The Devil Wears Prada Screams For The Lord
By Cole Dabney w/ live photos by Jay West
Four years ago, metalcore was an obscure underground offshoot that combined the genres of metal and hardcore punk, primarily aimed at hardcore kids and emo tweens. Today, The Devil Wears Prada rules the landscape of the now mainstream subgenre they helped craft. Still, many people don’t know about, much less appreciate, what has become the music industry’s latest up-and-coming niche market.
The vocals, which typically mix in a combination of a screaming lead and melodic, typically high-pitched singing (commonly referred to in the industry as “clean vocals”), are often performed back-and-forth, or even on top of, one another during the bridge or chorus of the song. The style of guitar can be described as extreme metal fused with melodic hardcore, dropped a few octaves lower than your normal electric guitar and filled with “breakdowns,” slow, intense passages conducive to moshing that often replaces the chorus. Last, but definitely not least are the double-bass kick fueled drums that maintain the high pace of most tracks. Many of the drum parts are so intense that infamous drummers such as Ringo Starr and Don Henley couldn’t duplicate them on their best day. All of these elements have allowed this fairly new style of rock to be adored by a slew of new fans from a multitude of backgrounds.
Interestingly, some of the more popular metalcore bands (including The Devil Wears Prada) happen to be self-described as Christian, a concept that many people—Christian and non-religious alike—have a hard time grasping. “We understand that some people simply are not going to like our music, and that’s okay,” lead vocalist Mike Hranica said from his home in Ohio. “We get that the screaming will turn some people off, or come across as ‘not-Christian,’ but that’s not our audience. A lot of the people that really like this style of music don’t know God, and I love to go into a show with a huge secular audience and perform.” But Hranica, who notably puts in a few words for JC in between songs during each set no matter the audience or environment, makes it clear that he’s not out there to preach. “A lot of people who don’t believe in God, or follow different religions, really just enjoy the ‘poetic-ness’ of our lyrics and the music we make. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about God or not to them.”
When asked about his writing style and how he works with clean-vocalist/guitarist Jeremy DePoyster when writing the two very different vocal parts to the song, Hranica said that as recently as the last record he’d actually started writing some of the clean lyrics for him. And unlike when he first began writing his first lyrics when he was 17—when he would just write the songs in the weeks leading into going into the studio—he now constantly carries around a pad to jot down ideas he has, and eventually sits down with all of them to piece together what will eventually become the newest TDWP track.
What’s in a Name?
Sure, most people associate the words “Devil Wears Prada” with the popular book and 2006 feature film, but the band has nothing to do with that. Rather, they mean for it to refer to Satan and how if he were on earth he would be wearing designer brands like Prada and Gucci, while his opposite, Jesus Christ, walked around in loin clothes and rags. (Gucci Mane most likely had a different reason as to why he has a designer clothes brand in his name.)
While you may think that a Christian band that talks about God at every show would try to include their beliefs into each song, Hranica told me, “I know that (embedded Christian meanings) shouldn’t be in the songs at all times. Some of our songs are completely secular, and some of the other ones, such as ‘Big Wiggly Style,’ were written with a purpose to show fans who maybe say we’ve taken too much of God out of our lyrics that yes, we really do still put Him into what we do.”
Funny enough, what the group of early twenty-somethings may have to thank for their success very early on may have nothing to do with their lyric writing at all. After covering the hit rap song “Still Fly” by the Big Tymers, The Devil Wears Prada became an Internet sensation, garnering over 5 million views on YouTube alone in just a matter of months. When I asked about their progression of lyrics and music over the past few records, Hranica quipped, “it’s pretty easy for us to make good music now, or what people think is good, because our first stuff was so bad. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve just matured and started to focus more on making better stuff overall. We used to just let it all come to us, but we’re now fully concentrated on putting out the best (material) that we can.”
Recently though, maybe their most buzzed about song didn’t have Hranica on it at all—the first, and only, Prada track to do this. “Louder than Thunder,” the second to last track on their critically acclaimed third LP “With Branches Above and Roots Below,” is so extremely different from almost every one of their other songs, it might be hard to believe it’s them if you weren’t familiar with the sound of DePoyster’s voice. Hranica notes, “Our album ‘Plagues’ was just so fast, the whole way through, and most metalcore bands make their last song really slow to change it up, so this was our attempt at a Devil Wears Prada ballad.” But will we see more of this in the future? “I don’t know, I think it’s something that definitely could happen if we get the right song to work again.”
