Rising out of the muddled discontent and uncertainty of life that occurs after high school, Canada’s Hail the Villain – vocalist Bryan Crouch, guitarist Joseph Stamp, bassist Chad Taylor and drummer Drew Dockrill – built an impeccable sonic furor that caught the attention of Roadrunner Records in 2009. And now the angry youth come forth with their crushing debut Population: Declining in 2010, an album that’s energetic and genre-bending, yet catchy and memorable in its aural assault. But it’s not just the solid music that plucks Hail the Villain out of obscurity – it’s the graphic arts that accent their mission statement. From their 12-tracks a comic-book-style storyline is derived, and from their partnership with Rune Entertainment, animated characters have been crafted. Following anti-hero Drake through his misadventures in Metal City with love interest Feya and in opposition of villain Sire, the band gives us the video for “Take Back the Fear,” the upcoming comic book for “My Reward” and the still-evolving storyline depicted on their visually stunning interactive website.
To learn more about all of the above, with a focus on Hail the Villain’s artistic vision in and outside of Population: Declining, we catch up with bassist and graphic designer Chad Taylor.
Can you give us a general rundown of the main storyline?
Yeah, before we [were] signed, we wrote out a whole story about this character named Drake who had a really troubled upbringing. He gets caught up in an affair at work and he lives in a really industrialized, kind of exaggerated version of where we grew up in Oshawa. Then it takes a huge twist: he knocks up this girl at work and it goes into this whole ‘dead world’ kind of thing where there’s this evil boss Sire that is trying to take control of the living world, and all this stuff. It gets really cool and comic book-ish. As far as the plot, we did a rough outline mapping the story and then we partnered up with the animation company [Rune Entertainment] and they were re-writing it as we were going just because they were more experienced writers. We really had no idea what we were doing when we wrote it. Now we’re just kind of taking it chapter by chapter, we don’t even really know how it is going to pan out.
What inspired you guys to come up with an accompanying story in the first place?
It just happened by accident. It started with the CD artwork. I’m kind of the graphic designer guy in the band, and I tried a bunch of different CD covers like stuff with skulls and shit like that. We just wanted something different, and Joe [HTV guitarist] suggested a comic book theme and it just kind of inspired a story so we came up with characters and stuff for the CD artwork. Then from there we just started writing the story to all the tracks on the album and it just grew into its own thing.
So the album was written before there was a story?
We wrote the album first and then we kind of adapted the story to fit the album. We tried to tie it in the best we could. It’s easier to look at it like how in music videos, it’s the song, but most times it’s not necessarily what the song’s about -- they just kind of work together.
In terms of that, take us through what’s going on in the “Take Back the Fear” video as it pertains to this dead world storyline.
That’s really an introduction video – introducing the characters and introducing everyone to the metal city and everything. Basically it’s just showing Drake working at a factory. We’re trying to show his personality: when he’s in the coffee shop by not helping out the lady working; showing his relationship with Feya, the co-worker at his work that turns out to be a main character in this whole thing, his relationship with his wife and kids -- just trying to show what type of guy this is. And from that we’re gonna go into more action stuff and blowin’ up shit.
Do you already have the next chapter ready to go, or are you having the upcoming comic book carry out the next part of the plot?
We did the video for “Take Back the Fear” and then we have a comic book for “My Reward”. So I think we’re going to just tell the story in whatever way we can, whether it’s comic book or animated. For “Runaway” we’re actually doing a combination of live-action and there’s going to be animation in [the video] as well. A lot of it depends on budget and how much time we have to actually make it, because animation takes months to animate one video.
You mentioned that you’re the graphic designer for the band. Did you draw the characters or was that all materialized after you partnered up with Rune Entertainment?
That was all done by Rune. We sat down with them and picked out Hollywood actors that we thought would represent the characters best and just described what we would like them to look like and then they just did the sketches and full out detailed drawings of everybody from there. They 3D-rendered all the characters; they actually built them from the skeleton, put skin on them and clothes, all that stuff -- that was really cool.
