Detroit post-punk four-piece Protomartyr bring this year’s critical hit The Agent Intellect to town to play Soda Bar on Wednesday night.
Before Protomartyr was a band, Joe Casey would build up a little whiskey courage and sing a couple songs with one his favorite local Detroit acts, Butt Babies. The younger musicians had befriended Casey and had decided that they would help him out with a couple of songs since he was a nice guy.
...off of Protomartyr's The Agent Intellect
“They would play a show, and halfway through the Butt Babies set I would wander up on stage, sing two songs, and then just leave. People were like, ‘What the hell just happened? Who the hell was that guy?’ That was almost going to be like the end of Protomartyr...I was just gonna ruin Butt Babies shows,” Casey said.
The band began to click with Casey, though, and eventually enlisted him as full-time vocalist. Three albums in (the last two via Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art) and Protomartyr is a wrecking ball of post punk circa 2016. Their raw sound, experimental song structures, and primal playing recall some of the best acts from labels such as SST and Touch and Go. Like many of the greats, the band kind of stumbled upon their sound.
“It started with us kind of drunkenly screwing around,” Casey recalled. “It was very loose and raw. Maybe one chord played over and over again so I could make up stuff on top of it. As far as the changing of the sound for us, it really comes down to them getting better at their instruments and wanting to try new things.”
Casey continued, “Each song we do is kind of different. The Agent Intellect was written where Greg [Ahee] would come in with a guitar riff or an idea, and they would jam on the song for a while and I would mumble over them. We record the practices, and then we all go back and listen to them so we can remember the song. The song then gets whittled down more and more until it resembles an actual song. That’s how it works.”
The music seems to be a metaphor for the band’s hometown of Detroit. It is beauty amidst ruin and despair. Casey speaks of the “winter wasteland” he is staring out at during the phone conversation, and also how the band will likely have to travel through more snow before they make it to San Diego as part of their West Coast run. They are hitting Soda Bar this time around, but their last show in town left them feeling as if they were in some Jon Taffer–influenced bizarro world.
“We played the same place twice, but it had different names, and now I can’t remember the names. We went one time and it was one bar, and when we came back it had kind of changed. It looked like they must have had a ‘bar rescue’ or something. It was a completely different bar, but the same,” Casey said.
Can you guess which two bars in the same establishment he is talking about?
Protomartyr plays the Soda Bar on Wednesday, March 2.