Latest release: Deep Blue (Resist)
Parkway Drive drummer Ben Gordon is doing something that’s become increasingly unusual for him and his bandmates over the last few years: he’s relaxing at home just a minute from the beach, with plenty of time to hit the waves. The Byron Bay band’s meteoric rise to international fame has kept them solidly on the road for the best part of the last five years, ever since their debut album Killing With a Smile was picked up by legendary punk label Epitaph and released to a receptive global audience.
“Yeah we’ve been touring pretty much overseas non-stop for the last four or five years, so it’s pretty good to get home,” the laconic drummer says. “It’s pretty rare these days. It’s a full time job, even though we don’t consider it a full time job. We tour, we come home and have a five day break. We call it a ‘head break’, where we pretty much don’t see each other. And then we’ll start jamming three times a week. So there’s not really a time when we’re not doing something band-related.”
Following their appearance at Sonisphere in England in July (along with fellow Aussies Airbourne and Grinspoon), Parkway Drive has returned home for a break before heading to South America in November. A new album, something vocalist Winston McCall has hinted at during recent live shows, is also on the cards. Gordon reveals that, in fact, the work is well underway.
“We’ve been working on one pretty much since Deep Blue came out,” he says. “The way we write is pretty much in stages. I know a lot of bands write in a few months, but we write one song in three months. We take a long time. It’s not the most productive way to write, but that’s how we do it. So we’ve written about eight songs already. We do… well, at least the guitarists try to write on the road here and there. Then when we come home we try and jam all together.”
Being on the road as often as they are, there are of course times when the whole experience becomes tiresome. But that’s when they think about what they would be doing otherwise.
“If we ever get sick of it, we compare what we would be doing if we weren’t in the band,” Gordon says. “Probably labouring. We think about what most of our mates are doing and think, ‘Right, yeah, ok. I’m not sick of it anymore!’”
He does admit that the endless grind of the US circuit is probably the hardest, compared to the more cosmopolitan European landscape or Australia where they’re surrounded by close friends.
“[America] gets really monotonous. We’ve toured America thirteen times now. In Europe, there’s still fun things to do. Every day there’s a different culture there, there’s different languages… One day you’ll be in Italy, next day you’ll be in Spain, next day you’ll be in Germany. So it’s kinda still exciting. But in America, after six weeks there every city tends to blend and it gets a bit monotonous.”
While they have seen some cities more than once or twice now, if they’re in a new place for the first time the band enjoys getting out and about when they can.
“Every time we go to somewhere new we always try to make the most of where we are and adventure out and see where we are and experience the things. The next tour we’re about to do is Central America and South America, and we can’t wait for that. We’re hoping we get a lot of chance to go explore out there.”
Parkway Drive has even had the chance to explore one of the still largely untapped territories for western bands – China. They remain one of the few bands from anywhere to have so far visited this enormous country.
“It was amazing!” Gordon recalls of their visit in 2009. “No bands ever go to China really, and the kids that turned up were just so excited. They couldn’t believe they were seeing a band from Australia. We played one city called Guanzhou which apparently there’s never been a western band [there]. We couldn’t really believe it, but the promoter said there’s never been a western band play here… not even a punk band or a metal band or anything ever. He reckons we were the first one.”
A casual observer of Australia’s music scene could be forgiven for thinking that Parkway Drive aren’t much of a big deal. Conspicuously absent from radio and TV, rarely seen at the nation’s big summer festivals and virtually ignored by the media despite their impressive achievements both at home and abroad, it’s almost as if no one in this country is prepared to take these five young surf punks seriously.
“We’re kind of starting to (be taken seriously) now, but even still…,” the drummer says, before breaking off. “I’d rather not say much about that. But we are better received overseas than we are in Australia as far as festivals and stuff like that. In Europe we’ve just done festivals all over Europe. We played Sonisphere in England which Metallica headlined and there was 50,000 people there. That was amazing.”
Along with Metallica, Sonisphere’s first day featured the rest of the Big Four. More than 190,000 turned up to Knebworth across the event’s three days, and Parkway Drive played fourth from the top on the main stage on the final day, below Slipknot, Limp Bizkit and Motorhead.
“It’s by far the biggest show we’ve ever played,” says Gordon is his naturally understated way. “There was 65,000 people there and our crew estimated about 50,000 people watching us. It was pretty amazing. Just as far as the eye could see. It was a real good experience.”
Parkway Drive’s incredible work ethic and ever-burgeoning popularity has taken them around the world and to its biggest festivals. Now, this is finally being recognised by the local industry. Not only will they be touring nationally with the Big Day Out in 2012, last year their now-gold record accredited album Deep Blue saw them up for an ARIA Award nomination for the first time in the newly-created Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category, which they then went on to win. For a band that has remained completely independent yet become so immensely popular, such recognition is duly deserved, and Gordon admits it was a big thing for them.
“It was!” he says enthusiastically. “Up until that point there wasn’t even a category we could fit in. I think that for Horizons we – not that we were expecting anything – but our manager or someone brought the subject up. And we were like, ‘What category would we fit in? We’re not a rock band, we’re not going to win anything else’. So we’re like, well that’s not ever gonna happen. And then all of a sudden there’s this new category, Hard Rock, and we’re like, ‘Well, that’s interesting’. Then we get nominated and won it. It’s pretty good. It’s not something we were looking for or hoping for. It’s just kind of a bonus. It’s definitely a good achievement and it definitely feels good to win one.”
Of course the Aussie fans have always been on Parkway Drive’s side. Each successive tour seems to require larger and larger venues to cater for their audience. Gigs sell out in hours and Parkway repays them in kind with big production shows full of energy and band members literally surfing the crowd.
“Every tour we’re just blown away by the support we get. We just love it. Australian fans are just so good. They’re so loyal to us. We love playing Australia because it’s just more fun than anywhere else,” Gordon says, “live performance-wise. We can bring friends on tour and because it’s local we can afford more production and we can just have more fun with it.”
No doubt there will plenty of that mutual appreciation when the band hits the stage on the Big Day Out tour next year. Having now played some of the biggest musical festivals in the world, the time is probably long past due that they finally get to appear at the largest show in Australia.
“We played Homebake in 2005,” Ben Gordon says, “and I think the Big Day Out had a problem with us being too heavy. We did actually play it once, in Brisbane – sorry, the Gold Coast [also in 2005]. We played an opening slot there in a smaller tent that was actually at the time the biggest show we’d ever played. I think they’ve had a problem with us being too heavy, but now I think we’ve either gotten big enough for them to accept us or they’ve gotten a bit more open-minded. I can’t wait.”