For some music fans, the idea of their favorite band purposely reinventing their sound can be scary news. What if they’re no longer heavy? Are they selling out?
However, for longtime noisemakers The Devil Wears Prada, the idea of reinvention shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Instead, it should be interpreted as a band rededicating themselves to their craft.
Rather than lazily recreating a sound fans have already become accustomed to, the Ohio natives have instead meticulously composed a piece of art that will withstand the test of time.
Discussing their new 12-track effort The Act, outspoken vocalist Mike Hranica said, “I think this record is special. Not only in the landscape of my own personal work and the work of The Devil Wears Prada but we hope that it’s able to push the boundaries in the rock world.”
Influenced by avant-guard specialists like Sunn O))) and indie acts like Dirty Projectors, for The Act, Hranica and company looked outside of their typical heavy music peers for inspiration.
“We are such avant-garde consumers,” says Hranica. “And that’s not to sound super uppity or up my own ass but it’s taking those influences and actually being able to tastefully instill them or inject them into our own music. I think that’s kind of where we’re at where we can listen to all this avant-garde experimental stuff but this time around, we actually wanted to bring that inspiration into the songs. Rather than saying, ‘Okay, that stuff is cool and all but it has no place in our music,’ this time we’re like, ‘Yo, let’s find a place to put it in our music.’”
While The Act certainly blends genre lines, the album isn’t all experimental as it definitely packs a punch with tracks like “Switchblade,” “The Thread” and “As Kids.” Talking with Hrancia on how The Devil Wears Prada was able to balance the two, he said:
“We want these heavy moments, but at the same time, we’re not going to bend to put this braindead stupid heavy stuff on the album. When [being heavy] has its limit, like when it’s just something trendy, it doesn’t age well. I think we’re seeing that in heavy music. I guess what I’m getting at is just trying to avoid gimmicks.”
For more on the band’s first new full-length album in over three years, be sure to check out our in-depth discussion with Hrancia below. Afterward, make sure to pick up a copy of The Act and grab tickets to see The Devil Wears Prada out on tour with Norma Jean and Gideon here.
How excited are you for the start of the hockey season?
Actually, my laptop’s right here. I’m watching the Hawks and Flyers from Prague. I actually skated this morning [too]. I kind of took it easy. I played Tuesday night but my back’s been a little troublesome but it’s getting better. But yeah, I’m a crazy, crazy hockey man. Bummed that the [Penguins] lost last night but I got another game tomorrow night. So yeah, I’m obsessed.
Do you think the Penguins have a good shot this year?
I don’t know. I’m really excited about Galchenyuk and Tanev. Both look really good. But I don’t know, I think there are some inconsistencies that I would love to see tightened up. And I would love to get some goalscoring again [becuase] we’re an offensive-minded team. I want to see us put four or five goals up regularly. Rather than one last night [laughs].
So let’s dive into The Act. We’re less than a week away from it coming out. What is one of the most exciting things you’re anticipating about this release?
I mean, we really wanted to reinvent where we’ve been at. I think releasing songs like “Please Say No” and “Chemical” is sort of a testament to that versus releasing the heavier songs [first]. But there are heavier songs and there’s also more of what we did with “Chemical” and “Please Say No” so I know it’s a whole package. In the band group chat, we always just keep saying like, “We’re so ahead of ourselves with expectations and our hopes and aspirations, but you know, very few people have heard this whole thing. So we just kind of have to put one foot in front of the other.” But I think this record is special. Not only in the landscape of my own personal work and the work of The Devil Wears Prada, but we hope that it’s able to push the boundaries in the rock world.
With this record being more experimental, how does your anticipation for this release compare to 2016’s Transit Blues?
You know, I still think fondly of Transit Blues. I think we did things right with that record. But The Act is something that is totally meant to be a departure from that, while still being Prada of course. It’s weird, you know, with this obviously being the seventh record and we’ve had two EPs and we did the live record and seven inches here and there, there’s always this giddiness and this anticipation when you release a full length. But with that, I’m really excited with the way it feels right now – like the way the environment is around the record. I think we have trends and swings as far as what music consumers are in the mood for – you know, like, what they’re looking for. And I think metalcore is a little bit on an upswing and I think that we have a cool opportunity with this record. Especially because I wouldn’t really consider it metalcore and I know a lot of metal bands say that but when we have songs like “Diamond Lost,” "Isn’t It Strange,” “Chemical” and “Please Say No,” like, those songs are by no means metalcore. So I’m excited for it to hopefully sit on its own and not blend in. And, you know, all of that starts with people actually being able to consume it and hear the whole thing front to back.
Talking about some of those more accessible, slower songs, along with those it also feels like there are some of the heaviest Devil Wears Prada moments with “As Kids” and “Switchblade.” Was it a coincidence that you guys had some of your slowest and heaviest songs on the same record or was it intentional to keep fans satisfied?
