In the middle of their tour of Australia, in support of Northlane‘s Mesmer World Tour with ERRA, we had the pleasure of connecting with Sworn In, and spoke with vocalist Tyler Dennen about Australia, fans, their All Smiles album, and more.
Kel (Depth Mag): How’s Australia treating you so far?
Tyler: It’s amazing. Beyond words to be honest. We’ve been wanting to come here for years and it’s absolutely lived up to every expectation that we’ve had for it, and then some.
Kel: Awesome. What are you liking about Australia?
Tyler: I really like how the general demeanor here seems to be very very polite and very genuine. A lot of people who come and talk to us after the shows and before the shows have this very genuine tone to them, that they’re appreciating what we do as art rather than as some kind of self-serving, selfish motive to be enjoying art. So it’s been a really humbling experience and really kind of taken us aback and had us look at this from a different perspective.
Kel: Wow. That sounds huge actually.
Tyler: Yeah absolutely. It’s been really rejuvenating.
Kel: Good to hear. Anything that you haven’t liked about Australia?
Tyler: That cigarettes are $30 a pack is the only negative. But now I know that, so next time I won’t be so taken by surprise on that.
Kel: True! How’s it going supporting Northlane?
Tyler: It’s amazing. Couldn’t have asked for a better band to be brought here by. Especially being from Australia and being such legends in the genre of music we play, it’s been an absolute honour to support them on this tour.
Kel: I’ve met the guys before and they’re really really down to earth. It’s surprising how down to earth they are.
Tyler: Right? Yeah they’re so nice. On these days off we’ve had they’ve been nothing but accommodating and very much wanting to show us the cool parts of Australia, and want to be involved.
Kel: How have fans been for you guys, by way of the Northlane shows? Have you had die-hard fans right up the front singing along with your songs?
Tyler: Yeah definitely not as much as we would see in the states, but not far off which I find to be really really incredible. We’ve had a couple of people come up with big Sworn In tattoos and people telling us “We’ve been waiting five years to see you”. There’s die-hard fans that come, and the fact we have die-hard fans that come and stake out their spot at the front and want to meet us is beyond humbling, seeing that on the other side of the world here.
Kel: I have some questions about All Smiles if you don’t mind.
Kel: I noticed with that release you’ve kind of gone into a black and red aesthetic where your previous releases were black and white and grey. Is that something deliberate with this red coming into the picture?
Tyler: Interesting. Yes and no. This is where I get a little pseudo-philosophical I suppose.
Kel: It’s okay!
Tyler: None of it was so much intentional as it was finding the intention post-doing it. I actually handle doing the visual artwork for nearly everything for All Smiles, and I didn’t really have the cognitive thought to use a colour scheme of black and red, but as I was creating it I had found that red was the only accent colour that my mind would choose to use to accent the artwork we were using.
Something about red has always drawn me to it. It strikes up two very intense but juxtaposing emotions of anger or love. Both very much on the hot scale, but could be positive or negative in the connotation of the viewer. So it leaves things up to interpretation with that intensity of whether or not it’s a positive intensity or a negative intensity. I’ve always found that red will always indicate someone to STOP. And I think that that is one thing that has always drawn me to bring in the red is that All Smiles is in and of itself a message to kind of stop, re-evaluate yourself, take all of the kinds of things that you would nine times out of ten shine onto other people, onto yourself. So I guess, long story short, to strike that intensity for the viewer’s interpretation, however that interpretation is going to be, intensely one way or the other.
Kel: Yep, that makes sense to me.
So with that, wanting people to stop and notice, is that also coming into the things you’ve shared in All Smiles about people being transparent and false?
Tyler: To an extent. The whole thing was created really without the connotation or thought that anyone else is really going to be hearing it, to be honest, which is the first time I’d gone into that kind of realm without intended purpose behind it.
Kel: Mmm, it’s very personal.
