Oct 16, 2012

Winston McCall of Parkway Drive

For 10 years, Parkway Drive have been the poster boys for a successful independent hardcore act. The Byron Bay band releases their fourth album Atlas on October 26, which is shaped by the experiences of touring the world – outlined in their documentary Home is for the Heartless. Frontman Winston McCall discusses wheelchair antics and the business side of making indie music with Angela Allan.

Leading up to Atlas, did the experiences in your documentary Home is for the Heartless shape the record in any way?
Massively. The two go hand in hand – it’s a lot easier to understand the record when you see the influences behind it. The lyrics were written over the space of time that we were travelling.

And in the documentary, we see that your guitarist Luke broke his leg before the tour and performed while in wheelchair for the majority of the tour…
The weird thing was we went to these places we’ve never been to before and they’ve never seen us perform before and they thought that was normal. It was so, so weird. And we’ve been back to a couple of those places since and people are like, “Why is there no wheelchair?”

What did you want to do with Atlas, as record number four?
We wanted to do it differently again. We’re not fans of making the same thing twice. The older we get, the more we want to push those boundaries a bit more as our tastes are progressing and varying a bit more. This time, there is a lot of stuff in this record that are sonically and influences are different. There is so much depth in this record that we’ve not had before – different instruments and different concepts. At the same time, you can take it from start to finish and know it’s a Parkway Drive album but the more you listen to it, there more you hear the layering and the workmanship. It’s straddles the fine line of being a raw, easy-to-relate-to recording. There are some that are so stripped back and others are so sparse. It has a larger expanse when it comes to that kind of feeling.

In Home is for the Heartless, you played in Calcutta, Mexico and Guatemala. What was your most memorable on-tour experience?
It’s really weird to look back on the whole existence of the band the past couple of years. In the whole existence of the band, we are yet to play a gig where no one knows who we are. Every time we rocked up to a gig, we would say, “this is going to be the one where we rock up and play to bunch of blank faces and it’s gonna be awkward and awesome at the same time,” and that’s never happened. Each one has been a riot. It’s so hard to pick one – there’s been some crazy twists and turns. India was so massive and so ridiculous. That gig literally came together with Facebook messages with one random guy who is a promoter. It was such a gamble. That was like, a blind date of a show and it turned out so well.

From watching the documentary, there is a sense of the sheer enormity to what you’re doing when we see the counterfeit Parkway Drive merch in Mexico… What does that mean to you and your music, what you’re doing?
It is a complete and utter mindf--k. It was grounding, and at the same time, it was like, “Holy f--k, what are we doing?”. It is so wonderful to have such a positive impact. We didn’t realise the scope of things until we did that tour. We were like, “What the f—k? People know us?” There’s people crying and these language barriers being broken down, with people saying, “I love you, but I don’t know how to say it in your language.” It’s so weird that it’s a worldwide thing and how big it’s become.

What do you request on your rider?
Water and some fresh fruit. The thing is riders are paid for by the band, and some people don’t know that.

What’s on your on-tour playlist?
A lot of Tom Petty. The Smiths, Gaslight Anthem, a lot of punk rock.

Have you ever trashed a hotel room?
No, no! We’ve all had jobs in the past that have involved washing up dishes or cleaning. Every time you trash something, it means someone else has to clean it up. You’re just being a dickhead and creating misery for someone else. Not fans of that.

What’s the best avenue to discover new Aussie indie music?
For me, it’s been radio. When you’re online, it seems like a lot of stuff is targeted these days, so it’s difficult to find music that isn’t similar to the stuff you’re not listening to. Some of the nicest discoveries I’ve found have been on the radio.

What tips would you give new indie artists?
The best thing is to be yourself. It’s so easy to try to please everyone else – record labels, trends, punters. As soon as you do that, you start losing focus on your music and what you want to write. Music is a real reflection of the person making it. If you’re being pandering to someone else, it will be a poor reflection of that person’s taste instead of a true reflection of what you’re really about.

Any tips on great up-and-coming Australian artists?
Ball Park Music and CW Stoneking.

What’s the secret to being a successful indie artist?
Stay hungry and don’t compromise. If you work hard enough and it’s supposed to happen, it’s gonna happen. The most rewarding things that happen may be ones that you have work hard for. We’ve never wanted to be on a major label, we’ve always wanted to be independent. Being on a major is some dream that never lives up to the expectation from what I’ve heard. There is nothing better than being your own boss.

Do you think an artist needs to sign to a major for better chances of success?
The bigger you get, the more people you have knocking at your door, saying, “I can do this or that for you,” and they want money. A lot of them have skills that bands can learn themselves. These people have no particular magical skills – they are just very good at making connections. Knowledge can be acquired and you can get it for yourself. Harden the f—k up and do the paperwork – not just the creative work.