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the AU interview: Winston McCall of Parkway Drive (Byron Bay)

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Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive are the biggest success story to emerge from the Australian hardcore scene. Since blasting out of Byron in 2003, Parkway Drive have quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with on both the local and international hardcore stage. But behind all the screams, breakdowns and dark lyrics, vocalist Winston McCall was one of the most genuine, laid-back and friendly guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing.

I chat to Winston about Parkway Drive’s upcoming gig on the No Sleep Til tour, how they’ve divided fans with latest album Deep Blue, and frustrations over the lack of appreciation for Australian hardcore.

So firstly I just wanted to chat to you about your recent stint on Warped Tour in the States. What was it like playing such a huge festival?

Pretty huge, in all respects. It was like 2 months on tour around America, which is really hard to describe, its like an entity into itself. Yeah, we were dealing with like 40 degree average temperature every single day, like 100 bands a day,  yeah it was absolutely mental. But reaction-wise it was probably the best, well actually definitely the best reaction we’ve had, so it was really really positive. A lot of hard work at the same time but I guess there’s nothing bad about that.

Ok so you’ll be playing at the No Sleep Til festival. How do think No Sleep Til will compare to something like Warped Tour?

I’m not quite sure to be honest, it’s really weird because we haven’t really played an Australian festival since probably Taste of Chaos which I think was 2007? So we kinda have no idea what to expect, and that’s really weird for us to say about our home country… But all the bands on this festival are absolutely amazing, and we really don’t know if it’s gonna be absolutely phenomenal, or people are gonna be tired and wanna go home by the time we play, we just don’t know what to expect. We’re just gonna do what we do, and either way we’ll have fun playing it.

Any bands you’re particularly excited to be playing alongside?

Yeah definitely, for me it’s like NOFX and Dropkick Murphys, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Frenzal and stuff like that, then there’s a bunch of newer bands we’re friends with. Literally every single band on it’s amazing, so there’ll be a lot of stage jumping going on for me (laughs)

So No Sleep Til has quite a mix of Australian and international bands, whereas something like Soundwave, I think Amity Affliction are the only Aussie band on the bill. Is it frustrating seeing that great Australian bands really struggle to get involved with these big festivals?

Yeah definitely! I mean, it’s really frustrating, being from the position of a band that toured so extensively overseas, and seeing certain bands associated with bills, and knowing I guess how big a support they have in their own country in comparison to bands in Australia that are being overlooked for these things. It’s really frustrating, I see lineups with bands from overseas that are brought over to play to these massive audiences, that only have the support of perhaps a handful of people overseas, not necessarily a very good live band. Yet they’re coming to Australia and playing these massive festivals, and there’s these wonderful -I’d say Australian bands are the hardest working bands in the world - and they’re not getting the opportunity to play in their home country. It’s wonderful to be a part of No Sleep and have so many Australian bands on the bill, I think it’ll be fantastic. It’ll be proven how well these bands go on these shows, it’s gonna be really really good.

Yeah definitely. So when you think about the fact there are so many awesome Australian hardcore bands that never seem to get anywhere, why do you think Parkway Drive have been successful?

I have no real idea to be honest… I think it’s one of those things where, right time right place. I’m not quite sure, like literally we never really tried to be successful. we just played the kind of music that we liked playing and we happen to like travelling, so we toured a hell of a lot, and it just never really took a backwards step. It wasn’t necessarily because we said ‘right, let’s make this band a success, let’s do this and that’, we just took the opportunities that were given to us and made our own way around things. And it’s come to what it is which is really really odd, and I don’t think there’s a necessary formula for what it’s doing. Like I said there’s so many wonderful bands in Australia that are so high quality, and I don’t know why people chose this band to be the one they support. But I’m eternally grateful for the fact they have.

I mean looking back, I remember my first Parkway gig 5 or 6 years ago was in a some town hall, with about 10 other bands and 12 dollar entry...

(laughs)

Did you ever really imagine Parkway Drive would get this far?

Oh God no, I mean that’s the thing, we started this band with the idea of playing in our local youth centres, just to play shows and mosh all the time, that’s all we wanted to do. It’s been one of those things where it progresses so massively in such a short amount of time you can’t predict what’s going on. There’s just been so many points in time where we’ve said ‘this is the biggest it’s ever going to get, like it can’t physically get any crazier than this, can’t get more stage dives or more t-shirts or more records’ or whatever. And all of a sudden however many years down the track we find ourselves in this situation where thousands upon thousands of people are coming to shows, and records in the charts and stuff like that. The thing is we still have these memories, and like mine are still really quite new of us starting the band and playing youth centres (laughs). It’s really quite an interesting perspective to have.

Ok so I wanted to talk to you about Deep Blue, your new album. It’s definitely heavier and seems to have more of a metal influence than your previous albums. Where in particular did you take musical influence from when making Deep Blue?

Umm that’s a good question… To be honest, the musical influence mainly comes from ourselves. And that’s not necessarily meaning to sound like a self-righteous, all-knowing rock star god or whatever… It’s more just, I think these days especially when it comes to direct influence musically, because we play so many shows we find ourselves listening to less and less heavy music in the downtime that we have. It means that the musical influence is really varied over the people the band. We find that it’s less of us hearing a specific band saying ‘we want to do that’ and more of the fact that we jam, someone will play a riff that we like and we’ll just build on top of that, as opposed to having a direct goal or influence in mind. I think things seep in subconsciously because that’s an interest you have, but I think the musical influences we have come from everything outside of the heavier genres.

