“Every time we get together as a band, we realize we have more to explore, more to create, and more that we want to say to the world.”
Some metalcore bands veer perilously close to being one-note performers, but not The Devil Wears Prada. Rather than taking an “all-pummeling, all-the-time” approach, TDWP have deftly woven melody and harmony into their head-banging track beds, as evidenced by the scope of the 11 tunes on their sixth studio album, Transit Blues, out now in various formats via Rise Records.
From the chugging call to arms of Lock & Load to the breath-catching tone break of Flyover States to the slow build to caterwaul of The Condition, Transit Blues shows that when it comes to creating new music, the song most definitely does not remain the same with The Devil Wears Prada. And that’s something the band, a longtime Warped Tour fan favorite, felt was key while collaborating with their go-to producer, Dan Korneff (Pierce the Veil, Motionless in White).
“I wanted Dan to define the voicings and the different sonic elements of each song in order to create an individual identity and get something that felt a little less repetitive or monotonous,” TDWP vocalist/guitarist Mike Hranica told Digital Trends. “Dan will sit around playing with amps and pedals and a couple-dozen guitars all day to find out exactly how we want something to sound, how we want it to be voiced, and how we want it to be heard.”
Digital Trends got on the line with Hranica on the eve of TDWP embarking on a European tour to discuss vocals goals in metalcore mixes, the art of song sequencing, and the modern-streaming blues.
Digital Trends: When you began working on Transit Blues with Dan Korneff, what were your goals for how your vocals needed to fit into the album’s mix?
Mike Hranica: For me, vocals usually feel pretty automatic, but Dan loves to use a lot of vocal effects. About half of them are proposed by me, and the other half are things Dan wants to hear, so I’ll either give him the yea or the nay.
On Transit Blues, you can feel a bit of a range when you listen to something like Lock & Load, which has this very industrial growl — it was actually run through my ’70s Model T amp — versus something like To the Key of Evergreen, which has a kind of rhythmic pummeling. We do try to come up with some kind of environmental expanse to create those ebbs and flows throughout the course of the album.
That’s a good way of putting it. There is an ebb and a flow to the journey that this record takes you on, in the very specific order you chose to present it to us.
Ah, you are aware of these things! (chuckles) It’s exactly … our design as we were making the album. Growing up in high school, I loved listening to albums from bands like Jimmy Eat World — I still do. They always had a magic way about going “up” and “down” throughout an album. It’s always going to start fast, then there’s going to be three or four slow songs until the end.
Every time I turn on one of their albums, I have to finish it. That’s by their intention of the track listing — and the magic of that band, I suppose.
“Track listing is hard. I think we’ve failed at it a couple of times.”
That’s also the magic of having a full album experience, something you hope comes out of the current vinyl revival. Maybe a new-gen listener will go, “Hey, I can actually sit still for 20 minutes and pay attention, rather than do 50 things.”
Exactly, absolutely. It is underestimated how difficult the exercise of track listing [i.e., song sequencing] is within the practice of making an entire record. Track listing is hard, to say the least. I’ve always struggled with it, and I think we’ve failed at it a couple of times.
But I think Transit Blues feels right. Even closing with the song Transit Blues — I always knew I wanted to finish the album with this conclusive, explanatory piece, which is why it is the title track, and it even goes to repeating lines from the very beginning of the record. It’s a nice way to draw it full-circle.
I like that kind of callback, because it mirrors a certain literary style that’s in your music. We also get a little bit of William Faulkner in Praise Poison [via a reference to his 1929 novel, The Sound and The Fury]. It’s the kind of thing that reveals itself when you listen to a record more the one pass all the way through.
Certainly! Some of my favorite artists’ albums I didn’t even like at first because it took some time to think through them.
Give me an example.
You know, Nick Cave is my favorite artist/musician/writer in the world, and when I first heard some of his material, it didn’t really draw me in.
Another one of my favorite albums is by a band called Young Widows, In and Out of Youth and Lightness (2011). When I first picked it up I was like, “Wow, this is such a disappointment after the effort they had before.” But in a matter of time, it boldly became my favorite.
It’s hard to prescribe that to listeners by saying, “OK, time to think!” We really are living in a couple-minute ADD mindset these days — a lot of playlists, and people bouncing from one song to the next. Maybe that’s another symptom of what’s so enjoyable about putting on an LP, to me.
You mentioned To the Key of Evergreen — were the vocal effects on that song an idea you brought to Dan, or was it more of a direct collaboration?
“We really are living in a couple-minute ADD mindset these days — people bouncing from one song to the next.”
