The concrete floor, the flyers, gig posters on the wall… it looks like many other band rooms except it lacks empty beer cans, snubbed out durries and all the musical equipment on show is world class and in immaculate condition. It’s neat, and hell, it doesn’t smell that bad!
Vocalist Winston and drummer Ben make an unlikely pair. The Parkway Drive frontman is high-energy and has a rangy build. Ben looks like the typical Byron Bay surfer dude, laconic, tanned and reserved. Along with guitarists Luke and Jeff plus erstwhile bass player Steegy, all five walked the quadrangle at Byron Bay High School, and all five have been instrumental in establishing Byron as one of Australia’s hotspots for the all-ages hardcore scene.
But more importantly and with their second full length album, Killing With A Smile, hitting the ARIA Top 40, the five have established themselves as Australia’s premier touring hardcore band.
“The record’s only been out for four days,” says Ben, “and Graham (Nixon, Resist Records) reckons they’ve had to re-press it already.” Ben and Winston both look at each other, genuinely shocked. “It’s taken us about two years to sell the same amount of the EP,” reckons Winston.
Little where they to know that it would actually be charting alongside Ben Lee, John Williamson, Simple Plan and Craig David.
“It all started out with punk rock,” recalls Winston of the bands nucleus. “We got to hear heaps of it on surf videos. You’d hear something fast and punky first, like Pennywise and then you’d wanna hear something even heavier. Then you’d find out who played it and what bands they were into.”
Winston remembers that Parkway Drive started touring around the time that aggressive styled hardcore began to breakthrough.
“Punk became mainstream, thanks to those surfing videos. It’s huge in snowboarding too,” he goes on. “When we first started out we thought we were as metal as hell. It was really fast and hard and punky music. At the time, there was only about 10 guys in Byron actually into hardcore and punk. There was a band here called Think Straight, and they decided to go way more into hardcore. They were kind of the first hardcore band from here.”
To start a hardcore band in Byron Bay is to really go against the grain. The town is known for its Blues Festival, it’s dance culture – both indoors and outdoor – and more recently as the home to Splendour of course.
“The thing that people don’t realise,” says Winston, “is that thanks to the Youth Centre, and thanks to the hardcore scene we can get a couple of hundred kids off the streets and safe. When there is a hardcore gig at going on in town these kids are somewhere that is safe. They are not on the streets getting drunk or whatever.”
Traditionally this has been one of the underlying messages of hardcore. It has been a movement for and about ‘the kids’! And that is a philosophy important to Parkway Drive. They are currently in the middle of a tour which plays as many all-ages venues as possible and have plans to do an entirely alcohol free tour in the new year.
“It’s actually harder to find all-ages venues in the cities,” says Winston. We can hook up a gig in a place like Gympie and find an all-ages venue no worries.”
Of course, Parkway Drive is touring to promote their Killing With A Smile CD. Produced in Massachusetts by Adam Dutkiwiecz of Killswitch Engage, the album is a searing and pummelling assault of heavy, heavy metal.
“We had 100 per cent control,” affirms Ben. “For three weeks 12 hours a day we recorded with Adam, and he was great. The idea of making a hardcore record the way we wanted to is new in Australia. So we had to go overseas to get what we wanted. We’d never had a recording that produced before. Before, we just had a guy in the studio who pressed record.”
Labels for music are easy and for many redundant. But in the hardcore music scene labels are important. “Hardcore is in danger of losing it’s roots. The more metal it gets,” claims Winston. “It loses what it started out as. We started out playing something a bit more metal and a bit different to the hardcore that was around at the time. Byron is known for moshing and running around and having fun with your mates; and that’s the sort of music we wanted to play.”
Being under-aged in Byron Bay, like many small country towns is no fun. Opportunities for fun are scarce, particularly after dark, and acceptance is a “big thing in Byron,” says Winston, “and because there is no youth culture to speak of, the hardcore scene is getting real big.
“Social groups at High School are so important. With young people, being accepted is really crucial, and that’s what the hardcore scene is all about. Trends will come and trends will go,” he theorises. “One day kids will snap out of it and start to like some other styles of music, but we will always be here and so will all the hardcore bands.”
Killing With A Smile is out now through Resist Records.