Originally published online at BLUNT Magazine.
Space, the final frontier – or at least the next frontier for Ohio metalcore outfit The Devil Wears Prada. With their upcoming concept EP Space due to boldly go where no EP has gone before, we caught up with frontman Mike Hranica to discuss its creation and how the four-piece managed to condense the vastness of the universe into a neat six-track EP.
Your new EP Space is out fairly soon, how are you feeling about it now that it’s done?
I feel good – I feel like I’ve been in some purgatory of anxiety for quite a while. We finished it up and wanted it out sooner, but we had to push it back and make sure we were totally prepared and whatnot. It’s been a lot of excitement. With Chris [Rubey, guitar] leaving the band around Halloween last year, it kind of put us in an anxious state and we weren’t sure how well songwriting and things were going to go, but we ended up being really content and fruitful with our songwriting and pushing the band forward, putting together these songs which we think are better than the other ones. Unfortunately we’ve had to sit on it for a long time, but we’re excited to finally put it out and see how people feel.
This is your first release since 2013 and your first without Chris Rubey, so what can fans expect from it?
I feel like I can’t give that good of an idea, being so close, so relative and so subjective to the music sonically. There are definitely little things, little elements in there that I know we’ve never dabbled with before. We have now, and that’s due to mostly the fact that everyone in the band now has more responsibility without Chris, including myself. Being able to work on guitars and Kyle [Sipress], who’s playing lead guitar for us now, and John [Gering] who has been playing keyboard for us since early 2012, he has a very important role in our songwriting and recording and everything. I feel really comfortable and I like the coherence of the songs, and their general make-up. But I think that’s more important for the fans to decide what that is. Lyrically, I can be a little more bold in saying that I tried to instil a lot of identity into each song, and there’s so many things and so many little creative bits that I wanted to make sure of when creating this EP, and just generally made everything not boring and interesting for the listener. Just very intentional songs.
Why opt for an EP over a full-length this time around?
I feel it would’ve become quickly exhausting. We did the Zombie EP and we still feel really encouraged by that and think it’s a really important part of our career as a band. Being where we’re at, and being a band that’s now put out five full-lengths, it’s just too quickly tiring to release full-length after full-length. We’ve tried to break that up as far as doing a live DVD and the Zombie EP – and we feel so encouraged by Zombie and recognise its importance among fans. For a lot of folks that’s their favourite release from us and we wanted to follow it up. I feel that a lot of strictly conceptual work for bands can become quickly exhausting and short.
You mentioned the Zombie EP, which is the first of your concept EPs. What attracts you to doing these themed records? Do you find it easier to write music around a focused topic?
I wouldn’t say I find it easier but I definitely find that it’s a different process, to me personally at least. That was something that I wanted to do with the Space EP. Talking about it in all these interviews and such, the biggest thing I’d like to underline is that we wanted to create that identity and that was something that really overtook me in working on the songs in the studio and during the writing process. I feel like I’ve obtained some liberty and creative freedom from the rest of the guys in the band by being able to designate the concepts. As we started jamming certain things, the songs all came about in different notions, but as soon as I had a very strict concept to follow, that’s when the keyboards and all the different additions added layers to the music, following whatever the concept was. That wasn’t something that happened with the Zombie EP. It was very much just five songs that Chris mostly wrote and the rest of the guys tweaked here and there – Dan [Williams] rewrote the drums – but I just layered vocals over it. I look back at that EP and feel that a lot of the parts could be mixed together, like this part could go into that song, and that sucks, that’s just not good songwriting. That’s something I tried to avoid with the Space EP.
What was the creative process like for this EP? Is it something you’ve been toying around with for a while or was it more spur of the moment?
We knew that we wanted to do another concept EP. We had laughingly discussed doing a different concept per song, like there’s a pirate song, an alien song, a cowboy song, or whatever. It was about a year ago we seriously sat down and started talking about what we were going to be doing in terms of touring, writing, record deals – just mapping out everything that was coming up – and we thought it was the best time to do another concept EP. Space just felt really immediate and the best option, and something that I still really enjoy doing. I’ve told folks before that I could’ve done a few more songs with a few more different ideas. That’s one of the most wonderful things about writing these songs about space is that they’re so intimate, and it offers a lot creativity. As far as writing lyrics and creating different sounds it’s a fictional haven that feels never-ending.
