Detroit-based Protomartyr, a post-punk foursome with a sound that’s mellow yet explorative, but still angry, released in October The Agent Intellect, their third and without a doubt their best, album in four years. Frontman Joe Casey, guitarist Greg Ahee, drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson are alumni of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, and who have been playing local gigs for years. The funny thing is, Casey is a whole 10 years older than the others.
With their upcoming tour including a stop at the Blind Pig on Jan. 29, I had a chance to sit down for a chat with the group’s dark-humored and semi-fatalistic front man and talk about the tour, the albums and the emotions thus far.
TMD: I know you guys have had three albums in four years, which is very impressive. What were some of the driving forces behind this latest release?
JC: Well, we wanted to kind of keep recording as fast as we could. We had a bunch of songs ready to go, so our second album pretty much started with our new stuff right away. We tried to keep working as much as we could … We decided to go back, for this record, back to the same studio. We felt like we wanted to record in the same studio just to see what it would be like to go back to a place where we now feel comfortable, whereas the first time we were kind of like in awe of being in a studio for three days … it was amazing, whereas the first record, we recorded in a day. Now we have a whole week! We really wanted to kind of use the studio as much as possible.
TMD: It really seems like you guys are just constantly creating music. How can you describe your creative process, if you want to use that terminology?
JC: Laughs. I don’t! You know, it’s unfortunate because we work pretty hard … We’re about to go out on this tour where we’re gonna be gone until the end of July. That’s the first time that’s ever happened. And I don’t think we’re necessarily a band who can come up with new stuff on the road. You hear stories about somebody recording something in a hotel room or something but … we’re still a band who can’t stay in a hotel room — we have to sleep on some floors. So yeah, I don’t know how people can record on the road. I don’t think there’ll be another album coming out this year.
TMD: So what is this urgency behind creating? Why the four albums in three years?
JC: Well, I feel like there are two drastic extremes for putting music out: one is to spend a long time working on it, like three or four years, and another is to record it really fast and put it up online. I like to think we’re somewhere in the middle. Putting out an album, especially nowadays where you can just throw it up online, you can come up with an idea and record it and put it online. So there are people that have released a lot more stuff than we have, but I think we’re actually somewhere in the middle where we take a little bit of time, work on it, and then we move on to the next thing. And we do put in a lot of work and effort, especially into the last two records … but then after a while you just kind of have to let it go. And also, a band itself … most bands don’t last more than five years. On average, some bands only last a couple weeks. You know, you can’t find a drummer or something. There are few bands who have that creative spark.
TMD: Definitely, definitely. A little fatalistic.
TMD: Going off of what you were saying about that perfect piece, I think what fans love about what Protomartyr has done is that it does have that kind of raw feel. Now we have so much music that’s recorded and then edited, so you end up with that perfect product at the end. But I think people like that raw sound that you guys have. Some people have even described you as giving this kind of musical realism. Comments?
JC: Well, you know, you can live in a world where you listen to very smooth, perfectly constructed music and enjoy it. If you think music is kind of like visual art, some very raw things are still considered art. There are some things that are sculpted out of marble and took decades to make. And a world can exist where both of those things are going on. There’s a book that just came out about the Swedes or whatever who make pretty much every hit song that all have the same things in them. There’s really only one or two people writing the Top 40. That happens and people get sick of it. They want something raw. I don’t know if we’re very musical-realistic but you know … we want to sound better but I guess we sound as good as we are. Laughs. The band is getting better but we play at our level.
TMD: No, you guys sound great. It’s a realistic response.
TMD: People are describing Agent Intellect as your best work. Do you think this album is a departure from what you’ve done in the past?
JC: No, I’d call it a continuation. And, you know, it’s always a good sign when people tell you it’s the best. What’s interesting is understanding that people respond. I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, I can take that bad review’ because I can’t. You’re responding to it. So it’s good to see people are thinking that we’re developing or getting better or changing. That’s good.