In a city full of brilliant people with dead-end jobs and dampened by bitter-cold winters, playing music offers a cheap outlet. Protomartyr’s taut, austere rock was incubated in a freezing Detroit warehouse littered with beer cans and cigarette butts and warmed, feebly, by space heaters. Short songs made for short practices, and the band learned quickly not to waste time. Despite the cold, Protomartyr emerged with a sound that is idiosyncratic but relatable, hooky but off-kilter.
There’s a temptation to call it garage rock, but that doesn’t quite fit. With respect to the local predecessors, this isn’t the primitive stomp of The Dirtbombs or The Stooges’ greasy roar. Punk works, kind of, even if it leaves the hardcore kids confused. Post-punk suggests something too retro; indie rock, something too precious. What Protomartyr is, is “stuck between the cracks.” If that’s the case, though, they aren’t alone. Protomartyr’s economical rock elicits comparisons to possible antecedents like Pere Ubu or The Fall as well as local contemporaries like Frustrations or Tyvek (whose frontman Kevin Boyer played bass in an early iteration of Protomartyr). Singer Joe Casey’s dry declarative snarl serves as a reliable anchor, granting his bandmates — guitarist Greg Ahee, drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson — the opportunity to explore textures and reinforce the rhythm section. In other words, to “fuck around a little bit more.”
This is never more apparent than on the band’s sophomore LP and Hardly Art debut, Under Color of Official Right. Where 2012’s No Passion All Technique favored comparatively straightforward punk structures, Under Color takes a more exploratory approach.
Recorded in a single weekend with Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins (Wolf Eyes, Cass McCombs, Lower Dens, Six Organs of Admittance) at Key Club Recording Studio in Benton Harbor, MI, the album straddles studio professionalism and punk impulse. Shades of the band’s less obvious pop and R&B influences can be glimpsed in the sinuous grooves of songs like “Maidenhead” or “Violent.” Elsewhere, “Tarpeian Rock” places punk vitriol against a minimalist backing and “Scum, Rise!” casts shadows with guitars that alternately chime and clang.
Post-punk’s biggest inspiration, it seems, was its eagerness to demolish punk’s orthodoxy, to push against the arbitrary boundaries of genre — at least until it became one itself. For Protomartyr, inspiration usually arrives in the form of ideas or feelings, more than explicit musical references. By the time the band has shaped it to its needs, the source material is almost unrecognizable.
Casey’s lyrics often draw their details from books, real people and local landmarks. They’re relatable because they’re so specific. Take for instance, “Pagans,” in which Casey asks, “Livy recalled when the giants came / I didn’t care about anything, except warm hands in the cold air.”
It’s emblematic of the band, this small moment captured and repurposed into something greater. Influences are managed the same way, condensed to a moment and ground into the new whole. The cheap outlet, crafted by cold hands in a poorly insulated practice space has, perhaps unwittingly, become a model of Motor City efficiency. And, more than that, it’s produced a stunner of a sophomore album.
—Bryan C. Reed
Meet The Band
Hi our name is….
People say we sound like…..
A guitar, a bass guitar, a drum set, and a voice making noise at the same time.
Alex, Greg, Joe, and Scott
We are originally from…..
and currently reside in Detroit
Who are some that have an influence on your sound??
Oh, you know. The usual stuff that everybody else says influenced them.
The first time we met was…..
The band know each other from high school. I met Greg first, at work. I think I met Alex at a show? I’m pretty sure I met Scott at his former show place/basement, the “No Bummer Zone”.
We knew we were going to be a Band…
when people referred to us as “a band”.
Books we recommend …
are usually too long and too boring. Sometimes we recommend books we haven’t even read, just to be stinkers.
What are you most looking forward to during Gonerfest?
Almost everything. Spray Paint and The Rebel specifically.
If you could pick any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be….
I wouldn’t meddle with the fabric of time just to get some musical kicks. Creating a irreversible time paradox just to hear some idiots in togas twanging lyres in Ancient Rome? Pretty stupid.
Growing up, we listened to….
All sorts of shit.
What tunes are on heavy rotation for you…
“How Do You Talk To Girls?” Scott Baio
If you could open for any Band right now who would that be and why?
Any band that would be willing to give the opening band all the money.
When you are touring and have some time off , where could we find you..,.,
In front of a computer answering internet questionnaires, asleep, or staring off into the middle distance.
The one thing we want you to remember while your listening to us
“Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.”
― William Faulkner, Mosquitoes
listen to some more from, Protomartyr…. Protomartyr – Under Colour of Official Right full album
you can keep up with/follow Protomartyr…
don’t forget to get your tickets to Gonerfest Eleven…
and while you are picking up your tickets head over to Goner Records to buy all the cool music and stuff….