It feels like a brief eternity since metalcore giants The Devil Wears Prada fed their fanbase with new music. In reality, it hasn’t even lapsed a conventional three-year grace period between records, but – when you’re a cornerstone like Prada – the desire for constant output remains high. Transit Blues, the band’s most recent release from October 2016, was the reference point for the modern Prada. And then, on a late-August morning, fans were popped with an ominous stark album cover and an unexpectedly melodic single to set the stage for The Act.
It’s the seventh in Prada’s oeuvre, and the direction it’s going is clear as mud, which is no accident. Their highly-esteemed frontman and multidisciplinary creative Mike Hranica talked to us about The Act and what he’s been up to in the year since we last spoke. He dove into the album’s intention and message and how, in some ways, it is written to be completely up for interpretation. Writing music that travels from thoughts to the physical body and to the depths of Hell itself, this record isn’t supposed to be like anything they’ve done before, and that’s precisely how Prada wanted it.
HM Magazine: You and I did an interview, and, at that time, The Act was still in utero; it was very early stages. You talked about how you were (going to be) using a different producer that was really honest with you, and that changed the song selection process. Now that it’s done, how did that end up impacting the album as a whole?
Mike Hranica: Jon (Gering) produced the record, who’s the band’s touring keyboard player. But seriously, he had such a massive role in songwriting and producing for this record. In regards to your question, I think that (definitely) spilled over as far as Jon’s blatant-ness or his tendency to be blatant. It occurred throughout the record and him shapeshifting what he thought was the best song. So as it was when the record was in utero, I can certainly confirm that sentiment continued onward to the finished LP.
It seems like every album is a mirror of where a band is at when they’re creating it. What would you say that The Act reflects about where Prada is right now?
The basis of the band wholeheartedly is that of catharsis and that of being reflective, being a mirror, of where we are as people. I think that The Act continues forward in that, especially in regards to how excited the band is about this and how enthused we are collectively about doing something we hope mixes things up or maybe turns a corner in the rock world.
We keep hearing rock is dead and that rock isn’t doing anything new – which is pretty true; rock radio is quite complacent, I think. We wanted to confront that as far as making a record people enjoy and not doing something over again or not repeating the same sort of formula. So that’s where my brain goes in regards to how reflective the album is of where the band is at.
What can you tell me about The Act? I read somewhere that it doesn’t have a specific theme, per se. Is that correct?
Thematically, no, there’s no direct correspondence. I thought the title, The Act, sums that up. It’s very open-ended. It’s susceptible to suggestion, which I like.
I think one of the most common themes on the record is clinical wellness. I don’t even think so much of that was my doing but Jon’s in that Jon actually wrote entire songs worth of lyrics for this record. That has never happened in the past. I almost feel like I’m guided to try to explain Jon’s work in my reflection of it in that it’s not mine – and the work (in the past) always has been. I’ve always had certain implications that I’ve personally taken from records, but I don’t know that I tried to do the same with this.
What I wanted to do with this as a summed up record was really encouraged by dynamics. … I think that Transit Blues meant to (be more dynamic), but I don’t think it quite gets there in comparison to The Act; I think The Act has more range. That’s one of the things I wanted to hit on, making something that’s not a pedal-to-the-metal, start-the-record, go-heavy-and-hard-the-whole-way-through-and-then-it’s-done, but to make something that really hit the ups and downs.
A lot of metal albums are sometimes guilty of being hard the whole time with no time to breathe in between.
For sure. I think that a lot of it is deeply single-laned or they have the blinders up. I don’t mean to be arrogant or over-promise something like this (album) is the most strange, avant-garde, take it one end of the spectrum to the other type record, but, at least, I hope to the Prada listener that is part of how this records rings.
The art that you guys have chosen for the cover is a traditional-style canvas painting. That’s not so common anymore; everything is graphic design. What’s the story behind this picture and the artist?
Dan Seagrave is the artist. Dan painted Dead Throne and With Roots Above, so this is our third time working collaboratively together. I think very highly of him – obviously – and truly enjoy his work. I thought we could create a lot of texture by making a cover that isn’t so derivative of the album, and I think that’s what we did. I think the cover is extremely metal, and no part of our record is extremely metal. Not to be too cheap, but I think it hits on-trend but also gives it another layer to what we’re doing and to what The Act is.
