The millennial metalcore generation grew up with The Devil Wears Prada. That certain age group, right in that pliant pocket for the band’s 2005 formation in Ohio, remember fondly their first two linchpin albums on Rise Records. They’ll remember their subsequent defining works — 2011’s Dead Throne and 2013’s 8:18 — as they matured with the band. Discerning heavy music devotees grew with the band, respecting the group’s conceptual exercises of 2010’s Zombie EP and last year’s Space EP.
Now, The Devil Wears Prada — changed, but the same — is preparing to release their most fully realized and refined LP, Transit Blues. Following the departure of members Chris Rubey and Daniel Williams and a move back to their original label, Rise Records, the group’s founding core of vocalist Mike Hranica, guitarist Jeremy DePoyster, and bassist Andy Trick is bolstered by guitarist Kyle Sipress and longtime touring keyboardist, Jonathan Gering. Haste the Day’s Giuseppe Capolupo stands in on drums.
I spoke with Hranica and DePoyster on a late autumn day regarding the new album, the band’s lineup changes, and, especially, their songwriting process. In a candid interview, DePoyster reveals his thoughts about working within a new lineup, and Hranica and I share an extended dialogue about the meanings and references behind the diverse lyrics of Transit Blues.
HM Magazine: Congratulations on Transit Blues. I’m really enjoying the album. How are you feeling about it?
Mike Hranica: It’s good. This state of purgatory between writing, recording, and the actual release of the album is always quite restless. I’m just anxious for people to hear it. The experience of releasing an LP, it almost feels like a waste of time to anticipate things too much; a lot of it’s out of your control. I think the most important, fruitful part is for fans to hear it, to see how they feel and to hear what the music says to them.
Jeremy DePoyster: I think it’s awesome. Ten years into a band, there’s a certain point where you’re like, “Should you guys even be doing this anymore?” You know, like, play your old stuff or whatever. But it’s sweet to actually have stuff where you’re like, “Yeah, we have to do this. This is so awesome.”
Especially with lineup changes and whatnot — that’s always gonna add in completely new factors. A huge part of this record was having Kyle come into such an active role, and Jon, our keyboard player, taking even more of an active role. Those guys are so talented, and it’s different from everything we had been doing. It gives you a reason to want to listen.
Did those lineup changes affect the writing and recording process?
It’s funny, because — especially Mike, Andy, and I — like, yeah, we’re the original three left. But we’re also really close friends, in life in general. Our chemistry has been so amazing throughout the years because we’ve become such good friends. It’s very cool to be in such a collaborative position. It’s cool to be able to extend that friendship into what we do with the band. You have all kinds of friends out there, but you don’t want to work with them on a daily basis. We’re just lucky that we have the best of both worlds.
MH: The way we work is we collectively write songs. Kyle has done a lot of it — same as, internally, what Chris’ role in the band was. Though, without Chris, the band is much more collaborative. Jeremy has much more of a say in writing leads, and I get to contribute guitar parts as well, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Jon also has a strong role in the songwriting process; he demos everything out and programs the drums. It’s really conducive, and it works well to go into the studio being prepared, which is what we did.
JD: We all just think very differently, musically, in what we like and don’t like. Although we all have similar tastes, it is very different. I think the level of respect that each individual person has for each other — it isn’t just the highest it’s ever been, it’s like 100,000 times higher than it’s ever been. There’s this feeling of come up with an idea. If it’s good, we’ll use it. If it’s not, we’ll do something else. It’s very communicative, and it only promotes the best ideas getting through.
“I think, after ten years, it needs to mean something. Otherwise, why are we still doing it?” Jeremy DePoyster
Jeremy, did you step it up in the guitar department now that Chris is gone?
Yeah. I think I had to, in a way. Kyle was not really used to writing and playing metal. I’m not a big person that writes and plays metal, so it was challenging for both of us to find what we like about heavy music and what we don’t like. It helps when Mike has these clear-cut ideas that are captivating outside of the music itself.
I’m a big Slayer and Metallica fan — I know everyone is — but think about “Raining Blood” or “Ride the Lighting,” any of those songs, and the riffs themselves accentuate what the song is actually about. So much of heavy music — not to down-talk it — but it just doesn’t do that. The riff will have nothing to do with the context of the words. I think, after ten years, it’s not enough for us to just have some funky little part. It needs to mean something. Otherwise, why are we still doing it?
