Creating sprawling progressive-metal has been the calling card of Protest the Hero since they started turning heads with the initial release of Kezia back in 2004. Seven years later, Protest the Hero has dropped another mind-boggling concoction by the name of Scurrilous, and have embarked on a headlining tour with the same name to showcase songs both new and old. Protest the Hero vocalist Rody Walker sat down with us at the band's recent stop in Detroit to talk about their latest release, the backlash of their "C'est la Vie" video and the innerworkings of creating a pleasing setlist.
[email protected]: For the record, could you please introduce yourself and what you do in Protest the Hero?
Rody Walker: My name is Rody Walker, and I am the lead vocalist for Protest the Hero.
[email protected]: You guys are doing your first headlining tour since the release of your new album Scurrilous, can you talk a little bit about the lineup and what the reaction has been like at the shows?
Rody Walker: Yeah, the reaction has been mostly positive I think. You know I get the middle finger a lot [laughs], it just kind of comes along with the territory. Other than that, it’s awesome, haven’t had too many problems on the tour. Really happy with the package. TesseracT from the U.K., really nice nerdy prog-metal band. It’s good to have them out, and then Maylene and the Sons of Disaster are like a fun, Southern rock kind of heavy band, so it’s good to have them in-between us and TesseracT because us and TesseracT are kind of nerdy and if there was another nerdy band on the tour it would just be a little too much. Like if Periphery were there or something like that, kids would be leaving the show not knowing what the fuck they just saw. It’d be a little too weird.
[email protected]: What’s the setlist reaction been like on the tour? I saw a few floating around and to be honest my initial reaction was: ‘That’s interesting.’
Rody Walker: Well you know we’re at a point now where we’re on our third record, so we had a lot to choose from. And there’s a lot of stuff in there if we left it out kids would be pissed. We tried to get all the songs kids really like and pack ‘em in there, but there’s still kids reaching for songs we would probably never play again that are gonna be pissed off. And they are probably gonna be pissed off ‘til the day our band fucking disbands. That’s fine.
[email protected]: The last time I had a chance to speak with you, you guys had been touring on Kezia for a really long time.
Rody Walker: Yeah, we toured on that for a long time.
[email protected]: Do you feel at this point there’s only a couple songs you’ll play from that album and that’s it? I mean you’ve gotten to that point with Kezia already, have you started to get that way with any of the songs from Fortress?
Rody Walker: Yeah, I think so. There’s definitely songs on Kezia that I don’t think we will ever play again, much to the dismay of some of our listeners. With Fortress, it’s a little different. We’re really fond of all those songs, and it was a really good period in our lives when we wrote those songs, so there’s not too many songs on that record that we would ever consider just throwing away. In fact, I can’t think of a single song. Except maybe “Bloodmeat”, but the kids like it too much. It’s like, how do you not play it?
[email protected]: You guys released your newest record Scurrilous last month, how do you feel about the reception of it so far and do you feel like people are getting from it what you thought they’d get from it?
Rody Walker: In relation to that, it’s very difficult to be objective. And I said this in an interview earlier and I think it still rings true, it’s like when they were first learning to fly and you push a craft off a cliff and in that moment when you first leave the cliff’s edge you’re not exactly sure whether you’re falling to the Earth and you’re going to crash and burn or that you’re actually in flight. So, it’s hard to say. I’ve seen some positive stuff, I’ve seen some negative stuff. The kids at the shows seem particularly enthusiastic for the new stuff. We’re happy. I mean, we write music for ourselves. If people were to absolutely despise anything we did, I don’t think it would affect us very much on any kind of level.
[email protected]: As far as the writing, when you sat down to write this, what were you trying to achieve musically when compared to the rest of your discography?
