’s exponentially more beneficial to every person who is meant to be in my life. Right now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and happier than I ever thought possible for many years. If I could go back and look at things from the other side, I’d say ‘You fucking asshole, why’d you wait so long to sort this out?’. That just comes with time and growth and experiences, and I think I have had enough good people in my life who were telling me that I was better than who I was in that moment and didn’t give up on me. Because of that I didn’t give up on myself."

The Word Alive's new album 'MONOMANIA' is set for release February 21 through Fearless Records.

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