The Devil Wears Prada's Mike Hranica on Slaying Zombies and the Future of Musical Distribution
Count 'em off: An ongoing cross-country tour with their most elaborate production yet; photos splashed across the covers of Alternative Press (who named them Band of the Year), Revolver, Kerrang! and Outburn; and a new album, Dead Throne that debuted at #10 on Billboard's Top 200 chart and displays the band's evolving musical maturity, showcasing dual-vocal assaults, a soaring instrumental quality, and such themes as anti-idolotry and the perseverance of the band's Christian faith.
And to top it all off, a video game. Yes, these 20-somethings, self-proclaimed gamers decided to conceptualize and develop "Zombie Slay," a multi-level game for mobile devices on iTunes that features music from their critically acclaimed 2010 Zombie EP. It may just come off as a fleeting music-related novelty, but it may represent something deeper--just how savvy these young guys are, knowing that the traditional methods of selling music are dead.
So they are surging forward to find non-traditional ways for fans to get their hot little hands; religious or not; on their tracks. And after Up On The Sun spoke with singer and lyricist Mike Hranica. It seems that from Dead Throne on it's just going to get more unconventional.
Up On The Sun: So for the tour to support the new album Dead Throne, The Devil Wears Prada is bringing your most elaborate stage production yet. Can you tell me a little about what fans can expect?
Mike Hranica: I can't say much, we've being very centered on not leaking a bunch of photos, but obviously with YouTube and whatnot, people have seen it. We're trying to keep it somewhat secret because it's a special treat for people who don't see production until later in the tour. But it's a lot more than we've ever done on any other tour, and it's a pleasure to play rooms so big so we can have what we have with lighting and things like that.
Any pyro or anything like that?
Nope, no pyro!
I interviewed Jeremy DePoyster back in late July right before Dead Throne came out. He mentioned that you, him and Chris especially spent a lot of time in the studio with Adam Dutkiewicz [who produced the album, from Killswitch Engage], and that he really pushed you a lot vocally. What's one thing you learned from Adam in the studio that you think you will definitely use in your future albums to come?
Yeah, definitely. The process of writing for this record was different, um, in a number of ways compared to what we're accustomed to. Basically for three or four of the songs I worked with Jeremy McKinnon and he and I worked on certain songs and melodies that our Jeremy, the three of us, had been working on. By the time we got to the studios I basically went through with Adam for all the songs to even more of an extreme what I went through with Jeremy McKinnon.
He just has dozens of ideas all the time and most of the time I was really into it. He never forced it on me or acted out of line as a producer, like getting pissy when we didn't use his ideas or whatever. But there was definitely a lot of learned from him and I think that, um, whenever we start writing again and working on the next record it's going to be a big step up, because I'll take what I learned with Adam (in the pre-production of the record) so once it goes through Adam again or whoever is producing it, it will be even more transformed. Working with Adam was very influential.
So let's talk about "Zombie Slay", the new mobile app that incorporates all five songs from TDWP 2010 release, Zombie EP. You guys have been developing the idea of "Zombie Slay" for quite some time, right?
Yes. When we did the EP one of the first ideas we had was to come up with a game idea or an app, but unfortunately because of certain events, it never happened. It took a long time to get everyone on board and start moving the project.
It seems like all the band members are gamers and Apple users, so was this more of a "fun, let's create a video game for our fans" type of project, or were you guys aiming to open up your music to a new audience as part of the app craze?
I guess a little bit of everything, honestly. We would be very excited if there was someone looking for a new game to play and found the Zombie app and they found out it was from a band and they ended up liking the band and they like the music ... that'd be awesome but at the same time we also are interested in kinda breaking into that world, and I think fundamentally, simply we are Apple nerds and we sit around on iPads and iPhones all day and we're very anti-PC. So venturing into that world is blatantly pretty fun. It's an interesting project and something we really wanted to do with the Zombie EP. Practically all our releases are just to give something that is a little bit different than what you would get with a pre-ordered record. Thinking outside the box ... like our comic book, or the app, is what we're venturing towards.
It's exciting to see these new approaches that bands and the music industry are coming out with, making the fans' experience more interactive and getting the music out there in as many ways possible. What was the most fun thing about developing the app, and the most difficult?
[Laughs] For me personally the fun thing about the app is I didn't do anything for it. Usually I'm in charge of merch designs for tour...watching over everything. Calling the shots...album artwork. But when it came to the app I'm actually the less gamey person in the band. I don't play Xbox or PS3 when I'm home or anything. For me obviously they are much more intelligent and aware in those regards, so I just let them handle the app, which was different for me since I'm usually very hands-on. But it was fun that way. Because I actually never tried any beta versions of the app during development. I told myself that I would trust what they did to make sure everything went well, and I would play it the day I could download it on my phone like everyone else. Which is what I did.
Do you think TDWP will develop any more apps in the future, or are there other ventures in the works for different outlets?
Yes there's nothing immediately on our plate, but I know I'm always trying to come up with ideas. Again, this is precisely what we're looking for in moving forward--not doing what other bands do when following the album release formula. Tryying to venture outside of that and giving people something different like an EP, a comic book, and an app. It's definitely where we want to be going, intentionally. That's where we see ourselves going. Unconventional sort-of outlets is what we are interested in.
What's one of your favorite apps as a musician to use?
I definitely have a lot of apps in relation to music ... for my iPad I bought an amp app and a little adapter you plug into your guitar and you can play through your headphones. It's super nice when I'm on tour and all my amps are at home and I can sit down and play and actually hear something. It is more for just jamming out though.
So more recreational rather than for work. What was your favorite video game growing up?
I had a Nintendo 64 as a kid, and if I had to pick a top two, either original MarioKart or GoldenEye. Which I think anyone with a Nintendo 64 was all about.
The Devil Wears Prada is scheduled to perform Monday, November 21, at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.