Interview: Protest the Hero
by Jeremiah Shea
“Isn’t it your job to grow and progress being a musician?”
Progressive phrasing in a precise package sums up Protest the Hero’s sound in an alliterative nutshell. The Canadian metal act from Whitby, Ontario is a tight group of friends who’ve grown their talents by leaps and bounds since their inception in 2001. The band originally started out as a punk rock act known as Happy Go Lucky when the guys were still in high school. Over the course of the band’s history though, their sound has gotten more and more technical, moving away from punk and into more of a progressive metal sound. The entire band seems to push the boundaries, both individually and as a whole, with each successive release. And while they remain underground for the most part, they continue to gain notoriety amongst their peers and others within the music industry for the skills they possess. Their new album, which is due out sometime over the summer, was crowdfunded by their fans through Indiegogo. This new trend is interesting as it eliminates the record label and allows the band to take full creative control of every aspect of the recording process. We recently got a chance to talk to Rody, the lead singer of Protest the Hero, about their new album and where the band plans to take their music on the next release.
Artvoice: How different has the writing process been from album to album?
Rody Walker: The writing process for every record has been completely different from one to the next. For Kezia, we sat in a semicircle in my parent’s basement and wrote that album together, which we’ve never done since. Fortress was when it started to evolve into Luke doing most of the actual song writing. Luke, Tim, Moe, and Arif would sit around in a room and jam on riffs for hours, but that was after Luke came up with the initial piece. The entire process though happens in a very organic way that’s affected by our environment, mood, and what point we’re in in our lives. It all just kind of comes together, with each album vastly different from the previous experience.
AV: Who does the majority of the writing in the band?
RW: In the past it’s been mostly Luke. He’ll put together a loose idea for a song and then work the rest out with Moe to get a rough idea down. Once that’s together, the rest of us come in and add our parts over the top of it. This time around though, it’s more Luke and Tim who have been working on songs together, so you should hear a little more of Timmy’s flair on the upcoming album.
AV: How does the band assemble songs in general as they tend to be very musically complex?
RW: The songs develop in a very skeletal form, and as people start adding their parts, the song slowly evolves from there. Once the vocals are added, we begin tweaking and trimming the fat. The song slowly starts to take form and parts are revisited and revised. It’s confusing and laborious, but it’s just the way we do things.
AV: Arif wrote the lyrics for every album up until Scurrilous. How is this going to be handled going forward?
RW: It was a very natural transition for us. When Arif stopped writing lyrics, it was very obvious to the rest of us that he was no longer interested and I kind of just picked up where he left off. Our styles aren’t exactly the same, but it was a natural change nonetheless. I have a shit ton of lyrics for this new album and if he decides he wants to contribute, he knows he’s more than welcome to. I don’t think he’ll write for this album though from what I’ve heard from him, but we’ll see.
AV: There are a lot of metal bands today who scream the majority of their lyrics. You on the other hand, sing the majority of the time and only scream here and there. How did that develop?
RW: When we were kids, I used to try and sing really raspy, but it was still singing. The screaming came around some time after that, but it was never something I thought I would use for an entire song. It was always a technique I would use to just emphasize a particular part. Still to this day, if I hear a song from another band where they scream all the way through, it honestly bores me to tears. To me, hearing an actual human voice singing a melody is very important. In that respect, I don’t think I could ever write music or contribute something that didn’t have that. Whether it’s good or bad, it has to be there for me.
AV: What’s the story with Jadea Kelly, and how did she end up initially singing on Kezia?
RW: It started with some kid in high school that I was friends with. He wanted to record with me and he sent me a clip of this girl that happened to be Jadea. We rode our bikes down to Dairy Queen and hung out with her for a few minutes and she ended up singing on Kezia. I genuinely don’t want to do another record without her. I’d like to give her a bigger part on this new album and maybe her own song.
AV: The music you guys write is obviously very technical. Is anybody in the band formally trained in music?
RW: We all took a few years of lessons when we were kids, but Luke, Tim, and Arif have all taken formal courses through the Berklee College of Music. I am definitely the least musically inclined, and obviously couldn’t give a fuck about it. I understand time signatures and tempo changes, but sometimes I have to do a little counting and it’s fucking annoying. When I first hear a new song, I think, “oh my god, what the fuck am I going to do with this?,” and then a year goes by, and that same song doesn’t seem all that complicated.
AV: Moe plays a small drum kit compared to other metal drummers, but gets such a huge sound out of it. How long has he been playing drums for and how much does he practice?
RW: He has been playing as long as our band has been around, probably around 15 years now. I’ve never even heard of Moe practicing on his own in my life though. I don’t think he really even likes the drums, but he still plays the fuck out of them. He’s completely self-taught and just makes it up as he goes along. He doesn’t even have a drum kit to play at his house. He has one kit that he keeps at the jam place and plays when we get together to practice. If he’s not playing our songs with us, he’s not playing drums. I find it kind of annoying that he can be that good and never practice. I have to practice my ass off just to be okay.
AV: The band has grown immensely with each album, from punk to a condensed combination of math and progressive metal. Where does your sound go from here?
RW: I don’t know if we’ll ever feel good about staying in the same spot. It’s so popular right now to be a prog band and put out these ten minute songs that go nowhere. We sort of found ourselves there with our last couple of releases, but I don’t know if we’ll be staying. It’s not a slight on the genre; it’s more that we don’t like to stay in one place for too long. Isn’t it your job to grow and progress being a musician? There are a lot of bands that get famous doing one thing and I feel like they just want to exploit that. We started this band well over ten years ago and that’s not why we started it. I feel like if you’re standing still musically, then you need to get the fuck out of the way.