The Cover Story

Parkway Drive: “This feels like rising from the ashes… it’s a new beginning for us”

From fractured relationships to the world crumbling around them, Parkway Drive were pushed to breaking point on new album Darker Still. Now, having conquered their issues head-on, the Byron Bay metal heroes are once again ready to take over…

Parkway Drive: “This feels like rising from the ashes… it’s a new beginning for us”
Emily Carter
Milly Cope
Band photo:
Dave LePage

“The thing is,” begins Winston McCall, his usually-assured voice quietening right down to a near-whisper, “the whole process came really close to destroying the entire band. Like, really fucking close.”

This is the Parkway Drive vocalist’s first trip out of his native Australia since the pandemic, and he’s trekked halfway across the world to unveil the metal titans’ upcoming seventh album, Darker Still. Still reeling from some of the most challenging times of the band’s 20-year career to date, Winston is nevertheless in high spirits as he catches up with K! today – fresh from a visit to the Kerrang! Awards 2022 at Shoreditch Town Hall, in which he presented fellow compatriots Amyl And The Sniffers with the Best International Breakthrough award.

Since 2018’s stunning Reverence, Parkway Drive – completed by guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick, bassist Jia O’Connor and drummer Ben Gordon – have been put through the wringer. In fact, you could say they’ve put themselves through it. As we soon learn, they’re surely coming through the other side now – but it’s been, well, an experience…

It was, Winston reveals, “a very, very difficult period for us. By the end of it, shit was so fucking tense, and really, really dramatic – and traumatic – between the band members.”

“We’ve been a band for 20 years now, and we were completely burnt out before COVID even hit,” elaborates Jeff, some 10,000-miles-plus away at home. It's evening time in beautiful Byron Bay, and the musician amusingly points out a tan line around his neck from surfing. Surrounded by Parkway memorabilia, he reclines in a room where much of this turmoil took place.

“We didn’t even realise that we had internal relationship issues,” he reflects, with a lasting hint of exhaustion. “We’ve been in this ‘Go, go, go!’ fight-or-flight mentality for so long, we really had this mental wall up, that we didn’t realise was doing a lot of damage to our personal relationships, and our band functionality. In our last few tours, we were starting to get pretty dysfunctional because we were not really communicating properly.”

This all publicly came to a head in April 2022, when Parkway issued a statement that they were cancelling an upcoming U.S. tour. “We feel the limit has been reached and we don’t want to fuck this up,” they wrote, openly.

“My mum said that people were really supportive – she reads all the comments,” Winston smiles of the fan response, having mostly avoided looking himself. “I genuinely do believe, and I’ve noticed within our fanbase, that everyone has always been very supportive of who we are, and very caring to want the best for us.”

“Obviously you’re gonna upset some people – and rightfully so,” adds Jeff. “We all really wanted to go to America, but if we went straight into a tour with this mindset and mentality and this energy, it’s just so dangerous. You’re talking about a likely end of the band – and I’m not talking that up or trying to cause drama. It was literally dangerous for our band to be where we were at. As for the feedback, most people were really understanding. And that was a good encouragement for us, too, to get through our issues.”

These “issues” began at different times for different members. For Winston, he reckons that “it hit me earlier than it hit everyone else”. Parkway had done “a little bit of work” on their band relationships between tours around three years ago, which the frontman admits was just “slapping a little bandaid on it”. It wasn’t until the end of the recording of Darker Still, though, that the situation needed some serious fixing. For everyone.

“There were bits in the studio where the dynamic between certain members was just straight-up abusive,” remembers the singer. “It was heavy. And it’s for reasons which have become understandable from the other side of it now. People were lashing out, and everyone was going through their own shit. It was really gnarly. At certain times the train wasn’t even off the tracks; it was ploughing through the woods and running over everything (laughs). And afterwards it was like, ‘We shouldn’t feel like this; no-one should feel like this.’”

“We were all collectively just on different planets!”

Jeff discusses how Parkway weren’t “connected” during the making of the album

This isn’t your standard ‘pandemic album’, but that side of things certainly didn’t help. In fact, being off-cycle with a little too much time to obsess and overthink was detrimental.

“We got through to the end of it and it was like, ‘Yeah, we did this thing, but who actually wants to be in this band anymore?’” Winston winces. “And half the people were like, ‘I don’t.’”

Parkway Drive had two options: carry on and hope for the best, or actually take the time and effort to tackle their problems. Happily, they opted for the latter. The band started group therapy sessions several months ago, and plan to continue attending them for the foreseeable.

