When I reach lead singer Mike Hranica at his home in Chicago, we are 18 days out from kick-off for The Devil Wears Prada’s two-leg Rise Up Tour, co-headlined by Memphis May Fire with support from Like Moths To Flames, post-hardcore band Silverstein jumping on for a couple of the North America dates with full support in Europe. In the audible background, his dogs Marge and Mellie (“Terry Terriers, like Toto.”) pepper our conversation with little barks and evidence of play (“Oh my gosh, please excuse the squeaking!”), which Hrancia politely speaks for. I wonder to myself where they stay when he’s away on tour.
“You can’t feel the transit blues without losing something you thought was true,” is from the title track off of The Devil Wears Prada’s new album, Transit Blues, which came out just short of two weeks ago. The concise, 11-track full-length is beautifully controlled, lyrical and heavy in all the right places, feeling very much 11 years in the making as getting older and wiser and recent lineup and label changes place the metalcore band in a new position to tell their stories; Transit Blues is the first full-length album without drummer and founding member Daniel Williams and with guitarist Kyle Sipress, who replaced founder member Chris Rubey last year.
With a touring drummer, Haste The Day’s Giuseppe Antonio Capolupo, Jeremy DePoyster (rhythm guitar, clean vocals), Andy Trick (bass), Jonathan Gering (keyboards), and Mike Hranica (lead vocals) unsentimentally embark on their latest outfit of events as The Devil Wears Prada, an ever-evolving band proving that new sounds don’t erase the old stuff, and while transitions and change can give you the blues, it can give you some perspective, too.
With some changes in lineup before the production and recording of Transit Blues, how has preparing for this tour compared to going into other tours?
Really just getting Giuseppe all up to date. We’re going to be doing some different things on the tour with regards to older material and whatnot, so John and Kyle have worked hard to put together the demos for this idea we have. Basically, usually, we procrastinate to the extreme as far as collectively putting together our set lists and we actually did it early this time so Giuseppe can get all caught up and know a whole bunch of songs that they have never played before.
How did you assemble the support for the Rise Up Tour?
Rise [Records] had the proposals and a lot of credit goes to Dave Shapiro, our booking agent. He’s the best.
You had a string of shows in July, including Chicago Open Air. How’d that go?
[Chicago Open Air] was actually Giuseppe’s first show and it went over terrifically. I believe it was the first year they were going it down at Toyota Park [in Ill.]. We played between Hatebreed and Meshuggah, which was super, super rad and we’re honored to have that chance. But it went really well; we usually have pretty awful luck when we play a show after a pretty long break. Open Air was terrific.
The new album Transit Blues as written in Watertown, Wis. and Sawyer, Mich. to keep everyone together and inspire creativity. Why those towns? What did a day look like in your writing process?
Originally, I was trying to do an AirBnb in Madison, and we didn’t have much luck. Madison is, like, two hours from Chicago, so it’s pretty close, which of course works geographically for us. Generally, we’re kind of just Midwest dudes and like this vibe and like being out here, and proud to call Chicago home, for the most part. And that was the same with Sawyer. It’s along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan and there’s a brewery there that we’ve fallen in love with that we just knew we’d sit round through the winter keeping warm, drinking beer.
It worked out really well. A part of housing ourselves so we could also write on the same property was so that we had a little more liberty and freedom to jam and write whenever we wanted even if it’s at two or three a.m. and everyone’s thoroughly tipsy. But it proved very conducive. I can’t imagine any other way as far as getting up, everyone making breakfast either by themselves or one by one, and then some folks sit around and watch SportsCenter or whatever, some guys will start demoing, some guys would be out in the barn writing. And week by week we collectively sort of compose more songs than will amount to a record.
What was it like growing up in Ohio? What was the music scene like when you were getting into music?
We all grew up in Ohio, or at least the founding members. I considered the music scene bountiful. I’m not sure why it worked this way, but I never really went to huge shows. I went to two, sometimes three shows a weekend between Dayton and Cincinnati, but it was really mostly just local bands. It was cheap, of course, but that was where the friends I had, they were playing in bands. They were at those shows and it was quite inspirational to me.
But yeah, I recall it being quite plentiful. I mean it felt like a time of less obligation and less expectation. Dudes making music to play those shows, the little shows at the VFW halls and skate parks and, I dunno. Nostalgia tells me and remembers it being a little more pure than what I feel a lot of the local scenes are these days in regards to metalcore
You say in the Transit Blues bio that “aging physically and mentally is more at the forefront. In the past, anger was a big inspiration. These days, separation and mourning are the more immediate topics.” You are 27. When did you start to feel old? Do you think working and touring at 17 and 18 is a contributing factor?
