“It was a couple of years of fun work” Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall talks Ire album

October 8, 2015
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It’s a good time to be in Parkway Drive. With fifth album Ire showcasing the most dramatic and ambitious evolution in their sound to date the critical plaudits are rolling in, though the band’s excitement lies more in finally getting to play these songs to packed rooms. Speaking from Perth, Australia – and running himself ragged trying to find decent network coverage in the vicinity of Red Hill Auditorium, where touring duties for the record commence – vocalist Winston McCall is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, eager to talk riffs, and learning to sing.

How are things in Parkway Drive right now?

We’re in a really good place. We’re in Perth, about to play our first show with these new songs, so I guess it’s an interesting time. We’ve got pyro, so it’ll be fine! Laughs. That being said, Jeff [Ling, guitar] actually just ruptured two tendons and tore a ligament in his hamstring, and has to go into surgery after these first five shows. So, he’s literally onstage struggling to stand up, but that’s the standard Parkway-gets-hurt-on-tour-and-hopefully-plays-through-it that we’re used to! Laughs.

The record is another substantial evolution in your sound. Are you concerned about how fans will take it or is that not really on your mind?

We don’t mind to be honest. It’s not the first time we’ve done anything different and I’m just interested to see what the reaction is like. It’s funny to see things dissected to the billionth degree, when in reality, all you do is press “play” and say this is something I enjoy listening to, or this is something I’m going to press skip on. In the end, it’s just music.

One of things that really leaps out is that some of the riffs have this almost late 80s/early 90s Ozzy Osbourne/Alice Cooper feel. Did you at any point say, Lets go in that direction, or was it just something that happened when you were jamming new songs?

It was, “Hey look, check out how this sounds!” Laughs. At no point did anyone say, “Let’s sound like X or Y”— it was a case of saying, “Let’s just write some riffs that are perhaps a little more spacious.” But there were definitely songs where we realized when we took out the really intense drumming and vocals, it was going to stand out in the way that we’ve never let riffs shine before. We knew that was going to highlight that difference in a bigger way, so we said okay, we’re really going to have to commit to this and make sure it doesn’t come out completely cheeseball! Laughs. We wanted everything to work together, and it was a bit of a mission in that regard, but we think we definitely did what we set out to do.

Ire is a very layered record with a lot going on. Did you have to spend a lot of time building that up?

It was something we spent a hell of a lot time on. It came easy in the sense that writing and creating was something we were enjoying so much, but when you’re working with unknown quantities it takes a lot of time, so there was a lot of reworking. It took a couple of years, ultimately, but it was a couple of years of fun work.

The record seems less bleak and more optimistic than your last few records. Is that a fair statement?

I think it depends on how you take it. It’s really strange, because the lyrics are quite bleak when you read the words, but the delivery is a lot more human, which has allowed this more optimistic feel to get in there. The space [in the music] has ment it’s less bludgeoning all the time, which was exactly what we wanted. When you do get to the bludgeoning parts it’s a big shock, but in the meantime it gives you space to breathe.  That’s what matters, and that was a connection we really wanted.

Do you feel more optimistic in yourself?

Long pause. Yes, I think I do, actually. When we wrote the last record there was a lot of heavy shit going on in our lives, and it came out very angry and bleak. There was a lot of bad stuff that happened during this record cycle too, but at the same time there’s been a lot of really awesome stuff. I got married, everyone’s been in good health. When it comes to the political and world issues I talk about, there have certainly been things happening that are absolutely horrible and should be addressed, but at the same time, on a local level, I’ve been really buoyed by changes I’ve seen in my community that I didn’t think would happen. I didn’t think a lot of people cared about these issues, and that touched me and made me feel a little more optimistic.

Youve spoken elsewhere that at one time you were worried that you had done irreparable damage to your voice through screaming for years.

We got to the point of being 10 years as a band, and I was actually losing power live. You couldn’t tell that much if you were at the front because we have a fantastic sound guy, but he more than anyone was telling me that I was definitely losing power. He said to just get it checked out because you never know, I could have six months left being able to do this and then you’re all fucked. It was really stressful because I’ve never even thought about that kind of thing; it’s something that I pushed to the back of my mind, and part of the problem was me being complacent. I’ve never had any training, I’ve always been like I can do this in my sleep, but in reality I can’t. Laughs. My whole life revolves around that hour I’m onstage: it’s my passion, it’s where I need to be, and if my voice had gone out and taken that from me… I don’t know what I would do.

How worried were you about your voice potentially giving out?

The thing was really crazy, because I didn’t think there was actually anything wrong until I was literally at the doctor to get it checked out. I’ve coughed up blood plenty of times on tour, and that’s got to come from somewhere, but I never really thought about it much. But I was sitting there in the chair, about to have a camera shoved down my throat and thought, “Oh shit, I might be about to get really bad news.” Waiting for the diagnosis, I was just worrying, and within two seconds he was like, yeah you’re fine, but it was edge-of-the- seat stuff for a moment there.

Its funny, Ive interviewed you ahead of the last three records and every time Ive asked you is this going to be the one you start singing on? Every time its been a case of you laughing it off and saying nah, in a way that made that suggestion seem absurd. But on this record, here you are, doing all these different things with your voice. What inspired you to do this?

To be honest, it was getting the vocal stuff sorted that inspired me. I never thought I even could do anything beyond screaming, but having [the doctor] say no, your vocal cords are actually really strong made me think, “Oh, okay, maybe that means I can do something more with them.” Everything for me up to this stage has just been really comfortable, I can turn up, go Raaaaaah!” and not lose my voice. I took singing lessons and learned I could control my voice, but I never actually recorded it with anyone around. So, I recorded stuff at home, and it sounded good to me, and I hoped that those tracks weren’t deluding me, so when we recorded in the studio it would sound similar to the way I did at home. It was so important that we further evolve with this record, and this was the first time I’ve actually felt like a musician. I’ve always been a frontman, and there’s a big difference between having to be the frontman of the band, who is just expected to be wild onstage, and someone who’s in control of their instrument. So it was a massive deal for me doing this stuff.

Oli Sykes from Bring Me The Horizon went through a similar thing where he learned to sing to bring that extra dimension to the sound. Was that an inspiration to you at all?

I wouldn’t say it was directly, but it’s one of those things that gives you hope that you can make changes as a musician and implement them in a way that can further evolve your sound. I love those guys, and it has definitely been really nice having that band doing something very different to what we have done but at the same time going through a very similar process.

Youve often been taken aback by your celebrity in Australia, with people approaching you in public and viewing you as a rock star. With this new record being so much more accessible are you ready to become a household name over there?

Laughs Do you think that’s going to happen?

Its a possibility.

Wow, I don’t know! If that happens—no, I’m probably not ready for it! Laughs. But if it doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t be surprised. It depends, it’s always been weird, people coming up to me and talking to me as though they know me. The thing is, I’d call myself naïve in the sense that I’ve never seen myself as anything other than a guy from Byron Bay in a band. So when someone says, “Hey Winston” I’m like, “Hey man, yeah, I’ll have chat.” They’ll know everything about me and I’ll be like, “Where is it I know you from? I should know your name, sorry.” I’ll feel awkward, and I never seem to get that they know me because they listen to my music and read interviews I’ve done. If it gets bigger than this, it really will be quite bizarre, I’ll put it that way. Laughs.

Written by Dan Slessor