For Winston McCall, the experience of recording Parkway Drive's new record Reverence was closer to an exorcism than a creative endeavor. When the singer entered the studio to track the band's sixth full-length he was still grappling with some serious emotional pain from the deaths of two people close to the Australian act.
The all-consuming grief he experienced totally altered the way he operated, and in an effort to mirror the songs' crushing subject matter, he decided to create the most physically uncomfortable situation under which to record. For certain tracks, like the vicious "Wishing Wells," that meant recording in darkness with the studio heat turned way up and clawing at his own face, and for others, like the requiem "The Colour of Leaving, " that meant clearing everyone from the room just so he could simply "get through the grief of actually saying the words."
The results, as heard on Reverence's 10 tracks, are staggering, and make for the metalcore act's most personal, ambitious and cathartic album to date. And while McCall freely admits that the new record shares sonic DNA with 2015's breakthrough, Ire, he's also quick to stress that Reverence is the shadow side of that album — a fact that's evident in everything from the lyrics to the artwork, which depict the fall from light to darkness.
"It really hurts and it still really hurts and it's not something I'm getting closure from by writing this," says McCall of the personal losses that informed the record's dark themes. "I didn't do it to relate to anyone or get across any particular message. It's just time goes on and that's just more space between pain, but the pain doesn't dull."
We spoke with McCall about how he harnessed his pain to create Reverence, why he leaned into his own discomfort during the recording process, and how his newfound realizations about mortality made him strive to appreciate every moment.
WE HEARD THAT YOU RECORDED REVERENCE WITH THE LIGHTS OFF AND THE HEAT CRANKED UP TO MAKE IT MORE UNCOMFORTABLE. IS THAT TRUE?
WINSTON MCCALL That was just "Wishing Wells." Very early on in the process of writing I looked at the performance theme, the way we wanted it written and the way we wanted it to sound. It was finding the actual character of the song and highlighting that for the actual music as well the vocal delivery. That also meant physically being uncomfortable when it came to vocal takes.
"Wishing Wells" was very raw so that involved a very raw process of me screaming in the dark pawing at my face and basically being uncomfortable. Then you've got the last song "The Colour of Leaving." When we were recording that it was just me and the producer because I couldn't have anyone else there [while I was] simply trying to get through the grief of actually saying the words.
HOW DO YOU MENTALLY PREPARE TO RECORD VOCALS FOR SOMETHING LIKE "THE COLOUR OF LEAVING"?
That was terrifying, basically. I wrote those words … literally it would have been within hours of saying good-bye to family and friends as distraught as I could be. I just wrote them down because I was like, "Fuck it, this is what I do, I write things," and that ended up being the song. [The lyrics] sat there literally until we recorded, we didn't even have music for it, I just knew that part of the song.
But the first time I sung that song was in the studio the night before recording. I couldn't ... I got like two lines in and lost it, so that's why it was just me and George [Hadji-Christou], our producer. Four takes — and the take where I'm not completely broken down is the one you get on the record. There was no preparing for it, it was simply just do it and hopefully it works musically, because in the end it's a eulogy, so it's a hard thing to record.
IS THERE A CATHARTIC ASPECT TO MAKING YOURSELF THAT VULNERABLE? DO YOU FEEL LIKE DOING THAT HELPS YOU FORGE A DEEPER CONNECTION WITH LISTENERS?
To be honest, no. [Laughs] It's been really hard to talk about and my go-to thing was during the first couple of interviews when people would ask that question, I'd just go, "Yeah, yeah of course." But the reality is it's not. It really hurts and it still really hurts and it's not something I'm getting closure from by writing this; it's simply there and I don't think this is something that's going to heal and I didn't do it to relate to anyone or get across any particular message. It's just time goes on and that's just more space between pain, but the pain doesn't dull. That's the best answer I can give.
A LOT OF BANDS WILL CONSCIOUSLY TRY TO NOT LISTEN TO MUSIC WHEN THEY'RE WRITING AND RECORDING. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU ATTEMPTED TO DO WHILE MAKING THIS ALBUM?
Yeah, it was the cliché of that, but the thing that we found is that [when you're] a band for ten years people go, "That's what this band is." So when we made Ire all of the sudden people were like, "Oh my god, they sound like Bon Jovi, no they sound like Rage Against the Machine, no they sound like these other things." All of the sudden every name in the world is thrown at you other than your band name. [Laughs] So we were pretty isolationist when it came to the sounds outside of us.
About two years of writing went into this and during the entire writing process I'd say there was close to zero outside reference brought in. It was more us just sitting there and playing and when something sparked our interest we just honed in on that. We kept continually refining what the defining quality of the music was until it ended up in a place where we felt it was completely natural to us.
WHAT'S THE MEANING BEHIND THE TITLE REVERENCE AND HOW DOES THAT FIGURE INTO THINGS THEMATICALLY?
The name was one of the last things to come about for the album. That came to me one of the last days of pre-recording; I just had left the studio and the name popped into my head and it immediately made sense but I didn't know why. [Subsequently] that word ended up being the last line "The Colour of Leaving." That was literally the last phrase I wrote for the album because I didn't have a way to end that song.
As soon as I wrote that, I realized what the defining aspect of this entire album was: The idea of reverence was taking stock of the time and the little things that matter which make up the whole experience of your life. It's the fragility of everything that makes the ordinary so special. Making this album wasn't about going back to something simply because it was safe, it was the idea of trying because you might not get that chance to try again.