A long-standing band is something to be praised and adored in today’s ever-changing world. With members scattered across the country, all dealing with life itself, South Florida’s melodic punk band Protagonist is still around with something to say…and plenty of fun to be had.
The band recently released their new record, Jean Jackets In June (who isn’t obsessed with the alliteration of the title?), and embarked on the Florida Vacation tour with fellow punk stalwarts New Found Glory.
Planet Stereo caught up with Peter Marullo (vox) to chat about the tour, how the band keeps it all together, and the new record.
Planet Stereo: How is the tour going?
Peter Marullo: Really well, thanks! It’s the last night of the tour for us tonight!
PS: Are you guys not going on the [Parahoy!] cruise as well?
PM: No, no cruising for us!
PS: Are you sad about that or happy because you get to home and relax now?
PM: I mean, I’ve never been on a cruise, so I’d be totally down to go on a cruise with Paramore and New Found Glory! But yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to a little relaxation and downtime…Well, that’s kind of a lie, because I wish I had, like, thirty more shows to go. This tour has been unreal.
PS: I imagine! I love that it was all Florida as well, because so many tours skip Florida.
PM: Yeah! As soon as it came up, and as soon as we were asked, we were like, “Oh, well, where’s the tour going to take place?” And when they said all Florida dates, we were like, “What?! That’s awesome!”
PS: A moment of happiness, because you realize you get to be in the sunshine!
PM: Yeah, and it’s a bit of a different situation for us, because, you know, we’re “based” out of Florida, out of Boca Ratone. We’ve always been a Florida band, but logistically, our personal lives, jobs, and careers, have taken us all over the United States. So being able to come back to the home state, the home turf, and basically all the major cities in the state, with New Found Glory, it’s been, literally, unreal.
PS: I’m also going to take a guess and say you’ve not had a dull moment, not even once with New Found Glory. We all know Brian [Forst] hasn’t! I hear he’s been quite the punk Rennaissance man.
PM: No! [T]hey really are a great group to be around, for sure. And Brian is wearing multiple hats on this tour. […] [laughs] He’s managing, he’s guitar-teching, he’s driving, and he’s playing in Protagonist.
PS: Oh my gosh…I hope he gets a massive cup of coffee as a reward.
PM: Well, he’s going on the cruise, so hopefully he’ll get some relaxation and downtime [laughs].
PS: Hopefully! Well, has there been a favorite day of the tour for you?
PM: I mean, it’s funny, because, the first one in Pensacola…We’ve never previously had a great show in Pensacola, but the first night of the tour, from the first strum of the guitar, every night is a favorite night. I would say the stand out, though, last night, we played the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, our home turf area, and, you know, same drill, it just went off. You know?
PS: A little bit of hometown pride going?
PM: Yeah! And, you know, we don’t get to play our hometown area that much. We haven’t played Palm Beach county in quite some time. The last two times we played down here was Propaganda in Lake Worth, which, is cool and has a great crowd and stuff, but it’s not really our home crowd.
PS: Yeah, and there’s nothing cooler than coming back to your hometown, performing, and being like, “Look! I made it!” And just going for it in front of everybody.
PM: Yeah, we had a great time!
PS: Good! I also heard that you teamed up with Smart Punk to release the new EP. What made you guys transition to them to release [the record]?
We previously released The Chronicles and States on Paper and Plastic, and then had gotten together with Less Than Jake, and got to play their Wake and Bake Festival, which is their yearly thing they put on in Gainesville, like their tribute to their hometown. We would do different kind of east coast tours, and stuff like that. In early 2014, we had a batch of songs, and we knew it was time to record and put something out, because it had been a few years. Ultimately, we decided to go into their studio with Pete Steinkopf from The Bouncing Souls, and so we headed into his studio, and after a week in there, we had five new songs. So we sent them out for a friend, Jamie Woolford, who used to sing in the band The Stereo, which is a Fueled By Ramen band. He runs a great studio out west, so we headed out to Arizona, and he mixed it down, it sounded great. We kind of sat on it for a while, and tried to figure out what the smartest thing to do with it was. With everybody everywhere, we kind of operate unconventionally and wanted to make sure that it was put out in a strategic way. Our buddy Jordan, who plays in the band Teenagers, he works for AJT Orlando, and a couple of guys there had recently acquired the “Smart” brand name, and decided to relaunch it as a label. We kind of just had a conversation one day, and just figured, “Yeah, let’s give this a shot.” The 10”, the vinyl, just came out in time for this tour.