Tyler: I came out with a personal kind of stopping and transparency of one’s self. I like to call the record in and of itself a ‘public auto-dissection’, by which I mean I was dissecting myself by myself, and allowing the public to see it. In layman’s terms that would be transparency, and then if other people can relate to that and take it and impart their own lives to it then that was a positive. The intention of the record I suppose was a bearing of my soul, and I think it’s a very universal theme that a lot of people go through without realising. The conscious versus the subconscious is very very fickle and tricky kind of thing and in order to actually be aware of one’s subconscious, you need to have transparency with yourself. So many people are quick to be able to claim they can see the transparency in other people, and nine times out of ten it’s a falsehood unless you can look into yourself. So the intention was almost not selfishly motivated but it was very much a dumping out of my personal feelings of being able to look at myself transparently, publicly, which intensifies the entire experience of that painful look at yourself times a hundred, and my hope is that post-creating it, imparting the same kinds of feelings onto others.
Kel: In listening to other songs on All Smiles that relate to a really strong difficulty at looking at yourself, physically as well as situations like “Real self? There’s none”. It’s like there’s these things wrapped together where you’re showing yourself transparently to the world, but you’re also experiencing this difficulty with seeing yourself. Does that make the whole album carry this intensity? This personal intensity, because of what you’re sharing and how you’re doing it?
Tyler: Yes and no. The entire thing was a lot more autonomous than how I thought it was going to be. It was one of the first times when I hadn’t planned out a message I wanted people to impart. I left myself almost no time to write the lyrics. I’d written a bunch, and two or three days before I got to the studio, I was like “This is all bullshit. This is all pandering bullshit. This is all me trying to get a reaction out of people, rather than being genuine with myself.”
Tyler: So the root of what caused all this was a combination of dissassociation and depersonalisation at the same time; so very conflicting thought of “Am I real and the entire world around me is fake?” or “Is the entire world real and I am fake?”. So through writing it was like a chronological realtime discovering of oneself and taking control of the subconscious that I may or may not have found to be negative and tried to ignore. So as the CD progresses, it doesn’t necessarily follow a linear timeline, but it goes through what goes into opening yourself up to yourself and admitting to yourself that you are the good and the bad inside of you and the more you ignore the bad, the more power you give the bad.
Kel: Yep. I noticed that in All Smiles too, with “Cross My Heart”. It kind of feels like a resolution, yeah?
Tyler: Yes absolutely. And the interesting part about that song, it was intentionally supposed to be the intro track. By the time we got the lyrics all done with, it really felt like a no-brainer to put that at the end, and the last lyric of that song [“Why didn’t you ask if I was okay instead?”] really encapsulates where the disconnect from myself and my inner self started. Which was starting touring and starting being in this band and noticing that there was positive reinforcement for the negative aspects of my life, like when I was sad or feeling suicidal and writing lyrics about that, my band would be better. So it was almost like a Pavolv’s dogs analogy: The worse your life is, the better your band’s going to do.
Tyler: It kind of created this fracture in who I was and how I saw myself. The way I would let my inside voice interact with the voice and persona I would put out. So I had several different kind of characters per se fighting for the limelight of what was going to be the external version of me and I couldn’t really discern or have the cognitive choice of who was going to be represented because there were too many voices fighting for that power at the same time if that makes sense.
Kel: Yeah. That sounds huge. That sounds like the whole experience of that has been something life changing, would you agree?
Tyler: Absolutely. I’m not quite sure where I would be right now if we hadn’t done this record and it hadn’t gone the way it went. One thing I’ve really thought about a lot, regardless of how the record was received by fans or industry or anything like that, it is the most genuine piece of my heart and soul that I’ve put out there and without it I would be a wreck. Because before we’d done All Smiles and before we’d written that out, I had no clue. You could ask me any given day “What did you do today?” and I’d be able to account maybe one to two hours of what went on that day, just because the overwhelming confusing different kind of personalities in me that would be going on at the same time would really cloud up any kind of recollection for being able to live in the now, in the present.
Kel: That makes sense, it sounds overwhelming. Do you feel that creativity is a way that you can anchor yourself in moving forward or being present?
Tyler: Yes, absolutely.
Kel: I notice that you’re always creating things and they have this eclectic feel to them. It’s like music that I wouldn’t expect to come from someone from Sworn In but you’re putting it out still and it feels like this expression that you need to put out.
Tyler: Yeah absolutely, and it’s interesting because prior, any time I would create art, it was moreso with the intention and thought behind it of “Other people are going to see this and what do I want to evoke in people?”, and now that I’ve opened myself to the subconscious, my free time is spent creating and the connotation it has to myself is kind of discerned after the fact. So it’s almost like the need to create to express without the cognitive intention of creating to evoke emotion, so it’s coming from a very very personal place and being shared in a way where well through the creation process the thought that it’s going to be shared is not present.