The vocal effect that really stands out on the song comes toward the beginning, where things kind of suck out and there’s only one beat, and the lyric is, “Right here with me.” It’s done in what we call “the lows” — my lower, growly register — and we have this totally distorted static on it. I had it that way in the demo, because it just felt like it needed that sheer aggression. As I’m recording it, I’m telling Dan, and he’s making notes. He dials in a lot of that stuff in the post-production and the mixing process.
Another vocal effect is towards the end, after the first quote-unquote chorus: “Soon enough the sun will go down, but it’s no bother/I’m not tired.” And that first “it’s no bother/I’m not tired” kind of sucks to the background. If I recall correctly, that was a Korneff decision, but I like it. That moment feels really desperate — almost childishly desperate — and when it sucks out, it’s just the lonesome vocal singing, “I’m not tired.”
It almost reminds me of when you tell a child, “Go to bed!” and they go, “But I’m not tired!” All of those little sentiments are applicable to what the song is actually talking about, and the voicing of the perspective. But there’s more emotional weight to it because of that vocal effect on the first verse from Korneff.
Sometimes I get songs back and it’s just, “Man, that effect feels too gimmicky.” I understand the importance of those effects, but looking back at our catalog, I also understand there was a lot of filler and a lot of material that needed seasoning, if you will. Vocal effects are usually a cool way to handle that. But there is also a point where it is too much.
As an artist who prefers listening to and creating full albums, what is your view on streaming?
Um, I’m not a fan. I’ve never really been tempted to subscribe to one of those services. When I pick up an album, I have this kind of crooked dedication and devotion to having to know it. I need to know what the band is about, where they’re from, and their history — and then I will collect their history.
I tend to be really stubborn and cantankerous whenever a friend goes, “Oh, listen to this band!” I don’t always have the headspace or even the monetary means to fall in love with another new band. I know that’s a pretty lame excuse, but it’s how I function — though listening to radio kind of defies that. (chuckles)
I see on Spotify that Dez Moines has 5 million listens and your recent single, Daughter, is starting to pick up with 434,000 listens. Do you hope that exposure to both of those songs will spur some people on to listen to all of Transit Blues?
“I’ve never been tempted to subscribe to one of those streaming services.”
That is what one can hope for. Last month marked the 11th anniversary of our first show, and over the course of that time, it almost feels reckless to create expectations. So I try not to pay too much mind to those components or even how I want to “guide” listeners. Frankly, it very rarely works. People won’t pick up on things the way one would hope. I don’t mean to say that as a jaded asshole or total complainer (laughs), but the fact of the matter is, people are buying the whole album and are coming to the show.
And even more than that, we still want to make the music. If people weren’t coming to the shows, chances are we’d still be making more music, because every time we sit down, we realize we have more to explore, more to create, and more that we want to say to the world.
Me, I’m the kind of concertgoer who wants to see as much of your new material as possible.
And that’s another tricky line we sort of stumble along. We’ve been very forthright in not wanting to play our old material. We think a lot of it is inferior material. On this most recent tour, we did put together a medley of old songs for fans to enjoy — which feels like a little bit of a compromise to us, but at the same time, we knew we were doing our best. It was always a matter of honesty; it wasn’t a matter of selling a trend. Whenever I talk about this, fans seem to get mad at me. But there are tons of bands and artists out there with old songs that don’t feel as forward or as immediate as they once were.
Looking ahead, is Transit Blues a signpost for what you want to do in the future, balancing 5-minute songs like To the Key of Evergreen with 2-minute blasts like Praise Poison?
(chuckles) You’re inexplicably astute about everything we wanted to do. I like songs that are either really long, or really short. Part of us creating the aforementioned filler all that time before was just us feeling this obligation to write songs longer: “Oh, that song’s too short.” Short feels immediate to me, and that’s the full bearing of the most important component of a song — to be immediate, whether it’s to be aggressive or sad or happy or whatever the goal of the work is.
Do you think you’ve entered a new phase with Transit Blues? Eleven years into the band, do you feel even more creative than ever?
It’s funny — every time we finish a record, I’m like, “This is my last Prada album! I’m totally exhausted. I’m threadbare and dry.” But then I sit down and think about it for a bit and go, “Well, I still have something more to say.”
Not to take a hard left, but America’s political matters have me ready to write now. But even a little break always helps me come back to it. All of this is going to have us very enthusiastic the next time we sit down together, whether it’s for a single, an EP, or a full-length album. We really have no idea right now of what it is other than we know we have more content to create, to share, and to express.