PS: Oh, that’s awesome! I bet you guys have been selling a lot of the vinyl, because that’s become really popular again.
PM: Yeah, yeah, and Smart Punk did a really good job with it. We have a screen-printed Florida Vacation Tour variant, and been getting a lot of good response from it. It’s weird, you said vinyl has become popular again, and we had a guy at the show last night, and he was buying merch for his two-year-old son. Sort of, investing in it for the future, so that when he’s like thirteen or fourteen, he would have a pretty cool collection of punk shirts and merchandise going.
PS: That is so smart! I have never thought of that, but that it so clever!
PM: Yeah, like me and Jordan, who has joined us to do merch at the shows, were chatting and we were like, “That is so awesome. By the time his kid is like, fifteen years old, he’s going to have a crazy record collection, a crazy wardrobe…,” and it could be dated by then, but it will be cool.
PS: Oh, yeah, I mean, you think of the kids now who are going out and going online to buy AC/DC, Wolfmother, etc. shirts, and it’s like, “You weren’t even alive!” It will be even cooler now, like, “Oh, well my dad actually collected these for me.”
PM: [laughs] Yeah! It’s pretty cool.
PS: I also have to high-five you through the phone for the alliteration in the EP’s title. It’s just amazing.
PM: Thank you!
PS: The nerd in me was very excited.
PM: What comes to mind to you when you see those words?
PS: When I see the words Jean Jackets In June, I think of my own denim jacket that I wear all the time in the summer, because it goes with everything. I also think of the opening sequence of Pretty In Pink, when they take you through the high school, and there’s two teenagers walking through the door, holding hands, and they’re wearing jean jackets.
PM: You know, I haven’t thought of that scene in a while, and I was going to go and see the movie when they re-released it on Valentine’s Day, in the theaters, but I know exactly what you’re talking about! And the relation to the image.
PS: The film buff in me immediately thought of it, and just kept thinking, “Damn, that is so cool,” but also made me wonder, is there a story behind the title?
PM: Um…it just kind of…That’s a layered question, to some extent. Me and my brother have kind of had the concept of that song around for a few years. Like, we’ve always wanted to do a song called “Jean Jackets In June,” and we haven’t. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the song, but it has this opening rift that goes like…[*provides soundeffect to showcase opening rift*] and that’s all we had was the title and the opening rift.
And literally, like three weeks before we went into the studio with Pete to record it, my brother sent me the first demo of the song. I was sitting in the airport, flying back from a wedding–I live in Massachusetts, and was flying back from Fort Lauderdale–and I put the demo on, the first time hearing the song, and a big chunk of lyrics just came to me. I was like, “Alright, this is exactly what this song is supposed to be.”
PS: When I heard the song, I honestly just thought it was perfect for my summer playlist.
PM: Awesome! And I guess the concept, which I like to leave open for people’s interpretation, has a few possibilities, but there’s this overall theme of being able to attach an emotion to a physical, tangible item. And that item represents a memory, like this person wearing that jean jacket, and it suddenly brings back all these thoughts. Maybe not even from their life, but from a past life, or a distant memory.
PS: So [Jean Jackets In June] really plays on the feeling of being away from home. I believe the press release said the “dissociation of location,” which is really the best way to describe it. As a musician, do you struggle being on the road a lot?
PM: You know, I think it might actually feel more opposite, like yearning to be on the road more. In an unconventional way, we’ve been in this band for a long time, and within the five of us, there is a deep core unit. [W]e all live in different places, and have careers and jobs, and, like, life going on, and our own personal stuff. But we all try and get together a good amount of time throughout the year, and whether that’s recording or playing a batch of shows, or, in this case, playing on a tour with New Found Glory, we all make it work. I think part of the press release references “Hide Away,” which is the second track off of the record.
It’s basically about that disassociation of location, as we’ve grown older, as we’ve moved out of our home state, and sort of things at headquarters, at homebase, sort of disintergrate, znd whether that’s a familial breakdown […], friendships and relationships that you used to have, it’s sort of the yearning for that home, and we sort of explore that theme on our record States. There’s sort of that theme going on. Like, there’s a lyric on that record, “I’m pleading for a home to return to,” about being between two locations and trying to figure out which is home, or what is home.
PS: You referenced the length of time that you guys have been a band, and considering you have been on the scene for so long, and seen so many of the changes, how have you guys adjusted to that?
