Prince Daddy & the Hyena almost didn’t make it through January. The night before the Albany-based band was set to record its second album, Cosmic Thrill Seekers, someone smashed a van window and stole all the gear. The damage amounted to nearly $7,500 and crushed their spirits before they could enter the next phase of their career.
That this came just months after totaling a different van in a snowstorm, led them to seriously consider hanging things up in the immediate aftermath. The initial accident left frontperson Kory Gregory unable to walk for two months, and one of their close friend/merch person out of work for six months. ”We were just in some deep shit. It didn’t feel responsible to keep doing this, but then I think we all just realized how proud we were of what we created, so we didn’t just want to let it go to waste,” Gregory said.
So they went ahead and did it, rescheduling studio time to record a boisterous second album. The band was able to borrow every piece of gear that was supposed to be on the record, through friends and other acquaintances on Facebook. Cosmic Thrill Seekers draws its inspiration from sources far and wide — a bad acid trip and its difficult fallout, the Wizard of Oz, an interest in space, and just about every horror and sci-fi flick Gregory’s ever seen. It’s a lot, but if you’ve tracked anything related to the band up to this point, its sprawl is very much in character with their spirit.
Gregory began writing songs for Cosmic Thrill Seekers before their first record, I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving was released — it took that album a year-and-a-half to be released after the band turned in the masters to its label, the now-defunct Broken World Media. This new album was largely spurred by a transformative acid trip for Gregory, which resulted in a series of panic attacks. This unlocked something and led to a larger deconstruction of his mental health ebbs and flows. He wrote the entire album in isolation, before bringing demos to his bandmates to color in the edges and really shoot for the gonzo song structures.
You hear strands of larger punk concept records of Gregory’s youth — American Idiot, The Black Parade, The Monitor, which Gregory says might be his favorite album of all time — but also nearly a decade’s worth of emo and punk DNA folded into Cosmic Thrill Seekers. Gregory is both a much better and worse vocalist on Cosmic Thrill Seekers, turned in lacerating takes that should honestly inspire concern for his vocal well-being.
Despite choosing to exist in a grueling industry, the dividends had started to pay off for Cosmic Thrill Seekers. Gregory tells me that he didn’t own an electric guitar for touring until the day we’re speaking. His childhood guitar was stolen three years ago, and he’d been persisting on borrowed guitars for past P Daddy tours. “I just managed to buy the only guitar I own currently with money we made off the record we contemplated not recording because we didn’t have enough money.”
After we spoke, it happened again: another robbery, stripping the band and tour openers Retirement Party of cash, laptops, a camera, and all of their clothes and medications — amounting to thousands of dollars lost. Once again, fans and friends came through with donations large and small, but it’s easy to question how anyone could manage to continue with the random acts of cruelty piling up like this.
Hard Noise: You’ve had a pretty insane touring itinerary in the past few years, taking you to Alaska for some shows — and scheduling some dates for Mexico without even having a venue booked yet. How far do you plan to take this going forward?
Kory Gregory: This fall we’re actually hitting all of Europe with Oso Oso, and that’s going to be our first time overseas at all. We definitely have been kicking around the idea with our agent and manager about shows in Japan and Australia, early next year. I’m really pushing for that. We kind of don’t want to stop, we kind of just want to hit as many places as possible.
I’ve certainly seen a couple of tours stop through Mexico, but Alaska was a new one for me. How did that come together?
We’re on Counter Intuitive Records with our best friend Jake, and he maybe a year and a half ago when we started demoing out this record, he convinced us to let him be our manager and that was kind of like his first thing he did as our manager to show he was in it with us. I didn’t even know it was possible to tour Alaska. At this point he’s like our fifth member, he’s just as involved as any of us are. And that kind of helped prove it to us.
What were those shows like?
There are some shows where we’re playing to 10 people or 5 people, but there’s also shows where we played to 200 kids. But the thing about it was no one really goes out of the way to go to Alaska, so when a band goes there the people treat you so kind. We didn’t even lose any money doing it. Even at the shows where there were like 10 people, those 10 people were so excited, they bought so much merch from us. I guarantee they didn’t know who we were, they just came because there was a band from the states playing.
At one of your last shows before this upcoming tour, you burned up or destroyed a copy of I Thought You Didn’t Like Leaving. Was it especially important for you to have a clean break between these two periods of the band?
