Bird-Sex, Scurrilous’ Scurrying Spiders, Robots, and the Enterprise vs. the Millennium Falcon.
Protest the Hero are no one-hit-wonder band. This intelligent, funny, prog-rock/metalcore band from Canada are dynamically musical as much as they are thought-provoking and witty. Seasoned veterans, disillusioned with record labels in general, they were one of the first bands ever to reach their crowdfunding goal within 24 hours. In this too-short interview, Frontman Rody Walker tells us about his disappointment with the Volition album artwork that should have inspired more controversy than it did, whilst yet contributing to the culture he despises; the fascinating story behind the art for Scurrilous; and drops his Geek Shields. Live Long and Prosper.
HMA: I would like to start by asking you about the cover art for your latest album, Volition. I was under the impression there was an Indiegogo twin release… though I have heard that the original cover was not allowed in the US…. Is that correct?
Rody: No, not really. There was a limited edition release for the album and that was just for Indiegogo contributors. And then there was another, which was a little more graphic in nature. It was strange though because we made a sleeve to go over it but then we went out and showed it to all the like Walmart’s and Best Buy’s and that was the concern – that they weren’t going to allow the artwork in the stores – but they just were like ‘Yeah that’s fine!’ Which kind of speaks volumes for Rape Culture.
HMA: It really does! A load of vultures surrounding a naked girl, and a vulture appears to be engaged in having intercourse with her… So talk us through the concept and how it relates to the album title or theme.
Rody: The concept is really based on (the Greek Myth) Leda and the Swan. I believe that Zeus comes down and he transforms himself into a swan and he rapes a woman and it’s told as this beautiful story. And it’s not a beautiful story – it’s a horrible story about someone being raped! A lot of songs on the record, well one of the songs specifically, is to do with rape culture and how widely ‘accepted’ it is – and how denied it is really. How people don’t even realise that it’s a thing and that you can put these horrible things out there and people just accept them and look past them. So we sorta wanted to retell the story in the more vicious way that it is; that it truly is. Unfortunately at the end of the day I kinda think it contributes to rape culture.
HMA: Telling the story you mean?
Rody: Just the image itself. So I’m not terribly pleased with its existence. I think it’s a really neat peace of artwork and its purpose and its meaning is very… just…. But you can’t sit down with everyone who’s going to see it and explain that to them ya know? So there’s a lot of people who might see the record and just go ‘Oh, there’s some boobies there’ ya know and it’s like ‘FUCKKK’. But it’s like that’s not the intention and it’s very difficult to get the intention across.
HMA: It was Jeff Jordan who did the artwork – who also did the Mars Volta artwork? http://www.jeffjordanart.com Did you give him much of a design brief? Was this your idea for the album cover or did this come from him?
Rody: He was asking me about lyrical themes on the record and I told him some of the stories and he crafted it into this thing. At the time, and still I think it’s a great artwork, but I just didn’t realise that when we released it the intention would not necessarily be obvious. Which is kindof just me being stupid.
HMA: I think anyone with half a brain would realise that it’s Vultures with the girl, so the meaning should be obvious, but I’m guessing a lot of younger people wouldn’t pick up on that.
Rody: Yeah they were like ‘Oh, Cool – Bird sex’. And I was like (hanging head in hands with exasperation). ‘FUCK!’
HMA: So that’s what this album is going to be famous for – Bird Sex!
Rody: Yeah (Rueful grin).
HMA: How important is the visual aspect of this work to you as a musician? Does it complement your music or is it just something you see as separate?
Rody: I mean it is separate but it’s something that I find very important. It’s some of the most fun because it’s a medium that I’m not entirely comfortable in myself. I could never paint a picture; I could never draw a picture. It’s a completely different art form. And to marry the two worlds together is wonderful. One thing that I’ve always loved about purchasing vinyl specifically is having that big beautiful artwork but a lot of heavy metal bands these days just put out these records that are “black” or whatever… there’ll just be like a red font on it and you’ll be like ‘alright’ well you really followed this one in!
HMA: Is that because of the time element required to design it? A lot of bands are in the studio, and writing music, but the labels are shifting to get the new material out as quickly as possible so the band doesn’t necessarily have time to think about what they want or get an artist involved… I don’t know how that relates to your previous albums and how long it’s taken to get the artwork sorted.
Rody: Yeah I mean maybe… our artwork’s always taken quite a while; it’s something we really do care about. Cos at the end of the day it represents you. It’s the first image that people see. Before they hear any of the music, they see the artwork and if the artwork doesn’t represent the music, what’s gonna really make anyone interested to purchase that? And if they do purchase it and it doesn’t represent the music, they’re gonna purchase it under false pretences and probably not like it.
