Interview: Cancer Bats

Photo: Viktor Radics

Photo: Viktor Radics

Toronto's own, Cancer Bats recently embarked on a tour opening for punk legends, Pennywise and Danzig. While we did get to experience that, Under The Rockies' Joshua Platt had the opportunity to talk with Cancer Bats frontman, Liam Cormier, over the phone. They talked the elusive Danzig and the experiences they had recording their latest album.

Cancer Bats’ latest album, Searching for Zero, is out now through New Damage Records.

First of all, I appreciate your time, I understand it’s your day off. You guys played Denver last?
Liam Cormier: We played Denver and then we drove 24 hours to get to Calgary so we could actually have a day off in Calgary to hang out. We’re at the beautiful Diner Deluxe in Calgary. It’s incredible, I’m finishing my toast right now as we speak.

How’s the tour been going so far?
Tour’s been awesome so far. It’s one of those things that’s, even if no one was at these shows, we’re still just playing with Danzig and Pennywise, who are two of our favorite bands ever growing up. It’s the reason why we got into punk and metal is because of those two bands. So to be like, you’re going to get to go on this awesome tour with them for three weeks or whatever, you’ve gotta do it. 

How did that opportunity come about for you guys? Did the band just call you up and ask if you guys wanted to be a support act for this tour?
Yeah, basically! We were on tour in Europe and we were just offered the dates. They had obviously said Pennywise and Danzig were gonna tour together and they were like, "would you guys like to do this? You need to confirm in 24 hours" sort of thing. It was awesome because I don’t think we really would’ve had to discuss it anyways, but it was like yes! 100 per cent! Of course we’re gonna do this.

Your new album, Searching for Zero was produced by Ross Robinson who has produced albums for bands such as Slipknot, Korn and even The Cure. What was that experience like? 
It was the best! Ross is literally the best dude ever. It’s crazy because there’s so many myths about him, like about him being this crazy dude and being really intense and bands not wanting to work with him again because of how hard he’s pushed them and where he takes the bands emotionally. And then you meet this guy, who you’re expecting to be super intense but he’s really soft spoken, super chill, super California, really laid back and has a golden retriever dog, rips dirt bikes- is such a bro! Then there is that side I see, that he wants to push whoever he’s working with to do the best and most honest recording that you can. For us, we’re all stoked, we're all really in a good place- all of our songs are about coming off of this really hard time, but at the same time we’re still stoked when we’re playing them and looking at it as being a positive thing that we’ve worked ourselves through. So there’s Ross, being, that’s 100 per cent what I wanna get. I understand that now, if you have songs that are about how dark your life is or how much you hate yourself or whatever, Ross is gonna like bring that out, and you’re probably gonna end up breaking down, and it’s gonna be really heavy. It’s a really honest recording situation, but for us we’re stoked and having the best time. I definitely think that the stories are true but it all depends on the band as well that’s working with Ross. We were so pumped and we definitely wanna work with him again. 

I can’t imagine it’s an easy process, it’s always good to come out with something positive and that you’re super proud of despite turmoil and stress. I guess for a lot of bands, that has to be the goal.
I think like for us, and a lot of bands will say this: when you’re later in your career, and trying to like not get too bogged down with what you should be doing, and looking back on why you started a band in the first place was a big thing that we had to kind of get our heads back into. Not that any of our records were different, but I think you can get a bit too preoccupied with like, writing the hits, and this is what we should do for our career. You never start a band because you’re thinking about your career. You start a band because you’re like, “I’m gonna hang out with my buds, and we’re gonna play some jams.” That was entirely what this record, writing and recording, was back to for us. It was like, we had so many real life things going on around us, that we’d go and jam and hang out in the same way you do when you finish work or whatever, and go and jam with your friends and are like, “this is the best.” That’s the motivation, and that’s why you’re excited. So it was really fun to kinda take some time off and do some other things. I was renovating a house, so I would finish drywalling and stuff like that, working on my house, and now I’m gonna go play drums with my friends, or I’m gonna go sing with my friends, cause that’s so much more fun. Or Mikey [drums] would come and help me because I’d have so much work to do. One day we’d be infilling a room but the next we’d be jamming together and it’s like, this is way easier than what we did yesterday. So that brought back the whole fun side of it. 

