When a musician says a band is like marriage, he or she isn’t kidding. To be a group that lasts more than a decade is a delicate balance, and it’s something that Winston McCall, Parkway Drive vocalist, understands well.
“It’s a really basic answer to that question, but to be honest we were friends before we even started the band,” said McCall from an early October tour stop in Boston. Parkway Drive returns to a Reno for a show on Oct. 22 at Cargo inside Whitney Peak Hotel.
“This has been such an incredibly wild ride,” said McCall. “We’re from a really small town where it would have been beyond impossible to do this, let alone be in a band that sounds like we sound, and with zero knowledge of the industry. To have it be our jobs is mind-blowing.”
The band’s current lineup is its most stable, as Jia O’ Connor, bassist since 2006, joined founding members McCall, guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick, and drummer Ben Gordon, who all started in 2003.
Starting up in 2003 and naming themselves after the street where their practice space was located, Parkway Drive built up a following in its native Australia for two years before venturing out into the rest of the world. Its 2005 debut album, “Killing with a Smile,” was released in Australia by Resist Records and then internationally by famed punk and metal label Epitaph Records.
It was the album “Horizons” in 2007 that broke Parkway Drive through to a larger audience. The band’s mix of hardcore punk drive and heavy metal guitars was a hit with younger listeners, as “Horizons” was the first of four more top 10 albums in Australia, while third album “Deep Blue” in 2010 became the first of the three albums to place in the American top 40 album charts.
Bigger success through 'Ire'
Parkway Drive became known for extensive touring in the U.S., including several jaunts on the popular Vans Warped Tour over the past decade. Its best known songs include “Sleepwalker,” “Karma, “Dark Days,” “Wild Eyes” and “Vice Grip.”
The band’s commercial peak so far is its latest album, “Ire,” which was released about a year ago. It made No. 1 on the Australian charts and in the top 30 of the American charts.
“Irie” marks a change for the band in sound. McCall has more varied vocals than just his usual roar, and there a lot of sonic throwbacks to rock and metal sounds from the ‘70s and ‘80s, which aren’t as present in most of the so-called metalcore bands. Piano and acoustic guitar even shows up at crucial points on the record.
McCall said the group did go in with some experimentation in mind.
“We had some concepts that we wanted to push to the forefront,” he said. “We made sure the guitars took front and center with the melodies, and with ones that were comprehendible and not just noodling.
“If we continued down the path we were going down, we would get bored. Because, you can be faster and heavier to your detriment, and you can only go so fast before you lose any kind of melody and it just becomes brown noise.”
McCall made it clear that he and the rest of Parkway Drive “didn’t want to sacrifice what the band was about in the first place. It was just a concerted effort to dial in those individual elements in Parkway and maximize all of those parts, just to make sure it all shined on its own instead of just everything-at-once coming at you.”
That separation and streamlining worked, as “Vice Grip” from “Ire” started gaining radio play late last year.
“It was really an accident,” McCall said of the band’s mainstream hit. “I don’t think we have ever been a band that writes songs especially for one purpose or for one kind of exposure. It’s really strange and it’s been really an interesting ride going through that whole cycle, to find out what the whole radio concept means in America. It’s such a massive deal here.”
Parkway Drive is also seeing the results of this over-ground exposure. “We’re bringing new people in,” said McCall. “On the ‘Ire’ release tour, every single night I’d ask people to put their hands up if they’ve seen us before or for the first time, and at least 30 to 50 percent were seeing us for the first time.”
Living on the road
That other half of the audience, though, has likely seen Parkway Drive many times over. McCall said the group has always toured hard, at least before this last album came out.
“I think this is kind of average length for us these days: four weeks,” said McCall. “We find that if we are out any longer than five weeks we are in danger of burning out. We want to make sure it’s worth it, but we also don’t want any second-rate shows at the end of a tour because we’re out too long.”
McCall said Parkway Drive is mixing up the set much more on this last “Ire” trek than on other recent American tours.
“There are songs that we haven’t played in ages and had to relearn,” he said with a big laugh. “We’re doing a bunch of songs that people have been yelling at us to play last time we were over here, plus some of the new different ones off the album we haven’t really played yet.”
After this tour is over, McCall said the band is planning to work a lot on new songs.
“We don’t want there to be as big a gap between ‘Ire’ as the last two,” he said, referencing the three years between their most recent work. “We’re excited to write, to be honest. It was a massive process to put ‘Ire’ together and having all these new sounds weren’t easy to arrive at — A lot of trial and error and creating to put it together. So we really want to start working on it now.
“At this point and time it’s so much fun to discover all these new ways to create music and to have the validation of it going so well.”
That means that Parkway Drive fans should expect even more experiments on the next record. “I know we haven’t even written a note, but I think it’s OK if we can do five steps further down the path we were at before. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll never be completely different from what Parkway has always been, a heavy band with fast parts and very aggressive, but there are more elements that we can bring to the forefront.”