Afterlife’s Tyler Levenson embraced vulnerability to make ‘Part Of Me’
The first time this writer saw Afterlife perform in 2018, the band’s energy erupted against the small club walls that worked their hardest to confine them. With only a few singles out ahead of their debut release, it was indisputable that the group were willing to put in a relentless effort to become industry giants in every corner of the alternative world.
Fast forward nearly three years later and that show feels like a lifetime ago. Now with their 2019 album, Breaking Point, and their recent release, Part Of Me, firmly under their belts, Afterlife are replacing the time spent at home in the last year with festival appearances, the beginning stages of touring plans and trying to reconnect with their audience.
While Breaking Point contemplated complacency in the world, it also examined the hostility and turmoil that Tyler Levenson experienced in his family life growing up.
“Breaking Point, for what it was, was the perfect album,” he says. However, across Part Of Me, Levenson and co. were determined to focus on exposing their vulnerability while also finding closure for the tumultuous relationships he’s harbored for years.
Sitting in his Florida apartment that he shares with guitarist Andrew McGuire, his white-blond hair slicked back into a neat bun to fight off the heat, Levenson reveals the intimate difficulties that he faced in addition to the pandemic, allowing himself to open up about a relationship ending and more across Part Of Me.
“Part Of Me is heartbreak and loss,” Levenson says. “Part Of Me is fear and uncertainty. Part Of Me is perseverance and desire. And Part Of Me is growth and realization. Those are all feelings we all felt during this record. I feel like if we were going to write our second album, it needed to be something in the moment, something personal.”
Part Of Me is the group’s follow-up to your debut album, 2019’s Breaking Point. Listening back to Breaking Point, and even the title of the album, you were facing your struggles and your demons head-on. While Part Of Me, despite having this massive grittiness that feels signature to your discography, comes across as coming to terms with those struggles and finding acceptance within yourself. What were you trying to achieve on this album?
When we were coming up with a title for the record, I wanted something that felt personal not only to myself but to the listener as well. With these 10 songs, it’s the most honest I’ve been with my songwriting. Because a lot of the topics on the record, they’re straightforward about how I was feeling.
The amount of things that I was going through with this record, the amount of things that the rest of the guys were going through. They’re all very real things that happen in life that we weren’t going to sit and sugarcoat for the listener. When I was writing these songs, and when people hear them, they’re going to feel that I left a piece of me in every single one of these songs.
I feel like if we were going to write our second album, it needed to be something in the moment, something personal. People have seen the angry side of the band. They haven’t seen the honest and real side of the band just yet. I think that’s what we did with the album. I wanted everything to feel real, from the artwork to the songs. I wanted it to feel like a journey for the listener.
The title track is a direct callback to “Broken Home” from your debut album with the line “Too many blessings on this broken home.” Why do you think it was important for yourself and for fans to be able to connect the dots between those two songs?
With our first record, we have a song called “Broken Home,” and it ended up being this crowd favorite. People love that song, but I wanted to, on this album, put that to rest. I reached the point in my life where I came to terms with what happened to me, why it happened to me, that the reason it did happen is why I am who I am today. I know it sounds very cliche, but it’s the truth.
If it wasn’t for that abusive situation, I probably wouldn’t be who I am today doing what I’m doing. So, I reached that point. I had those conversations with my family, my mom specifically, and I was able to put it behind me. On this album, I wanted to have a song that picked up where “Broken Home” left off but ended that story. If you listen to “Broken Home” and “Part Of Me” back to back, it’s one complete story.
That’s the one thing I wanted to do. Put it to rest because a lot of people out there don’t get closure. They don’t get that feeling of content. But I had it, so I felt compelled to write a song about that and express that and give it to those people, maybe in hopes that [it] could be the catalyst for them to go and seek their closure or receive their closure. So I’m hoping that it does work like that for people. Since that single has been out, it has for some people. So it’s a very great thing.
I want to talk about “Miles Away.” This one feels like it’s possibly the most experimental track in your discography thus far but also one of the most vulnerable and personal releases. While there are a lot of nü-metal and hip-hop elements in all of your releases, “Miles Away” heavily leans into those hip-hop elements and has a more pop feel to it. Can you tell me why you approached that song the way you did?
Obviously, I was in a very long-distance relationship for two years, and we moved in together. I had this whole idea of writing a song called “Miles Away,” which was actually a positive song at first. It was about how it brings people together and this and that. But right before we went into the studio the last time to finish the album was when me and my girlfriend broke up.
And that was not good. It was a very bad time. Two days later, I was in the studio in L.A. finishing these songs. So I was like, “I’m not writing that song.” No one was going to tell me otherwise. So we just took the idea of the song being happy and made it sad as fuck. I couldn’t write a song to fully encompass what actually happened, but instead wrote something that would do it justice. I wanted the song to feel raw, to feel the pain and the sadness I was going through on purpose.
I had a very public relationship, but the breakup was not public at all. When people hear this, they’re going to connect the dots, and I’m going to have to talk about it. But it’s just one of those things. It’s just an honest song. It’s real. And I feel like people are going to connect with that the most.
Breaking Point really reflected everything that you had experienced. Was there any hesitancy or doubt when you were putting together Part Of Me where you didn’t want to continue being that open and honest?
I think it was the opposite, the only option for me was to be more honest. I knew none of us wanted to write the same album twice. We saw what was successful, and we saw what people liked. It could have been easy for us to write those songs again. I think we all were at the point where we wanted to try something new. Still, people like the general vibe of our music, but [we wanted to] try something new. All of us can be more vulnerable in guitar, bass, drums and try new things. Even if they don’t succeed, try them.
You can read the full interview in 397, available here.