Interview: Protomartyr @ Deaf Institute

As the hub of Motown, but also the home of the down-beat and dead-end Detroit is perhaps not where you would think that post-punk Protomartyr would hail from – though perhaps listen a little and you’ll link theme to theory. Or perhaps more so, you’d be surprised to hear that they’d venture to the dusty lofts of the Deaf Institute’s music hall on a cold November evening. Though thankfully, they did, and Manchester was ready. A sold-out headline show – with the helping hand of the unanimously dedicated Now Wave – was an unbeatable way of introducing the quartet back to our metropolitan shores, with the Oxford Road venue matching perfectly the austere punk rock of Protomartyr’s idiosyncratic hooks. For their UK tour, we were expected to be greeted with Sauna Youth in tow of the main act but due to an ear infection seizing an unfortunate control over the drummer, the support was switched. Irish indie punk outfit Oh Boland eagerly cleared their calendars and signed up for the ride many would envy.

Oh Boland must have pre-empted the divine fate of the switch as fear or lack of preparation from the Irish support act, couldn’t be seen or felt. Their Gaelic twist of lyrics and long-hair-don’t-care bassist commended their image as a DIY garage band. The splattering of paint that you can find on the FuckJerry logo which adorned the drummer’s t-shirt nods a tongue-in-cheek reference to the home country of the aforementioned main act. Without any tickets to spare it was evident that fans were eager to commend Protomartyr and Oh Boland were the perfect accolade to the level of musical appreciation and interest that the brains behind the American headliners have. The main act’s headline show was ever the statement, eclectic lyrics made for an electric set. Dad rock this was not. Instead Protomartyr presented and astounded the packed out music hall with their case toward being able to drive a sold out show. Ahead of their biggest Manchester set, we caught up with lead singer Joe Casey to delve into the ever deeper, alluring mind of Protomartyr.

Having visited Manchester before, Casey regaled that they once played at the out-of-town backstreet upstairs room of Fallowfield’s Fallow Café saying “we played with the band Autobahn and there was us, Autobahn, the bar manager and maybe two or three other people. It wasn’t sell out I tell you that.” Astronomically opposing to tonight’s hysteria, it’s difficult to not feel a pinch of annoyance that more people from our city didn’t attend such a hideaway gig back in 2014. But thankfully it hasn’t left them with a bitter taste for our city and our antique Northern architecture is appreciated by the band members.  Which is quite a compliment considering the bleak truth about touring, as mentioned by the frontman when asked if he has any favourite spots in Manchester: “With touring you never really see much. You get to see the whole world, but you don’t really get to see it. Luckily this place (Deaf Institute) looks different so I’ll remember it, but you get so used to just playing the black box rock club so in your mind it all becomes one place, all the same.”

Probing a little deeper we asked more about the history behind the band and found that the sometimes-perplexing name isn’t as cryptic as one might think: “Before I even had a band, I was thinking of good band names and that popped out. Seemed mysterious enough. The other idea I had was ‘Idiot Manchild’ and realised that that was a dumb name for a band.” The mention of Idiot Manchild catches a link to a previous 2014 interview in which Joe said that the idea behind that name was the band’s relation to the namesake “Idiot Manchild” whilst Casey was still living at his parents and told the journalist: “The only reason I threw myself into a band at 37 was because I made terrible life decisions as far as not having a career, and I still live in the family house.” When asked in present day 2017 about that train of thought and if he still felt this way the response is that of a more matured and experienced artist: “Well I’m too old now to call myself a child. When you’re out on the road that’s when you feel a bit more like a Rockstar. When you go back home you’re still the same idiot that you were before, you revert back to it.”

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It’s now surprising to know that Joe Casey had no musical experience and hadn’t been in a band before ‘Butt Babies’ which was started by guitarist Greg Ahee and drummer Alex Leonard back in 2008. There were two life affirming reasons behind the heralded lead’s choice to sign on. “One, I was getting old and hadn’t really accomplished anything and it was eating away at me a little bit. And secondly, my Dad died pretty suddenly and that made me realise that life is finite and it inspired me that if I was going to do something now was the time to do it.” Losing a parent often goes one of two ways or the one way followed by the second way. Personally, as someone who also suddenly lost a parent, the inspiration that Casey has obtained from this is admirable. Even if you haven’t experienced that lose, it’s still a praiseworthy feat. Since joining the band it’s clear that they’ve all moved forward together. Besides physically aging, since the first album the lead singer himself has gained a wider appreciation for music and artists alike: “I appreciate the work that goes into it, even if I don’t necessarily like the band I can appreciate the touring and effort. I think I’ve got better at being in a band, you know doing all the things that you have to do. I think we’re getting better.”

This growth has in turn allowed them to choose a record label which will and indeed has helped them rise to where they are now. Having recently signed with Domino Records they have noticed a difference in their presence – particularly in Europe – compared to before when they were signed to Hardly Art Records. Looking back to Hardly Art, there is no bad blood there, the band simply needed to grow that step ahead and felt the time to turn it up a notch was now. The increase in publicity has circled the release of their fourth album ‘Relatives in Descent’ which unapologetically points a stick at modern life and the mundanity of it all, as mentioned by Casey himself: “It’s trying to find truth and wondering whether you can or not, I don’t know if you can. I think modern life is maybe more difficult. I feel like people feel that they should be more successful or more comfortable in their lives and they’re finding themselves less so and less so and less so. I don’t want to completely shut off Capitalism, but I don’t necessarily think that Capitalism is working for a lot of people.” When hearing an American of any type mention such an honest political opinion and theme it’s tricky nowadays to not ask their take on that lurking elephant in the room which is our global state of affairs. “It’s definitely a weird time in America. Well it is anywhere. It is here, you’ve got Brexit. It seems like it’s all kind of happening all over the place at the same time. I really hope it’s the way that history works, and it wasn’t planned this way. I don’t want to turn into a conspiracy theorist but it’s definitely different.” Almost in an apologetic manner Joe said “We feel like we have to apologise for Trump when we come over to Europe. It’s just been a year and we’ve got three more years of it.”

This opinion held by Protomartyr has thankfully not dampened spirits in terms of their creative flair and artistic attitude with future plans well underway after a long needed two-month rest following their current tour followed by “non-stop touring until this time next year so we really can’t think about new albums.” But don’t fear it won’t ever be quiet from Protomartyr with plans for an EP release in 2018 “to keep it ticking over”. Keep your ear close to the ground and next time there’s a vaguely unknown gig at your local bar, venture along to it as in a few years you may be clamouring to get a ticket to their sold-out event.

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