“The Act has range. That’s one of the things I wanted to hit on, making something that’s not a pedal-to-the-metal, start-the-record, go-heavy-and-hard-the-whole-way-through-and-then-it’s-done, but to make something that really hit the ups and downs.”
I took on the creative director role with With Roots Above, as far as hiring in and working with different artists to do different things. Sometimes a photograph-based cover is complementary, but for this … it was time to go back there and create something else. And this, specifically being Hell. Like I mentioned, Jon hit on clinical mental tendencies in the lyrics he wrote, and I put Hell in a lot of my lyrics. If there was a theme, I thought that on my end, Hell was a part of it, the lower rings of Hell. What Seagrave did… If someone said, like, “Dante’s Inferno,” to go ahead and artistically express that, I don’t think it would ever be like what Dan did, and I think that’s really awesome.
Speaking of collaborations, I was just listening to “The Lines of Your Hands,” and I don’t remember seeing the name of who did the female vocals. Who was that?
The was Sierra Kay, who we knew from way back in the day via Warped Tour and whatnot. She was playing in a band called Neaux that God Alone (Editor’s Note: God Alone is one of Hranica’s side projects signed to Rise Records) had toured with, and we had a great string of shows and I got to know Sierra a little better then. I think it goes without saying she absolutely hit it out of the park with how stunning and almost ghosty her voice was. She totally killed it.
Last time we talked, we had the conversation about the creative rooms in your life. Since that time, you’ve started another: Your coffee company Dogma.
(Laughs) It turns out I have not changed since we last spoke.
It’s a slow build, which is exactly how we wanted to create something. We didn’t want to be salesmen of coffee so much but create a community and a culture around collaboration and being able to offer fans and listeners something outside of a t-shirt. With that, we create collaborations. The second one is almost wrapped up now as far as bags and mugs, which I am really looking forward to. It’s sincerely one of my favorite contemporary bands ever and we made a coffee with them and I’m really stoked about it.
Who is it with?
I can’t say; I’ve got to be secretive. The first one was with The Flenser, which has had an impact on me as far as records they’ve released, and I was really stoked to work with Jonathan (Tuite). It’s a cool opportunity to create and see something come to life from your brain. The other co-owner of the company, Micah, is a dear dear old friend of mine. He did artwork for Transit Blues, he’s done photos, countless tour t-shirts for the bands, just an extraordinary graphic design brain and mind. I just handcuff myself to him and make him do all these cool things for me because I am not computer gifted.
Did he do the logo on your merchandise? I have tried to read that logo. I know you made it the way you did on purpose, but it says something in there. What does it say?
It does. That one is the only thing I contributed, I drew that myself. We’re not a black metal coffee company and I don’t mean the logo to reflect as such, but we wanted to kind of pay respects to that specifically Scandinavian culture; it says, “Blessed Right.” I wanted it to be as illegible as possible.
Why did you choose coffee? Why didn’t you do, like, your own IPA? I see a lot of musicians heading in that direction.
The opportunity arose with a friend, Xavier, who I worked with to create a Devil Wears Prada coffee a few years ago. Him and I became good pals and stayed in touch. Him and I had a meeting together, creatively discussing opportunities and things that I’m working on, things he’s working on. Basically, what came to fruition was working with Metric Coffee to create a brand of my own. I think that was October of last year, so, almost a year later, here we are.
Hearing you talk about all of the different things you do, it seems like everything that you pour yourself into, it’s with intention. It’s about the process as much as the product. In being that enmeshed in everything, does wondering how other people will perceive what you’re creating ever wear off?
That question could be answered differently from the rooms my brain sits within. I think Prada is something that comes to life or is created to match expectations. Most of the rest of my life really isn’t that way. Even with new Prada; new Prada is very much created to resonate with people. My other active endeavors? Not so much. It’s kind of “take it or leave it,” and I think that’s a bit of contrast between Prada and writing or Dogma. Yeah, I think some of my activities certainly are executed with expectations, but there are also a number of them that are made solely out of me expressing myself. I don’t think that everything you do to express yourself has to check those boxes to please other people.
The Devil Wears Prada was posted on September 26, 2019 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle McCallister.