"It's about time."
That's probably not the answer one might expect when asking a 19-year-old guitarist in a band that's barely a year old how he feels about signing to a national indie label, but The Word Alive's Tony Pizzuti is no egomaniac with delusions of entitlement. He just believes that he and his bandmates have paid their dues in the local scene, even if many of the dues weren't paid by the current lineup.
Success has certainly come quickly for The Word Alive. In little more than a year, the Phoenix metalcore band has amassed nearly 40,000 MySpace friends, endured a minor controversy after swapping lead singers, recorded an EP, and signed to California indie label Fearless Records.
New Times music feature
Badlands Music Venue in Mesa
The Word Alive are scheduled to perform on Saturday, May 16.
The Word Alive's sound is polished, if not unique. The band employs the tried-and-true combination of harsh and melodic vocals over explosive, hook-laden riffs and keyboard textures. The six members are young, ranging in age from 19 to 22, but they're no strangers to the scene and, man, are these kids cynical.
Singer Tyler "Telle" Smith had a high-profile gig before joining TWA, serving as Greeley Estates' bassist for much of 2008 before jumping at the chance to be a frontman. Pizzuti and fellow guitarist Zack Hansen previously played in Calling of Syrens, while drummer Tony Aguilera and keyboardist Dusty Riach served time in local acts Until Wings Fail and The Vanity Light. Bassist Nick Urlacher is the relative rookie of the band and, not surprisingly, seems the most excited by TWA's quick rise.
"I was completely shocked," Urlacher says of the Fearless deal. "There's bands out there that work their ass off for years before they see anything happen."
The band got an assist from close friend Garrett Nickelsen, who plays bass in Tempe pop-punk band (and fellow Fearless signees) The Maine. Nickelsen endorsed the band to Fearless A&R rep Shervon Esfahani, who had already scouted The Word Alive on MySpace and liked what he heard.
"I think they're just better songwriters than a lot of other bands out there," Esfahani says via e-mail. "[I] love their songs, the insane guitars, the demanding drums, their very wide-ranged vocalist, etc. I've watched The Word Alive [write] some amazing songs within two to three hours. It's not normal to see bands write that quickly or well together."
Despite the early success, the band doesn't plan to rest on its laurels.
"It's one of those things that, being signed, especially to a good label like Fearless, it is gonna present opportunities that we wouldn't have had otherwise," Smith says. "It's gonna present things, if we continue to work hard, that have the potential to pay off down the road. But you can't get caught up with that. You have to be patient. I think when you get signed to a label, it means that you have to work twice as hard, because the expectations go up. You have a lot more eyes on you that are judging and trying to make sure that you do fail.
"There's a lot of people who don't want you to succeed . . . You're not necessarily the underdog anymore. There's so many bands and so many labels these days that it's really hard to stand out. You can't just take it easy once you get signed, because that's when you start owing people more and more money. If you don't work hard, then it's going to be worse than if you didn't sign at all, 'cause not only are you poor and broke, but now you owe someone else thousands of dollars on top of it."
The band announced it signing to Fearless in a video posted on it MySpace blog in late March. A MySpace page has practically become a requirement for bands in the Information Age, but few bands have embraced the popular social networking site to the degree that TWA has. In addition to posting the requisite songs, pictures, and tour dates, TWA frequently updates their blog with videos of live performances, studio sessions, tour high jinks, and even a six-part "meet the band" series featuring band members answering fans' questions. The band's blog posts often draw hundreds of comments from fans.
"In this day and age, there's a new buzz band every month, somebody popping up," Smith says. "It's really easy for fans just to jump ship from being a superfan one minute to they don't even talk about you the next. Your CD's been in the bottom of their closet for three months. We feel like it is important. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. Music's not always gonna be there for us, but we can make relationships that will benefit those people now and us down the road."
But the band has also seen the downside of the Internet era. When TWA parted ways with original lead singer (and current Escape the Fate vocalist) Craig Mabbitt, rumors that the split was less than amicable quickly circulated online. The members of TWA downplay the drama, chalking it up as uninformed gossip.
"It was more online, people talking and assuming and spreading things that weren't true," say Smith, who replaced Mabbitt in late 2008. "Craig does have a lot of fans, and that's to his credit, 'cause he's really reached a lot of kids and touched them, and they're gonna support him. It was a lot more online-driven. When Craig got back from Europe not too long ago, me and (Pizzuti) were hanging out with him and (we) had dinner and it was fine. There's no real drama. He's doing well in Escape the Fate and they're selling a lot of records, so there's not too much to complain about."
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Mabbitt's departure allowed Smith to return to his first love — singing — even if it meant leaving Greeley Estates behind.
"(Singing) is what I love doing," Smith says. "It's just better for me doing what I love, 'cause I can be more passionate and driven doing that. This is my dream, (singing) with these guys. It's what I've always wanted, what I've been working for."
With a newly recorded EP tentatively set for a July release and a nationwide tour kicking off this month, The Word Alive appears to be sitting pretty. They're stoked by their rapid success story, but they don't want people to think they haven't earned it.
"Everybody in this band has played countless local shows," Smith says. "All the members came together at the right time, but it was after paying our dues and it was after perfecting what we needed to — to get to this level' . . . To me, when people say, 'You guys skipped that,' it's not necessarily true. We just didn't have the name 'The Word Alive' backing all those hundreds of shows."