Dec 10

Interview with Arif Mirabdolbaghi of Protest the Hero

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Last Thursday Jonathan Delarosa & I roadtripped down to Tucson to see a band we’ve both been wanting to see since we were in high school: Protest the Hero. Starting with their debut release, Kezia, in 2005 and continued with Fortress in 2008, Protest the Hero have consistently pushed the envelope by mixing a high level of technicality and proficient song writing into their particular brand of progressive metal.  Their latest album, Scurrilous, came out in March, and is one of my favorite albums to be released this year. What’s awesome about these guys, and has helped them gain such a large following, is that they keep things light-hearted and fun, as you can see in the music video at the bottom of this post. I had the chance to chat with PTH’s bassist Arif (whose last name I’m not sure I can even type out) about their new music video, guest vocalist Jadea Kelly, and his favorite albums this year.

Hailey: You guys are out on tour right now with Scale the Summit & Last Chance to Reason. How’s the tour going so far? 

Arif: It’s going really well. We are just a little over a week into it, and we have just a little over two weeks left. So short but sweet, but its been nice to have those guys on the road. Great performers, great musicians, and I think that people are hopefully getting their money’s worth coming out to these shows.

Your latest album, Scurrilous, is your first full length that doesn’t have a theme or a concept. What caused that change, and did it effect the writing process of the album at all? 

Well you know, every time we’ve gone to write and album we haven’t had a very set goal in mind in how we wanted it to come out. To be fair, it was only our first album that was a concept album and that was sort of lyrically motivated, not so much motivated by the music. I think musically speaking, this time around what we wanted to do was focus on less time changes and tempe changes, that is to say keep the change or the tempo consistent but then play around with the subdivisions therein. So it’s as technical I guess as some of the other albums, but it’s more of a toe-tapper. I think that anyone who’s followed our career up to this point will agree that Scurrilous sounds more organized than some of the music before that. And, I mean, you’re going to win people over with that, you’re also going to loose other people, but it was a experiment that we wanted to try. For what it’s worth, I think it came out alright.

You guys released a video for ‘Hair-Trigger’ about a month ago, can you tell me about the idea behind the video and the filming process for it? 

Our idea originally was to do a performance video where we’re playing the song in impossible circumstances, that is riding a bike and jumping out of a plane and doing all this. But then it just kind of descended into this silly video where we were performing the song but in a lot of different places and in different ways. Like I mean we’re rollerskating in one scene and we’re go-karting in another, which is a lot of fun, but not so much at 8 in the morning with everything we were doing and riding go-karts and stuff. Yea so I guess the video doesn’t really have a point, but it was a lot of fun to do. I think that we play in a genre that if you’re not somewhat light-hearted, then you run the risk of coming off dreadfully serious. We’ve always tried to keep the humorous side of things alive, just to make us seem more realistic and seem like human beings, you know. I hate it when I see a band that’s so awfully serious all the time, like they’re doing a performance video and frowning and trying to look mean and tough. We can’t pull that off convincingly so we just try and have a joke.

That song has guest vocals by Jadea Kelly, who also was a guest vocalist for a few songs on Kezia. Can you tell me a little bit about her and why you chose to collaborate with her? I don’t think a lot of your American fans really know who she is. 

No, a lot of them don’t. I went to high school with Jadea, so I’ve always known her. We always knew that she was a great singer, so when we were looking for female vocalists to do the songs on Kezia, we thought she was just the shoe-in, she just really fit. We turned out to be right, because she’s a very strong studio performer, comes in and delivers the part and gets into the headspace of the song really well. We decided to bring her back because she had received such a huge welcome the first time around. But if anyone’s interested in Jadea Kelly’s career, she’s up in Canada doing great things. I guess it’s sort of in the country/folk/pop sort of world, ala Sarah Slean or something like that. But I think she’s wonderfully talented, she has a beautiful voice, and she always hires really stellar musicians to play with her so she brings out a really good show. While it doesn’t immediately speak to the Protest the Hero fanbase, I think that there are people in our audience that are open minded enough to accept something that is outside of their purview, and I think that Jadea Kelly would be a really good choice for those people. And if anyone finds themselves in Toronto ever, once in a while, when Jadea needs a bass player, I’ll play for her and dust off the P bass and get the play something that’s so different and I always have fun doing it.

You guys always seem to have interesting and funny ideas for your videos. I was wondering if you come up with those yourselves or if someone else brings them to you? 

Well it’s kind of a mix between our own ideas and the input of whatever director we’re working with. I think that if you try and take too much control of the video, then you start to alienate the director’s vision. Sometimes you kind of just have to let them do their own thing. When were working with our last director, Mark Riquido, he’s got a really strong idea of where he wants these kind of light-hearted videos to go. So we try not to mess around with that too much. Certainly we try to provide a little bit of input so that there’s creative exchange going on between us and the people who are developing the video.

If you had to pick one or two top albums this year, what would they be?

Everyone’s always kind of surprised, but I don’t really listen to a whole lot of prog rock and metal and stuff at home. If I had to pick something in that style, the new Mastodon album, The Hunter, I thought was really great. I mean they never fail to deliver, though, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. Other than that, I was really keen on the new Merle Haggard record that came out, Working in Tennessee. I think that it’s amazing to see someone as old as Merle Haggard, he’s probably 73, 74 years old now, still delivering really fresh albiet idiomatic country music, and doing it really well. It’s also a treat because his son plays guitar on it and sings a little bit too, so that’s always sort of charming to see. Particularly a song called ‘Laugh it Off’, which I think is classic Merle all over again. So I was really enjoying Merle Haggard’s record.

What’s up for you guys after this tour? 

Well, we are taking the month of January off, and then in February we will be doing some European dates. And then sometime in March we’ll be back in the states, I think we’re coming through with Periphery, which should be a great time.


Protest The Hero – Hair Trigger [Official Video]
from Vagrant Records on Vimeo.

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