In the deluge of swooshy-hair scene-kids and synchronized headbangs during the mid-2000s, it was hard to imagine how metalcore as a genre would grow up. Many bands in that scene either broke up or chased the hope of getting on the radio by going full-on buttrock, and leaving their previous genre entirely. Few acts struck around to advance the genre out of that Warped Tour world or iterate it in any interesting new ways.
The Devil Wears Prada have always been the exception. Since the Ohio Christian metalcore crew's start in 2005, and 2006 debut Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord, the band has been leading the genre's evolution. TDWP's early music would inadvertently set the tone for a generation of bands: their formula of clean singing, screaming and lacing breakdowns with synths and keyboards would become the go-to for many years. Each successive album meant continuous growth for the band. And gradually over the years The Devil Wears Prada began incorporating influences from other genres — 2016's Transit Blues presented the band merging post-rock and sludge along with their metalcore roots.
That experimentation hits new highs on their new and seventh studio album, The Act. Those early strands of metalcore DNA remain as there's plenty of heaviness and singing to be found on the record. But beyond that, the group deconstructed the elements that make up a -core song and found ways to subvert them. More than ever, singer Jeremy DePoyster is the center of many of these songs. But instead of leaning on predictable good cop/bad cop vocal tropes, his voice becomes as malleable as any other instrument. Tracks like "Wave of Youth" have him go from shakily reflective to finding an inner strength as the song progresses. Vocalist Mike Hranica also pushes his vocals on the record in a far different way than other metalcore bands, finding gray area in his screams to express a wide range of emotions on confessional tracks like "Diamond Lost."
The record is easily the most complex thing the band has done, and illustrates the rich creative possibilities that metalcore (and heavy music in general) can offer beyond ultra-heavy breakdown bashers. We spoke to Hranica about the writing of the album, his personal vision of hell, how dark singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe influenced The Act and more.
I READ THERE WERE 57 PROPOSED SONGS THAT GOT REJECTED FOR THE NEW ALBUM. DOES STUFF LIKE THAT CREATE TENSION IN THE BAND? HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE THE PROCESS CREATIVELY?
MIKE HRANICA I don't think so, I mean really the people who made those calls were just [keyboardist/producer] Jon [Gering] and [guitarist] Kyle [Sipress], who really are the creators of what this record is instrumentally. So I think most of that was handled between them, and I don't think there's any friction. Jon openly has regarded himself as manipulative; he's good at being able to arrange situations where you agree with him and you come to terms with doing things his way. Which is a really terrific ability or characteristic to a producer. [Laughs] It's kind of weird to call someone manipulative as a compliment rather than an insult, but that's actually how Jon works. He's also introspective at the same time and doesn't have that thing to him where it's like "my way is the right way and that's the only way to go about it." Jon doesn't have that but he does have the reasonableness to where he can get things done his way, but be democratic with all parties involved.
WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER MY ENTRY POINT TO WHAT THE BAND DID WAS DEFINITELY THE SYNTH-BREAKDOWNS. THIS RECORD, THERE'S A LOT OF OFF-KILTER ELECTRONIC INJECTIONS INTO THE MUSIC THAT MAKE IT REALLY STAND OUT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THE BAND'S RELATIONSHIP WITH ELECTRONIC ELEMENTS HAS EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
I think those are really good inquiries because it's changed so dramatically. You think back 15 years about what electronics were doing in heavy music, straight up I think of "Cutsman" by Horse the Band and Nintendo breakdowns. [Laughs] We were these scenesters who'd fucking eat it up. Prada for so long was guitar-driven metalcore songs and then you put vocals and electronic "stuff" over it. Jon and Kyle, how they approached putting it together ... the closest thing I could relate it to was that Imogen Heap documentary from years ago. She's just walking around with a recorder and making sounds on the stairwell and making music out of that. No part of me ever wants to regard Prada as some avant-garde project, super experimental or whatever. But that kind of mentality is like boldly made up songs, a lot of the songs are made from these strange loops created even by accident.
