Protomartyr Interview: “Trying To Recreate Kid Rock’s Career In Miniature”

protomartyr interview

The Agent Intellect Is Out October 9th Via Hardly Art.

A protomartyr is the first martyr for a cause eg. St. Stephen in the case of Christianity. Protomartyr is also the name of a post-punk quartet from Detroit. Their newest album is titled The Agent Intellect, which takes its name from an Aristotelian concept which refers to the formal aspect of the intellect. It is also excellent. This is obviously a group with a large interest in mortality and the nature of existence coupled with a wry sense of humour. As much was evident when we sat down for a chat with Joe Casey, singer with the group, when one minute he spoke about Aristotle while the next he was on to Kid Rock. One word of advice though: don’t ask him about Detroit!

Protomartyr UK tour dates:

30 October – Brighton, Green Door Store*
31 October – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club*
01 November – London, Scala*
02 November – London, The Victoria [HEADLINE SHOW]
03 November – Bristol, The Fleece*
04 November – Manchester, Sound Control*
05 November – Glasgow, Stereo*
06 November – Birmingham, The Rainbow Cellar
07 November – Cardiff, SWN Fest

*with METZ

Overblown: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Overblown. First things first, Under Color Of Official Right was one of my favourite albums of 2014. I love that Alice in Chains line in ‘What The Wall Said’. Reminds me of being in my early 20s, drinking cans with my friends at house parties, and drunkenly singing ‘Nutshell’. What is the significance of Alice in Chains to you?

Joe Casey: Ha ha, well, those lines in the middle of “What The Wall Said” are all the things I definitely would not miss about going out and getting blotto every night. I remember sitting in a bar, pretty wet, and some joker had put in nothing but Alice In Chains. That’s the problem with these computer jukeboxes…people can pay to control your evening. Anyway, I felt like I was in hell. But then again, I was drunk enough not to get up and walk out the door, so it was a hell of my own making…and the piece of shit that wanted to hear “The Rooster” five times in a row.

O: This new album is named ‘The Agent Intellect’. This is a concept created by Aristotle about how the mind operates in relation to itself. How did you come across this concept, and what has it to do with the record overall?

JC: By accident, in some book that had nothing to do with Aristotle. I liked that it was vague and that nobody seems to know exactly what he was going on about. That seems, to me, to be a good explanation of how the mind works: “Nobody knows nothing”. I’ve since asked a real smart guy what it all means and he said that Aristotle probably explained it, but it either was never written down or lost to time. Ah well.

O: The first single from the album is ‘Why Does It Shake?’ which is based on something singer Joe Casey’s mother said about the trembling in her hands. There is also a song called ‘Ellen’ which is written from the perspective of Joe’s father speaking to Joe’s mother from the afterlife. Mortality is something that seems to preoccupy many lyrics in your oeuvre. Why the interest in mortality?

JC: I guess I would say, “Why not the interest in mortality?” I don’t know, winters are long and dark here and I happen to be going through the first stage of life where a lot of people die – when your older relatives all start dropping off. The second, if your lucky, is when all your friends and contemporaries start snuffing out. If you can live that long. Perhaps I’ve finally said all I can think on the subject or maybe the next album is going to be called “More Songs About Death and Dying”?

O: I’ve never been to Detroit but I am aware of its industrial heritage. Industry suggests grit, and hard work. These are things that I feel have influenced your sound. How do you feel Detroit has influenced your work?

JC: Hooo boy. The Detroit question, and with “grit” in it! We’ve never been very good at pining down how things influence our work. Detroit offers basements and garages for relatively cheap (although that is changing) in which to practice, many bars and friend’s houses in which to play, and a citizenry that are, for the most part, into getting their drink on and music appreciators. So that’s where we come from. Also, because that scene isn’t about “flash” or “making it”, a band of nobodies with rudimentary skills can feel okay playing out. All that, plus trying to recreate Kid Rock’s career in miniature.

O: After listening to the new album, it seems to me that your new songs are more expansive than previously with songs like ‘Ellen’ clocking in at over six minutes. The short minute long punk blasts are largely gone. Was this a conscience decision?

JC: Well, Greg had the idea of having all the songs melt into each other and the rest of us didn’t think that was too dumb. The shorter, contained blasts don’t quite work in that template. Although, I will say “The Hermit” and “Clandestine Time” are going to be “blast-like” when we play them live.

O: The last album was released barely 18 months ago. What inspired you guys to return to studio so quickly?

JC: Mortality! We approach the band with a certain urgency, but you have to remember that we actually recorded the last album almost two years ago, it’s the lag time on record releasing that makes it seem closer than it is. Also, why slow down? It’s neither a creatively nor financially smart move for us right now.

O: Since the release of that album, you have had quite a quick rise to critical acclaim and relative popularity. What has been the highlight of this ascent?

JC: The problem is, we have only a vague notion of this. You can’t really bask in positive reviews without also focusing on the negative ones. So, for your own health, it’s best to take it all skeptically. I did enjoy when a guy driving a truck in North Carolina stopped us when we were walking down the street to say he liked the album. That was unexpected.

O: This autumn you have a tour on the horizon. Any places you are particularly excited about playing?

JC: We haven’t been to Wales, Scotland, or Denmark before. Also, Halloween in Leeds at the Brudenell Social Club should be a good time. We had quite a night last time we went there.

O: What other bands are currently worth checking out from Detroit?

JC: Casual Sweetheart, Growwing Pains, PRC, Paint Thinner, etc.

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