In news of the astounding, I recently interviewed Protest The Hero’s Tim Millar. As
some of you know, I have been garnering opinions in my interviews this year on the increasingly popular crowd sourced funding. From tour accommodations and transportation, to robbery replacement and van repair, more and more bands are asking for their fans help. This is definitely a subject I have been exploring and was thrilled to get it straight from the trailblazers of this method. Protest The Hero are setting the bar for all others to follow. Regardless if you agree with their method or not, Volition is a kick ass album in their already ridiculously amazing catalogue and the first to be funded with such an overwhelming success.
Click here for the interview.
How’s New York? Have you gotten a chance to get out and explore the neighborhood?
Not today. Luke and I went to do another interview.
Do you guys take on any students while you’re on tour?
I just started to on this tour. I tried it out and got a pretty good response. I had a lesson today.
Does Luke do them too? Do you do them together?
What is the first thing people ask you for when they seek your help learning to play guitar?
It’s different every day. Beforehand, I try to ask them to think of certain riffs or songs they want to learn. If not, I have certain exercises for certain techniques. A lot have been asking lately about theory. I feel lots of guitarists just pick up and play, but theory is not something they think about. So I try and introduce some theory that is matched with either song examples or exercises. Theory can be boring if you’re just trying to immerse yourself in it. I try to make a simple and easy way of doing it to where you’re not overthinking it, but it is still introducing theory into your guitar playing.
Are people still getting into the tab book from Scurrilous?
Yeah! We haven’t done a Volition tab book yet, but it’s in the works. It will be out in, hopefully, February. A lot of students have brought that tab book to lessons. It’s nice to see it being used as a tool to further their learning.
I have been using Guitar Pro on my computer and whoever re-creates Protest the Hero’s songs on there does a bang up job.
Do you find those on Ultimate-Guitar.com?
Yes. I don’t know if that’s you guys behind that, but they’re ridiculously elaborate compositions. You, Luke, Arif, and even Moe, are all tabbed and tracked out.
Some people might just type them in from the tab books, but we’ve never transcribed the drum parts or the bass. It’s good to know that it’s out there and we’ve been toying with the idea releasing some Guitar Pro files.
Official Protest The Hero Guitar Pro files?
Yeah, we do all our writing in Guitar Pro. There’s that My Songbook store, but other than that, there’s not really any place to get Guitar Pro files legitimately. We might give it a try with the new tab book. Like, if you buy the tab book, you get an immediate download of the Guitar Pro and PDF files.
“Sequoia Throne” and “C’est la vie” were the two I’ve been playing with. Any advice on those?
I find when I’m practicing, I don’t particularly learn a song start to finish, but I’ll pick out riffs I like and learn them first. A lot of the time if you’re going through a song from beginning to end, you’ll hit a roadblock that will limit you from playing the song completely. I would find the speed you’re comfortable at and increase it over time, but don’t get discouraged if there’s one riff giving you a hard time. either modify it or play through it. That’s usually my approach. If you’re a solo guitar player, you can kind of pick and choose what parts you want to play between Luke and I. You can bail out of some of his leads and play some chords. Having the selection of two parts give you some options when learning a song.
Did you see Argo?
Yeah, the one about the Americans and Canadians in Iran?
Yes. There was a scene in that where Ben Affleck was teaching the Americans how to act Canadian and the pronunciation of “Toronto” came up. Hearing you say it the same way instantly brought that scene to mind. How would you teach Americans to pose as Canadians?
It depends on where in Canada you’d like to be from. We’re from southern Ontario close to the border, so we have slight accents. The people on the coasts it gets a little Scottish or Irish, and then Canadian blended in. I guess it depends on where you’re from.
So which part of Canada are the floppy-headed South Park Canadians from?
I’d say northern Ontario, the prairies, and the east coast. Have you ever seen Fubar? It’s an indie movie about these guys who hang out, drink beer, and try to play in bands. That really captures a lot of that attitude. The Terrence and Phillip-y flapping head Canadians, they’re all over the place. I personally like that representation of Canada, because it’s true. Especially the farting. That’s what we do when we’re diving between shows is just farting and laughing the whole way.
I usually save this for last, but we are contextually heading there anyway. Has anyone ever shit themselves on stage?
