"If there's any core to the record, it would be degradation or disintegration." - Mike Hranica.
It's been three years since The Devil Wears Prada released 'Transit Blues', but today they're back. Their brand new album 'The Act' is out everywhere, and it marks an even darker, deeper version of The Devil Wears Prada than we've ever seen.
To celebrate the release of 'The Act', we had a chat with frontman Mike Hranica about where The Devil Wears Prada are at in 2019, and where 'The Act' has come from.
How exactly have you got to this point as a band? How have the last few years influenced the direction you’ve headed in?
Says Mike: "Firstly, we went about writing this record a little differently to the last two. Before we would have these writing sessions that would last two to three weeks with everyone together driving and pounding out the songs. This time around was on a daily basis, sending stuff back and forth constantly. John, our keyboard player, produced the record and wrote some of the songs - this is very much his baby. He has a home studio in Kansas City, so different members would pop in and out - I would fly in and track some vocals and write some bits, and Kyle would do the same. Him and John are the primary songwriters on this record. At some point while they were working they realised they were just recycling ‘Transit Blues’ - looking back, I still have fond memories of certain moments on that record. I’m still proud of it, but even then it’s still just distilled further down from ‘Dead Throne’. So from an outsider’s perspective, John and Kyle had this objective viewpoint of seeing this band do the same thing too many times, over and over, while also trying to offer up the talent and the ability to challenge what’s happening in rock and metal music right now, which appears to be so repetitive. So we started trying to confront that in a way that we haven’t before, while also trying to be inventive with it too."
There must be a point as well where for you and for Prada you slip into a comfort zone after doing this for such a long time. It takes a lot to actually take that step back and go ‘This is where we are right now’
"It’s so easy for bands to remain in our own heads - we get so attached. To think about all the years we have been doing this too, you see a competition - bands get competitive over who is making better stuff and who is selling more tickets. To be honest it’s really secondary. It’s actually really insulting and compromising to the craft. Being able to step out of bounds a little bit, and then have a peak back in is very important. Just having Kyle become a bigger part of the band as well as John put us in a different viewpoint – with Andy, Jeremy and I, three of the founding or original members, it’s definitely easy for us to become complacent about certain things. It was awesome to be challenged and I can’t imagine ever working so unchallenged again."
What was that process like?
"It was mainly in John having such a critical hand at everything I did lyrically and vocally. I’ve been critiqued further as my career has gone along, but I’ve never been critiqued and disciplined so much internally. What he would often come back to me about was being too hazy, or a little too translucent when it needed to get to the point - that’s a habit of mine. My girlfriend often says my writing is very flowery. When you have a set of lyrics, you have a limited sized canvas to paint on - you don’t have 55,000 words to say everything you want. Of course it’s all for the better of the music and the artwork. Despite being critiqued more it wasn’t a longer, more drawn out process – we recorded most of this record live, as far as the rhythm tracks go, and it was created in half of the time of ‘Transit Blues’, yet despite that we feel like it has a much more heightened sense of catharsis and emotion. Being in the studio is a total grind - it’s like being a kid in a candy shop as far as being around so much awesome gear, stuff which our band love. But when you’re doing it six to eight weeks, you can definitely be ready to fucking kill each other."
It feels as though using that honest and claustrophobic environment paid dividends to how the songs turned out though, right?
"Yeah definitely - I think that retrospectively we have got better at injecting emotion into our music compared to early on where I feel like it is so sterile. That’s just a never-ending fight though, lending that sort of feeling into the performances of recording. As far as the downtime and the claustrophobia of the studio, as someone who is terribly impatient and deals with anxiety issues, I get how it can have a huge effect. As the vocalist as well, I wasn’t as busy as John and Kyle. It does become a less comfortable situation and makes it harder when it comes to my time to perform, yet it definitely does help knocking it all out live and delivering that level of emotion without over editing."
So when all of these songs came together, what do you feel as though the central theme that was holding it all together?
"If there's any core to the record, it would be degradation or disintegration. This is the first time that I didn’t write all of the lyrics - ‘Chemical’ for example is 100% John, and ‘Wave Of Youth’ and ‘Numb’ are also songs that he contributed huge parts to. With that, it gives me a bit of outsider’s perspective to what the record is - I think that’s exciting. It can give things a new depth and add an extra texture or layer. There are certainly no pick-me-up moments. I think that degradation really does sum up a lot of what is happening though.
