"Carly Smithson talks We Are the Fallen, the 'American Idol' experience and her near death experience after writing 'Bury Me Alive.'" - Interview

I’m married to a fan of “American Idol,” so needless to say I end up watching it for the most part. When you watch a reality show like that you immediately connect with a contestant and root for them. For me, Bo Bice, Chris Daughtry and Carly Smithson were those contestants over the years. When I heard that Carly Smithson hooked up with Ben Moody to form the band We Are the Fallen my interest was immediately peaked. I wanted to hear what this band sounded like. On paper it seemed like the perfect combination, needless to say, when I picked up the album “Tear the World Down” I was very satisfied. Recently I got a chance to chat with Carly Smithson of We Are the Fallen about the band, “American Idol” and how writing the first single “Bury Me Alive” nearly killed her.

Q - What were you doing between “American Idol” and We Are the Fallen?

A - Writing my behind off and basically just getting to this point. I had a vision and I had a goal and I was just breaking through to get to that place. I had a conversation with my husband; there were some offers that were made to me that were kind of an easier road that were more pop oriented and it just wasn’t who I am. I’ve made a record before, I’ve been down that road before and I knew that this was kind of point in my life that was going to be make or break. After being on the biggest TV show in the world that’s how you’re solidifying yourself for your life. For me it was really important to make songs that I wanted to sing forever. I didn’t feel that anything anybody else was putting my way was anything I’d be interested in.

So I went to my manager and bitched up a storm and was all upset, nobody understands, I want to do music that’s dramatic etc and they’re all telling me it’s not going to work. He said ‘well just go write it yourself, you’re capable, go write it.’ So I did, I went to Atlanta and I started writing, then I came back to LA, got an apartment and I just locked myself inside it. I came up with “Bury me Alive” which was our first single. I came up with another song “St. John” which wasn’t completed, but I had the lyrical idea. Literally a couple weeks later I met Ben Moody. It was just a crazy experience. I think you just kind of have to fixate on a goal where nothing else matters and nothing else is good enough and that’s kind of what I did. I had a goal and I just decided to myself that nothing else was good enough and if I didn’t achieve that it was ok.

You also, after “Idol,” have to make peace with yourself that if shit hits the fan you’re ok with it. I ultimately was taking a choice to go down a rockier road, no pun intended, but I have comfort with the fact that it could have gone horribly wrong and I’d end up with nothing, but thank God it didn’t and ended up with the record of my dreams.

Q - Did you have any reservations about joining Ben Moody knowing that no matter what you do or how different you are, you’re going to be compared to Amy Lee, at least for awhile?

A - That question, I have to rephrase what you said. I wasn’t very familiar with it; I’ve become familiar with it now. I set out to create a record that I wanted for myself. Growing up I listened to opera and stuff like that, but I also listened to rock music. It’s just a genre of music whether it’s a male singing or a female singing. I mean if I sang a 30 Seconds to Mars song people would be saying it fucking sounded like Evanescence. All that I try to do is write for myself. I wrote “Bury Me Alive” before I even met Ben Moody. Did I have any preconceived ideas? No, because I wasn’t familiar with their past until I got heavily involved with Ben Moody, then I understood what happened in the past. No, I just saw a great song writer and I knew in that night in meeting him he explained everything he had done.

He was actually a friend of the roommate of my friend, so it had nothing to do with being introduced to him, it was just a coincidence. I actually met Ben and Marty (O’Brien) first and Marty wasn’t in Evanescence, so the band really had nothing to do with Evanescence until John (LeCompt) and Rocky (Gray) came in a couple weeks later. Then we kind of announced the band and then I started really understanding what the past of the members were, but what people still have to understand is that’s not the past of all the members, some of us actually have nothing to do with Evanescence. But I honestly had no clue about their past.

Q - I picked up your album a couple of weeks ago and I listened to it several times. I like it a lot. Can you kind of take us through what the writing process was?

A - Thank you, the writing process was very quick. I sat down the first day with Ben. Let’s say I met him on a Monday and by Thursday I started this new band. Our first meeting was in our friend’s bedroom at one thirty in the morning. It was me, him, his girlfriend and my friend sitting on a bed discussing how his project and my project sort of mirrored each other and we were on separate ends of the city and why not come together and make a unit. It was very bizarre to me, everything that I had hoped to achieve like I literally had to say to Ben that I want people all in black latex on the stage, and he’s like yeah that’s great, I’ve always wanted to do that. It was like we were in the same mind, but not. If we met on a Monday, by Thursday I had went back to my manager and went, ‘listen we kind of need to put what I’m doing on hold because I was writing songs to put a band around.’ I said to my manager, ‘do you think this is a good idea?’ He said, ‘why are you even fucking calling me, this is perfect. Absolutely be part of this band.’

