Mike Hranica knew he wanted to be a writer long before he had any dreams about rolling around in a tour bus, performing at venues and festivals around the country. “I remember, even as a kid in elementary school, my grandparents, parents and family were so astonished by the stories I would write,” the Devil Wears Prada vocalist tells AP, calling in from the band’s co-headlining tour with As I Lay Dying. Although fronting his group of Midwest metalcore heroes may have sidetracked him from his dream of being a published author, it ultimately proved to be the vehicle for his first book. One & A Half Hearts details the story behind The Devil Wears Prada’s fourth LP Dead Throne, delving into the creation of the songs, the deeper meanings behind his lyrics and the Ohio native/Chicago resident’s unapologetic Christian faith. It’s also a look into the intra-band dynamics between Hranica and the rest of TDWP (guitarist and principle songwriter Chris Rubey, guitarist/singer Jeremy DePoyster, bassist Andy Trick and drummer Daniel Williams), as well as the contributions of producer (and Killswitch Engage guitarist) Adam Dutkiewicz. The book is exclusively available on the road and at the band's online merch store.
Generally speaking, do a lot of fans ask you what the songs are about?
MIKE HRANICA: Honestly, not that often. I've been pretty transparent with a lot of the intentions of the band. Especially when we did With Roots Above And Branches Below and even more so with Dead Throne, as far as really being confrontational about what these songs are about, how I feel and what I'm trying to express. One & A Half Hearts is a detailed account of that, something that just sort of has a different perspective. I would love to talk to people about [what the songs are about] more often. Fans wait around outside for a long time to get something signed or take a photo. I’m always most drawn to the people that actually want to have a meaningful conversation. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen as much as I would like it to. I would like to talk more about faith [and the songs] with people.
You’ve been open about your Christian faith in your songs and in this book. In fact, the book is even more explicit. Historically, a large amount of art, music and literature have been inspired by Christianity, but do you ever feel restricted by that? Is there a responsibility to write from that perspective?
Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t call it “pressure,” but Christians do have a responsibility in discipleship. For me, it's always been pretty organic for that to come to the surface. When I joined the band, it wasn’t a “Christian Band.” We were just Christians in a band. When I became the singer, I was like, “Can I write about it?” Everyone was fine with it, which was cool. It's always been something that just happens. For that, I'm very blessed. I feel it's a wonderful responsibility. I'm socially awkward; I have a hard time communicating to people. In layman's terms, [I’m] very shy. I've always felt my writing is a means of expression, and when it does come to writing, my faith just comes through. That's my personality, my being, my foundation. When I do get to write, I can actually express the things I feel, because I feel like I can never really do that in speaking. Those core morals in my life just come through with the words.
Did you have an editor? Did anyone see the book as you were writing it?
Actually, no, not at all. No one had read even a sentence. Friends of mine, people closest to me, we’d be hanging out and I'd tell them I was writing something. Speaking about the book would encourage me to keep going with it. No one read it until the final draft was completely done, published and in. It was scary. I'm still scared of putting myself in such a vulnerable state as far as making the book. A big part of the whole process for One & A Half Hearts was to really indulge in that really independent nature. I wanted to really challenge myself with it and for it to come from me. I've received a lot of help along the way from management, and from my friends’ encouragement. But I wanted the book to come from me, completely, down to making sure I paid to make the books myself.
What was that DIY book-publishing process all about?
I kept it limited; we only made just over a thousand of them. I think a little bit of that; my hidden idea was to make sure people know it's not about the money. This was something solely created for fans of the band. To get too many people involved would be sort of extraneous, too convoluted.
In the intro, you make it clear that fans shouldn’t put you on a pedestal, and that the only thing worthy of worship is God.
What is written early in the book is just reiterated over and over in “Dead Throne” and “Born To Lose” and in a roundabout way in “Mammoth.” That's what “Dead Throne” is and that's what the record is meant to say. So much of being in a band right now is a photo, a tour, a paycheck. I never wanted to be part of that fake celebrity factor. I fell into the band, and I kind of fell into writing how I feel about things. I never wanted to have people feel like it was so important or critical to meet me because I really think that sucks. I think I’m a pretty awful person. I think I'm boring and bland. I hate the thought that it means so much to people to want to meet me, and I'm saying, “Man, there are so many better things to do.’ That's a bit of the background about the no heroes/no idols factor of Dead Throne, my personality in general and my Christian [beliefs].
In what ways have the other guys impacted your lyrics?
When we were teenagers and finding ourselves in our early 20s, we fought more. That used to come out in the things I would write. These days, we get along more. The book repeats and reiterates that it’s all a collaborative effort. The producers and the band had a role in helping me write better songs, better vocal patterns. I wanted to write about that and give credit where credit is due; I don’t think I did a good job of that. But at the same time, the book is about the lyrics. I can’t spend too much time talking about all the other extremely important factors in making an album.
You mention C.S. Lewis and his influence on your writing.
The Screwtape Letters is my favorite work of his. Lately in my personal life I've been a bit lazy. I've got a checklist in the notepad in my phone of authors to read and books I know I should read. I've been lazy and I don't go buy [them]. So, I've just been sitting at home and picking up books I already had. Re-reading The Screwtape Letters, I realized what a huge role it’s played in things I’ve written in the past. It really influenced me.
Will you write books about future albums?
I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that and no one has. [laughs]. No, I don't think I'll ever write about the songs the way I did in One & a Half Hearts. There are different means of exploring the work of the band rather than writing a book about the lyrics every time. I don't think it's something I'll do again. I'd rather do something more creative, in regard to the lyrics.
Tell me about the new song you’ve been playing live, “Gloom.”
The lyrics aren’t out there yet, and the more we play it, the more I realize I need to rewrite certain parts. The song will change. We picked it to play live on this tour because it’s simple. We wanted something that was beefy and in your face, so we chose that. Of all the new songs we’ve written, “Gloom” is the most uplifting lyrically, which doesn't really fit the song sonically. But it was just where I ended up being. It’s a song that’s really, like, “Listen to God; we are strong, push forward.” Which is unlike the rest of what will become the new record. The new record will be sadder than Dead Throne. “Gloom” is kind of on the outside of things, but it felt heavy on me so I wrote the lyrics, even though it's different. We wanted to stir the pot and let people know we're going to be working on that new record soon, as far as actually recording it, so we wanted to play something new.
What do you think fans are most likely to learn about you that might surprise them? And what did you learn about yourself from writing the book?
I've never been the “I've got something to prove” type. But the book was somewhat about trying to prove something. It's definitely noted in there. The book talks a lot of trash ’bout empty proclamations and just bands that write lyrics because “this phrase is catchy and makes a good chorus.” I've always hated that. I even mention at some point that words are more important than melodies to me. I know that makes no sense musically, but I don't really care. What I would like to prove to fans is the Devil Wears Prada, and the stuff I write, are not meaningless or empty. I want people to know that most lines have a specific purpose and meaning to them. I would like fans to not so much learn something about me, but also question themselves and choices as far as what they're listening to and what they would like to peruse in music, art, life… That's something I would like fans to learn from the book. All I really learned about myself from writing this was… I wanted to write it, put it out and just say to myself, “Okay, maybe I'm not horrible at this.” That was important. That was something I wanted to prove to myself, to just force myself to write and encourage myself to keep on writing. ALT