If you go on Cancer Bats’ website and have a quick squiz at their tour schedule, one thing becomes obvious immediately – these men work the road hard.
It’s a surprise their publicity shots don’t feature them all decked out in animal furs with mohawks and missing eyes Mad Max style. They’ve pounded the asphalt for so long and so far, there should be at least one guy in the band with a claw or something.
But those millions of miles and thousands of shows under their belts exhibits itself in another, incredibly telling way on the band’s latest record, Searching For Zero.
A record that combines elements of influence from their life as a successful road act, as well as some difficult personal turmoil wrapped up in some of their most honest songwriting to date, pulls together a piece of art that wears its heart on its sleeve emotionally, while combining it with a musical dexterity and ruthless sonic onslaught that was helped steered by influential producer Ross Robinson (Korn, ATD-I, Norma Jean to name but a few).
We caught up with the band’s frontman, Liam Cormier, over the phone while the Canadian four-piece were launching an all out assault on the SXSW festival, where he discussed the different ways their decade of experience worked its way onto Searching For Zero; why Ross Robinson has the best “vibe” of any producer out there; why playing Black Sabbath covers has made them a better band; and how they managed to not blow up their drummer while firing $700 worth of fireworks at him for their latest video.
You’re in Austin right now for SXSW, right?
Yeah, we played one show yesterday, which was super fun. We drove like 14 hours from St Louis and basically drove straight onto stage and played for 15 minutes, in like proper SXSW style. They were like, “Sorry, everyone’s over-run their set, so you guys have to go short,” and we were like, “Perfect!” So we crushed for 15 minutes. We didn’t talk, we didn’t do anything, we just blasted through songs and then we went and hung out.
How are the new songs going live? Are people reacting to them strongly?
Yeah, it’s been going great. So far we’ve just played a handful of shows but we had a big record release show in Toronto and people sang along. ‘Satellites’ went off, everybody was singing the chorus, so I couldn’t be happier.
Because you finished this new album, Searching For Zero, late last year, right? And you spent a lot of time working on it, so I’m assuming it’s a huge relief that you can finally share this music with your fans?
Yeah, it’s one of those things where we’ve been sitting on it for almost six months and we worked on it for so long too, so just to finally have it out – I feel like we would go back and listen to it after a couple of months just to be like, “Ok, it’s still good. I’m stoked!” [laughs]
Like you said, it’s a record you spent a lot of time on making. Would you say that it’s the most pure Cancer Bats album to date in that you had the most time to refine and perfect everything?
Yeah, I think also being our fifth record and having 10 years’ experience in just kind of being this band, so that we can even sit back and take our time, and be like, “Ok what do we want to do as a band? What do we like about the songs we have already? What do we want to try and push?” You know what I mean? Not just to dive into Dead Set on Living 2. So it was really great that we got to have that time, just to reflect on.
I know that in some ways it was a deeply personal record as well. You guys write about the deaths of some close friends and the emotional turmoil that goes along with that. Was making the album a cathartic experience?
There was definitely a lot of that going on. We were leaving a friends’ memorial and that’s exactly when I decided what ‘Arsenic In the Year of the Snake’ was going to be about. Even to just channel some of that and be like, “I’m not going to drudge this up and talk about it in vague kind of terms.” Two of our really good friends died in one year and that really f*cked all of us up, so it was just like, yeah, let’s rock right behind any of this stuff. I think, also, the whole fact that we made this record though and we played these songs, I think that working with Ross Robinson and him talking us through a lot of it, he was like, “This is still a celebration, though, in this way that you guys have even written a record about your friends and that none of these events made you want to stop being a band, that whole side of things makes such a positive outlook and makes this celebration for all these songs.” That was really nice as well, to have a perspective on that while we’re finishing it, to just be like, yeah the fact that we did it just means that none of this stuff could keep us down. So I think that was really powerful to have that as well.
In that sense then do you feel you have a heightened connection with the songs off of this record as a result?
I definitely think that there was elements of that, but I think it was something that we’d come up with in other songs before. The first time we started touring ‘Sorceress’ and DSOL [2012’s amazing Dead Set On Living album] and put songs like that out, the response we got from people when we did start to write honest and serious songs about personal things that have happened to us, that’s when we had so many people coming back to us over the years and being like, “This helped me through some really hard times.” Especially with DSOL, it was a ton of people that said, “I know what your friend went through and that’s something similar to what I went through and I really looked to this record for a way to get through that.” So I think we’ve always had a bit of that element and that’s why when we were grieving the most, that’s when we go into these songs – as a release for ourselves.
You mentioned it before but you worked with Ross Robinson, which must have been a really crazy experience. That guy has an insane resume. What did he bring to the record and was it difficult to work with him without constantly asking him for Korn or At The Drive In stories?
