Silverstein returned with A Beautiful Place to Drown earlier this year, celebrating their 20th anniversary with an album more diverse than their other nine full-lengths. It’s also a commemoration of their track record for nailing songs by getting perfect guest musicians, with half of the 12 tracks featuring a performance from one.
One is a key word here. For each spot, they ask the one musician they envision in the spot and opt to deliver the song sans-guest if that can’t happen, rather than go down a list. Take, for example, Vic Fuentes from Pierce the Veil, who was supposed to sing on “California” from 2013’s This Is How the Wind Shifts. Logistics didn’t work out, so the song features only the five members of the band. In these situations, haphazard spot-fillers wouldn’t satisfy vocalist Shane Told every time he imagined what could have—nay, should have—been.
It’s this respect for the art of the guest spot that prompted us to hop on the phone with Told to discuss each decision in detail.
“Every part, every feature is just like every song we write; it all has to have its own story, and it all has to have its own journey of how it gets there. You can’t paint two songs with the same brush, and you certainly can’t do it with features.”
With that being said, let’s dive in. Here are 13 of Silverstein’s best collaborations, as told by Shane Told.
Kyle Bishop (Grade) on “When Broken Is Easily Fixed” (from 2003’s When Broken Is Easily Fixed)
In retrospect, this seems like a passing of the torch from some originators of sing/scream(o) post-hardcore to those who would carry it forward. Both bands herald from Burlington, ON, and Told reveals Kyle Bishop and Grade were (and still remain) his band’s biggest influence. The torchbearer wasn’t just going to pass it along without a few tips, though, recalls recipient Told.
“I remember Kyle coming into the studio, and he kind of gave me a bit of a few lessons about the part. He definitely made it his own, but I wasn’t going to say anything because there’s Kyle Bishop, like, dude’s a legend!”
The newer band lucked out in snagging him for their debut because the record’s producer had filled the same role for Grade’s Under the Radar. It might not have happened otherwise.
“I didn’t know how much Kyle really liked or supported our band at the time. I think he thought we were kind of ripping them off,” admits Told. “It was really very, very, very cool to have Kyle give us — kind of sign-off on our band publicly, whether he privately really liked us that much or not. He did the job at least, and that was kind of him.”
Since then, Bishop performed the song live with Silverstein for the band’s tenth anniversary show, captured on the Decade (Live at the El Mocambo) release. Twice as long into their career now, it’s safe to say any bitterness is buried.
Sean Mackin (Yellowcard) on “Discovering the Waterfront” (from 2005’s Discovering the Waterfront)
Though the band had a friend play violin on their debut, this time around they shot for the stars. Yellowcard had already broken into the mainstream with 2003’s Ocean Avenue, but violinist Sean Mackin accepted the role. Told says it was affirming for his band.
“We’d had a lot of success with the first record, but we didn’t really feel like we were getting a ton of love. We weren’t getting like The Used [tours] or My Chemical Romance wasn’t calling us up to bring us on tour or anything, you know? We were still a little bit under the radar, so it was cool to have, you know, ‘Oh wow, this is the guy from Yellowcard, like, that’s a band on MTV with a gold record.’ That was validating as well.”
The band had left the studio by the time Mackin was able to make it, but Told had left skeleton ideas played on guitar. Producer Cameron Webb informed the band how well-rehearsed their guest and his guest, fellow string player Rodney Wirtz, were, coming in with arrangements ready. The result speaks for itself. The song is gorgeous, with violin, viola and cello swelling throughout the haunting ballad.
Ultimately, Told says the only downside of the arrangement came when their then-label, Victory Records, didn’t pay the players. The band had to pony up out of their own pocket.
Liam Cormier (Cancer Bats) on “Vices” (from 2009’s A Shipwreck in the Sand)
Told admits he was inclined to have guests on A Shipwreck in the Sand because it was a story album, unlike the heart-on-sleeve lyrics he typically pens. He’s lucky that’s the case, as this heartbreaking banger follows the tale’s main character as he finds out his wife was cheating on him.
The song’s groovy breakdown is both a musical statement of intent and repeats one for the story’s protagonist: “I’m not coming home tonight, I’d rather sleep on the street. I’m not coming home to you, I won’t sleep with the devil.”
Only it’s not the voice of the character as he’s heard throughout the album. Instead, it’s Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier, seemingly tagged in to deliver a more palpable rage. Told says tapping Cormier was based on a good relationship, a complete opposite to the one they were highlighting on “Vices.”
