An interview with the coolest uncool frontman

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Chuck Klosterman once wrote: „The spinal cord of what music journalism inevitably is – the search for authenticity and the debate over how much authenticity matters.“ I think this phrase very aptly describes the reason why your opinion about music is often at odds with what you read about it in press. In other words, if you like what you hear, there is a good chance that it copies some well-worked pattern invented by someone Great who lived in the 60s. But if a music writer likes what he/she hears then it may mean this band indeed plays something new and exciting.

In case of an American band called Protomartyr, all critiques were committed to make sure their readers knew that this is one of the best bands out here. Does it mean that they must be famous and successful? No. Does it mean that they are extraordinary? Hell yeah.

Let’s start with calling them a post-punk band. There aren’t many of them in the States nowadays (in fact, I can only think of Parquet Courts who are friends with Protomartyr, by the way). Americans are rarely fond of something that didn’t originate from their country. Take for example, foreign languages, communism and french movies… and post-punk. The gloomy atmosphere of dark and monotonous melodies just doesn’t resonate with this nation. And there are generally not many people who would want to spend time figuring what all these weird arty lines might mean.

Secondly, they are a Detroit band. Detroit has gone through a major economic and demographic decline in recent decades. Abandoned homes and ruined factory buildings make some parts of the city look like a zombie movie set. It’s actually dangerous to live there. Detroit has the second highest murder rate in the USA at 43,5 murders per 100,000. Some activists have been trying to gentrify Detroit but new cafes and barbershops won’t fix the city that filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

Now, who are those guys who live in scary Detroit and play un-American post-punk? If you take a look at any of Protomartyr pictures, you would probably notice that one member seems kind of out of place. Found him? That’s Joe Casey [http://descriptionsofjoecasey.tumblr.com/]. He’s almost a decade older than his bandmates and he looks more like a high-school teacher rather than a lead-singer in a rock band. His answer to any question concerning his decision to start a band at 34 was just one word – „boredom“. Before he joined Greg (guitar) and Alex (drums) who at the time played in a band called Butt Babies, he worked as a doorman in the local theater.

Things started to evolve quickly after they signed to the Hardly Art label where they released their second and third albums within a 2-year period. The songs – all written by Casey – were inspired by literature, philosophy and his own observations. Half of them are dedicated to Detroit. „I Forgive You“, for instance, has so many references to their hometown, Protomartyr annotated its lyrics on Genius themselves. Other songs also seem rather confusing. When asked to reduce their latest record „The Agent Intellect“ to a collection of themes, Joe Casey listed them as following: „evil, false pride, lawyer billboards, dust, Alzheimer’s, death, laughs, eyes, internet bullshit, hatred of babies, drinking, old folks trying to be young, the loss of self, etc“.

Being a huge Protomartyr fan myself I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see them live when they played in Stuttgarts Club Schocken last week. Joe also was nice enough to agree to meet with me and answer a dozen of my questions. Listen to the interview above.

 

Nastya Kazakova

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