Parkway Drive on working through grief: “There’s no handbook to deal with this stuff. You just try to be a good person”

The Australian metalcore dons have released a new tour documentary, 'Viva the Underdogs', and accompanying live album

After 16 years of making a racket, Byron Bay metalcore dons Parkway Drive still consider themselves underdogs. We know this because they’ve released a tour movie called Viva The Underdogs, which captures life on the road in all its chaotic glory. The Aussie band’s acclaimed most recent album, 2018’s ‘Reverence’, saw them expand their sound into more melodic territory, a move that gained them as many detractors as new fans.

NME sat down with frontman Winston McCall to talk integrity, the grief that inspired that last record and his perspective on the Australian bushfires. 

‘Reverence’ was a success critically and commercially. How come you guys still feel like underdogs?

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“We still feel like we are outsiders. We were punk rock kids that played in the hardcore scene who started playing metal music. We were told, ‘You’re not really hardcore kids, you’re not really metal kids’. We were told that metalcore is a dying type of music and we’ll never go anywhere. It’s only really in the last year that there’s been so much momentum behind this band that we can’t be ignored. People say, ‘It’ll never get bigger than this,’ and then it does. The amount of glass ceilings we’ve been through, I’ll have glass in my hair for the rest of my life.” 

Any heavy band that has mainstream success or deviates from their original sound will receive criticism from their day one fans. Does the criticism bother you?

“Oh, 100%. It does the whole time. I’m sure that everyone who says it doesn’t get through is just straight-up lying. I just try to disengage with it. The bigger you get the bigger the target on your back becomes. You have to trust yourself and realise why you’re doing it. We enjoy this process and creating the art that we do. We’ve grown as people and as artists. You can track our core ethic and the drive of this band right from the start of the band.”

What are those ideals and beliefs?

“Integrity in what you do and not compromising for reasons that you don’t hold as valid. There’s no point in our history where we’ve compromised as band.”

Did you enjoy making the documentary Viva The Underdogs? Being on tour has to be hard enough without a camera crew buzzing around…

“I’d love to say yes, but there are so many points where you’re just like, ‘Oh, fuck off’. But we wanted to be real. When shit went wrong, it was like, ‘Well, that was fucked up, but at least we have something to show for the fuck-up.’ Every time they were there, drama happened. It was nuts.”

It’s been a tough time for Parkway Drive in the last couple of years, and you all channelled individual grief into ‘Reverence’. Could you talk a little about that recording experience?

“It was fucking hard. Things happen that make you realise priorities. What was going on during that period was so intense. You have to learn to function within a new set of parameters because certain people can’t be in the band at certain times. You get through it as best as you can. It was like: ‘You are gonna have to deal with this thing at some point in time because I have been diagnosed so you just learn how to deal with it.’ You just have to do what you think is right. There’s no handbook to deal with this stuff. You just try to be a good person and a good friend.”

Was that the first time as a group you’d had to operate in that way?

“To that extreme, yeah. It was really fucked. But that’s what life is. It was the harshest realities of life catching up with us in a way that we didn’t expect. Loss started very specifically around that time and has not stopped. We’ve lost more friends. We’ve kept losing people. You just learn to cope with grief.”

That must make touring very bittersweet. I imagine that on the one hand you’re even more appreciative of the gift of being on tour, and on the other it becomes even harder to be away from home 

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It gives you a very, very stark reminder of the value of time. You can’t buy any more of it, you don’t get any of it back and it is constantly moving. So the way you choose to spend it is what your life comes down to. That really hit on tour, being given news and waking up the next day and going, ‘This is a gig that I’m doing in a world where that person no longer exists.’

“If you’re gonna be away from the people that you love so much, you better make damn sure it’s worth that time. That’s what drove our commitment to the sound of ‘Reverence’ and a lot of the attitude we have these days. Why waste your time second-guessing things? I’m not gonna be scared of what people might say about what we’re doing with the band. If I’m feeling it, I’ll just feel it and make that sound and put on that gig.”

Could you talk a little about your experiences with the bushfires that have gripped Australia?

“It’s been crazy. Bushfire season usually starts in early summer and it started at the start of spring, which was really weird. It escalated very quickly and it was straight-up terrifying. We were in the studio doing some track stuff at the time and when I measured the temperature it was 10 degrees higher than the hottest temperature I’ve ever seen in our town. It hadn’t seen that temperature in the middle of the desert. Then the smoke came in and you couldn’t see – it was 50-metre visibility. We flew over the fire on the way to a festival and I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. It was as far as you could see in both directions. It looked like Armageddon.”

So you know people who’ve been personally afflicted by the disaster?

“My uncle and auntie had to evacuate. Their neighbours lost their home. On the one side of auntie and uncle’s home the plants were still green; on the other side there was a puddle of molten liquid that used to be a motorbike.”

Has [Australian Prime Minister] Scott Morrison’s response been adequate?

“Hell no! But this is coming from the man that had told people several months earlier, ‘Don’t strike for climate change because kids should be in school and shouldn’t be feeling anxious.’ There’s a reason they’re feeling anxious, dude. This is the same guy who brought a lump of coal into Parliament and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, it’s just coal.’ He’s an ad man. It’s hard to talk about without sounding hypocritical but all the bands in the world could stop what they’re doing and [it wouldn’t scratch the surface]. Our society’s basic systems need to change.”

You’re releasing a live album, also called ‘Viva The Underdogs’, too…

“I’ve always loved live albums that take you to that show. The live show and recorded album are two totally different beasts, two totally different interpretations of the music. Parkway was always designed as a live beast. We started as a small-town band for our friends to mosh to in the local youth centre. And we wanted to capture that.”

So how does it feel to be in Parkway Drive in 2020?

“We are 16 years into this and we are more inspired and invigorated than ever about what we get to create. By now we could be burnt out and creatively spent, but everything around the band – the  records, the shows – is bigger than ever.”

And any plans for the next album?

“We’re a heavy band – we always will be, and we have no desire to be a pop or rock band – but I love the idea of there being scope to transport you somewhere you don’t expect. I don’t want the next album to be a complete disconnect from what the fans already love; I want it to be like climbing to the other side of your favourite view and seeing it from a different perspective. For every idea for a heavy sound that I have, I also have an idea for some strange ambient section. I feel like we’re still capable of so much more.”

The Viva The Underdogs soundtrack is out March 27.

Parkway Drive play the London SSE Arena, Wembley on April 18

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