Why did you choose to focus on the theme of space specifically – is it a subject you’re particularly interested in?
Not so much, which may seem bizarre. I feel the same way about Zombie; I enjoy certain zombie films, and with space I’ve watched different documentaries and I remember learning about it in school. I definitely spent my diligent time researching and re-learning what a supernova is to try and come up with a cool basis for these songs. I think if I did a concept EP about anything that was too close to me it’d inhibit what I’d be able to do fictionally. I think it’d be too constrictive. Even just thinking about things that are more specific to my own hobbies and interests, it wouldn’t have that certain kind of wanderlust about it.
Are there any specific figures who inspired the album? Like science fiction writers or real-life scientists like Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Not specifically, really. Prometheus is one of my favourite alien-ish films as of late – which was done by Ridley Scott who did the original Alien. I went over those specifically for the second song “Alien” because I wanted to create an antagonist character in that song with that shape of its head, the fangs and all those little details which would be revealed in its lyrics. I think the vastness of space was really opened up to me with stuff like Neil deGrasse Tyson; my girlfriend is really into him so that might’ve influenced me as well. It was very strictly scientific research, which I’m not so good with – I’m more of a fiction nerd. There’s a fourth song, an instrumental interlude, called “Celestial Mechanics” and that was brought on by something I’d heard NPR talking about in regards to the Earth’s rotation slowing down. Again, it’s just an instrumental but it’s got some speaking behind it, which is our keyboardist manipulating and distorting his voice while reading something that I wrote up that also features as part of the album’s artwork; it’s a fictionalised newspaper article, but very accurate in speaking about changing our clocks over the course of hundreds of thousands of years as time has sort of distorted because of the Earth’s rotation. That was something I had to research and learn about.
Space as a concept is both an incredibly vague and broad one – what does it mean to you?
Specifically, because of that broadness I don’t think I can answer that. Something that kind of made its way into certain aspects of the album, which wasn’t even something intentional when we first thought of creating these songs, was a general romance. It’s something that I embraced but I don’t know if it’s something that a lot of listeners will pick up on it. I mean “Moon God” is a song that basically creates a character in the moon that’s an over-watcher, which most would perceive as being a god and I think is a rather romantic, fictionalised concept. “Supernova” is about what it’d be like to have this attachment or relationship to something that was inevitably going to be destroyed or explode, much like one might feel in the beginning of a human relationship. The last song “An Asteroid Towards Earth” is very blatantly an Armageddon scenario, with an asteroid racing towards the Earth about to crash and there’s nothing anyone can do except wait and cherish what’s left. The song kind of slows down, and I really wanted to hone in on thinking about all the things we cared about and the things we didn’t care about, but in hindsight should’ve. And I think all of those are preceded by romantic notions that were generated from the vastness of space.
Mayhem Festival co-founder Kevin Lyman recently said that the metal genre is stagnating and in trouble of burning out due to a limited number of headline-worthy acts. As a band that’s currently touring with the festival, what’s your take on this opinion? Is it something you agree with?
No, it isn’t. I think the most immediate feeling I have in regards to all of this is that it’s really disenchanting to me that something like Mayhem Festival has lowered itself to petty drama that I’d only expect from other tours. I think there’s tremendous loyalty and respect that exists within the metal genre, which is not something that happens across all genres. It’s confusing to be a part of the tour and enjoying the tour so much – we did it back in 2012 and loved it, and we were jumping to be part of it again – but it is a little disheartening to see these things between Kerry King and Lyman. Even directly after that, some of the bands opening the side-stage started talking trash like, “Fuck the main-stage!” and it’s just so mindless. I don’t think anyone, or at least a lot of people, don’t have an actual idea of what’s actually happening, and to me it’s so shameful to see that happen, especially when it’s regarding legends like Slayer and King Diamond. At the same time, I wouldn’t hold either of them accountable by any means and I honour them with all of my respect, and it’s a real privilege to be able to open for them on the main stage. It’s just disheartening to see this kind of stupid drama circulating.