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The Devil Wears Prada’s Mike Hranica On The Lasting Legacy And Creative Expansion Of ‘Zombie’

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 19 May 2021 at 15.42

"I'm proud that we came up with something that did so well for us"

Back in 2010, The Devil Wears Prada unleashed the 'Zombie' EP, a stopgap release between full-length albums that became an instant cult classic. 

11 years on, the band have returned to the dark and destructive universe they created, but things are very different. 'ZII' finds the band combining the blood-thirsty and ravenous heaviness of their early days with the more atmospheric and tension-driven writing of their recent work. The result is a celebration of everything that the band have been in the past as well as what they will be in the future whilst also managing to stave off the creative hunger until they can hit the road again.

We sat down with vocalist Mike Hranica to find out about the genesis of the EP and where the project fits within the legacy of the band...

Where did the idea to work on this follow-up to ‘Zombie’ first come from? How did it develop?
"It wasn’t a part of the conversation for us at all until COVID. We are so proud of ‘The Act’, and it feels so representative of where we want to head as a band, and we were so hell-bent on trying to get all eyes on it. We wanted to tour the world and show off the songs that make up that LP. We were out with We Came As Romans through February and March last year, which then got called off as things did for everybody else. From there, it was like, ‘What now?’

"I think it was Kyle [Sipress, Guitarist] who first mentioned the idea of doing a 7’ and having just two ‘Zombie’ songs on there, which was very much under the notion that we would back on tour in July. That wasn’t the situation. So it just turned into what it is now. 

"Writing ‘Zombie’ songs isn’t something that’s hard for us. This wasn’t forced content, which would be a really ugly way of putting it. But with the pandemic stretching out, we started to look at it as more of a follow-up than just a compliment. It was all very natural from there. Our means of songwriting between John and Kyle are pretty cemented now, so we just headed back into making things intentionally gnarly. A lot of the first ‘Zombie’ release was very much, ‘We’re going to kill all of the undead’, whilst this release is much more, ‘The undead are going to kill all of us’. There’s a raised sense of hopelessness which is much more evident and something that had become much more inherent in The Devil Wears Prada over the years. 

"We’ve been sitting on these songs for a while now, which has been weird too. Usually, we put our stuff out, and then we are on tour, but right now, we still don’t know when exactly we will be touring. But we know that we want to share this right now."

What part do you feel as though the ‘Zombie’ brand of songwriting plays within the Prada story?
"I think we still often get locked into the status quo of things. ‘This is how things are done. Why? That’s just the way it is.’ I’ve often described ‘Zombie’ as not being thinker music. There are so many songs on our records that intentionally reach certain places and spots within the listener and reveal and exercise a certain level of catharsis. Then you have ‘Zombie’, which is just banging your head against the wall. I think that’s a lot of the positive release from heavy music in lots of different ways. As we look back over the 11 years since the first EP came out, I'm proud that we came up with something that did so well for us. With ‘ZII’, it’s not supposed to be better than the first EP or the back half of a whole record. It’s all just based on the excitement of creation."

Knowing that such a cathartic release is still available to you after all these years must be quite a relief…
“Certainly. As a person, I perceive and process anger differently as a 32-year-old as I did when I was 20. Being angry all the time doesn’t equate to happiness very fluently, but at the same time, there is obvious release in just getting something out. To throw something against the wall in an almost manic state, I see that in the same way as releasing heavier songs. Or even songs on this EP that maintain a discipline of anger and sorrow and hopelessness that we're often tugging at during a full-length record. There’s something very to the point about the action that comes with ‘ZII’ versus some songs that were on ‘The Act’.”

There are also elements of what you produced with ‘The Act’ that live on this EP. A lot of that comes through within the actual storytelling. The original EP was very frantic in its approach, whereas with ‘ZII’ there is more to the tapestry…
“I would like to think that even when writing ‘Zombie’ songs, the process does come with a heightened sense of intelligence in the distance travelled between 2010 and 2021. I’m reminded of stories that grab you because of the gore involved and stories that grab you because of the psychological component. In terms of storytelling, John [Gering. Keys] has challenged me to hone in on those aspects. I’m proud of my lyrical work over all of these years, but at the same time, I know that some bits and pieces could have been better if I had disciplined myself a little bit further. So that comes out more when there is a place I’m trying to get to rather than mailing it in. These days that is much less of an option, and that is entirely John’s doing in terms of his means of critique and him being such a gifted producer. I would hope that process has helped build some story to these songs. It can be five minutes of heavy if you want, but if you want involvement with Nora’s story, then there is some content there for you.”

So what was the actual process of getting these songs recorded? How did the circumstance of these times change the way you did things?
"We did this a while ago now. In more normal circumstances, the EP would have dropped a lot sooner, but we were very relaxed with rollout because of how the world shut down. We did record them far enough into the pandemic where we could take responsible practices, like testing, mask-wearing, not having a dozen buddies in the studio partying. 

“With what we did with ‘The Act’ where a lot of the rhythm came from the live tracking of the instrumentation, this was very different because the songs were 99% done when we started recording them in the studio. I never saw Mason [Nagy] tracking bass or Giuseppe [Capolupo] tracking drums because they had both left by the time Jeremy [DePoyster, Guitarist] and I came in to do the vocals. It was collaborative in terms of the actual songwriting, though, so that the songs had all of our identities in them. Via email, it was still totally cohesive.”

How have you been reflecting on ‘The Act’ and what that album has allowed you to do within all of this? Though the cycle was very much interrupted, it’s still playing very heavy in your minds and hearts…
“I will say that I’m not the positive or optimistic person, but with ‘Chemicals’ radio success, I do have a spread of positivity that when we can go out again, people will have digested these songs and understand what we were doing. One couldn’t tell me that ‘The Act’ has aged poorly, or ‘Chemical’ aged poorly either, so that’s another piece of positivity to hold on to. I feel as though ‘ZII’ will help us to inflate ‘The Act’ more than ever, and that’s certainly what we intend on doing when we can get on stage together again.”

For that feeling to come from something that you weren’t expecting even to make is pretty special too…
"Oh, certainly. Being able to make ‘ZII’ during these times has been a bright spot within all of this.”

And finally, what sticks in your mind most prominently from the first ‘Zombie’ era and the way it has allowed you to return to it now?
“I don’t think there is anything in retrospect that’s too profound that has come to me from that period. It was an act on a whim thing that had a pretty high level of success. I feel grateful to have been rewarded with how well those songs went down. We worked hard, and it was a creative and worthwhile idea to give myself a little bit of credit. That’s something I’m not very good at, so I’ll take definitely that feeling.”

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