The last decade has seen Byron Bay mosh lords Parkway Drive blastbeat a path from the surf beaches of the NSW North Coast to the forefront of the international metalcore scene. Driven by a spirit of adventure, matched only by their fierce determination to see how far they could take the “shitty band they formed to keep busy when there was no surf”, Parkway Drive have exceeded even the wildest expectations at every turn, in the process redefining perceptions of what an Australian band operating within the heavier end of the spectrum could achieve.
Having released three consecutive top 10 albums (the latter two, 2010’s Deep Blue and 2012’s Atlas having been certified gold), two chart topping DVDs, played sold-out headline tours and every major alternative festival on the planet, the band could have be forgiven for deciding to rest on their laurels with album number five, Ire (released September 25) releasing a cookie-cutter record that would keep the Parkway Drive juggernaut powering away, but as vocalist Winston McCall explained to Music Feeds, doing so just wouldn’t have felt genuine, so instead they did what they have always done and backed their vision and ambition in tweaking their signature sound to such an extent that they have no idea what reaction to expect.
Music Feeds: Your fifth full-length Ire is set to drop on September 25, how’s life in the Parkway Drive camp at the moment?
Winston McCall: Very interesting. It’s like that, like no matter what happens generally, the period between releasing the record and touring the record is always kind of the point in time when you don’t know what to do with yourself. This time we have a very large question mark circulating around what the hell the response is going to be.
Listen: Parkway Drive – Dying To Believe
MF: Have you been able to gather much of a gauge on the response so far? I mean the two tracks that you’ve released so far, Vice Grip and Crushed are certainly different from one another?
WM: Oh, yeah. To be honest it’s been the exact reaction we anticipated in both instances, which is to say it’s been a mixed response. That’s not surprising though as we’re talking about something that is so far removed from anything we’ve done in the past. It is nice to know that so far the responses have been on point with what we predicted though.That being said until the record comes out and people hear how different it is,then it’ll all remain up in the air.
MF: Parkway Drive have evolved their sound with every release, introducing new sonic elements and channeling new influences, but on Ire it appears you’ve taken that progression to a whole new level and gone all in on your vision of what Parkway Drive can and should be as opposed to what people expect you to be?
WM: Pretty much, yeah. It’s that thing of in the past basically any little influences we had, we took the influence we had and then we put it into the context of what the Parkway Drive formula was, then that influence got mixed or buried or lost amongst the other stuff. This time around when any influence or unorthodox idea came about we simply ran with it in its whole form and tried to form a concept around that, rather than try to squash it into the pre-existing formula. That became basically the conceptual approach for making this entire record.
MF: Was there anything in particular that inspired that decision to switch things up or was it just simply a desire to try something fresh?
WM: When we finished Atlas and it came time to write something new. We just basically felt that we couldn’t create something within the same genre confines we’ve been writing within for ten years, and still have the same level of passion and drive. We didn’t feel we’d be able to do something that felt or sounded inspired enough to warrant releasing under the Parkway Drive name.
When you’re playing the same style of riff, the same drumming, the same vocals and same breakdowns for ten years, what point is there in people listening to your new record or even recording one if it sounds the exact same as the last one? Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great up until now, and we believe in everything we’ve released, but we’re at a point where we felt like, okay, what else can we do? So we challenged ourselves to do something new and we’re stoked on what we’ve managed to produce,
MF: In keeping with that, it really seems to me like (guitarist) Jeff was like a kid on Christmas in the studio on this one, he’s shredding all over this record!
WM: You picked up on that huh? (laughs).
MF: Well it’s not exactly subtle!
WM: It’s been one of those things where, I feel, it’s like the main thing that we did when it came to writing this whole record, was to figure out what we wanted to do with it, and how we wanted to maximize what we actually had with the band without completely destroying it.
