Prince Daddy and the Hyena embrace unpredictability

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Prince Daddy and the Hyena interview

Has Kory Gregory, frontman of Albany-based punk band Prince Daddy & the Hyena, ever told you the origin story behind his band’s unconventional name? If so, you may be entitled to compensation. Not financial, mind you, but in the form of the following slice of scandalous knowledge: Treble can exclusively reveal that every single band name origin story that Gregory has previously given in an interview has, in fact, been one massive lie.

“Usually in interviews, I would make up a different dumbass story each time. But I’m not gonna do that to you,” he admits with outrageous candor during our Zoom call. “I’m just gonna be real and tell you that I’m not gonna tell you what it is. Sorry.”

The kinds of dumbass stories he’s made up in the past range from the plausible (“I’d say it’s the name of my childhood guinea pig”) to the ridiculous (“I’ll just be like, ‘it’s my parent’s anniversary.’ Which isn’t even a thing that makes any sort of sense”) to the idea that it derives from a game Gregory used to play with the band’s merch guy in elementary school, where the pair would enter a tent and run around in circles. Indeed, at the time of writing, it is this version of the story that is purported as fact on the band’s Wikipedia page.

“Me and the merch guy didn’t even go to school together!” Gregory confirms. And there’s your periodic reminder not to believe everything you read on the internet.

This all might seem like a lot of effort to put into something as innocuous as a band name. But it quickly becomes apparent that Gregory’s approach to the musical process is one that puts mountains of effort front and center, as evident on their ambitious new self-titled album, out now via Pure Noise. The formation of a Prince Daddy album is characterized by intense, calculated focus, and spreading online myths about the titular “Daddy” and the precise nature of his relationship to the Hyena is barely the tip of the iceberg.

They harnessed this attitude (“almost to a fault,” says Gregory) when writing the band’s sophomore effort, the post-bad-trip concept record Cosmic Thrill Seekersand it doesn’t take long to make an appearance in Prince Daddy’s latest outing, either: their upcoming self-titled third album opens with a song in which the protagonist from Cosmic Thrill Seekers kills himself.

“That record,” says Gregory of Cosmic Thrill Seekers, “you can start the first song after the last song, and it’ll just be an endless loop,” à la Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “I wrote it that way because it was the cyclical nature of my mental health. That was running me through those motions in Cosmic Thrill Seekers.

“And then, eventually, you break from that cycle,” he continues, “and I kind of wanted this record to start as what happens when you break the cycle, and how fucking scary it is to, I guess, become an adult.”

The band’s newest album is so radically different from their last one that Gregory feels compelled to metaphorically murder his former main character before we’ve even hit the two-minute mark. It’s a clear sign of how intensely personal Gregory’s song-writing methods are: “If I wasn’t unhealthily obsessed with something at the time, I probably wouldn’t be writing an album,” he admits.

Cosmic Thrill Seekers and Prince Daddy & the Hyena are very different animals. While the former was cerebral and introverted, emphasizing the narrator’s internal mental states, the latter is gruesome and viscerally physical, replete with lyrics such as “He’s just one big black rodent that chews apart my liver” (“Hollow, As You Figured”) or “Lights and sirens flood the driveway / Neighborhood watch watches your body.” (“Keep Up That Talk”).

“The record is about, overall, mortality,” Gregory states. “The fear of dying.”

“We got into a little car accident,” he continues. “No one died, but we got pretty fucked up. We totaled the van. As a kid, you think about that kind of stuff in the context of horror movies and stuff, and it seems very weightless. As an adult, you think about it, and the concept of life and death carries a lot more weight. The unexpected consequences of little, tiny mistakes or misjudgments, or whatever. It’s overwhelming, as an adult, to think about that.”

The morbid subject matter is far from the only new addition that Prince Daddy & the Hyena brings to the band’s repertoire. Long-time Prince Daddy fans might be surprised to hear the album kick off with a singer boasting a light, airy, dulcet timbre, rather than the vocal-chord-shredding yelp that we’ve all grown so used to; they’ll be more surprised still when they learn that the voice of both this mellifluous angel and their usual cacophonous wailer belong to one Kory Gregory.

“I love the screamy voice,” Gregory says of his trademark shriek. “But on the earlier records, the only reason that was a thing that was always there was because it’s all I knew how to do.”

“I’m not a singer,” he confesses. “I wrote the songs, and I wanted to sing the lyrics I wrote, you know? That’s kind of just what came out. I was never trained or anything. I had to get a vocal coach because it was damaging my voice so much. Now I can get there when I want to without fucking my throat up. And when I don’t want to, I can have two different textures, and really explore that aspect of songs. I explore different guitar tones and stuff, but I’d never thought about trying falsetto, or trying screamy here and falsetto there. And now I’m capable of that. So it opens up a lot more dynamic abilities.”