I know that it was recorded in California, did the location pose challenges? What were the positives and negatives of that experience?
It was recorded in Venice Beach, we were only there for three weeks. It was kind of nice to just focus and be working. We were working 14 hours a day on the record, so it’s not like we could’ve just hung out. Getting to just live at the studio, and waking up every day constantly thinking about the record and working on everything and having it evolve was amazing. And Venice Beach is literally the best place ever.

Was the creative process for this album different than what you’ve experienced with other albums?
With this one we had a lot of time, and we wanted to take time with it, to just even have some time away from tour. But our biggest change was instead of writing a record in a month, we were gonna write a record in however long it would take. It ended up being six months of writing and everything before even going into the studio. Which normally in that six months, we’d be back on tour again. So that was really nice to give all the songs enough time. I think a lot of the tracks, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the point that we needed to, to make them as solid as they ended up being. I think lots of time it’s trimming away parts and making sure you’re focused on what’s the most important. A song like “True Zero,” we were just like all we want to do is make this song shorter, and originally it was over like, four and a half minutes long. And you’re just like, how can we rewrite this, and you have to whittle things down. You do that with every record, but when you’re given enough time to do that with every song, it makes it so much better. Especially a song like “Beelzebub” that’s really different for us, that I’m really proud of- I’m really happy with how it turned out- but that took us forever to just kind of figure out how to make that style of song really heavy without having to pile distortion on it or have a breakdown in the middle. It was like okay no, we still want this to be super heavy without having to rely on those other things. So I was really stoked on that. 

Like you mentioned, you guys are on tour a lot it seems. After you released the album, your first tour cycle was a European one. What’s your fanbase like over there?
Europe and the UK have been amazing. They just have a great metal and hardcore community there. So for us to go and play some of our favorite cities in Europe, all the shows were amazing. The other awesome part was we got to go with While She Sleeps, and those dudes do really well in Europe and the UK. So all the shows when we got back to the UK were the biggest shows that either of our bands had played. We were flip flopping headlining, and it was just like, “this is crazy!” To finish a tour and play in front of 2,000 people- it was amazing. It was really awesome. This whole run of shows has been crazy. The Toronto show that we got to kick things off with was the biggest show we’ve ever played in Toronto headlining. So that alone was like, to do our fifth record and to be playing bigger and bigger shows every time is just awesome.

Do shows tend to differ in Europe from different countries such as Canada and America?
Yeah, I mean we’re definitely bigger everywhere I’d say then we are in the US, just because we haven’t had a chance to tour as much in the US as we have in Europe and the UK. As things got rolling, we were like oh well if stuff's going good in the UK and Europe, we’ll just spend time there. Either way, we’re away from home, whether we fly there or drive, it’s kinda the same thing. I think the big difference in the UK and Europe is that they have the support venue wise that we don’t have in Canada. I know one of the biggest problems in Toronto and especially in cities outside, venues are always closing. They're always like being torn down to build a condo, and all of it is constantly shifting. To go to a place like the UK or in Europe where they’ve had the venue for 15, 20 years doing hardcore shows. You go to a place where the Chromags played on their first ever European tour, and you’re like in Budapest and you’re like, this is amazing. You guys have been doing shows here and building this community and scene forever. None of the original venues in Toronto are around, and I’m sure lots of Canadian cities are like that. In Toronto everything’s just turned into condos, and I know the US has the same problem. It’s hard to build up a community that way.

We noticed that in Calgary, we had a local venue called The New Black Centre for Music and Art where local bands would play all the time but it got turned into a yoga studio. It’s crazy, because there’s so many memories in a building, and for a music scene especially, it feels like it’s two steps forward and one step back.
I feel like that’s so much of growing up in Canada, because you put on hall shows. When we first started coming to Calgary, we’d always play in halls or all ages spaces that would put on a show. Sometimes our whole tour would be, there’s a garage in Regina in an alley that you can play. Like, okay sick, that would be awesome, you know? And the shows were wicked! It is kind of one of those things that it’s like, that was 10 years ago and none of those places are still doing shows.

Aside from the upcoming rest of the tour with Danzig, some major festival shows such as Reading and Leeds, and a European fall tour, what is next for Cancer Bats?
We have a lot more touring, this records been doing really well so we have a lot of other places we wanna get to and will be announcing. We definitely wanna do more Canadian touring, and more touring around the world. I think within the next couple weeks or months we’ll have some more stuff for the fall announced. So keep checking all the social media, man!