HMA: You said about Vinyl covers – what’s your favourite? What one had the biggest impact on you when you were younger?
Rody: I really like Rush, the ‘Exit Stage Left’ or whatever. It’s just, it’s a live vinyl and it’s just got two people like dressed in full costume getting ready to take the stage kinda just peering out onto the stage and there’s kinda just a really dramatic painting.
All the artwork I love is painted. Like that Queen album with the Robot ripping into the building…
HMA: YES!! News of the World. Honest, I’ve said about this cover to so many musicians. That cover was the one that stuck out for me (Re-painted by Sci-Fi Artist Frank Kelly Freas www.kellyfreas.com and modelled on a previous artwork of his entitled ‘The Gulf Between’ – a piece for a book by the same name) and it’s funny as no-one else I talk to seems to remember it. Rody: How does no-one remember that? That’s pretty much ‘the big one’!
HMA: You’ve also got another cover design for Volition – the Shipwreck being drawn out of the water?
Rody: Oh that is the exclusive Indiegogo artwork.
HMA: The one that’s only the vulture – without the nudity – what’s that one for?
Rody: That’s the slipcover that goes over the nudity. There was a lot of artwork on this record!
HMA: I think it’s fantastic. Is there going to be similar for the other single releases? Are you going to continue with all the artwork?
Rody: Hopefully yeah. I mean the artwork is something that we’ve always cared passionately about. Sometimes, like with our third record, Scurrilous, it was really easy and it was nice because the painting that we used was a painting that our bass players grandfather had painted.
HMA: I was going to ask you about this one too. How did it come about? Is there a story behind it?
Rody: Yeah. Arf (Arif Mirabdolbaghi) is our former bass player. He’s recently left the band. But his grandfather went by the name of Jafar Petgar, a very famous Iranian painter. Not very famous over here or in North America. That’s kinda how we got away with it. We’d grown up practising at Arf’s parent’s house and the painting was always in the hall and then one day Arf was just like, ‘Do you guys wanna just use this painting as the artwork and also use the title as the album title?’. And it was just like man, easy enough – we all loved the painting; the title was very peculiar – and that was kindof representative of the contents within.
But I believe the story of the painting is – and I might not be entirely correct… I’ve heard Arf tell the story before… his grandfather was working somewhere and a woman next door started spreading all these vicious rumours about him. About him being not-so-honest or something like that, and he had a dream that night of the image of the woman’s tongue turning into the spider to ensnare all the creatures of the forest that cared to listen and the next day he drew the picture and named it Scurrilous – as in she was making scurrilous accusations.
HMA: Fantastic! God I love that story! I wish I had skills like that.
Rody: I feel like in the old times everything was a lot more romantic. Ya know like, nowadays I might have a dream but I’m not gonna wake up and paint a picture of it!
HMA: No, but maybe you’d write lyrics instead. Maybe that’s your thing.
Rody: That’s true.
HMA: You had a Facebook post that stated ‘…the material on this album is a lot more challenging than ever before’. Obviously it was crowdfunded and that’s hard enough on its own, but what challenges did you have to face in making this album that you maybe hadn’t experienced before?
Rody: Well first of all our drummer left. And it’s like – we’ve been together for 15 years as the same five guys. And then, just right when we started writing he left; there’s no hard feelings. I get it. Fifteen years on the road is not a terrible amount of fun.
HMA: You’ve been doing this since you were really young, haven’t you?
Rody: Yeah, we started in ’99. I was 12. But we only started touring when we were like 16, so that’s when we really start counting.
HMA: Even so, most bands don’t start that young; they’re not exactly touring when they’re 16, mostly just starting out playing local gigs so…
Rody: Yeah (proud smile). So Moe left the band and we had to write the album in a very peculiar way which was sort of different for us, because we started so young, ya know. The digital age came in while we were in a band and we were still used to kinda just sitting in a room in a circle together and just sortof writing a record… Speaking to each other like human beings! But we sorta had to belly up to the bar and learn how to embrace the digital age. We did a lot of stuff. Had to program all the drums for writing and then to write that on computer programs and we’re sending it all the way over to each other. I mean, that was really kinda tricky. But strangely enough it kind of expediated the writing process and it was er quite good actually 😀
HMA: How much independent writing was there? I know of one band living in different countries where the whole album was literally done in their apartments and they would just email back and forth to each other. Was it like that?
