When Protest the Hero was coming through on their tour in support of their brand new record, I sat down with their vocalist Rody Walker and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi for some questions. You can also catch a brief recap of the show here:
I understand you wrote most of the lyrics on Scurrilous instead of Arif. What was the experience like?
Rody: It was interesting, it wasnít really like a conscious thing, you know? It was like Arif had written a couple of sets and he didnít seem too interested in writing anymore. And I had written a couple of sets at that point so I just kind of finished. In a lot of the interviews weíve been doing, people have been thinking there was some sort of confrontation that transpired between Arif and I, but truthfully it was just the way it panned out so I did it.
Arif: Yeah, I think a lot of the album is more of a return to more conventional song writing. I think it just makes sense to have the singer also writing the lyrics. There were difficulties we had in terms of phrasing before. And also itís interesting to see the ideas in the lyrics change and shift focus with the music as well. Before sometimes half an idea was communicated in one section and then it was completed in a different section.
Rody: Yeah, I used to take his lyrics and cut them up and use whatever pieces I needed.
Arif: It was sort of a backwards method that we had and it worked in some ways. But the time for that is over and weíre pushing on into new frontiers. And in my opinion itís worked really well. I think that the ultimate test of that will be a few months down the line when our audience is more familiar with the songs. Just to watch the enthusiasm of the crowd participation and get to the point where we can hone in on the powerful hooks that people are really going to be enjoying in a live environment.
Can you talk about the Star Trek references in your lyrics?
Rody: The most obvious ones are ďDunselĒ and ďTapestry.Ē ďTapestryĒ is named after one of my favourite TNG episodes and ďDunselĒ is used in an episode of the original series. I donít want to give away too many of them because thereís a couple that are going to take kids awhile to get. Or theyíre going to have to be watching certain movies and then theyíll hear certain lines and realize itís so word for word. [Laughs]
How else would you say this record varies from your previous ones? I know this one isnít a concept record like your last two.
Rody: It was actually very similar to how we did the other records, at least the recording process. Arif and Moe finished up very quickly. These two assholes on guitar took an eternity. [Laughs] And my part usually takes three weeks.
Arif: I think its best not to over think the song writing process. Instrumentally weíll get something together and then hand it off to Rody to put a set of lyrics to it. We might oversimplify it that way, but itís worked for us for a better part of the decade and I donít see that changing anytime soon.
Speaking of recording, this is also your third record with Julius Butty. Why do you keep going back to him?
Rody: Um, we donít really know anyone else. [Laughs] No, he just really understands our type of music. Speaking for myself, heís an incredible vocalist and he has an incredible ear for harmony and melody so I donít know that I would ever be as comfortable with anyone else.
Arif: Yeah, I think comfort is a key word. When youíre going into a situation where youíre recording in a big studio, which Iím quite frankly a little shy, a little nervous to go into, itís good to see a familiar face in there. Especially a guy whoís personality meshes so well with the guys in the band. Itís very soothing, very calming and I think that allows you to relax and to get the best performance possible in that strange, alien environment. With that being said, the guitars and vocals were actually done in his home studio, which is obviously a greater example of being comfortable in a studio environment.
Your video was just released on Monday for ďCíest la VieĒ and I was just wondering if anything memorable happened on set?
Rody: Um, I donít know. I donít think these guys would even fucking know. [Laughs]
Arif: Yeah, I think the instrumentalists in the band lucked out. Because we were there, we had to sit in a chair and pretend we were playing the song for like two hours and that was kind of the extent of it. Whereas in the past, weíve had video shoots that were like 20 hours long so I considered it a bit of a vacation shoot. I had a good time, but he had to stick around and schlep it out for a little bit.
Rody: All day long. I donít think anything overly interesting happened. Actually there was one very Alfred Hitchcock shot. But that didnít make the final cut because the kid who was acting in it was a little melodramatic. They were doing a zoom towards him while pulling the camera backwards. So his face stayed the same, but the background wrapped around his head and it was very cool. But the kid looked ridiculous.
It also touches on the very serious topic of suicide, just like the song.
Arif: Right, which has kind of given us some roadblocks in the way of getting it on television. Not too many networks are keen on playing, I donít want to say pro suicide, but anything that implies suicide. Theyíre very sensitive to that issue. For whatever reason, I kind of think thatís dumb, but we have had networks say that they will absolutely not put this on the air. Thankfully the Internetís there.
Rody: And it makes sense, I donít see what the fucking problem with the video is, but it does make sense from their standpoint. Like if they get a phone call from some concerned parents saying ĎMy kidís cutting the shit out of himself watching this music videoí then they canít defend it. Like what can they do?
Arif: Yeah absolutely. Itís not their fault, itís no oneís fault. Probably ours actually.
Rody: Probably our fault.
Yeah, itís interesting you brought that up because reading some comments on the Internet, people have been misinterpreting it in that way already. Like it's glorifying suicide.
