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Parkway Drive: A royal return to the stage

No matter how many elbows you cop to the temple over years of frenzied pitting, you can never forget your first Parkway Drive show.

Over the span of almost two decades, the Byron-native metal titans have built a reputation for delivering shows that not only push the boundaries of what’s possible for any band to pull off, let alone one as staunchly DIY as Parkway, but continuously evolve with every incarnation. The quartet were set to premiere their latest efforts on a sprawling arena tour dubbed Viva The Underdogs (for the titular documentary they dropped last year), quadrupling the scope of previous stints on home soil. But alas, COVID swooped in and killed the fun – and, by extension, Parkway’s entire slate of international touring for 2020 and 2021. 

Never ones to cower in the face of adversity, however, Parkway Drive have spent the past two years earnestly chipping away at an entire new concept, marking the start of what frontman Winston McCall alludes to as a reboot for the band. There is a seventh album in the works – which BLUNT has some huge news to share about in due time – but for now, the focus is on Parkway’s monolithic return to stage. Their next live set will be special for quite a few reasons: not only will it be their first in over two years, and the first to follow 18 months of consistently shit news, but it’s set to go down on New Year’s Eve, with a stack of their best mates and contemporaries in tow, inside an actual goddamn castle.

ICYMI, Parkway Drive are leading the slate at this year’s ambitious Knight & Day festival, a two-day celebration of medieval-themed moshing held in Ballarat’s idyllic Kyral Castle. So before the festivities kick off, we caught up with McCall to chat about what Parkway have in store for them, what the future holds for their incomparable stage production, and how the band reckoned with their biggest setback to date.

Dude, I truly cannot tell you how good it felt to see the classic Parkway logo on that Knight & Day poster. How does it feel to be headlining the joint?
It’s a full-on trip, man. It’s actually really odd. Like, it’s so, so sick, but to gig relentlessly for 17 years – which is like my entire adult life – and then to have a hard stop for two years, the idea of coming back in general is super foreign. It’s super duper foreign, to the point where when this got proposed to us a few months ago, I was like, “When’s the gig? New Year’s Eve? Ooh, seven months, is that enough time to get ready? I don’t know if we can get warmed up in seven months!” That was honestly my thought. And then I had to go, “Wait, wait, wait,  we used to be able to pull this shit together in two days!” It’s just so strange. 

But on the other side of that, the fact that we get to do it – that there is literally a shining castle on the hill at the end of this fucking shit show we’re all going through, that it’s on Year’s Eve, that our comeback show will be in Australia, and that it will be with a bunch of killer bands we all love… That is a really, really intense vibe. It’s mental when you actually consider everything going into it. And it’s in a fucking castle! It’s gonna be sick. Like, no matter what the show is like, it’s like…  At the base level, the gig is happening, and that’s already best thing in the world. But then you add every other element on top and you realise what this show is actually going to be… I’m super, super, super duper pumped. I’m just scared that my adrenal glands are going to blow out [laughs]. 

>> KEEP READING: EN GARDE – thy full lineup for Knight & Day 2021 hath landed! <<

Where are you at right now, prep-wise?
I have no composure left [laughs]. I can’t remember what it’s like to stand on a stage. I was at a point where, like, you put me on a stage at Wacken in front of 80,000 people and I’m like, “Yeah no worries, let’s smash this shit. Isn’t this fun?” And then a year later, I watched that footage back and I was like, “Holy shit, that’s so many people! This happened!?” Like, why don’t I remember feeling like I do now? I’m full of nerves and excitement. I haven’t been on a stage in two years; I’m worried that I’m just gonna walk out there and the smile on my face is gonna crack in half. I’ll just fall over and faint.

What does the ultimate Parkway show look like? Because every time you guys set up a new show, I’m like “Okay, they’ve peaked, they can’t do better than the spinning drum rig, or the stage being wrapped in flames, or the string section…” But then the next tour you do, you manage to one-up yourselves. How far can you take it?
There’s a lot we can do with it! We had a whole evolution planned for the Viva The Underdogs tour, which was just like the next step of that era. There’s three touring cycles for each album – there’s gotta be the arena/club setup, which then gets adapted to a festival, which then gets adapted to the second stage of headline touring, which in our case was even bigger arenas. So there was a concept that would’ve expanded that setup into something else – and now that I’m looking back on that, I’m like, “That would have been fucking wild!” But elements of that are going to be coming up in what we do next. We know what we’re capable of, we know the spaces we’re going to be playing, we’re comfortable in those spaces, and we know what we want to do with them when we come back. And we definitely have a lot more experience with what we do – we have a lot more confidence in our influences and how we want to create things. 