Rody: It was a lot like that but we all lived in the same city. We could’ve met up… The only problem was that we didn’t have a drummer at the time. One of the really big challenges was, we had this contract with Chris Adler from Lamb of God and he was like ‘Yeah, I’ll do the record’. And then we were like, well, you’re gonna have to learn it in just a few weeks. And we’ve written the drums ourselves and we don’t have any idea about how to play the drums. So some of the stuff, we were just like, this is not drumming. This is inhuman – you need three legs and four arms!
HMA: But he managed it though right?
Rody: Yeah he did. He really killed it.
HMA: Unfortunate to lose your bass player AND your drummer. You’ve got a permanent drummer now haven’t you? Are you still looking for a bass player?
Rody: We have got a permanent drummer. Our bass player currently is a guy named Cameron McLellan; he produced the record, strangely enough, and he did a lot of the writing – a lot of the co-writing on the record so… He’s always been a good friend of ours. He used to be our lighting guy and he’s been with the family for seven years. We’re just trying to trick him into joining the band but he really doesn’t want to – because he’s a record producer and he makes much more money doing that! And if he became a permanent member and not just like a hired touring guy he would make significantly less money.
HMA: Would it not be possible for him to do both? I know the likes of Jamie Jasta and others are musicians and producers – or would it not be feasible with your touring schedules?
Rody: Yeah I mean we tour pretty regularly, and he’s also involved in the writing process… I really don’t see why he doesn’t just join the goddam band!
HMA: I believe both the public and critics received the album very positively – even with the struggles you faced in getting it made. What made this record different to the previous releases?
Rody: Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, when we released our third record people weren’t very fond of it for some reason. But I thought, when we finished it, ‘This is our best one!’ And we put it out and people were like, ‘Meh, it’s alright’. And then we put out this one and while we were recording I was like, meh, it’s alright’. When we put it out people really liked it!! So I have no way of objectively knowing what’s good or bad. All I can really do is do the best I can. And hope that people like it.
HMA: Well not that my opinion counts for anything but I think you’ve done a fantastic job on it.
Are you playing any of the festivals here next year?
Rody: I don’t believe so. We’re taking a break to work on our new record. We played a bunch of festivals last year in Europe and England but we usually try to do it once every two to three years – just so that people don’t get too excited about seeing us, ya know 😉
HMA: So you’re off to Europe next, is that right?
Rody: Yeah we’re in Paris tomorrow for a day off which’ll be nice.
HMA: Plans for your day off? Sleeping or sightseeing?
Rody: Ya know, as many times as I’ve been there I’ve never seen the Catacombs and I’d really like to see that as it looks fascinating. And I’d really like to see Napoleons grave which is fairly close. I mean I’ve done all the stupid shit like the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe and climbed the Eiffel Tower.
HMA: If I remember rightly you’re the Star Trek / Star Wars geek?
Rody: I am. (Proudly shows off his tattoo – under his Trekkie t-shirt)… It’s the Star Trek Enterprise.
HMA: With the Star Trek/ Star Wars song, Clarity – great video by the way. It sounds to me like it has a political message in the subtext, referring to the divisive proposals in Canada at the moment: would I be right?
Rody: Ah, no. There’s a couple different things it’s about and I shouldn’t really talk about them. I wrote it specifically in a way that it seemed very superficial. There’s a comparison that is often made to us that I’m not very fond of and I think there should be a line drawn in the sand. I don’t really like tell-tale’s at school, if ya know what I mean.
HMA: That’s fine.
HMA: If the Star Trek and Star Wars universes really collided, who do you think would come out on top?
Rody: I mean I’ve seen a lot of comparisons. I think Star Trek is set in the future; Star Wars is set in the past. I realise it’s a different galaxy… I’m very biased so I’m obviously just going to say Star Trek. I’m sure the Millennium Falcon has many fine qualities… but I don’t believe it has any fucking shields!
HMA: Which character from Star Trek do you feel the greatest affinity for?
Rody: Picard. Mostly because I respect the actor; I think he does such a fantastic job; he pulls so much emotion out of something so silly almost, at times. But I just, I dunno. I love him. I just love him.
HMA: Do you drink Earl Grey?
Rody: Er no. But sometimes I do. I mean, whenever I see it I say in my head, ‘Tea, Earl Grey, Hot’.
HMA: What are you most Geeky about?
Rody: Probably TV. I watch a lot of TV. I’d like to get to the point where someone brings out a Netflix and I go ‘Yeah I’ve seen it’ – like you’ve just watched ALL of Netflix.
HMA: That might take a while…
Rody: I’ve got some time off coming up 😉
HMA: That day in Paris could come in useful after all!!
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Interview & photos by Sable – Copyright 2015 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.