Red Sun Rising
An interview with singer Mike Protich
by Michelle Harper
Red Sun Rising
photo by LeAnn Mueller
I first heard Red Sun Rising’s “The Otherside” on the radio, driving to work. My first thoughts were “this reminds me of Alice in Chains”. But then, when the verse built up to that first soaring note of the chorus, and then Mike Protich hit that note dead on, my mouth dropped.
The melody was flawless. Mike was flawless. And I wrote my publisher as soon as I got home, telling him that I wanted to do a piece on this newly emerging band, Red Sun Rising, and that I’d do all the leg work to make it happen.
It is that good.
Red Sun Rising is made up of Ryan Williams (guitar), Mike Protich (vocals and guitar), Tyler Valendza (guitar), Ricky Miller (bass, vocals) and Pat Gerasia (drums). Formed in 2007, the Akron, Ohio group released their first album, “Polyester Zeal”, produced by Bob Marlette (Black Sabbath, Shinedown, Seether), with record label Razor & Tie this past August. Their first single “The Otherside” just went to number 3 on the active rock national radio charts, and is still climbing.
I caught up with Red Sun Rising frontman and lead vocalist Mike Protich recently, and had a chat with him about the band’s sound, his Mom, and how he went from studying architecture in college to having a national hit single.
Maximum Ink: I follow you and the band on Facebook, and I noticed that you use the hashtag #WeAreThread in a lot of your posts. I read that it alludes to how you describe your sound. Is that correct?
Mike Protich: Yeah, it’s kind of a way of us summing up…ah, how we use our influences. Some of the influences are more obvious than others. It ranges from the grunge era to the 70s rock, Led Zeppelin, to the Beatles, even like Otis Redding. We’re kind of all over the place, and we thread all those influences together to create what we sound like. It’s very melodic. There’s a lot of texture to it.
MI: Absolutely. And going off that, I have to say that one of my favorite songs off your album Polyester Zeal is the song “Bliss”. It starts out acoustic, and I really felt A Perfect Circle influence in there; maybe a little Tool?
MP: Oh absolutely. Anything that Maynard Keenan has ever done has influenced us.
MI: What was some of the inspiration for writing that song? Some of the lyrics in there, like “some of the most obvious dreams we let go”. What inspired you and Ryan (Williams) to write that?
MP: Most of the time when me and Ryan are writing lyrics, we just kind of sit down and…it’s nothing formal. Sometimes we just go to each other’s houses, get a bottle of wine and say “yeah I got this song idea, let’s talk about it”. We both have a notepad, and we both just start writing. Like that one in particular, we had both realized that at some point, we were both about to give up on this. We had been independent for a long time. Not to give up on music, but to give up on Red Sun Rising and do our own thing. I had already started to do some solo acoustic stuff , he was doing some other things…we both talked about that moment, and we were kind of like, “thank God we didn’t call it quits!” So that’s where [Bliss] came from. That dream was right in front of us, and it was so close, and we didn’t even know it at that time how close we were. We sat there and talked about it, jotting down the feelings we had and what we thought, and we just took the brainstorm off the notepads, and that’s where that song came from.
MI: Is that pretty typical of your song writing? I’ve read that you tend to write your songs acoustically in the beginning?
MP: Yeah, we always write acoustically. Always. We like to start from the core. We love melodies, and we think it’s very important for a song, so we do the chorus and the melodies first, and color with the texture later.
MI: Well, I have to tell you that, when I first heard “The Otherside” on the radio, the Alice and Chains feel caught me, but when you hit that first note in the chorus, I just stopped. I think you are one of the top vocalists out there today.
MP: Thank you!
MI: And the thing is, I can’t really categorize your genre. You just have a sound that can’t be boxed. And your vocals are just amazing.
MP: Thank you so much. I mean, the fact that you said that “it can’t be boxed”, that you can’t really place it, is one of the biggest compliments you probably could have said to me. That’s how we feel about our music, but sometimes we get compared to other bands in the active rock genre, and we’re trying to step away from that. As we evolve, I think you’ll see an alternative side to us.
MI: Oh I have no doubt about that. Even listening to the different songs on “Polyester Zeal”, each song has a completely different feel and emotion behind it. It’s just a very thought provoking album, and every song has a different feeling or thought coming out of it.
MI: I haven’t read anywhere why you guys chose the name Red Sun Rising for the band. What was the motivation for coming up with that name?
MP: There are a lot of sayings and literary works and ancient meanings to a red sun rising. To be honest with you, when we first started this band, Ryan and I wanted to be like the next Rage Against the Machine. We had a lot of angst (chuckle), and we wrote an independent album, and every song was politically charged. I think we kind of grew out of that. We wanted to be a little more cerebral with it, rather than political, so we kind of moved away from that. Red Sun Rising kind of jumped out at us. You know, “red sun rising, sailors take warning”; that old saying, however it goes. Like a storm is coming, or, if there’s a red sun rising, a lot of ancient writings say a blood was shed the night before, so it kind of has some political undertones to it. It’s also the first line in “The Sleeping Village” by Black Sabbath. We were like “let’s totally use this”.
MI: I’ve noticed in the music business today, you have Spotify, iTunes, and stores; all these ways to sell your music. Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for an emerging band to make it, given this landscape of sales?