“We were like, ‘We’re gonna do the mental health work,’” Winston says. “We got a counsellor and a mediator and have been going to these meetings for like five hours twice a week, just talking to each other and going, ‘What’s your experience in this band been like?’ Because we never fucking talked about that. For all that we know about each other, we really didn’t know each other’s personal experiences to a degree. You’re not taught how to deal with this stuff; there’s no handbook for it. And there’s very little support for it within the music industry in general – let alone society in general, too, which is still having the mental health revelation that stoicism is not the great quality that we were always taught to have.”

When considering Parkway’s biggest takeaways from these sessions, Jeff has the answer.

“You know, we used to pick on each other and bully each other, and we just had this – I hate to say it – toxic masculinity environment,” he explains. “We were pretty full-on – especially in the early days. But a lot of us are turning 40 now and we just don’t really want to be silly little boys on the bus anymore, basically (laughs). And the cool thing is that everyone’s in the same boat – everyone’s like, ‘We need to pick each other up here, we don’t need to pull each other down.’ Because life’s not a big joke anymore, like it used to be with us. We’re learning how to process these things, and learning how to speak to each other.

“It’s been so important,” he continues. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but it seems from their body language that they’re really getting a lot out of it. I can't imagine how we'd be in such a good place now if we weren’t doing it.”

There were moments during Parkway Drive’s recording process, remembers Winston, when he asked himself, ‘Am I gonna be here forever?!’

“We didn’t want to Chinese Democracy it,” he laughs, referring to the famously delayed 2008 Guns N’ Roses album. “If no-one put a deadline on what we did, we would just create 50 minutes of music that evolves for eternity and never gets released – that’s the cycle of creativity that we’re in.”

Jeff knows that more than anyone. He and Winston are similarly extreme when it comes to their craft, with the pair and drummer Ben driving themselves “mad” piecing everything together, along with the help of producer and engineer brothers George and Dean Hadjichristou. Working in his own studio on pre-production meant that Jeff couldn’t switch off at all – though he readily admits that’s how he’s wired anyway.

“I spend an insane amount of hours fiddling around with different options with songs – while the guys aren’t even here,” he says. “My mentality with music is, ‘What if?’ I have ideas, and I have to try every possible combination. The amount of time it takes me to do that, and the headaches I cause the other guys… yeah, I’ll have to think about that strategy in the future (laughs).”

“It’s fantasy land: ‘What have you always wanted to do in this band?’”

Listen to Winston talk about Parkway’s mindset going into Darker Still

While Jeff painstakingly “distilled” this material, Winston threw himself into the overarching theme of Darker Still: ‘the dark night of the soul’. Bear with us for a bit while Winston gets deep...

“It’s a philosophical and slightly esoteric concept of a person reaching a point in their life where they’re confronted with an event that tears down and destroys everything about them in terms of their perception of self, where they stand in the world, their beliefs, everything…” he reveals. “It’s all wiped away, way down to nothing. And then you have to walk through this journey, through the darkness to rediscover who you are, and where you stand in the world.”

After stumbling across this philosophical concept (he reads and writes every single day as a way of practicing his skills as a lyricist), Winston soon realised that it was something he was actually going through himself.

The record – and story – begins with Ground Zero. Setting the tone for what’s to come – ‘The fights, the falls, the scars and broken bones’ – it brings every element of Parkway together in one go: soaring guitars, inescapable melodies, crushing drums, and “honest, fragile” lyrics.

“It’s literally the sound of breaking point,” Winston says, “and then you dive into the rest of the album, and from that point on, everything expands.”

Naturally, the frontman opted for his usual no-holds-barred approach throughout, authentically expressing whatever was on his mind that day. Be it introspective, or wider-world (‘A street painted blood, a climate of dread,’ he roars on the thundering Imperial Heretic).

“Sometimes I want to write about what I’m feeling, and sometimes there is an outside event happening that I’m like, ‘Fuck, I can’t write about anything else but that,’” he explains. “It wasn’t just COVID, it was like COVID was the catalyst for social reckoning and upheaval across the fucking board. It’s like the end of the world – fuck, it literally was! How many times did we all just go, ‘This is the end of the world’?”

Less a concept album and more a “well-executed, honest narrative”, Darker Still is arguably the most cohesive Parkway Drive album to date. From the sci-fi-influenced interlude Stranger to explosive lead single Glitch (which started life back in April 2018, but has undergone around “15 to 20” rewrites and endless combinations since then), it’s the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, from every angle.

“The basis of this really was, ‘If you don’t ever get to create another album again – which is a genuine possibility – what are you gonna do?’” Winston explains. “And it was just like: ‘It’s got to be more, right?’ We wanted to make sure that everything was done to the best of our abilities – the anthemic songs are more rock than they’ve ever been before, and the hooks are bigger than anything they’ve been before, and the expanse of where we travel is also far bigger than anything we’ve done before. That was kind of the goal: to work towards that with those things in mind, and try to make it happen organically, and don’t shy away from the challenge.”

