As I’m typing this interview, I’m swayed by the heavy guitars of The Devil Wears Prada’s instrumental song “Kansas” from “Dead Throne”. This album was a major surprise for me at the time as it was a huge sound change from their 3rd album, “With Roots Above and Branches Below”. With their newest album “8:18”, the change was even bigger and I was really thrilled to discuss about it with the lead singer and lyricist, Mike Hranica.
CONFRONT: Thanks for taking time to talk before your show! Last time you came to Montréal was with the release of “Dead Throne”, your last album; can you talk to me about your new album, “8:18”?
MIKE: What would you like to know?
CONFRONT: Well, why did you decide to make this album to start with? Some bands will say “well it was just time to go back in studio” or “because there was a change”.
MIKE: Yes well, that plays a part in the writing, in knowing it’s time to start working on new material. I think a bit of the departure and the contrast, starting to experiment with certain things on “Dead Throne” and I think we continued on with that on “8:18” – which I really like – I like the slower songs, the very… I think we’ve really worked to encapture that within our recordings; primarily in “Dead Throne” and even more in “8:18”. I find that to be one of the most notable aspects of the new material.
CONFRONT: I’ve read about the new album that it was more about finding love, as opposed to “Dead Throne” where it was more about the loss. It’s something I felt was also very present when you listen to the songs. How is that change portrayed in the songs, is it more lyrically or musically?
MIKE: Always lyrically. Most of our lyrics are built on top of the sounds. I think something we’ve got better at is – Chris who writes a lot of the music and me who writes all the lyrics – knowing how each of us interact so we know how to complement lyrically what is happening musically. And the same goes for what I do with Jeremy, and Jeremy doing the clean singing and the melodic stuff, he has a role in that. I think that the idea of finding love was really just confrontational in a lot of sense. Sense of… a lot to me like, the sense of there’s a lack of community with the album which is something that has been happening in my life, starting to deal more and more with the struggles of touring as I’m getting older… And I think even the metaphors within for example “Sailor’s Prayer”, speaks pretty confrontationally to the idea of finding love. Even in “Number 11”, it feels pretty blatant.
CONFRONT: Your sound is different from your precedent album, which I think is the most noticeable thing from one album to another. But from “Dead Throne” to “8:18”, I feel like the gap of sound change was the biggest one. Were you afraid of the reaction fans might have toward the sound change?
MIKE: No, because for me I know I’ve had to compromise from time to time, but I think that’s part of being in a band, when you don’t have full control, which is this band: it’s a democracy in many, many ways. But even then, I don’t like to compromise, this sort of having to make songs that are only meant to please other people; that seems dishonest to me. And being dishonest in this job, musically, that would just compromise everything that I’m trying to do, which is to be honest and sincere. When there are vocal changes or there are different sort of elements that I love to pursue on an album, I always hope for the best; I don’t want to make everyone hates it, but I need to be true to myself.
CONFRONT: I see! So you’re not really in the path that lot of bands have taken lately, writing more songs about their fans and what their fans struggle about!
MIKE: I think I’ve touched some things that are more identifiable earlier in our career; I think primarily with “Roots Above…”, our third album. Writing for me has always been so fluent and organic, and just very smooth with process, so it almost never really seem like a decision when it comes time to write, or time to choose the topic that I look to speak to; it’s always what’s most on my heart. So that’s kind of what it comes about!
CONFRONT: So if it does happen that you do write about something similar some fans might be living, it’s not on purpose, it’s because you live that as well.
MIKE: Oh yes, my songs are very personal, especially “Dead Throne” and “8:18”; but I think they are identifiable by all means, especially like “Dead Throne” if you lived the end of a relationship; “Dead Throne” becomes a comprehensible record for you. I have many things to say so it does seem a little bit shallow for bands to serve repeatedly only looks, to speak on topics that are solely meant to appease other people rather than speak to what they want to speak to.
CONFRONT: And it’s very genuine and important! “8:18” is your fifth album. How would you describe each album with one word?
