Over the past five years, Detroit post-punks Protomartyr have gone from local underdogs to hometown heroes. What emerged from typical after-work drinking sessions quickly became a successful rock outfit, landing a spot on much-loved Seattle indie label Hardly Art. The Weekly caught up with frontman Joe Casey ahead of the band’s Vegas show to talk about his hometown, early influences and the band’s next album.
On how the band got its wings: It started pretty naturally. [Guitarist] Greg [Ahee] and I had similar musical tastes and worked at the same job, so after working we’d go out for drinks. We were already kind of wasting our time, so why not just go and do it at a bar, maybe get some free beer. It really was low stakes at the beginning.
On stage fright: I still have stage fright to this day, but I actually kind of like that feeling. I don’t see it as a hindrance. If I was comfy onstage, I would think there was something wrong with me.
On making it as a band: The best way to make a band work, at least for us, was setting very small goals. Our first goal was "Hey, let’s play a show." Then you think of another small step. I had toured with my friend’s band, I helped them sell merch, and I saw this small band was able to tour America … I never thought we’d be playing at Primavera Sound [in Barcelona]. That was never really our plan. It seems to gradually get bigger.
On Detroit as an influence: One of the reasons why Detroit has a lot of music is it’s affordable. It’s kind of a drinking city. People go out to bars, and it’s just kind of a cheap entertainment. People were originally amazed we still lived in Detroit, but there’s no way I could move to New York and afford practice spaces. It seems very expensive. In Detroit, you can have a low-paying job and still make it.
On post-punk: When was growing up, there was a collection of old post-punk singles from England, collected one-hit wonders, [called] Messthetics on Hyped to Death, and it was really great for hearing a large variety of sounds. From one song to the next it changes radically. … A big band for us locally is Tyvek. I’ve heard them described [with] kinds of labels, but they were just doing what they wanted. You can go deeper and deeper with any genre.
On comparisons to Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Mark E. Smith of The Fall: It’s very flattering, because I think both of them are very influential and great singers in their own right. [But] I’m always more interested when people are talking about our music and mention contemporary music. This is a continuum, and we’re not a retro act. We didn’t plan on sounding like anything. None of us had ever been in bands before. Our sound came from us learning how to play. It’s a learning process, and as we learn more our sound will change.
On recording a new album: We’re actually going to be playing new songs [live] that we’ve been working on, and once we get back from his tour we have the rest of the year off, [so] our plan is to get an album out next year. You’re always a little bit worried you’ll get to a room and stare at each other and not get anything done, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got so far.
Protomartyr With The Gotobeds, Warblood, Dark Black, DJ Fish. November 8, 9 p.m., $8-$10, Bunkhouse Saloon.