To date, The Devil Wears Prada has 80 songs, six albums, and two EPs to show for their 13 years of hard work. But as 2018 comes to a close, they’re doing something they’ve never done before: Taking things slowly.
Well, as much as an active touring band can. Prada celebrated ten years since the release of their third album, With Roots Above and Branches Below, this year, and the band is touring the country, playing it top-to-bottom each night. As they do so, they’re strengthening the bones that will eventually give shape to Album No. Seven. Along the way, vocalist Mike Hranica and I got to meet up and talk about the inspiration for his future – one that is willingly cemented with his band. His quiet presence and carefully articulate speech sharply contrast the unrestrained performance you witness from him on stage. As he unpacked his creative processes, it confirmed what I had suspected as a listener of Prada and reader of his personal writings: Hranica is not simply a musician; he is a creator. He is one who must practice his art regularly in order to function in everyday life, embodying the overflow of his heart. As Ray Bradbury once said, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
As I later stood in a sold-out crowd of the sweatiest, stinkiest, and fervent fans I’d ever been surrounded by, Prada, who took the stage following ’68 and Fit for a King, lit up the night with an album the crowd had grown to love as their own. The vibration of bass and breakdowns circulated through my veins, and, watching Hranica, I was energized with the drunkenness of the band’s music, thankful life can be defined by moments that allow us to be isolated in the freedom of art.
HM: You guys now have a new label, let’s talk about that. Why did you choose Solid State?
Mike Hranica: Solid State hit us up probably four years ago now saying they were really interested in working with us. At the time, we were already really dead set on working with Rise Records again – from here in Portland – because we had a great relationship with them; our first two records were with them. It was a comfortable, familiar set of circumstances.
The last record, our contract was up with Rise, and we wanted to mix it up and work with a different team. So we went back to Solid State like, “Hey, remember us? We’re still around…” and they were still really generous with their offer and enthusiasm for the band. It’s stupid exciting for me because Solid State was everything to me as a kid. Every band they put out (minus one or two) meant the world to me. They put out really important records for me as a young teen back in the early ’00s.
What kind of records were you listening to back then?
Funny enough, records like Norma Jean – and Josh (Scogin, former Norma Jean vocalist and current frontman for ’68) is now on the bus with ’68.
He’s so fun to watch perform.
He’s the best. He’s so talkative and such a great dude. It’s still a little surreal for me to be around him. He meant everything to me as a kid. But, to answer the question, Norma Jean, Beloved, As Cities Burn, and Underoath were all really important.
Solid State has a pretty good roster, too, bands that you guys associate and tour with.
Yeah! We toured with Silent Planet a year ago and really hit it off. I’m not a very personable person, but I got some good time with Garrett (Russell, Silent Planet vocalist), and he’s certainly a really intelligent dude; creative and inventive, as well, which isn’t something you see very often around this scene. I definitely admire and respect that dude. We’ve only ever played with Fit For a King once. At least online, some of Solid State’s bands have been really sweet in reaching out and saying they’re excited to tour, so we ought to know them better here in no time at all.
I’ve heard you talk a little bit about the next album in interviews, and you’re taking your time. You’re wanting it to be really intentional. How are you hoping Solid State is going to influence that?
We’ve been a band that’s seriously never – ever – received critique from labels. And it wasn’t a stubborn stance on our part; labels just always do whatever we want. I feel like, even from knowing other bands, it was that way for a long time, and, now, it’s coming back to where a label wants to hear a certain sound, especially with a lot of metal moving toward radio and hard rock and whatnot. You have to meet these parameters – parameters we’re not interested in, by any means.
So you’re wanting to stay away from a more commercial sound and do more of what you want.
Right. We always do what we want, but there’s certainly overlap that can exist between having something that’s commercially friendly and also a song that we’re like, Oh, when we simplify it this much and when it’s only this and only that, it turns out it’s better for the song that way, anyway. So much of it, for me, is still speculation, and I’m the one writing everything lyrically. Jon (Gering, keyboardist and touring band member) and Kyle (Sipress, guitarist) have really been the ones spearheading it and listening to their songs and having ideas and everything. It’s very moody.
Yeah? More so would you say than other projects?
Yeah. It’s less riffy, which I know a lot of people will be bummed out about.
You’ll hear about it, but if it’s what you’re wanting to do…
Jon and Kyle started writing for this record with a whole lot of demos, and they were listening through them, and they felt like it was Transit Blues. They felt like everything we were going to do was going to be that again, which is how we felt about 8:18 after we did Dead Throne. You could probably say we have a little bit of a hangover problem in the camp as far as recycling a little too much and not having that intentional direction to say, No, this song isn’t good enough to make the record. Strangely, all of our other releases, we have never had a B-side; we take what we have, and we force it onto the record. There was one song with Transit Blues that was 75% done vocally, and, by the time we were done with everything else, we were like, this song just isn’t good enough. So that was the first time we ever said that – and now we trash everything, like, nope, not moving me enough.