How has Kyle been assimilating into the band?
The thing that’s so cool about Kyle is that he loves playing music so much, he practices so much, that he’s pushed me into practicing all the time. That’s been so much of my time lately: rehearsing and getting ready. We’re already talking about our fall set list, and what we’re gonna do on that. That’s another really cool thing about a lineup change like that. It’s very new for him, so it sparks this feeling of, like, “Yeah! Let’s do it!” All the way. One hundred percent. And that’s really inspiring for me. I think it’s been a big help to us all, as well.
And what was it like working with Dan Korneff again? I know he did the Space EP.
And he mixed 8:18. I literally can’t say enough good things about that guy. He’s probably one of the most understated but immensely talented people I’ve ever worked with. I think he’s almost an extension of this current lineup and group at this point. He has a way of capturing the differences of each individual member.
What was the transition like from Daniel to Giuseppe on drums for Transit Blues?
MH: When things fell apart with Daniel, Giuseppe learned the songs. He learned the demos we had pieced together and came in, like, three days later and knocked out the drums very quickly. It’s all been — at least, very subjectively and personally speaking — incredible.
I’ve known Giuseppe for nearly as long as this band’s been playing. We had some of our first shows with Once Nothing, Giuseppe’s band, and I’ve kept in touch with those guys. I’m actually just leaving Pittsburgh presently after staying with Giuseppe, so he’s been a close friend of all of ours for quite some time now. Actually having the opportunity to collaborate with him is something to be very grateful for. He’s a phenom behind the drums.
Mike, are you playing more guitar on the Transit Blues songs?
Not a lot more, but having a little bit of a voice here and there and recording a tiny bit was awesome. I have a bit of a role as far as helping with leads and tones and making sure we can establish a little more of an identity and a voice per song, specifically to the precise voicing of the instruments. That’s something that I wasn’t able to do earlier in the band’s career, but I try to weigh in on it now. I think I was able to with Transit Blues.
Is it just as the song dictates or did you contribute guitar to each track?
It’s really as the song dictates. When we did Dead Throne, our fourth full-length, I had an idea to write an instrumental, so we put together this song called “Kansas.” When we decided to play it, I was like, well, there’s three guitar parts. I’ll play. So I did, and it started from there.
Ever since, playing guitar live is my favorite part of the set. I tend to be rather heavy-handed with trying to force that in. Moving onward, we’ve been playing “War,” a song from 8:18, for a while, and I’m always super opinionated about trying to get that in the set because I get to play guitar. When we were doing the Space EP and then when we were doing the touring after Space, we were doing “Supernova,” and I realized we have more guitar parts than just what Jeremy and Kyle can play, so I ended up playing rhythm on “Supernova.” It developed from there. We have a song on Transit Blues called “Flyover States” that’s very much a three-guitar song, so I’m again being highly opinionated about being sure that we play it in the fall so I can get to play more.
What’s it like being back on Rise Records? Is it different from Roadrunner?
JD: I loved all the guys at Roadrunner, great people over there. The cool thing about Rise is that they have created such a stable business model they’re able to give resources to be able to do cool things. So many labels are just trying to figure out how to continue to make money, it’s hard to ask them for money to be able to do stuff. I think that’s a super-misunderstood part of the music industry. It’s like film. It’s like anything else. In order to get money to do stuff, you have to be able to convince people that you’re going to make money. With Rise, they just know how to make money, so they’re willing to give it to you (laughs).
“I think the initial idea was sparked because we’ve gained so much — we’re so lucky and blessed with the opportunities we’ve had — but we’ve lost so much of our lives doing only this. It happened so fast for us.” Jeremy DePoyster
The title of the record, Transit Blues — how literal is it? Is it meant to be a reference to touring?
MH: Yeah, in part. It can be as physical as traveling, but, at the same time, the idea I wanted to instill with “transit” is more the transition of growing — going from one place to another — whether it’s traveling or something like aging or maybe becoming smarter or maturing to a different relationship or family life. That act of going from one place to another is my idea of “transit” and what it’s meant to represent on the album.
JD: I think the initial idea was sparked because we’ve gained so much — we’re so lucky and blessed with the opportunities we’ve had — but we’ve lost so much of our lives doing only this. It happened so fast for us. We had success at such an early age, and it’s all we’ve ever really done. There is no kickball league. There’s no being able to see the family whenever. It doesn’t work like that for us.