Kel: Yeah, that’s good, that sounds like a really healthy way to create. Even just in writing about music, I always have it in my head “How is this going to be seen? Is it going to be understood?”. So to just have this like pure creativity coming through without that pressure sounds like a really good way to be.
Tyler: Absolutely. It’s difficult but I’ve come to find that the more you try to do it, the harder it gets. Like even right now, having this conversation, my headspace is I’m having the A-B conversation and whatever happens after that is completely unbeknownst to me. Although I do know it’s going to be put out into the public, it’s not a trying to not think about it, it’s moreso an inability to consider the fact. I could go on for hours and hours about this kind of stuff, but it’s really just thinking about how the internal self resonates with the world around you and how the world around you resonates back what you put out to yourself, which then imparts whether or not the sense of self you’re portraying is either genuine or not.
So let’s say we’re having this conversation and I’m considering the fact that having some kind of hypothesis about how people are going to react so I’m going to change how I say this to best fit public opinion, and that gets reinforced positively? Then to me that’s a disingenuous sense of self that gets portrayed, and further kind of damages or fractures the psyche to an extent. So it’s a lot of that kind of stuff, of living in the now and very much living in the personal now and attributing what kind of implications and connotations it has after the fact.
Kel: That makes perfect sense. Do you do anything to try to keep yourself in that state?
Tyler: That’s an interesting question. A lot of thought. A lot of analysis. Although it sounds redundant, a lot of analysis of analysis and thinking about thinking, and of course kind of autonomously creating and seeing what kinds of things my subconscious reaches out to my conscious. So staying very in touch with the sense of self and trying to remain unified as one, and if I can’t then trying to maintain a close relationship with the internal.
Kel: Wow. This conversation is kind of mind-blowing, and cool. [laughs]
Tyler: [laughs] Thank you, I appreciate it.
Kel: Do you feel that the things you’re getting back reflect a healthier self relationship?
Tyler: For once in my life I can truly say no. Prior, it was a big issue in my life which led to why All Smiles happened. We released our CD prior to that, and the reception was bad, and I think it was partially bad because I had tried to hypothesise about what a public reaction would be, therefore was not being genuine with myself and with the words I said, and when that was not received well, I took it as a very negative hit, very much as “Well they don’t like who I am”, without realising the fact that who I was portraying was not myself, it was a conglomerate of hypothetical ‘what ifs’ from people.
So with this record, I’ve not really bothered myself with first week numbers, YouTube comments, Facebook comments. I’ll see the occasional Tweet or Instagram post of people saying they like it or dislike it, and that’s all really cool, but the only thing that affects me when we meet people at shows and they come up and personally talk to me about what one of our records has meant to them, what it has done for them, how they connect to it. And generally nine times out of ten, I’m really trying to force myself to take it as a human-to-human interaction, as opposed to artist-to-fan, when it’s people saying “Your record helped me a lot, it got me through this and that”, instead of saying “Oh thank you, I’m really glad” it’s moreso “Oh I relate very hard. If you can relate to what I’m saying, then I feel you man” and give them a hug. Because if you go through the things I write about, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, it’s that knowingness that other people can relate to the experiences you’re going through and the resolution comes from inside of you, not ever from other peoples’ words, thoughts, ideas, or actions.
Kel: Yeah, that’s cool. I did notice that there’s this love or hate kind of reaction to All Smiles. Like I’ve read the comments on YouTube and it seemed to be extremes, like “This is amazing” or “This is crap”. I often feel that when someone is being their genuine self and it’s coming out, that the reactions people give are reflecting their own discomfort with their own genuine self.
Kel: That’s kind of why I was asking. Now that you’re putting this out, and it’s this very personal, very open thing, people might be hearing it and expecting that same Sworn In from the past, and go “Whoa, what’s this? This is not what I was expecting!” and they have this reaction. I think it’s really telling of how they are within themselves. If they take it on board, it’s possibly an inspiration for them to do their own looking at their own subconscious self and have their own experience with that, if they’re willing to do the work.