So, yeah, it’s a really different sort of process. I know it’s repetitive and threadbare for an artist to say that, but (the new album) is different. It always felt like catharsis is wasted when you write a song or something and then you say it’s not good enough. It’s like, well, why would I have tried to make the song then? But, for a better album, I’ve reformed my thoughts and reprogrammed how I think about those prior preoccupations and putting myself in a place that’s just totally different as of 13 years. Hopefully, that makes a record that people aren’t like, “Oh, Prada again.”
That’s got to be hard; you have your entire discography to try to make new music different than. That’s a big catalog.
It is. You have to balance expectation against invention, almost. Jon is producing our album and having an even bigger role; he started with us and his role has only totally increased, so he has a sort of objective view that a lot of us lack because we’re closer to the band and he’s not a formal band member. He’s watching us not be so stoked on material, coaching us to be like, “Make stuff you are stoked on. Reinvent.”
Do all producers do that?
No, not at all. We’ve had a weird relationship with some producers that really worked us and some that didn’t at all.
There are bands where I’m a fan of everything they’ve put out, but then they switch producers and they just let the producer dictate how they sound. The Chili Peppers’ last album was awful in my opinion; there was such a drastic change because of that influence.
It’s really up to the band when they pick – and they have a world of producers to pick from – to measure how much you let (the producer) in. How much do you let them change your formula or your sound? For certain artists, a lot of the time’s they’ll be like, “I want them to do that because I’m tired of what we’ve been doing anyway.”
A lot of times, (writing music) becomes really automatic. Especially like what I mentioned earlier, as far as Kyle and John looking at these riffs. Kyle can create a song – two a day if he wanted, one easily. He’s always exercised himself that way. So it can be really automatic unless maybe it’s a producer that is going to do a good thing and say, “Think about it differently,” or, “Do this rather than that. You would usually do this, try it this way this time.” The six of us (primarily some members more than other members) really write, and we take that on ourselves. It’s never going to be some guy across the U.S. writing some lyrics or a hook for us.
Does it stress you out even thinking about giving somebody the reins on that?
Yeah! Especially lyrically for me because that’s my baby; that’s the heaviest part of my role and responsibility within the band. I have no interest in singing someone else’s song. Unless it’s Julien Baker, and then we’ll do a fun cover of it.
Right, unless it’s this new cover you did. A lot of people were really into it. What was her response?
I’ve only met her once, but I never talked to her online or anything. I tried to reach out, but I never got ahold of her. I didn’t want to do something that totally rubbed her the wrong way or questioned her catharsis and the importance of that song to her. Like, I didn’t want to do anything that belittles her relationship with that song, just because this silly heavy metal band did a loud, “heavy” version of it.
I can only imagine she’s probably flattered.
I think she’s amazing. I got to meet her briefly, and she was super rad. I saw her in Milwaukee after that, as well, and she performed wonderfully. So only the best thoughts.
I’ve got more creative aspects to my life. When I do have something, it usually feels really seamless and automatic to know in what faction of my life I want to exercise an idea. But all of those ideas come from that which I ingest myself.
I was thinking about the fact that you’re doing this tour just for the sake of playing one album from top to bottom. You’re not the only band to have done it, but it is a cool thing to do. Who’s a band you’d want to see do it and what album would it be?
Years ago, we talked about this. It really hit that trend, especially festivals (because they) buy these bands for a ton of money and (the bands) are contractually obligated to play a certain record. You see it at like Riot Fest back in Chicago. Coincidentally, it was right before Riot Fest did it, and I didn’t go because I’m really snarky and I don’t like seeing bands outside, I like seeing them in a room. But, for me, it was Slayer, Reign in Blood. I was like, if Slayer played Reign in Blood front to back, I’d lose my mind. And then they did for Riot Fest, and I was around, but I didn’t go.
When you do show after show, how do you keep your voice healthy?
It’s always placebo. Not to be that asshole and name drop, but my buddy (Jeremy) McKinnon, who sings for A Day To Remember – they’ve just taken over the world; they’re so huge and he plays such long sets – is real with it. It’s not fake; he’s just a beast with it. Talking to him and (Kevin) Skaff – who sings in the band, too – they’re pretty strictly placebo guys. “It’s all in your head.”
So I’ve had that, but I still have certain things. When I stopped exercising on tour, my voice started working better. It’s because (without the extra work), I pant; when you don’t run and don’t cardio, you start panting. I really don’t think it’s that, but I tell myself that, and it works. It being my job and, as out of control as the health of your voice can be, I’ll do anything for it to work. I’m very obsessive, so I’m very quick to keep a routine very specifically.
