Words

…with Joe Casey from Protomartyr.

This is a transcription of a recorded interview with Joe Casey from the band Protomartyr. I spoke with him before they performed at Holland Project in Reno, NV on October 22nd.

Protomartyr are on tour for their third studio album The Agent Intellect released on the Hardly Art record label. They are a four piece band from Detroit, MI featuring singer Joe Casey, Greg Ahee on guitar, Alex Leonard on drums and Scott Davidson on bass guitar. At the time of the interview they were on their west coast tour with their friends The Gotobeds on Sub Pop records.

Check out their music here: http://www.protomartyrband.com/

agent-intellect-1

All Independent Reno – Dave:

Were you excited that the Cubs won since you’re a Tigers fan?

Joe:

With that one, I was worried that our show was going to be terrible because we actually played Chicago when they won. I was kinda rooting for the Indians to finish it off, but once it was game seven you gotta root for the Cubs when you’re in Chicago.

AIR – Dave:

Well that’s good. So you’re from Detroit originally. I just went to Detroit for the first time with my girlfriend, visiting her family this summer.

Joe:

Oh yeah?

AIR – Dave:

Yeah, my girlfriends family is from Troy Michigan and her grandfather used to be an engineer for GM. And I really liked Detroit! We checked out the Cass Corridor area which feels like Midtown Reno. I had ominous feelings about visiting Detroit beforehand but where we went wasn’t as dangerous as I thought it would be. I’m from Reno so we don’t have very many dangerous areas around here.

Joe:

Oh sure. Well it’s a lot different now than it was just five years ago. The Cass Corridor area is where my favorite bar Jumbo’s is. I like it [in Detroit].

AIR – Dave:

How was growing up in Detroit? I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of change over the years.

Joe:

When you’re young you don’t really realize…like I didn’t realize that there are so many abandoned buildings until I traveled later in life. I felt like every place was kinda like Detroit until you go other places. It was fine, it was great growing up, mostly because we don’t really know how it affects you until you have to think about it, and I try not to think about it too much.

AIR – Dave:

We’re you in any bands in Detroit growing up there?

Joe:

No, this is the first band that I’ve ever been in. I mean I was in a band, a fake band when I worked at summer camp called “Rabid Grannies” but that was just completely fake. It was just for entertaining the kids. But this is my first actual band.

AIR – Dave

I became a fan of Protomartyr a couple years ago because of the album Under the Official Color of Right. I heard the song “What the Wall Said” on NPR’s All Songs Considered. What were the differences making this album (The Agent Intellect) compared to making your first or second album?

Joe:

Well our first one which is called All Passion and No Technique we recorded in one day at Chris Koltay’s studio. He’s actually doing sound for us tonight. We went in thinking we were going to record some songs for a single, and we ended up recording 22 songs in three hours. So we were like “Ok, we have enough for a single and we also have enough for an album”.

The other two [albums] we did at the Key Club in Benton Harbour Michigan which is on the other side of the state. For the second album we had three days which was a luxury. And the last one we had seven days which was an extra luxury. And I think that’s really the only difference; the location changes and the amount of time we had to do something. I wouldn’t want too much more time to record an album.

AIR – Dave:

Yeah, studio time can get pricey.

Joe:

Yeah it gets expensive. And also you start to overthink things like “…this has to be perfect”. Like you can never perfect something.

AIR – Dave:

How long did it take for you to write and did you mull things over a little more than you wanted to at some points for this record The Agent Intellect?

Joe:

With each album that I do, I just write the lyrics and the band comes up with the music. I usually mumble over what they’re doing and then listen back to my mumblings and go “oh, that could be a melody” or “that sounds like this word” and it kinda goes from there.

AIR – Dave:

Extrapolate something from the mumbles…

Joe:

Right. And so what I do is spend a lot of time thinking about the lyrics for some songs and sometimes I’ll just kinda put it off to just try to keep the sound going. Some are really well thought out and some are spur of the moment.

AIR – Dave:

I read about the song “Uncle Mother’s” that was a recording that someone left on a voicemail that sounded like those words. Then you said “Let’s go with that”.

Joe:

Yeah we misheard a message someone left on phone and couldn’t really understand what they were saying. We said “Did they just say Uncle Mothers?” Then we said “Well, that’s a good title for a song”.

AIR – Dave:

So, you’re just finishing up a big west coast tour with The Gotobeds?

Joe:

Right, this is our last date of the tour with them and then we drive two more days and hook up with our friend Fred Thomas in Des Moines Iowa.

AIR – Dave:

I’ve read that you guys are good friends with The Gotobeds. How did you first meet them?

Joe:

We had played Pittsburgh a couple of times and they had been kind of disappointing shows. And our friends said that we should play with The Gotobeds, that they have a similar sound to us and could be a perfect fit.

We said the next time we played in Pittsburgh we decided to play a show with them, and it was our best show in Pittsburgh at this place called Gooskie’s. That’s kinda how it started and immediately we said we should go on tour with these guys because they would be fun to tour with. It works…we’re excited we were able to do it.

