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Nothing Lasts Forever: Prince Daddy and the Hyena Talk 'Cosmic Thrill Seekers'

Monday, 08 July 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and do what you have to do. And right now, Kory Gregory is going to pet the dog that’s just walked by. Once he’s back on the phone, the guitarist and lead singer of Albany punk band Prince Daddy and the Hyena returns to describing the pop impulses that underpin their spectacular new record, ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’.

“I guilt-free love the most ignorant pop music. I rarely change the station on the radio,” he says. The instinctive, addictive melodies on the album, which Gregory delivers in a throat-stripping bark that resembles None More Black-era Jason Shevchuk, convey an often harrowing dive into anxiety and depression, which makes the guilt-free bit of his own fandom vitally important to its success.

‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ is an ambitious record that, now it’s out of the hands of its creators and into ours, can also be termed important. But it’s also an instant hit of clever hooks and shoutalong-ready refrains. It’s there for people to take it to heart without having to grind through much of a preamble first⁠—it’s not a chore to grasp its message. “I wanted to talk about it in real-life terms,” Gregory says. 

“I want it to be as ground level as possible with the people listening to my music, to make it accessible. That’s what I want in the music I listen to. I want to feel like I’m on the same level as this person, not like they’re above me lecturing me. Even at our live shows, we choose to set up in front of the stage on the floor usually, so we’re eye level with people.”

Complicating things a little is the fact that ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ is also very much a concept album, inspired in part by Gregory’s love for Titus Andronicus’s gutter-punk Civil War epic ‘The Monitor’. But that further barrier to participation falls when we discover that the world Prince Daddy are taking us to is a familiar one.

The album’s three acts are named The Heart, The Brain and The Roar, and they correspond to the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion from the Wizard of Oz. “Dorothy was the OG cosmic thrill seeker,” Gregory said pre-release. “It’s a universal template, the majority of people who listen to the record have probably seen the Wizard of Oz,” he adds. “They have this little cheat sheet.” 

Gregory stitched his experiences to the classic tale of Dorothy’s tornado-assisted flight from Kansas after watching the 1939 film version. He recognised parallels between its characters’ motivations and his own cyclical mental health, which he was striving to better get a handle on in the aftermath of an acid trip that lingered and left big questions about irreversible damage running through his head constantly. As he recently told the Fader: “Did I permanently pollute my thought process and my appreciation and excitement for life?”

“After the acid trip I developed a really bad panic disorder because of it,” he says. “I had to go to therapy. We were going over different mantras, and things I can repeat to myself when I’m in that state of panic. One of the main ones was that no one feeling that can last forever. That’s something I would tell myself all the way through the process of recovering from it. The record ended up being drenched in that.”

The album’s acts reflect those shifts. It is a complete circle⁠—the final and opening songs blend into one another at the close⁠—but as it moves between settings we’re privy to Gregory seeking to understand each of them in turn. Act one is a lung-bursting rush of excitement and romance. Act two is a reaction to that—an isolated push for stability on shifting sands as panic takes hold. And act three is the power to break that vice-like grip. It’s self-destructive and not at all pretty, but it does snap the sense of inertia.

Gregory wrote ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ entirely solo, tucked in a closet at home away from his bandmates. Even some way into the recording process specific vocal melodies and lyrics were kept from them. It represented a journey that its main protagonist had to undertake alone so that they might be able to retrace their steps in future. “I wouldn’t say it’s put an end to [the fear of permanence],” Gregory says. “It’s put a certain level of understanding to it that definitely helps me deal with it. 

“Writing the record and having it as a kind of blueprint helps me realise how temporary these feelings are and understand different phases of my life and my varying degrees of mental health. It helped me organise it and feel more comfortable when those feelings do come and go. It made me more confident in defeating them.”

After completing work on ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’, Gregory was quick to characterise it as a selfish record. Its aims were, essentially, his aims alone. But records like this don’t thrive in a vacuum. Now that it’s pressed to wax and scattered around streaming services, Prince Daddy have no way of controlling how the hooks, the words, or the resulting basement show epiphanies, affect their listeners.

“I’m starting to realise that,” Gregory says. “As more and more feedback comes and I have more messages on Twitter and Instagram and from listeners, people are definitely making me feel like the whole process of writing this and understanding my mental health was productive on more than just a selfish level. 

“It wasn’t my intent going into this record to make people feel less alone, or to give them something to relate to. I definitely went in to writing it with ‘OK, I need to write a record for Kory right now. I need to write what will benefit me, this is my outlet and I’m at the bottom of my rope.’ Conceiving the record was selfish, but it ended with an unselfish product, maybe.”

The next move is a familiar one: tour the thing. Gregory is more than happy to chop ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ up out of sequence, having intended the record to work as a whole, as individual acts in isolation, and as straight up songs, but on their summer US run and support dates with Oso Oso in Europe we might see a few longer segments rolled out in full. Eventually, it’ll be back to the drawing board.

And it’s here that things can come unstuck for bands who wholeheartedly dive into concept pieces. At different levels on punk’s ladder, from era-defining giants like Green Day through to Gregory’s beloved Titus Andronics, pressure has been felt to keep the theatrics coming after a huge success. Prince Daddy, though, aren’t about to do this over again. ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ is a one off. 

“I’m an album writer, not a songwriter. I’ve accepted that,” Gregory says. “Even though not every record I write will be a huge, grand ‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’-esque record, I can’t write a song unless I know where it’s going to fall in a whole. I’m always going to write records, I’m not just going to say ‘OK, these are the best 10 songs’. I’ll always write something thematic—it’ll have a purpose as an album. 

“I’ve given this plenty of thought, and had plenty of conversations about this, and I’m a firm believer that you can’t keep rewriting the same album over and over again unless you haven’t reached 100% on it yet. So, in my opinion I 100%ed writing a grand scale Disney punk concept record.

“I have no reason to go and write another one, so I’ll go onto the next thing. Who knows, the next thing might be a country record or a straight up punk record or whatever. Let’s say I reach my 75% on that country record, I think there’s room to write a second country record and reach 100%. But you can’t get to 100% with something and then do it again. I think it’s a waste of time.”

‘Cosmic Thrill Seekers’ is out now on Counter Intuitive/Big Scary Monsters.

Oso Oso/Prince Daddy and the Hyena Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed October 16 2019 - MARGATE Elsewhere
Thu October 17 2019 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store
Fri October 18 2019 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Sat October 19 2019 - LEEDS Key Club
Sun October 20 2019 - GLASGOW Hug And Pint
Tue October 22 2019 - BIRMINGHAM Sunflower Lounge
Wed October 23 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social Club
Thu October 24 2019 - LONDON Boston Music Room
Fri October 25 2019 - BRISTOL Louisiana

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