Nowhere is this more evident than on the gorgeous, ever-evolving title-track – the “centrepiece” of the LP. It sees Parkway Drive shooting for – and absolutely nailing – a classic metal ballad moment, in the vein of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters and Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain.

“That’s something we’ve never tried before,” Winston points out. “It’s such a challenge, and when we started this band from day one we held those songs in a place that was so far beyond anything achievable – it’s like, ‘I’m not making anything like that, but I hold it in a place of reverence to a degree that’s so fucking high it’s ridiculous!’ And we just got to the point where it was like, ‘Let’s fucking go for it.’”

None of this, though, comes at a sacrifice to Parkway’s personality on record. Or, as Winston lovingly puts it, they’ve not gotten rid of any of “the weird”.

“Just when you predict it to a degree, it goes somewhere where you weren’t expecting,” he says. “And it does that through various turns and tricks, until it just bludgeons you right at the end (laughs). In terms of wanting Parkway to not only break out of any box we’re in but crush it on the floor and set it on fire, and dance around the flames, then this is definitely all about that! We’ve been about that for a long time; it’s just that I think we’re better at doing it now than we’ve ever been.”

“I’m grateful that we were like, ‘Let’s put the work in to getting our shit together, and not letting it burn…’”

Hear Winston reflect on being “healthy and happy” with how things are in Parkway Drive now

This, then, is Parkway Drive 2.0. With the pandemic really resolving the first 20 years of their career and closing the door on that particular chapter, the band are now roaring back into life in a whole new way – but with some additional tools in their wheelhouse.

“Looking back at the perspective of where we were as a band, all of a sudden the cycle – and the machine of the music industry – had stopped,” reflects Winston. “We’d just headlined Wacken, and Bloodstock, and done all these headlining festival shows, which was absolutely nuts. You look back and you’re like, ‘Fuck! We kinda got to the top of the mountain…’ And that’s crazy, because it really was this place to leave it. And then we started from that full-stop on this, with a blank slate to a degree – but a blank slate with all that experience and history.”

“Basically, what we’ve realised is, it took such a toll that it wasn’t worth it,” adds Jeff. “So although this record is definitely an evolution of how we write [following on from Reverence and 2015’s Ire], I think in the future we will be focusing on enjoying ourselves when we’re in the studio together again, and when we’re in my studio again – if we ever come back here (laughs). The focus now will be us connecting as band members. Because it got to a tipping point with this record, where it took a real mental toll on a lot of us, and music shouldn’t be that; music’s about fun and enjoyment – well, for us it always has been. This one just kind of went too far.”

Key to prioritising their mental health and relationships in this next era will be band counselling. There’s no “end goal” when it comes to their sessions; the guys will keep attending, talking things through, and dealing with their feelings in a healthy way.

“We’ve made some amazing progress,” smiles Jeff. “I guess this is our first major confronting of a scenario that we’ve had to deal with. I’m really proud of how well we’ve done – from our first meeting to where we are at this point, I never saw it coming. I’m really impressed.”

And then, of course, they’ll be hitting the road again. For Jeff, he predicts the band’s first show back after this extended break will be “a mixed bag of emotions” – but he’s excited to get back in the saddle with his friends.

“We haven't done a proper tour for like three years now – getting in the full tour mode is gonna be interesting,” he grins. “I love performing, and I love the energy that our fans bring to our shows. I feel really, really grateful that we have such amazing fans that come to our show.”

“It feels like rising from the ashes, and it really feels like a new beginning for us – but from such an awesome place,” Winston continues, his enthusiasm for what’s to come palpable. “I’m sure it’s the same with every fucking artist on the planet, but [COVID] has made me so grateful to come back and do this thing again. It gives you a different perspective on what you had, and what it means to be taken away. And on the back of that, I have a new excitement to be with my friends in this band, and to be able to create something new again, and put all we have into this new chapter of the band’s career.

"To be able to have this record to do it with, there’s nothing but good vibes and excitement being poured into what we have. We’re just excited to get back to creating in all of the realms that we have created previously – but with the knowledge that we’ve got each other’s backs, and the sky is kind of the limit for what we actually want to do with everything. That’s a pretty rad feeling.”

“Judging by the energy of everyone else, and how much the band still means to everyone,” agrees Jeff, “I think we’re in it for the long haul.”

Darker Still is due out on September 9 via Epitaph Records. Parkway Drive tour the UK later this year – get your tickets now.

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