So if we met on a Monday, by Wednesday we were writing for the record. It was crazy, we sat down and the first song we started working on was “Paradigm,” which oddly enough ended up being the last song I completed for the record. Ben had a track that he had put together, so he sat me down and wanted to do a co-write. After about an hour we had written nothing and then went to lunch. We realized that we didn’t know anything about each other and we were already in a band together and that we needed to sit down and realize what we wanted to achieve. I can write a song all day in a co-write situation, but if it’s for my own project I put my own feelings into it, so it gets more personal and I like to be alone. So we both decided was that what we’d do was we’d have tracks that were worked on by the whole band, then myself and Ben would split the material and go away and write melody and lyrics and come back and evaluate what we think of the song? What does it need?

The writing process was literally Marty, Rocky and John over at Marty’s house, because they flew from Arkansas and kind of lived in LA while we were making the record. They were in a locked house with head phones on, no talking to each other, just creating tracks. They would then send them over to Ben. Ben is very good at piecing together great pieces of music. I took on the role of most of the melody and lyrics and then Ben did that also on some of the songs. It was an amazing process. We wrote the whole record in six weeks. I think we had all been saving pieces for so long. We were writing for other people a lot, but I’d keep all the good bits for myself hoping that one day I’d get to use them. You never want to give your best bits to someone else because then you’ll wish they were yours your whole life.

I had all of these ideas accumulating for years, like personal things that I really wanted to put in songs and I got this opportunity that seemed like the perfect place to place them in. The boys were the same. They all had ideas that they were saving and when you get to that place you just spit them all out. It creates this massive amount of material. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and definitely the musical environment I wanted to be a part of my whole life.

Q - When you get on stage, what is your favorite song to perform?

A - I think it’s the new single, “Tear the World Down.” It for us is the definition of what you always hope to achieve in music, a song with that magnitude and power. The lyrics are universal, choir, strings and the heavy guitars. The one thing I always remember as a little girl, I was in “Les Miserable” and I remember coming out on stage and nothing will ever compare to playing with strings and choir. All that kind of stuff is so powerful and moving. I’d always lose myself in these operas I’d perform in. I never really experienced it again until this record, because it’s such a big wall of sound. Honestly I feel like these songs grab me while I’m singing and I just become part of the song through the whole show or forty-five minute set. I mean I’m lost in the music and I was never able to do that again. I think that’s why I wanted to go so far into this sound for this record and for my post “Idol” project, because I remembered when I was nine years old how powerful and emotional and connected to the songs I was when I had full string pieces and full choir and just massive orchestral sound, it’s just so amazing. Definitely though, singing “Tear the World Down,” I just go to another place. The story of the song you can almost visually see it every time you perform it. It’s very cool and very different.

Q - What can fans expect from your live show?

A - All sorts, they can expect it to be full of energy. We’re all over the stage. It’s full of emotion, it’s a journey. It’s a complete ride of both sound and emotion and feelings and story. As we grow as a band, we’re just coming out of our first year, so it’s a smaller scale now, but we eventually want to get to that place where we can combine theater and performance. I feel like it’s done in pop music a lot; I don’t think it’s done in rock music that much, I mean I think GWAR is about as close to theater and rock that you can get. I want to do, if “Edward Scissorhands” was a performance with music. I want to make everything on a larger scale and incorporate Cir de Soleil and rock n roll and just seeing where things take us. I want to be creative and I want to explore and I want to have fun. Who knows where we’ll go in the future, but I want to keep building and enticing people. I mean Pink Floyd was amazing, you’d go to their show and you’d want to go back because you might have missed something that went on. It wasn’t just about the music and I want to kind of achieve that, that’s my next goal. This record was my first goal and now I want to get to the place touring wise where we can step it up a bit so that it’s bigger than the music.

Q - Are there any upcoming tour plans?

A - There are, I can’t talk about it right now, but there is a tour, it’s just not announced yet.

Q - How much different is the person you become on stage from the everyday Carly Smithson?

A - Not very different. I’m quite loud and obnoxious. My husband says he sees me at my happiest place when I get on the stage. He’s like, ‘you’re just you, it’s crazy, I watch you and you’re just so in your element.’ I don’t find me and Carly on stage that different. I know that Beyonce has a completely different person she becomes; I don’t think I become that different. I am as much in love with my music before I get on stage as I am when I get off. I’m constantly singing and joking and kind of being in your face and loud. That’s exactly the person I am as soon as I get on stage as well.

