Following up the much loved Zombie EP would be no mean feat for The Devil Wears Prada. Channelling desolation and isolation of the Zombie apocalypse and echoing the sentiments that we've all felt over the last 12 months in this fictitious world. In contrast to it's frantically violent forerunner, ZII offers a more sombre, dire and eerie look at the lives of those that survived the horde which spawned 11 years ago. With the record out now via Solid State Records, we caught up with frontman Mike Hranica for a chat on the EP, parallels between current events, the nature of hopelessness and more.
It’s been 11 years since the original Zombie EP, what made you decide on creating a sequel after this long period of time?
Mike: “We wanted to do something for the ten year [anniversary of Zombie], we wanted to do a 7” of two new songs just to reflect on and commemorate the original but when the pandemic extended we thought it was only natural to extend the songs. We’re home, it felt natural for us and it’s exciting and fun to write zombie songs for us, so it went from two to five songs. No issues.”
In a way we’ve all lived through a mini apocalypse of sorts, did the pandemic have any impact on your creative choices for the EP?
Mike: "Lyrically it definitely played in, it was just too automatic not to use some of what’s happening with COVID, at the same time I really want to underline and be intentional about ten years from now if folks like Zombie II like the first one to not look back and think of COVID. There is obviously a lot to learn from COVID but at the same time I think it would be great for us all not to think about it and get over this thing. I hope it’s not reflected as the ‘COVID Zombie EP’ but just ZII. Lyrically I did weigh in to some of the world’s current state of affairs.”
When you listen to the EP you get a really vivd sense of despair and hopelessness, how did you channel these emotions when outlining the concept and writing the lyrics?
Mike: “I mean, when the first Zombie EP came out, as far as after With Roots Above And Branches Below, I think even all that time ago with With Roots Above was much more, I don’t like the words optimism or pessimism, but there’s definitely like a ‘stand up and fight’ kinda quality to the old Prada songs but we are definitely more tuned to hopeless rather than hopeful. That’s just natural as a means of catharsis as to how our songs come about. Even though you know, this is a kind of fictitious world we’re in as far as the zombie situation, it is very much up our lane to weigh into hopelessness instead of the ‘fight back’ type thing that the first EP carried.”
Do you reckon some of that has come with age as well? As I’ve got older I’ve mellowed out but I’ve also go this real cynicism with the world.
Mike: “You don’t want to become all too jaded, I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable but at the same time your perception of things change and how you see the world. It can be just as much using that for good and being a healthy person but yeah we don’t really fight it when it comes to writing songs that don’t leave room for hope.”
ZII feels less frantic yet more technically brutal than Zombie, was this a conscious decision to fit it in with the more sombre hopelessness within the concept or did it occur naturally?
Mike: “I think it’s just the means of production, we’ve rerecorded our first three records and the original Zombie EP with Joey Sturgis and his means of producing bands is very different from where we’re at now, and especially with Jonathan [Gering] who produces the band. He’s a huge, huge integral part to not just the songwriting but the production, really I think that is all entirely to his credit as to how the songs are produced. There’s a different kind of technical sense versus Chris [Rubey] who really wrote all of the original Zombie EP. I think he just had free rein to do everything he wanted and wasn’t so much produced compared to where we’re at now.”
I noticed the lack of the more sound effect elements in exchange for this more ethereal synth sound and I think that, if anything, makes it a more intense listening experience because you feel like you’re stuck in this place and all you can hear is sadness. Is that part of his [Jonathan Gering] realm as well?
Mike: “Yeah certainly, all the original synths for Prada was pretty much to the credit of Joey Sturgis and what he did. These days it’s entirely Jon, I can’t say enough good things about him in terms of just being so crazy talented. Not even just as keyboard player but anything musically from guitars, drums, vocals, just as a real deal producer, I think his love of his Moog collection has sort of become apparent in there’s more organic sounds and they’re not too super, super modern. But yeah we wanted the first Zombie EP to not be super cheesy but when you have gunshot samples and what not it is kinda hokey. I think it could have been a lot hokier but that’s certainly something we wanted to be intentional about is not being hokey. If there is an easy way to make something hokey it’s through a lot of keyboard production and synthesisers.”
The premise of the zombie apocalypse is a very real thing because there are parasites out there that if they transfer to us could do this. It is a terrifying though so that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the Prada look at that sort of thing. ZII is so much more sophisticated and more terrifying in than the first one in many ways. Especially when it got to ‘Forlorn’, which is my favourite, because of the absolute sadness in those clean vocals.
Mike: “Yeah, I appreciate that, I appreciate the kind words. ‘Forlorn’ is probably my favourite song as well from the EP. The horror theme, the horror genre can be pretty played out and you can write the same stories over and over, I think it really translates to music too. I mean, you can write the same records over and over as well, but yeah I don’t think we’re the most inventive zombie storytellers by any means, I’m really not much of a horror geek or a zombie geek in the first place, but like I said earlier it’s a lot of fun to have a theme to write to that’s fictitious, at least for now.”
I read somewhere that Slayer and Hatebreed influenced the first Zombie EP, what artists inspired Zombie II?
Mike: “I’ve always loved Slayer, but there is definitely a time when I was really digging Hatebreed around With Roots Above and Zombie. I mean, for this one I think I’ve come in to my own pretty, pretty thoroughly in terms of vocal inspiration or anything. I remember when The Ghost Inside started popping off and Whitechapel and those are very dear friends of ours. I was really influenced then to have a heavier vocal presence to my work but I haven’t really had anything like that in a long time. I just do what I do and I know what I do, Jon and I work very closely as far as writing and recording, he knows very much as well the range of my voice. I love metal, I listen to metal pretty frequently but I don’t know if I really take so much from it as a fan and a consumer opposed to ‘Oh this inspires me to be like this’ it never really works that way.”
What’s your biggest insight on the EP of what you want people to take away from it?
Mike: “I’m excited to do the stream coming up, we’ve never debut a release in a live setting like that, you know you’re not streaming the music on YouTube or anything like that. It’s us playing the songs, with [full] video production, the lighting is amazing, so all in all I look forward to that. I hope folks can tune into the stream and be introduced to the songs we haven’t released.”
It’s interesting that COVID has forced the industry to adapt to that sort of thing. Do you think if a gig sold out at a venue, you could set up a livestream and people can watch it home?
Mike: “Yeah, I think that obviously there’s no substitute for live shows, but I think there is a sort of model building and developing and evolving for more streamed shows and selling a ticket to watch a stream. It was obviously forced on the world via COVID but I think it’s going to continue to exist and can be an interesting tool for any band to debut material or engage fans. Like anyone I would love to go to a live show but there is a lot of positives that one can take from the streams and in Prada’s world we’re proud of what we’ve done with our first two and I think that the ZII stream will also deliver for fans.”