Songwriter Interviews

Mike Hranica of The Devil Wears Prada

by Greg Prato

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Concept albums often go hand in hand with at least a double album... or in Frank Zappa's case, a triple album (of course, I'm talking about Joe's Garage). But modern day metallists The Devil Wears Prada have decided to go the unlikely EP route as the format for their latest conceptual work, Space. And as it turns out, it's not the first time the Ohio natives have issued an EP that followed a storyline (as heard on 2010's Zombie).

The group's lead vocalist, Mike Hranica, spoke with Songfacts right around the August 2015 release of Space, and was up for explaining the storyline that runs throughout the six-track recording. He also discussed the challenges in composing a conceptual work, and told the stories behind several earlier TDWP favorites.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): From what I understand, the Space EP is a conceptual work.

Mike Hranica: That's correct. It's our follow-up to our Zombie EP that we did in 2010. Highly, highly conceptual. We had a lot of fun with that. We were really encouraged by its reception and how much fans appreciated it, so we wanted to do it again.

Songfacts: What are the hardest and easiest parts with doing a concept album?

Mike: Honestly, I think it's pretty easy. One thing that I really wanted to battle compared to the Zombie EP was that I felt the songs - sonically as well as lyrically - blended together here and there. And that was strictly because of the process we went through and how we came about the songs.

So this time around, we did things totally different. I wanted everything to have more of an identity - I didn't want this part in this song to be able to be transposed to a different song. I wanted all of them to feel like they were strictly within their own "bit." So that was a little bit of a challenge, but I wouldn't say it was hard. I really enjoy it.

I have this knack for choosing themes that aren't really close to me. I'm not a huge zombie fan, and I'm not a huge fan of space, which works well for me, because I can become a little more dramatic or fictional and be able to create with less hindrances, which I think is also part of the process. I find it very much enjoyable.

Songfacts: What exactly is the storyline behind Space?

Mike: Each song is a little bit different. The first song is called "Planet A," which follows a commander of the ship - her name is Elizabeth, who is an aspiring astronaut since she was a child. Her shuttle malfunctions, and she wakes up on a far away planet as the only survivor.

"Alien" is just kind of an intergalactic attack/battle against an alien. Being chased within the ship is how I imagine it.

"Moongod" is a song about the moon being a god, looking over everything.

And there is a song called "Celestial Mechanics," which is an instrumental. There is a voice on it, which is our keyboardist Jon [Gering], but it's all distorted and broken up. It follows the fact that we change our clocks every hundreds of years to follow the earth's rotation. So we actually shorten our year every now and then, but it's very minuscule.

After that, it's "Supernova," which is a song about being far, far away, and having a relationship with something that is about to detonate or be gone forever, and the inevitability of being with this thing that you know is going to blow up and be destroyed without prediction.

And then the last song is called "Asteroid," and it basically chronicles this incoming asteroid that is going to destroy the Earth. There is no hope, there is no way to mend what is about to happen, so Earth is just waiting for its demise.

The Devil Wears Prada's Space is not the first concept recording by a rock band that focuses on this far, far away subject. It's forebears include Wax Fang's The Astronaut, Gerard Way's Hesitant Alien, and at least one tune from David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars ("Starman"). But unlike TDWP, these three other titles were good old-fashioned full-length recordings.
Songfacts: It seems like more and more bands are doing EPs as opposed to full-length albums. I guess that is a reflection on how the music business is nowadays. Was it a conscious decision on the band's part to do an EP?

Mike: It was very, very conscious. Everyone puts out an EP because that's kind of the first step for being a young band, but at the same time, I think it's really awesome for bands to do EPs. It's too quickly exhausting to do strictly thematic work like Space or Zombie, and if you do 10-13 songs about it, it becomes exhausting. It becomes overwhelming, and somewhat boring. So that's the big backbone of why we do these as EPs rather than full-lengths. It breaks things up well.

Also, very importantly, we're in a very ADD time right now with music, with so many options all the time. If you give a band a chance and they're not good, then you really never come back. Listeners, there's just that attention deficit as far as bouncing around, and I don't think that people even finish records a lot of times.

I know that I've followed certain bands that I got their EP before their full-length, and it's so immediate and it's short. I have a very strong doctrine that it's always better to give listeners too short a record than too much. And doing EPs works very well with that.

Songfacts: Let's discuss a few earlier songs, starting with "Sailor's Prayer."

Mike: "Sailor's Prayer," off of 8:18, our latest full-length, is a song loosely chronicling loneliness, and basically always missing love. Always being gone, away from home - very much a parallel to being on tour.

For me, personally, it's missing that sense of community, missing your friends, different events, different bars, different hangouts, and just being away and feeling like you're missing things. It follows that somewhat parallel to being a sailor.

Songfacts: "First Sight."

Mike: "First Sight" was the last song I wrote for 8:18, and it mostly just follows exhaustion and it follows being gone a lot. A lot of 8:18 felt like it was about being gone here and there. Just being tired, wanting to be back home again.

Songfacts: "Danger: Wildman."

Mike: "Danger: Wildman" is off of With Roots Above. The record itself had one kind of conceptual backbone that it meant to encourage and reinvigorate: I wanted a lot of the songs to be able to pick up those falling away from faith or having a hard time with certain things. I wanted it to be encouraging in some aspects.

And "Danger: Wildman" is a song that I think somewhat cements that, being a song that we've played every set for so long. It's one of our most popular songs by all means. It's a bit of a pick up - I wanted bits of humility in there.

A lot of With Roots Above feels like it can be confused as far as this line of this song can be in that song - that's something I've tried to do better with, like what I was talking about with Space. A lot of With Roots Above just has these notions of that invigoration. Looking back, it feels like it's, "keep grinding, keep moving on."

Songfacts: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?

Mike: My favorite musician/songwriter/artist is Nick Cave. I very much appreciate everything he does. He's considered the "god of post-rock," which I love. I feel like everything is influenced by Nick Cave in some aspects, or very specifically, with my personal musical taste.

The National is up there for me. I know they've boldly said that they don't think their songs are catchy, but I think The National's songs are very catchy. They're formed well, they always have a bit of a hook, and that's a large part of how successful they are now - whether that’s something they admit to or not.

August 31, 2015.
For more of The Devil Wears Prada, visit tdwpband.com.
Here's our interview from 2012 with Jeremy Depoyster.

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