While sitting in my parked car outside my house to find some peace and quiet for this interview, Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall is stuck in a car himself, trying to get through traffic as we talk. (Don’t worry, he wasn’t the one driving, like some maniac cramming down press into his busy daily schedule any way he can). Locked away safely in our respective cars for this conversation, I open up the floor for the frontman on his vibe about the obviously expected backlash from casual and die-hard Parkway fans alike. Because we all know that that shit’s coming in hot once their new album ‘Reverence‘ drops on Friday, May 4th.
He laughs initially before answering, “Well, when you do something different and a fan expects one thing, and you give them something unexpected, it challenges them. You either put yourself out there with something different or you give them exactly what they expect that’s referencing something you already did.”
Parkway Drive were and pretty much still are the metalcore kings of Australia, but their sound really isn’t “core” nowadays; it’s more festival-sized metal than anything close to hardcore or metalcore of their first three albums. This current era of Parkway (read: from 2015’s ‘Ire‘ onwards) has seen the band exist at their most experimental and varied, to the equal love and dismay from many. The reason for these changes are actually pretty damn simple: they write what they love, and as for all of that metalcore from the last decade? Well, they already did it and they did it very fucking well, so why rehash it?
“From a writing and a personal standpoint, we just do what we enjoy” asserts Winston.
“When you consider that we wrote those first two albums and played them over 10 years, over 1,000 gigs, find me something that you’ve done literally one thousand times of your life that doesn’t grow over time? It’s just deliberately referencing something else and staying on one thing that was popular at some point in time – its just sequels. Rarely does a sequel live up to the original, as it’s a time, a place and a sound that captures a single moment.”
“As much as people will point to one of our records and say that’s “your sound”, the reality is that that sound is referenced to whatever you were going through at that point in time. We could quite easily put out ‘Killing With A Smile Pt. 2’, but it would not be as good as part one. People would listen to it and go “yeah cool, it’s still Parkway” and then they’d go right back to the original ‘Killing With A Smile’, as that holds the personal point to them. So why even bother? There’s nothing that swings us back to ever do that again. We love what we do now.”
The 10 tracks housed within ‘Reverence‘ are quite different from one another, to say the very least – songs like ‘The Colour Of Leaving‘ and ‘Shadowboxing‘ are gonna really hurl some fans through a loop or two. While this is easily the least metalcore Parkway Drive record yet, it’s not forced at all. And whether you like the album or not, you could never say that the band are stuck in their ways, resting on their laurels, or any other kind of phrase implying artistic stagnation.
“It’s a 100% reflection of personality, and that’s what the music is about”, Winston confirms to me.
“When we started doing it, there was never an idea of being popular. We started this before metalcore took off, we were just hardcore kids playing metal music. It was mosh-anthems in youth centres as that’s all we had then. And it’s grown with us, and at the end of the day, it’s the honesty and connection that’s grown and changed as well. I was 21 when we started and I’m 36 now, so the simple adrenaline of music doesn’t capture our personalities now, especially not with what has gone into this record and what we’ve gone through to create the music. We wanted more expression as that’s what life is about”.
When talking about this new Parkway Drive album recently with The Rackett host, Lochlan Watt, he told me that this album’s second track ‘Prey‘ sounds “like Alestorm meets Children Of Bodom”. And he ain’t wrong. Winston loved this anecdotal description and chuckles heartily when I bring it up. Similarly, ‘Ire‘ saw the Byron Bay legends being compared to a whole host of different bands, and I was curious to know what ideas and what art the band where maybe consuming during the writing and tracking process of ‘Reverence‘.
“I love the fact that you specify art-wise, as you’re the first person ever who has gone beyond just bands! I really appreciate that”, he states first-off.
“From a sonic perspective, we made ‘Ire’ which was us literally trying to do reinvention without a goal in mind. Even after we walked out of the studio having finished it, the only thing we could go on was do we like listening to the music? And that was the same test we had when we started the band. We put Ire out and people went “Oh, they sound like Rage Against The Machine”, “No, they sound like Bon Jovi’ [‘Vice Grip, obviously], and all of a sudden we sounded like a billion other bands. This time around, if people say we’ll sound like other bands… we actually won’t sound like anything and so we literally didn’t listen to any other music. Ben [Gordon, drums], Jeff [Ling, guitar] and I sat in a room together and we just fucked around. When something interesting came up – drum-wise, vocal-wise, etc. – or anything with character, we’d build off of that and not go back to the idea of safety. So let’s not mash it into the idea of what Parkway was, and rather make it was Parkway is and is becoming.”