“I thought just having like a really intense vocal there would work really well. We need like a hardcore guy that has a very abrasive, metallic voice. It was like, yeah, Liam’s the guy, and it worked out great. I mean, there wasn’t a lot of thought to it really. He just came in and ripped it.”
Scott Wade (Comeback Kid) on “Born Dead” (from 2009’s A Shipwreck in the Sand)
Though Silverstein had played shows with Comeback Kid back across Europe in 2007—appropriately with Cancer Bats joining them and Rise Against for some—it wasn’t Scott Wade on the mic. He’d already departed the band and been replaced as frontman by then-guitarist Andrew Neufeld.
Great though Neufeld is, Silverstein went for the distinctive voice of Wake the Dead vocalist Wade.
“We had this super fast, like punk, you know, double-time song,” affirms Told. “The idea was to have the call and the answer between the voices. We wanted something super, super abrasive and super, super different from my voice.”
The contrast elevates the critique of the American healthcare system, as told through the eyes of the main character’s inability to get coverage for his terminal illness. Funnily enough, the album was very Canadian, with all guest spots coming from fellow Canucks and recorded at a studio just outside of Toronto: Mississauga’s Metalworks Studios.
Lights on “The End” (from 2009’s A Shipwreck in the Sand)
Up until this point the guest spots came together fairly easy, but though the band knew they wanted a female vocalist to close out A Shipwreck in the Sand, they were at a loss for whom to tap. Told reveals a potential solution came from above.
“Our manager at the time was with Nettwerk, that management company, and he wanted to get Sarah McLachlan to do the part [laughs] which would have been [pauses] epic,” exclaims Told, though he had some doubts. “I think Sarah McLachlan is great, but I just don’t see this really working in terms of the story, you know, in terms of the like vibe of the song.”
The organization had been working with the “Angel” singer for around two decades at the time, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. However, Silverstein weren’t about to take the easy way out, despite anxieties rising. Time was running out when Told literally found the solution while running.
“I was at the gym late one night during the recording process, and I heard Lights on in the gym, which at the time was kind of strange because she was still a small artist. I heard that song ‘February Air,’ and I literally was like, ‘Oh my god, maybe we could get her. That would be rad.’
He confesses it’s one of his favorite features they’ve gotten because the relatively new artist only had an EP out and there were doubts as to Lights’ legitimacy, which were put to rest quickly when she nailed her part.
Anthony Raneri (Bayside) on “Texas Mickey” (from 2011’s Rescue)
Told pauses and matter-of-factly injects that Canadians know what a Texas mickey is while discussing this song. For those outside of Silverstein’s home country, it’s a very large bottle of hard liquor (101 US oz. or 3,000 ml) that got its name from the pocket-sized mickey and the fact that everything is bigger in Texas. Well, a song with a name like that needs a guest vocalist to match, and Told’s idea to fill the part came because he’d nipped a line from Bayside, whose vocalist fit the mood anyway.
“There’s like a dramatic shift in the song that takes place, like the tempo drops and everything kind of falls out of the song, and I knew I wanted a distinctive voice. I had written the words first and I had written a line, ‘All this stupid drama that painted my world black.’ I wrote that lyric, and I sort of lifted the stupid drama line from a Bayside song [‘If You’re Bored’] from their first album. When I did that, I was like, man, maybe Anthony is the answer. It’s a perfect guest for the song because Anthony has such a haunting voice, like he’s so distinctive and so beautiful sounding. There’s always a difference when you do a vocal over like just a guitar or just a bass or just the drum set, as opposed to when it’s like a full band because something about a voice with just a little instrumentation, it resonates in a different way.”
There’s a certain pain that resonates from every word Raneri croons, which is even more evident when you hear the demo version with only Told singing. The ability to hear the progression from demo to finished product makes this a unique Silverstein experience. The guest made the song his own, singing as only he could. It worked so well that Told says they took what Raneri sent, slapped it in Pro Tools and that was that.
Brendan Murphy (Counterparts) on “The Artist” (from 2011’s Rescue)
This was less about passing the torch than it was lighting another and walking hand-in-hand toward a new era of emotionally-charged, hardcore-influenced heavy music in Ontario. The seeds were already sown; Told’s Verona Records had recently released Counterparts’ Prophets LP and Silverstein drummer Paul Koehler was managing the metalcore upstarts from neighboring Hamilton, ON.
