Interview: Luke Hoskin of Protest the Hero on the Evolution of His Live Rig

Reinvention has been a key factor in the longevity of Protest The Hero. Already 16 years into their musical career, the Toronto-based band has never been afraid of expanding their music.

With thousands of miles and a few official releases behind them, they have carved a niche for themselves in the sometimes monotonous and dare we call it "tech-metal" scene. The dedicated following they’ve gained along the way looks to them as a musically unapologetic mainstay in the genre.

We had the chance to catch up with founding member and guitarist Luke Hoskin to learn more about his approach to writing, touring, his instrument, and how he’s managed to make a side business out of the guitar.

Protest the Hero’s music, stylistically, covers a lot of ground and is known for being very technical. As a guitar player, many of the parts seem to demand a lot because it’s constantly pulling you in different directions. Is this a deliberate approach when writing songs?

A lot of times, the song will come together, and in the end, we realize the songs are much harder than we anticipated they would be as a whole."

It is a challenge for sure. Over the years, we used to write all in the same room, which we refer to as the "glory days" because it is when we all had a lot of time and no one had other jobs. We would basically write five days a week and really perfect these songs. I think that is when we were probably at our best live because we did not record anything until we could play it as a group.

Nowadays, we are in different cities and pass ideas back and forth. A lot of times, the song will come together, and in the end, we realize the songs are much harder than we anticipated they would be as a whole.

With so many varying dynamics in the songs, how do you pull off the sound live? What is your go-to setup?

My favorite rig of all time is when I used my Splawn Nitro head. It has two channels, but I would just use one. It was the most simplified version of the rig that I could use. That, a Tube Screamer, and I would let my front of house guy run delays when I was doing leads. That was the setup I loved the most, when I didn’t have to think about tapping any pedals or anything like that, I was just playing.

I have a bunch of other tube amp heads and cabinets but have kind of hung all of them up to use something that is easier to travel with. So right now, we use the Axe-Fx.

I see those being used more and more frequently. What is your setup based on?

It is still hilariously simple, I think, compared to other players. I probably have five presets that I go through. I have one for my main tone that’s based on the Splawn amp, one that has a bit of a boost for lead, and then some effects, a clean, and this bounce back delay effect that I stole from Paul Gilbert. It's a dotted 8th note delay that sounds like you are playing more notes than you are. And then there’s the built-in tuner for the Axe fx, made visible by my RJM midi pedalboard. So it’s still simple.

When we started, everything was dead simple, but at some point, all of a sudden, you saw everyone in an arms race for gear. My focus has always been on playing and writing, rather than being a gearhead. So I am always playing catch up.

What guitars are you playing?

Photo via Ibanez

For the past 10 years, I’ve used Ibanez. I have no plans of changing that, I am just so used to them. I’ve got a bunch of them, and I rotate which ones I take on tour. But the one that I always come back to is this J custom. I don’t know if it is because I know it is the most expensive one — I think it is — but there is an attention to detail with that guitar and how it was built that you can’t really match with other ones.

Out of all your gear, which piece can you not live without while on the road?

I can’t live without my Ibanez guitar for sure. We went to New Zealand, and our guitars didn’t show up for the first show. Everyone there was totally amazing to us and offered their guitars for us to use, but when it’s not set up the way you like it and when things like the strap, the locking system, or anything else is just not yours, you can’t play it the way you want to, and you can’t perform the way you want.

Whereas, if my Axe-Fx broke, it’d be like, "Okay, let’s just plug in whatever head is here, and I will make the best of it." But with the guitar, I would hate to say I’d cancel a show, but it would be very hard to play someone else’s guitar.

Speaking of your craft and your sound, who inspired you to pick up the guitar?

The player that got me into guitar was the other guitar player in Protest the Hero, Tim Millar, because he played before me. I was jealous of him playing, this is probably in grade seven. I started to pick it up when he had already been playing for a few years because his dad taught him. So we were learning punk songs, like Blink 182 and Green Day and stuff like that.

When I started learning and understanding the guitar better, John Petrucci is definitely the one that, when I first heard him play, I didn’t even understand how someone could do what he does on the guitar. And a lot of times when I listen to him play now, I still don’t understand what’s going on. He’s the one that made me want to take it seriously.

Nowadays, who are you are impressed by?

I run a sheet music company called Sheet Happens. At one point, I stopped listening to new music a little bit and as soon as the Sheet Happens became this thing that I was investing a lot of my time in, it became a job to discover new music — to really keep my ear to the ground with what is going on guitar-wise. I am really thankful for that because I have discovered so much stuff and kind of rediscovered my love for music.

I find a ton of redeeming guitar inspiration in every book that we put out, so it has been really cool."

A lot of the players we have published tab books for are inspiring. For example, Aaron from Intervals is a pretty ridiculous player, and we also released one for an Australian guitarist named Plini. He’s endorsed by Steve Vai, which is pretty crazy.

I find a ton of redeeming guitar inspiration in every book that we put out, so it has been really cool.

What’s next for Protest the Hero?

We already talked about booking studio time before we’re done writing. We have never done it that way, we’ve always kind of finished writing and then been like, "Okay, now we can book time." But we wanted to challenge ourselves and kind of light a fire, so we booked time starting at the very end of November.

We’re going to go in with whatever we have. Our goal is to make full-length number five, but if it turns out to be less, we’re still going to record what we have and take it from there.

To check out some of the gear that Luke is selling, visit his very own Reverb Shop. For more information on Protest the Hero, you can visit their website.

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