Common Thread: A Conversation with Mike Protich of Red Sun Rising

Mike Protich isn’t a fan of labeling music and turning what should be a cozy, single-room apartment into an endless maze of sub-genres.

His message is much simpler: It’s music. Relax and enjoy it.

But while the guitar-playing frontman from Akron, Ohio’s Red Sun Rising isn’t losing any sleep over those who insist on painting his band into one genre or another, he does want to make it clear that by doing so, they’re only missing out.

Red Sun Rising is one part this, one part that, and another part an interesting brew of something else.

“We’re not a heavy metal band, we’re not an alternative band, and we’re not a pop band,” he said. “We have our influences and give nods to them, but we’re just a band of guys making music. If you get it, great; if not, well, I guess it’s not for you.”

This year will be a good indicator of just how many people are “getting it,” beginning with the release of Red Sun Rising’s sophomore album, “Thread,” (Concord Music/Razor & Tie) on March 30, the follow-up to 2015’s “Polyester Zeal.” Last week, the quintet hit road on their first U.S. headline tour in support of the album, and to top it off, also recently landed a coveted opener slot on the Godsmack/Shinedown co-headlining arena tour set to begin later in the summer.

Central Iowa will get its first full-on dose of Protich (vocals, guitar); Ryan Williams (guitar); Dave McGarry (guitar); Ricky Miller (bass,); and Pat Gerasia (drums) live and in person on April 20 when the band performs at Wooly’s in Des Moines.

Protich spoke to ListenIowa recently about the upcoming album; working with Hyde; and what it takes to turn an old, dusty child’s piano a vessel from which to summon Satan in the recording studio.

Things are really ramping up for Red Sun Rising with your first headline tour and a new album coming up.
We are really excited about it. We’ve done so much support touring over the last three years that it’s time for us to spread our wings and fly. We played 177 shows last year in 18 countries, and we’ve have done a lot of festivals, but we’re just so excited to get to be in front of our fans and connect with them.

When you find yourselves on a festival bill with the likes of Five Finger Death Punch or Vince Neil, do you choose your setlist based on the other bands you are sharing the stage with that day?
We used to do that when we were younger, but now we’re more confident in doing our show. We’re usually going to be one of the more “vibe-ier” bands on that bill, and we love that. Our music just isn’t full of testosterone and generic lyrics that you can put on a bumper sticker. The songs mean something to us, and we’re telling some stories.

Do you enjoy playing festivals?
We do. The crowds usually are great. It’s been very rare where it’s been a terrible crowd at a festival. And we’ve been touring so much that we’re getting to know these bands, and backstage at these festivals we get to see a lot of people from the road, whether it’s band members or road guys we have worked with. That’s kind of cool at each festival, to see who is going to be there. It gives it sort of a family vibe.

On top of the tour, your sophomore album, “Thread,” drops March 30.
We’re excited about this simply because it’s the first time the band has really collaborated on an album. You’ll really hear what the band sounds like. We went with a producer, Matt Hyde, who really captures what the band sounds like playing live. There are a lot of cool textures on there. We chose the Sonic Ranch Studio in Texas, which has an amazing collection of sonic gear and different things we got to try that helped give each song its own identity. You might hear some weird things going on, but if you do, it’s supposed to be there, so put your headphones on and enjoy it.

Hyde has quite the production resume, having worked with everyone from Slayer to Jonny Lang, who he won a Grammy with. What did you learn from your experience with him?
The cool thing with Matt was, not only was he great at capturing our sound, but also the personality of each band member. And instead of using the same guitar sound for the entire record, he’d ask how we wanted each song to make us feel, and then said, “Let’s find that guitar tone.” He makes you focus on making the sounds right for each song, which gave things a little extra identity. And he never shot down an idea. I’ve worked with people who said, “That can’t work.” Matt would say, “OK, I hear your idea, let’s figure out a way to make that work.”

The first single is “Deathwish,” is catchy, but at the same time, you’ve managed to maintain that edge.
It’s become a trend to have really dark lyrics that tell a story, but with a beautiful melody. That’s our favorite combination. Just because the lyrics are dark, doesn’t mean the melody has to be dark, or you need to scream it. That song was inspired by the Pygmalion Effect that says that people with self-fulfilling prophecies actions gravitate toward making them happen subconsciously. We used the apocalypse as an example of that. It’s not really apocalyptic in the wordly sense, but more so in the individual. It can destroy your life if you become obsessed with that.

“Stealing Life,” features your trademark vocal harmonies, and has a lot of layers to it.
That’s a very personal song to my lyrically. I’ve lost a lot of people in my life to suicide. I’ve lost the first guy I ever started writing music with in my first band, another friend in high school, and I really started writing that song when we lost Chris Cornell. When I was growing up, he was my hero, and to have your hero do something like that, it’s just heartbreaking. The song talks about what was going on in their heads and would you want to know what that really is? There’s a Wurlitzer piano on there, which we’ve never used before, but adds that kind of Beatles-esque vibe to it.

The record closes out with “Evil Like You,” with its Black Sabbath-type riff, but interestingly enough, there’s a piano amongst that heaviness, too.
That song came from Ricky. He was showing us the riff, and we thought it was awesome and knew we had to do something with it. He found this tiny piano from the 1930s that was sitting in the studio, covered in dust. But it was still in tune. So he started playing the riff from “Evil Like You,” and we were like, “Holy shit. You may have just summoned Satan with that.” (laughs) It was creepiest thing you’ve ever heard. Almost like a little kid’s Linus piano. The song spawned out of that weirdness.

When do the Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots get old? Or have they already?
Yeah, we got a lot of them with “The Otherside” (from “Polyester Zeal”) obviously. In a lot of ways, it was a tip of the hat to Alice In Chains when we used that harmony on the verses. That’s a band that we love. We’ve (over time) gravitated away from that. That’s what we’re saying with “Thread.” We don’t want to write music for a genre or to sound like something. We just want to write music that we love.

You guys are fortunate to be a young band and at the same time maintain that artistic integrity and not have to bend to the wishes of anyone.
Yeah, we are lucky with that, and I think that’s why we are where we are. We stayed true to ourselves, and we didn’t try to fit a trend. We just try to write the best songs we can. The process of making this record brought us closer, and we’re just excited to play these new songs live. We’ve been texting back and forth the last four weeks saying, “We should play this song live, or this one.” But I’m like, “Dude, we can’t play every song on the record because no on is going to know them yet!” (laughs)