We had a chat with Parkway Drive's Winston McCall ahead of the release of their album 'Reverence', being released next month.
What does 'Reverence' represent?
‘Reverence’ is basically making the most of what you have and the time you have, and being conscious of it. It’s quite simply that. It comes from a very dark place and the revelation of that came from a very dark place too. It’s the fact that what you have can be gone very quickly. You have no idea how fast it can all come crashing down. It’s simply taking the time to realise just what you have because at the end of the day, time is the only thing that’s worth anything. You can’t buy it.
Because of where this album has come from, when you were putting the foundations in did these events change everything?
To a degree, yeah. Very early on we were like let’s just write whatever the hell we want. ‘Ire’ was written in a way where we were searching for reinvention. It was really difficult and stressful. It was breaking our old walls down and forging something new out of it for us. Trying to find what we really liked and what we still loved and fusing the two together. It was going somewhere too scary for us too. So this time around coming off the back of ‘Ire’, which is the most successful thing we’ve ever created, it was just us saying that we’re going to do whatever the fuck we want. It was really awesome and it made writing the album really easy musically. We were so terrified. The band became far more successful than we ever hoped, and we were like ‘shit do we stop now’. ‘Vice Grip’ was the "what the fuck" moment, then the rest of it everyone was like "yeah I get it". This record though, there is far more variation but there isn’t going to be anything that shocks anyone. Parkway Drive is still there but we are there in a far different way.
How was it for you delving into such dark subject matter when you were penning lyrics?
It was dark. All of this stuff came out while were writing the album. Basically as ‘Ire’ came out, fucking horrible stuff started happening to our friends and family. We dealt with it and got through it though but it just continued. Basically the world caught fire and stayed fucking burning. In terms of losing friends and family, it was like this big haymaker out of nowhere and it kept swinging every couple of months. The number of friends I have lost over the last few years to cancer is crazy. And it’s going. During our last tour of Australia a friend of mine passed away. Then a month and a half later a very old friend of mine passed away from cancer. So in terms of writing, it’s been written not like this thing that has happened and I’m going back and revisiting. It’s an on-going part of the grieving process; it’s not part of dealing with it. For example ‘Wishing Wells’ was just trying to capture that whole fucking process of that mental state when you’re trying to deal with grief and it not getting easier.
It wasn’t all painful to write. The writing part was cathartic. It’s the actual performances that are on the record that were fucking painful. ‘Wishing Wells’ was manic because it’s got such a hypersensitivity while ‘The Colour Of Leaving’ was just torture. We literally got four takes where I get to the end of it where we couldn’t put it on the record. The take on the record is the one where you can understand what I’m saying. Physically, it was fucking heart wrecking. I knew that was going to happen though. That was my way of dealing with it and that’s how I wanted to people to get what this record means and why it is the way that it is and why we do what we do. There’s nothing that is going to make you want to reassess what you want to do with your life than when someone close is taken away. They would love this and they don’t get the chance so why would I be doing anything other than exactly what I want to do.
A lot of that emotion does come through in the way that your vocal performance has changed. You've become more, but that's because of the words that you're speaking. How has it been for you adapting to such a different style?
It’s been really good. It took a lot of work. This is the only time in our career when I would be able to do this. I started working on my vocals before ‘Ire’ because that was when we said "if we want to change then the vocals have to change to achieve what we want". Five years later I can finally say that I can sing now. It’s really awesome to be able to go from having three sizes of fucking black marker to have every colour that you can possibly imagine. It helped with the writing of the music as well because all of a sudden I could contribute to this in ways that I never have before. My delivery used to be throat ripping screams, deeper throat ripping screams and high throat ripping screams. This time, the delivery was the character of the song. The performance with the voice was carrying the identity of the song. I wanted it to drive the album in a way that it hadn’t before. I wanted the lyrics to be understandable and relatable and be able to grab your emotions. To do that there had to be musicality to it.
Musically who were you drawing on to create this sound? There are so many little moments that you wouldn't have been able to do five years ago.
We would have been too scared to try those things. We weren’t drawing on anyone though- it was just us. When it comes to listening to bands, there was a lot of searching when it came to writing ‘Ire’ and thinking what we could do. Then we make a change and people are like "they're trying to sound like this and that" and throwing names of bands. So personally I was like "I’m not going to listen to anything from our world that could possibly relate to what we do". That was it. It was just us sitting down and writing and coming up with melodies or noodling on guitar. Then when something that was there which resonated with us we found out what the character of that song was and constructed it around that characteristic. That’s why every song sounds pretty different.
When we put out a song and people go "the album is going to be heavy" or "the album is going to be rock". The album is going to be fucking everything. There isn’t even really any singles. Every song stands for itself and that’s literally the way that it was written. We were finding that thing in that particular song that was making it stands up on its own two feet. We did that within the album. We always write albums. We never just write singles. We want it to be like the time this song finishes we then want to take the audience here. We don’t know if any of it translates though. It was such a big creative leap on this one. We don’t know what people are going to take from it. We didn’t know what people were going to make of ‘Ire’ and that was such a surprise. Then this again. Because thematically it’s so different from anything we’ve done before I didn’t know if people would get it. Like putting out ‘Wishing Wells’ where I’m calling out God and the Devil and people were like "he fucking hates religion". Yet there were people in the comments who were like "I’ve just lost my mum and you couldn’t have put better how I’m feeling". Like if you know what this album is about you will hopefully understand it and see it in a different light. Like with ‘The Colour Of Leaving’, we were like "people are going to hate this song". Like we are ending the album with this but we needed to do it. They may end up skipping that track but it doesn’t matter.
How has the way that the band has grown over the years influenced the way that you approach making and producing music?
It’s been really interesting. It’s the kind of thing that has happened really organically in the sense of an upward trajectory. It’s been really nice. It’s not just like this moment where that single comes out and you’re playing massive rooms. It’s just been us playing our songs and writing our music and proving ourselves on that. It’s kept us going, as things have been getting bigger. We walk through one door; hang around in that room for a bit, then all of a sudden the next-door opens and we go through. We just keep coming and opening doors. Sonically, it got to the point where we had been doing one thing for 10 years and we didn’t want to just keep rehashing. We wanted to do something different. Then you notice playing in 5000+ capacity rooms, playing an hour and a half people were fucking dead after half an hour. I’m still going "MOSH, MOSH, MOSH" and people are like "nah, can’t". Then a fast song just gets lost. Now we have the opportunity to venture into another realm where people aren’t tired. It’s using a different sonic technique where all of a sudden you have a wall of sound that can be heavier than the heaviest thing you thought you had written because of the sheer push of it. Also, first and foremost we are a live band. When you can put your stuff on stage and not just have people hear a show but also feel the heat of the show, or be scared by something at the show or blinded and stuck in the dark and feeling claustrophobic. All of these things that make that soundtrack so much more intense.
You have recently been celebrating the 10-year anniversary of 'Horizons' too- how did it feel playing that era on a completely different scale to when it was written?
It was really fun. As soon as we start playing songs live I stop listening to the record. So when I was listening back to this I understood why people really liked it. It wasn’t me looking back going ‘yeah this is perfect’. It was really fun to play because we expected it to be a nostalgic thing. We did it because we knew how much that record meant to people and it would be fun for us to do something different. We expected to be like it was back then with people wearing their board shorts and it really wasn’t. We were playing the songs as the people we are now, tighter and harder than we ever have before. It felt modern and it felt like those songs were modern as well.
Parkway Drive are releasing their new album 'Reverence' on May 4th through Epitaph. Find out all the info here.
See the full gallery from Parkway Drive's intimate London show at The Underworld last month here.