Gregory has used the opportunity to broaden the band’s dynamic to full effect. The use of different vocal tones allows for forays into new genres—acoustic, pop, and dance songs all make an appearance—that are now fully embraced where they had previously only been winked at.

“I wanted to take everything that we were trying to do, as far as music we listen to and music we’re influenced by, and take the stuff we like about Prince Daddy songs, and stretch it out. Every way. Until there was no more give,” he says. “That’s something that, in my head, I’ve always done. But when I look back, it doesn’t translate.

He explains that the thunderous “I Forgot To Take My Meds Today” from Prince Daddy’s first album was originally written as a pop song—but from the palm-muted chugging and wailing guitar riffs, you’d be hard-pressed to tell.

“So, ‘Hollow’—we’ve had heavy riffs in the past, but that was like, ‘let’s see if we can write a really dark song,’” he says. “Just take every single tiny aspect that tried to peek through on earlier albums, and commit to it, and not half-ass it. I think that is a sign of learning, new experiences, new influences, learning new abilities, whether it be how to write, or how to play, or how to produce.”

On the question of whether it’s important for a band to evolve, Gregory—diplomatic but uncompromising—has a lot to say. His love for music as both listener and performer is extremely clear, and his words are exploratory, even subversive, to the point they might appear pretentious were they not being spoken by a man literally brimming with enthusiasm.

“As an appreciator of the quality of music, I definitely like to see bands challenging themselves, and surprising me,” he explains. “I think it’s so stupid to have a rulebook for whatever music you’re playing. I feel like that just sucks all the fun out of it. When someone’s having fun and challenging themselves writing a song, I feel like the listener can kind of tell.”

He pauses. “I’m trying to think of a band that’s so far away from us that I can’t offend…A band like Pennywise. I look back on that, and it’s just like—this isn’t exciting. There’s no way that y’all had the time of your life getting together and writing this song, there’s no way y’all are amped about this. It’s not like the people behind it are excited and proud, you know? Just like, ‘okay, this’ll work.’”

But he sees the other side of the argument. “There are bands who, once you find what your formula is, I think it’s possible you could use that formula to make six different records, and people will still love it and come out to the shows. And I think that’s fucking cool. I’m not saying ‘fuck that.’ Because it’s just a different mindset.”

The Prince Daddy mindset, though, is rather more provocative.

“Here’s my mission statement,” he grins. “Trying to do what would make people mad, but they don’t get mad. Like, do what should make people mad, but they can’t get mad, because it’s still good. The only formula I’d ever be willing to follow as far as P-Daddy is the formula of staying unpredictable. Which I don’t feel like is much of a formula.”

He brings up the record’s lead single, “Curly Q,” a melancholic indie track that’s a world away from some of the other messy, manic titans of the Prince Daddy playlist like “I Forgot To Take My Meds Today” or “C’mon & Smoke Me Up.”

“That’s one of the only P-Daddy songs where every single note, played by every single instrument, is all in key. There’s no non-diatonic notes in that song. In a way, that is predictable. It’s in a major scale. In a song, that is not unpredictable. But when you listen to a P Daddy record, and that song pops up, that’s the unpredictable part.

“It’s correct, in the middle of a P-Daddy record. The rest of the record is pretty much audibly,” he says with air quotes, “‘wrong.’”

“Wrong” might seem simplistic, if endearingly bashful, but Prince Daddy & the Hyena justifies this perversely ambitious descriptor almost immediately. As a celestial, synth-driven intro track erupts into an aggressive, post-hardcore-flavored thrasher whose searing vocals and crushing beats land it as one of the heaviest songs Prince Daddy have ever written, we quickly discover that musical cohesion was not high (or even present) on the band’s list of priorities. As the album continues takes us from acoustic, country-style ditties to dark bursts of fuzzy, grungy nihilism, from string-accompanied piano ballads to delicious melodies befitting only the most saccharine of boybands, it becomes clear that the tunes that deviate from Prince Daddy’s inveterate alt-rock sound aren’t just gimmicks to make the loud stuff seem louder. It’s all equally important. Here is a band compelling enough to pay attention to the pop as well as the punk.

“Soft, to hard, to fast, to slow, to quiet. I wanted everything to feel like ‘what the fuck is going on?!’” says Gregory. “That unpredictability is part of the DNA—that whiplash feeling might be what Prince Daddy is.”

Establishing your consistent sound as the belligerent absence of consistency is no easy task, but one that Prince Daddy & the Hyena undoubtedly pulls off, which, in part, is why the band has chosen to make this release self-titled.

“This is us,” Gregory confirms. “This is also the first time that everything feels permanent. We’re more comfortable doing what we want to do without any preconceived notion of what a Prince Daddy song is. We’re excited to take that, and fuck with it a little.”

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