Still, Counterparts frontman Brendan Murphy was surprised to be asked, bluntly admitting, “Having me on a track in like 2011 meant fuck all because no one outside of Canada even knew who we were, so the fact they asked was awesome.”
He didn’t squander the opportunity, hopping his first-ever airplane mid-tour to hit the studio. Shai Hulud’s Mike Moynihan filled in for his show and sang about the Super Bowl game the Pittsburgh crowd would watch their Steelers lose the next day.
The Green Bay Packers would win that match, but the real winners in this scenario were Silverstein, who got the Bridge Nine/Deathwish-esque voice they desired for another call-and-response. The song is about as close as the band get to ditching the “post-” and focusing on hardcore, and it came together in an appropriate way: jamming. Told recalls playing one of the parts for guitarist Josh Bradford after practice when all other members had either exited for the day or the moment.
“One of the riffs in that song just sort of came up and literally in about five minutes we had sort of the idea for all the parts of the song. Paul came downstairs from like making his sandwich or whatever he was doing upstairs and literally just started jamming with us. That’s maybe the last time that we wrote a sound like that, where it literally was just jamming on riffs. I think that bringing Brendan Murphy into the fold, it felt kind of right to get a guy like that in, like a guy that definitely writes songs like that in his own band.”
Aaron Marshall (Intervals) on “Bad Habits” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
Told is audibly shaken they didn’t have a guest spot in so long (well, other than cellist Anna Jarvis, who appears on many of their albums). He suggests the two albums that preceded this, 2015’s I Am Alive in Everything I Touch and 2017’s Dead Reflection, may have been too personal to invite outside vocalists onto.
He kept that up on “Bad Habits,” a song with emotional lyrics with which any human could connect. Although the track doesn’t have a guest vocalist, instrumental prog metaller Aaron Marshall manages to sing nonetheless — just through his guitar.
There was a break in the song right after the breakdown, and the band were unsure how to fill it. For Told, the idea to tap a shredder came from skate punks Lagwagon’s “Stokin’ the Neighbors,” which features an over-the-top guest solo too.
It’s in the spirit of the album opener as a whole.
“It’s just an exciting song, like it has so much spirit. You’re just really on the edge of your seat the whole time when you listen,” opines Told before adding he thinks the Intervals leader made it even more so. “He killed it. He did like three versions of that solo and gave us the kind of normal, a little bit crazier and then the craziest, and we were just like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re 100% using the craziest [laughs].'”
Caleb Shomo (Beartooth) on “Burn It Down” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
Fans may be surprised this one took so long given the camaraderie between Silverstein and Beartooth even resulted in fusion band Silvertooth. Well, Caleb Shomo was originally supposed to appear on the mid-section of “Ghost,” which lives on Dead Reflection. Coincidentally, both his would-be and actual guest spots first dropped as standalone singles before appearing on the following albums. Told had written a bridge for Shomo that nodded at Beartooth lyrics, similar to how rappers will self-reference in their features, but the Red Bull Records artist couldn’t get the necessary permissions from his label to perform it.
Bummed, he leapt at the chance for redemption on “Burn It Down,” telling Told, “Dude, I could kill this.” He did so swiftly, recording and submitting his part before Silverstein could even explain the subject matter or vibe. That’s exactly what you hear on the song. Shomo’s flow bounces as his timbre builds from trembling talking to a snarling scream, all while the bridge becomes a breakdown.
The first time Told heard the part was no doubt similar to fans’ reactions, and he even goes as far as saying it reinvigorated his band’s interest in guest features.
“It was like, ‘Holy fuck,’” he says. “The first time I heard it, my jaw just dropped. I threw my phone onto the couch. I was just like, ‘What the — who is this guy?!’”
Aaron Gillespie (Underoath/The Almost) on “Infinite” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
“I would say of all the bands we’ve had features with, of all our peers, they do kind of make the most sense, Underoath. The only one that would be more relevant would be like if we had Senses Fail or something as a guest vocal. That would probably be even more on the nose.”
Perhaps it was so on the nose their peripheral vision didn’t let them see it. This collaboration has been even longer time coming than the Beartooth one; the bands took their maiden voyages across the Atlantic Ocean together for a January 2005 tour with The Hurt Process and Roses are Red.
Funnily enough, it was each of the musicians’ extracurriculars that encouraged this into existence. Aaron Gillespie was promoting Fear Caller, the latest album from his rock-based side project The Almost in which he steps out from behind the drumkit, when Told interviewed his friend for his Lead Singer Syndrome podcast. Perhaps the third time really is the charm—they’d chatted via that platform twice prior—because it got the wheels turning for Told.