Rody Walker: I think the only real, conscious effort that we ever feel compelled towards when we’re writing is a very spiteful aspect. If something becomes too popular, we try and get away from it. We try and absolutely go another path. In a time when bands are basically just chugging on open strings and screaming and yelling over top of ‘em, that’s when we’re going to go the opposite direction. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think there’s a single breakdown on this record. In that sense of the word breakdown, I’m inclined to the classic sense of a breakdown, where the music slows right down, the tempo slows, the instrumentation becomes bare minimum, and I think that’s how a breakdown should be. As opposed to an entire song full of breakdowns, and further breaking down those breakdowns [laughs]. That was the only real conscious thing. Other than that, we just try and make music we want to listen to. Even though after you record it, it’s very difficult to ever listen to again.
[email protected]: Lyrically, it sounds much more personal this time around, straying from the conceptual lyricism we’re used to hearing. What spurred that idea?
Rody Walker: First of all, I wrote most of them and in the past [bassist] Arif [Mirabdolbaghi] had written all of them. It was a very natural thing, like Arif had written a couple sets and I had written a couple sets. When he saw I had an interest in writing, he sort of stepped back. He feels that its very much perverse for the bass player to be writing. Maybe perverse is the wrong word. He thought it was strange dynamic to have, so when he saw I was doing that I think he was very happy. Then after I’d done a couple songs, I just continued writing them. And I’m obviously not as well-read, I’m not as poetic and I’m not as golden-tongued as Arif is, I just tried to write about the things that I knew, and make ‘em rhyme [laughs].
[email protected]: At what point in the writing process did you decide who was doing the lyrical writing for Scurrilous?
Rody Walker: Well, we were on our way down to the studio at some point, tracking drums, and Arif and I had a brief conversation on the bus over a bottle of whiskey, and he just said to me, ‘You know, I like what you’re doing, and I don’t really have any interest in doing it myself.’ So, I guess that would be the pinpoint moment, on a Greyhound bus on the way to Hamilton [laughs]. But it was very natural, I think a lot of people think there was some internal conflict that went down between Arif and I and it’s not really anything like that at all. It was just kind of like, you’re here, you do it, and I was like okay.
[email protected]: Would you say the stray away from the conceptual lyrics had any effect on the musical side of the album?
Rody Walker: No, absolutely not. The music is all written first. And then they give it to me on a CD and I listen to it in my apartment and put the melodies and lyrics together. It doesn’t have any actual effect on the music, but it does have quite an astounding effect on the melodies and the vocals. It was easier to me, as opposed to chopping lyrics up and trying to make them or force them to fit, I could write things specifically for parts. It had a pretty drastic effect on the delivery.
[email protected]: As far as recording, you guys went with [Julius] “Juice” [Butty], for the third time. Was there any thought you wouldn’t be going back to him this time around?
Rody Walker: I don’t think so. He’s a dear friend of ours. We’ve grown very close together over the years. If we recorded with anyone else it would be a little awkward for us, because when you get the five of us together we’re fucking ridiculous. We’re like little stupid babies that sit around and poke and prod each other. To have him in that environment, he understands that we’re a little aloof, we’re fucking goofs. And he’s a fucking goof himself, so it’s awesome.
[email protected]: How much would you say he influences the final product?
Rody Walker: He effects it quite a bit. He doesn’t mess with the writing at all, nothing really changes there. But as far as production, he does it all. When you listen to Fortress, all the keys parts, the synthesizers and shit like that, which can be quite gratuitous at times [laughs], that’s all him. We lay the tracks down, he does all the backup vocals.
[email protected]: He did them again this time on Scurrilous, right?
Rody Walker: Yeah. Fortress was just his voice and my voice, and I think one little growl from Arif. Studio magic.
[email protected]: Where does the artwork of this album fit into the overall scheme of things?
Rody Walker: Well, the actual cover was a painting that Arif’s grandfather painted some sixty some years ago. His name was Jafar Petgar and he died a couple years ago, so it was kind of like an ode to him. He was a pretty well known Middle Eastern painter. Arif’s family back home in Iran are getting a huge kick out of the fact that there’s like t-shirts and backdrops and stuff. I think it fits in quite well with the things that are on the record. I’ve got a bit of a loose tongue, I’ve got a bit of a wild mouth. Whether its the things that have been said on the record and have offended people or the things I’ve said on stage that usually offend people. It’s the idea that with something as simple as your tongue you can destroy something quite beautiful.
