I need some advice. I tried to get Mike Hranica, vocalist of the incredibly popular metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada, to help me out, but he just laughs. “People ask me this stuff, almost like we’re this ideal example of keeping a band together,” he says.
I was hoping he had some insight for keeping a relationship together that I could apply in my personal life. For TDWP to stick it out eight years in a world where a band’s shelf life is about 20 minutes, it’s entirely an anomaly. Like asking the couple who has been together for 50 years at a wedding how they stay together (“Never go to bed mad!”), Hranica gets asked this question enough to where his tone reflects this fact, but not enough to where he has the perfect answer. Maybe he’s thought about it a ton, and the problem is that he just can’t pinpoint the exact reason.
The truth is that from inside the band, it’s not weird at all. It’s like asking someone to explain why their favorite color is red. For Hranica and his band, they don’t know. They just have been. He offers up the fact that longtime keyboardist James Baney left the band in 2012 as proof they’re human. I’m not buying it.
“Marriage, man,” I say. “You’re one member away from falling in love, getting married and settling down. That could end the streak right there.”
“We have a few guys that are married,” he says.
I give up. Nothing’s stopping them.
The original six members got together, in Dayton, Ohio in 2005, and they’ve all but grown up together. (Popular singles when the band formed: Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” Weezer’s “Beverly Hills,” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” was about to take the world by storm.) It only took a year or so before labels started to notice them, their band name hooking people in, their metalcore-keyboard blend a fresh take on a breakdown. They toured relentlessly. They released an album every other year. But most importantly, they wrote good songs. They came across well both on record and in person. They were spastic and innovative and their keyboard wrinkle satisfied every person’s deep need for dance.
So here we are, eight years and four full-length albums later, and TDWP is about to release 8:18, a darker, more intense and slightly unpredictable piece of work. If every other Prada album was a straight line, this one wanders the road less traveled. Truly, though, it’s a real life personification of the Tolkein quip, “Not all who wander are lost.” It may wander, but it has direction. The band has matured, and for any Prada fan, they’ll notice it the songwriting.
But Hranica is very clear with me that their band’s relationship is just like the one you have with your best friend; you fight, but you always come back together. You come back together because there was something that brought you together in the first place, because you have shared interests, because you have shared experiences. For The Devil Wears Prada, it’s because they have faith.
Mike Hranica: Faith alone has a very important part in our relationship, in all of us being together. Inasmuch as we might fight and disagree, at the end of all of that it’s trying to tell people about something that means most to us, and that’s really important. We have something that means most to us and we want to spread that faith.
That’s an important part of it, but from more of a band perspective, or a less spiritual sense, we just know what we want to do, and we have the direction to do everything. Do all of the artwork, do videos, every aspect, and we like to exercise all of that control.
We just found out about bands that have their songs written for them, and to us it’s ludicrous to the infinite dimension. We tried to write songs so we could play the show at the state park and have fun. Without the songs, it’s so empty.
I don’t know. For us there’s always intention and sincerity that goes into what we’re trying to do, but I wonder about these other bands. “What are they trying to say with this album? Why do they want to stand on that stage?”
I don’t think anyone has an answer, or not many people have an answer anymore. These young bands, it always comes off, “I’m just here for the ride.” They always say that. “I’m here for the ride, man.” It’s like wasn’t that meaningless or without direction. We have a very distinctive wholeheartedness to how we go about this band, and it seems that’s almost leaving the genre these days.
I’m curious as how your band members perceive you as the front man but also how you think the public perceives you as the front man for a pretty popular band.
It’s a difficult question to answer. I would hope that both are a little bit understated. Not understated, but I like to be quiet. I don’t like to put myself out there as much as I see other musicians do these days. As far as the guys in my band, I’m really thankful for our relationship. These days we’ve really been able to lock in a system and understanding of respect between guys.
I’m sure some guys in my band would like me to go about things a little bit differently. I know, getting back to what I was just saying about being understated or quiet. I know a lot of bands try to force their members into having a big Web presence and try to build up — not celebrity factor, but that popularity. It’s something that I totally stray from.
That’s a little bit different than what I often see with other guys in bands these days. I have a tendency to want to do things all on my own. I like to take something on, just me, and finish it, just me. If something goes wrong, there’s no one to blame but myself and I can exercise total control over whatever I’m working on. I do that a lot with the band. The other guys put a lot of trust in me and we have a really great working relationship.
