Through eight studio albums, three EPs and countless tours with musical powerhouses including Rise Against and The Amity Affliction, Canadian post-hardcore band Silverstein have clearly solidified themselves in the heavy music scene.
For lead guitarist Paul Rousseau, having only joined in 2012, it’s been a far shorter but no less intense journey. Across only two records, Rousseau has established himself as an integral member and key creative force.
We sat down with the guitarist to chat about his unconventional start and journey with Silverstein, embracing the therapeutic nature of music, and how he listens to “very different stuff to the rest of the guys”.
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To get the mood going, I expressed my excitement for the band supporting post-hardcore heavyweights Pierce The Veil on their Aussie tour in August, and Rousseau was just as pumped.
“It’s been a long time in the works, and we’re so excited that it actually came together! We had plans to come down at this time anyway and so did Pierce The Veil, and I think we actually have the same agent. He went ‘Hey guys, by the way you could combine the tour and it’ll be better’, so here we are [laughs]”.
After considering Silverstein’s near future on the road, we jumped back into the past as I invited him to reflect on their 10th anniversary tour supporting second album Discovering the Waterfront (2005). Since Rousseau didn’t actually write the album with the rest of the guys, learning all the songs for the tour was an interesting experience for him “because it seemed like even Josh [Bradford, rhythm guitar] didn’t remember how any of those parts were played”.
“I actually just took the record on my computer and put it into a sound recording program. I panned it all the way to one side, plugged in a guitar and panned it to the other side and just played along until I figured it out. I had to learn both guitar parts for every song because I didn’t know what Josh was supposed to play. So we all kind of learned together.”
The conversation soon shifted to the group’s latest album I Am Alive in Everything I Touch, which is compellingly split into four chapters based on the location of the songs’ lyrics. Rather than the rest of the band building on vocalist Shane Told’s lyrical concepts, I was surprised to learn from Rousseau that the album came together in the opposite way.
“We had most of the music in the works, and I think Shane’s idea was more built around the music,” he reflected. “We maybe had 15 ideas for songs, and Shane likes to write lyrics a little later in the process because he likes the big concepts. So we had it about 70% of the way there musically and then he had the idea, and we just did the rest of it together.”
Things became more personal as I asked about the guitarist’s own lyrical contributions to the album.
“There are a couple of songs like ‘Late on 6th’ and parts of ‘In the Dark’ which have my lyrics, so it is really personal. It was kind of strange to put it on a page so bluntly, but it didn’t hurt too badly. You write down the words, Shane sings them and you hope for the best [laughs]”.
“I’ve been writing music for pretty much my entire life, at least as a person with complex feelings like that. So I don’t really know what it would be like to not write the things that I felt. I’m not sure how I would deal with it otherwise.”
The chat took a nostalgic turn as the musician revealed how he initially felt about playing with Silverstein after being hired by Neil [Boshart, former lead guitar] as his guitar tech in 2008, describing it as “kind of strange”.
“I had and still have a lot of respect for Neil as a guitar player. When I started writing for the band, I felt like ‘Well, I don’t really play guitar like him’, and I wondered how they were going to receive that. But everything has gone really well.”
“I don’t really listen to that many bands in our scene, or the ones that influenced them. I listen to very different stuff to the rest of the guys. The times when I think something is really cool and write an interesting guitar part, I have to think of it in the framework of Silverstein and this scene. I have to try and find a way to make it fit.”
“It’s actually been a challenge, but it’s been fun. I think I’ve written some of my best parts like that, because they’re unorthodox and I’m torn.”
“Shane’s such a great songwriter and he’s been very supportive but also critical in the way that a young artist needs criticism. I need to hear when something isn’t going to work… so he’s been really helpful”.
To round out the chat, I asked Rousseau about his personal milestones with the band.
“All the travel with Silverstein has been pretty remarkable for me. I know I’m going to keep my passport when it’s full and remember the first time I played a show in Mexico or Russia, the first time I went to Japan.”
Reflecting on those highlights, Rousseau feels like he reaches “a new one all the time”.