PRO-PAIN – A Consistent Revolution
- by Matt Coe
- Posted on 08-11-2013
The early 1990’s saw an influx of hardcore/ metal /crossover acts gain a wider platform for their musical wares, thanks to the changing tides in music as well as much needed exposure through video channel MTV and their weekly Headbangers’ Ball program. Pro-Pain gained a lot of traction right out of the gate because of their debut album "Foul Taste Of Freedom" – and the quartet have moved along for 22 years and 14 albums with their brand of straight forward hardcore with metal leanings.
They’ve performed on stages across the world as a band over 3,000 times. The new album "The New Revolution" is their fourteenth full length in terms of studio records- and first for new label SPV. Taking the opportunity to talk with vocalist/ bassist Gary Meskil on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time changes, I found this conversation to be quite revealing and insightful- which can be a rarity for a musician who has been in the music business for so long. So read up on all things Pro-Pain, and don’t be afraid to catch this band live in the coming months- as I’m sure they will bring 110% of their passion to the clubs and festival stages they perform on.
What are some of your first musical memories growing up, and at what point did you decide to pick up an instrument and start on the road to playing heavy music?
"I was always interested in playing music. My parents got me some drum lessons when I was very young, I was probably 6 or 7 years old and taking those lessons. A friend of mine in New York had started to learn bass and I think I was 12 years old at that time. He was learning riffs on his own from certain records and bands, some Kiss albums, The Cars, Cheap Trick- and I thought that was cool. I thought that I would go out and get a bass and start playing some music. My parents bought me my first bass around 12-13, and I’ve yet to put it down. I made a decision to start my own band just as I was approaching 15, and that was a band called The Crumbsuckers- we went on to record a couple of albums for Combat Records way back in the mid 1980’s and then I started Pro-Pain in 1991 about a year and a half after my old band broke up. Here we are 22 years later and 14 albums later."
Pro-Pain out of the gate made a major impact with your debut album "Foul Taste of Freedom" in 1992 on Energy Records. Was it case of the right music and the right label/ promotion at the right time – given the changing musical climate of the early 1990’s?
"Yes, the timing is very important outside of having a good album and that it was well reviewed and embraced by the audience. I think that luck comes into play- we were sort of riding the wave of MTV’s Headbangers’ Ball and bands like Biohazard were getting worldwide attention, so we were the next logical band for people following that genre. There was a lot of immediate interest and global interest followed. We were able to formulate a fan base for the band pretty quickly. Thanks in part to Energy Records, they had a sizeable investment into promoting the band and we had a great team over there at the time. We are here now as a result of the hard work of what everybody put into the band in the 1990’s."
I remember seeing the band on tour in 1996 at Pearl Street nightclub in Northampton, Massachusetts with Crisis and Voivod – quite a unique triple bill for any metal or hardcore fan. What were your recollections of that North American tour?
"I think it was the longest tour we ever did- around 70 shows in not that many more dates! (laughs) Everybody was pretty wiped out at the end of that tour, but we had a lot of good times. As you mentioned a very unique triple bill, Crisis was a great band, Voivod a classic band in their own right. We got to be very good friends with a lot of people on that tour, unfortunately we lost Piggy a few years later from Voivod, he was a great guy and a great guitar player who passed away from cancer several years after the tour. I have very fond memories of that time and tour, that’s for sure."
Your new album is "The Final Revolution" – recorded once again in Switzerland with V.O. Pulver from Gurd at Little Creek Studios as the last two records were also recorded there. Do you find recording away from home energizing to maintain focus outside of a comfortable environment- and what does V.O. bring to the table to make Pro-Pain sound that much better?
"There was a very long stretch in our career in which we were recording our own records top to bottom. The capabilities from within were certainly there to continue to churn out albums and be ultimately happy with but we found some of the domestic stresses of home life were impending upon the recording process at the time. In 2008 after we recorded "No End in Sight" we made a conscious decision to take this somewhere else where we could as a band live with the album as a band should. Let’s see if that puts some new energy into the recordings and into the band. We were happy in 2010 to record "Absolute Power" in Switzerland, the recording process went so smoothly we decided to repeat it again with "Straight to the Dome" and the new album "The Final Revolution". We have great luck over at Little Creek, it is more of a family environment than one can imagine. After recording so many records over there, we are familiar with the work ethic of V.O., what everyone prefers and needs in terms of microphones and tones- it makes for a very smooth process. Switzerland can be expensive, so we really put a lot into pre-production before we go to record. We recorded the new album in 10 days top to bottom, everyone was very well rehearsed so we moved along at a very brisk pace."
Some of my favorite moments come into play with the quick hitting harmonic lead break for "One Shot, One Kill" and the killer monster groove running throughout the follow up "Southbound" – was it a conscious decision to get more primitive and back to basics with this record as to be as natural a recording as you can get in the digital age?
