Protomartyr’s new album Relatives In Descent is an intriguing study in post-punk expressionism. Much has been made of vocalist Joe Casey’s story - how it’s his first real band, how he embodies a more accessible and stable version of the ‘musical outsider’ vibe of, say, Stanley from Life Sex & Death. But it’s that relative distance from schooled musicianship that allows Casey to really tap into the human experience. Relatives In Descent is an exploration of the existential dread and continual self-evaluation that happens as one progresses through life. “Now every little bug bite I get, I’m like ‘what’s that?’” he says. “I was living free and easy for the first 35 years of my life but now everything is starting to fall apart at once.”
However the album isn’t a chronicle of entropy so much as a bemused evaluation of it, be it personal, social or political. Specifically, one of the topics that occupies Casey on Relatives In Descent is his distaste for unhealthy escapism. “Some people seem to find it in spirituality and there must be a reason for it - people need something they can hold onto in this world,” he says. “I know I have that feeling a lot of the time. It would be nice to rely on the government to take care of you but then you realise how screwed up they are and it’s all just lies. It’s very frustrating. It’s weird because I did have these existential thoughts when you’re supposed to, when you’re 14 years old and you start smokin’ cigarettes, y’know? And then you grow up and you’re kinda boppin’ along, but then you have them again because you’re family’s starting to die off and you’re getting older and you see the impermanence of everything. It hits you on a heavier level, a more personal level.”
“It’s really a worrisome time in America in particularly,” Casey continues. “You have the president saying ‘All news is bad except for my daughter-in-law’s videos of real news.’ It’s propaganda and that’s frightening. I get upset when I read a music review and they misspell a word or they get something wrong, but it’s a little bit different for a bottom-level rock’n’roll singer to complain about the news than the leader of the free world. I feel bad for journalists right now getting turned into the bad guys, as it were. It’s bizarre that for a person that was a television celebrity he either acts like really knows how the media works, or he acts like he’s never experienced [it] before and it’s shocking and weird.”
The state of affairs in the US wasn’t the only thing different about the circumstances of this record - everyone in the band gave up their day jobs and security to devote themselves entirely to the project. “It was really the first time we could really, really work on it, grind out these riffs and parts of songs for hours,” Casey says. “The amount of time we devoted to the record was a new thing for us because we didn’t have the time to do that before. I don’t really put the lyrics down on paper until right as we’re recording because I like them to be fresh and locked in. The other guys are nice enough to hear my ideas and they try to understand them. They know what they’re doing with the music and my suggestions are more abstract. Greg, our guitar player, is great at knowing what I can and can’t do, so that makes it easier because I don’t know a note from a hole in the wall.
“I do like technical things,” he says. “But the reason I wanted to be in a band is, to quote Iggy Pop, it’s just raw power. It’s people bending electricity and making power on stage. That’s the kind of music I like - with some kind of intense emotion behind it. I have to focus though, because I will forget what the next word is - I need to be very present while I’m performing.”
Relatives In Descent it out on Friday September 29 via Domino Recording Company.