This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.
Arizona-bred quintet The Word Alive has earned their reputation for tearing down any barriers of metal music, fusing modern metalcore with electronic alternative, thrash and innovative instrumental technique.
The band released an EP, Empire, in 2009, and built its fanbase touring tirelessly with bands such as Alesana, A Skylit Drive and Silverstein. The band’s current lineup, made up of lead singer Tyler “Telle” Smith, guitarists Zack Hansen and Tony Pizzuti, bassist Daniel Shapiro and drummer Luke Holland, fuse familiar elements of metal and pop. The formula resonated with the Warped Tour crowd, as the band played on both the 2010 and 2011 bills. They released their first full-length record, Deceiver, in Aug. 2010, and it charted at number 97 on the Billboard 200 chart.
For their recent sophomore effort, Life Cycles, released in July, the band enlisted producer Joey Sturgis, who has worked with acts such as The Devil Wears Prada, Asking Alexandria and Of Mice & Men. The group brought their complex ideas to musical fruition with the cryptic opening track, “Dragon Spell.” Its slow build gives way to eerie synthesizers and a catchy chorus. True to the band’s repertoire, the song even boasts a beat within a beat, making for a more sophisticated metal/dubstep offering.
There’s an ironic optimism in the music of The Word Alive. Often buried underneath a hard, innovative metal sound is hopeful poetry. On “For Your Health,” Smith howls: “I can’t define what keeps me going/Alone in a crowd with the lights glowing/I keep hiding behind what’s in front of me/What is wrong, wrong with me?/Am I driven to feel this way?”
The plethora of vocal and instrumental elements on the album is intriguing. The title-track cries from a crossroads, with a focus on the vocals first, which then graduate to a traditional metal break. Smith sings, “And now that I’m older/ I’m finding out how/What it means to start over/I’m finding out now/What it means to start over.” The borderline reggae bass then sharply cuts back to synthesizers and electronic infusions—this give the lyrics even more power, as they are highlighted by easy melodies.
The band kicked off a U.S. tour with Attack Attack! earlier in the year. They also toured across Europe in the early summer. The Word Alive are currently on the All Stars Tour with Suicide Silence, Unearth, I See Stars, A Skylit Drive and more.
Lead singer Tyler “Telle” Smith, former vocalist for In Fear And Faith and bassist for Greeley Estates, chalks his inspiration up to New Jersey’s own Geoff Rickly, Thursday’s frontman. “He is, straight up, the reason I wanted to be a frontman,” Smith says endearingly. “I watched him at a festival in 2005 in Ohio. He went out into the crowd and climbed on top of me and was just singing and screaming into my face while a ton of kids were just ripping his shirt off. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. It inspired me and made me want to sing and scream like him.”
In the interview below, Smith shares the scoop on the band’s new dynamic, their recording process and musical inspirations.
Congratulations on the release of Life Cycles. Tell me about your creative composition process and how the band’s dynamic is since keyboardist Dusty Riach left the group.
Zack started writing full songs for the first time, which is great. I love his songs and think they came out amazing. His elements to our past songs have always been really strong so now we have a multiplied view of his abilities. When Dusty left, that led to Zack writing the keys, synthesizers and production parts, and Tony wrote his own parts, too, then we’d add drums.
A big portion of the record was me, Tony and Zack just writing. Daniel added a ton of cool bass stuff—the bass is the strongest it’s ever been, by far. We kind of took a similar approach with Deceiver but I feel like we were more prepared and in tune with what we wanted. We already discussed that for the next record, we want to write it together as a group, and see what happens.
With the addition of Luke, not having Dusty and being a five-piece, we want our music from here on out to have more of a live feel. We want to sound like a band that makes people think the songs will be great live when they hear it. The only way that you can truly tell that is if you write it live and feel it when you’re playing it and writing it. We want to move more towards that direction. We’re very happy with how this album turned out. It’s very diverse and Tony just really stepped it up and made sure we expanded on a lot of elements from the past.
What’s it like for you transitioning from singing to screaming and is there any strategic element to your writing to reflect your range?
I wrote this album differently from anything I’ve written before. I started with the chorus for most of the songs, and I wrote the chorus to have the ultimate meaning of what I wanted to say in the song, and then I would fill in the gaps and start from the beginning, going through to the end.
I knew that I wanted to push myself on this record. I learned a lot of things vocally since we recorded Deceiver, and playing so many shows, I was able to grow as a vocalist. I wanted to showcase that, but I wasn’t really thinking how is this going to work transition-wise. If I think like that, I put a box around myself. If I just write things I’m going to feel that’s it hard while practicing hard. But I just need to make it work live. That’s part of what I feel like helped me improve.
I write things that I think sound great for the part. Whether it’s hard for me or not, I write what I feel is the best possible vocal melody or structure based off the song, and then I do my best to make it happen live.
The music of The Word Alive is a refresher in the crowded metalcore scene because it really breaks barriers and blends a variety of sounds. Can you speak to your influences and musical objectives, from a composition perspective?
We write songs we like. We write things that sound good. Tony can write 30 seconds of a song and ask us if we like it. If we’re like “Hell yeah, that’s sick,” he’ll keep writing based off the style and idea he had—it’s the same with Zack. He’ll write something and if we think it’s sweet, he’ll finish the song based off that idea.
Sometimes we don’t even speak—we just start playing along to it. We’ve never set out to compete with other bands or have a certain song on a record. That’s why we have so much diversity. We just write a lot of shit.
If anything, we look at our own music—we want to stay true to our sound but make it better. That helps us progress and improve. We push our own boundaries, not necessarily worrying about what other bands are doing, or what other bands include themselves in, as far as categories of music or genres.
We have many different parts integrated into our music. We’ve always included other elements into our music, which separates us. We were by definition a melodic metalcore-esque band, but when it comes down to it, we like all kinds of music and always try to incorporate music into our sound and feel. That’s been successful for us. It helps us stand out. That’s an inspiration in itself, to sound different. We love heavy music. We love singing. We love screaming. We love melodies. We love riffs. We love breakdowns; we love electronics, so naturally all those elements are going to find their way into the music.
The Word Alive will be at Irving Plaza on Aug. 16 and the Starland Ballroom on Aug. 17. For more information, go to wearethewordalive.com.