Protest The Hero: a matter of will

Even before it was released, Volition, Protest The Hero’s newest album, was a true success story. Thanks to the dedication and generosity of their fans, the band has almost broken all records on the crowd-funding platform Indiegogo. With their initial $125,000 goal reached in twenty hours and a grand total of $341,000 raised, Protest The Hero’s is actually the second most popular campaign on the platform. This success is a small revolution and a huge hope for all the bands who want to cast off the shackles of record labels. According to vocalist Rody Walker, whom we interviewed, “it’s been a long time of the artist getting screwed over by labels”, “so, it’s really nice to finally be able to push back and have the power”. Protest The Hero has been able to canvass record companies while having both the music and the money, which tipped the scales in their favor. A new way of thinking is slowly taking shape and establishing itself as a viable alternative – one that would reduce the number of middlemen to a bare minimum and allow the fans to play an active part in the creative process. It would no longer be up to artistic directors and marketers to decide which artist has potential and should therefore be backed, but to the fans themselves.

But the process doesn’t make everyone happy, and Walker addresses this reticence in the following interview. That being said, this is the lot of any innovative experience. In any case, for Protest The Hero, the result is a high-ranking album and the prospect of a leap forward that the old record industry just doesn’t allow anymore. In this respect, the choice of title, “Volition”, in not neutral and symbolizes the creative will – the band’s as well as the fans’ – surrounding the conception of their fourth album.

« When we did Scurrilous, I didn’t scream on it at all. And we went on the road and I found it kind of boring! (Laughs) »

Radio Metal: It seems that Scurrilous have pushed the band to the next level musically, in the sense that, while still keeping the trademarks of the band, offered songs that seemed both more mature and easier to digest. Do you see today this album as an important step for the band?

Rody Walker (singer): Absolutely, I think that this is another step in the direction of songwriting. In the past, when we were writing albums, it was more about being as crazy and technical as possible. Now, although there is still technical musicianship, the concentration is more on songwriting and writing a good song, not a crazy song.

Does this mean that writing a song is something you had forgotten in the past?

Yeah (chuckles), it actually does. When we were writing for the first couple of albums, the concentration was about doing part after part after part and connecting these parts. We were more of a part band than a song band! I’m still very proud of that stuff, but it was kind of a juvenile songwriting, in my opinion. And I think we’ve come our way.

It sounds like your new album Volition is taking things just where the band left them with Scurrilous, pushing things further, better exploiting the diverse elements that characterized it. Was Volition thought as an extension of Scurrilous somehow?

I don’t think it’s an extension of Scurrilous. I think it’s kind of different. But with everything that we’ve always done, we’ve sort of always been heading in the same direction. As we like to say: we’re always striving to write that song we hear in the back of our minds. It’s always been the same song. While we haven’t fully achieved it, we’re going to continue to try.

Volition features even more diversity in the vocals. Is this something you were trying to develop?

You know, when we did Scurrilous, I didn’t scream on it at all. And we went on the road and I found it kind of boring! (Laughs) So when we did this record, I guess I really wanted to scream. I kind of regret that, because screaming is something that wearies my voice very quickly. It is what it is…

The artwork for the album is quite strange, showing vultures with a lens on the eye: what does this symbolize?

This symbolizes media, essentially. Some of the songs on the record have social justice in mind, or the lack of, and the media plays a huge role in that. It has an eye on everything and they’re picking things apart, and who they choose to vilify or glorify really shapes the mind and opinion of the people. I think it’s kind of frightening at times how often, terrible and corporate the media influence media can be.

About criticism of crowdfunding: « For a band to come out and say shit like that, it really grinds my gears. It’s just like: ‘Are you not out there, everyday, getting fucked by labels?' »

The name of the album is Volition; does it symbolize the positivity of the band?

Yeah, absolutely! I mean, the title relates to everything on the record. It’s all about consciousness and decision making and questioning decision making. Some of it is in a very positive manner; some of it is in a very negative manner. It kind of flip flops back and forth but it very much relates to every song and lyric in the record.

