Protest the Hero’s Rody Walker: Trump’s Vision of Greatness Is America’s ‘Tragic Flaw’
Protest the Hero fought like hell to bring their incendiary new album, Palimpsest, to fruition. The Canadian prog-metal outfit began writing it in early 2017, but they pumped the brakes when singer Rody Walker blew out his voice near the end of their 2018 Fortress X Tour. It took a year of doctors’ appointments and extensive vocal rehab before Walker could resume recording, but the delay did not dilute Palimpsest’s message in the slightest. If anything, it’s become more timely.
The band’s first full-length album since 2013’s Volition derives its title from the Greek word for a manuscript page from which the text has been erased so it can be used for another document. Each of its 10 tracks tells the story of a different pivotal U.S. event between 1919 and 1941, albeit with a different perspective than one might find in high school history textbooks. “From the Sky” revisits the Hindenburg disaster, where the fireball engulfing the aircraft obscured the swastikas on its tail and prevented the ensuing photos from foreshadowing Nazi Germany’s reign of terror. “Little Snakes” chips the patriotic veneer of Mount Rushmore by reminding listeners that it memorializes slave owners and was built on land that the U.S. stole from Native Americans.
These stories, combined with the album title, make Palimpsest’s concept abundantly clear: Americans have repeatedly distorted their country’s history to reinforce their own exceptionalism, while omitting the genocide, enslavement and other tyrannical means through which they rose to power.
Shortly before the release of Palimpsest, Walker got on the phone to discuss the inspiration behind the album and offer suggestions to fans who disagree with the band’s politics.
Tell me about the genesis of this album’s concept.
Well, it was being written like three years ago. Trump had just taken office and all this stuff was happening; all the MAGA hats were out in full force and all sorts of stuff like that. And I started thinking about the definition of greatness. And I have a feeling people are going to view this as though it's talking negatively about the United States, and that is not entirely it, because the greatness that Donald Trump and all his cronies want to return to is only great for the old, white, male, rich elite.
That is the greatness of America that the rest of the world views as its tragic flaw. And I wanted to discuss that aspect of things, but I also wanted to discuss the greatness that we actually view as America's greatness. Because there is greatness, there's beauty, there's all sorts of stuff. There's innovation, there’s an incredible history. And I wanted to discuss both the negative and the positive and identify what I personally find the greatness to be.
It feels like the stuff you were writing about just three years ago has already taken on a different meaning, given the turmoil in America right now.
The song that actually kind of scared me a little bit was "The Fireside." My wife was editing the lyrics to that when this all started, like the pandemic, and everyone started taking more seriously all the shutdowns and stuff like that. And it's talking about the fireside chats during the Second World War, when the president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] came over the radio and spoke to everyone on a daily basis.
And she's going, “This is kind of fucked up. It seems like it was written yesterday about today.” It's supposed to be about the Great Depression, so when it's as general as that, I guess you could apply it to our current times. Because they keep calling this a recession, but I don't see how we're going to get out of this without something that really resembles an actual depression.
Would you call this a… protest album?
[laughs] Ah, yes and no. Not in the traditional sense. I mean, it's just politically and socially driven, and I don't know that I could write something in this current climate that wasn't politically and socially driven. I think a lot of artists would feel that way. Whether it's a protest album or not: I don't think so, 'cause I don't think the point is to change anything, you know? It's just to address something. It's not our business to change it. It's not our country.
How does it feel to write about the United States as a Canadian right now?
There was quite a bit of trepidation on my part regarding it, because I think the demographic of the United States that will not take kindly to this particularly is the alt-right, which seems stronger and more vibrant every day. Whose voices sound louder on Facebook every fucking hour. So I definitely attempted to approach this as carefully as possible. But there's only a few ways you can call out the specific history of a country with kid gloves.
I'm willing to bet a lot of diehard fans align with you politically and socially, so you probably don’t have to worry about wiping out half of your fanbase.
Honestly, even if that happened — good. If we got a bunch of [the] super right-wing, alternative conservative element that are listening to our band thinking everything's hunky dory, it's not hunky dory. I don't want those people listening to our music anyways. They can kick rocks as far as I'm concerned. Fuck 'em.
Protest the Hero's 'Palimpsest' will be out Thursday, June 18 — pre-order it here.
2020's Most Anticipated Rock + Metal Albums