Arif: I donít accept suicide as any of those no, no, taboo words that youíre not allowed to bring up. Everyone has dealt with suicide at some level in their life, at least anyone I know. Obviously itís not a glorification of suicide, I think thatís such a stupid thing to say.
Rody: Itís just almost exactly a visual depiction of the lyrics of the song.
Arif: Weíre not saying go out and kill yourselves. I mean if youíre that hung up on it, maybe you should. [Laughs]
Rody: In your face commenters. [Laughs]
Arif: Some commenters on the Internet are just the lowest, bottom feeding class of society. But you know, Iím one of them. Iíve gone on YouTube and just said, what do they call it, trolling?
Arif: Yeah, Iíve been an Internet troll before, but I donít approve of it.
Rody: Trolling is actually true, like someone was thinking when they came up with that. Because trolling is when youíre in your boat and youíve got your sinking line in the water and youíre just slowly driving through the lake waiting for someone to bite. Or something to bite rather. [Laughs]
Arif: I think of crotchety trolls living under a bridge. [Laughs]
Rody: Sorry, we kind of got really off topic.
No problem, thatís cool. The last track ďSex TapesĒ has a Winnipeg connection. I understand you got Chris Hannah from Propagandhi to sing on that track?
Rody: I think Luke and I were just kind of hanging out, having a beer or two. And we were looking for a guest vocalist, we thought it would be neat to have someone appear. And we had toured with Propagandhi a year ago and I think collectively you would be hard pressed to find a band the five of us would agree on so absolutely. So he was really the only one to come in mind, other than maybe Todd. So we shot him an email and he replied very quickly. He sang it beautifully and it was fucking huge for us.
Will he be here tonight?
Rody: No, heís in Jamaica. Iím not sure what heís doing there, but he wonít be here tonight. We werenít going to say anything, we werenít going to be like ĎOh, weíre playing. Do you want to sing?í We were just going to wait for him to bring it up or not. We donít want to look like complete fools in front of him because eventually heíll realize the fools we are anyway.
Moving back to the record overall, I assumed Scurrilous was based on all the things that have been said on stage over the years. But I found it interesting that the title actually came from your cover art, which is actually a painting by Arifís grandfather.
Arif: Yeah, I think thatís kind of whatís made it work. Rody and all of us have gotten ourselves in some sticky situations sometimes. Not malicious things, but what other people might consider inappropriate. Choadyís got a bit of a scurrilous tongue on him doesnít he?
Rody: Aye. [Laughs]
Arif: And thereís a song on the record about that. Anyone who pays attention to a tune called ďTongue-SplitterĒ is going to realize that itís about having that scurrilous attitude and saying what you will for better or for worse. And whether you realize what youíre doing or not.
Rody: Thereís also a Winnipeg reference in that song.
Really? I canít have listened very closely.
Rody: It just straight up mentions Winnipeg and itís about something that occurred here years ago. Itís something that I donít care to speak about.
Fair enough. I know you had a side project called Cheddar Cheese and the Mouse Trap. Whatís going on with that?
Rody: The status is on hiatus. [Laughs] It was something that I did, a couple of funny ditties that I wrote and we did a few shows. I donít have much interest in doing that again. However, Arif and I are considering doing another project. I donít know when anything will come of it, but weíre going to try our hand at writing some tunes and have some fun.
Can you go into more detail?
Arif: There isnít much more detail to go into. Itís just an idea at this point. Its fun after all these years of playing this style of music, but it would be fun to get out there and try something else because you donít have to take it as seriously. Thereís one thing you do as your job or career, so we could just relax and play an instrument and have fun. Choady has instilled the love of country music in me so we thought it would be cool to do something like that.
Interesting. That actually reminds me of Jadea Kelly, the other guest vocalist on your record, who does some country too.
Rody: Thatís right. Arif actually played bass for her quite frequently in Toronto.
Arif: Yeah, sheís been a friend of mine since high school as well and itís great to see her career taking off in the way that it is.
Lastly, what are your plans in the future?
Arif: Weíre going to move to Nashville. No, itís going to be same old. Weíll go to the four corners of the Earth promoting this new record before heading back to the studio again. Weíre starting off in North America.
Rody: And then Europe and do some wonderful festivals. And weíre going to Newfoundland.
Arif: Yeah, weíre going to Newfoundland in the fall and we couldnít be happier.
Awesome, not a lot of bands seem to tour there so Iím sure theyíll be stoked.
Arif: Yeah. Weíve been a few times now and honestly any band that doesnít go there is missing out. Itís hard to find a group of people in Canada who appreciate live music so much and love both live music and music in general. Itís so into their cultural fabric and they just love it. And thereís a lot of drinking as well.
Rody: Yeah, thatís a really appealing factor for us. Newfoundland will always have a very special place in our hearts. And we love it more than anywhere else in this god forsaken country.