Silverstein’s new album Misery Made Me has only been out for a couple of days when Guitar World catches up with guitarists Josh Bradford and Paul Marc Rousseau over Zoom, but by all accounts, the Canadian quintet’s ambitiously pop-and-crust-twisting 10th full-length is a total smash. And in the case of a recent, immersive fan experience in Los Angeles, we mean that quite literally.
“Our label set up a really cool pop-up exhibit where they had all these different rooms themed after songs on the new album,” founding guitarist Bradford explains, having just returned to Canada from a quick bit of promo in the Golden State.
“For the really fast, heavy, punky one, Die Alone, they had one of those smash rooms where people could listen to the song while taking out their aggression [by] smashing things.”
As hinted, Misery Made Me features some palpably extreme moments like Die Alone, a detuned hardcore blitzkrieg spiked with one-note stomp-mosh sections and guest vocals from Comeback Kid frontman Andrew Neufeld.
Then again, it’s a record that expertly balances that intensity with stadium-sized choruses; toothy hard-rock riffing; soft-strummed acoustic introspection; and Ambien-haze synthscaping. This is all to say that 22 years into their career, Misery Made Me might be the act’s heaviest yet most pop-world-heavenly outing yet.
Speaking with Guitar World, Bradford and Rousseau discuss their favourite analog fuzzes and Silverstein’s answer to the age-old question, ‘What would Kanye do?’
Silverstein came out of a punk culture, but in general what can you say about the influence of fast, heavy, compact hardcore on a piece like the new record’s Die Alone?
Paul Marc Rousseau: “Straight off the bat, all those riffs were written by our singer, Shane Told. On our last record [2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown] and the one before, [2017’s Dead Reflection], we were trying to move away from that direct, four-chord, atonal power chord stuff to try and stretch our legs a bit and see what else is out there, but we were left wanting that back in some part. When Die Alone came [along], it was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to re-energize that part of our music brain.’
“We refer to that [approach] as ‘bonehead’ – not that style of music, necessarily, but when we get that simple it’s more body than brain. That song in particular was key to unlocking that vibe in the other songs, too. Songs that were more polished, produced, and thought-out had elements of that. It was kind of an anchoring vibe.”
If Shane cooked up those hardcore riffs, what kind of sounds do you find you gravitate towards when you’re writing and riffing?
Josh Bradford: “I really like blissing out with effects. I enjoy melody and droning. Some of that came out in Cold Blood. I do enjoy playing the more technical stuff, [but] most of that is coming from Paul. It makes me feel like a better guitar player when I learn that and pull it off.”
Rousseau: “Josh actually enjoys playing the guitar a lot more than I do. I obviously play a lot of guitar and I love it, but it’s not at the top of my list of hobbies. I find myself more recently using the guitar as a tool, and using [what] Josh [plays] as a jumping point, saying, ‘What if we went with this?’ – pairing down and producing Josh’s riffs. That seems to be the way we’re working together as guitar players now.”
Bradford: “Paul has an editorial brain. I definitely enjoy seeing the endless noodling that I do turn into a more succinct song.”
That reverse bend motif on Bankrupt, your first single from the album, almost gives off a Björk Army of Me vibe…
Rousseau: “I love to hear that. I haven’t listened to Björk in some time, but I’m a huge fan. I gravitate towards being disorienting with the heavy stuff. If you can augment an expectation of what a note can feel like over the course of a bar, I think that’s really interesting.
“And I just like bendy stuff. That was basically the most bonehead version of a bendy riff that I could imagine, but it hits in the right way with that thick, sub-octave tone.”
When did the riff breakdown video for the song last year, you were rocking an Ernie Ball Music Man Valentine through a Neural DSP Gojira plugin. Was that the go-to through these sessions?
Rousseau: “Big time. I think every demo for the record was done with that Neural DSP Gojira plugin – it’s so flexible. There were a couple other ones I used, like the Cory Wong one. I’m a huge fan of his playing and those clean tones are pretty fun, though not all that applicable for Silverstein.
“Guitar-wise, basically every single thing that I played is the Valentine, but we had a couple other vintage guitars. We used a seven-string; I have a Schecter seven-string I mess around with while writing.”
Josh, if you’re blissing out to effects, what were you using in your setup?
Bradford: “I love equipment, and I tend to collect whatever I can get my hands on. Live, I’ve been playing a Neural DSP Quad Cortex; I believe all of us are now. It’s all over the record, but we also supplemented that with some analog pedals and tube amps.
“The layout of the studio [Jukasa Studios, situated on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve] was conducive to us having all kinds of different setups running and ready to go at any point.