I think all artists have a massive sacrifice. Even people like Rihanna or something, everyone’s like, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you’re so rich.” It’s like, yeah, but all the time and work that goes into it? I can imagine it’s even more depressing at times for them because you literally have no life.
Can we talk about the lyrics of Transit Blues? The first track, “Praise Poison” — what’s the poison being praised?
MH: Poison, to some extent, being alcohol. “Call me The Sound and the Fury” is a reference to the William Faulkner novel. Basically, it’s as much a song of self-abuse and degradation and my own addiction to alcohol as it is, in some aspects, an anti-idolatry song similar to what we did with Dead Throne. I don’t know, there’s something meant to be mundane there and in my own existence. I hate the idol worship, the hero worship, the expectation of this huge life playing music, when really I consider myself a very ordinary person.
I like that line, “It’s a Monday, let me be mundane.” What about the lyric, “You’re so bored, but there’s a choice”?
I think the “you’re so bored” is very much the Internet, voicing these totally useless opinions, in that, “You’re screaming without a voice.” It’s much of a departure from the drama and what I consider the blatant idiocy that you see happening online, the criticism and the expectations and obligations that certain people create for bands. Widely, at the same time, bands create the same thing in promoting themselves as these kind of gods, which I consider sort of bullsh-t, to be blatant.
How about “Daughter”? Was there a reason it was chosen as the first single, so to speak? Did you maybe feel it was closer to older Prada stuff?
A little bit. You know, I’m probably not the right person to ask because “Daughter” isn’t one of my favorite songs. The other guys think very highly of it. At the same time, I can definitely understand it because it resembles a lot of the components of The Devil Wears Prada and was, therefore, a safe option to release first and let fans know what we’ve been up to. I feel it’s a pretty well-rounded song and representative of what we usually do.
It seems to be a self-contained story. Is “Daughter” a literary reference? Where were you pulling that narrative from?
It is. It’s based off of the climax in a novel called The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir, one of my favorite writers. The Mandarins follows her life and her affair with Nelson Algren of Chicago. She was the longtime life-partner-slash-wife of Jean-Paul Sartre. (He) is one of my other favorite writers as well as Nelson Algren, who is much of a hub in turn-of-the-century literature — what I really enjoy — alongside Albert Camus and French existentialism.
But, yeah, in that story, she has this breakdown and is on the verge of suicide. Her daughter character, in the book, is always regarded as rather lowly, and she’s seen as foolish, not a character to be revered. When this mother is having this total breakdown, she mentions never loving her own daughter. I don’t know, it just has such power, and I love the shedding of obligation in this totally dizzying climax. I was re-reading The Mandarins when we were finishing the back-half of writing for the album, and I thought the story and all of the little notions in that novel felt powerful for what could be depicted in a metal song.
JD: Like I said before, Mike does have these clear-cut things that are actually captivating, that you want to read outside of the music itself. It makes it easier to accentuate the song. With “Daughter,” this idea of a mother never loving her daughter? It’s so easy to write something interesting musically to that because it’s like, damn, that is very depressing (laughs). That is really rough. OK, so I’ll just get in a bad mood and write something to that.
“Worldwide” definitely seems like a touring song.
MH: Yeah. “Worldwide,” the force behind that was when Jon and I spent a few days in Tokyo. It must have been two and a half years ago now. We were out walking around Shibuya, doing some drinking and eating and whatnot. One of the greatest nights of my life, frankly. Jon always makes these goofy little hooks and sometimes even records these bizarre joke songs. And he started singing what is now the chorus to “Worldwide.” It became almost a dare to use it. Jon actually wrote most of the song.
I think “Worldwide” is the pop song of the album. It’s mostly about the discontentment I felt without touring so much over the past year and a half. As much as I love being home all the time, I get that total restlessness of wanting to be back in these incredible, incredible places I’ve been so lucky to travel to over the last ten years, 11 years.
So that lyric, “Being around here has me sinking,” that’s actually about being home?
Yeah, yeah. It’s mentioning complacency that I think can come with being home. You know, sitting and waiting and not having enough on my plate. I get terribly anxious when I don’t have enough to do. Busy is good for me, for the most part. There’s different levels of busy, but when it’s long days of absolutely nothing to do or not feeling creatively inspired, it’s very much that, “Being around here has me sinking.”