Winston elaborates more on the songwriting.
“A song like ‘Shadowboxing’ was written as it being completely schizophrenic and being the exact opposite of what people expect; just fucking with people basically and in a way that keeps that song in your head. Here, there are literally ten different songs on this record. There’s no “that song part 2″ and I don’t think there are many parts where you can predict where this album is going. In terms of consuming anything else music or art wise, I’m, not gonna say it was not allowed, but we stepped away from it so that we weren’t referencing another band. It was a hard thing to do, to shut the senses down to that degree, as what we do is now 15 years in. There was nothing seeping in subconsciously, it was all just written with the idea of it being fun to write and lay down the actual music. Our ears burned when we made these songs so we rolled with it”.
Which is what I love about Parkway Drive now, actually. For better or for worse, they have really tried to push themselves beyond their normal creative and musical confines. But while that approach came with plenty of hard work and headaches in the creation process of ‘Ire‘, this time around the path wasn’t easier, but now it was somewhat clearer and even more enjoyable too.
“We were dreading this record as ‘Ire’ was a real mission – it was so hard to create that. It would’ve been easier to start the band over and start a new band with no preconceived notion of history or sound. We had to find what the bones of Parkway were, what that meant to us, and create something around us that could grow. It took Jeff a mental breakdown making ‘Ire’ as he had to rework stuff so much. This time around, we just wanted to do anything when anything is possible. So you just work at it, but the work of creating these kinds of sonics is a lot of fun.”
He adds, “We just wanted it to be engaging, and after six records, the last thing you wanna write is something that doesn’t engage, whether they like it or not. There’s a reason people love our older records as it engaged them and to rehash that now is literally to create something that was engaging, and it won’t be now. That went for every song on this record, we went down the path of throwing out unexpected curveballs for the sake of keeping it engaging and not background noise.”
Here, our conversation turns much darker. When it comes to the title and the theme of ‘Reverence‘, and as painful as it was – and still is – for the quintet, it was a record built around the preparation of personal loss, of eventually suffering through those losses, and then just no longer caring what people thought about them anymore.
“We’re aware of who we are and we write like what we like and play what we enjoy. But theme-wise, it’s a really fucking personal album”, I’m told.
Winston here takes a second to work up to talking about the heavier life events that have struck Parkway over the last couple years, and I can really hear the change in tone in his voice from one of jovial chatter to being almost choked-up.
“We wrote this record very soon after ‘Ire’ came out and during that time we had one of the band member’s friends partner diagnosed with cancer. A couple of months after that, my dog was then diagnosed with cancer. And we were going on tour with our friends in Architects and watching our friend Tom [Searle, RIP] go through his treatment on tour. And then… my dog passed away, and then Tom passed away, and then a week after Tom’s death my friend lost his partner. I’ve had five or seven friends who were diagnosed and passed away. It became about our place in our lives right now. So we thought that there was no time to give a fuck about what people think about our music or their opinion of our music. If they like it, that’s great we can give them something to add to their life. But when you’re standing over the grave of someone that you cared about, you’re not thinking about if people like your newest breakdown or not. That’s the last thing on your fucking mind.”
“The last three years of our lives was a combination of the band exploding with a creation that we put so much into and being in complete survival mode to deal with these events that put timelines on someone’s life. How do you even prepare for that? And you look back and think about what you could have done differently and so many things come into play. That comes out in the music as I don’t sit down and think, “I’m going to make X, Y, and Z” – I just write what comes out and it was all quite consuming.”
I’m so appreciative of this not just because Winston was being so open and honest, but also because he can help clear the air for anyone reading this that wonders what the band has undergone and what is now driving their output forward in 2018. Even if you don’t come to like this new direction or even care for ‘Reverence‘ overall, the hope here is that Parkway can inform people of what’s sparked these changes and as the title suggests, help show people that their time is ticking away fast and there needs to be some kind of reverence for that fact.