AIR – Dave:

That’s cool. What do you guys do for fun while you’re on tour between shows? Do you get a chance to catch a movie or see another band play?

Joe:

You can on the east coast just because the drives are less so you can leave early or do something in the morning together. This tour we haven’t really had a chance because of the long drives. You basically get up and go. That’s one of the sad secrets of touring. People think you’re traveling the world but you really aren’t seeing much of it. You get to see every shitty rock club in the world, but that’s about it.

AIR – Dave:

Are you guys doing a European tour or did you just come back from Europe earlier this year?

Joe:

We have been to Europe four times this year. And luckily after this tour we’re done with touring. We pretty much started touring last October when the album first came out and we’ve been touring non-stop. After this will be our first break to get into writing the next album.

AIR – Dave:

I tried to see you guys earlier this year in Sacramento which didn’t work out, so I’m really glad you guys came out to Reno for this show.

Joe:

Well when we played Sacramento there were people that came out to see us from Reno and said “You guys should come out to Reno. there’s this place called the Holland Project and you should play it”. We have friends in the band Chastity Belt that just played here not too long ago.

AIR – Dave:

Is this the first time you’ve been to Reno?

Joe:

Yeah, first time ever.

AIR – Dave:

Welcome to Reno! It’s too bad you won’t have a lot of time to check things out and see the town.

Joe:

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll have a little bit of time because our next show is three days away so it’s going to be two days of straight 12 hour driving.

AIR – Dave:

That’s a lot of driving!

So, I listened to a podcast interview on The Talkhouse Music podcast recently with you and Andrew Savage from Parquet Courts. Do you listen to podcasts at all?

Joe:

The other guys in the band are obsessed with them. I haven’t quite figured out how to get them on my phone. (Laughs). I really don’t. I should because it seems like a good way to kill time on the road. I mostly try to read or just stare out the window.

AIR – Dave:

What do you read?

Joe:

All sorts of crap. I’m still in the process of reading as many Georges Simenon as I can that are not [Jules] Maigret stories. Georges Simenon was a Belgian writer from the 20’s to the 70’s. What he would do is he would write a plot on an envelope and he would fit his whole plot on an envelope. Then he’d just write for dags of 12 hour writing and write a novel. And he’d do that like once a week! So there’s tons of books of his and they’re not all really great. It just depends on the translation since he wrote in French.

AIR – Dave:

I’ll have to check him out. I’m not a huge reader myself but I will usually pick up something that people recommend and try it out. It’s hard for me to get into fiction sometimes.

Joe:

Oh yeah. And that’s what I like about the Simenon books is that they’re always short. They’re never like too confusing plot wise, just kind of psychological. They’re usually depressing (laughs), that’s the one thing, but they’re usually a quick read.

AIR – Dave:

Is that where you get a lot of inspiration for writing lyrics? Do you draw from movies and other music as well as the books you read?

Joe:

It depends. I try to get inspiration from anywhere. I just read a book that, for years, was only in Irish so the only way you could read it is if you could read that language. They never translated it until recently and it is considered to be the greatest Irish book of all time. It recently got translated and it’s really funny and interesting, so I drew from that one.

I also get stuff from TV shows. A lot of times Scotty our bass player will say something really funny and that’ll be it. You can get it from anywhere really.

AIR – Dave:

How did you first come up with your style of singing? Did that come from anywhere in particular or did you get inspiration from another band?

Joe:

No, it came from having no experience with singing. Also being nervous when we first started and being blind drunk when I was on stage. Now I’m only partially blind drunk.

Both:

(Laughs)

Joe:

I knew I didn’t want to try to sing. I’m making it seem like you don’t have to try, but you do. What I mean is that I wanted to stay within my limits. I knew I couldn’t do it [sing in a traditional sense] and it was more of finding what I could do and get away with it. Honing it and working within those parameters.

AIR – Dave:

Yeah that seems like one of the hardest things [as a singer] is just trying to find their voice and they’re style. I think you guys stand out as a band based on your the musicianship and uniqueness of the band and your singing. I think you’re all amazing musicians.

Joe:

What I hear the most is that we sound like 4 completely different things that shouldn’t work together but somehow do. People tell me that Alex’s drumming is very distinctive and kind of odd.

AIR – Dave:

For sure, he uses weird time signatures.

Joe:

Yeah and my voice on top of that is weird and shouldn’t work. And then Greg’s guitar playing and Scott’s bass, so somehow we lucked into a sound and that was completely accidental. We weren’t trying to sound like anything. Except for Greg we were all just trying to learn what to do, because Greg had been in bands before.

AIR – Dave:

Well I’m really excited to see you guys play and I’m happy you came to Reno. I appreciate you taking time to talk to me about all kinds of shit. Thanks man.

Joe:

Yeah thank you.

img_4671

Interview and transcription by David Hadel

Editing by Racheal Zimmerli