WPR Interviews – The Protomen
I know I say this all too often, but when I started this website years ago, I never once envisioned being able to interview influential bands, or people who I adore. I picked up The Protomen at the insistence of our very own Evan Burkey and honestly didn’t know what to think of a band who used the Mega Man game series from Capcom as their base story for their music. I knew I’d like it because it was videogame related, but I had no idea I’d come to love them for their amazing styles of music and excellent production values.
So here it is, our interview with The Protomen that we promised was coming so long ago, I hope you enjoy!
WatchPlayRead – Gotta say, I’m a huge fan. After I discovered you guys earlier on this year, I have come to rely on your music to keep me entertained at work. Literally, I listen to one or both of your albums each night. Of course the highest rotation goes to “Breaking Out” and “The Will of One”, with a special 3rd place for “The Hounds”…though it’s always hard to pick favorites on two very differently themed albums. Was the plan all along to record a prequel album AFTER the first volume came out?
MURPHY – We always knew we had to tell the story of how it all went down. When the first record was done, we knew it had to be the next step.
WPR – The third album remains obscured by the fog of time, any chance you could let us in on a bit of a scoop and announce when/if we’re going to see Act III of this amazing Rock Opera?
PANTHER – Act III is coming. The story wouldn’t be complete if we stopped now. We can’t say when. Nor can we really go into any great details about it…but I will tell you that Track 9 is tentatively called “The Story of How Phil Collins Secretly Wrote Most Of Metallica’s Early Catalogue — And How It All Relates To Dr. Light.” …it’s a working title … It may change before the release date … I’ve said too much already.
WPR – I’ve read the production notes about your guys’ first album and the audio nerd in me just loses his sh*t, so to speak, about how you worked to shun the modern methods of sound production and the insistence on recording analog. I personally think that there is a certain bit of art in recording analog and editing the OLD WAY, that is lost when you have any kid with a laptop able to digital edit something into the realm of over produced. If you could, what was your inspiration for recording the album that way? Did you repeat any of the processes with Act II?
COMMANDER – There are just a shit load of benefits to recording analog. For one, it just sounds great. You can’t duplicate the natural noise and saturation that is inherent when recording to tape. We would probably record everything to tape if budget wasn’t a concern. But don’t get me wrong, digital has loads of benefits as well (speed, for one). I think the real key is learning to use them together. Everything we put out goes to tape at some point in the process. (and every cd that goes out has gone over to the digital darkness at least once).
WPR – While we’re on the technical aspect of the music, what gear do you guys all like playing on currently? We’ve got fans of this site who are dying to find out.
PANTHER – We generally don’t like using gear that isn’t older than we are. Not that we’re vintage gear snobs… It’s just how it’s turned out. I would say that one of the newest piece of gear we use is probably the VP550 vocoder keyboard that The Gambler uses. And probably one of the oldest is MURPHY… and his Roland Synth. Sir Robert Bakker and his brother have built almost all of his gear. There are, at any given moment, as many as 9 of us up there playing god knows what… our gear manifest is painful to look at. I’ll say that the best way to find out what we use is to come out to the shows and ask us about our stuff. (We’d much rather talk about our gear than which Robot Master would win in a fight, Metal Man or that dude in five that looked like a train…)
WPR – Some might say that you’re a videogame themed band, if for no other reason than the fact that you’re borrowing the names of Megaman/Protoman/Wily/Light. But in fact for those that havent listened to you, they might be shocked to know that the story you tell is night and day compared to what Capcom has been spoonfeeding us over the years. Those reading this right now and scratching your heads might be better suited by this analogy…The Protomen are the modern version of Battlestar Galactica while the games remain that quaint memory of childhood. The question I have for you is this: Why Megaman? Why specifically the Megaman of the first 6 NES carts?