“That’s where this record was written from; you’re very away of your time, what that means, and how you wanna spend it. That’s the reason it sounds the way it does. That’s what the term reverence means here – the idea of realizing how frail everything is and acknowledging it and making the most of it. I’m sure that there are people I’ve lost who would give anything more than to have five seconds of more breath and experience one more thing.”
This all helps to put the band’s sixth record into a much wider perspective, as well as it’s first single and opening track, the crushing ‘Wishing Wells’. For beyond the song, this reveals why the song’s music video format was such a simple yet so honest expression of pain, what with Winston merely standing in front of the camera, encased in shadows, as he screams along with the track; the most direct video Parkway Drive have released to date.
“That was it! When we did the clip for ‘Wishing Wells’, it was about being as honest as possible and capturing that. We had to second-guess that so many times as it was just too simple of an idea. Like, how entertaining did it have to be? We didn’t know what to do with it and at the end of the day it just had to be real human emotion; the emotions being about dealing with grief and survivor’s guilt in the wake of it all. And then just trying to put it all on film.”
“We know that this stuff is so different than what’s come before but if we’re gonna be different than we need to commit to the changes and the art. These aren’t small things to deal with, as this stuff hits really hard. So we needed to go all in and to never phone it in.”
Regarding how raw and how hard this album and topic of discussion is for Winston and the band, I thank him because I know that none of this can be easy to discuss, not least when talking with a stranger from another state over the phone for a 40-minute interview.
“It’s all good, Alex”, he chirps up.
“I’m sure this isn’t quite your standard interview. But I’m open to it and we’ve never really brought it up before at that point in time as it was all too hard to comprehend. When all of the shit started going down, we had a very big spotlight on us, as ‘Ire’ put us in this place where we’ve really taken a direction that polarized people. That record blew up the band in a way that nothing had before and it brought massive attention when it was all going on for us. You never know how people will react to these things, and it was hard enough to communicate within the band as it was to communicate outside. Just living in this tour bus with ten people and the whole outside world is completely alien.”
Winston reflects further, saying, “This all happened a couple years ago and up until now, I’ve still been losing people, like literally up to a month ago. I just never realised that going back to these places and having the memories flash through my mind would have such a profound effect.”
”That’s the reason why I’m talking to you about this and why I’m discussing it to press, as I want it to translate to people and so they can understand. The whole idea of this band has always been about connection and honesty. It’s been hard doing interviews as it’s just being so fucking raw, and I didn’t even realise how hard this would be”
Perhaps frustratingly, there really is no rulebook to deal with loss and grief like this, and so I sincerely wish him all the best and mention that hopefully, one day he can find some form of peace or closure with it all. As corny as that sounds.
“Thank you mate”, he acknowledges, “Though I’m not hoping for anything or looking for anything after all this time. People like to say that time heals all wounds, and I don’t think it does. I just think there’s more space between now and the actual event happening…”
As our conversation begins to reach its natural conclusion, and with the album cycle ramping up soon, I ask whether Winston feels that he’s emotionally ready or not to play some of these songs live due to what they mean to him and the rest of the band.
“…I’m not sure”, he honestly answers.
“I know exactly what you’re talking about as we played the two singles in Europe on a small tour and it was the first time I had to really ready myself before going on-stage and figure out how it would work. I’ve never had the same degree of connection to any other music we’ve made than this. But it does work. There’s an emotional line you walk when you’re performing between connection and precision, mainly because you don’t wanna let go and destroy your voice. There’s a difference between a brutal scream or vocal technique and a straight-up emotional scream. As soon as you start giving over into the grief process of it all, you can fuck up your voice. It’s that idea of holding true to the character of the piece in your mind and doing it justice.”
The vocalist continues. “It’s a… really weird one. We’ve written these songs together as a live band as it’s what we want to put on-stage, but it’s gonna be a challenge. We’ll see what it takes to play certain songs, and how they work in relation to our past songs, as when we tour, we obviously don’t scrap everything that’s come before. It’s gonna be interesting to see what we use and what we don’t.”
It will be an interesting time, a hard period even, but this will also be an exciting time as well for Parkway Drive as they move into their next revered chapter and one of the biggest Australian records of the year.
‘Reverence’ is out Friday, May 4th via Resist Records.