[email protected]: Where would you say this album fits as a whole with the rest of your discography?
Rody Walker: I’d like to think that it’s a new starting point. It’s not entirely different than what we’ve done in the past. I think it’s a natural maturing and progression of what we’ve done. Like I hate the word progression. Or prog-metal. It’s so pretentious. But, we’re blooming into middle-age men, and I think it’s beginning to rear it’s ugly head in our music. If the band continues, I think the next record will be something even more... well we’ll never put out the same record twice. There will always be similarities and there will always be callbacks. There will always be this difference, this significant difference, where you can put on three different songs from three different albums and tell they are from three different records. I hope.
[email protected]: You guys released a video for “C’est la Vie”, and aside from what has been said about it from its release, did anyone ever say anything about the content of the video to you before you released it?
Rody Walker: We knew there’d be a little backlash. The Canadian television station that is similar to MTV with the exception that they play fucking videos, they denied it, they declined it. And I understand that completely because there’s no kids’ help phone, there’s no message of hope. And they felt that it was glorifying suicide. I don’t know. I understand because if parents called in and said ‘That’s fucked up’ they couldn’t really be like ‘Well, here’s the thing’. But I think anyone who watches that video and gets influenced to take their own life is a moron. I think that if it had that kind of influence over people it would only be influencing the stupidest pieces of shit in the world, and they probably shouldn’t be here. I know it’s a harsh thing to say, but the song itself is about the futility, the ridiculousness of suicide. I know that it could be open to interpretation, but its plain and simple in the song. Anyone who were to interpret it in a negative light probably needs to go back to school or hit the books a little harder.
[email protected]: As a band, you’ve stayed pretty closely knit while making some pretty challenging music for quite some time now. What has kept you together and strayed this band away from member changes or excessive band drama?
Rody Walker: We started as friends. I’ve known most of the guys since the first grade. I met Arif in the sixth grade. We didn’t start searching for a drummer or a bass player. We learned our respective instruments together because we wanted to make music and have some fun. And I think that’s probably the one thing that’s kept us together. It’s that we started trying to have some fun and we’re still having fun. I think a lot of bands lose sight of that when it comes to incorporating your business. All of the pragmatic aspects of it, it really clouds peoples’ thought processes. We just don’t give a shit about any of that stuff. At the end of the day, we’re more friends than we are a band, so if there’s anything wrong with the band it doesn’t come before our fucking friendship. And that’s it really.
[email protected]: After you guys finish up this tour, what do you have planned as far as touring for the near future?
Rody Walker: Summertime, we’re going to spend it in Europe doing the European festival circuit. There’s a lot of cool things going on there. We’re going to be playing a couple days of Sonisphere I think, which will be amazing. We’re also doing a couple dates in Europe with The Damned Things, which will also be amazing. Then we’re going to come back and do just a little jaunt in Canada and the East Coast. Newfoundland, if you’ve never been, go! Then around November or December, we will be back in the states for another zip around.
[email protected]: Are you assuming the next U.S. tour will not be a headlining tour?
Rody Walker: I dunno. I think that is just starting to come together now, but if we can hop on someone else’s tour that would be great because headlining is a lot of responsibility. You gotta play an hour every night, which is just horrible. I wouldn’t mind doing a support tour though, because that summer tour is going to be pretty long and we’re going to need a bit of a break.
[email protected]: That’s everything I have for you, is there anything you’d like to add or say to the readers and/or fans?
Rody Walker: Not really. Star Trek is law [laughs], and um, thanks for your time.
You can catch Protest the Hero on tour with Maylene and the Sons of Disaster and TesseracT for another week or so. Dates are available at www.myspace.com/protestthehero.