I mean, there are definitely moments where we’re like, “Yo, we need some heavier songs.” But at the same time, we don’t really go like, “Hey, we have to have ‘The Thread’ on this record so it’s got heaviness.” Like at the same time, we scrapped songs that were heavier [because] they just weren’t good enough. So you still have to meet the bar as far as like, “Yeah, the record needs heavy moments because people want that. And there is a level of appeasing fans when you make a record or when The Devil Wears Prada makes a record. But at the same time, if the song’s not good, then don’t put it on on the damn record.” So there’s that. The moment in “As Kids,” I think it is heavier but it’s in such a moodier sort of tone, rather than being heavy because it’s just chuggy breakdown riffs or something. But at the same time, you have those moments in “The Thread” with the end being pretty beat down. Also, the heavy moments in “Switchblade” are coming from more of like, it feels uncomfortable heavy rather than just, you know, punch-in-the-face beatdown heavy. We want these heavy moments, but at the same time, we’re not going to bend to put this like braindead stupid heavy stuff on the album. When [being heavy] has its limit, like when it’s just something trendy, it doesn’t age well. I think we’re seeing that in heavy music. I guess what I’m getting at is just trying to avoid gimmicks.
That’s fair. The idea of saying it’s a “moodier heavier” makes sense because it does feel a lot more artistic. It almost feels like avant-garde metalcore in a way.
I appreciate you saying that. That is exactly the objective.
Was that the idea coming into this record or did that come naturally throughout the writing process?
I think it kind of comes naturally. I mean, not to speak too much for anyone, but the members of this band aren’t playing metalcore in their car to listen to recreationally. One of the examples I’ve mentioned before is, I forget which song, I think it’s “Isn’t It Strange.” When Kyle and Jon wrote that, the working title was called “Clean TV” because they were inspired by the Dirty Projectors and that was the quick working title they came up with. We’ve been listening to not metal primarily – you know, like if someone was turning on music in the bus or something. We are such avant-garde consumers. And that’s not to sound super uppity or up my own ass but it’s taking those influences and actually being able to tastefully instill them or inject them into our own music. I think that’s kind of where we’re at where we can listen to all this avant-garde experimental stuff but this time around, we actually wanted to bring that inspiration into the songs. Rather than saying, “Okay, that stuff is cool and all but it has no place in our music,” this time we’re like, “Yo, let’s find a place to put it in our music.”
For some listeners who maybe all they know is metalcore, who are some of your favorite avant-garde artists?
There’s a label out of San Francisco called The Flenser and they’ve released some stuff that’s really kind of rocked me. I mean, anything in sort of “drone world” to me is very inspiring as being like a big fan of Sunn O))) or even a band that Southern Lord also puts out called Big Brave. I would definitely recommend [them] as sort of a gateway into the sort of drone-y avant-guard. But I mean, for me too, the past couple years I’ve really been diving into the Melvins. So even like Melvins’ work like Lysol and their drone-y stuff or “Heaven Earth.” All that stuff is very appealing and so compelling and interesting to my ears. I picked up a release recently from a band called Harrga. But even like Swans would be a good starting point [too]. Jarboe from Swans did a collaborative record with Neurosis in like I think it was the early 2000s, which is crazy. But I’ve been playing that record a lot lately. It’s very, very good.
That’s a great list to start with. Hopefully people will be open-minded to it. As for those who won’t and will probably leave a shitty comment on YouTube or Twitter or something, how do you handle that internally?
I was actually just looking at that ‘cause I did this video for Marshall amps a couple months ago with my buddy Bobby. We put it up and they just put it on their Instagram, which is pretty exciting because they have nearly a million followers. And like, instantly the first comment is some dude talking shit. I just think it’s funny because the video I made, I just wrote this kind of slow riff. And I wanted to do that because demo videos are always like some Guitar Center jackass just showing off his guitar solo chops. For me personally, I want to hear gear as far as when it’s blown out and distorted and like that sort of end of range. So that’s the video I made and I’m proud of it. So when people talk shit on that, I just try to entirely convert it to humor or have a laugh about it. But sometimes it can bug me and I pretend that I’m trying to ignore it but I know it is bothering me. So with that, I just really do my best not to read YouTube comments. I’ve been pretty deadset about that, especially with The Act. I hear things because certain guys in the band will read every single comment that’s been created, but for me, that puts me in such a poor mental state. And as someone that can be rather emotionally fragile or mentally fragile, there’s just no point in me doing that. It’s only going to construct my own shitty day [laughs].
So when you come across a song that you might not enjoy, what do you do when you hear that song? Just for people who say, “Well, what am I supposed to do not leave an opinion or something?” When you hear a song you don’t like, personally, what do you do?
I don’t buy the record [laughs]. That’s it. I think it’s like a one-man project, but they’ve been around for a while, this like French, I think he’s French, a black metal project called Blut Aus Nord. I was really excited when they announced a new record and I listened to the song and I was like, “Oh, that didn’t do anything for me.” So I didn’t buy the record. And that’s that, case closed [laughs].