Well the album seems to have divided fans over whether they love it or hate it… So where does it sit with you in terms of… I mean, is it your favourite Parkway Drive album?

(laughs) Yeah definitely, it is. I mean, we kind of thought it’d do that in the sense of dividing people. It’s not necessarily something we set out to do, but at that point in time liked the idea of not making something that sounded exactly the same as the stuff that we’ve done before. I mean it has been 3 years since we wrote Horizons, and we’ve changed as people and we’ve changed as a band. I mean if we come round to doing another record it could be completely different again. It’s not necessarily us wanting to become like, crazy artists with our music, it’s just us staying interested in what we’re doing. There was never a goal of being more metal or more hardcore or anything like that, we just tried to write songs that we liked. And to be honest, I really really love this record. I think the reason maybe it’s divided people so much is that there isn’t necessarily really one specific formula for the whole thing, there’s a lot of differentiation between the songs, they all sound - well at least to my ears- really different to one another. So you haven’t just got a record that sounds like one thing. That’s kind of lead people to say ‘I like one song but I don’t like the whole album’ (laughs)

So the lyrics to Deep Blue…they’re quite dark from what I’ve heard. Can you tell me a bit about the influence behind the lyrics?

(laughs) They’re definitely pretty dark. That’s mainly because I generally write from a dark standpoint. It’s not that I’m a dark, depressing person, it’s just kind of an outlet for those negative influences on my life. The underlying thread to the record, the narrative that runs through it, is I guess reasonably hopeless in a sense but its about a man that basically becomes disillusioned with the life he’s living, and tries to find some idea of truth within himself, and travels to the bottom of the ocean to find that, and the resulting consequences. I guess I tried to put that in underneath what we already had when it came to musical structures and stuff like that, so each individual song works by itself, but when you put them together you can follow this story the whole way through. So it did lead to probably the darkest stuff that we’ve got written so far.

On “Home is for Heartless” you collaborated with Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album by the way.

Oh cool!

So if you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose?

Ohhh… (laughs) Yeah. That’s a really hard one, ‘cause I respect and love so many people. At the moment…Tom Waits or Gaslight Anthem?

Nice, I love Gaslight Anthem!

Yeah they’re up there, probably one of the best bands I’ve seen live. They are fucking fantastic. They’re sitting pretty high up on the list anyways. 

What’s your favourite Parkway Drive song to play live?

Oooh… That’s really hard. Up until the last tour it was Boneyards, and I still really love playing Boneyards as well. But with Deep Blue we have literally 13 songs that we’ve only just started to play live, which so far is going really great starting to play them live. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of those took over. Home is for the Heartless is fantastic to play, I love playing Unrest, I love playing Deliver Me. It’s really hard to pick a favourite for me because I just love playing live, there’s no point in the set where I’m like “Yes! Here comes that one I love!” it’s more just like ‘Yes, it’s time to play’. (laughs)

You guys are somewhat pioneers of Australian hardcore, but what did you grow up listening to?

Depends how far you go back (laughs)

As far back as you’d like!

Ok first heavy bands I started listening to, like punk bands were probably Bad Religion, NOFX and Pennywise, stuff like that. From there I guess it progressed to harder sounding stuff, it started with bands like Raised Fist, from there it went more into I guess Australian hardcore, it’s all we really had access to, like there was no internet at that point time (laughs). It was bands like Arm’s Reach and Embodiment, Day of Contempt, and a bunch of other bands that people would never even have heard of. (laughs)

Ok I have a  weird question for you…. But you guys are from Byron Bay, I’m from Phillip Island, and it seems like all our local bands are hardcore bands. Do you think there’s something about growing up on the coast that breeds hardcore music?

(laughs) I don’t know, that’s really bizarre! It’s really weird that it’s come to that these days. It’s really wonderful, it’s just I can remember a time when hardcore bands only existed in Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide, and now it’s all over Australia. But yeah it might go hand in hand with being from the coast, I mean for me the whole way I got into punk and hardcore in the first place was hearing songs on soundtracks of surfing movies. Like they had the energy that made me want to get the adrenaline going, go for a surf kind of thing. So maybe it still goes hand it hand, it really wouldn’t surprise me if it did. So Phillip Island huh? That place is pretty awesome, I went down there years ago it was great.

Yeah,I love it!

Alright my last question for you is - what do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t in Parkway Drive right now?

Oh, I’d be a loser! (laughs) I was doing nothing before I was in this band, and I’d be doing nothing if I wasn’t. Like I did a couple of semesters in university and I sucked at that…

What did you study?

I was doing a bachelor of Media. It’s just… I have a problem with learning in institutions, like I wasn’t very good at school. Not necessarily I don’t have the drive to learn, I just don’t take very well to learning in that fashion, and I wasn’t very good at uni because of the same thing (laughs) I’m good at absorbing information, I’m just not good at writing an essay and getting marked on it. But ahh, yeah I don’t know probably making coffee and being a loser in Byron I guess (laughs)

Well thanks so much for chatting to us Winston.

No worries, my pleasure.

Good luck in Europe, and I’ll see you at No Sleep Til festival!

Cool, cheers, thanks a lot!

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Tickets to No Sleep Til Festival are on sale now nationally - http://www.nosleeptil.com.au/