Parkway Drive on mental health and the other side of the rockstar curtain

Earlier this month Parkway Drive announced they were taking part in a collab with Levi’s and Australian mental health charity Support Act. Alongside Ocean Alley, Angus & Julia Stone, plus more, they produced a range of charity tees with all net profits filtering back to the amazing work Support Act does.

This project, however, is part of a long history Parkway Drive has had with mental health. The band has never been afraid to hold it at the core of their image, nor offer their support for anyone suffering from these issues.

parkway drive winston mccall interview support act
Photo: Lucas Englund

We chat with Winston McCall of Parkway Drive about getting tripped up in music mythology and the band’s long relationship with mental health.

HAPPY: Hey, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?

WINSTON: Not much! Winding down, this is the first break we’ve had in this tour cycle. Winding down and rolling into a couple of other projects which we have on the go – there’s always a project on the go with Parkway – before we start ramping up into the next touring cycle. So a little bit of rest, but still busy.

HAPPY: You’ve addressed mental health before in your music, what part has this issue played in your lives so far?

WINSTON: Man, it’s a massive part of our lives. It’s very hard to even quantify the impact that it has, especially for someone who isn’t involved in the music industry in the first place. It’s an industry that, I guess, is glorified and framed through rose-coloured glasses by everyone. You’re talking about an industry which has movies and mythology surrounding it and everything like that, so when you’re actually involved in it, it’s an ever-changing, very dynamic world where you can be killing it one day then be left with nothing the next. You go from highs of standing on stage in front of tens or hundreds of thousands of people to sitting alone in a dank room with leaky water pipes on the other side of the world, missing the people you care about. It’s very hard for your mind to cope, jumping from all of these bits you see as solid ground but hoping the entire time it won’t fall apart beneath you.

If you don’t learn how to actually wrap your head around the idea of mental health itself, it’s very easy to get lost in this mythology and this permanent state of arrested development which people see as being a rockstar and being in the music industry. And that can lead you down some very dark roads, which I can definitely say our entire band has dealt with in some way, shape, or form.

HAPPY: Support Act seems to be one of the forerunners addressing the mental and physical health of performers directly. How important is an organisation like Support Act to you guys and your peers?

WINSTON: It’s really important to recognise and show support and really acknowledge the fact that this does exist. It’s very easy I think for people to see people who are literally put on a pedestal, on a stage in front of them, as something above human and as someone who is bulletproof.

When you don’t see behind that curtain of what’s on the other side and the work and the uncertainty that goes with creating the entertainment and the artwork that you see on the stage, it’s very easy to see the tip of the iceberg, and it being very shiny. Behind the scenes it can be quite the opposite.

For an organisation like Support Act to be able to acknowledge that and really draw attention to the fact that there’s so much more that goes into this and there’s so much put on the line by people to be able to create this entertainment. And when it does, it’s such a precarious position for people in so many ways when it comes to having any kind of career or income source – the mental state is often the first thing to go. And then it’s a very slippery slope to very dark places, simply because a lot of people don’t acknowledge that side of it.

HAPPY: What made you feel compelled to be directly involved with the organisation through the campaign this year?

WINSTON: I’m stoked to be a part of it because it’s something that’s gone under people’s radar for a very, very long time, and it seems like no one wants to admit the weakness or take away the shine that certain aspects of the entertainment industry are. So they ignore the downsides or the impact that it might have and just keep the ball rolling. Like we’ve been doing this for 16 years now and we’ve gone through a hell of a lot of stuff, and it’s taken us a lot to be able to grow and even get us to the place where we can somewhat acknowledge what it has actually taken from us mentally… and be able to get us to a place that actually feels healthy. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a big struggle along the way, so yeah I’m very happy to be a part of the campaign.

HAPPY: There has also been a growing emphasis on the safety of concert goers over the last few years. Have you noticed a change in your fanbase as a result?

WINSTON: To be honest our fanbase has always been pretty awesome. There’s very few instances that we’ve actually had, especially in the recent years, that have been brought to our attention or that we’ve noticed. We’ve always been the first to call something out if we do see it from stage. That has been a very rare thing for us, which is nice. But speaking as someone from a band that hasn’t had those issues, it has been really good to notice that throughout the music industry and throughout concert goers in general; that they choose to hold each other to a level of ethical behaviour which is supportive of one another and creates an awesome environment for what should be an exciting and happy experience. No one wants to go and have that experience tarnished in any single way, and the fact that people show compassion to one another in that aspect these days more greatly than anything in the past means it’s a really great time to be in a band, to be honest.

HAPPY: Ahead of your performance at this year’s Good Things Festival, can you tell us a bit about how Australian alternative/heavy fests size up to their European counterparts?

WINSTON: I think Australia’s heavy music is currently in a resurgence. It’s always been really strong and it’s always been underground – I mean underground in terms of anything to do with mainstream. As much as Australia tends to see any kind of popularity with any band as mainstream, the reality between heavy and alternative music in Australia and what is actually mainstream culture is massive. But it’s still been very, very healthy. To have a few new festivals in their first or second year dedicated specifically to this type of music and being incredibly successful is really, really good.

You can’t expect any festival to start first year and be the biggest thing on the planet, it takes time to grow, to be able to find an identity, to be able to create something that is worthy of people following, and so far the festivals that have been coming through and filling the void that’s been left open for a few years seem to be really good quality. That’s why we’re so pumped to be a part of Good Things this year, they did such an amazing job last year, and as far as I know they’re the first festival to give a headlining slot to an Australian heavy band. As far as I know that hasn’t happened in history yet and that means a hell of a lot to the local scene, because Australia produces world class bands… and it’s about time.

HAPPY: Speaking of the scenes, are there any up and coming acts for Australians (and beyond) to keep their eyes on?

WINSTON: Oh, man. There’s a hell of a lot. I want to shout out Thy Art Is Murder – they’re not up and coming, they’re absolutely demolishing – they’ve been doing it for a long time but I think people in Australia are really supporting them, and I want to acknowledge the work they’ve been doing overseas as well. They’re absolutely crushing it on the worldwide stage, the same goes for Polaris. Up and coming, god. It seems like debut albums and EPs that are world class pop up all the time, but shoutout Alpha Wolf and Gravemind for sure. Cop them.

HAPPY: You guys are renowned nature enthusiasts and I couldn’t help but notice there is a nice gap in your touring schedule between Good Things and the European Revolution tour next April. Any exciting surf/adventure trips planned for you guys in that time off?

WINSTON: (Laughs) To be honest I don’t have anything planned! At the moment everything leads up to Good Things and I’ll plan something after that. At this point in time I’m just hoping to not break bones again… because that exact time last we started our little break and I broke my leg on day three. So as long as I don’t go into that break with a broken limb, I’ll be very happy.

HAPPY: Thanks for the chat!

WINSTON: Thank you guys very much.


Check out Parkway Drive’s collaboration with Levi’s and Support Act here, and find a run of their current tour dates here.