“I had a big pedalboard and a milk crate full of pedals that we plugged into all kinds of signal chains. One of the most-used pedals was a Fuzzrocious fuzz, which was actually a prototype. Just a real thick, creamy fuzz that found itself onto a lot of the tracks.”
Rousseau: “We had that voltage sag feeling in Bankrupt, that thing where the tone falls apart. What’s that?”
Bradford: “I believe that’s from a Canadian company called Montreal Assembly. They had a cool fuzz with a filter sweep-type of thing. You can work it back and forth and make the fuzz sound pretty crazy. We got the voltage sag effect by using a noise gate set to the point of choking out the fuzz – fun combinations like that.”
How about your guitars? On your latest tour it looks like you were playing some Nik Hubers and Ernie Balls, but in the Die Alone video you’re rocking the Gibson Firebird…
Bradford: “The Nik Huber Krautster has been my main guitar for a while, but I recently got an Ernie Ball Stingray that I absolutely love. I got that for tour; I unfortunately did not have that for the record.
“I did play a Firebird in the Die Alone video, a roughed-up relic that I thought fit the aesthetic [of the video].”
Misery Made Me’s opening Our Song sits around a half-step from standard, but there seems to be a lot of floating between B or B flat on the rest of the record. Were you working those lower tunings with the Schecter, or did you drop your six-string guitars?
Rousseau: “A lot of that is this tuning I think has become pretty common that we refer to as BADGAB – so on a six-string guitar you’d tune it B-A-D-G-A-B. We’ve also dropped that half a step in the past to have the low note at B flat.
“This tends to piss off every single person I’ve ever worked with, but I’m extremely casual about tunings and how realistically playable they end up being live. I’ve had to retro-fit a bunch of stuff live to make it work.”
Bradford: “We used to really try and keep in mind how we were going to play things live as we were making a record, but that has totally gone out the window. It gives us really interesting results if we’re not so concerned about that side of it. Whatever served the song [in the studio] felt like the right way to approach tunings. We’ll figure it out in the end.”
On the idea of figuring things out as you go along, there’s that studio chatter moment at the end of Live Like This where someone’s trying to recall an acoustic riff in real-time. What’s going on there?
Rousseau: “It’s Shane in the vocal booth. Josh, were we talking about doing an acoustic version of that song, or was our vision to have the last chord ring out acoustically [into the album’s concluding Misery]?”
Bradford: “I can’t recall exactly, but he was basically trying to show us the chord progression. It just made for a cool, intimate moment that we thought should be featured on the actual recording.”
This is an album where you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty with the heavier riffs, though you also go high-gloss on the pop side of things. The Altar/Mary does both, going from raging, speedy, two-chord gloom-core towards a backend swerve of synths and vocoder-heavy vocals that sounds something like the Weeknd. How did you manage to smash those together?
Rousseau: “I think that’s my favourite thing we did on the record. I’d written the back half, Mary, first. Originally, it sounded more like [Cincinnati, Ohio rock band] The National – like a moving, barroom piano [composition]. It hadn’t connected, but I knew there was something cool about it.
“A few weeks later, I wanted to do something that was so straightforward and angry, with just two chords. I kept hearing this thing, sort of inspired by this old Ontario band, Cursed. So, I made that song and I also didn’t know how to finish it.
“We were in the studio, and everyone liked both ideas, so it was like – and this is going to sound funny – ‘What would Kanye West do?’ He’d probably just put ‘em together and call it a song. So that’s what we did! I love it.”
Mixing Cursed with Kanye West is perhaps not something that a fan who jumped onboard 20 years ago would have expected from Silverstein – I’d assume neither did you.
Rousseau: “What comes to mind is a scale having the same amount of weight on both sides. You make one side really heavy, and the other side pushing pop – somehow, they just balance each other out. I don’t know what would have come out of it if we hadn’t put The Altar and Mary together. I’d imagine neither would have made the record on their own.”
Josh, since you’ve been there since day one, where do you feel like you’re at with your current tone and approach within Silverstein?
Bradford: “I really like the way that we’re exploring new territory all the time. Certainly, a lot of bands get tired creatively and want to try something different. That can be kind of a turn-off to fans sometimes, if you change too drastically, but I think it’s worked in our favor that we’ve always had a wider range what we’ve done. It allows us to push in both directions.
“I love that we are still very much a guitar band with heavy moments, but I think it's inspiring to see what other creative things that we can do that don't fit inside the original box.”
- Silverstein's new album Misery Made Me is out now via UNFD.