For what’s felt like forever, we’ve always known what to expect from Silverstein. Since this Canadian screamo quintet first formed around the turn of the millennium, they’ve always done melodically saturated, emo-inflected post-hardcore that charted pretty well and sounded pretty good. But, in the past couple of years, they’ve started to throw up some curveballs – more structural than sonic – that have made us wonder: were we wrong to pigeonhole them? Are we going to hear something... different?
In 2010, Silverstein left behind the Victory label which had released their previous four albums (including 2005’s Discovering the Waterfront, which includes the hit My Heroine) and, according to Silverstein frontman Shane Told, had been nixing all their forward-thinking ideas. They signed with Hopeless Records instead and started thinking outside the box. “The Transitions EP would never have happened under Victory,” says Told. “Short Songs would never have happened. Hopeless were very friendly. We’ve always been able to push ourselves musically.”
In terms of album concept, Silverstein have done a little experimentation. Short Songs, their most recent release, saw them put together a rapid-fire collection of 90-second new tracks and covers. But, musically, they’ve come under fire from all corners for just sounding the same as they ever have. Told is aware of this criticism, although he’s not really fazed. Silverstein fans, after all, aren’t after an overhaul. “Natural progression, fans appreciate,” tells Told. “Critics say records sound the same – but fans appreciate the same.”
And so, we presume, it shall continue – that mix that brings together the heavy, hardcore sound of the late-90s and early-2000s, an environment Silverstein themselves grew up in, and the softer-edged admirers who loved a more easy-listening tone. Why change a winning formula?
In an exclusive Time Out interview, Silverstein frontman and vocalist Shane Told reveals how file sharing helped them be heard at the far-flung corners of the globe and why the switch to another record label was inevitable…
Good evening, Shane. First of all, let me just start off by saying I grew up in Hong Kong and have been listening to Silverstein since the mid-2000s. Discovering The Waterfront was my first Silverstein album. Does that surprise you at all?
It doesn't surprise me now. If you had asked me a few years ago, yes I would have been surprised. We didn't have any distribution at all in Hong Kong. But we figured out that with file sharing at its peak - even more than now - people found a way. We went to Mexico in 2008. We didn't have any records for sale in stores then. But when we played in Mexico City, there were 1,500 people singing every word. We couldn't believe it!
Would you say file sharing has been a hindrance or has it been beneficial to bands like yourself?
It hurts the bands and record labels in places they have distribution. But in other emerging markets, file sharing has helped people discover new bands.
You've toured Asia before but skipped Hong Kong back then. What made you include Hong Kong in your lineup this time around?
Last time we came out here, it was just a short tour, with four countries involved. The shows were great but it was a rushed thing. We said when we have more time, we'll come back and do it right. We're fascinated by Hong Kong, by the city. We've been fascinated by it for a long time. It's a big reason why we came out here and we know we have fans here too.
Places like Hidden Agenda, the Wanch, warehouse shows and some school concerts have given a platform for bands in Hong Kong that don't exactly fit into 'popular music'. Did you know Hong Kong had and continues to have a sizeable underground screamo/post-hardcore/metalcore scene?
I didn't know that. The underground scene is where we came from and where we grew up. It's where we continue to be totally comfortable.
Generally speaking, bands that tour Hong Kong perform at posh venues. Hidden Agenda is most certainly a departure from that - a small capacity in an old industrial building. But in many ways, not such a departure to where and how you grew up musically. Is it weird that you're now at the same scene some 12 years since your formation… just on the other side of the world?
Absolutely not! We've never been there before. We don't expect anyone to know who we are. We just feel really grateful to be at the show, whether there are 100 people there or 1,000 or 10,000. Great energy! We've performed at places like Tokyo Dome with Avril Lavigne, huge places with huge stars. But I wouldn't say we specifically thrive in that environment. We're comfortable in any setting.
Local bands Hungry Ghosts and Memoimoil will be opening for you. Have you heard any of their songs before?
I haven't yet. I'll check them out. It's intriguing to me to see how bands from different places let the culture influence their music. Where people come from shapes their music. But with the American influence so widespread, it's interesting to see how that is also incorporated into the music.
Right, let's discuss Silverstein as a band. If you had to choose, what one single factor would you contribute to your successes so far?
I'd say the touring we've done. We haven't been scared of it and haven't been scared to venture out of our comfort zone. Fans stick around. We've gotten better as a playing band.
You've grown together as a band, like a family. How important do you think it is for a band to grow - together as a family and also evolve musically? Are the two linked?
It is. I was 18 when I started the band. I'm 31 now. I think we've all done our fair share of growing up. We've been fortunate that we've been all agreeing on our direction and as people. Maturity really changes you as you grow. It changes your outlook on things. Our fourth record - with political undertones and relationships of a person who's married and has a child - wouldn't have come out of me when I was 18. The music is based on life experience.
Which one album would you say were you most satisfied with, now, with hindsight?
Rescue, probably because of the vocal performances and the journey it takes. Shipwreck has one sound to it. I like the dynamic sound behind Rescue.
Any that you've been disappointed with?
Departures - producers made the decisions.
Transitions, Rescue and Short Songs is most certainly very different from your 'normal' album. Why the change? Explain the inspiration behind the album…
The first four records were under the Victory label. Victory weren't cool with 'other' ideas. The Transitions EP would never happen on Victory. Short Songs would never have happened.
Hopeless, being a punk-rock-friendly record - they were very friendly. We've always tried to push ourselves musically. We didn't want to make an album every two years (out of habit).
Speaking of 'pop-music', Silverstein could have become a pop band. Many a band at the top of their post-hardcore height has decided to cash in on the chance. Clearly Silverstein decided to shun the easy route. Was this a collective decision?
To be honest, direction-wise we have felt it best to not try to make a big U-turn. We really just feel that it's bad to make an insincere record. Because when you aren't doing what's natural, you're really just compromising what's really in your heart. Fans appreciate natural progression. Critics say records sound the same - but fans appreciate the same.
The fans will always be there. That's a great note to end on!
Silverstein plays Hidden Agenda on July 13; Tickets: 9170 6073, www.hiddenagenda.hk