So talking more about The Act, you guys wrote and wrote a lot for this record. You ended up scrapping almost 60 songs. How difficult is that if maybe there’s a song you’re clinging to that the other members don’t necessarily like?
For me, I wasn’t so attached to this record as I have been with other ones. I think Jeremy can say the exact same. So for us, it was pretty easy to kind of let go when there were certain things that didn’t make the cut. And I’ve explained it a lot too like, this is the most critical record we’ve done. Like usually, I’ll have an instrumental, I’ll write the lyrics to it and boom, boom. You know, we’ll change something in the studio as far as like shortening a verse or something. But with this one, every syllable and every word was scrutinized and for the better. And that’s all to Jon’s credit who produced the record. So with that, I don’t know, it puts you in the exercise of being able to let go and not take things so emotionally. Especially when I wrote songs that were just totally cut where Jon was like, “Lyrically, this is not going to appeal to anyone.” I’ve never had that before. It’s moments of kind of swallow your pride but at the same time, I know it works for the better. I think circling back, there was one song that I really liked. It was actually one of the first ones we made. So I know that it’s just a case of bad demo-itis for me. I heard the song and it was one of the early ones so I got too attached to it. It was a song called “Obstructionist.” I miss that one but at the same time, when it did get the cut, Jon was like, “So the weakest part of this song is the chorus” and that doesn’t make for a great song or a great song on the record. So yeah, for the most part, it was okay for me to say goodbye to most of the songs. But there can also be a little bit of conflict there.
Do you wish you guys had been more critical like you are now with your writing on any previous records?
Yes, certainly. You know, when we were writing songs 13-14 years ago, I think a part of what people liked is that we were just some wily kids slopping together these eclectic songs. So it’s hard to take too much of that discipline early on. But I think the biggest one, and I’ve mentioned this before, I think there were good moments on 8:18 but at the same time, I think that was one of our biggest swing-and-a-miss records for sure. There are so many moments we would have especially never put on The Act as far as just repetitive tricks and risks in parts and sounds. So yeah, it doesn’t do a lot of good to be super hard on yourself and regret older material. But you know, everything needs to be better moving forward. So looking at The Act and looking at the mentality we took for it is what I would consider 100% mandatory. It had to be that or otherwise we would have had something of a substandard record versus something that we perceived as being something special in this album.
For some people when it comes to their craft, would you say you need those mistakes in order to get where you are for today?
Oh, for sure. I mean, if I didn’t recognize the fact that there are repetitive moments on 8:18 then I would be prone to making more repetitive moments on present songs.
So last thing, does the cover art for The Act tie into the theme of the record at all? What was the influence behind it?
So a number of times in the record, hell was mentioned. And hell was a topic of deep contemplation for me personally over the last couple years. So I wanted to work with Dan Seagrave again, who painted it, he also painted two of our other record covers. I highly admire and respect the guy and it’s a pleasure to work with him. So I thought it’d be cool to visually have this kind of throwback kind of thing, even though the songs are not throwback in the least bit. So with that, we decided on Dan and we wanted to create this depiction of hell in a little bit of a different, more inventive way. Rather than the way we oftentimes consider [hell] with like Dante’s Inferno – this red, fiery thing. So yeah, Dan created these root-like, tree-like beings. It’s really open to interpretation too as far as I love how he perceived hell in the painting. A part of what we wanted with this record was opening that interpretation and the participation for a fan. [We wanted to] basically make songs and a have cover art that says, “You can make it what you want” rather than us being like, “This is exactly what it means. This is what this song is about.” I think the cover art does a good job. Some people are all upset just trolling on the internet as far as us making a very metal evil painting for the cover when we’re releasing songs like “Chemical” which is anything but [evil and metal]. But that was entirely my objective. So not to just totally troll the internet, but yeah… I’m stoked with the perception for sure for what we did with the cover.
It’s interesting to have this open conversation about hell as your album cover considering your Christain roots. However, it’s probably refreshing as a way to show how you guys have grown as people and as a band. Was that something you guys considered beforehand?
Yeah I mean, we’ve seen it – I won’t name names – but I’ve seen the rebellion of Christian bands that later say, “No, we’re no longer Christian.” And I mean, Prada’s the same way. I would rather not be called a Christian band because most of the members of the band are no longer Christian or ever were. I personally am a Christian and I am a follower of the faith. But I’m tired of the gimmick, you know? Like, why can’t the record just be the record rather than this backstory of where the band’s from? Just listen to the songs. That’s kind of where I am as far as the whole Christian band thing. I didn’t want to make this a record that has a bunch of curse words on it or this very evil cover painting or anything out of rebellion, but instead, just out of honesty for what I wanted to represent with these collective songs.
Pretty much just let the art do the talking instead? Let everyone else leave it open to interpretation?
Exactly. Interpretation is definitely more of a fundamental element to this record rather than something like Transit Blues.
The whole “are they Christian or are they not Christian” thing is so clickbait-y anyways. Who cares if people change over time or still want religion to be a part of their lives.
I completely agree.