Metalcore-meets-alt-rock stalwarts the Word Alive stake a powerful return this Friday, May 4, with their eclectic new album Violent Noise, and today they reveal the record’s soaring and introspective centerpiece, the hip-hop-tinged “Human” featuring rapper Sincerely Collins—hear it below.
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“If you hear we did a song with a rapper, you’re probably just like, ‘What the hell does that sound like?’” lead vocalist Telle Smith tells AP. “But it’s one of our favorite songs on the album.” When the Phoenix-based band’s fifth album was named one of Our Most Anticipated heavy releases of 2018, the singer said “Human” (then called “I Am Human”) sounded “almost like if the Weeknd started a rock band.” Now, he concludes there’s “really no song or band that I can think of that sounds like it. And I love that. It’s so unique, and it has some of the coolest production on the record.”
The collaboration (and don’t worry, don’t think “rap rock”) couldn’t have come at a better time for the trio of Smith and guitarists Tony Pizzuti and Zack Hansen, the Word Alive’s core team, the group just turning a corner that saw them lose their rhythm section in the space of a year. Sincerely Collins’ guest spot was arranged by producer Matt Good (From First To Last), and the rapper’s surprise verse in the tune’s homestretch gives Smith’s weighty words a dynamic counterpoint, one the frontman says helps balance the “subconscious diary” of dire suppositions he’s collected since the release of 2016’s Dark Matter.
“When you look at our band, what people seem to gravitate toward is the really direct lyrics, the ones that tell the most important stories,” he says. “Violent Noise comes from two years of me heading toward rock bottom, sometimes unknowingly, and a lot of the lyrics on the record are very dark or very personal.” Following the flash of the first single “Red Clouds” and last month’s vid for the dangerously catchy “Why Am I Like This?,” the urgent ode in “Human” finds the musician facing his deepest fears for a chance at freedom.
“I didn’t even realize how bad of a place I was in,” Smith admits of a period that, up until last year, had the singer feeling like he was circling the drain. “A lot of the things that haunted me were coming back. I was drinking. I started to get into drugs—which is not me. I’m just not that person.” The clouds breaking just in time, the earnest awakening heard on Violent Noise is the Word Alive’s real-time chronicle of that personal and universal struggle.
For now, Smith breathes a sigh of relief. “I’m way more focused now,” he says on the eve of the album’s release. “I’m enjoying life again, and I’ve just been in a way healthier place.”
But is the new the Word Alive album “heavy”?
Fielding the question on the minds of many fans, Smith confirms that it’s “very heavy, but in a much more emotional and personal way.” Let’s be blunt: Not every song has screaming. But Violent Noise, per the singer, doesn’t represent some rough-and-tumble indicator as much as the blaring alarm of depression and self-destruction. “The violent noise is in your head,” he says. “All those negative thoughts, sometimes they become so loud that they’re all you can hear or feel. It’s the ego, the false you. The noise that says, ‘You should do this, you deserve this, this is the right thing.’ It’s basically the devil on your shoulder.”
As the Word Alive perform in cities across the world this year behind the new release, Smith continues to unpack his recent trials. Every night onstage, a further piece of the puzzle comes into play for the singer, and he acknowledges the benefit of hindsight in the histrionics. “Songs like ‘Human’ mean more to me now than the day that I wrote them,” he explains. “I’ve had this chance to refresh my life and realize that I have an amazing family and close friends who stand by me and empower me to try to find the best version of myself.”
The cathartic airing of your life’s troubles to chugging guitars, pounding drums and sky-scraping melodies doesn’t come without a cost, however. “This album is gonna bring a lot of things about my life to light,” the musician admits, quickly pointing to the higher goal in making drawbacks into jams. “But I hope it will encourage and help other people.” Like any woke performer, Smith’s got his sights on the big picture benefits that come from art, career and family. “When I look back at my life, I want to be thankful that I went through what I did. Hopefully, this album is so much more than just our fifth record—hopefully, it’s the record for some people.”
Pain can produce some great art, but it’s the little pleasures along the path that give a journey perspective. On “Human,” the Word Alive give us their most adventurous single to date, and its creation was one of Violent Noise’s high points. Smith says it was “cool to have someone else” add their mojo to the proceedings, and he recalls Sincerely Collins’ laid-back studio energy as a welcome component of the collaboration. In fact, the rapper’s pre-recording ritual offered the frontman a look at a slightly different way of creating.
“He came in, we sat down, we talked about the record,” he says of Collins’ arrival at the session. “He brought two friends, he brought some joints and he’s like, ‘I’m gonna smoke some weed and come back.’ He walked around—he didn’t write anything down, really. Then he came back and went into the vocal booth and did almost everything exactly how you hear it on the first take. It was just one of those magic things.”