Not on stage, in the van. Well, more of Rody let out a shart. I think there have been some close calls. Rody didn’t know he was lactose intolerant, he thought he had irritable bowel syndrome. He was always sometimes on stage worried about that. Once he found out he just had to avoid cheese or take his Lactaid pill, it cleared all that up. He was convinced he had IBS for a long time.
I always enjoy your piano parts on the albums. Who are some of the first artists you learned to play?
I started taking piano when I was five, so I did a lot of classical stuff through the Royal Conservatory. There was a forced classical influence from that. When I play on my own, I like Ben Folds and a lot of jazz stuff I can’t play, like Dave Brubeck. That’s the other piano stuff I listen to if it’s not like poppy piano. I find sometimes I’ll gravitate to classical, and then a jazz-limited pop style I like.
What about Muse? Does that do anything for you?
Yeah, I love Muse. I think they’ve always found a great balance of writing stuff that’s accessible, but it’s very unique. Then they’ll have breaks where it’s super Tchaikovsky or very classical opus style of writing.
That’s kind of the dream band I’d like to be in. Three-piece, classical-influenced, but also just straightforward rock.
I would go see that. Moving on, the cover of Volition I have shows two ships reflecting on water. What’s going on with the artwork behind it?
When we did the crowd funding, we said everything that was produced from that would be used exclusively in the campaign. At that time, we didn’t know anything about the theme or idea of the exclusive artwork. We went again to Dan Mumford and said, “Do your thing.” He just ran with it. I think he really hit it out of the park.
Thank you again for Jadea Kelly and her sweet sultry vocals on this album. I would have been really bummed if she weren’t on the album. What was her response to the material for Volition?
It’s now at a point where she’s the sixth member of the band. Rody always writes a part for her, and then sings it in his falsetto to show her the idea and then she takes over. By now, she gets what we want and gets it done quickly. It’s always a great result. She’s all over this album and gets some really good texture. I remember listening to the final master and counting all her different appearances. Some people mistake our friend Kayla Howran in “Drumhead Trial” for her. They both are part of the same Toronto country folk scene. Between her and Jadea adding texture to the songs, they both really put a lot into this album. They really stepped up.
“Mist” is one of my favorite songs. It sounds like a big celebration musically. After reading the lyrics, it was! Tell me more of what’s going on in that song?
That was one of the last songs we wrote for the album. We call it the more “straight-forward” one, rather than the minute of just straight prog tangent. It’s more structured. Lyrically, we wanted to write a song about Newfoundland. It’s a tiny island that not a lot of people go to tour. It’s north of Nova Scotia, so it’s a little hard to get to, in its own little world out there. The kind of people that live there is very hospitable, very thankful, especially for music to come there. If artists even make it out to the east coast, it’s very unlikely they will take the ten-hour ferry and the ten-hour drive to the capital. We’ve just had great experiences there, always met great people at the shows. It is the second best place for us to play in Canada outside Toronto, which is significant considering we have toured everywhere else a ton more. When we go to Newfoundland, it’s a totally different vibe and a different environment. We wanted to give them a shout out and a thank you and give them maybe an anthem. It’s like a magnet, we suck out all the Newfies at shows. “I’m from Newfoundland! Thank You!” Someone brought a flag out to another show. It’s cool to see it getting such a good response.
I picked up on some lyrical similarities with “Animal Bones” and “Sequoia Throne.” How are they tied together?
It was definitely a throwback and what that song is about, is the “thousands of voices,” “the choir.” We wouldn’t be here today if there wasn’t people to play for. It was maybe a tester for the people who have been around since the Fortress days to catch that.
Since you guys had this wildly successful crowd funding, every band wants to do it now. How do you respond to the criticism from your peers and colleagues?