Changing it Up
Now more than a year after releasing their latest album, which debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200, (while also topping the chart’s for Christian, Independent and Hard Rock Albums and coming in as the 35th best-selling Independent Album of 2009), The Devil Wears Prada are embarking on what may be their most daunting task of a tour to date. Amazingly, this is after playing the Main Stage on two separate “Warped Tours”, “Rockstar Taste of Chaos” and “Sounds of the Underground” festivals, co-headlining last fall’s “Napalm and Noise Tour” with All That Remains, and supporting Killswitch Engage on their sold-out nationwide tour—and that was all in the last year or two. What makes this set of summer shows so intriguing is that the band, which regularly sells out every venue with a capacity of up to 2,500, has decided to bypass their normal path and go “back to their roots”. Encompassing 55 shows in the matter of 80 days, the 40+ headlining dates will be played at smaller venues around the country while the remaining performances will take place at music festivals across the globe. (To see the extreme differences in some of these crowds, think about how they will be playing in front of more than 60,000 screaming fans in Tokyo on August 8, and about 300 in Tampa on the 11th.)
Hranica, who is currently prepping for the tour, said it was evident that playing these smaller venues was something the band really wanted to do. “We’ve played Warped Tour the past two summers, and honestly you can only do Warped so many times. So we were sitting down with our agent Dave (Shapiro of The Agency Group) going over ideas (for the summer tour), and he came up with this idea to go back to when we were riding around in vans, booking our own shows at these smaller venues and doing a bunch of festivals. Especially some of the Christian festivals we haven’t been able to play in a while,” he explained. “And I hate to be all unoriginal to say we didn’t come up with the idea, but we were just all about it. I mean a lot of bands, when they get up to the level of being able to play the House of Blues size venues (approximate capacities of 1,000 people) they just kind of do that over and over again for a few years and eventually just fade out. We didn’t want to do that, and we wanted to be able to give the fans the opportunity to experience our music in that more intimate setting again with just a few hundred people, like we used to do. That’s why were playing most of the cities two nights.”
Shapiro, considered by many in the industry to be the top agent for independent bands in the genre, has been with the group since the beginning and recognized the need for the change in a tour strategy. “These guys have the potential to be a career band like a Killswitch Engage 10, 20, 30 years from now. And most of these bands that get big real quick lose touch with their fans just as quickly as they blow up,” Shapiro noted. “So even though (the band) can sell out the bigger venues now, the fans that get the opportunity to see these smaller shows will become even bigger fans, and the ones that don’t end up making it in (the show) will be dying to see them the next time they come around. I mean if you’re in the back row at any of these shows, you’re still no more than just a few dozen feet from the stage.”
Another idea that sprung from the theme of the tour was to play more songs than they have in years from their 2006 debut album “Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord”, and in a way let them retire along with the tour. “We want to go back to our roots, play little hole-in-the-wall places where fans can be right there in front of the stage, where we can hand someone a mic and really have the fans be an active part of the show, not behind a barrier ten feet away," Hranica declared. “We have not built the precise set list yet, and I know it will not entirely be composed of older “Dear Love” songs, but there will definitely be more in there than what we usually do, and we probably won’t play these again or (at least) anytime soon.”
So You Wanna Be a Rock-n-Roll Star?
To leave all you young aspirants of Hranica’s profession with a tip, the humble and somewhat reserved 21 year-old off stage—who I consider to be the most passionate, hardcore performer I’ve ever seen on a stage—told me that to maintain his throat’s health and vocal chord’s fierce and vigorous intensity, he keeps it calm on the bus when the rest of the band is starting to get rowdy before the show and doesn’t get too loud in between shows. “Vitamin C is also key, and helps keep away some of the throat infections I used to get early on,” he confesses. Vocal and throat training is also important, but you may not be able to afford (just yet at least) world-renowned “screaming coach” Melissa Cross in New York City, who the front man gives much credit to. (But, you can order an instructional DVD from the “Zen of Screaming” from her website melissacross.com.)
If you know Austin’s music venues well, then you can definitely understand that Emo’s Indoor—where Prada is scheduled to perform 2 shows in early August—is quite an intimate setting. To make things better, the band has played at Emo’s a half a dozen times over the last few years—only it was on the main stage in front of more than 1,000 people, sold out each and every time well before the show actually began. Needless to say, Austinites should be in for quite a treat when next month rolls around, with an experience that they may not be able to have ever again. So get your tickets while you can, before the band gets any bigger after their next album—which you can expect in 2011. Until then, enjoy the music for what it is, and remember: they’ll have you as fans whether or not you believe in what they believe in or not.
(Tickets are just $16, less expensive than previous TDWP tours that have come through the Capital City, and can be purchased online at either emosaustin.com or tdwpband.com, or in-store at Waterloo Records.)