"Yes, you know what works for Pro-Pain may not work for other bands, we know our strengths and we tend to put a lot of focus on those strengths. If we stay true to what we do well, which is a certain type of delivery and sound, which is pretty raw and as you say primitive- but not stray too much from that and be too technical. There are bands that can do that very well, but if we enter that arena we become less effective. We take a more methodical approach in that regard, we try to keep it raw and interesting. (We want) to have lyrics that the listener can identify with while keeping things as heavy as possible."
Recording albums with Pro-Pain for 21 years plus at this point- how do you keep things fresh and interesting from both a lyrical and musical perspective? Do you believe life experience plays an important role in drawing inspiration?
"I think so, I try not to be contrived about it- I don’t look to periodicals, newspapers, or the press to look for inspiration in writing topical stuff. I think it comes from within and a genuine inspiration in your life will translate. I am a news gatherer and a pretty heavy reader so these things come to mind very naturally and ideas will make for a more comfortable read. I am not searching outside of my comfort zone for a song idea."
Are there times that you engage in discussions with your fans regarding these ideas and what they end up meaning to them?
"That is one of the interesting things, because it’s always nice to hear things from the fans about your words and what they mean to them. A fan is coming from being inquisitive or if it’s influenced them in a positive way it’s a great thing to hear for somebody like myself. It’s also interesting to hear the reactions from fans, to read about them also- when you write things that can be a little bit political you run the risk of splitting your audience in two depending on which perspective they come from. That’s the name of the game and you have to be prepared for that if you write about something that can be critiqued. The audience hasn’t been able to figure out if we come from the left or the right- and we just happen to be critical of government. We have been mistaken for being politically confused, but we don’t believe in the whole left wing/ right wing thing. We have noticed that people are becoming more independent thinkers and that’s a great thing. The people are being leaders instead of followers which is excellent to see."
How would you describe Pro-Pain live compared to studio recordings? What would you say have been some of your favorite touring memories or shows/ festivals you’ve played through the years?
"The festival that always stands out for me is Dynamo from 1996. A very long time ago but it was our first experience playing in front of such a massive crowd. There is only one first opportunity to play a show like that so it has an impact on you as a performer and an artist. I will certainly never forget that show. In terms of our delivery on stage, we want to represent our songs and our albums very well. I don’t think our records are overproduced so it’s easier to represent our albums on stage in comparison to other bands who may rely on technology to help them in the studio. I think that’s one of the reasons why Pro-Pain has taken on the name of being a great live band because we represent our songs very well and bring them to the stage with a lot of energy."
Guitarist Marshall Stephens and yourself also play in a more internationally based synth /modern rock style act Darkhaus. How did this side venture come about and what are your thoughts about your debut self-titled album, which comes out around the same time period as the new Pro-Pain album?
"Right. Starting a new band was an idea I had in April of 2011. I had no pre-conceived notions of what the band was going to sound like or exactly what I wanted it to be, I knew I just wanted to do something different. A very good friend of mine, someone who I had recorded songs with in other projects named Rupert Keplinger, he’s an Austrian songwriter- he became available because he had just left a German band. I figured I would see if he would be interested in starting something up with me- fortunately he was. Then it became a matter of freeing up some time for a writing session, which lasted for about a week in April of 2011. We didn’t even talk about what we wanted it to be- we wrote the first five songs together then. Then we got together for a couple more writing sessions as we were very pleased with those first songs. Before we knew it we had 13-14 tracks, it was just the two of us as I handled the vocals on the original Darkhaus demos- in a clean style. We recorded the material well enough that I thought we could court a really good singer. So we added on components on the band from there- Marshall was the third confirmed band member, followed by Paul Keller on drums who had done a lot of recording with Rupert before. Kenny Hanlon was obtained last- a guy from Scotland who had moved to Florida about a year and a half ago. Marshall and I also live in Florida, so I thought we could rehearse and play together acoustically before tours.
We recorded demo tracks with Kenny and got immediate interest, signed with SPV who is also handling Pro-Pain which is great these days. We are very enthusiastic about Darkhaus, we have tours lined up next year starting with support for Subway to Sally, which is a pretty big German band as well. We are very pleased with Darkhaus in such a short period of time."
You are now on SPV after spending a number of years on various labels from Sunny Bastards and AFM to Candlelight, Spitfire, and Roadrunner among others. Speak to us about the tenacity of the group as I would imagine there have been lots of ups and downs negotiating all these deals through the years and surviving/ thriving in a changing music consumption model?