I feel an interesting thing about crowd funding, is that you can customize it to do anything you want. I guess a lot of people get uncomfortable with certain thing when it comes down to the perks. What are you paying for? How do you price it? Some people would say that having a pizza party is “paying to hang out with us” and that’s a valid opinion. That was something that we were just throwing out there. I’ve seen perks for a Skype meeting. How do you put a value on that? It’s really hard and there are a lot of easy ways to fall into criticism. It’s cause it is very transparent and I feel that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. This is how much money my band raised and letting the world see that. There are some websites that display goals by percentages and that’s another option as well. I feel it’s honest, it’s transparent. Like it or don’t like it. It’s there. There are no secrets. I think that one of the biggest problems in the music industry is that people buy your album on iTunes or they buy a CD in stores and they don’t know where their money is going. With this method, the money is going directly to the band. They can do what they want with it. It is pretty fucking scary having thee hundred thousand dollars in your bank account. We can’t screw this up because we just promised 8,300 people this, this and this, let alone a record. It is a lot of responsibility. That’s the trade off. The biggest gamble is making sure you come through with what you said. If one of those people are unhappy or they didn’t get what they paid for, we let them down. It was the first time I really felt the pressure. We have to A, make a really great record because everybody already has their hopes up, and B, we have all these people to answer to now. Where in the past, we just made and album and hoped everybody liked it.
I think you guys are really setting a precedent on how a successfully crowd sourced campaign should be handled with being very transparent, with showing all the money and where it’s going, with being held accountable and taking responsibly of properly managing that money. I really hope bands will follow your lead.
Thanks. I feel there’s nothing wrong with selling your record before you make it and then turn it around. It is nearly impossible to get the money you need up front. We’re the type of band where maybe we could go and tour our asses off for two years and then have saved enough money to make a record. Then you’re right back where you started. If you can find a way where people are paying for something, in advance, making it happen, and then turning it around. It’s redistributing the funds. With a label, they’d give you an advance, take the risk, sell the album, and then just collect. You remove that from the equation and it’s less risky. If you do fail at your crowd funding project, it just helps you understand that maybe the demand wasn’t there. That still doesn’t mean you can’t do an album.
Along the lines of failing, what are people doing wrong with them?
Think about what you’re asking for, what you’re offering. Set a goal and know exactly what it takes to achieve that goal. Knowing who is going to support you. A lot of major label bands that have fallen off and they’re trying this and it’s not working. The fans were there ten years ago. The fans are not sitting around waiting for the next record. They know the band is over and done with and it’s not going to work without that strong, dedicated fan base. People aren’t going to buy it if ten years later you decide you need to raise a hundred thousand dollars. A, you’re still an active band. For us, we had three records behind us. Hopefully, our integrity had still been intact for those three albums, so people aren’t going to think this will be a huge jump from Protest the Hero’s sound in the past. We knew that from touring and the thousands of people we played in front of, maybe a small percentage would contribute to this, it was realistic.
Just backing up, you said 8,300 people contributed three hundred and sixty something thousand?
$341,000. The thing about that, people that aren’t involved in the record industry and don’t understand numbers like that or $300,000 dollars. Yeah, it’s a lot of money. That came from eight thousand people. We’ve sold over 300,000 records collectively. It’s just a fraction. We’ve already surpassed 8,300 albums. If we sold that many before the release, it would really help us out. You have to gauge it out, but you don’t really need a lot of people.
What were some of the highlights of distributing the perks, like the pizza party and the studio time?
We were surprised at the response we got from the really unique ones. The studio stuff was great. It was two days in the studio where we had people come in, six people total on the record. Five of them were vocalists, the sixth played guitar. To see people that are foreign to a studio environment come in and really do a good job and nail it, while we’re all sitting out on the couch watching. I can’t imagine how nerve-racking that would be, but it turned out really well and they did a great job. You never know when a stranger comes into that environment whether or not it’s going to be awkward or weird. Everyone was really cool. They just went in and did their thing. We hung out, there weren’t any awkward silences. We all went out to eat and I really hope they got value out of that whole experience. With the pizza party, Nobody in Toronto bought one, but we sold two in the US, in Portland, and one in Australia. I brought all my gear that I use and went to this fella’s house. He had a full on arcade in his house, five pinball machines, he brews his own beer. It was a great kind of day off, just playing some video games, hanging out. Chilling.
Speaking of video games, when are you guys getting back into hockey soundtracks?
We are pushing for it. We haven’t had a publisher in the last little while, so those opportunities haven’t been sought after. We’re really working and looking for somebody to take care of publishing for this album. Hopefully, they’ll shop it around to video games, TV, movies, whatever.
Would it be an original composition or something you had in mind from the album?
Anything from the Volition catalogue. We might do mix downs and make instrumental versions.
I have always enjoyed those. I used to take the Fortress instrumentals to the karaoke bar to sing.
And the guy let you do it?!
Oh yeah. It was pretty wild.