The thing is we always loved Parkway being heavy, we always loved Parkway being melodic, and the thing is with both of those we realized that the guitars were the thing that makes the melody. It’s never been the vocals. Like I’m not a melodic singer. The guitars are the thing that shines, and we in the past we have done a bit of melding heavy and melodic together and have ended up with the guitars being a a little bit lost under a blast beat and me screaming my head off.
So this time around there was just a focus on making sure the space is provided for the guitar really to be the driving force behind the melodies, and to allow it to be more prominent in the mix. Then when the vocals kick in and there are either hooks or rhythmical patterns or anything like that then things back off and act like a support for those points. It was like learning to play more at different times and then learning when to play less, to be a lot more musical in our approach, rather than just trying to smash it harder, faster, heavier, at every point of the record. It created a larger spectrum of sounds, which was what we were aiming for.
Watch: Parkway Drive – Crushed
MF: Personally I feel it’s the heaviest Parkway Drive record so far, and there’s plenty of songs suited to activating the pit, but it’s also the most melodic, was it hard to find the balance between the two elements?
WM: We agree. Like it’s really strange. When we finished writing it, we’d written all these different parts and far more uses of choruses and melodic hooks and the likes and yet then we played it through we discovered it was really, really heavy.It’s not just relying on that standard predictable breakdown and fast-part playoff patterns that we’ve had for our whole existence, all of a sudden there’s heaviness in new ways, which we didn’t really know how to create up until this point in time.
MF: Is there anything going on conceptually lyrically? The two singles released so far, Vice Grip and Crushed both seem to have taken different approaches, but both seem to have a social message to convey, is there one theme in particular you’re seeking to convey with Ire?
WM: No, it’s not a concept record, unless you consider anger a concept. It’s a really, really angry record and that came out in the lyrics. When you look at the functioning of society and the way that the world is going and the ideals and the things that we seem to champion and fight for and die for, the system that we have in place, and then see what’s coming out of it, it doesn’t seem to add up. It doesn’t seem like this is the best that we can do as a species.
We still live in societies that prey on the weak and that seem to reward greed and corruption with power and an easy life. It’s got to a point in time where personally I think anger is definitely something that needs to be expressed in order to instigate change, rather than slipping into a simple acceptance of the fact that this is the best that we can do.
MF: The clips for Vice Grip and Crushed are both incredible with each utilising some mind blowing visual concepts to create an immersive experience perfectly aligned with the lyrical narrative, was there a reason you decided to go all out on the video clips this time around?
WM: I’m glad to hear that it came across like that because we’ve always found it hard to create clips that reflect the lyrics or the message of the song. Most times with this kind of music you end up making a clip of a person running away from something through a forest or whatever and it’s interspersed with footage of the band playing and it looks really cool but you get to the end and find yourself asking how it related to the song at all. This time around we tried to make the clips an extension of what the songs were about.
MF: I think your intentions for both clips has come across really well. Vice Grip was obviously a very life affirming and empowering clip, and the visual of you all jumping out of the plane really played into that one, life one chance kind of message. Meanwhile I think Crushed is going to surprise quite a few people, with how confrontational and brutal it is. I think it’s going to wake people up a bit and force them to absorb the message.
WM: It’s not supposed to be necessarily a pessimistic message or an expression of pure hatred. We’re not a band of political activist extremists or anything like that, it’s just an expression of our belief that we’re living in a day and age where communication is at it’s highest point and we have so much access to information and yet, it seems like we still somehow let the wool be pulled over our eyes.
I think, if we can create something visually that does stimulate that thought process by putting put two and two together with the music and the visuals, then I think it’s a great opportunity to take. Like anything, you still don’t know if what you’ve done has worked until someone says, “Yeah, I got that.” So it’s nice to know we hit the mark.
Watch: Parkway Drive – Vice Grip
MF: Your touring stamina and spirit of adventure are the stuff of legend, with both having been chronicled on your two ARIA award winning DVDs are you keen to get out on the road both at home and abroad in support of Ire? Is there anywhere left in the world you haven’t been or played? Is there anywhere left to surf that you can schedule a show around?