Tyler: Right and that’s what thing I’ve noticed, specifically in this genre of music. And not to slander metal or hardcore music whatsoever, at the end of the day, music is art and the lyrics are poetry, and instrumental music of itself is the creation of something, from nothing.
Kel: How cool is that!?
Tyler: [laughs] Yeah, right? It’s incredible. And this genre I seem to find that people can’t necessarily make a distinction between what is art and what is entertainment and what an audience member is gaining as opposed to what they’re experiencing as a group. So this genre of music I’ve really come to notice that most people that come, it’s moreso for their experience and not a collective experience or appreciation of art per se. People will comparatively put old releases with releases we do now and retrospectively compare and bug us “Ugh, this doesn’t sound like The Death Card!”.
Kel: Ugh, yeah.
Tyler: It is what it is, and we can’t fight it, but to compare a creation that someone made when they were 19 years old versus 23 A) in and of itself is pretty fucked and B) it’s really a self-motivated kind of want, of “Bring this back for me, because I have this nostalgic tie to whenever this record came out, however old I was, whatever I was doing”.
Tyler: It’s something you can’t avoid, but it’s something that I can’t concern myself with anymore, because the end result is disingenuous art.
Kel: Exactly, and people grow and evolve and so does their sound, so does their art. Do you feel that Sworn In’s sound will be evolving further with say the next album you’ll be doing?
Tyler: Interesting question as well. For me, I think that All Smiles was the perfect and only follow-up we could have done to The Lovers / The Devil that had integrity to it. For our next release, we’ve already received a good amount of pressure from our team to kind of move ourselves toward a direction that they think will be a bit more well-received and a bit more profitable. That’s all well and good but I think we’ve learned our lesson as to what happens when we get up on stage and be disingenuous with ourselves. People can see it on our faces, they can see it on our social medias, they can see it in the way we carry ourselves.
So I think we’re going to go in and write what comes out naturally, but this time we need to put a bit more focus on what it means to other people, and what this Sworn In entity means to people instead of just us. Which is necessary, and that’s part of the issue that I’ve had with combining art and career, and it’s finding that happy middle ground where you’re appeasing those that support you and being real with yourself. I think we’re going to continue to be emotionally expressive, but I think a lot of the introspective analysis and self-degradation is kind of going to have to take a back seat a little bit and focus moreso on how the music that we write and the energies that come out with it, the anger and raw unfiltered emotion, and kind of matching the words to that more, making it less so about just me bearing my soul and more a collective feeling that a lot of people can relate to and tap into. It’s going to be a journey of finding a way to do that while maintaining the integrity that I’m being genuine with myself. So it’s not a regression per se, but it’s also not necessarily the organic step forward that I would personally 100% like to do. So finding that spot between A and B is basically where we’re at right now.
Kel: What would that organic step forward be?
Tyler: That’s another good question as well. It’s kind of where I’m personally stuck. All Smiles is kind of me saying my piece on the introspective criticism part, which has been Sworn In, for me at least, from the beginning to where we are now. It’s a live timestamp journey of where I’m at with myself and I’m usually two or three months ahead of where my conscious self can recognise and it’s kind of my subconscious speaking out and All Smiles is the discovery of the subconscious being one with the conscious, so speaking in those terms in that kind of helpless and eclectic point of view is not really going to be as genuine as it could be, so we’re still very very much in the discovering phase of where to go from here. But I do believe that anger is going to be one thing we touch on a lot again, because our roots back when we were 16-17, our whole motto was ‘fuck the entire world’ and that had to have come from somewhere and I think that right now our perogative is finding where that came from and finding where it sits now.
Kel: Okay. You guys don’t really go political with your anger, do you?
Tyler: No, generally not. We don’t like to so much speak about things we don’t have really 100% integral knowledge on. We’re a bunch of twenty-something year old dudes, and we can sit here and pretend we know a lot about politics and we know all about human rights, but when push comes to shove, we know the world we live in and the world we live in is very very small. It’s small in the context of external, but huge in the context of the internal. We’ve always tried to hone in on that shared, universal internal world that’s so huge that it seems tiny, if this makes any sense at all [laughs].
Kel: I know what you’re saying. And I also feel that that internal is reflected outward anyway, so anything that touches on that internal has an impact.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Tyler! All the best for the rest of the tour with Northlane!