MIKE: (thinks for a long moment) I think the first two would just be “Young”. I would call them both “Young” or “Bad”. The third one I would say “Progressing”; “Dead Throne” I would say “Intentional” and “8:18” just feels so… “Relevant” to what is happening now, which is what it’s supposed to be! We recorded the record earlier in the year and wrote songs in the past couple years so whatever the new material is, more than likely it will always be the more…
CONFRONT: … Relevant!
MIKE: Yeah! So… Young, Young, Progressing – still pretty bad – Intentional; “Dead Throne” to me is so intentional because it really comes to term with exactly what it is, that we were doing and to maintain the control that we had and realize that! So that’s why I’d say “Dead Throne” is intentional. Then “8:18” was utilizing the same capabilities.
CONFRONT: Courtney asked “You guys just released your fifth album; where do you see yourselves going from there?”
MIKE: it’s always hard to tell! When we put out “Dead Throne” I was like “I don’t know!” because it was the best thing we’ve ever done; whatever else comes next will be bad. “8:18” happened and now I feel like THAT’S the best thing we’ve ever done. I feel as long as I have something to speak to, or something to convey within this band that it’s gonna come about naturally because that’s how it has always been! I think that we are still learning to do more things better and I think we’re gonna keep on that. I’d love to play more guitar for the band; so maybe try to incorporate that! But we’ll see.
CONFRONT: Michael from Calgary wants to know “how does it feel when you’re on stage and you say something that is religious and people boo you because of it.” I know last time you came to Montreal it happened and I thought it was weird because people come to the show knowing you’re a Christian Metalcore band!
MIKE: it had a certain impact earlier in our career; I don’t even really notice. I make the decisions I make again because it’s what is in me: I guess I can trust that enough, and there’re four other people’s reactions to me having something to say. If they reacted negatively to it it’s like… well! It shouldn’t have me upset. I mean, why should I be upset? I think that would be just as bad as the person that wants to boo someone. Any more, I think that we’re – and I think some fans don’t appreciate it – but we’ve been a little bit more, as far as talking about God on stage it’s very quick, and I’m not so blunt about it, I think that’s just, not because of a lack of faith but because I want the show to be so based on the visuals and the music and I don’t like the distraction of hearing some singers talk for a long time. And I’m bad at talking to a crowd so I just like to play the songs. Even when I was talking about God more, and people did boo, I think that has also played a role in it as far as like, “You can boo but it doesn’t matter to me, we’re gonna keep playing!”
CONFRONT: It goes also in the same vein as writing music for you and not anyone else!
MIKE: yeah, yeah! Right. And that’s another thing within your question; do you boo the record when you hear songs that are like “8:18”, talking to God? Do you sit there and boo that? Or does it… (Shakes his fist) at the show you’re at, do you shake your fist?
CONFRONT: Doesn’t make lots of sense!
CONFRONT: being a fan of the band, I have to admit I chose one of my questions for the fan part: what’s the story behind the song “Louder Than Thunder”
MIKE: Sonically we wrote that song because we just wanted a little bit of a different pace in the album; I still don’t really think of it as a ballad but, sort of something within that area, if you will. But lyrically it’s just meant to be better, meant to be selfless, progress.
CONFRONT: what do you prefer from Montreal?
MIKE: Uh, poutine!
CONFRONT: Of course! (laughs)
MIKE: I know that sounds really horrible and terribly American and stereotypical…
CONFRONT: It’s not! Everyone who comes here, whatever place on earth, will mention poutine!
MIKE: See I’m also vegetarian so it’s hard to find poutine that is not beef broth but vegetable broth for the gravy. We had to walk a good mile and half to find one but it was soooo goooood!
CONFRONT: what is something we would never, ever see on the band’s biography?
MIKE: uh oh, hopefully a lot of things (laughs)! I would like to say “Insincere”. I’ll go with that, “Insincere”! I like to think that we’re always wholehearted about what we’re trying to do, so even if you don’t like it, you can still say: “well, at least they’re trying!” (Laughs)
CONFRONT: (Laughs) thank you for taking time to answer my questions!
Get their newest album, “8:18”: http://smarturl.it/tdwp818
LISTEN AND WATCH – Martyrs (“8:18”)