WM: We still have Africa and Antarctica to play in when it comes to continents. So that’s potentially a goal. To be honest like that side of things, it’s still definitely there but the goal for us has shifted in the sense of trying to push the actual creative outlet of the band more and be more direct in our desire to raise this band to a level that we haven’t reached before. In the past our goals were not as defined as they are now, we’d just kind of write a bunch of songs and then just roll with it so we could get back out and act like hyperactive kids taking as many chances as possible.
That was fantastic and has enabled us to experience amazing things but at this point in time we’ve decided we’d like to pursue a more concise and defined vision for the band and shape all of our touring plans and other decisions around that vision.
MF: It’s been 10 years since Killing With A Smile brought Parkway Drive to worldwide prominence and with every record and tour since you’ve shattered people’s conceptions of what a band of your genre from this country can achieve, how are you feeling about the band’s legacy at the point?
WM: We’re really stoked with what we’ve done. The thing is though it’s always going to be about progression. The whole idea of the band in the first place was about challenging ourselves, and continue to do that has always been the thing that has enabled us to grow the band. So now that we’ve set the bar so high, we’re all about trying to push ourselves to raise it again and see where that takes us. That’s our goal as a band and as people, to always be moving forwards.
That being said, like I don’t want people to mistake the fact that we are creating something that is very different to the fact that we still really do love what we’ve created in the past. We’re not a band that is going to all of a sudden go on tour and be like that’s era one you’re never going to hear of that again. It’s gone, we’re on to a new one now.
MF: So fans can still expect to hear the old material when they come to the shows?
WM: The live stuff we’re going to be playing on this tour is going to be a mix of everything we’ve got. That’s always the way it is because we’ve created songs that we poured our lives into, and we still stand for that. That’s the hardest thing at this point in time is literally figuring out what makes the cut on the set list.
There are so many songs that we’re attached to and other people are attached to. How do you figure out what you want to play, and what you have to play and somehow fit that into a set. The reality is you can’t play everything and you’re going to have to start cutting songs which are legitimately historically considered show makers.
It’s a very nice position to be in, but when you’ve got nothing that you feel is dead weight to cut out it can make for some pretty difficult decisions when selecting a set. I never thought we’d be at that stage, but we are. It’ll be an interesting tour.
MF: You might have to become the first band of your genre to play sets that go for four or five hours?
WM: Not quite yet. It’s really interesting because the one thing we have noticed is like when we play a 15-song set and the music’s that intense and every single song is a complete banger, after ten songs, the audience is literally screwed. Unless you’re dealing with people who are just insane with passion, like people can’t move by the time the thirteenth song comes along. So you have to remember to take a break from trying to kill yourself and your audience.
It’s really cool, because it means that we’ve got this whole new aspect to writing a show that we’ve never dealt with before. It is literally becoming one of those things where you have to tailor-make shows to basically rise and fall rather than just being complete chaos that blows itself out before the show is done.
Listen: Parkway Drive – Dedicated
MF: Parkway Drive shows are always pretty wild affairs from a crowd interaction point of view, with surfboards, lifeboats, fishing rods and the likes being sent out over pits, have you got any new tricks up your sleeve for the Ire tour?
WM: Oh, yes. Yes, we do! We haven’t toured Australia in almost two years now. There have been some very big changes when it comes to our live show since then. It’s going to be something very different from what’s been seen in Australia before. The main thing we’ve been trying to work on lately is structuring our live shows to heighten the experience of the music, and have it all work together rather than relying on… I’m not going to call them gimmicks, because they never were intended that way at the time, they were just fun things to do.
Now we’re trying to create something that literally is a moment which you are not distracted from. It works all together as one thing and definitely involves some new tricks so to speak.