Recently, I’ve stopped drinking before we play.
Does that help?
It has. But before, it never worked because if I didn’t have a little bit of a buzz, I would think about it too much and I would strain my voice. So yeah: I stopped warming up as much, I stopped drinking, and I started doing more stretches, as far as oxygen throughout my body.
Always something different, but the biggest thing is just don’t be stupid, as far as yelling. I went to a bar on the Parkway Drive tour one of the first few shows, and I talked to a fan of the band for a while and then Jake (Luhrs, August Burns Red vocalist) and some of my guys, and I walked out of the bar and I realized my voice was exhausted trying to talk over music on a Friday night. Seriously, it’s way worse for your voice than screaming for a while, I find. Drinking beers after a show is okay, but I just sit here and use Bluetooth and listen to what would be a record at home. It’s relaxing, as well. If you’re bored, it’s not so bad. You might have a better show after a really boring day because your body is ready to go.
I can see that. You do a lot of reading, right? On tour, is that your go-to?
There are people that read more than me, certainly, but I do read pretty frequently.
Do you find that that influences your music these days, or is it more of a getaway for you mentally?
Entirely. I feel that, as I’ve gotten older and I’ve got more creative aspects to my life – as far as playing in another band and publishing poetry and prose or just writing fiction – when I do have something, it usually feels really seamless and automatic to know in what faction of my life I want to exercise an idea. But all of those ideas come from that which I ingest myself.
As a kid, I read a lot of Stephen King, and I remember he said something like for every hour you spend writing, you need to spend four reading. If you think about it, an athlete spends way more time training than they do playing in a three-hour game. For me and for my work and that which I do in this band and all the other creative ventures in my life, reading is very necessary. And also very enjoyable. Like writing, you feel you need to do it. If you were not to, you would feel, for me, like, suffocated.
Do you feel you’re completely satiated with writing an album, or are you writing another book? I read Three Dots, and it was a really interesting perspective I liked a lot.
Thank you. It’s chaotic, and I’ve been working on the follow up to that. I’ve written two novels(ish) that I haven’t done anything with, and I’ve been waiting to take that turn. I almost finished one of them earlier this year, and I had a few friends do some editing and give me thoughts. I thought I was going to finish it now for this tour while I was out on the road and I don’t have the distractions of being home. But I’m not. I haven’t felt really excited about it. I’ve been more excited about Prada lyrics.
You would think that having so many creative outlets would be consuming, but I get how they are separate.
I’ve found that – especially with Kyle and my other band, God Alone, when we recorded our full length we put out in August – I create separation, and I build these walls internally so much so that if I’m working on one thing, I just don’t have any sort of capacity to work on anything else. But at the same time, I always need to be doing something. So I like having all these rooms internally, and I can walk into each room depending on how I feel.
Right. You just have to be sure to shut the door behind you.
Exactly, and I’m not going to walk and skip door to door. It’s more like I sleep in that room for a couple months to try to put a visual example to the chaos.
So album seven is coming around when you guys get there. I don’t want to jinx it by saying this – because you guys have been around for 13 years – but there’s not really any end in sight. How will you know when it’s time to be like, That’s it. That’s a career. Prada’s done. How does a musician know that, or is there ever that moment?
With Prada, there isn’t.
That’s probably exactly what everybody wants to hear.
It’s not about fulfilling so much exactly that. For me, I’ve been bummed with bands that broke up and came back in a few years because it’s a cash grab. It’s so monetary. It’s infuriating for me. Physically, I’m getting older and I’m not an 18 year old in a van and can get up and feel fine every day. But as long as physically we can do it, I feel like Prada will be playing a festival here or there forever. Andy (Trick), our bass player, actually had a baby yesterday.
He’s not here, though, right?
Right, right. So, we have a fill-in bass player, Mason. He’s great. Andy was going to start the ABR/Parkway tour and then go home a little bit before his wife was due, but then he was like, What if she’s early? He was going to be stressed out. He just took it all off, which is totally understandable.
Chris (Rubey), our old guitar player, had a baby, but about the time that he did, he also left the band. To me, this feels like the first Prada baby, which is crazy. I know Jeremy (DePoyster, guitarist) wants to have kids someday. Kyle and I? Not so much at all. For me, I can’t imagine going a year without doing anything Prada. It’s too ingrained in all of us. When we spend time away from it, we get so stir crazy. Andy being at home – which I can’t even begin to comprehend the stress of having a child – he’s texting us all the time saying, “I want to play shows, how’s it going?” He just still loves playing bass in the band. We just keep going.
Retirement is an interesting topic, more so way down the line when a musician says, retirement, retirement. On that note, I remember even Stephen King did that, tried to retire. Couldn’t. I feel like we’re going to keep seeing that.
The Devil Wears Prada was posted on December 9, 2018 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle Martin.