Success is subjective in the music industry.
Parkway Drive vocalist Winston McCall doesn’t measure it by the number of followers his band has on Facebook (1.26 million) or album sales or the fact that his band is headlining what looks like being a sell-out Australian tour with US metalcore giants Killswitch Engage.
“For us, people coming to gigs is the only way to measure anything for this band. We simply write music we are passionate about and put on energetic shows. And that’s it. This music is literally us,” he says.
McCall is at home in Byron Bay when Weekender calls, having enjoyed a rare 10 days off following a tour of Europe and the US.
“It’s hard for Australian bands to make a name for themselves overseas, let alone a band from Byron, let alone a band playing the kind of music we play,” he says.
“There is little or no mainstream appeal in what we do so there has always been a sense of ‘where is this going to go?’ There has been a definite shift in the past couple of years though. We found there was an opportunity to grow as a band and that means opportunities to play with different bands, to write different types of music that we’re into, to put on shows that are bigger.
“We’ve taken those chances. We don’t have any specific plans but we don’t have any plans to take our foot off the gas, either. Creatively, we are still running very very hot.”
Parkway Drive is touring Australia in support of their sixth studio album, Reverence. It soared straight to number one on the ARIA charts, making it the band’s fifth ARIA top 10 debut and second consecutive number one.
Reverence is widely regarded as Parkway Drive’s most adventurous and personal to date. It was written on the back of a series of tragedies the band had endured, including the untimely loss of two loved ones. Fans are divided however it remains the band’s biggest-selling album.
“Everyone has an opinion on something and the reality is these days if you don’t like something you have an outlet to share that opinion. We are living in an ultra-polarising society,” McCall says.
“You’d think the world was ending if you just read the online comments, but then you walk out on stage and play Prey for the first time ever and thousands of people sing along to every word and you go ‘oh, maybe the reality is a little different’.
“I haven’t had one single person come up to me and say they didn’t like something we’ve put out. Only the opposite. The negative side is never voiced to my face. It says more about society than it does about the music.”
A Parkway Drive album is, McCall says, “always written with the live environment in mind”.
“It’s not devoid of soul, it’s not like we say let’s create a soundtrack to something, but we’ve always been a live band above anything else.
“The softest part is there for a very specific reason, and so is the heaviest part. It’s calculated and curated. As much of the emotion that is conveyed is also knowing the emotion that is going to be put into the live performance at that moment. I just want to have a connection with an audience because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.”
McCall says the band has “never subscribed to any of the things that seem to drive popular culture” – and has no desire to do so. I recall seeing Parkway Drive at Maitland’s Groovin The Moo festival in 2012. They were the only metal-hardcore band on a line-up that included Public Enemy, City and Colour, Matt Corby, Hilltop Hoods, 360, Bluejuice and Kimbra. Far from being feeling nervous walking on stage under those circumstances, McCall laps it up.
“We love doing what we do and we’re very humbled to have been given the opportunity to have that platform,” he says.
“I get so much satisfaction going out on stage at a mixed festival and having the audience go ‘what the f – – – is this?’ And then three songs in having them start to nod along. That, to me, is a win. Giving somebody something they didn’t even know they liked, or had an interest in. That’s the only way you grow.”
He is also a firm believer in putting in the hard yards as a band.
“No band ever starts as the biggest band on the planet. Well, occasionally they do but it’s very f – – – ing rare,” he says.
“If you look at bands like Powderfinger, people are like ‘oh they’re enormous’ but no one ever talks about the first 10 years they did as a house band in a pub. You’ve got to work for that. And we’ve worked for one hell of a long time.
“Every gig has its place in our history. You can take shortcuts these days to a degree but it’s very rare that the hype bubble doesn’t burst. Everyone screams that one festival season and then that person is gone.”
The band will bring their huge European stage set-up to Newcastle – if it fits.
“The drum machine is next dimension and you need a big door to be able to wheel that f – – – er through,” McCall says, laughing. “We don’t want to cut corners – and there have been points in the band’s career where we’ve had to. It’s going to be a mad tour.”