“I hate the idol worship, the hero worship, the expectation of this huge life playing music, when really I consider myself a very ordinary person.” Mike Hranica
“Lock and Load” certainly seems to be an anti-violence song, taking on all the gun politics flying around today.
Yeah. Jon was out in Kansas City when we were writing the Space EP. I loaded up a bunch of my gear and went out there, and we went into the studio. We were doing “An Asteroid Towards Earth,” the last song on Space, just Jon and I working together, two voices in the room. Jon, I think, is one of my favorite people to kind of direct me and to tell me no in a really nice way, to be very precise in what we need to do to make something better. Jon very much critiques where we need to go with lyrics and everything, and it felt really good to do “Asteroid.” So, with Kyle now more a part of the band and the songwriting, Kyle and I then drove out, and “Lock and Load” is the song that came from that. It starts with the introduction riff, which is something that Kyle had wrote and was sitting on. It felt immediate.
Sadly, I can’t even remember what sort of massacre or gun tragedy had happened because it happens too frequently. It wasn’t Paris, but it must’ve been toward the end of last year. The band is comprised of pretty liberal, progressive dudes. And while it’s most certainly not the objective to take away guns, it’s a “meet in the middle” song. It’s trying to encourage those common sense, logical gun laws, as far as background checks and such. The song ended up going through quite a bit of editing, and we re-wrote the whole ending with Jeremy later on. I wanted to be very, very clear and intentional in the song of not being anti-military, because we’re not anti-military whatsoever. We’re very grateful to the men and women who have served us, I wanted to make that clear. The issue itself is complicated. Of course, the song is nearly as complicated as the issue itself. But these things need to be spoken of. It’s most certainly toward the forefront of my own opinions and where my heart sits at.
Sonically, I really like the song because the whole rhythm guitar part is recorded with a Model T through a bass cab. So it has this “rolling truck” kind of tone to it. It’s not meant to alleviate at all. The whole song is supposed to feel uncomfortable. I think it will hopefully grab some attention.
That sample at the end, I tried to research it — it’s Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly?
That’s correct. You researched well.
How did you come across that?
I just started YouTube-ing. It’s honestly nothing highly intelligent. It’s actually kind of the same thing that Chris Rubey had done with the voicing that we have on that song “Kansas,” the instrumental song I talked about. It felt totally natural for the song. The way the song was, at first, was actually that part going through the whole middle of the song, and the guitars and drums were just slowly dragging along. It felt a little too slow, so we ended up building that big “For the love of God” part. And I really love the voicing at the end because it’s about as unsettling as can be, I think.
But, yeah, coincidentally, it is an Illinois congresswoman, which is quite apt seeing as how a lot of the conversation is also based on the South Side violence that takes place in Chicago, which is where Andy, Jeremy, and I all live.
How did “Flyover States” come together?
We wrote this song as being an instrumental. I wanted to do another “Kansas,” like I mentioned. I want to play more guitar, so I’m like, “Oh, we need to do an instrumental, I get to play more guitar!” So we did that and built the whole song, and then we’re like, “Eh, it feels too empty, it needs vocals.” I think, sonically, the music carries it more than the vocals. The philosophy of the song sort of differs with how we write otherwise these days. We are really trying to have the lyrics and the story bring the song along, as compared to just breakdown after breakdown.
So we added the lyrics over it. “Flyover States” covers the Midwest. I was born in Pittsburgh, now based in Chicago for a long time, but I think we’re all very much Midwest-founded kind of guys. The whole song is meant to be the contrast of looking at an ordinary life. Which, again, I call myself very normal. But it would be foolish for me to negate the fact that there are major differences between someone who lives at home 365 days a year and myself. It’s kind of almost an internal conversation to try and understand the perspective of a different lifestyle.
“To the Key of Evergreen” is probably my favorite song on there. David, the Editor in Chief at HM, got me hyped on it. Definitely a travel song. Is that your favorite song on the record?
It’s most certainly up there. I often tend to romanticize driving; I like to drive. I was reminded of another one of my favorite novels called Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. While highly controversial — it follows this pedophile and his underage lover — I think it’s the most beautiful love story ever written. And a lot of people are like, “Well, that can’t be, because it’s about a pedophile.”
