The caravan rolls on for Protest the Hero
by Tyler Munro
December 14, 2016
We talked to singer Rody Walker about the ongoing twists and turns of Protest the Hero.
Protest the Hero have never been a band that does things conventionally. When they were 16, that meant skipping school to write and perform political punk songs about silent genocides and American hegemony across Ontario – and eventually, Canada. When it came time to follow A Calculated Use of Sound, they turned left, trading in the bellowing ideological rally cries on egregious political turmoil for the layered “situationist requiem” of Kezia, their full length debut that may or may not have been a fleshed out concept album but that remains, for many fans, the crowning achievement that made them fall in love with the band.
Full disclosure: I am not one of those people.
I’ve been around long enough to remember the wait for Kezia, and let me tell you: It was a long one. A Calculated Use of Sound was remastered and rereleased, with “Soft Targets Dig Softer Graves” tacked on. That song became the bridge for the band: Rody was learning how to sing, at least as far his changing voice would allow, and the band’s technicality, then still more in line with Iron Maiden and Thrice than, say, Spastic Ink, was taking shape. More than that, they were getting heavier. The buzz circling them swelled, as eager brats like me tried to decipher what then-bassist Arif Mirbaghi was talking about when he introduced a new track (which later became “Plateful of our Dead”) as “a song about a little girl standing in front of a firing squad.” Rumours murmured, about how the band might release their new album in chunks; an EP here, a single there. Some wondered if it would come out at all – to wit, their fans were mostly teenagers (or George Strombolopolous), so they tended to be a little dramatic.
As we now know, one year after the album’s tenth anniversary, Kezia most definitely came out. And with it, the band set off on an exhaustive, decade-plus long adventure, one which quickly became a cycle. They would spend months, if not longer, writing, recording, and meticulously tinkering with their new music, and then they would spend the next several years touring it, and themselves, into dust.
That took its toll after Scurrilous, the band’s third album. For their fourth, at the alleged behest of drummer Moe Carlson (who would, ironically, leave the band during the early songwriting stages), they finally took the kind of risk Kezia fans had long talked about. In a short video, they effectively told record labels to fuck off, and what ensued was an IndieGogo campaign that raised $125,000 in under 24 hours, and $341,146 in thirty days, becoming the best case scenario and the platform’s go-to case study for crowdfunding done right. But the cycle continued: the band pushed through line-up changes, mental health scares and the ensuing ennui of having to do it all over again.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve changed things up again for Pacific Myth, their latest EP that, for most, is a new release. The caveat is that for the band’s dedicated superfans, it’s been out for more than a year.
The EP was first released through Bandcamp’s subscription service, which rolled out a new song every month for 6 months. That means that for the first time since those pre-Kezia years, there was an bubbling-under excitement surrounding the band. Websites too cheap to dole out for the service speculated about the songs; fans who did pay took ownership over them, the kind of pride we felt as the loyal stans that proudly memorized the “Blindfolds Aside” clapping part months before the song even had a title.
Vocalist Rody Walker, however, admits that the month-to-month songwriting exercise wasn’t as spontaneous as it seemed, at least not initially.
“When we rolled it out and announced it, we already had the first two songs written, for the most part,” says singer Rody Walker, adding that they had “rough starts” to some of the other ones. “But when it got into the… I think it was the fourth song, it was like… there was nothing. We were actually doing it month by month, from scratch.”
“It was a nightmare,” he jokes. “But it seemed to have worked out.”
It did. Just don’t expect them to do it again.
“I think some neat things came out of it, but I think you get a better chance to write music when you’re taking your time to really process everything.”
“It limited us to our own audience, which is something that we knew it was going to do from the get go,” he continues. “But the times are changing, right? There’s so many interesting, new pathways that open all the time, with crowdsourcing, Patreon, all these different avenues. Why not fucking try them? There’s going to be a new one every week. The industry is not what it used to be, and we’re not tied into any long term contracts of any kind, so we have shit tons of time to experiment and do whatever we want to put records out. I think it’s fun to be a little adventurous, whether people like it or not. There was some negative backlash to this, and that’s alright.”
On Kezia, fans tried to decode the analogy of a presumable child prostitute being jailed and buried; Fortress likely spiked Google results for Flidais; Scurrilous painted cigarettes as a “sweet little redhead,” and most Protest fans are still probably wondering who “Without Prejudice” is about.
On Pacific Myth, fans went five months decrypting what the iron obsidian represented, and where Rody was going with the layers upon layers of metaphors.
The answer was, it turns out, kind of nowhere.
“It had to do with the way it was being released. People were trying to follow this story that’s not making a terrible amount of sense, only to find out that it’s just the elements of the quest, described in a very vague way,” laughs Walker.
But by the time you hit Pacific Myth‘s sixth song, “Caravan,” it comes immediately clear what Walker’s prerogative was. As he tells me, and as I’ve learned over the years, Walker isn’t one one to mix metaphors, and a quick glance at the track’s lyrics cut straight to the crux of the message. He tells listeners to “interpret the meaning to mean whatever you want it to be,” muttering that he’s “heard those same words fall from [his] own lips.”
“I think I got my point across fairly decently,” he laughs.
Ask him to explain Kezia again. I’ll wait.
While you were sleeping the ocean wasn’t drained…”
Read into the “tired metaphors” Walker references and you’ll discover a band tired of trying to satiate those who’ve been clamouring for another concept album for the better part of a decade. Eleven years after their breakthrough album, Walker seems firmly, finally, and understandably, ready to move on. He sings about the bright lights that gave birth to the band and the mythos that maybe, for a time, spun out of control. He sings about concept albums as the “confluence of narrative and naivety,” noting that a “narrative seems to allude to something more” even if the songs are “a catchy way of saying nothing.”
And then he really stops mincing words.
I, for one, am fucking tired
Of conceptions that bring nothing new from the womb
But if every story is the same
Then the rose has truly lost its bloom
Can you sing it back to me?
I can’t relate to this
I can’t relate
Maybe it’s your preference
But I can’t relate
“Where is the problem? We’re entertained.”
My problem’s the consistency with every concept made
Don’t just tell me a story
What does it convey?
“Where is the problem? We’re entertained.”
I want to feel something more than just betrayed
You are the problem
I am the problem
Are you satisfied?
Don’t be satisfied
Bands evolve, and so has Protest the Hero. Though it took longer than it does for most, their line up has changed. They’ve burned bridges, had bridges burned, but as the song repeatedly states: The Caravan rolls on.
The fans that have kept up with it have had a year’s head start on Pacific Myth; the ones that didn’t have moved on. And for everyone else, there’s still time to hop on the bandwagon. After nearly 14 years together, it shows no signs of slowing down.