Q - Do you feel the need to separate yourself from “Idol” or is it something you embrace?

A - I embrace “American Idol” as a show and an experience I try to separate myself now from the performance and the musical side, because I don’t feel like that is who I am. I don’t think it’s like who anybody is that auditions for the show. I think the biggest misunderstanding is, I get asked in interviews all the time, how do you see your music different now from your music on “Idol.” I have to remind people that on “American Idol” that wasn’t my music. My music now is what I wrote from my heart and from my gut. My music on “American Idol” was somebody else’s music. It’s a karaoke show and a TV show as well, very edited. Did I enjoy my experience? Absolutely. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was that minute in thirty seconds live on camera. A lot of the songs weren’t something that I would have chosen in a perfect world. It’s a very limited universe when you’re on “American Idol.” You have a list to choose from and a lot of the times the songs were pop songs that I wasn’t even familiar with or passionate about. I feel like when you’re performing you have to be very, very passionate.

I don’t try to distance myself from the show; I just try to distance myself from the music. I don’t want people to feel that is in any way who I am as an artist, because as a rock person it is very difficult to really show yourself on a TV show like that, because rock artists don’t even clear their songs half the fucking time for the show (laughs). Pop artists I would say nine times out of ten I’d say this is exactly who I am, but for anybody else I wouldn’t say that the show really caters to you. I loved my experience, I love all of the people that worked on the show, and they taught me so much. If you ever want a boot camp to the entertainment industry it’s right there. They were nothing but nice and I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the producers that work on the show. They’ve become very good friends. Yeah I learned a lot and got to have a wonderful experience. I got to do an arena tour for a couple of months after being on TV for the first time. As well financially as a musician it’s very difficult to follow your dreams and “Idol” gives you that financial stability where you can actually leave your job, move to LA and start something for yourself and that’s something that I needed for so long. I finally got to that place where “Idol” looks after you and you tour. You have a great foundation of money to be able to go and solely work on music. That’s something that is priceless, it’s just great.

Q - That was all I had, thanks for taking the time, is there anything else you wanted to add?

A - I don’t think so. Thank you I’m glad you like the album, that’s awesome. Thank you. I know it is really different than anything that’s come off of “Idol,” but it was important for me to have something that I want to sing forever. When I first did “Bury Me Alive,” I literally got into my car and I knew that I’d hit the nail on the head, this is it, this is the new song that I’m going to create a record around, because this is exactly what I want. For years, I’m inspired by everyone, but I wanted a record that would have all of my influences, from Annie Lenox to Iron Maiden, from Marilyn Manson to Garbage; these were people that over the years I’ve just been obsessed with. I was told by a lot of people that a girl is not going to be able to do rock - it’s just never going to happen. I found it so obnoxious to listen to that all the time. Why not? I’m going to do rock music; it’s in my blood and everything I want.

As soon as I wrote “Bury Me Alive” I got into my car and nearly killed myself that day. I drove around Atlanta and didn’t look at the gas gauge and I ran out of gas in the middle of Interstate 75. There were cars flying past me. I’m sitting in my car on the phone with the police crying. This big rig actually saved me. I was three lanes over and he actually blocked all the lanes with his big rig and he yelled, ‘get your fucking car off the freeway.’ I actually pushed the Chevy Cavalier to the shoulder by myself and just sat there and was like I was so excited about my song that I almost killed myself.

As soon as I had written that I was like this is so perfect. I played it for the boys I think a week into writing, because I was scared to write with them because they had such accomplishments, but I was like, ‘I think I actually have something that would be a great song to actually launch ourselves with.’ I played it for Ben and Rocky on the way home from a movie theater and they loved it, they were like this is perfect, this is great. It was the first complete song that was really written for the record. They went ahead and threw it into production, we went into the studio and recorded it properly and it was just such a great moment for me as a writer, as kind of the newbie in the group and to the entertainment industry that my song would be taken seriously by Grammy winning song writers. It definitely broke the ice for my confidence on the rest of the record.

It’s just been such an amazing thing. I said to my husband just before I met the band, ‘you know I might have completely fucked myself, it’s been a couple of months and I’ve got great material, but I worried that maybe I’d taken a really hard tough road and that it wouldn’t pan out,’ but luckily it has and it was a nice thing to be able to go back to “Idol” and be number six on the rock chart with an album. It was a great moment for me.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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