Killyourstereo.com recently spent some time with Winston McCall, frontman of respected Australian exports Parkway Drive, to discuss the band’s anticipated new record, skydiving and how much playing Byron Bay High School means to the band.
First off, I have to ask, how was skydiving for the video clip for ‘Vice Grip’?
It was fucking awesome! It went from terrifying to awesome in an instant, so definitely a nice transition there.
Are heights a fear you have had since you were a kid?
It’s really weird because I didn’t have it when I was a kid. You see me in the first DVD jumping off bridges and cliffs and all that crazy stuff. Then I stopped doing it, and a few years ago I got really, insanely scared of heights. I’m talking like when I’m on a one or two storey building I can’t go near a window or a balcony or anything. It was a massive deal to do the clip and man up and follow through on it. Every flight up I was literally sitting there thinking, ‘why are you doing this?’ Then it was just a matter of getting to the door, jumping out, singing the song in the air and getting onto the ground. It took me like seven jumps to get over that fear, which is awesome.
Did you have the original plan to do the clip skydiving?
It’s really funny because that was one of the concepts that we came up with that we just laughed at. It was just one of those things that you palm off. Then when we started working with Freaky, he asked us for concepts and our drummer Gaz happened to shoot that over to him, and he was like, “Yeah, we can make that happen!”
The new record is such a radical step. Were there any points during the creation that you just thought “No, we can’t do this, let’s start again”?
There was a point where we were left with two choices. When it came to writing the record, it was a few months after finishing Atlas and normally, at that point in time, we have all started writing privately again so we have some ideas. I hadn’t thought of anything, and I was like, “What am I going to do? I don’t know if I want to keep going with this. I swear we have done what we want to do with this sound.” I went to Jeff and was like, “Hey what do you want to do with the record?”, and he told me that he didn’t want to write another metalcore record or write his 150th breakdown. I just thought ‘YES! We are both on the same page.’ It turned out Jeff had spoken to Gaz and he thought the same thing. So all of a sudden we were all in the same boat, but at the same time we had no boat. We had no idea what to do. It turned into one of those things where we knew we didn’t want to do the exact same formula because it wasn’t creatively fulfilling for us, but, at the same time, we didn’t know what we wanted to create, and we knew we didn’t want to kill everything we loved about the band. So we started to search and that’s when we found out what we wanted, and we had to commit to going outside the formula that we have been sitting on the last 10 years. Every time we fell back on the old formula we were bored by it, so this had to work.
What was the scariest part of creating Ire?
Pulling it off. The biggest challenge was simply being in a position where we were choosing to commit to creating something that we had simply never done before. We’ve never felt that since starting the band. Also being aware of what we love about the band while wanting to do something that was so out there. We were left at this point where we had to work really hard and use all of those elements together and make it communicate how we wanted it to. We wanted to be like, when we worked on a section, you knew that was what was happening. This part was slow for this reason and the vocals sounded like that for this reason. We are not a band that makes singles for albums, so being able to make it all that work together, and also not discounting any sound we wanted to work with was a big challenge. Because, normally we get an outside concept that we want to work with, and we take it and work it into what Parkway is supposed to sound like, and you slot it into a bunch of music that was Parkway-ish and then you would have a little part. This time around, we’d get a concept and try and create the sound around that entire concept. Not falling back into old, safe ways of doing things was a massive challenge.
You guys have been doing huge European festivals. Did those gigs [influence] the massive anthemic effect that you guys have been working with?
Yes. It was also from making a sound that production wise matched the feel and atmosphere that we wanted to create. There is no point in us having this super compressed mix for music that is supposed to be spacious. That did come about from the live environment, because sonically when you start playing venues that are quite spacious in their surrounds, lots of the stuff ends up being so fast and pointy that it ends up being really washed out or you end up having to tighten the mix up heaps and lose a lot of the scope. When we started having these bigger parts in the songs, we realised the effect widening the sound has on a show. So, we have [factored] that in on this record, but it’s not like we will play a show and be like, “This is the new record, you are only getting these songs.” We have an entire back catalogue that we won’t forget about. But we want to be able to bring new aspects into the live show that hit your ears and make you go, “Wow!” One that brings a reaction that isn’t just nailed to intensity the entire time, but rather working on a concept that basically uses more of a spectrum of sound than we have in the past, which sums up this record as a whole.