Well that’s the thing that rules about Ross, is that he just as stoked and all of the stories he brings up. While we’re working on something and he’s like, “Oh man when we were recording this bit it totally reminded me of when we were recording Glass Jaw and how awesome that was,” or, “This reminds me of working with Norma Jean,” and he just has like a million, crazy stories. And he’s never bringing it up because he’s bragging to you about how cool he is, he’s bringing it up because he’s just so excited about what’s going on and the vibe that we have in the studio, so that was really awesome too. To have this person that’s worked with so many great people and could easily have the biggest ego of anyone and he’s like the most down-to-Earth, stoked person you’ve ever met.
Do you think then that now you’ve worked with Ross you’ve set a new bar for the band with this album or a template for how you will approach making records going forward?
Yes, I mean working with someone like Ross and seeing all the ways that he approaches recording, I think that there’s no way that you could go back to a general studio. Even just recording our friends’ records, all I want to do is inject that same reality into it, where you’re like, “You’re going to play these songs live.” I think that will never change style with any of us.
Was it Ross’ approach that was the major difference or did you use specific recording techniques that you guys clicked with?
I feel like his approach to everything is like nothing any person I’ve worked with in the studio has ever done. He’s just all about vibe. Right off the back we were recording off a click track. He doesn’t do scratch on any instruments. When we’re playing, I’m singing with [drummer] Mikey in the room and we’re all just vibing with each other and we just record that back track and we’re just building from there. For him, everything is just about feeding off of each other and trying to basically make sure the record stands up to what a band sounds like live, and if anything he wants to try and out do that live sound, which I feel is like the complete opposite of how most recordings are approached.
This record really has tapped into a raw energy and a raw nerve that so many bands strive to achieve.
Yeah and I think the other side of it too is that when you’re a new band, you don’t realise how hard it is to pull it off in a studio. When you hear those old records of like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all these guys that recorded in two days, it’s because they were phenomenal players and they were miles ahead of anyone who’s gonna plan it and just try and track it on computer and can sound like that same vibe. We couldn’t have made this record six years ago because we weren’t even at that point of being confident musicians. We just hadn’t toured enough, we hadn’t put enough time in. So I think that for that element, this is the perfect time for us to actually take advantage of somebody like Ross, who could get a best performance out of us.
And your Black Sabbath cover band, Bat Sabbath, seems to have had a big influence on the record too. I read somewhere that playing covers influenced all of you guys and you in particular as a singer?
Yeah I totally think that. That summer of 2012 I was singing Cancer Bats and we were also doing Bat Sabbath shows on the side and then I was also touring with Axe Wound at the same time [Axe Wound is Cormier’s supergroup along with members of Bullet for My Valentine, Glamour of the Kill, ZOAX and Pitchshifter], so that whole summer I was singing with basically three different bands, with three completely different vocal styles, all in a three-month stretch. That triathlon of vocal performances is what kind of pushed me to be able to take on some of these different ideas and even working on how my voice would adapt to those different tunings and different playing styles. But I think especially learning all those Ozzy songs, I didn’t want to just kind of scream my way through it, I wanted it to sound like Ozzy. But I knew my voice wasn’t going to reach as far as that, I’m not going to be able to kill it like Ozzy does, but I can sing it in my own way. So to try and come up with my vocal patterns and approaches to those things is what lead me to be more comfortable to approach any of this stuff.
The first single, ‘Satellites,’ that video is f*cking rad but looked pretty dangerous. How much prep went into making it, or was it more of a “F*ck it, let’s just blow some stuff up and hope for the best” scenario?
It was a fun, muck around thing. We made that video ourselves with a bunch of friends who we know that work in film and TV, so we were just like we have this idea where we came up with the concept of, “You know what would be funny? To just shot Mikey.” So we fixed him out in as much motorcycle based gear that we could get and wool, and luckily my girlfriend owns a motorcycle store, so we were able to get some good stuff that would make sure he didn’t blow up, so that was awesome. And nobody got hurt! We bought $700 worth of fireworks, took them to a field and had some fun.
And then you’re touring pretty relentlessly after these SXSW shows. How do you guys survive for such long stretches on the road? Is it just a part of your DNA now?
I feel like it’s part of our DNA now, where we just have fun with it and try not to get too beat up and too tired and think about the fact that we’re going to have these shows for not only the next day but the next two months. I feel like once you’ve done it for 10 years you kind of have it figured out.
Are there plans for future Australian trips?
Yeah we’re definitely trying to figure that out right now, to come down as soon as possible. It’s difficult getting things worked out and everything but we’re definitely looking to do a serious Australian tour.