Backstage at the Camden Underworld, Parkway Drive axemen Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick are biting each other’s guitars and pulling faces while boxed inside the smallest dressing room they’ve had in years.
Tonight’s sold-out show celebrates the release of sixth full-length album Reverence, but there’s no sign of uncertainty over the new material - instead the pair remain as light-hearted as ever. That mindset could very well be the secret to their success, which has seen the metalcore quintet top their native album charts back home in Australia and gatecrash Top 20s the world over with last album Ire. Yet their feet remain on the ground.
“If people have only listened to our new record a few times, they won’t have a feel for it,” says Ling. “But if you’ve listened to it 10 times and say it’s horseshit, I will say, ‘Yeah, the album sucks! At least you listened to it enough to know.’”
His bandmate grins. “I don’t really see us as one of the biggest metal bands around,” continues Ling. “But maybe we’re one of the bigger newbies. We’re stepping up our production and hopefully taking over from the old dogs whenever they hang up the reins - we’ll be there to grab them and take the horses for a ride. But the more popular you are, the more unpopular you are! That’s just the nature of the beast.
“Maybe it’s just too easy to tear shit apart online these days. There are so many people who are still attached to the old sound, but a lot of people like our new sound too. When we put out Vice Grip from Ire, we knew we were in for a beating! When we first saw what people were saying, we thought we were getting killed... A lot of us took it to heart - I had never been ridiculed like that before. This time, we are ready for it all - we are proud of what we’ve done and we don’t care about the comments.”
When we last interviewed the pair on their 2016 Ire world tour, they had just transitioned from using high-gain amps made by Peavey and Mesa/Boogie to the Kemper Profiler, having spent meticulous hours in the studio assessing the quality of all their analogue and digital signals.
That learning curve informed the method to their most recent recordings, streamlining that process and allowing the guitarists to focus on making the best album they possibly could, instead of being distracted by the labyrinthine intricacies of capturing sound.
“The last time we spoke to you, we did all the bullshit,” continues Ling. “We mic’d everything up, cross-referenced and compared after really listening to every part. Ultimately, the Kemper sounded better… I don’t know how?! So this time round for Reverence we didn’t even bother bringing any amps; it was a no-brainer! We didn’t want to waste our time.
“The Kemper signal is ever so slightly clearer. It sits better in the mix, fitting with all the other instruments in a cleaner way. Sorry to all the old-school tube amp enthusiasts, but that Profiler is a game-changing, album-changing, tour-changing piece of equipment.”
“The amount of people using them these days means there are endless profiles out there,” adds Kilpatrick. We got a whole bunch off the internet and screwed around with them in the studio… what we ended up using is a secret. Well, until now, I guess!”
Which begs the question: with so many different options available at their fingertips, which profiles ended up being the best suited for their metallic symphonies? And were there any departures from the high-gain monsters they’ve long been associated with?
“It was actually a blend of a few amps together,” explains Ling. All fairly standard to what we were using before live, things like Mesa/Boogies and Peaveys. We even got the Marshalls in this time for Cemetery Bloom. But there is one new flavour… we have a [US amp builder] Splawn in there somewhere. We found that tone was really good for holding everything together; it’s super-bright and had all the clarity for our chords to ring loud and clear.”
“On its own it probably wouldn’t have worked,” confesses Kilpatrick. “It would have been too piercing and scratchy. But if you blend it with something bold like a Dual Rec or a 6505, you get this perfect tone. I don’t even know if they are real amps or profiles made by some guy called Splawn, haha!”
Like much of Parkway Drive’s recorded output, their latest instalment uses little in the way of effects. For this pair, it’s the pristine precision and cleanliness of their dual attack that makes it all the more punishing.
The members point to early producer Adam Dutkiewicz, also the co-founding member of metalcore legends Killswitch Engage, as someone who showed them just how far the definition of tight performances stretched, setting the bar high indeed.
In many ways, that metronomic thunder became their most prized effect of all. Ling is the first to admit the more toys he has to play with, the more it would disrupt and convolute his feel for his instrument…
“I’ve managed to keep myself away from wang bars; I’d probably lose my mind if I got into them,” he laughs. “Honestly, if my tech gave me a whammy guitar through a wah pedal, my guitar playing would be ruined.”
The sweeping wahs heard on opening track and lead single Wishing Wells came from the same box as their amp sounds, while the high-pitched synth-sounding tracks on Absolute Power are not the work of an Electro-Harmonix POG-replicating setting, but actually background noise…
“I think there might have been a couple of analogue pedals plugged in,” reveals Ling, “but nothing drastic. Most of the effects were in the Kemper, like the wah, or in Pro-Tools. We don’t use many effects, to be honest. But I do like throwing in background noises that you can’t quite hear - like in Absolute Power, which has these strange synth-y backing sounds that add a lot of flavour to my leads. Everyone thinks I’m using the so-and-so pedal, but no… it’s just an extra layer making you think that. That’s something I love doing at home in the pre-production stage. It could be anything - the sound of a bird farting or any sound imaginable.”
Kilpatrick interjects with a devilish grin on his face. “Here’s a challenge for all you readers… see if you can find the bird farting on our new record!”
The devil in I
Background bird farts could be the notion that very well epitomises the Parkway Drive pair’s mentality towards music and life in general. Theirs is a band born on friendship and trust over any ulterior motives and insidious egos, which is precisely why their line-up has remained unchanged for the vast majority of their career, ever since bassist Jia O’Connor took over from Shaun Cash shortly after the release of their 2005 debut.
While Ling sits in the director’s chair when it comes to composing music and overseeing operations alongside singer Winston McCall, Kilpatrick is only too happy to leave the responsibility elsewhere…
“Jeff writes riffs and I play guitar onstage,” he laughs. “For me, not being the lead guy, the main thing is not letting ego get in the way. The moment you start competing and you want to be the man, that’s how it all falls apart. As for playing, I just play what I learn. Jeff writes it all and that’s that! This is a band. We play songs, not wanky guitar bits to make each other or our audience feel like they’re not good enough!”
His co-guitarist wholeheartedly agrees. “Don’t let ego get in the way,” advises Ling. “Keep it clean, don’t get carried away into the mess of trying to play faster than one another. I have always loved playing lead… all I cared about to begin with was solos, I didn’t care about rhythms. I just wanted to be like Slash or whoever was awesome at the time. Luke is the exact opposite - he didn’t care for that stuff, he just wants to play the riffs.
“We’re in our mid-30s now; there are so many guitarists coming out that are so many times better than us. I’ve only just figured out what key I’m playing in and I still don’t even know the name of it, just the sound haha! That probably won’t sit well with a lot of guitarists - I see myself as more of a laughing stock with zero theory. But we have a vision for our sound and we stick to that; there’s no point trying to match anyone else.”