It’s always going to be more expansive. It’s not about like losing yourself and becoming something new entirely, it’s about giving people new experiences. And they don’t always have to be like, “It’s the same, just bigger!” Like, we’re not rocking up at Pizza Hut and just throwing every single thing you can get on top of the dough and saying, “This is going to be the tastiest thing ever!” It’s just that the more we grow, the more we know how to harness those special moments, and know what we need to do to create those moments. What we’re creating sonically right now has a lot more diversity in those moments, and the stages have gotten to the point where we can make it feel as intimate as being one-on-one, or so big that it feels like you’re on another fucking planet. It’s cool – we’ve got a pretty fucking big sandbox to play in!

“Being able to see [Viva The Underdogs] without that connection to the growth and knowing all the planning that went into it… It was surprising to me!”

How did you reckon with the cancellation of the Viva The Underdogs tour? Did it feel as crushing for you as it did for us, or was it just kind of like, “Alright, onto the next thing”?
It sucked pretty bad. It was just a straight-up hard stop. And I mean, if there’s every release that [the tour] would work for, it’s having this movie out in cinemas, which shows live footage, which is what people will be missing at this point in time – and then Netflix picks it up a year later and everyone else gets to see it. There’s been this flood of people recognising what we’ve achieved, which has been great. Even for me – the last professional interaction I had with the band, in terms of touring, was going to the premiere in Berlin and watching the movie on an IMAX screen, going, “Holy shit, I’m in Berlin, watching a movie that we’ve made on a big screen!” That was a complete trip, but then I didn’t watch it again until it came out on Netflix. So I had this big buffer of knowing what it’s like to be in a band and tour, and it felt completely new to me, watching it again and just going “Woah, shit, that’s a lot of people! Were we really using that much fire!? That looks really cool.”

Being able to see it without that connection to the growth and knowing all the planning that went into it… It was surprising to me! And then so many people hit me up as soon as it came out on Netflix, just going, “I didn’t realise you did this! I knew you did big things, but I didn’t realise it was like this!” It all exploded all over again, which was really cool. But it’s happened in the context of, like, all I’ve wanted to do is be like, “Yeah, now come and watch it in person!” So that’s been a little bit strange.

Well here is my naive attempt at optimism: you guys have put out three documentaries thus far, and in all them, you’ve gone through hardship and battled the odds, then come the other side stronger than ever. If there is one upside to everything that’s happened over the past 18 months, it’s that the first act of the next Parkway movie is sorted.
Yeah, fully! Unless someone actually gets COVID and fucks it [laughs]. But yeah, that’s the thing – the show is going be sick no matter what. The one thing that we know is that we love gigging, so no matter what happens with it, it’s going to be fucking sick. And with the next era of what we’re planning, the really crazy thing is that we’ve had two years to plan. It’s almost like a relaunch of the band – you never get a clean slate like you have at this point in time. Because no one’s ever had a disconnect; they’ve had 17 years of constant Parkway presence. They’ve always had something to compare to – they saw us the year before or heard our last album two years earlier. But we’ve just been focusing on our shit for the last couple of years, and what we have coming out of that is so much more confident and fully-realised and expansive. The potential for it all is so much bigger than anything we’ve done before, and that is really fucking exciting!

>> KEEP READING: Film Review: Parkway Drive – ‘Viva The Underdogs’ <<

Knight & Day 2021

Parkway Drive
Alex Lahey
Bakers Eddy
Diamond Construct
Hellions (performing Opera Oblivia in full)
Justice For The Damned
Make Them Suffer
The Beautiful Monument
The Chats
The Getaway Plan (performing Other Voices, Other Rooms in full)
The Gloom In The Corner
To The Grave
Trophy Eyes
Void Of Vision

Thursday December 30th – Friday December 31st
Kryal Castle, Ballarat VIC
Tickets: Official website