"Since ‘Dead Throne’ we tried to throw in some of these quieter moments to make sure that our records weren’t just constantly going at 90MPH. I think that we are a lot more comfortable with including those slower moodier songs, which are much more in line with my personal taste right now. Jimmy Eat World have always done the best job in delivering track lists which feel like a rollercoaster. I see it as something very visual, and Prada have tried to do that. I feel as ‘The Act’ really optimizes those swings and dips."
What did you want ‘The Act’ to represent then? You mention how it links in with your interpretation of Hell, yet still feels rather open-ended?
"The record cover, which I worked with Dan Seagrave to create, is an interpretation of Hell. I think Hell plays a huge part within the record, and is synonymous with degradation. In terms of my contribution to the record, I definitely wanted to create something that was open ended. Conceptually Hell is entirely open-ended and interpretive. We started this band as some youth group kids going ‘Let’s spread the word of God as we are Christians’ - now we are half a lifetime later, and we have different thoughts and sets of beliefs within each member. What Hell is to even us is rapidly contrasted to each other - for me, even as a Christian, I don’t believe in a Heaven or Hell. The songs are obviously very specific, and we wanted to really dig into each theme, especially with John critiquing me so much. ‘The Act’ as a title is the part that you can interpret as you see fit. That’s what drew me in - the act can be sex, or a crime, or whatever action or exercise you want. I wanted that involvement between the artist and the listener where when given specific songs, the listener mold it as they please."
It’s so interesting to be in a position where songs are so specific yet are still completely open for that interpretation. It makes the experience different for every single person who listens…
"For sure - participation is the word I was looking for. ‘Please Say No’ is my favourite song from the album and is 100% derivative from a scene within a novel. It’s not about anything but that. It openly speaks to wealth disparity, but the song is based off this very specific scene. When we released it and people were wondering what exactly it meant, they were going all over the place. For the first time in my life, and definitely for the first time in Prada, I felt ok to open that door. ‘Chemical’ is another example - that song speaks about mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, but can attach to whatever you want as a listener. I’m not sure that door has ever been as open as it is right now."
Where do you feel ‘The Act’ sits within the Prada legacy and the bigger picture of what the band has become
"I think that early on, back when record sales were still a thing, ‘From Roots Above And Branches Below’ was the record that sold the most - it was the first time we charted and was definitely a high point. Then the most tickets that we sold was around when we released ‘Dead Throne’. Then for me ‘8:18’ was the very antonym of what ‘The Act’ was, as far as not being challenged into making a more diverse record. I see that record as a low, not that I’m embarrassed by it like I am by the first two records.
"Saying all of that, ‘The Act’ represents a higher tower if we were to measure our records in terms of height - ‘The Act’ is us trying to turn a corner and reinvent. That’s not us not playing old songs anymore, or stopping using our triangle logo or anything, but it’s the process of us challenging ourselves and making something bigger. I think as well, behind the scenes we are really happy with Solid State Records who are putting out the record, and have supported us so much by answering the call every single day about anything. I’m really hoping for the best with this record basically."
And finally, who do you feel The Devil Wears Prada are in 2019 and who do you want them to be moving forward with ‘The Act’ as the wind in your sail?
"I’m going to burn myself using the same word over and over, but I want the band and the arbiters of ‘The Act’ being us to challenge. That was so much of what was at the songwriting process - it was all to challenge what is so tired in rock music. Looking at Apple Music on Fridays and seeing these acts who are blowing up in pop and hip hop, and then looking at rock and going ‘Oh, this again’.
"With that in mind, we have had this feeling of wanting to push that limit and have people listen to this like ‘Oh, what is this?’. We wanted to push the boundaries of what a six-piece metalcore band can do, and be something that is a little bit more out there than the things that would usually appear under the rock category every New Music Friday. I think that there are moments of depth within the songs on ‘The Act’ that don’t fit in with just rock or pop or indie or metal. I want Prada to ride off the back of that and be respected for it. Maybe ‘The Act’ will be the album that helps separate us from everybody else, and puts us in different rings other than the breakdown metalcore world. Not to talk trash, but there is better music to be made than that and that is where our brains sit right now."
The Devil Wears Prada's new album 'The Act' is out now - stream is below: