Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall – ‘Darker Still’ ‘Almost Broke’ the Band Dynamic
Parkway Drive's Winston McCall was the latest guest to drop by Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, on hand to discuss the band's latest album, Darker Still. The new album challenged the band in ways the group hadn't previously been put to the test and McCall reveals that it "almost broke" the band's inner dynamic in the process.
That said, the album pushes the sonic pallet for the group in a manner in which they had previously not gone, a result of the pandemic lockdown's influence, according to McCall. The musician reveals that they tasked themselves with a no holds barred approach, feeling like this could be their final release with fears of music not coming back.
The pandemic also had another effect on the group, forcing them to take a closer look at how they communicated with one another and realizing a change had to be made. That led to a cancelled tour earlier this year, and McCall speaks to how they've adapted in the time since to hopefully make their future a healthier one.
Check out more of the chat below.
We're here to celebrate the release of the new Parkway Drive record Darker Still, which is out now. Winston, what's different about this album in terms of challenging yourselves with greater creative expectations?
Oh Lord. (Laughs) where do I start on this one? Basically this album pushes the boundaries of what we've done as a band and what we can do as a band further than anything we've done previously. I'm sure every single band kind of says that every time they do an album, but for us, we started writing this during year one of COVID craziness, and when all that was going on, basically we had the entire music industry shut down. We couldn't tour. Basically the entire world kind of thought this could be it, like this literally could be it for the entire world. So in terms of us writing, we're like, 'Well, if we're only gonna write one more album, what do you want to actually write?"
Now it turns out everything's up and rolling again. But when we started writing, we approached it with a no holds barred [approach]. This could be the last thing you ever do. So how far do you want to go with it? And for us it was like, "Well, if you're not gonna have another shot at this, you may as well go as far as possible in terms of sonic changes and everything you wanna commit to." So it leads itself to being a very varied album in terms of the sonic pallet. What we tried to accomplish, the types of songs we tried to write and put onto an album and the scope of the entire thing is much broader than anything we've done before.
It's your seventh album over the course of being together for nearly 20 years. What have you done to cultivate creative spontaneity in an environment of such great familiarity?
Yeah, that's an interesting one because you're trying to walk that line of familiarity and knowing what works, but also trying to push yourself into I'm gonna say more uncomfortable places so you can try and expand what you do. I think any time you get a bit too comfortable for us, we kind of get bored a little bit. You do one thing and play a thousand shows of one song and you kind of decide you wanna do something else to add to what you do.
For us, it's just a constant push and pull between the three main writing members, which is myself, Jeff, our lead guitarist and Ben, our drummer. And we kind of push it and prod each other with basically everything that we either have influence wise or everything we want to do within the band itself. And we all have our own very varied places that we draw influence from which we drag in, which kind of no one else in the band hits individually. So when it all comes together, we find that it always heightens whatever the individual goal is in the first place, which is great.
It's just trying to ride that line of not [pissing] the other people off, but at the same point in time, making sure you're poking them enough going, "No, not far enough. We've gotta keep moving. We've gotta keep pushing on this. This is too safe." So that's kind of it to me, to be honest, and we've got it down pretty well. This album, I'm not even gonna mince words, but it pushed us way further than we would ever have gone friendship wise to the point where it almost broke the entire band and that dynamic in general.
Parkway Drive, "Glitch"
The latest single "Glitch" is about night terrors and sleep paralysis. What intrigues you most about the subliminal function of the human mind?
Oh man, it's such a fascinating thing because when you witness these events or it's part of your life in general, you realize how powerful the human mind is and how much control it has over the very fabric of the way we perceive reality. That's something that's not only fascinating, but also terrifying to people. It is for me. It's something that I find to be captivating in its unknown. The fact that you can still be at the mercy of your own body and what that can actually do to the concept of fear and the concept of terror in general, it's the ultimate existential dread, which I think every good horror movie or anything to do with the human psyche always tries to capture.
It is that sense of helplessness and the small nature of what we hold to be our little slice of reality, and as soon as the barriers come down to that and the mind is unleashed it's truly terrifying.
Winston, you canceled a North American tour in order to focus on healing within the band. What's the greatest health pitfall that endangers touring bands, particularly yourselves?
Oh God, where do we start with this one? For us it was communication basically at the very base level. It was succumbing to the grind, and not knowing any way out of the grind, including communicating with the people that you are closest with, which are our bandmates. On any given day, the job that we do and I'll call it a job because being a musician is damn hard work and is incredibly isolating. Like it's an industry where you are in a constant ebb and flow between incredible highs and incredible lows and a massive connection with a huge amount of people at the same time. Then there's extreme isolation in terms of even being able to communicate with another person as to what you are feeling and what your existence is like. If you don't have a team behind you who is putting you in or helping to foster a healthy environment, you kind of have no guardrails and it can send you really far off the edge.
For us, it was like we were the ones responsible for how the team functioned. When you start doing this as a kid, and then you grow for 20 years in a band and you don't ever get taught how to communicate properly as an adult, or even to function properly in terms of like reaching out or being vulnerable or being open, and you go through 20 years worth of life in a touring band, it does a lot of damage. We never realized it until we started getting ready for the tour that we canceled. It became apparent that a lot of people in the band had major issues that only basically came to light when we stopped during COVID.
Once the idea of starting back up came again, we're like, hang on something something's really, really wrong here. What are we gonna do about it? Once we started talking about it, we realized that there's a lot of mental health stuff we actually had to deal with. So that's what we've been doing. Playing catch up on 20 years of growth and communication, and basically going to counseling and group therapy and stuff like that to try and work our way through this and figure out how to play catch up. It's a really, really a challenging thing as a band to do.
I think the music industry is still playing catch up to a big reckoning, a mental health reckoning, because it has a lot of very unique things around it, which provide very easy pitfalls for people who aren't in I guess the more stable frames of mind.
Like every other band, the pandemic effectively shut you down for in inordinate amount of time. In what ways has starting back up been a complete reset, like Parkway Drive 2.0, so to speak?
That's it, like a complete reset for us. Essentially we still haven't even started up. We're still like revving the engine to be. We played one show. It was a New Year's Eve gig this year. And that's been it since this whole thing shut down. So, being from Australia, first of all, all of a sudden made itself a massive challenge.
Even when everything kicked off all wide, we're watching festival season over your way and festivals in Europe and tours happening, and we're still only just getting shows started again in our country. For a long time, our borders were completely shut. So even if we wanted to tour, we weren't even allowed out, which I never thought would be something that I would even see in my lifetime. Didn't think it was possible. We ran through so many scenarios over the years where I'm like, "Nothing can stop the music industry. Nothing can stop this band." We've flown through volcanic ash. We've had natural disasters. We've had floods, we've had fires ... nothing slowed this thing down. It's not gonna stop. And then COVID popped up. I didn't think of a pandemic. Did you?
For us, it's been a chance to write an album and record it, almost self-destruct at the same time and then figure out how not to self-destruct set everything up. So when we do come back, it's in a healthier, stronger place, which is really, really great. It's just at the moment we're doing all the work on the back end, this plan for the release, the album plan, the shows plan, the tours that are gonna be coming and do it in a way that basically harnesses everything good that we have within this band and leaves all the negative stuff behind, which that's a good result in the end.
We kind of had to drag ourselves through hell in the middle of a pandemic to do it. But at the same point in time, I feel as though where we're at as a band is much healthier and probably in a better place than we've ever been to be, to be pretty frank with it, which is sometimes you just gotta walk straight through the fire. Don't you?
Winston, it's so great to chat with you. I wish you guys the best of luck, and I'm really excited about this new record. And hope to see you again really soon.
Oh yeah. We'll be back. That's the thing. It takes time, but we will be back and if you get a little bit in and it self destructs or you have to wait a little bit longer, we're around for the long haul and we'll make the long haul count.
Thanks to Parkway Drive's Winston McCall for the interview. The 'Darker Still' album is available now and you can order it via the band's website. You can also keep up with the band via their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.