The Word Alive is without a doubt one of Warped Tour’s most energetic bands to watch live. There is a certain demeanor when it comes to stage presence, and all band members have enough stamina to last them three Warped Tours. The members achieve in replicating their intensity in studio, and frontman Tyler “Telle” Smith agrees, but also comes clean in stating that their goal has always been to be more of a compelling force when it comes to a live performance. We spoke with Telle about their album Real, their newest addition to the band, as well as his fear and frustration of the young generation’s turn to hurting themselves and others.
Cliché: Your new album Real is the first album that features all of the newest band members. How was maintaining equilibrium in the recording process?
Tyler “Telle” Smith: […] We’ve already defined who we are, and we are just adapting, and progressing as we go along. When Daniel came in, it was after Deceiver, but before Life Cycles, so leading up to Life Cycles was kind of his introduction into the band. That record was his first record, and anytime it’s your first record, I think you’re a little timid, and he was just trying to not necessarily blend in, but do his part. Whereas now he’s an established member of the band, he’s a huge part of us and he was able to help pitch in his ideas and take the rhythm section to the next level on his behalf. Then Luke came in less than three weeks after we recorded Life Cycles, and even though he didn’t record it, he was still with the band two years before this album, so that’s a long time to develop where we were heading or trying to. […] As a whole, respecting each other and valuing each other and our influences, we all listen to different things and we all listen to a lot of the same things so taking all of that into account, listening to our fans’ response over the course of us being a band and trying to put all of that into a jar and then something new we just wanted to try to make the most diverse record that we could; where we were proud of every song, that it didn’t put TWA in a box and it got to showcase many aspects of the band and that was our goal. We feel pretty confident about how it turned out.
You are a very energetic band when performing live. Is it hard to recreate that in the studio?
It’s hard, especially from an instrumental standpoint. Getting that live energy feel is really, really hard. I think we’re a better live band than on record. That’s always been our goal. We try our best to put that magic into the studio, but at the end of the day, you’re just sitting in a booth either by yourself or with a couple of us and you’re just tracking over and over again. […] I think this record is the closest that we sound live that we’ve been able to achieve and I think a big part of that is a lot of the takes were one or two takes for me and I wanted it to be that more raw, that “this is how I would do it live” and I really try to think about, like, “OK, yeah it could sound good this way if I do this, but how is it going to sound when I’m 45 minutes into a headlining set?” So I wanted to think about all of the variables and implement that into our sound. […] We really tried our best to implement it, but at the end of the day, we really want you to come see us live, and that’s where we feel that you understand that’s what TWA is.
“Play The Victim” seems to have a strong message about people collecting negative energy/attitude towards life. Some people even see it as a cry for attention or a way to get people to think they are the “cool form of being cynical.” Was this your way of saying to just be yourself?
It’s two things. It’s half the frustration from our side. I think this huge self-harm “trend” it’s not even a real thing; it’s a trend. There are so many–hundreds, maybe thousands–of kids that are going to desperately regret this time in their life and I feel so bad for them because they’re going to have to explain to their kids why they have a thousand cut marks on their legs and arms when they had a “perfect life”; they had nothing wrong. I think if people were not so focused on “poor me, look at me, I need attention” and were more focused on what they have or what they should be thankful for, or even if they are in a bad situation, cutting yourself isn’t going to stop you from being in an abusive home but there are systems in place to help people like that and understanding how those systems work personally, I know that you have to stand up for yourself and you have to be willing to be happy.
I think that’s half of the message is, like, there’s so much pressure put on band dudes. One of the things is that there was this girl, she asked if she could talk to me and she gave me a letter and gave me a razor blade and said “this is my promise to you that I’m going to stop cutting” and she gave me this story where I felt so impacted by it and not even ten minutes later I saw her doing the exact same thing. She thought I left, and she was doing it to every single band, just because she wanted to be remembered and to have, almost like an “in” to talk to us. The shitty thing is I was there at the merch table. You don’t have to have a story–I hang out with fans every single day, every show. You know we don’t charge to hang out at our merch table. If you see me around, I tell kids all the time, you know to come up to me. I’m no different from anybody else. So it was really saddening and almost angering that someone would use something so serious and so dark as a way of gaining attention and unfortunately from that point on–it was over two years ago–it’s happened at least a hundred more times, at least, and that’s just from me. […] That’s half of “Play The Victim” and the other half is just the fact that there’s the other side that’s more consistent and real where a lot of times you hurt the person closest to you because you feel comfortable. You feel safe being the bad side of you. I think everyone has equal parts good and bad. I don’t think there’s just a great person and a horrible person. I think everyone has both aspects and so it touches on both. “Play The Victim” was the natural title and the beginning of the song is about that in verses, whereas the chorus is kind of about how we take advantage of the ones that love us by hurting ourselves.
Along the way, you picked up the talented Luke Holland for drums. How has the writing experience been and has Luke added a sense of growth in the band?
Definitely. We’ve never had a drummer, and I say this with the utmost respect, especially for Justin, our past drummer; he’s still one of our best friends. […] So, with that in mind, Luke is insanely talented. He brings an aspect to the songs that we’ve never had. I think that a lot of parts in our past records, sometimes the technicality with what some of the guys do, especially on guitar, it would feel not as technical or unique because the drums were, I don’t want to say, but maybe basic, I guess? […] With Luke, it changed drastically. We changed guitar parts, we changed rhythms; he was great at taking something that maybe guitar-wise–say a chorus that’s usually pretty straightforward–he could take something and make it still feel straightforward, but it not be. He added this new way of thinking for even the simplest of parts and he was great at going all out when he needs to and pulling back when the song calls for it. He did a great job and this is his first record ever recording so I can’t even wait for the next one to see where we can take things.
Especially since this is all a learning experience that he can evolve from.
Being one of the younger bands, have you found any of the “more seasoned veterans” of Warped Tour to be a guiding force in this years’ experience?
It’s weird because we’re a younger band but this is our third warped tour. So we’ve been very fortunate to play the majority of our summers on WT. It’s funny because some of the bands that have been bands longer than us are just now playing WT for the first or second time. So even though we’re younger, I feel like we understand the WT world and crowd a little bit better than the average younger band. I mean, there’s definitely great bands who have played numerous times who crush it. I mean, Of Mice & Men hopped on the tour and killed it, and our friends in Motionless in White are on the main stage and this is like their sixth or seventh WT. A lot of people don’t know that, but they’ve played WT almost every single year for the past seven years. They’ve just done different stages, different dates, and it’s just grown and grown and grown. And that’s our goal, every year to do a little bigger, to have more interactive crowds, to really showcase that, over time, our band is growing. We’re not that band that just started out and went straight to the top. I’d much rather have the slow and steady growth and I think that’s what helps you have a career, which is our long-term goal.
The Word Alive Interview: Photographed by Heather Glock