While we’ve adjusted to the fact that the metalcore boom has taken extreme music to wider audiences than one could ever have imagined a few years back, the sudden rise of Parkway Drive has still taken many of us by surprise. Hailing from the small surfing town of Byron Bay in Australia, the five-piece have managed to successfully ride the genre’s current wave of popularity, selling out almost every date on their recent UK tour, including two consecutive nights in London.
Sitting in the band’s tour bus, chatting with vocalist Winston McCall while guitarist Jeff Ling annihilates anything that moves with an array of futuristic weapons (he’s playing Halo 3), it’s a pleasant surprise to find a complete lack of ego amongst the assembled – fitting perhaps for a band grounded enough to name themselves after their rehearsal space. Rather than let their meteoric ascent go to their heads, the guys are clearly just enjoying the ride.
“We’re basically a bunch of friends that started a band, started touring, made a split CD with some other friends and somehow now we’re playing two nights in London,” smiles Winston. “As soon as the ball started rolling it didn’t stop. It’s one of those things I still haven’t gotten used to – we’re just completely grateful for every opportunity we’re given. We never set out to do this as a career, we’re just stoked to be having fun.”
The aforementioned split CD, released in 2003 with fellow Australians I Killed The Prom Queen – a band who at that point had a reasonably established following – undoubtedly gave Parkway an early boost, one they capitalised on two years later with their debut full-length Killing With A Smile. Taking the bold decision to travel to America in order to utilise the production skills of Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz, Parkway created a powerful album whose stand-out tracks, such as Romance Is Dead and Smoke ’Em If Ya Got ’Em, made an impression on fans and critics alike, as well as with one Epitaph Records.
“We’ve been on Resist Records since we started,” explains Winston. “When the first album came out they sent it to the US, but no one wanted to sign us until they’d seen us. Of course we couldn’t tour the States until we had a record out there, so it was a catch 22 situation, we had no hope at all. Then Epitaph got hold of the album and said they wanted to sign us without seeing us, which was amazing ’cos we come from a surf punk background ourselves. To be able to do what we do, but on Epitaph, is perfect.”
Since then the band’s popularity has continued to grow unabated. But what is it that’s enabled the band to achieve such success? After all, though Parkway are a great example of the genre, their combination of hardcore breakdowns, emotive riffing and Swedish-style death metal guitar parts certainly isn’t entirely unique or original.
“That’s a good question, I’m trying to work that out myself,” Winston laughs. “If I could figure it out I could set up a whole other bunch of bands that would do well too. I think part of it is that we have always written for ourselves as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, I’m sure kids will like this’. I think maybe people see that we’re an honest band rather than one that’s trying to make money or ‘cash in’ on a certain sound.”
Of course that’s what a lot of groups say, but in this case it does rings true. There is an honesty about the band that sets them apart from the many faceless bands in the scene. Perhaps it comes from the fact that they pre-date metalcore’s explosion, coming instead from the era when ‘metalcore’ bands comprised of hardcore kids influenced by metal, as opposed to metalcore kids influenced by, er, metalcore.
“It’s strange, it’s become so much bigger,” ponders the amiable vocalist. “When we started playing this music there was no ‘metalcore’, just metallic hardcore. Now it’s seen as something of a cash cow and bands take influence from second- or third-generation bands as opposed to the innovators. It’s become packaged… like underground pop. As soon as MySpace came along it just blew up. I guess that’s just life.
I never saw it coming, but then I never saw MySpace coming and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for MySpace. I mean how the hell would people know about a band from Byron Bay if it wasn’t for that?”
Indeed. Still, the band’s live shows are testament to their hardcore roots, their explosive sets as upbeat and crowd-involving as they are punishing. Their most recent Underworld appearance saw a complete invasion of the stage, rather a good representation of the band’s willingness to embrace their crowd rather than attempt to stand above them in some way.
“I’ve never understood the idea of a musician being worshipped in a rock star kind of way,” explains Winston. “That’s kind of why I got into hardcore in the first place, because there was no division between the audience and the crowd. It was all kids doing it for themselves, rather than everyone looking up to someone ’cos they could hit some strings on a piece of wood. There are definitely rock stars in the scene, people that think they’re owed the world and, of course, people change with success… but for us it hasn’t been that way.”
Perhaps Parkway Drive are just too busy to get big heads. Despite almost constant touring following their debut – playing Australia, the US and Europe with acts including Hatebreed, In Flames and Killswitch Engage – the enthusiastic Aussies somehow found time to write and record a follow-up to Killing…, returning to America to record with Adam Dutkiewicz.
“The first time around we chose him because we wanted a certain sound and we felt we couldn’t do that in Australia because of both the equipment and the producers,” Winston explains. “The way he recorded was the main thing we went back for. He picks up things we’d never have thought of. We kind of got used to having our songs ripped to shreds – the first time we went in with these songs we thought were so good, but then he’d say, ‘This would sound better moved here’, and we’d feel he was brutalising our work. Then we’d try it, it would sound better and we’d be like, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’”
Though determined not to record Killing… part two, Horizons is nonetheless not a huge departure in terms of style, although there is a noticeable progression in terms of technicality, with math-rock overtones creeping further into the song writing. Though working when they can on new material, as well as a documentary DVD, the band are currently intent on taking their music as far afield as they can.
“We’ve always stood behind the idea of touring as many places as we can and going to places that perhaps don’t have access to our kind of music,” Winston concludes. “We’re trying to do that on a worldwide scale. Even if there are 20 kids, if it’s a remote place, those kids will have the time of their life and that’s so rewarding. I value that as much as two sold-out nights in London.”
Earlier this year - backstage at Download Festival - Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall sat down with The Metal Hammer Magazine Show to talk sky diving, the album Ire and why Bad Religion mean so much.
Parkway Drive are Hammer’s latest cover stars and they’re bloody furious, to find out more then click the link below.