With the Indiegogo crowd funding campaign you have reached your initial goal of 125,000 dollars in only twenty hours. It was actually such a success that you almost tripled your goal in the end, raising more than 340,000 dollars. Can you tell us about your feelings on this experience, how the band went through it and how would you explain this success?

It was so peculiar. We had a meeting the day before, we launched the Indiegogo and we said: “We could make like a hundred bucks here”. No matter what we get we had to figure out some way to make this album. We certainly weren’t expecting it to explode the way it did. We spent the first night just sitting in front of our computer, refreshing the pages and watching the number grow. It was remarkable. We’re forever in debt to the fans for doing what they did. That’s all really. I can’t truly express my gratitude.

This is a lot of money, more than most metal bands are spending to record an album. Why did you need such amount of money?

It was based on the Scurrilous budget. The 125,000 dollars, when it comes to recording, it’s actually not a lot of money. You know, I see people on the internet saying: “Oh, I can record an album in my basement for free!” But you’re not an international touring professional band! I know there are cheaper ways to record albums but we really wanted to do it in a large facility. We thought it might be our last record, so we gave it all we got. And with the extra money we definitely covered a few extra things, like music videos and shit like that.

Is it important for you to reach independence in regard to record companies and labels? This must actually be inverting the power struggle with labels as you have the music AND the money…

Yeah, I think it’s really important. The only thing we need labels for is for distribution. It’s been a long time of the artist getting screwed over by labels. It’s like anything: commerce and art don’t mix very well. The people that are involved in the art aspect always get fucked and that are involved in the commerce are always the ones fucking. So, it’s really nice to finally be able to push back and have the power. For our first meeting with a label, after we did it, we went in and we said: “We want one record, we want all the digital rights, we want no option, we only want distribution.” The guys looked at us and said: “That’s impossible. That doesn’t exist.” We said: “Fine, thanks for fucking dinner.” And then he came back to us a week later and said: “Here’s your contract with everything you want.” And we said “good.” (Laughs) It’s like we finally took back the power from these fucking labels that have been taking advantage of us for so long. It feels fantastic!

« It’s like it’s cool to be a geek. But the truth is that the real geeks that are out there aren’t cool at all and they never will be. (Laughs) »

There are people who criticize the crowd-funding systems, because they look at it in a pejorative way as a form of begging. What would you answer to these critics?

I don’t know. I guess I understand that perspective to some degree. I don’t understand when bands say stuff like that, because when kids are saying this it’s like: “OK, fine. You just don’t know or understand how the industry works. So that’s fine.” But for a band to come out and say shit like that, it really grinds my gears. It’s just like: “Are you not out there, everyday, getting fucked by labels? This money should be coming to you anyways! These are the people that are buying your record but this money goes to the label!” I don’t know. There are a lot of opinions out there about it. And, sometimes, it’s really hard to argue with people, and you want to argue with everyone who’s fucking shittalking, but you just can’t. I tried a couple of times to talk reason into a few people but sometimes there’s just no arguing, it’s just stupid.

Drummer Moe Carlson left the band and Chris Adler from Lamb Of God recorded the drums for the album. What made you choose Chris Adler for the recording sessions?

We knew that Chris wouldn’t be touring at that time because of an unfortunate incident with Lamb Of God. And also, we share our management with them and we’ve known him for a number of years. He’s come to a couple of shows and said he really liked our second record. We were sitting around talking about who would do the record and as soon as his name came up we didn’t think of anyone else. So we called him up, we asked him if he’d do it and he said he’d be delighted, and the rest is history.

How did the recording sessions go with Chris Adler, since Lamb Of God is not as much technical as Protest The Hero? Did he benefit any freedom in the drum parts or did you impose to him what he had to do?

He definitely put his own flair to it. But he had so much to learn. He had to learn eleven songs in a few short weeks. He put his own flair for sure, but for the most part he really just learned the songs, I think. (Laughs) But he’s such a dedicated worker. He was using the jam space seven days a week for, I think, three weeks. He was in there twelve hour a day. And then he was in the studio right after that, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And I think it was done in, I don’t know, two weeks.

