You are here

Alesana’s Shawn Milke on the Topic of Identifying Yourself

Today is: Monday, July 26, 2010
Where I am: Atlanta, Georgia—Day 30 of the Vans Warped Tour
Where I am actually: Sitting on Henri’s bed while Dane brushes his teeth and Mark tattoos Jeremy. Hannah Montana is playing on the TV screen. Don’t judge me.
Time of day: 9:22 p.m.
What I am listening to: “Generator^1st Floor” by Freelance Whales. (If you have not heard of this band, go find them now. They are amazing.)

This week I am going to begin a bit off-topic. Well, off of the original topic that I had in mind anyway. In the end, this first paragraph will feel disjointed from the rest of the piece, but this is something I would love to share if that is OK. I may have mentioned this in a prior blog so if I am in fact repeating myself, I apologize. “PMA”: Positive Mental Attitude. Every member of Alesana has it tattooed somewhere on their body. It is the mantra we live by, the state of mind that has led us to our success in both music and in life. I have the urge to mention this today because I just sat and watched our merchandise retailer, Henri Pickersgill, get “PMA” tattooed on his wrist. It has officially made him a part of our family. When he first mentioned the idea to me I, in turn, asked him why he wanted the tattoo. He said, “Because you guys are great people. I love what it means to you and how you actually live your lives in that manner.” About a year ago, Henri was involved in a terrible accident. We were on tour in Europe (Henri is from England) and a bunch of us were out having a good time. He and a friend began a friendly wrestling match and within several minutes Henri slipped and threw out his hip. The nerve was within an inch of severing completely which would have put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I will never forget how he looked that night when we took him to the emergency room. He was in hospital scrubs drinking a beer with a big smile on his face. “I’ll be back on my feet before you know it.” In hindsight, we were more terrified than he was. An injury so severe could have kept Henri off of his feet for a very long time, but he battled and worked through rehab faster than lightning. It is a pleasure knowing someone like him and the courage he showed through such a difficult time is both admirable and heroic. Never underestimate the power of a positive mental attitude. OK, now onto this week’s blog.

Finding an identity is tough. Who am I? Where do I fit in? What am I good at doing? What will people remember about me after meeting me? Jocks, geeks, hippies, brainiacs, skaters, punks, metalheads, teacher’s pets. What crap. Who cares? Honestly. Do you know why we care? Because we are conditioned to care. As a society in general we are shaped from a young age to fit in somewhere. When I was in high school I played baseball, I had a 4.0, I played guitar, I dated a girl who lifeguarded and surfed, and my best friend was, for lack of a better term, a thug. Not a very good kid, but I loved him just the same. I am not just listing these things to say, “Hey, look at me and what I did.” I am trying to illustrate a point about fitting in to a certain category, especially as a teenager. By definition, I was a mutt. In the standards of typical cliques and clichés, I should not have been able to bridge all of those gaps. But it worked, because I believed in doing what I wanted to do regardless of what the people in those groups had in mind. I was never the most popular kid in school, not even close. I definitely floated somewhere in the middle of that category, but popularity never mattered to me. If I spent my energy worrying about where I stood on the totem pole in the eyes of people who only cared about their status, then I would have missed out on so many valuable things to learn and achieve. Forget what everyone says and thinks. Worry only about how you feel about yourself. Believe in yourself. If you paint, paint. If you sing, sing. If you like to dance, then dance. If you like science, study your ass off and become a doctor. If you follow your heart and your dreams I promise one day Johnny Popular will be valet-parking your car.

The same mentality holds true with music and the “scene.” It breaks my heart when I see kids flipping their middle fingers and cussing at bands while they are onstage. Man, this band isn’t metal enough. Where are the breakdowns? This band screams too much. This band doesn’t scream enough. Blah, blah, whine, whine. If you are listening to music simply to look cool then do us all a favor and get lost. And here is a crazy idea. If you do not like a band or their music then DO NOT LISTEN TO IT. Nobody forces you to buy a CD, or illegally download a record. (Disclaimer: Do not illegally download music. Ever.), or stand at a stage and watch a performance. Obviously, not everyone is going to like everything: the mere idea is ludicrous. But showing up just to hate is a waste of everybody’s time, especially your own. Don’t forget, hating something is easy. It is loving something that takes true dedication and character.{pagebreak}

Above all else, music is supposed to mean something; it is supposed to come from the heart, from the soul. That is all I have ever asked of any band I have listened to. The second a band starts lying to themselves, then they are lying to us and that is when it becomes unfair. Please just believe in your music and do not try to sell me regurgitated nonsense. That is one thing I can confidently say about my own band, Alesana. What you see is what you get. We have never promised to be anything but what we are; a bunch of guys who like making music together. We love telling stories, creating new worlds within our music, and so that is what we do. Despite some pressure from management, labels, critics, and even our fans, we have never strayed from the path that we have chosen to take with our art. Our argument is simple: If you do not like us, then do not worry about us. The only thing that matters to us when we rest our heads on our pillows at night is that Alesana likes Alesana, and I think it really shows in our music and in our performances. We love our band, we love our music, and we love playing together. Support from our fans (the greatest fans on earth, by the way) is just the icing on the cake. We are on this journey with one another and anyone who wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome; but it is important to realize that we are going with or without you. We do not ask for approval, only for understanding. We are who we are and we are damn proud of being Alesana.

That brings me back to identity. What does identity truly mean? So many people will tell you that it is how others perceive you. I am sure most of you would identify me as the singer-guitarist from Alesana, and you of course would not be wrong. But I am much more than that. If you are the kid who gets good grades in school, that is probably how others will see you. Who cares? How do you see yourself? That is what is important, that is what matters. Understand your strengths and your flaws equally. Never be ashamed of the things that you are good with and never make excuses for the things that give you are hard time. Make your choices and be confident. I was told by many people in high school that I was an average guitar player and an even worse singer. Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong. The point is, their version of me was not the version of me that I saw in the mirror, the version of me in my heart. I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and I will never let anyone identify me but me. Paint those paintings, sing those songs, ace those exams. Find yourself and make yourself proud. And never be afraid to lean on a friend.

A little side note before I go, I have been curious about something for a while. My iPod is on shuffle right now, and my old band just came on randomly. Do you think creating a MySpace and posting some old pics and songs from that band might be something you guys would be into? Let me know, I think it could be fun.

Song quote of the week:

“It’s just another stretch of highway, I never asked for ordinary. Time and time change. If I rewrote this it might just sound the same.” – “Dare To” by Spitalfield

This week’s question:

What is one thing you dream of accomplishing one day? I hope to someday turn one of my stories into a film and write the score with my friend Adam Fisher. Your turn...


Photo of Shawn Milke courtesy of Ave Barr

Korn, Papa Roach, Shadows Fall, Maria Brink, and more, This Week on Revolver TV!