COMMANDER – I like to think that we’re more First Blood the film while Capcom’s approach was First Blood the novel. Sure, David Morell’s book may have been great, but I want you to count how many times you saw Brian Dennehy while reading it. That’s right. Zero. What I’m trying to say is that we bring the Dennehy. But I think the real question here is, why NOT MegaMan? It’s very common for a band to write their music based on books and film. We were just the first generation to grow up with this new form of media and pop culture. Why wouldn’t we pull from it? We just had to use a little more imagination. And as much as we jokingly trash talk the later games, what we do isn’t specifically about the first 6. It’s about the core idea behind it all. The good and the evil. The right and the wrong. The ebb and the flow. The tit and the tat. The Lou Diamond and the Phillips.
WPR – Would you guys say that a big portion of your audience is comprised of members of the gaming geek culture? Now you can be seen at many of the big national cons, especially Penny-Arcade Expo in Seattle (which I sadly missed the last couple of years)…what’s it like to climb up on stage and feel that kind of love from your fellow geeks?
MURPHY – Those conventions/expos can be crazier than any dive bar show. Some of those “gaming geeks” really know how to bring the thunder. The things we’ve seen… But aside from conventions, we’ve also played at Bonnaroo, Free Press Summer Fest, SXSW, and quite a few other super awesome festivals, and it’s always nice to see people at both types of events get into it the same way. Either way, we didn’t really go into it thinking “there’s a whole world of crazy minded people like us, let’s entertain them.” We just felt that we could tell a story and make a great soundtrack to it, a soundtrack that would be enjoyed by us and probably nobody else. After releasing the first album, Nintendo Power approached us for an article, and aside from blowing our minds, it made us realize that there may be a lot of people who would be interested in what we do. One of our favorite things that happens at shows is when somebody will walk up and say, “This is the first rock show I’ve ever been to!” Our general response is “Great! Now get your ass to more rock shows. Rock and roll needs you.”
WPR – Does the rock opera aspect of your guys’ music ever make it hard to call up clubs and get bookings? Any future big shows we should know about?
MURPHY – We’ve lost many hours and suffered great tragedies over the years (oftentimes at the hands of Juliette Lewis) just trying to book small tours. We’re proud we’ve made it this long on our own. However, all that independent ass kicking finally paid off recently when we joined forces with The Agency Group, who handle booking for quite a lot of great artists all over the world. Now we can focus more on handling the new releases for this year.
WPR – Were all of you around during the golden age gaming during the NES years? If so, what would you say were your fondest memories of that system?
MURPHY – Yes, we are not what you’d call new models. We have memories of getting cartridges as Kindergarten graduation gifts, having our demands met using grey Zapper™ guns, and betting lunch money on after school Bad Dudes’ tournaments.
WPR – We’ve seen that you guys are MORE THAN able to do stuff that is not merely your own work due to the popularity of the cover songs you play during shows (as I was told by a friend who saw you somewhat recently). How goes the work on the album full of cover tracks?
PANTHER – It’s coming……closer….closer…and closer every day. It’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. Putting one of our albums together is a snap. We know the story we want to tell. But putting together a single album of all the jams that have kept our rock-n-roll hearts beating so far is quite a challenge. But I will say that it won’t suck.
WPR – Are you still working with Alan Shacklock?
COMMANDER – Yeah, he’s helping us produce the covers album, as well as working on other secret and not-so-secret projects with us.
WPR – So what’s next for The Protomen?
MURPHY – Working on figuring out how to bring Conway Twitty back from the dead.
WPR – I do a bit of facebook stalking and I really dig the current tshirts you have for sale. Where can people go to check up on you guys and pick up some merch?
MURPHY – Currently, there are two official online stores that ship our goods: soundmachinestore.bigcartel.com and theprotomen.zambooie.com. But, as always, the best place to get new stuff is at the shows. We just released a limited edition picture vinyl pressing of Makeup And Vanity Set’s remix of Act I. Get one before they’re gone!
WPR – Before I leave you to your respective lives, I have one question from a community member who wants to know…”how do they (The Protomen) Light Up the Night?”
PROTOMEN (in unison) – Roman Candles and Chicks.
Thank you all for your time and next time you guys are in Utah, drinks are on me.
MURPHY – COMMANDER is allergic to everything except juice boxes (in case you were wondering).
COMMANDER – It’s true.