When you listen back to your old records, what are your thoughts on that sound?
It’s all right. It is what it is. I hold no ill will for it, and I still love a lot of those songs. However, it is a sound from a place and time when we were a group of people at a different time of life. If this band survives another 10 years I’ll be looking back at this record in the same way, simply because you are looking at a snap shot of a person. Things change. At that point in time that was the new and challenging music for us to write. That was what really got our attention when it came to being creative. But it’s like being a school kid. You do the same thing for 10 years and it becomes the norm, so you want to try and try something different.
With the new record, how much have other cultures influenced the sound? The beginning of ‘Crushed’ sounds super interesting.
It dosn’t so much affect the sound. We don’t go “Oooo we have been to this place and now we are going to use their traditional drums!” You do go to places though and notice the sounds going on. There is a very large, diverse world out there. Sitar is used on a song here, Jambi drums on ‘Fractures’. So at points on the record it was like, ‘Yeah, we like that sound. Let’s get what they do, and put it into the song and use that element in its entirety.’
What countries could Parkway still go to?
We haven’t gone anywhere in Africa yet, so there is an entire continent there for us to tour. Apart from that, we can still do some countries but saying that, I have an Atlas at home on my bedside table and I spin it around and go, “Been there, been there, and been there.” There is so much that we have covered, it is really surprising. It’s strange because I remember going to these places and it makes the world seems lot smaller. When you talk about going to Russia and you look on the map, it’s one of the biggest places in the planet, but you can remember flying in.
If you could do one country tomorrow….?
I’m interested in going back to India, to be honest. That show was really wild, and that country was just the biggest culture shock I’ve ever had. I’ve heard shows are crazy in certain parts of that country. When we go somewhere that’s fully out there and then leave, you have that curiosity of going back. There are some places we have been heaps, like Germany, but it felt wild in India.
With the upcoming Aussie tour, the Byron Bay high school show is a tradition. What makes you keep playing it?
We have no other venue in the town. It’s that simple. You have the Northern, which is a pub which would result in a riot, and the Youth Centre isn’t big enough either. It has a mythical sense to it, which is funny, but, to be honest, it’s not that massive – it’s the most stripped back shows we do and where we probably sound the worst due to kids stage diving and knocking over the PA, shit just goes everywhere. At the same time it is an intense experience. The sense of us continuing to do it, it’s like “Why not?” It’s our home town and people make the trek to come to that gig.
What do you get up to afterwards?
I go home and sleep or I bolt down the street and get a Kebab. The shows at the Youth Centre used to be different because it was just across the road from the surf, so you would run out in you boardies and go for a swim. The High School show though is so hot and insane, and surviving it is a really big ordeal. I’m sure it takes it out of the audience as much as it takes it out of us because the heat is oppressive, and those gigs are like a contact sport. Jeff is like “I’m gonna stand in that corner and play because otherwise I’m going to get knocked over by kids.” Afterwards, if no one’s dead I’ll go home and celebrate.
I’ve noticed with the early records there was that undercurrent of the sea. That seems to be the spiritual connection for the band. Is that the same on this record, or has that died off with the band’s travels?
Well the connection is still there. I’m literally standing here right now looking at the ocean. That connection is always going to be there. But I think the style of writing changed, and the lyrics for this record became a lot more focused. I have a lot less of a poetic licence when it came to creating the flow and words, because I wanted them to hit a lot harder and convey a more human element rather than a poetic element, which lends itself to varied interpretations. That aspect dropped off simply because I didn’t reference some things in that way. That’s the lyrical styling though, because the personal aspect is definitely there.
‘Ire‘ is due out September 25 via Resist Records. Catch the band touring nationally this September/October.