O.G. Punk Rockers Protagonist Carry Torch for Local Scene

With its individual members now scattered about the country chasing their respective dreams, tending to careers and the life that happens outside of the van, South Florida melodic punk stalwarts Protagonist, spawned in Boca Raton in the late 1990s, have every right to hang it up and leave behind the impassioned sing-alongs and guitar jumps to the realm of golden memories. The truth of the matter is, like any punk band worth its salt, Protagonist had something to say — and still does.

"If we didn't think it was meaningful anymore, we wouldn't do it."

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The forward-marching Protagonist recently played the infamous punk-rock party that is Gainesville's Fest at the end of October and has since followed up with the release of a fresh batch of passionate, honest, and catchy songs titled Jean Jackets in June, which was tracked with Pete Steinkopf of the Bouncing Souls.

We caught up with the band's respective heart and soul, brothers John (guitar) and Peter Marullo (vocals), to discuss the new album, the band's uncanny longevity, and an identity as a Florida band, regardless of where the wind may take them.

What motivates everyone to keep Protagonist going after all these years?

John Marullo: We want to write what we think are great songs and play in what we believe is a great band. That makes all of the administrative overhead — like the distance and our careers — totally worth it. If we didn't think it was meaningful anymore, we wouldn't do it.

Give us the scoop on the new record.

John: It's an EP that we've released on Smartpunk Records. We recorded it last year in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with Pete Steinkopf at a studio called Little Eden. When Pete isn't recording other bands, he's playing guitar in the Bouncing Souls or Smalltalk, so his involvement was obviously a very big deal for us. We really enjoyed tracking the record with Pete. We've been really lucky to record with some truly rad individuals from the punk world — Stephen Egerton comes to mind — and this experience ranked right up there.

Favorite tracks on the EP?

John: Part of the ethos of this band is its work ethic and what I call "the get-up and go." I think the sound of the song "Let's Get It" conveys that feeling and embodies what we call the LGI ethos, so that one's important to me.

Peter: For me, the most meaningful song would be the title track. I have to say, the whole thing is exactly how we envisioned it sounding in our heads.

Do you still identify as a band from South Florida, even with everyone living in different places?

John: Yes, we absolutely do. At most shows, Peter introduces us as a band from Boca Raton, Florida... It is not so much pride in our hometown itself but pride in what this band did in Boca and the surrounding areas for music in terms of helping to grow a community, putting out records, playing and booking shows, and trying to set an example for younger kids. The maps and ghosts of Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade counties are forever with us. It is important to me that we never lose sight of that.

At this year's Fest, Peter and I made it a point to check out some bands from South Florida, in a sea of bands from all over the world. It felt really important for us to do that this year. Gouge Away were incredible, and Northbound also had a great set. I know John McHale works really hard to keep our scene alive in South Florida, and we still feel intrinsically tied to that scene. South Florida is one of the most important pieces to our puzzle.

How would you say coming up in South Florida helped shape you guys?

John: The first show I went to in South Florida was at the Crash Club in 1997. Later that summer, I saw Against All Authority in Fort Lauderdale. That summer, I knew I wanted to play shows in a punk band in South Florida. The energy at that time was electric, and I had to be a part of it.

Several years later, when we had been playing for a bit, Carlos Fornier and On Our Own started bringing us around the South Florida hardcore scene — which is one of the greatest parts of Florida's music scene — and around that same time, we played several shows with Where Fear and Weapons Meet. Alex Roundhouse from that band was an advocate of our first record, Hope and Rage on Blackout! Records, and that community really fostered our growth in a lot of ways. Kite Flying Society was another band who was important to us. Watching that band perform live was a huge influence on Protagonist.

I think most bands that get it will tell you, it's not so much the music your friends make that influences you but it is the time you spend with one another, the way you see each other do things. You share your ethos, and you try to raise and celebrate one another, and South Florida was everything to us in that sense.

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David Von Bader