HORSE THE BAND IS INTERESTING TO ME JUST BECAUSE I'VE NEVER SEEN A BAND INSTANTLY REJECT WHAT THEY WERE GOOD AT LIKE THAT. THEY SORT OF INSTANTLY HATED THE ATTENTION THEY GOT FROM NINTENDO NERDS AND METALCORE KIDS, WHEN I THINK THOSE PARTS OF THE SONGS WERE USED AS A COUNTERWEIGHT TO SUBJECT MATTER ABOUT BEING ABUSED.
It's funny kind of looking at that. A band like that where, at least from my perception they did something people loved and then they rejected it, "No that's not what we were trying to do." I always think back to Job for a Cowboy, everyone was freaking the fuck out over this "bree" thing. I remember one of our first tours, Acacia Strain was on it and they had a "Bree Free Since 03" shirt, and it was a big thing. I don't know Knocked Loose well but I've heard they have this bark thing and everyone was like, "Oh you gotta do it again," but he was like, "Fuck that." I think gimmickry gets stickered onto bands when they want to have more to their work.
DID THAT INSTINCT EVER GUIDE THE WAY YOU GUYS WANTED TO MOVE AS A BAND? IT SEEMED LIKE THERE WAS SUCH A CONSCIOUS DEPARTURE FROM THE PREVIOUS STUFF WHEN DEAD THRONE HAPPENED THAT I FIGURED YOU MUST'VE BEEN AWARE OF HOW PEOPLE PERCEIVED THE BAND.
Yeah, it was all just, and I hate using those words, but it was so entirely natural for Dead Throne to be what Dead Throne was. We had a lot of rejecting of what we were too, especially when you think of fucking "Still Fly," which we still vehemently loathe. Even "Dogs" and not playing these songs. It'd probably help ticket sales. It'd benefit us by monetary means to throw back to some of that shit, but it's just too hard to swallow that six weeks on the road at a time or whatever.
So I think even talking about bands that reject their own work or things that they did, we were definitely the same way. When we did With Roots Above everyone was calling Plagues a screamo record, and I was like… I mean I regard Envy as screamo; MySpace stuff wasn't screamo. I certainly reject that sentiment, and With Roots Above I wanted to do something that was very much a metalcore record. In '02, the shit I was more into was the Trustkill and Metal Blade stuff. I recently revisited this band If Hope Dies, and man it's still so good, the Life Once Lost kinds of riffs. That's where I wanted to be, not so much what became the Rise Records world. Roots was the first step and Dead Throne was the next one, especially because Adam D [Dutkiewicz, producer and Killswitch Engage guitarist] was the guy making the Unearth-vibe shit we were chasing after.
WAS THERE SOMETHING THEMATICALLY GUIDING YOUR LYRICS ON THE ACT?
Musically, and it feels silly to say this, but the piece that came out that we were all — at least Jon, Kyle and I — really enjoyed collectively was Hiss Spun from Chelsea Wolfe. Usually Jon, Kyle and I are on different planets as far as what we like to listen to ourselves recreationally, [but] there was a lot in that record that checked a lot of boxes for us, particularly in moodiness. Anything else thematically was for me, just hell. "The Thread" had a bit of hell as industrial metaphor song and rust driven song. Those notations of hell, I mentioned it myself and Jon also mentioned hell in his lyrics, which is why the album cover is a representation of hell that Dan Seagrave worked from my idea.
I feel that's a bit of it, I feel like there's also a bit from where I've been at religiously, and as a Christian, and somehow still being a Christian because there aren't many of us left anymore. [Laughs] ... That's kind of a thing for me. I wrote a song about it and Jon shot it down, with good cause. I get it, and the song wasn't good enough or worthwhile. But I've had such an internal struggle with heaven and hell, and this extremely selfish desire of Christians to feel the need to be guaranteed heaven, and then the question of why would you be a Christian if you don't aspire heaven? It's certainly something that weighed on me and on my conscious and reflective brain. I think a part of that is my perception of hell which did make the record, which is the reference itself.