Really in more recent years…I came down, or I was diagnosed, with hypothyroidism when we finished Warped Tour in I believe it was 2014 or 2013. And I started to deal with more issues with anxiety in regards to panic attacks and whatnot. A lot of that has taken its toll and last time being out on tour, basically feeling like my stomach is out of control and even just being away from home for long periods of time, I kept getting some sort of virus while I was out.
And there were two months recording this album where I was just basically vomiting all day and not being able to stomach water. Yeah, it’s rough to try to eat well when you’re out, and all the certain little components are much more difficult to deal with now getting later in my 20s compared to getting in the van when I was 17.
In last year’s Reddit AMA, someone asked, “Do you still open shows with ‘chili cheese enchilada, we are The Devil Wears Prada'” and the band said, “we wish we did :-/” and Daniel specifically said, “We certainly do not.” Could you tell us why that is?
(Chuckles) Uh, yeah, you know, there were no expectations when we started the band and that’s unfortunately, timelessly documented with our song titles. We never really expected to do anything. I never knew how any of the industry worked or what it was like to professionally tour and to make this a sustainable living, and with that we still don’t take ourselves seriously. Not too seriously, at least.
And people that spend more time around us think that our sense of humor can be quite contagious. And it was revealed differently, way back when.
Transit Blues is on Rise Records. You released your debut album Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord and Plagues on Rise, then a couple albums on Ferret, then Roadrunner. What was it like working with each of those labels?
It was tricky, because we had moved from Rise to Ferret, and then Ferret was quickly bought out entirely by Warner. So our time there doing With Roots Above [and Branches Below] and Dead Throne and a little of the Zombie EP was kind of “independent-label group,” kind of…How do I say this…kind of a mish-mash or kind of an accumulated team working on our records.
From there, we were able to move under the umbrella of Roadrunner, and I have a world of respect and I still consider being able to have done full-length on Roadrunner one of the more respectable moments in my career, in this band’s career, in that they have been such a heavyweight and such an important voice and distributor of heavy music over how ever many years. I think the world of Roadrunner.
We moved back to Rise knowing that it was time for a change of pace. We’d been familiar with Craig Ericson, gosh, almost 10 years now. Actually, over 10 years now. Ten and half years. We introduced ourselves to Rise and were signed rather quickly. So, it’s the notion of familiarity and knowing what their staff is and seeing their explosive success and wanting to get back in there.
The first single off of Transit Blues is a track called “Daughter,” which nods to the great feminist writer and existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Mandarins, which has been cited as one of your favorite novels. Tell us more about that. Are you an existentialist?
It’s not my favorite novel. My favorite novel is by [Jean Paul] Sartre, the existentialist, a prominent one by all means.
Which novel is that?
Nausea…But yeah, existentialism feels like it’s a little past time, to some extent in regards to present philosophy. I also wouldn’t consider myself a philosopher by any means. There was another novel by Simone de Beauvoir called Adieux, which was about her last years, and really a lot of her years with Sartre and it was very fascinating, his opinions of being a novelist versus being a philosopher, one of the more moving sentiments from that being that it is more enriching and more, I guess, fertile to be a novelist or to be a fiction writer rather than a philosopher. And that he perceived it as fiction being more limitless than philosophy, which I know is probably easily up for debate amongst philosophy majors. But I like the sentiment.
Another song off the record, “Home for Grave II,” follows a narrative, and you have a novella of the same name, if you could expand on that a bit.
On our last full-length, 8:18, we have a song called “Home for Grave,” which is basically a song about an ordinary man who lives and dies without any real meaning, and looking at that in kind of the machine-like way life can be. Once I did that song, I knew immediately I could do a short story. The novella is actually my second self-published book.
When we were getting into [Transit Blues], I knew that we could expand it further. The song was kind of the gist of this unfair life being ended and the short story was more of an expansion of his youth, his lost love with a character named Anna and his untimely death.
Then “Home for Grave II” on Transit Blues looks mostly at Anna mourning his loss and the sort of sentimental and nostalgic moments from their time seeing each other and then it ends in this kind of triumph in inevitability of death.
In today’s climate, “Lock & Load” is very on the nose, yet it feels gracefully restrained. It’s heart breaking. With events tallying on the topic as recent as this week, could you expand upon what went into writing that song?
Certainly. “Lock & Load” was…When we did the Space EP, the last song “An Asteroid Towards Earth,” I went out to Kansas City where John lives and wrote the song with him. It was just really cool to have fewer heads in the room and less tension. We did that and saw what the other guys thought, and they all really liked it. And I wanted to do kind of the same sort of manner of songwriting, this time with Kyle in the picture, as well. So Kyle and I drove out to Kansas City and we wrote “Lock & Load.”
