Grab the tissues and settle in for 34 minutes of a raw, uninhibited emotional rollercoaster as ABC’s docu-series Australian Story takes us behind the scenes of Aussie metal icons Parkway Drive as they head into therapy for the first time in their (at the time) 17 year career, to put everything out on the table and address all the issues that lead to their almost self-implosion when they cancelled their American tour earlier this year and the conception of Darker Still – what very much could have been their last album had they not sought professional help.
The documentary starts with the story we all know too well, including touring relentlessly following their first show at the Byron Bay Youth Centre in 2003 and how they grew in popularity from constantly hitting the road, managing themselves, and tirelessly enduring the cycle of releasing new music and extensively touring immediately after release – without any form of elongated rest and rejuvenation.
We then take a massive side turn when it’s revealed that since his addition to the band in 2006, bassist Jia O’Connor – who at the time of his joining was simply a friend, fan and former merch guy – has essentially been a contracted bassist for the group, similar to how bands hire studio or session musicians to help finish recording music or going on tour when they’re a member down.
That’s when everything else starts to get unearthed…
From internal bullying and micromanaging through to butting heads in the recording process to the point where members Jeff Ling (guitarist) and Winston McCall (vocals) couldn’t even look at each other upon completion (following constant changes to the likes of lyrics and Winston’s storytelling) – you really get a first-hand look at how fucked things were in the band – which makes you wonder just how they managed to survive this time together without ripping each other’s heads off. They say don’t go into business with your friends, but this is a true representation of what can happen if you do and you don’t do anything else with your lives – you just have to make it work in order to survive.
When COVID hit, the boys put their efforts into attending counselling on top of conceiving their latest release Darker Still, which meant that because of his position in Parkway Drive (not being an actual member), Jia sort himself a real job, where he worked for two months cutting trees and doing proper labour – to not only fill the time but to see if he could actually handle a real-life job outside of the music industry – where he was barely a part of in the first place.
But that’s not even the hardest part to watch…
Towards the documentary’s climax, there’s a traumatic tear-inducing revelation when Jia had to choose between staying home with his terminally ill girlfriend Tegan, or heading out on Parkway’s 2016 tour, following the release of IRE. Caught in the middle of one of the biggest and most complex decisions he’s ever had to make, Tegan also said she didn’t want him to go, but Jia put the band’s interests before her and decided to head off on tour. Devastatingly, Tegan sadly passed away while he was on the road, and as he shared with audiences, he and the band, have lived with that decision internally ever since.
Holding back tears, manager/rhythm guitarist Luke Kilpatrick reiterated:
“That’s the biggest sacrifice that any of us ever made. Just what he must have gone through and the fact that he did it for our band, you know, and at that time we’re still thinking he’s a fill-in bass player. I feel guilt.”
There is a positive in the end, Jia has since become an official member of the band and entity that is Parkway Drive and the lads are closer than they have ever been in their entire existence. By opening up and showing vulnerability (on a platform like Australian Story), it really goes to show that underneath all that amour, we are all the same, just making our way through life and utilising the benefits that the heavy music scene produces – especially the cathartic release we experience at shows, screaming back at our fav bands – but when times get tough, even the strongest of humans need to seek help.
If you or anyone you know needs help with their own mental well-being call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or find your closest Suicide Prevention/Crisis Support Organisation on Google…
Words by Paul ‘Browny’ Brown @brownypaul
Watch the full episode below.