Whoa that is cool. Can you reveal which Hollywood actors you modeled the characters after?
It’s so long ago now I don’t even remember... We thought of the guy in the movie Memento, Adrian Brody, for Drake. Sire was John Malkovich, for Randall he’s not in the story yet - he’s in some of the later episodes - but he would be Kris Kristopherson. And Feya was the girl in Dexter, Jennifer Carpenter.
In some interviews, Bryan has talked about how a lot of the lyrics on the album are about personal struggles, in that same light, do any of the characters reflect any of you guys in particular?
Yea I would say so. We’ve all had experiences similar to Drake being in the conflict that he goes through. Deep down he’s a good guy but he comes off as an asshole a lot of the time to people. It’s those kind of situations where it’s like a ‘doing what’s right but pissing off people in the process’ kind of thing. He’s the anti-hero where you root for him, but he’s not exactly a nice guy.
Is there an underlying message or allegory to the story?
You know what? I don’t really know. I can tell you, we just didn’t want it to come off as being gimmicky. When we created it we didn’t want it to be Gorillaz eye-candy, we really wanted to create something cool and something that people could get into. It was mainly just to enhance the experience. The ultimate goal is like a Pink Floyd - The Wall kind of thing. Something where you can look at the entire album front to back and there’s a video for every song and it’s a virtual graphic novel I guess, right? As far as a message though I don’t think we thought that far ahead we just wanted to make something cool.
When can we expect the comic book?
It’s being colored right now. We have “Tack Back The Fear” and “My Reward” in the works right now. I’m not sure when that is coming out but we definitely plan on having that out on the road with us.
Tell me more about your affinity for comic books. What are some of your favorites?
I used to really be into comic books when I was younger, but lately I’ve been into graphic novels, which are basically like comic books compiled into a huge book --like they take an entire series and make a book out of it. So I’ve really been into Batman… I like the cooler, darker style. There’s a joker book that’s really good that’s just all about Batman from The Joker’s perspective, [Batman: I, Joker by Bob Hall]. The last one I read that was pretty good was called Preacher [by Garth Ennis], it was just really a gory-as-hell graphic novel. We’re not like nerdy in the comic books but we definitely enjoy them. We’re fans for sure.
Did you ever think you’d be making a comic book of your own?
Actually we started with the comic book idea because when we didn’t have any money to actually do an animated video. We tried to do a comic book and we just got a friend of ours to do it for us but it didn’t really turn out as we’d hoped so we never released it. But it’s always been the plan, we’ve always wanted to do as much as possible with it, like doing action figures -- as much cool stuff as we can make and sell.
Is that what’s behind your interactive website?
In terms of the storyline the whole concept of the site is we wanted to freeze a moment in time, which is the turning point in the story where Drake gets hit by the car. We just wanted to open up a bunch of clues and teach people about the story that’s why we have the map of Metal City and you can look through Drake’s wallet for photos and stuff showing his family and everything. I dunno, we just really wanted to create a different kind of website that nobody’s really done before. A big thing for us was the TV section where people could post their fan videos and stuff like that. I think that’s really fun for people to do and get them involved.
What are you most looking forward to in releasing Population: Declining?
I’m just looking forward to getting it out there. We’ve just been recording for so long and haven’t had it released. We just can’t wait to put it out and tour even harder and show as many people as possible what we’re trying to do. I just hope people like it. A lot of what we’re trying to do is something different than what most bands are doing. One of the things we said as a band when we started was we didn’t want the typical music video where it’s just a performance section and then it flips to a little bit of plot on the side and then back to the band performing in the same room again. Everything just seems to be really overdone in the industry and everything is just slotted in the same template, so we’re just trying to be as creative as possible and just do something outside the box and try and see what we can get away with. We had a lot of things in the video that we had to take out like some of the blood and stuff like that and we actually had like after Drake and Feya were on the car doing their business it showed Drake pulling up his zipper and everything and it was too much for TV to handle. We want to see what we can get away with and always keep it edgy.