Yesterday was announced that Mike Leradi was the new drummer for the band. How difficult was it to find a new drummer?

Yeah, it was really difficult. And it’s funny because I’m sure every band does fantasize about kicking members out and we fantasize about kicking everyone out at some point. But we thought it would be easy, like “we’ll get this guy or this guy”. We reached out to a couple of guys and they were “no!” And then we reached out to a couple of other guys and they just weren’t up to snuff. I was really hard to find a drummer! Mike’s been a good friend for a long time and we had talked about how it would be perfect to have him in the band. But he was busy, he was in The Kindred, we didn’t really want to screw anyone over. But then Luke (Hoskin) and Mike were talking one day, Luke asked him he’d fill in for us for the next while and he professed to him interest in joining the band. So we said: “If you want the position, then it’s yours.”

« Our music is so freaking serious but, you know, we’re not very serious people! […] We’re a bunch a goofy Canadian kids! »

Won’t it be a bit frustrating for Mike Leradi to be promoting an album that he didn’t record or participated in?

Yeah, probably. He actually said to me a couple of times that he was a little worried about some of the criticism that are going to come out. When you look at some of the comments on Facebook or whatever people are always criticizing Chris Adler for not sounding like Moe! And I think people are going to criticize Mike for every little bit of trouble. (Laughs)

You have made a really funny video for the song “Clarity” where we see people dressed up as Star Wars and Star Trek characters fighting against each other, and then some heroic fantasy guys are coming in the fight… This looks like a funny geek oriented video. Would you guys consider yourselves as geeks?

I don’t know if I would consider any of us as really geeks. Because, you have to be at a certain level a loser to be a geek. But we really like geek culture, you know, Star Trek and prog metal. (Laughs) Sci-Fi and prog metal really seem to fit together very well. We wanted to sort of send a salute to the real geeks and real nerds of the world, who are out there actually in live action, role playing and shit like that, because in this day and age people watch The Big Bang Theory and get themselves a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and say “Oh, I’m such a geek, I’m such a nerd”, it’s like it’s cool to be a geek. But the truth is that the real geeks that are out there aren’t cool at all and they never will be. (Laughs)

There’s this expression, known by Star Wars geeks: “Han Shot First”. And we also hear in the song the sentence “I don’t care who shot first”, is it the link between the video and the song itself?

Absolutely! That’s exactly what I was saying. (Laughs)

Was it on purpose that Han Solo is actually the one leading the assault in the video?

I believe so. We didn’t really have too much to do with that video. I sent them a concept that I came up with, which is ultimately what they made. Ten days later they sent me this video and I was like “Oh my god!” I thought it was going to be animated or something. I didn’t know what to expect. They went out in Salt Lake City and they filmed it all. I don’t really know too much about any of the actors or any of the themes throughout.

It is known that the characters wearing red shirts in Star Trek are the one who get killed. So how comes we still see Star Trek people with red shirts at the end of the video?

(Laughs) That’s a good question! But the red shirts also represent the communication officers like Lieutenant Uhura. There were red shirts that were characters that stayed alive all throughout the entire series actually.

You’ve made some quite funny videos, whether it’s the one for “Limb From Limb” or “Hair-Trigger”, or even the one you did when your van broke down on the way to Salt Lake City and for which you won a Golden Gods Award… Is humor a way for you to kind of lighten your music that can otherwise be very complex and sometimes hard to apprehend?

Yeah, absolutely! I mean, our music is so freaking serious but, you know, we’re not very serious people! So it’s really a way for us to show that duality of our character. We’re a bunch a goofy Canadian kids! We want to have fun but at the same time, we kind of write this thrash and heavy music. It doesn’t sound very funny! You know? (Laughs) So we inject the comedy through the music videos.

Interview conducted by phone on October, 11th 2013 by Amphisbaena.
Questions: Spaceman.
Transcription: Spaceman.
Introduction: Spaceman .

Protest The Hero’s official website: www.protestthehero.ca

Album Volition, out since October 29th 2013 via Spinefarm Records.

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