PM: I want to say sort of via the war of adapting, so I think Protagonist specifically has done a good job in adapting to [social media]. Take last night, for instance, we actually Live Stream-ed the show on Facebook, which is a new feature, and we streamed the entire set. At one point, we had, like, 600-700 people watching at one time. I think we’ve figured out a good way to find a balance between both [eras of promotion]. Like, I was just at a record store next to the venue, and brought copies of Jean Jackets In June, and sold them to the record store for consignment, and we brought a bunch of posters to hang around the cities we’re playing. So we’ll go around hanging up posters, visiting record stores, making sure the EP is directly in record stores we’re hitting up. I think because we were a band before the social media and technology side took over, we’ve been able to do a really good balancing act of both.
PS: Well, it’s funny because I spoke to Will Pugh (Cartel) about the exact same thing, and he said it’s the weird thing of being between eras, and trying to find the footing. Have you found it difficult to find the balance, or was it a straight dive?
PM: That’s a tough question…I like the physical side of things, I like handing out fliers, being able to sell the record to someone, or, after a show, have a kid come up to where we’re selling merch and buy our record, and they get to leave with this physical document or representation of what they just saw on stage. But I also like being able to send out a Spotify link to a family member or to a friend that lives across the country. A lot of the [social media] makes it easier, like, the fact that you can go online and search, ‘Protagonist Jean Jackets In June,’ and it’s going to pull up a Youtube track, or a Spotify link, Apple Music, iTunes, Pandora, it could bring up this interview, and then a kid may be in Wisconsin, who’s never seen us, that’s getting into punk, has heard of us, and will be able to sit and understand some of the stuff and the subtext of what’s going on within the band and on the record. It’s hard to pick a side, I think, and diving in headfirst into both areas is the smart thing to do.
PS: Because you have been together so long, and are now based in different states, how do you manage to keep everything functioning as a group?
PM: I guess the latter side, technology. Being able to hit a button and have someone who is 1500-2000 miles away in front of me, and able to have a conversation. Stuff like GarageBand, a lot of the Cloud sharing stuff, I mean, I can record a vocal for a demo sent to me, and then send it out to the members of the band. It’s definitely hard, but it’s not as hard as people think it is. It’s not as hard as buying plane tickets, and trying to figure out everybody’s schedules. A lot of the other stuff is sort of easy…or maybe it’s becoming easy!
PS: I was going to say, I’m sure it’s a lot easier with demos now that you don’t have to wait for things to be sent via Snail Mail.
PM: [laughs] Yeah, which is pretty wild, but even on this tour, it’s the last night, so I’m grabbing a couple of copies of the record for people that I haven’t seen in a while, people that were involved in the recording, producing, etc. I still get a big thrill out of going to the post office and sending off records and t-shirts.
PS: Everyone likes to get mail!
PM: Yeah! Everyone loves a good mail day!
PS: I have one last question for you, before you go and get ready for the final performance. I have to put a little asterisk on this one, so I don’t get sued! [laughs] This is in no way a threat on your life, anything/anyone you love or hold near and dear, it is simply a philosophical question.
PS: I can feel your nerves through the phone [laughs].
PM: I’m open! [laughs]
PS: If you knew this was your last conversation with another human being, your last chance to say what you needed to, what would you choose as your final words, and why?
PM: One word or a statement?
PS: A statement. No pressure.
PM: Hmm…I’ve got to think about this for a second…last conversation with a human being…hmmm…Like, I know I’m going to die?
PS: Yeah, like a cartoon anvil is about to smash you on the head, and these are your final words to Earth.
PM: Um…I think I would say something along the lines of, maybe it sounds cheesy, but like, “Treat other people how you would like to be treated. You only get back what you give, so really make everything you do and every ounce of energy that you put into what you love, make it count.”
PS: That’s very good. You honestly can never fail with this, as long as you don’t answer “YOLO.” [laughs]
PM: [laughs] Oh no.
PS: You laugh, but I’ve had that answer before.
PM: Oh Jesus.
PS: I was tempted to hang up on this person [laughs]. Joking…
PM: [laughs] That’s funny.
PS: The best was “Not in the face.”
PM: Intense. [laughs] It sounds very Goodfellas, you know, so like his mother can give him an open casket funeral.
PS: That’s what I always think! Like, okay, Joe Pesci.
PM: [laughs] Yeah!
PS: [laughs] Alright Pete, well, I’m going to let you go, but thank you so much for doing the interview! Good luck tonight, I’m sure it will be amazing!
PM: Thank you for taking your time to do the interview!
For more on Protagonist, click HERE.
To purchase Jean Jackets In June, click HERE.