December 24, 2015 Interview – Winston McCall of Parkway Drive
The region of Australia is often recognized for its sprawling landscapes and wildlife, but when one takes a closer look, they also have one hell of a Metal scene. A prime example of such is Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive, who has steadily built a strong name for themselves internationally over the past decade plus writing and recording music, as well as touring religiously. Comprised of musicians who are bonded by friendship above being in a band, the dynamics of Parkway Drive are extraordinarily strong, external of Rock-n-Roll. Releasing five studio records that see a progression upward with each passing release, the band took on their biggest challenge to date with 2015’s Ire. Heavy in more ways than one, the band’s strengths lay strongly within the ability to capture emotion, create melodies, and Ire could be their most complete effort to date. Recently we caught up with Lead Vocalist/Lyricist Winston McCall to talk his life in Parkway Drive, the band’s chemistry, the process behind Ire, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Parkway has been together for over a decade now and in that time the band has released five studio albums. What has the journey been like for you and the band?
Winston McCall –Pretty surreal to be honest, it has been like a complete time warp. I think the fact that we never really set out to achieve anything other than just play local gigs and have fun has meant that every single achievement that we have ever come across in a band has been something that we did not really expect to happen. It has amounted to basically a lifetime in this band of being constantly surprised, which is also meant, you kind of do not know what to expect around the corner. It is just meant that the last twelve years of being in this band has gone incredibly quickly, and at the same point in time, has lead to more high points than I can ever point to. It has been basically living in this insane dream that you kind of expect to wake at some point in time, and has yet to actually happen. It has been good, let’s put it that way (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. When you keep your goals realistic and remain positive, the best things happen. The band has essentially sustained the same lineup from the day it began, besides Jia who came on board in 2006. Many bands have revolving doors with members, what has been the key to Parkway Drive’s longevity all these years?
Winston McCall – I think, to be honest, the friendship factor. The fact that we all come from a very small town which has a very unique setup of circumstances. Basically living in this town means that we are presented with very unique perspective on the world, which kind of binds us together. Having all grown up together and all been in this since it started, we all have a very similar perspective and have all grown into that perspective. That is the reason this kind of keeps together.
CrypticRock.com – Well it certainly does help to have that strong friendship beyond being in a band with one another. Many would classify Parkway Drive as a Metalcore band. Labels can be extremely limiting and often not fitting to a band’s vision of who they are and what they want to do. With that said, how does the band feel about genre classification?
Winston McCall –To be honest, we do not really care about genre classification (laughs). People can put whatever they want on it. It is simply a word. We just made whatever music we wanted to listen to, play, and whatever is fun for us. Whatever people want to call it, that is fine. No matter what you call it, you can call it the greatest music on earth, you can call it dogshit, and it is not actually going to change the way it sounds in any way, shape, or form. We are not concerned with genre classification in the least.
CrypticRock.com –That is good, because that can often be very limiting. The band’s sound has progressed from release to release. Progression is a natural part of a band’s growth. You recently released Ire back in September. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Winston McCall – The writing process for this record was long and intense (laughs). This was the record that took us the longest to do simply because it involved working in ways that we had yet to experience and try, which was the absolute goal of writing this record in the first place. This record carried out simply because we felt that we have reached the creative end of the same process that we have been using for all the records previously. We just want to basically go and revisit old well-worn parts, so we decided to do something different. That meant figuring out what that thing was. It involved a lot of trial and error, refinement, and a lot of evolution when it comes to skills, and learning what to do and what not to do. What to plan when, and what works and what does not. How to craft a completely different sound without losing everything that we loved about this band in the first place. It was a very long process, but it was probably one of the most fulfilling and creative time we have ever had in this band, to be honest. It definitely felt like the start of something new, rather than the end of something old, which is pretty cool.
CrypticRock.com – Progression is essential for any musician, so one can imagine the challenge behind Ire was rather inspiring for the band. Many would say this record is a bold step forward for the band. The overall sound is heavy, but perhaps Parkway Drive’s most instrumentally textured release to date. Was that an objective this time around?
Winston McCall – Yes, basically, adding more dynamics to the sound full stop was a goal for this record. When it came to figuring out the sound that we wanted, we knew that the things we loved about the band was melody, the dynamics, and heaviness. When you are looking at those three things, and you have created four records of songs, it is really fantastic to be able to look at what you have done and say, “Ok, how can we take these same elements and apply them in a different way?” Basically. the idea was to add far more dynamic and texture to those basic elements and use them in ways that we have not used them previously. Yes, that 100% was the goal and I really think we achieved it. At the same point in time, it was a goal that we were not quite sure was achievable until we finished the record. I think I said previously, this definitely feels like the beginning of something new rather than the end of something old. This was the record where we did not know was quite possible till we finished actually recording it and realized that we could see what we thought we were capable of. It has now opened doors far wider than we ever thought was possible musically with this band, which is a really, really cool thing. Hopefully we can expand on that in the future.