WHAT IS HELL FOR YOU?
I almost said traffic. [Laughs] I think claustrophobia, if hell were real and I were to go to hell it would be the situation of not being able to leave somewhere. That's a part of my own personal anxiety, and someone that battle with anxiety on a daily basis ... my panicky nature is born from the realization of not being able to get out of a place. I tell people, my first proper panic attack and diagnosis was during a haircut, it was because I couldn't leave. It's funny but I'm glad I don't get it while I'm playing, and I'm always worried I'm going to have a panic attack on a plane because it's a place you can't leave. I get that way in the car, and whenever we're on tour and we have a really long drive and we don't get there til noon versus waking up and you're already there, I get that claustrophobic of not being able to step out of the vehicle. I guess for me, if there was a hell it would be stuck somewhere without any sense of escape.
AS A CHRISTIAN, DOES THAT IDEA OF DAMNATION WEIGH ON YOU? HOW DO YOU PROCESS THOSE IDEAS ON A DAILY LEVEL?
I was having a discussion with a friend on tour who has left his Christian faith, and [my friend] says, "I get it and adhere and admire the doctrines of Christianity as far as our commandments, but why do we still have to worship to get that? I can be a good person without subscribing to faith."
I totally get that and I've contemplated and considered that a lot since learning my friend's thoughts on faith. But there's still so many times in my life to be reminded of what I see as God's grace to be able to uncloud my brain of something unnecessary. So it's sort of still something that's worthwhile for me ... prayer and the part of me that wants to believe. Did you watch the Rick Rubin documentary series on Showtime?
I really loved it. One of the episodes was about faith and Rick's thing of he believes in everything. And I love that so much, because it's like what do you have to lose? We're living in this deeply agnostic time of such great weight and impact based on what you believe, and I love the romantic "I believe in everything." Why not? I guess that the same sort of mentality can reflect in like, you can't love anything wholeheartedly if you love everything. But I love the spirituality of Rick talking about it, it's so dreamy and inspiring to me.
I still have this part of me that goes by the Christian faith and considers himself a Christian and actively prays and enjoys where science and spirituality meet. [Laughs] Sorry that my thoughts about my religion came in on our interview. I feel inclined to describe that being in relation to this band, it's hard to call it a once-Christian band because that would make so much drama, and people eat that shit up like "are you still a Christian?" Who the fuck cares, we've just been saying "hey do what feels right for you" for so many years now, and what feels right to us is that of the Christian faith. And now, I think on some days of the week I'm the only Christian in the band. And it's like, "Well, I guess we are no longer Christian band," but we always hated the title anyways, why does it have to be one way or the other?
I THINK PEOPLE REALLY LOOK FOR A "GOTCHA MOMENT," THERE'S A FERVENCY THAT REMINDS ME OF KIDS FINDING OUT SOMEONE BROKE EDGE. PEOPLE WANT TO SEE SOMEONE LOSE FAITH.
For sure. I think just getting older and being a 30-year-old, it's a sign of lack of growth or wisdom to not be able to be malleable to our times. I think it does a disservice to be so stubborn about things. I think the thing for me being a person of Christian faith, it's hard for me to think about it a lot because I'm just so magnetized to politics, because I think it's our great tragedy right now where we are politically. Just where Christians are in the conservative party which just fucking kills me, I'm so concentrated on that where faith is less in my brain time.
And I get it, I used to be the same way when I was straight edge, when dudes dropped it or whatever it pissed me off. But I think it's a part of our time akin to being attracted to watching car crashes or something. We want to see something in our human nature die or go wrong, and we get so enamored with it. I see it a lot with the true crime craze. I love watching Mindhunter with my girlfriend, I think it's something in our psyche to want to see something go awry. I get it, I get a person never being involved in the Christian faith seeing a bunch of Super Church Christians fail or see the hypocrisy come out. With that on a different scale, I could see people… I don't know, I get why people would want to see me fail as a Christian or make a big deal of me saying a curse word or something.