I mentioned to a few other sources who have asked about the song that, tragically, I can’t remember what specific atrocity happened to fuel that. I know it wasn’t Paris, I know it wasn’t San Bernardino…The horrible thing, for lack of better words, is that it happens so frequently that I can’t even keep them straight in my mind. And when this event occurred when we made that song, it definitely felt that like this was what we wanted to speak of topically, and that what we wanted to do was create the most unsettling song we possibly could, that didn’t resolve, that didn’t make you feel…basically a song without any kind of completion, which is our perception at the issue itself.
It’s horrible. Being three of us in Chicago, the murder rate here and hearing what happens with guns is disgusting. And I think that the topic is so easily forgotten. On my side of things, on the liberal media side, we try to make it more of a point of conversation, but it hasn’t been successful. I would love to see some kind of result sooner than later.
I actually saw that Questlove and some other musicians are starting a kind of coalition. I’m not well read on the matter, but I would love to see more of that.
People trying to do something rather than just talk about it.
Certainly. I mean, I can’t fathom what the NRA is actually trying to do, even myself thoroughly being anti-gun. I can’t speak for the rest of the band as far as owning guns. But no one is trying to take anything away. I hate that this organization is funding this total lie. It’s mind-baffling.
There was a period where bands including but not limited to The Devil Wears Prada, Bring Me The Horizon and Underoath were in the cross-hairs of genre splitting i.e. “they aren’t metal, they’re this; they aren’t hardcore, they’re that.” In general, do you still find that to occur? Do you think the evolved proliferation of information and the way people consumer it have had an influence on the way people talk about music?
I think it’s become much more convoluted, specifically speaking on the metalcore side of things versus speaking on music in general. My kind of gripe with metalcore is that it feels like a lot of times it’s more of a boy band than it is aggressive music anymore, and I find that most distasteful, to put it lightly. And I think it has been splitting hairs and I’ve spoken with some sources who say that this is ruining metal, to be so specific. I tend to disagree. I don’t find that extreme niches are in fact poisonous or a wrongdoing in music, though that’s my own opinion.
And when you put out With Roots Above after Plagues some, gosh, almost 10 years ago I think? Around 2008, so eight years ago, eight years-ish… I was very thorough on being like “This is a metalcore band.” This was born out of what we listened to, the heavier bands off of Solid State and Trustkill bands, etc. etc. And I was very vocal that we were a metalcore band, not some scene band, screamo band, as much as our image, unfortunately, reflected that.
I think it’s metalcore and I don’t pay too much mind to what it is in terms of giving it a label or a title. But I would consider the sound that we’ve achieved now kind of rubbing up against post-hardcore, as well as metalcore. Whether that offends someone, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s really worth paying too much attention to.
Underoath just got back together for a highly publicized reunion (or Rebirth), and acts such as The Used are having ten year band and album anniversary tours. Lots of bands are cashing in on that, but the fans are coming out. What do you think this says about this class, or generation, of fans and what this era of music means to people?
You know, I don’t mean to dog on bands that very much inspired me early on, but I really hate the “breakup and come back and cash in four or five years later.” On this topic of conversation, I really would praise Thrice, who wanted to take a break, said, you know, “We might be back, we might not.” I value that much, much more than what feels like a very obvious cash grab, and I hate that.
I’ve bitched and complained to other members of this band that we’re never going to break up because if something comes along and it’d be fun to play some festivals…it doesn’t need to be this widely publicized…It just feels really immature and less intentional than I would prefer as far as, “Hey, we’re done. These are all our problems. I hate this guy, this guy hates me,” and a few years down the road like, “Oh, I’m bored at home, I’m going to pick up on sort of this instant paycheck”…it just doesn’t reflect with much integrity, to me.
And I don’t mean to dog on bands. Thursday and Underoath were extremely influential for me growing up, though their present methods aren’t that which I would praise.
To what do you credit your band’s longevity?
I was watching Jimmy Fallon the other day, and Terry Crews was on. And Jimmy asked him, “How do you have so much energy?” Because this dude is just off the wall. And he said, “Gratitude. Anytime you need energy, you need to remember to be grateful. That alone will inspire you.” And as silly as that might seem as far as Fallon and whatnot, I thought that really hit the nail on the head. We’ve remained grateful, by all means, and that’s been a point of being able to go out and do what we want and make the records that we want and to have the freedom and the liberty to create something and then perform that.
It’s diligence, it’s being intentional, and I tend to be really hands on with a lot of the business things. And every time we get together and start writing again, I always feel like I’m going to be exhausted or feel like “this part of my life is not there anymore; I need to focus my sights elsewhere.” But it hasn’t been that way, and I’m grateful for the fact that people still want to listen and people still enjoy the music. That keeps us afloat.
The Devil Wears Prada performs Oct. 18 at Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA and Oct. 19 at Webster Hall in New York City. Their new album, Transit Blues, is available now through Rise Records. For more information, go to tdwpband.com.