CrypticRock.com – Judging by the outcome of Ire, it will be exciting to see where the future takes Parkway Drive for sure. Following 2005’s Killing with a Smile and 2007’s Horizons, each album thereafter you have worked with a different producer. What did George Hadji-Christou bring to the table this time around?
Winston McCall –We have worked with different producers yes. For anyone that has not heard this story yet, George Hadji-Christou is actually a friend of our sound guy. So, pretty much, out of anyone in the world, he is the guy that has heard more Parkway Drive shows than anyone else, other than the band. He has been with us for about seven years I think. Basically, he brought not only wonderful production knowledge, along with his brother Dean, who was the engineer for it. Fantastic skills for when it actually came to creating the sound and capturing of. He also was in a very similar boat to us of knowing what works live for us, what works for us as a band, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are. At the same time, having an independent voice as to encourage us to try new things and working with different instruments. He brought a massive amount to the table. I do not think this record would have sounded anything like this if it was not for him. At the same point in time, he is almost a member of the band. He has been there for so long that it was nice to put validation to things that he has been yelling at us for a long time (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It great you had a chance to work with him; it paid off. Another aspect of the band which has always stood out is the clearly deep lyrics. These are obviously very personal topics that you speak of. Do you find the lyric writing to be a therapeutic release?
Winston McCall – Yes, I do. It is an outlet, that is the thing. For me, I have always loved writing. It is a wonderfully creative process to be able to work with words. I cannot play any instruments, so my outlet for that creativity is, I guess, using words to paint some kind of a picture of what I am feeling. It has always been the case. This time around, it was very similar to everything in the past, but at the same point in time, there was more restraint placed on the vocals and also the amount of lyrics put into songs. This meant not necessarily sacrificing the quality, but having to work harder to be able to achieve the vision that I wanted for the actual lyrics. This was in context with, I guess, a much more refined music picture on the whole rather than necessarily being able to put as much as I want in. Sometimes I could not do that simply because of the way we needed the other instruments to shine. It was definitely a work of restraint a lot of the time. Balancing the two was a fantastic challenge.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well your voice is your instrument; you certainly have always done a fine job of using it to express the emotion of your lyrics. Parkway Drive recently completed a North American tour with Miss May I, Thy Art Is Murder, and In Hearts Wake. How did the tour go?
Winston McCall – Absolutely amazing. This was the best tour of North America I have ever done, hands down. That is really awesome because this is the album release tour for Ire. So far, this has been the best received tour we have ever released. It is really nice to be able to come back and play these shows which are so far ahead of anything we have done before over here, which is saying a lot and it is really heartwarming. At the same point in time, we have a whole batch of songs that you have poured your heart and soul into. To be able to play them alongside songs that people have held so dearly for so long, and have them stand up straight away and be highlights in a set, it made it such a fantastic experience.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic. It was a wonderful tour with a great lineup, and it is great to hear it was the best North American tour for Parkway Drive thus far. Being a band which has spent many years on the road touring around the world, playing Vans Warped Tour and more, what are some of the more important things you have learned about keeping yourself healthy and grounded on the road?
Winston McCall – Number one, health is basically paramount for this band. We do care about being 100% the best we can be on stage. I do not ever want to be someone who thinks he is above giving a show to the people that have paid money to actually give us the privilege to be on stage. Every time I go on stage, I want to make sure all of my energy is spent giving that back, basically. For me and the rest of the band, it is that thing of juggling a lifestyle, input and output, when it comes to eating and being physical. The days of me basically going and doing whatever the hell I wanted, wearing myself out, and just coming on stage twenty minutes, going crazy, and hoping the vocals sound alright are gone. My vocal performance, for me especially, is my 100% all for every show. That involves watching diet, making sure I am fit, healthy, and stretched up; basically making sure the show is the focus.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you take staying healthy so seriously. Parkway Drive clearly has a broad range of influences, judging by the progression of the band’s sound. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Winston McCall – It is very broad, and it is broad within the individuals themselves, let alone every individual having their own taste within that as well. Me personally, actually for the whole band, it is pretty much nothing heavy that actually influences us, which is an interesting thing to come about at this point in time. I guess because we listen to the heavy music every single night on tour, you kind of end up not wanting to listen to that, and listen to something else in your off time. Which means you listen to a whole bunch of different stuff. For me personally, it is absolutely everything from current music to old music like The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, and stuff like that. Tom Waits and Nick Cave especially, for vocal performances than actual lyricism, and stuff like that. Lately, a lot of Chvrches. Yes, so as you can see, there is a variation in there.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great mix of classic artists. It is good to be diverse in musical tastes. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror/Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorite films?
Winston McCall – I am possibly one of the biggest Star Wars nerds on the planet. Massive, absolutely massive. I have Vader tattooed on my arm in a bible, so, um, yes, absolutely. I love Star Wars, absolutely freaking out the possibility that this next one is not going to suck. I will be very distressed if J. J. Abrams blows this (laughs). Star Wars or die, yup, that is me.