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Entertainment Entertainment Music

Protomartyr funnels frustration into excellent noise

Joe Casey, frontman for bleak post-punk quartet Protomartyr, has read the numerous descriptions of his appearance. These range from generic ("I hear 'insurance salesman' a lot") to inspired (the writer who labeled him a "business-casual Jeff Daniels").

"I'll take that one because Jeff Daniels is a local boy," said Casey, 37, by phone from his Detroit home. "One foreign writer said I looked like Jeffrey Jones—the principal from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'—and that stung a bit. It's like, 'The guy from "Full House"!' OK, I get it, we both have weak chins. They've definitely made me realize it's pretty rough for women performers. Guys don't get it unless they look out of place onstage, which apparently I do."

Looks, however, can be deceiving, and Casey sounds perfectly at home ranting his way through the band's excellent sophomore album "Under Color of Official Right," which has garnered the crew the best reviews of its young career and even helped it land a recent tour slot opening for buzzy New York's Parquet Courts.

The first line in your press bio opens saying, "In a city full of brilliant people with dead-end jobs and dampened by bitter-cold winters ..." Is your view of Detroit really as bleak as that reads?

Well, that's some poetic license, I think. There is always something interesting going on in Detroit. We just had the U.N. step in and try to prevent them from turning the water off on everybody, so it's different from other cities. I don't know many people who have amazingly awesome jobs. A lot of people work in restaurants and bars, and one of the biggest employers in Detroit is a mortgage lender, which isn't a great job either. But it's not as bleak as it's portrayed, I suppose.

Are there any aspects of the city you do find bleeding into your music?

There's lots of space, and the cops aren't going to be concerned with noise complaints ... because they've got other things to worry about. So there's room and you can be loud. There's not big crowds at a lot of the shows, so you don't see a future in [music] and can kind of develop your own sound. You're not worried about impressing anybody because there's not anybody to impress.

You've said no one in Detroit cares about you until you're famous someplace else. Now that you've been written about by publications located everywhere from San Francisco to New York do you find people in your hometown paying attention?

When we played with the Parquet Courts at Lager House the show sold out in advance, and a lot of people that usually come to our shows (a) didn't realize it was going to sell out and (b) didn't realize you could even buy tickets in advance. The crowd was weird. I had one guy come up to me and be like, "Hey, man, thanks so much for playing Detroit."

With the turn things have taken, do you feel like the new songs have taken on a more optimistic tone, or have you simply managed to find new things that annoy?

It's funny, in "Tarpeian Rock" I complain about ants in the bathtub. Then I came back from tour like, "I'm a rock star!" and I go into the bathroom and sure enough ants have invaded the bathroom again, so that re-pissed me off. Unfortunately for me I have that disposition where I can't see things as wholly wonderful. The new stuff we're working on, the songs are about money, or more accurately a lack of money, so I think it's going to be in the same downer vein as the last one.

You voted for Kwame Kilpatrick the first time he ran for office, right (the title of the band's latest was lifted from a phrase repeated at the disgraced Detroit politician's trial)?

I sure did, yeah. He was up against Gil Hill, who was in the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies as Eddie Murphy's police chief. [Kilpatrick] was younger, and Hill, to me, represented the old Detroit. Kwame was young and fresh, so I voted for him, and he let us down. He could have had a good run, but he got corrupted.

Do you worry about success corrupting you?

Oh, sure, all the time. But I don't think we're going to get that kind of success. If it's the corruptibility where you go backstage and there's a fruit plate where before there wasn't, then sure, I might eat the whole fruit plate. Every choice we make we have to think about the band morals. Is this something we would do? Even on a small scale you have to worry about those choices.

Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic @andydowning33

Protomartyr, 7 p.m. July 13 at West Fest. $5 donation.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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