The frontman recalls knowing “Infinite” was special early on but that it needed something to spice up the second verse, which Gillespie delivers in droves. He punctuates silky smooth serenading with bits of grit, setting apart his verse from Told’s more straight-forward melody. The decision paid off; the song has shot to the top of A Beautiful Place to Drown songs across streaming platforms.
As Told says, “Sometimes you don’t have to overthink it.”
Saxl Rose on “All On Me” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
Silverstein took the title “All On Me” literally, betting on themselves to pull off a song led by electronics over percussion, which really only pops up on the explosive choruses. It’s a dynamic song that effortlessly segues from dreamy to driving, but Told recalls doubting the song while it was coming together.
“I thought it was maybe too freaky to even be on the album, but I think at some point we just embraced the full freak and went, ‘Okay, we’ve got the song that’s already way out of our comfort zone. Maybe we just need to take it all the way.’”
Taking it all the way meant adding a smooth saxophone solo. Though Told doesn’t recall which member of the band decided that, the decision to tap Tony “Saxl Rose” Hancock for the role was so obvious the vocalists laughs when recalling it. “He’s just the guy! He’s the guy you get!”
He has a point. Hancock is the de facto woodwind player for the Warped Tour adjacent scene. Issues had recently had him perform on “Find Forever,” which came after a couple re-imaginings of songs by As It Is and Neck Deep. The latter were one of the bands with whom he’d perform on-stage most frequently, which also includes Paramore, The Used, Beartooth, State Champs, Intervals, Stand Atlantic and the aforementioned Issues.
The caveat? The saxophonist always writes his own parts. Fortunately, he has a way of playing to the song but maintaining his own distinct style, something exhibited here.
Princess Nokia on “Madness” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
This song’s chorus repeats the refrain, “This isn’t love, this is madness,” which was more or less the reaction when the collaboration went public. The “less” is because it WAS love and for that reason it really wasn’t so mad for those familiar with the relationship between the two emo-affiliated acts.
Told recalls hearing through the grapevine via Instagram that Princess Nokia was a fan and considered the first two albums highly influential. She came to their New York show and the parties hit it off. That was a couple years ago, and Told says finding a way to collaborate had been in the back of the band’s collective minds ever since.
“This was literally the perfect song. With the subject matter, we really wanted a strong female voice on it. She wrote those lyrics, too. That was one of the features where she came up with it all herself, and it was just so perfect, like the way she was able to paint a picture with her words: the Sid and Nancy reference, especially. She hits the nail on the head so hard with those lines.”
Though emo rap is becoming increasingly prevalent, few from the influencing scene have endorsed the hip child, but Told sees a parallel between their first-ever feature and this.
“It is kind of cool, especially when you talk about the first feature we ever did was Kyle Bishop, like an older artist who we were really influenced by. Now the last feature we’ve done—well, second last in the track order—but the last one we’ve done was an artist that we influenced coming back onto our record, so that’s kind of a cool little full circle story there as well.”
Pierre Bouvier (Simple Plan) on “Take What You Give” (from 2020’s A Beautiful Place to Drown)
Hilariously enough, Told says Pierre Bouvier was “just a kid too” when the pair met at a couple shows of the latter’s old punk band, Reset, when Told was still in high school. That means the pair’s relationship goes back more than half of both of their lives, but it really began in earnest when Simple Plan brought Silverstein to Europe in 2006, and hasn’t stopped since.
“Sometimes a couple years will go by without talking, and I’ll run into him at a festival or something, and we just will not miss a beat,” reminisces Told. “We just go right back to the same way we would talk back in 2006. I hit him up. He’s like so reliable. He’s the kind of guy you just text on your phone, and in like 30 seconds he’s hit you back.”
We can only imagine he replied that quickly when Silverstein asked him to guest on “Take What You Give,” especially considering the level of effort he put into his performance. Told laughs when he recalls Bouvier even added a little bass—an instrument he played in Reset, actually—atop his part to make it really pop.
Speaking of pop, it’s definitely got that vibe. Told name drops acts like The Maine, Augustana or The Spill Canvas as bands on the branch of emotional music from which this song grew.
“There were the screamo emo bands like us that were darker and kind of more crazy,” he explains. “It sounds like the entire scene of more lively emo but way more on the pop side.”