The middle section of the song is, collectively, the guys in the band and the guys working with us reading a passage from Lolita where the author is actually describing Kansas. The song is quite visual, perhaps more visual than anything I’ve done before, not to speak too proudly. I do like the song, I’ll say that.
So the “Key” is your surroundings?
Much of the scenery that I personally created felt like tall tress, kind of felt Pacific Northwest-ish. A part of it was that, for one of my first trips with my lady friend, we went up to Seattle, and then rented a car and drove up to Vancouver. What a lovely trip that was. I think subconsciously a lot of the song speaks of that scenery. It speaks of common things, as far as mailboxes and streetlights, and a part of it had to be the sound, the key. The key of the wind, the driving, the tires on the road, the trees. My made up, romantic notion of the key being a color and scenery. When the music video comes out, there’ll be more to talk about. (Editor’s Note: Watch the video below.)
“Home for Grave, Pt. II” obviously ties into the song from 8:18 and your short story of the same name. That main character from the story, Ian Mitchells, he’s now dead, right?
He is. Basically, in the first song, it speaks very much to an ordinary life never coming to fruition, never coming to what one might hope for. What the short story was meant to touch on was more the specifics as far as his relationship with this woman that he loves not working out, and then the ultimate death in a car crash — how many hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions (of people) have died. “Home for Grave, Pt. II” is mostly the mourning of Anna, and Anna remembering those moments, her struggling with that loss.
I think you’ve said before that you wrote Ian Mitchells as a stereotype.
Correct, yeah. A friend of mine told me a quote that a writer once said — I can’t remember it specifically — but it was like, “I would’ve written it shorter if I had the time.” I think, short stories, they’re meant to not deal with detail in a certain way. In that, it’s dealing with a stereotype. There’s never too much description as to Ian or Anna; it’s very bare and raw. I can’t remember specifically how many words the story is — I haven’t looked at in a while. I think it’s only 10,000 or 12,000 words. Very short, not even novella length.
But, yeah, I felt like, white guy, suburban Indiana dude, did well in school, had a loving family, mother passed away. Another unfair hand from life, if you will, bestowed upon this completely average, not mediocre but ordinary man.
Was it ever meant to be a parallel of your own life, or is it completely character-driven?
It’s completely character-driven. I think Ian’s shyness might be a little first-hand for me. Well, I’d be naive to say that there aren’t certain attachments or parallels from Ian to myself. But I will say that it’d be hard for me to write about a very outgoing, boisterous character.
Let’s talk about “Transit Blues,” the last song, the title track. Is it a personal song? “Every morning, wake to the itch.” What’s the itch?
Anxiety. “Transit Blues” may be more personal than any other song. I consider “Praise Poison” and “Flyover States” to be personal as well, but “Transit Blues” is very literal to my depression and anxiety and recent happenings with panic attacks. It’s like waiting for that wrong giddiness, that shake that sometimes happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. A lot of that comes to what it finishes with on each verse, “Do my best to keep it together.”
And that lyric, I think it’s the defining line of the album: “You can’t feel the transit blues without losing something you thought was true.”
Talking about the album title and the inherent separation one is confronted with in moving from one place to another — and, again, like what we talked about, whether it’s something physical or if it’s something like aging — there will be loss. A lot of times that’s something maybe you once believed in, whether it’s a relationship, a doctrine, even maybe a religion — which isn’t to say that I’ve lost my religion, by any means — but losing something, and losing something that you probably once felt honored by or that you wanted to honor.
I have to ask about that journalistic jab in there. The couplet being, “I can hear the questions now, since journalism died somehow.” Can you walk me through that line, or was that a backlash against some previous publication’s story on Prada or something?
More previous publications than I would be able to name. I will compliment you in that you don’t fit that. It’s exhausting answering the same questions all the time when I feel like a lot of it is laid out. I’m always thankful for someone that actually knows what the hell they’re talking about, such as yourself, as far as researching and knowing these certain things that are very literally said in these songs. Just after that line, it circles back as much as possible, as far as, “The shout proclaimed: The poison praised.” That’s the very first line of the album, circling back to the very end of the album. They’re meant to be the bookends of the Transit Blues story.
The Devil Wears Prada was posted on October 3, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by Philip Trapp.