November 28, 2006 § 1 Comment
by Kate Pilgrim
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut , November 2006
Those of you Anglophiles who are in any way ‘mad for it’ have probably heard of King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Unassuming from the outside, tucked away on a otherwise business-free Glaswegian street, it is known for, among other moments of musical greatness, being the place where Alan McGee first spotted and signed Oasis. The thought of FINALLY (after nearly four years of uni) getting to see a gig in that most hallowed of venues had me, well, wicked psyched, yes, but I was far more excited about who I was seeing.
For it was there, hidden away in the manager’s office, that five Americans (and an English girl, to remind us of what empire we’re in) got together to talk about music and complain about the Big Dig. It was one of those mind-blowing moments where you realise that the world isn’t so big after all. And, more importantly, that some people have more commitment to their dreams than the Scottish Highlands have sheep; here was a Boston band very far from home wholly dedicated to not taking a second for granted. Also, did you know that Protokoll was recently a Spin “Band of the Day”? We can do one better, however, for here at Pilgrims they deserve “Band of the Month.” Ooh.
If you aren’t familiar with the band, we’ll start with the basics. Protokoll today is a four man show, yes, but it hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning, it was Jose De Lara, Ben Greenspan, a laptop, some keyboards and guitars. A few weeks in, Danny O’Neill got involved after hearing early demos of ‘Early Divine’: ‘I was extremely jealous and bummed out that I wasn’t a part of it and was just like “Heeey dudes, you don’t have to let me in the project 100% but if you ever need any bass lines…”’ After realising that Danny’s bass was a necessary component, they played more shows, relying on a drum machine for support (‘disastrous from day one’). Six months in and a drunken conversation later, enter Reid Calkin. When discussing them, the press likes buzz words such as Joy Division, post-punk, and ‘moody.’ How descriptive… Better to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, no?
Jose: There was more of a dance/electrodisco, German-like industrial thing going on; like DAF, with some Kraftwerk in there, but it moved more to a more guitar based sound, though still having the element of synthesizers in the background. We weren’t really good at doing it [the dance/electro sound] in the first place so we sort of moved naturally to a rock sound.
Danny: Reid coming in on the drums sort of naturally facilitated that as well.
Jose: Yeah he hits really hard and we had to start turning it up more and more, using more distortion and more effects to make this bigger more massive sort of wall of sound type of thing which is probably attributed to the fact that we listened to a lot of shoegazer bands, that’s one main influence. We listen to like a lot of pyschedelic music from the 60s, a lot of pysch rock. But I think the backbone of everything is definitely rooted in punk rock, and that comes out in our live performance.
No kidding. I’d heard that their performance was lively, loud, and (for lack of another l-word) some sort of insane. I was not disappointed. Example: Jose, practically lying down, playing his guitar with his beer bottle, while the rest of the band went crazy around him. You need to see them live. The only songs I’d been able to hear beforehand was that which was on their website, but their live show has some aural treats that will get you yearning for a full-length realease.
All sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But WHAT are they doing over in dear ol’ Blighty? Basically, risking it all. Jose, for instance, has sold all his expensive equipment, given up all housing leases in order to go on this European tour: ‘This is my whole existence.’ They aren’t without a foundation in the UK, though; this is their second UK trip. A lot of their progress in the UK is due to a certain man named Steve Lamacq. A respected BBC dj, Lamacq got hold of the band’s self-released EP, started playing it on his Radio 1 show and has been championing the band ever since. And no one, it seems, was more suprised than the band themselves: ‘When we found that out it was sort of like “Oh my god, we’re being played on the radio in a country where we’ve never been.”’
By the sounds of it, touring thus far has been nothing short of an adventure. Says Danny, ‘It’s funny, we try not to sound like too much of a charity case but half the nights we’re playing we’re like “YEAH, we’re an American rock band… Can we have a place to stay tonight?” into the microphone.’ Monetary issues aside, they are certainly not taking this opportunity for granted:
Danny: We’re all here because we love to be, nobody ever gets chances like this and we all know that. When the opportunity presented itself we all were happily ready to drop the ball on school, family and jobs and all that stuff to make this happen.
Ben: The fact that we’re here right now, doing this interview, in Scotland, that’s pretty outrageous.
Okay, so you’re familiar with the band’s past, you’re coming to grips with the band’s present, and we’ll get to the future in a bit. But I can hear you asking, ‘What are the members of Protokoll actually like?’ Time for some deep, soul-searching type questions that I personally would have loads of trouble answering – so I’ll just force them on other people instead…
They have scruples:
Pilgrims of Sound: Would you sell your soul to the devil for the perfect song?
Most of the group: No, no, definitely not.
Reid: Maybe for the perfect album.
They like to have fun:
PS: Can you assign any extreme labels to band members?
Ben: Jose and Danny are the partiers.
Jose: We’re the ones that are up ’til 5 in the morning. When everyone else is like “I wanna go to beeed,” we’re the ones who are still boozing.
Ben: Reid is the funny one, he keeps us entertained.
Reid: I’d say I’m the perpetually hungover chain-smoking one.
Danny: Yeah, that too. But that contributes to your hilarity when you’re like completely cracked out and you’re chain smoking, drinking coffee…the most ludicrous shit comes out of your mouth.
They don’t always listen to the coolest of songs:
PS: What is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
Reid: I have a most embarrassing playlist…
Danny: Probably, um, Kate Bush covering ‘Sexual Healing.’
Ben: You love that.
Danny: But it’s embarrassing! I can love some stuff thats really embarrassing.
Ben: Theres so much embarrassing stuff on my iPod, I don’t know where to start.
Reid: I’ve got Bobby Brown, ‘My Perogative,’ on there.
Ben: Theres nothin embarrassing about that though!
Still, their first musical purchase was way cooler than mine:
PS: What was the first record you bought?
Ben: A 45″ of Weird Al Yankovic’s ‘Fat.’
Danny: Ride the Lightning, Metallica.
Jose: The Batman Soundtrack, Prince.
Reid: The first thing I ever bought was a tape that was some sort of sampler…
Someone (Ben and Jose, you sound very similar on tape): Jock Jams?
PS: If you could ask any musical person, dead or alive, any question, who would it be and what would you ask?
Ben: Phil Spector… “Did you do it?”
Of course, by the time you are reading this, they will have returned from their whirldwind tour (they’ve been on the road for 5 out of the past 7 months), having left Scotland to go to Germany and finally return home via London (phew). Hopefully, they have a permanent roof over their heads and are being fed some homecooked meals to replace a long-line of venue prepared/microwaved foods. After they’ve recovered and de-Europed, the plan is to start recording songs in Spring 2007. When you consider all they’ve done with an EP, a full-length album should lead to some sort of world domination. Again, no one can say it better than the band themselves…
Danny: We have a lot of ambition, and I think we all know that this is an investment that we have a lot more to go with, you know… Our sights are aimed a lot higher than we are right now.