MP: I can’t say that it’s easier, because I didn’t grow up in the time where I didn’t have all this. Even when we were first starting a band, we had My Space, and then Facebook shortly after. So the internet has always played a role in me growing up with music. I would say that probably the one disadvantage that I see is that there’s not one medium feeding them everything, which used to be radio. And then, you could only play so many bands. Like you could only get so many bands. But now, everything’s so accessible. That’s a little more difficult. However, we always drove through this just continuing to make music. We never stop making music. And I always tell bands that are emerging now where we were just a few years ago, just to never hold back your music and hope there’s a “right time” to release it. There’s not. You just keep put it out there. Once you’re signed, or with an organization, as we are now, and there’s more marketing behind it, you can put more weight on one release. It allows you to do that, and that’s the nice part about being at this level. But when you’re independent, which we’ve done for years, I think it’s important to put your art out there. If people like it, they’ll go to it. If they don’t, find another song and do it again.
MI: And you have to have some tenacity and perseverance to keep at it. I’ve read that you’re very heavy into touring; that you love to tour and you’re ALWAYS working, looking ahead to the next project.
MP: One hundred percent, yeah.
MI: So how much more time do you have? I don’t want to disrupt your day…
MP: Oh, I’m just driving from Chicago to Akron to meet up with the band, so I have like, 5 hours.
MI: NICE! I’ll get my charger. So what was your upbringing like? I read your Facebook post about your Mom and the spider this morning.
MP: Oh yeah. My Mom is kind of a special individual, because she’s one of those people that can talk to you like she’s known you for years, like when she first meets you. She grew up in a poor family, worked her way up, and now she’s an Executive Assistant in a company, and she’s a very professional woman, but she has that down home feel, and will make you feel comfortable. She’s great. She’s always supported me. The hardest thing was when I wanted to leave college. I was like three years in with the architecture program at Kent State, which is like a really nice program, and I wanted to leave and pursue music. There wasn’t much going on, but I couldn’t think of anything else, and she totally supported me. “Whatever you want to do, I’m behind you”. So she’s been a huge role in keeping me going.
MI: So you went into college for architecture? But I’m guessing you were always into music…
MP: Yeah, my Mom played the piano, and we always had a piano in our house. She always had music on. She’d clean the house every Saturday, and she’d blast music. When she was done, that was always her reward when she was done cleaning the house, she’d sit down and play piano for a couple hours. And I grew up with that. That’s where it really stems from.
MI: Do you play piano?
MP: I do. I don’t play as fluently as my Mom, but I do play piano. I think our bass player Ricky plays piano very well, and we’re going to start incorporating some piano into our next project.
MI: Nice. And you also play guitar?
MP: Guitar and bass, and I play a little drums.
MI: So when did you figure out you wanted to make your life about music?
MP: I don’t know if there was a defining moment. Some of the things that led me there was I remember being in college, sitting in lecture, and I was like, making lyrics out of the lecture, instead of writing them down for study. So there was a point when I realized I was wasting money going to school when I wasn’t really thinking about that, I was thinking about the band and my music, and on each level, it changed. And the feeling to do this got stronger. It still does. Like every time you get to a new level. Now, we’re playing all these major rock festivals, like you just want it more. Like, “ok, I want the later time slot now”, and “I want the bigger festival now”. With every level, that increases. It’s always been that way for me, and I’m always forward to what’s next, instead of settling. I’ve never been content, and I think that’s what keeps me going.
MI: Did Ryan also pursue college, or did he have another path he was pursing while you were in college?
MP: Yeah, I think Ryan went a year or two to Akron U, which is also local, where we grew up, and…we actually went to the same High School.
MI: You did? Was it a big High School?
MP: No, it was not. That’s the funny thing. He was a junior or senior when I was a freshman, and you know, there weren’t too many juniors or seniors that hung out with freshman. That’s part of the reason I didn’t know him. We grew up probably five minutes from each other.
MI: And you never met. That’s amazing. Ok one more question, and you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to; it’s more for my curiosity. If you had a “super group”, like if you could go to a concert and see a “super group”, what musicians, other than yourself and your band mates, who would be the “super group” band members?
MP: (pause)…oh man. Um…probably…John Lennon, Chris Cornell, Maynard Keenan…I don’t know who would be playing what instrument, but…I’d probably say…those three for sure.
MI: U-huh. Do you have a drummer you’re thinking of, or no drums in your “super group”?
MP: Um…yeah, we have to have a drummer. I’d go maybe Neil Peart, or….Danny Carey?
MI: Nice. Is there anything that you have not been asked in any of the interviews you’ve done, that you would like readers to know about you and your band?
MP: I do always make sure people know that we take our art very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. So, if you want to come say “hello”, please do. We always like to meet people. We throw that out there.
MI: I do plan to mention that you do all your own social media.
MI: Even for the band page. There was one post where you and another band member, I think it was Ryan, were on your phones, and it said “this is what we do when we’re not playing. We’re catching up with you guys. And that’s so amazing, because I don’t know of any other artists that currently do that.
MP: Yeah. And of course, it’s getting tougher and tougher to do, but we’ll always try.
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