Q&A With Protect-U
Photos by Shawn Brackbill
The last year and half has been a pivotal transitioning and rebuilding period for Protect-U‘s Mike Petillo and Aaron Leitko. After the group’s gear was stolen in 2012 while on a European tour, Protect-U spent the following year replacing their losses, but they did not let the incident get in the way of achieving one goal: to record a full-length album.
This Saturday, the duo will celebrate the release of Free USA (which will be out via Future Times) at Comet Ping Pong. Before the show, I spoke with Petillo about Protect-U’s recent musical evolution and how they plan to make 2014 their biggest year yet.
Listen to “Time 2 Technique” from Free USA here:
DCMD: After your equipment was taken, what was the process like of rebuilding and starting over?
Mike Petillo: We had to do a lot of research and figure out how we wanted to go about that process. I remember finding some things on Craiglist that we got right away just to have. We didn’t waste a whole lot of time before we started working again, and we started over musically with some of the new equipment. During this time, we also mentally detached from some of the older things we were working on. We saw this as an evolution musically and thought about it a little differently. It was a fresh start for us.
We spent about a year trying new things out and getting to know the newer pieces of equipment. Also, we were rearranging the studio and the expectations of the music. We wanted to try out a lot of ideas and see what was working. Making music for us is naturally kind of a slow process, but we were definitely taking our time and not really rushing it-we basically allowed things to just kind of happen. It was an intense experience for us-we didn’t think that something like this would happen. But in the end, it was kind of a cool thing because I think it forced that evolution to happen.
DCMD: When you came back to D.C. from Europe during this time, how helpful were those around you?
MP: Everyone we interacted with was extremely helpful. It was one of those situations where I don’t think anyone expected it to happen and they were almost as shocked as we were. When we got back to D.C., we had several people loan us equipment, and we benefited a lot from people’s generosity in that sense. I really have to stop and think about how many different people lent us something or offered something for us to use-it was really awesome.
The only people who haven’t been helpful have been the French police. I’ve been trying to follow-up with them and see if there’s any news or information and they don’t even respond to me whatsoever, so that’s been extremely frustrating. They don’t get back to us via email, and when I called over there they don’t speak English and they don’t even try to help us out. Other than that, everyone has been great.
DCMD: What were some of the new musical discoveries?
MP: One example was getting a new mixing board, which allowed us to more easily record different parts and go back and fix them. We could do a lot of toying around for hours and then be able to record, go back and edit later in the way that we had not had the ease to do before. It was a simple thing, but we never had that!
DCMD: How long were both of you planning out this full-length album?
MP: We’ve been talking about doing an album for a while, and we’ve started to working on it in various ways. As soon as we’ve got backed from the trip, we knew that we wanted to do an album. When we had our stuff taken, it reset everything, so we decided to ditch our old music because we couldn’t play it anymore and we thought of it as a different phase. The recording process took longer because we wanted to take advantage of the fact that we had all this new stuff.
Our friends on Future Times, Beautiful Swimmers, just released their album and we were thinking at the time about how we could do our full-length and researched it.
DCMD: How was it like adjusting your live sets to your new equipment?
MP: It’s always a challenge, and the way that we approach a live show is that we change it up all the time. This project usually functions in the sense that we have to figure out what we’re doing from a technical standpoint: how does this equipment work and how do we use it to make more interesting music in the context of what we’re doing. We always take a while to prepare for live performances, and we try to make each one different, for us at least.
We took a full year off from performing live, and we played a concert in May of 2013 and then another one in December. We didn’t want the pressure of trying to figure out how it was all going to work for us, especially while we were doing the album. I think we’re at the position now where we feel more comfortable because we’ve spent a lot time in the studio. Some of the equipment we have now makes it a little bit easier.
DCMD: In your interview with DCist a few years back, you mentioned how your label Future Times was just getting off the ground. How is it now?
MP: We’re pressing records more now than we used to, which is great. I think there is an established presence with us-people trust our label and that we’re doing interesting things. Andrew [Field-Pickering]’s music as Maxmillion Dunbar has really grown and he’s done a lot of different things under that name, which has helped to increase the profile of the label. The ability to travel, tour and also those that are willing to book concerts and DJ events are some of the ways in which we’ve continue to grow. We still don’t put out as many records as we’d like to, and we’ve always had a pipeline that we’re trying to clear out. Not to say that we just want to get them out, but just saying that we’d like to put them out. This is something that we’d financially like to sort through.
It’d be great to get enough cash flow so we can have different types of music and be in the stages of production that records need to be in. Being able to have that momentum and trajectory is economically challenging. Vinyl is not a huge money maker and it costs so much to put out.
DCMD: How do you maintain everything, between having the label, a full-time job along with Protect-U?
MP: I can’t complain about anything! I like to be involved with whatever I’m doing (the label, Protect-U). I don’t think about it as a lifestyle thing directly. If someone wants to book us somewhere (whether at home or even in Europe), I’ll travel and not get any sleep if that’s the way that it has to be. It can be hard. I’m 33 so I’m not necessarily an old person but also not a super young person either! I know my limits now and I plan a little bit better than I used to-I know Aaron feels the same way too.
DCMD: What’s next for Protect-U and Future Times after the album comes out?
MP: After we finish doing a few more shows, we’re going to be recording again. Since we’re done with the record, we’ve already sketched out different things that we want to record. We don’t have songs written per se, but we’ve adapted our music to the point where we can work a little bit more quickly than we did before. We have hours and hours of demos that I think we’re going to go back to and pick out a few things. Hopefully, we’ll release some more new music sometime this year.
Future Times also has a bunch of things happening. We have about three to four records all ready to go. One hopefully will be out at the very beginning of the summer and the other will come out during the second half of summer. We’re aiming to get back to Europe and do another tour in the fall, and we’ve got a booking agent for it. Hopefully the album sparks more shows and attention; I definitely want to get the momentum going!