Protest the Hero has had a wild ride in the past year.
From walking away from a new contract with their label and the departure of their longtime drummer Moe Carlson to releasing a fan-funded album and learning the independent ropes along the way; 2013 was brand new territory for a group of seasoned vets. With the past year under their belts though, the band is eager and excited to see what 2014 brings. The new album Volition has done well, receiving positive reviews. And, they found an official replacement for Moe in Mike Ieradi.
The band embarks on a North American tour starting March 1st with a show at Buffalo’s The Waiting Room . And, on April 4th, the come back around to Rochester to play The Montage Music Hall towards the end of the tour.
I had the chance to speak with guitarist Luke Hoskin about the band’s experience ,being without a label’s support, their new album, and how the past year has shaped the band.
Jeremiah Shea: Now that you guys have had some time being out on your own and not tied to a record label, do you think you’ll ever go back? What are some of the pros/cons?
Luke Hoskin: It’s been pretty great. I think we’ve learned to appreciate what labels do when you’re fully on one because they tackle a lot of the legwork and day-to-day stuff; whereas you notice that will falloff right away when you don’t have a label behind you. We’ve been lucky that we were able to do distribution deals, so we still own everything and we’re not technically on a label, but we can tap into some of their marketing if we need to. We just pay for it as we go which puts us in control over what gets spent and what doesn’t. It’s been great in that respect because over the years we’ve become really good at doing a lot of the business side of things ourselves. Not a ton has changed, but there are a lot fewer stupid ideas from labels that we have to say no to, that’s for sure. I respect them, but I think a lot of labels are always trying to come up with something new and quirky and don’t know if it’s in the character of the band or not. For almost ten years of being on a label, we had to seem like assholes and say no to a lot of stuff because we didn’t want to be identified with some of the concepts and ad campaigns that people wanted to run. We got tricked into some of them too. Some of our earlier videos were great on the ones we had input on, but some of them are terribly stupid and weren’t our ideas, but we kind of went along with them. We learned from that though, so it’s better now.
JS: Do you think you’ll ever go back to a record label?
LH: I’ve tried to stick up for labels….
A lot of the line of questioning in interviews is “what do you hate about labels” and the idea of them having input on our songs. I think for us and bands like us, that’s a big misconception with labels. They don’t try to get involved, at least in our experience, with songwriting, how a song should sound, or what studio we should go to. That all started and ended with our decision, which was great. I’ve heard about bands getting input from labels with their music and it boggles my mind because we never experienced that. There might have been suggestions on how to market the album or how the artwork should be or something like that, but it was all really timid and was just them throwing in their two cents. It was totally cool if we came back and said no to everything.
JS: So will you ever go back?
LH: I don’t know; it’s hard to say. I almost don’t want to say no in the off-chance that someone reads it, but no, I honestly don’t think so. Outside the initial launch of a record when you have all kinds of crap and publicity to deal with, I don’t know how important a label is after that. There’s a lot of them that would argue with me, and that would be a good discussion, but for a band like us, there’s a lot of stuff you can do on your own.
JS: Does the Internet make that easier?
LH: For sure! Even sites like Bandcamp give the artist a good cut of what they sell. I think the artists are way more quick to realize and accept that people don’t really pay for music anymore. The labels are still clinging to that, so there’s a conflict of interest. I think a lot of us as musicians have moved on from that, pirate stuff ourselves, and don’t necessarily pay for that much music anymore. Obviously we support the bands we love by going out to shows, buying a t-shirt, and that kind of stuff. I think a lot of artists have accepted that. I’m not sure about Metallica yet, but I think we’ve moved on and accepted that if you’re going to make a living, you have to do it in other aspects. When we were under contract before, we couldn’t just go in and record a song as a one-off and release it. Even if we cut them in, there were loopholes and other legal mumbo-jumbo. Nowadays, we can write a song, record it tomorrow, and put it up online for free or a pay-what-you-can. We haven’t done it yet, but I think we’re planning on it. It’s just a really cool feeling that if the inspiration strikes us, we’re free to do what we want.
JS: What do bands looking for a label face in terms of what comes with that commitment? What would guys do differently?
LH: For us, I know we needed that label infrastructure when we started. I don’t think we would’ve gotten to where we are now without it. But if we were starting now, I think we might be able to build it close to what we have now just because the internet is so much more of a tool than what it was. As long as you have the right people around you giving you decent advice, I think we could’ve made a run at it. I know a band called Intervals in Canada that had tons of label interest and for the first full length album, they did it on their own. I think I would’ve said to any of them to just REALLY REALLY think about it before you sign up for a bunch of albums. Most bands don’t make it out of those first three albums plus an option; we’re lucky that we did. When you have two more albums that you owe someone and you don’t really see it going that far, it’s tough, and a lot of bands hang it up at that point because you’re still in the hole.
JS: Have you ever thought about offering up advice to up and coming bands on the subject?
LH: Yeah, I’ve thought of that. I know Tim’s really into that stuff because he’s really vocal about the wrong turns we’ve made, and I think that’s good because people can learn from that. I would like to blog, but I’m still learning so much that I don’t know if I’m in the position to do that because I’d never want to give someone the wrong advice. We’re making spur of the moment decisions all the time with Sheet Happens, which is our publishing company, and Protest the Hero. I could definitely blog about experience, but wouldn’t ever say don’t do this or don’t do that because it wouldn’t be right for everyone.
JS: How has the reception been for Volition?
LH: The critical analysis of the album has been more positive than any of our previous albums. It’s tough, and I’m proud of this, to find a bad review of Volition whereas the older albums were a bit more polarizing. I’m sure they’re out there, but I don’t look too hard or I just get pissed off. Most of the show reviews have been positive as well.
JS: What was it like working with Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler on your latest album?
LH: It’s funny because when we heard about Lamb of God going on hiatus, we joked around with our new drummer and told him he was out. That goes back to how comfortable we are with Chris anyways – we can make that joke and I think he’d laugh at it too. We had a really good experience with him. 2013 was a really interesting year for the band as we really just went with our gut with everything we did. Sure there were some consequences to those decisions, but we’re happy with our decision to go with Chris. I think Chris accepted from the beginning that he wasn’t going to be able to mimic Moe’s style. Moe is the definition of self-taught and didn’t care whether something was technically sound. That made him really unique and we realized that a lot more after he left the band. Chris took what we programmed ahead of time and went with what was comfortable for him. It could’ve gone either way because we didn’t have a lot of time to really refine what he was playing, so we just went for it and I’m pretty proud of what he did.
JS: What was it like bringing fans into the studio to play on the new album? Any memorable experiences?
LH: I think that was kind of one of the more polarizing perks. There were some people who saw that and thought we were charging people to hang out with us, but that wasn’t the intention. We put it up as “the big one” that nobody would actually buy. As it turned out, there were four people who did it and we told them they could bring a friend. It was fucking crazy. We got really lucky that all four were really talented and could pull off what we wanted them too, but I couldn’t imagine if someone came in with nothing going for them. I think it was cool for them because some had never been in a studio before. Both days we went out for drinks afterwards with everyone and it was a good time.
Editor’s Note: All pictures courtesy of Protest The Hero.