For the first time in maybe ten years, Kory Gregory, frontman of New York–based punk ensemble Prince Daddy & the Hyena, randomly watched The Wizard of Oz. His band’s 2016 debut full-length was about to come out, and he was already thinking of ideas for the next one. That’s when it clicked: This film represented a map of Gregory’s mental health. The ups and downs, the twists and turns. The sepia-toned existence turned into a Technicolor life. It was all there. “I wouldn’t say it made it easier for me to understand what was going on in my head, but it definitely gave me a path to start to realize it,” Gregory says. “That path was writing the record.”
The resulting Cosmic Thrill Seekers proves to be as cinematic and joyfully chaotic as the eighty-year-old film. Prince Daddy—made up of Gregory, guitarist Cameron Handford, drummer Daniel Gorham, and bassist Zakariya Houacine—dreamed up a wonderfully expansive album: The fourteen tracks, which all blend into each other, are broken down into three acts: The Heart/Passenger, The Brain/Driver, and The Roar/Random Passerby. All of these, of course, derive inspiration from The Wizard of Oz’s three main characters: the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Like an Easter egg hunt, references to the film—from tornados to heel-clicking to home sweet home—are artfully dotted throughout, and tie Cosmic Thrill Seekers neatly together, despite the album’s seemingly frenzied nature.
Gregory spent about four years mapping out the band’s sophomore record. He isolated himself in a tiny closet-turned-studio in his home in the suburb of Cohoes, right outside Albany, New York, to demo the tracks. But none of his bandmates heard what Gregory was concocting until two weeks before they were supposed to go into the studio. Even as they were perfecting each song, the other band members had no idea what the lyrics were—they wouldn’t hear those until they were actually recording.
This unconventional recording process was partly due to what Gregory calls stupidity (one might call it genius), but it really boils down to insecurity. He explains that his OCD made it so that he wouldn’t let anyone hear the album until it was exactly what he wanted it to be—which turned out to be a vulnerable and gritty odyssey into the shadowy recesses of his mind. “Writing it wasn’t difficult, because while writing it, I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone besides myself, because no one else was there,” he says. “The hard part was owning up to everything after everyone heard it.”
The anxiety of sharing Seekers with loved ones seems fairly obvious, as the record drills into real darkness at times, even though it’s shrouded in fiercely catchy melodies and raucous guitar playing. In “Lauren (Track 2),” Gregory laments, “Stay at least ’til I’m asleep / ’Cus I’m pretty fucking confident / That I’ll die the next time / I’m alone in my bedroom.” And in the pulsing “Klonopin,” he chants, “Stupid fucking life / It’s only getting harder / Every single night lasts a little longer,” after bemoaning how time has become stuck.
“This record was about me trying to figure out that sense of home. Even if it’s not my house—just trying to maintain a sense of being home and comfort and family.”
But with The Wizard of Oz as his guide, Gregory is able to stitch together the grandiose dreams and crippling fears that run rampant in his mind. The song “The Prototype of the Ultimate Lifeform” uses the Scarecrow as its driving force, with Gregory teasing, “Nothing in my brain would impress you / Sit and think all day like a recluse.” You might notice similarities between this track and the song “If I Only Had a Brain,” when the Scarecrow yodels, “I could think of things I’d never thunk before / And then I’d sit and think some more.” In the epic conclusive track “Wacky Misadventures of the Passenger,” Gregory openly wonders, “Who’s the evil mastermind responsible for and behind all this, this whole big mess?” clearly calling to mind the once-feared man behind the curtain.
At the heart of this record—and The Wizard of Oz—is the idea of home. Gregory croons in the opening track, “I Lost My Life,” that he wants to go home, as a simple acoustic guitar and piano are replaced by heart-pounding drumming and rousing shredding. He bookends that sentiment in the final track by singing about how he’s trying to come back to earth, capturing the interstellar journey he’s taken over the course of fourteen tracks.
Cosmic Thrill Seekers was Gregory’s opportunity to try to discover what home is. For the first four years of Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Gregory says he felt stagnant—he was home for less than four months a year, living in the tour van more than his actual residence in New York. “This record was about me trying to figure out that sense of home,” he says. “Even if it’s not my house—just trying to maintain a sense of being home and comfort and family.”
As Gregory puts it, he wanted everything to stay in the family with Seekers. That meant releasing the album through Counter Intuitive Records, whose owner is also Prince Daddy & the Hyena’s manager. Gregory’s fiancée, Zoe Reynolds of the band Kississippi, designed the collage cover for the album. Nick “Scoops” Dardaris, Gregory’s friend since he was fourteen, produced it. It was Dardaris’ idea to smoothly transition the last track of Seekers back into the first track. What Gregory wanted to capture lyrically—the cyclical nature of his mental health—is now manifested in the way the album is actually played.
With each listen, it’s possible to catch something new on Seekers, perhaps a reference you didn’t quite understand before, or a witticism that takes on a different meaning. In true Prince Daddy fashion, the album rips, shreds, and roars—but more importantly, it’s full of heart, brains, and courage. FL