"Yes, that’s very true. Each scenario is different. We generally license our records through my own company which is Rawhead Inc. We have been licensing to other companies since 1998 I believe. This new album is no different in that regard- the Darkhaus deal is through Rawhead Inc. as well. Some deals expire, sometimes you just want to move on because of mishandlings of certain companies. Each company comes with their own stories, the band has always had a great belief in itself and continues to persevere, to find new partners to work with. Hopefully partners who share the same belief in the band as the band members themselves, that’s the key if you find people who want to promote you and that they believe in you. So far so good with SPV, we are fortunate enough to have Olly Hahn onboard and he is a big Pro-Pain fan who goes back with us to the CMM Promotions in Hannover, Germany- he knows us personally so it’s a cool working relationship we have."
How do you balance fan expectations in terms of style and songwriting versus what you guys as musicians and creative individuals want to express within the Pro-Pain framework?
"It’s always a balancing act because a band like Pro-Pain we feel like we can only experiment so much before fans, certain fans may turn their backs on us. There is a certain segment of our fan base that like their Pro-Pain served up one way: straight up and heavy. That’s fine and all well and good, but at the same time the band can feel the need to experiment a little and that is where the line has to be drawn. We have to figure out with each record how much should be for ourselves and how much of the record in terms of the writing should be for the fans. If we can create something that is equally as satisfactory, that’s where the magic comes in. That’s where the good reviews come in, and a record that will be considered one of our best to our catalog."
I remember reading in a previous interview you did for Extreminal webzine you discussed the waning attention span of music listeners in the current marketplace, so you appreciate when certain territories like Germany really latch onto what Pro-Pain has done through the years. With all the influx of entertainment and technology choices at our disposal, how do we get back to proper support of music bands and live performances in your eyes?
"That’s a really interesting and timely question right there. I think that’s been the first time I’ve been asked that, it’s cool that you asked that because my wife and I were talking about this the other night when I was playing a show with one of my other bands at a place here in Sarasota, Florida called Jake’s Tavern. It was a punk show with a band called No Fraud and one of my other bands called Salvation. We had a nice little crowd, but one of the things my wife and I observed while the bands were onstage performing, is 90% of the crowd was completely disengaged from the acts performing and just talking amongst themselves or on their cell phones. We were part of the minority just watching the bands and supporting the bands. I found that to be really odd and I am seeing more of that these days- and I do think a lot of it has to do with the technology boom that we’ve seen explode over the past few years.
It has gotten to the point where people prefer getting their entertainment at home. We certainly can’t knock the people who do choose to come out to the shows- they are there. I think that it is creating an attention deficit that it is going to be difficult to get away from that. We are heading further and further up the technological pike, and so I think we can probably expect more of this. It is going to take a greater realization that we are heading in the wrong direction, and start to get back to some of the more charming aspects of rock and roll, which is going to the show, support the band, watch the band, and let’s enjoy ourselves. It will have to take a collective awakening- sort of the way people are being awakened politically now."
What do you enjoy doing on your down time away from music to kind of recharge and re-energize yourself?
"The music never really stops for me, I am busier now than I ever have been before with my 3 bands. Salvation is a local hardcore band, I joined them 4-5 months ago because I missed getting together with a band on a weekly basis, playing some local shows and creatively writing. I am enjoying playing Pro-Pain music now more than I did in the past decade."
Is it difficult to come up with a set list given all of the albums in the Pro-Pain discography, especially when you are in a festival setting with a 45-50 minute time slot versus headlining shows?
"Yes, it is pretty difficult. There are quite a few songs that we expected to play- the classic Pro-Pain tracks like "In For the Kill", "Make War Not Love", and "Foul Taste of Freedom"- and if you add all those in that takes up the lion’s share of our running time on any given night. And then we have room to add in newer stuff and 3 or 4 personal favorites. We shuffle things around from tour to tour to keep things interesting."
How do you view the metal and hardcore scenes at this point in 2013? If you were in charge of improving the scene, what measures would you take to ensure its vitality and stability?
"I think a lot of it comes with having a certain amount of dignity towards the music. I would handle things in a more professional manner than I see. The hardcore scene can be very unprofessionally handled in a lot of places. This type of music can find a bigger stage in the world, it is just about promoting it properly and have it be in the right hands of people that take care great care and pride in it. There are a lot of promoters in Europe that treat the bands with respect, they get it in return, they make people aware of the shows, they make it work and in return they profit from it. Those are some of the steps I would take, it takes a little bit of money and investment to make things pop a little more."
What does the rest of 2013 and beginning of 2014 look like for Pro-Pain in terms of promotion and touring?
"We start a European tour on November 29th through December 21st. Then we take a short break, Darkhaus will have some European tour dates to do. At the beginning of 2014 we want to play the US, do some East Coast shows and hopefully the Mid-West where Pro-Pain has done well in the past. It’s been well over 4 years since we have played most places in the US."