It’s 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and Silverstein is in Hartford, Connecticut, amidst the Vans Warped Tour. A few days from now, the post-hardcore Burlington, Ontario band will release their ninth studio record, Dead Reflection — an album they composed and recorded in between the release of their last effort, 2015’s I Am Alive In Everything I Touch, and a nonstop touring schedule that took them around the world and back again.
In their recently released Studio Documentary, the short film detailing the recording process of Dead Reflection, the band mentions feeling constant pressure to attempt to outdo themselves on each album. Pressure, however, is not something that consumes Silverstein. There are no sit-down discussions addressing anxieties or how to one-up previous work. Nothing of the sort. “It’s not as obvious like that,” drummer Paul Koehler says, speaking over the telephone. “But I think it’s ingrained in us to want to do something better.”
Since their inception in 2000, the band has demonstrated this steadfast ethos through their versatility. The pairing of contemplative songwriting with the ability to capture intensity and vulnerability through hard, intricate arrangements and infectious melodies has allowed for experimentation and variety, as well as fluid interchanges between hardcore, punk, and pop. From their classically emo 2003 debut, When Broken Is Easily Fixed, to covering songs by The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac to penning highly conceptual storylines (I Am Alive In Everything I Touch, for example, was divided into four chapters with each track set in a different city), Silverstein have paved themselves a colourful path that, right now, has led to Dead Reflection: a piece of work characterized by its brutal honesty, where the songs provide some insight into a deeply painful personal period for vocalist and songwriter Shane Told.
“[Told was] reaching a real bad spot and going through a lot of, you know, self change and also a lot of self medication through different activities and different vices, and realizing that, at some point, you kind of need to stop and look to say that ‘I’m aware that this is destructive behaviour’ or ‘I realize that this is destructive but I will continue on,’” Koehler explains. “And it’s just become a very personal album for him, in that way.”
Each song on Dead Reflection exists in its own context both lyrically and sonically, while maintaining Told’s interweaving narrative—moving from fiercely heavy (“Whiplash”) to pop (“The Afterglow”) to ballad (“Secret’s Safe”), and combining all three styles quite magnificently on the album’s closer “Wake Up.” The tracklist is sequenced in a specific way to complement this flow, as well.
“For example, track one ["Last Looks”], we knew that was going to be track one, like, months before we hit the studio,” Koehler continues. “That was kind of the opening narrative for Shane. He knew, lyrically, what that had to be, he knew that it was going to be pretty impressive, but then contrasted it with a Shane-y-yelling kind of chorus.”
On “Last Looks,” Told’s howl switches from violent to vulnerable as he sings about self-destruction. “Don’t die like me,” he belts, against wailing guitar and thrashing percussion. One song that Koehler, personally, feels connected to is “Lost Positives.” It’s one of the best Silverstein has written as a band, he says. “In a melodic sense to a technical sense, just overall lyrically—I think it’s a really powerful song and we’re really proud of it.”
Co-penned by guitarist Paul Marc Rousseau and Cave In/Mutoid Man’s Steve Brodsky, “Lost Positives” illustrates the end of a relationship. Musically, it’s diverse; furious, melancholic, and catchy. And while the song paints a picture of an unhealthy union, it still retains a glimmer of hope in the ability to move on. This light—something that also flickers throughout the dominant darkness of Dead Reflection—has always resonated throughout Silverstein’s material.
“Hope is something that we’ve held onto right from the very, very first record,” Koehler says. “I don’t know, kind of in our own individual way. We’re not spiritual people, there’s none of that in our lives or in our music, but it’s more like you can sometimes pull yourself out of whatever if you are aware and you have the drive to do so.”
Drive, of course, is synonymous with Silverstein. For a band that formed while its members were still in high school with, Koehler admits, no real goals set, it’s been a triumphant journey shaped by tenacity and hard work.
“It’s been a passion for the style of music,” Koehler says, recalling the band’s early days. “We wanted to play it, we wrote some songs, we weren’t that good—you know, we were trying to learn our instruments and learn our songs as we went—and we just got lucky. We got a record deal. We thought, ‘maybe we’ll put out one record, do a little bit of touring here and there,’ but things grew pretty exponentially and they grew also at a time where we didn’t really know what we were doing. And you make mistakes, and you learn from people, and you kind of learn the job as you go, and you make your way through little things here and there, and then, finally, it gets to a point where it’s a sustainable career. We just kind of just kept at it, you know?”
Keeping in mind why they started the band to begin with has been, Koehler says, the key to Silverstein’s longevity and capacity to continually move forward artistically. In this way, Dead Reflection’s eclectic and candid nature holds up as a fitting new chapter in their catalogue—an album that challenged the band’s abilities, perhaps more than ever before, and culminated in what they call their most honest and probably most ambitious work to date.
“It was a lot of long days and late nights, and a lot of revision, as well,” Koehler says, of Dead Reflection. “I think the other component, too, is that we didn’t settle. A lot of times you get in a groove — we were constantly pushing ourselves and re-working things right up until the [l[last]tage, where we spent another additional weeks mixing the record. Our schedule went over our deadline. The same thing went into the artwork. We were constantly changing stuff, and revamping, and just trying to make this really better than the rest of our catalogue, because we have so many records. We still want to beat them. We still want to make a better record. We still want to be able to showcase something new and we want to be able to achieve something different.”