Do you think your lack of a Web presence is an extension of your personality? Or do you think it’s just how things have evolved?
It’s an extension of my personality. I mean, I used to seek that attention. I think what the people who want me to have an Instagram, what those people want, all I want to give them is in my work. If people want to know me or they want to follow me or admire what I do, it’s not going to come in the form of me taking a photo of a meal or a cup of coffee and putting that on the Internet. Not to disrespect people that do that kind of thing, but if you want that, if you want to see Mike Hranica on your iPhone screen or whatever, it’s not really for me.
I would much rather people read the lyrics that I write, see my performance at the Prada show, or read the stuff that I’ve been writing. It more comes in the form of that, and that’s the extension of my personality coming in the form of that smaller presence online, besides Tumblr. I really like Tumblr. I can’t say that I’m like a total anti-social media mogul because I do like Tumblr.
How was it working with your bandmates Jeremy and Andy as directors for “Martyrs,” the video?
It was interesting. I was really worried, because I knew the timelines that Jeremy and Andy had. We were on tour. We were in Australia, which is a lot of travel, a lot of moving around. I was scared, and I actually never saw any of it until it was done.
I was worried about it just because I was so particular with everything needing to match or have a similar aesthetic visually for the album. With video, obviously, it’s very, very important, and I was scared it might turn out to be something that was too dissimilar, not the right sort of contrast.
But he nailed it. As soon as he sent it over to me I was beyond excited. I know they did a really fantastic job. It has a great David Lynch-type feel, which works well for 8:18 and that kind of spazzy, sporadic, nearly disgusting sort of visual interpretation. I was really happy with the “Martyrs” video and with what Jeremy did with it.
Do you think the other videos you guys are going to make for this record are going to follow in the same aesthetic?
We’re working on the next video right now, like a music video. Not directed by Jeremy. I’ve been speaking with the director. We’ve been kind of going over it and planning everything out. It’s starting to get worked on now. I think the new video — that will be out in a couple months or whatever — will have a similar feeling, but entirely different in its process and it’s actual method of creation.
But yeah, a little bit of that eclectic, sporadic spazziness does serve the record well. I really like it because it sort of reflects, and it makes you feel something, but not in that terribly cliché metalcore music video sort of way. Words can’t describe how exhausted I am of the seeing the same music video, the same album artwork, the same band and everything just coming out. It’s like a Subway line, it seems.
We definitely lend a lot of focus and attention to try to break out of that. I would never be so pompous to say that Prada is particularly avant garde, but I know that there is direction there. We put a lot more focus there than most bands do these days, I guess, or within our arena.
“Martyrs” explores loneliness and isolation, but what I want to know from you is, do you speak from a personal point of view when you were writing this song? As a follow up, if not, do you ever write from an otherwise omniscient voice? Do you ever write as a parable, or write as a tale? Or is most of your songwriting more directed from what comes out from inside you?
Specifically, “Martyrs” is from a personal point of view. A bit of it is exaggerated. A little bit of drama in there, which I don’t think is the worst thing in creating something and trying to accentuate whatever’s being said. I do write from a different sort of fictional perspective from time to time. “Home for Grave” is a piece entirely opinionated and subjective, but about a man.
Most of it is personal. “Martyrs” most specifically is in exploring the isolation in my life. It looks at that sort of topic in a roundabout sense. I wouldn’t call it a super-specific song in that it looks at one particular topic really under a magnifying glass but, yeah, in the simplest sense it is personal, yes.
I know that Jeremy and Andy are big into the filming kind of thing and you do your writing thing. Is there anything else that you do for a creative outlet, other that music and writing?
Not particularly. It might sound little bit empty, but I really like coffee and I really like beer.
I don’t think that’s empty.
It kind of sounds just, I don’t know, perhaps a little bit bourgeois. I love being in Chicago. There are so many great independent roasters popping up now. It’s the same with beer and different places that I’ve been going to over the past couple of years. It’s just blowing up. I love that. I love just putting liquid in me.
I am honestly curious as to what it was like working with Adam (Dutkiewicz, producer of 8:18 and Killswitch Engage guitarist). If anybody’s seen Killswitch live, they know he’s quite the character. Is he similar or different in the studio? How did you guys originally link up with him?
