The hand of fate – or at least the hand of Shawn Milke – is the reason the rock band Alesana is based in Raleigh.
A decade ago, Milke, the leader of Alesana, felt it was time to move the band from Baltimore. So he threw a dart at a map of the United States, with the band agreeing to move to wherever the dart landed. It pierced the middle of North Carolina.
“I was thinking about places we knew of in North Carolina and we played Raleigh before and really liked the city,” Milke says while calling from his North Raleigh home. “I love North Raleigh.”
The vocalist-guitarist loves Raleigh so much he formed his own label and recording studio in the heart of downtown. Milke’s Adelaide Recording Studios opened in 2013. Alesana, which is one of the most successful rock bands in the state, had to leave Epitaph Records, but the label’s CEO/punk icon Brett Gurewitz let the group out of their deal.
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“He completely understood,” Milke said. “And I’ve never been happier.”
When Milke isn’t signing bands to his burgeoning label, the Philadelphia native is writing material for the band’s compelling concept albums. Give Milke and band mates – vocalist Dennis Lee, guitarists Patrick Thompson and Jake Campbell, bassist Shane Crump and drummer Jeremy Bryan – credit for creating imaginative tales buoyed by soaring melodies.
“We tell stories,” Milke says. “Not many bands make concept albums anymore. Each album is inspired by an author or work of literature.”
2010’s “The Emptiness” was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” 2011’s “A Place Where the Sun is Silent” was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.” The concept albums are heavy, provocative and at times, riveting.
“We’re going to finish off our trilogy with our next album,” Milke said. “Those albums were set in a specific place and the final part of this project will be a science fiction work. Maybe some time travel. The first part of the trilogy takes place in the 19th century and the second part is really abstract. You don’t know where you are.”
Alesana, which will play Wednesday at the Southland Ballroom, doesn’t pay attention to trends. The act operates in a vacuum, so odds are that Alesana will never truly break in a major fashion – but that’s fine with Milke.
“I accept that,” Milke said. “We have incredibly loyal fans. We have a cult that really loves our music and enables us to continue doing what we do. I consider ourselves to truly be a success.”
Milke is indeed in an enviable position. He makes music on his own terms and signs bands he likes to his label.
“That’s how I’m most comfortable,” Milke says. “I love this. I get to sign bands I believe in and mentor them. I’m doing it all in Raleigh.”
He could have been doing it all in North Dakota if the dart was released from another arm slot.
“I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like if the dart landed elsewhere,” Milke says. “All I know is that I’m happy the business is in downtown Raleigh and we get to make music and tour the country and see our fans, who are so enthusiastic.”