I’m going to say no one’s seen Parkway in Australia in this scale before, fingers crossed we can pull it off.
MF: As a band Parkway Drive have always made sure to sprinkle some regional dates and all ages dates into your touring schedule and I can see you’ve done that again with the Australian tour for Ire, is that something you plan on continuing to do in the future?
WM: Hell, yeah. Yes. We come from what is called a regional town in the form of Byron Bay and we never forget that. We know how much it means when a band comes to play. Yeah. We are still going to go to regional gigs and we’re working on organising more stuff at this point in time. That tradition is definitely going to continue.
MF: There’s no denying that your success opened doors for other heavier Australian bands both locally and overseas, with a lot of the more successful acts listing you as an inspiration or an influence. The scene has absolutely exploded here in the last decade or so, to the point where bands like Northlane are debuting and #1 on the charts and The Amity Affliction are booking arena tours, how do you feel about the state of the scene in Australia?
WM: That’s insane, man, like it’s really nice to be honest. It’s crazy that it’s got to this point because, fuck, it’s just another level, I never thought that would be possible. Especially when we started this band, you were talking about handfuls of humans that were into this sort of thing in each town and now it has just become this massive movement that mirrors what has happened worldwide.
If you look at what Soundwave became, it’s those people that support these bands. There is a massive following for heavy music in this country. I guess it’s something that I still think can go further, and playing a part in that is something that we talk about all the time.
When we grew up listening to Triple J and stuff, we were listening to what they played and it was definitely really heavy. There’s a tradition of heavy music in Australia that ebbs and flows. When it really flows, there’s a massive amount of support behind it. I still think we’ve yet to see the peak of this stuff in this country and I’m excited to see what it looks like when we do.
MF: The first time I saw you guys play was on the Mornington Peninsula back on the Don’t Close Your Eyes EP tour, and I distinctly remember that every kid who attended that show, whether they knew who you were before the show or not, left in a Parkway Drive shirt. That appears to be a tradition that has continued as your shirts are almost omnipresent in Australia now, how important has merchandise been to the livelihood and the career of Parkway Drive?
WM: Massive. Massive. Not only is it like walking promotion, but it is literally the lifeblood when it comes to our career, when it comes to funding the band. No one sells millions of records any more. You don’t have this royalty check flowing in to keep everything going. Everything that goes into this gets divided between the band, and also has to fuel what we’re doing. It’s a huge amount of what creates this band and keeps it running.
It’s someone supporting you and wearing a t-shirt that they like wearing, but at the same time they’re wearing the band’s name and promoting us every second they’ve got that shirt on their back. t’s far more important than most people know.
MF: Awesome insight. You appear to have everything a fan could ever want to man. I’ve seen towels, I’ve seen thongs, I’ve seen drink coolers, beach balls, everything!
WM: It’s one of those things where we’re like I wonder if we can make merch out of that? We’re like, oh, yes, that’s cool. It’s always been one of those question mark things like it’s not so much a joke, but it’s always fun to experiment with stuff like that.
MF: A random one to finish off WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins has mentioned he is a massive fan of your band, he has listed you as one of his top five bands of all time. If like Seth you could have your own theme song play every time you entered a room or went out for a surf, what would you choose?
WM: No way! That’s fucking awesome man! As for the question, oh man, why did you have to just drop that bomb on me? That’s too big of a decision to make in the space of the few seconds we have left. No idea. I can’t think of anything decent at this point in time, to be honest. It’s got to be something that actually represents me, so I have to be careful with my choice…umm. Dude, you have completely stumped me, to be honest. Completely stumped me. You should be proud of yourself though because that almost never happens!
MF: No worries man, I’ll see you at the shows, I’ll be the one losing my shit in the 10 year old youth-medium Parkway Drive shirt that’s now at least three sizes too small, disappearing into the pit!
WM: (laughs) see you then man.
Watch: Parkway Drive – Wild Eyes