We met Adam from when (Killswitch) brought us out on tour. He had said some things to us like, “I’d love to work with you guys.” We’re like, “Uh, yeah.”
I can’t say enough for the guy. He’s a genius with heavy music. I really love working with him. He and I have explored, I don’t know if I’d say “explored,” but we’ve developed the right dynamics in a working relationship. In regards to his stage show, people ask us all the time about Adam, because yes, he is absolutely insane on stage.
He’s a character, to say the least.
The thing is, when you have him in a studio, it’s hard to beat his sense of discipline and his professionalism. In fact, I would say, by far, the most professional producer we’ve ever worked with. Which isn’t to say anything bad about Joey or Goldman or any of the assistant engineers we’ve worked with, but the guy is always on time. He works just hours and hours and hours. It’s different than when you’re going to see him up there in a cape and do rag and booty shorts or whatever. He’s great to work with.
When you were going into recording 8:18, did you say, “We want to get him to come out and do this record”? Or did it materialize organically?
We went into it wanting Adam again because we felt like Dead Throne was an excellent process, as far as going about making an album. We loved Adam’s criticism when it came to revising our songs. It had a big part on 8:18 again, as far as refining and coming up with a more accessible, overall better song.
Adam did a lot of the vocal engineering and production with Jeremy and me. … I’m happy with Adam’s effect on the album, especially because I did want to really embrace all the imperfections, which is most prominent with vocals and the fact that every song has a handful of vocal takes that are by no means polished and perfect.
That lends a lot of the desperation and urgency to the general feel and vibe of the song. That’s the product of a good relationship between working with Matt and Adam.
You said that he worked closely with you and Jeremy doing vocal production. Did you guys get really close when you do this kind of thing? What’s the vibe like between you guys?
I love it. I feel like Adam’s a buddy now, because it was a really smooth, unhindered process, as far as going about the vocals. I’ll also say I hate recording. I hate the pressure. I hate the exhaustion and the fact that you’re just standing there screaming for two, three hours a song. It’s just not fun.
Having my producer definitely helps a lot. A producer needs to be able to sense your patience and Adam’s really good at that. He can tell when to stop pushing me, when to lay back a little bit and let it breathe. Give me a rest. Or say, “No, do it better. Do it better.” Or say, “All right. Maybe we’ll come back to this.”
It’s little things like that in the studio that are really important in coming up with the best vocal takes. Adam can measure that really well. With Jeremy, he’ll really lay into him because Jeremy doesn’t know how to say, “No.” He’ll just make Jeremy sing one line for hours, and poor Jeremy’s laying on the ground like “Ugh.”
Do you guys ever talk about your faith?
A little bit, yeah.
Is he receptive to that? Does he consider that when you guys go into your recording, into your lyrics? How did he approach that with you guys and your band?
Honestly, that occurred more during Dead Throne because that was more the beginning of our relationship, obviously, with him producing and working with our band. He is receptive. He’s extremely respectful. I would call him a spiritual guy, by all means.
You guys have been quoted as saying 8:18 is “darker. It’s more intense than the previous ones. It’s relentless.” I’ve heard it, and it definitely is different. It’s not entirely what I was expecting, and for that was a little thankful. You guys could have put out another record exactly like “Dead Throne,” and it would sell. Kids would come to your show and mosh. But there always come a point where you have to say, “Is this what we want to do, or do we want to go and take that next step?” Would you say that this record is that next step?
Honestly, no. For me, it wasn’t even like we made 8:18 with a very primary intention of contrast with Dead Throne. 8:18 is just as natural for us as everything else we’ve done, as far as coming together, writing songs, and going about the whole creative and production process of having the demo, to mixing and mastering the songs. I’m happy to hear it, in speaking with folks, in just these interviews and whatnot, that people have been really so receptive and understanding of that difference and that little bit of evolution and progression.
From the band’s perspective, I don’t think it was ever us sitting back and saying, “Now it’s time to do something different.” It’s just always a matter of, “It’s time to write a better song. It’s time to say how we feel. It’s time to reflect and create something that says something to us.” That’s what that evolution is for our band. That’s our growing up.
The Devil Wears Prada was posted on September 5, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.