I do actually. We’re obviously a baby band, and it’s still our second record. But as far as bands I grew up with and watching like YouTube videos of their live sets, I always thought just observing a band’s career in album cycles. Like Billie Joe had this guitar during Nimrod era, or Rivers Cuomo had a surgery and had to take pain meds for this record, that’s why it’s so emo. It’s always so interesting to explore bands in their careers. It was always by albums for me, never by year. And absolutely, I’m living a different life now with Cosmic Thrill Seekers than I was with I Thought You Didn’t Like Leaving, so I don’t know if I’d say it’s important. We’re all still ourselves, nothing’s really changing besides the fact that life has went on since then and it’s time to approach the next chapter.
What was the breakthrough point when you realized you had a more ambitious concept album on your hands?
I’m not a songwriter, I’m an album writer. I really can’t write a song unless I know where it fits like into a whole. To me it’s like writing a chapter in the middle of a book if you don’t know what it’s about. I guess I started to get more ambitious with the concepts and linear storytelling around when I had a bad acid trip that kind of acted as a catalyst for any of this stuff coming out of my brain anyways. That’s when I kind of realized I could do a lot more with this next record than just write 10 good songs.
That trip seemed to unlock things for you. Did that alter your relationship with casual drugs after the fact?
It did, it didn’t end my relationship with them. I definitely, absolutely am terrified to try acid again. I don’t think that’ll ever happen again. The first maybe four or five months after it happened, I couldn’t even smoke weed, that would even trigger me into downward spirals. So I ended up having to drink a lot — well, I didn’t have to, but I ended up drinking a lot socially because it was right in front of me and I wasn’t smoking. I’m still kind of touchy with weed now, I’m not the biggest pothead like I was when I graduated high school, like senior year of high school. I still smoke a bit of weed and drink and stuff but I think it’ll be a bit before I touch another psychedelic. My friend who’s a big acid head told me, trying to convince me that the only way to reverse it is to do acid again. I don’t know if I trust that. Something tells me that’s just gonna send me further down the hole. So I don’t listen to them. They are the devil on my shoulder.
The big clear cinematic reference point here was the Wizard of Oz, but there are also some broader space elements. So are you big into sci-fi, fantasy and horror stuff across the board?
Ohhhh yeah. Me and our guitarist Cameron are big movie buffs and definitely leaning into the sci-fi horror section of movies is our strong suit. Honestly, horror movies or sci-fi are a very close second passion to me to music. I don’t know anything about making movies or the production behind movies, but I know how to write songs and play guitar. So I think if I knew something about movies, I would be like definitely splitting my time equally between movies and music. So maybe someday. But I just want to incorporate cinematic elements because I appreciate that form of media so much. Me and Cameron will literally just stay up until the sun comes up just watching horror and sci-fi movies. Considering I don’t know anything, not the slightest bit about movie production, I just wanted to kind of show off that appreciation of what I do know.
Have you seen any great ones recently in that realm?
Us, Jordan Peele’s newest movie was very very big for me, and obviously Get Out before that. There’s so much recently — hold on, I have a notes page on my phone of all the movies I’ve watched because I have such a bad memory. Let’s see what I’ve watched recently. I binged all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, for the first time in a long time, I watched the movie the Witch, with two VVs instead of a W for the first time, that was amazing. I rewatched American Werewolf in London two nights ago before Zoe left. Green Room actually, is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’s so disturbing, the gore in that movie is so realistic, it’s hard to watch.
I understand there were certain moments where “Scoops” [producer Nick Dardaris] would set aside certain verses for the end of recording so your voice was fully shredded.
He was so creative with the production on this record. It wasn’t just how to get a clean recording, he was trying to alter what was happening. There’s certain moments drenched in density, like really heavy lyrically. The end of “Trying Times” for example, the whole outro couple of verses are probably some of the most depressing, like heavy handed stuff I’ve ever written. He recognized that and wanted me to save that for the end of the longest vocal day, because he wanted me to be losing my voice. If me or Cameron were being too tight on harmonies and needed to loosen up, we’d turn off all the lights and run around as we finish a guitar solo or something. Little things to capture whatever emotion was going on. He really studied the songs before we went to the studio, like he had 10 pages on his Google Doc of just notes on every song. He was very very involved and it was exactly what we wanted because I think this record called for someone who, like I said before, being able to explore every possible scenario.