Since 2004, the theatrical pop-metal act known as Alesana has been demonstrating a new and unmatched level of musical and visual performance on one stage. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina; the heavy and innovative six-piece has ventured outside of the city limits and far beyond to leave their mark on the world with five full-length studio albums, two EPs, and the new highly anticipated release of The Annabel Trilogy– an in-depth literary collection exploring the story behind the band’s three concept albums– The Emptiness (2010), A Place Where the Sun is Silent (2011), and Confessions (2015)– released throughout the history of Alesana. Once again acting as pioneers of the industry, the members of Alesana have launched a series of lyric and music videos which marry music with the progressions of the characters in the story. Vocalist and writer Shawn Milke sat down to share some insight on the release with Tattoo.com as well as talk about the significance of art and ink culture in the work of Alesana.
Similar to a lyric video, you guys have chosen to do a story video, which is essentially merging two industries together in a very tasteful and familiar way. What brought about this idea?
I knew I wanted to get the first chapter out to the fans somehow because it reveals a twist on the older material and I hoped it would raise the anticipation level. I toyed with the idea of doing just an audio reading, but I wanted it to be visual as well. Our youtube channel was playing at the office and a lyric video popped on and the lightbulb sort of went off. The fans really seemed to enjoy it and it makes me very curious to explore these types of media marriages more in the future.
Who is playing the voice of the narrator and how did you choose her for this project?
I did the male narration. The voice of “Annabel” is my sister, Melissa Milke. She has sang on every Alesana release to date so it felt appropriate to have her on this project as well.
Annabel is a collective of sorts which offers the full story behind the three concept albums related to it. How long has this book been in the works? Was it always part of the bigger picture in terms of the music?
The book has been a working idea since the days of A Place Where The Sun Is Silent, which was the second record in the trilogy. When we did The Emptiness it was really just about pulling off the concept, writing and telling the short story and having the record reflect the excerpts. After finishing APWTSIS, I began to jot notes and toy around with the idea of developing the characters further and expanding the prose. While making Confessions I really started to explore the possibility and began writing the early drafts and pages then.
Will this story continue, or will Alesana venture on to new beginnings from here?
It is tough to say right now, I’m really just trying to take a deep breath, step back and enjoy this accomplishment. I left the book open-ended enough that I could certainly continue on with this universe. I actually have a small notebook filled with ideas for the next novel. Whether or not this story continues to influence the music and albums of Alesana remains to be seen. I have some more contemporary ideas that I’m considering for future releases.
Visually speaking, what can fans expect from the marriage of the book and the anniversary tour for On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax?
The timing of these two ideas sort of collided together due to opportunity and circumstance. There is a possibility that we will have some copies of the novel with us on the tour, possibly some merch influenced by it as well. In regards to the live performance, we will be playing Frail Wings in its entirety which will make it difficult to incorporate much of the story into the performance. If we get the chance to play a few extra tunes then we will make sure to get some Annabel material in there.
In terms of ink, do any of the members of Alesana have tattoos related to the story of Annabel?
I absolutely do. I have the sketch associated with track 11 (also titled Annabel) on The Emptiness on the inside of my right forearm. The cover of the record had the title written backwards in the reflection of a mirror and I have that on the outside of my right wrist. I also have a lyric from that record “I’ll Be Your Anchor, I’ll Be Your Lover” in a banner wrapped around an anchor pulling a heart below the sea. Now, with the release of the novel, I hope to get some imagery specific to the whole story.
If you could design a tattoo for the story as a whole, what would be some of the components and techniques employed? Are there any specific artists you think would best execute it?
There are two artists that I trust implicitly and they are Mark Shivey in Cleveland, OH at Addicted Body Art Studio and Marco Casusol in Raleigh, NC at Oak City Tattoo. I would want the piece to be dreamy and abstract, incorporating the bi-polar nature of the characters. I would want to look at the piece and see several different visions, parallel to the story itself.
Can you describe the correlation of the band’s growth with the characters’ growth between the three albums and the release of Annabel?
It’s crazy, but the trilogy really did take Alesana to a totally different place. It helped to define the artistic intention of the band. Up to that point we had used literature to influence and inspire our art and themes, but with the start of the trilogy we began creating our own stories. It reached a point where The Annabel Trilogy was synonymous with Alesana. People could ask their friends if they had ever heard of Alesana and have the answer be no until they mentioned the story of Annabel. It would be a trigger of recognition of sorts. I think Annabel and the trilogy of albums helped us stand out, allowed us to put a footprint on our scene.
How has visual art influenced the overall career and artistic development of Alesana?
A great deal. I remember our fan base being upset with us when we staged the music video for Seduction as the band playing in a basketball game, completely outmatched, pretty much getting our asses kicked. The goal for the video was to show our more down-to-earth side, make our fans realize that while we take our art seriously, we are also laid back, easy going, fun loving guys. Well, it turns out that is not what the Alesana fan base craved in our visual art. They wanted storytelling, they wanted our lyrics and tales brought to life on screen. From that point on we understood more what Alesana was and what its fan base desired to see. We began to include more detailed art in our booklets and spent a great of time and attention developing our music videos. Hopefully, I can continue that one day by turning Annabel into a graphic novel.
What have been some of the most elaborate or best fan tattoos you’ve encountered?
Our fan base is incredible when it comes to using our art to influence tattoos. I find it to be the most humbling experience when a person chooses to brand their skin with our art. I once saw a full arm sleeve with a large majority of the sketches from The Emptiness. I was pretty jealous. It made me wish I had a third arm to start a new sleeve.