Protomartyr on “Relatives in Descent” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Protomartyr on “Relatives in Descent”

Truth is Hiding in the Wire

Nov 21, 2017 Issue #62 - Julien Baker Photography by Daniel Topete Bookmark and Share

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He wasn’t exactly depressed before he formed Protomartyr, frontman Joe Casey says, but he didn’t have a lot to look forward to, either. Eight years later, he’s 40, and his band is ready to release its fourth LP, Relatives in Descent, its first on Domino. “[The band has] worked parts of my brain that I had kind of let go fallow for a while. It keeps me busy; it keeps me thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Casey is comfortable looking towards his future, but on stage, he takes off his glasses so he can’t see the crowd, or maybe so he can’t see the crowd seeing him. “It’s the worst possible mental image I could have,” he says. “I’ll wake up in a cold sweat. It’d be like, ‘Holy shit I’m the lead singer of a band.’ It will frighten me. You know, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I think it’s good. I think if you’re not scared of getting up in front of people and shouting at them, there’s something wrong with you.”

During the interview, he often cuts the last word or two from his sentences, leaving the listener to finish the thought. Maybe it’s the well-covered everyman modesty of the Detroit band that ends sentences with ellipses rather than explanation points. Still, his sense of humor on Relatives in Descent is less clear than his conversational self-deprecation. He learned to conceal a joke working the door at a comedy club, but it doesn’t take a front seat at Go! Comedy to earn opinion-overload fatigue.

“Twitter is something where people come up with five funny things a day, or six trenchant observations about what’s happening in the world,” he says. “And if everybody’s doing it, if everybody’s a comedian, then nothing is funny. There have to be some people who aren’t comedians…. I, personally, am not. What I kind of dread with this record is that it will come across in interviews like I have these great opinions about how the world should work. And I don’t.”

Relatives in Descent was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Sonny DiPerri. He captures guitarist Greg Ahee’s slashes, reverberations, and noise avalanches without fussiness, along with the lean rhythm section that supports Casey’s baritone “mumblings,” as he describes them. His sing-speak cadence is still hard to pin down, four records in, but it might resemble a pissed-off Randy Newman covering The Fall. The trip west marks the first time Protomartyr left Michigan to record, and Casey imagined a movie about four Midwestern kids corrupted by Hollywood decadence. “I was really hoping for a little razzle-dazzle, but it really wasn’t,” he says. “And so it ended up being a pretty good experience.” Of course, Casey wasn’t young enough to be corrupted by Hollywood when he started the band, let alone now. If there are any new drugs in L.A., Casey’s pretty sure no one would sell him any. “The problem is, I look like a narc,” he says, laughing.

The band returned to Michigan after recording, but a Detroit residence isn’t required to understand Relatives in Descent and the disconcerting trajectory of the moment.

“Living life isn’t all bad, but to be constantly reminded of the bad in life can grind you down,” he says. “And it’d be nice to go through a two week period…where nothing outrageous or catastrophic or hurtful or dangerous happens. Maybe it’s never happened before. But it just seems that if it’s coming from the top, if it’s coming from the government, then that’s an extra burden.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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