Fresh off the release of their latest record Hail Destroyer, the Cancer Bats embarked on an extensive Canadian tour to bring the heavy to the masses. I was able to catch up with frontman Liam Cormier at a charming burrito joint in Hamilton’s Hess Village. The weather was beautiful, and talking music with an enthusiastic and kind dude was as relaxing as can be. We had the chance to talk about the new record, some of the people that helped out with vocal duties, and Bats tats. Of course, the evening’s performance was top notch and capped off a great day that found summer just peeking out its head. Thanks to the band and the great crew at Distort/Listen Harder who are always a pleasure. For the first time in my experience, the interviewee actually kicks things off….
Liam: Let’s start talking some shit… [laughs]
I read in an interview with another publication something along the lines of how Hail Destroyer was the LP you wished you’d made the first time out or something…
Liam: Uh, yes and no. I mean, yeah, we’re super stoked on how this record turned out and I feel we had to do Birthing The Giant because of where we were at as a band, but I think right now having done that and where we’ve come since then, like having played so many shows…. We toured that record for a year and a half, and in that time we’ve become better players and a lot stronger at our own instruments, so I feel like having come to this point now, I obviously think that this is a stronger record. I love the way it’s written, I love the song structures, I love the actual songs themselves…. I feel like we cut out a lot of the need to repeat ourselves too many times, you know what I mean? Like, sometimes we look back at the old songs, like, “why is ‘Death Bros’ that long? Did we really need to repeat that chorus three times?” Nah. We could’ve changed some of the stuff. I’m still super psyched on it, and still like listening to it, but to me, it’s like [Hail Destroyer] rips start to finish, so I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Without selling anybody else short, as soon as I heard the first track on this album, the biggest transition between the two albums that stood out was the vocal performance.
You got a lot…
Liam: A lot heavier!
Heavier, yeah. What were some factors contributing to that performance?
Liam: I think the main thing was, again, me getting stronger. My voice has gotten a lot stronger from just singing as many shows as we did. We had a really brutal touring schedule – we were stoked on it, like I want to do that again this year – but for us, my voice just developed into being a lot gnarlier and a lot shoutier. I think also because I was playing with a lot of really heavy bands and really strong vocalists, I think without meaning to I may have mentally beefed up my voice. I was shouting alongside people with really awesome voices. And not necessarily metal. I mean, touring with a band like The Bronx, you know? Matt (Caughthran) has a really strong voice, and he barely even opens his mouth. So knowing that he was playing after me, I had to step it up, so when I was yelling I was giving it everything I had. We want to do that for every show, so I think just doing it night after night developed into now. When I sing now, it just comes out a lot heavier, which I’m stoked on. Another thing, too, is while we were recording, the screaming sort of suited everything a lot more. So we’d do a full take, like on “Hail Destroyer,” we did a take and just sat back and listened to it. One of the engineers/producers was like, “you could sing this a lot heavier. You’re singing about some brutal stuff – you should really push it out there.” So we were trying to work on the dynamics, and it just ended up being: “Heavy sounds better.” “Alright, cool. Let’s fucking do it.”
Sticking with vocals, Wade (MacNeil of Alexisonfire) is on this record. You’ve got Tim…
Liam: Yeah, Tim (McIlrath) from Rise Against and Ben (Kowalewicz) from Billy Talent. Super psyched.
How did each of those arrangements come about? I know you’ve been boys with some of those guys for awhile…
Liam: It was just three friends…. I had a bunch of other friends I wanted to get on the record, too, but it didn’t end up working out. Ben and Wade were super easy because they live in Toronto, so they both had time off, and once we had the parts finished, we were like, “this part would be rad if Wade could sing on it.” And even when Ben came in, I’d only meant for him to sing on a little part of the song, but we were just getting so excited that he ends up singing on half of it. He’d finish a part, and be like: “What else do you want me to do?” And we’d be like, “I don’t know, try this!” and he’d try it, so the whole song ends up being me and him just trading off, which is wicked. It was so fun that way, and we were super happy when we’d asked him because he’s in a huge band, but was super excited to work on our little punk rock project, you know? With getting Tim, it was awesome because he’s a really busy guy, and when I asked him originally, we didn’t have a huge time frame for him to work. So he was like, “yeah, no problem, I can totally get this done in a week.” He was working on a lot of Rise Against Stuff at the time, but when he read the lyrics to “Harem Of Scorpions,” he was like, “this song is awesome!” and he really liked the lyrics. So for me, it was like “Tim from Rise Against!” It was really exciting. Anyways, one of his friends from The Lawrence Arms owns a studio, so he got free studio time from one of his boys and just totally hooked it up. It was really cool, again, that these guys from huge bands but the idea they come from punk rock and are like “fuck it, man.” It’s bros helping bros.
Being on Distort, and the scene you come from…
Liam: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of friendship here. Even this tour we’re on, which is us and the Black Lungs – I’m actually playing drums in Black Lungs – so it’s just friends hanging playing punk rock. And the [A Textbook Tragedy] guys, we’re just hanging out. And that’s what fucking being in a band is all about is just getting to tour with some of your best friends. Especially doing Ontario and the east coast, where we know all the shows are going to be awesome, it’s just like, “yeah, this is going to rule.” But I like that we have that family and friendship element. There’s nobody on the label that I’m not psyched on. There’s some bands that I don’t know, but I mean for the most part, everybody is pretty good friends. We hand out when we’re home, and we’re in each others’ music videos, and stupid shit like that. It just makes things like that way more fun. If you couldn’t work with your friends, it wouldn’t be a good time.
I was driving home two days ago at around 6:30 and “Hail Destroyer” was on (102.1) The Edge, and it’s insane that they can play that in prime time. I think it really speaks volumes towards the way Canada will take certain risks to back up its content.
Liam: Yeah, Canada’s been embracing some heavier stuff. They see not only is there amazing indie rock bands like The Constantines, Broken Social Scene, Feist, and all that which could easily be played all day long, but they can also be playing stuff like us and Alexisonfire, and Protest The Hero and stuff like that. I get stoked on that. Actually, when we’d first decided to go with “Hail Destroyer” as the first single, there was a meeting that happened between (Distort Owner) Greg (Below) and the guys at Edge 102, who were like: “No way. It’s not going to happen. This song is too heavy, and it’s not going to get added,” but people like Bookie (Dave Bookman) and Martin Streak were like, “no, this is dope. We should actually play it on the radio, and kids will get stoked and people will listen.” And it started snowballing from there. We actually played live at The Edge and did a Friday night live thing at The Sound Academy, and that went off.
I can’t get enough of that track…
Liam: That was the first song that we wrote, too. That’s what set the stage for the whole album being as heavy as it is, I think. We started writing that song, it was the first one we finished, and I had the idea of that “Hail Destroyer” before hand, and it was something I’d written down, like a random idea that I’d had about maybe calling the record Hail Destroyer, before we had that song or any of that. And then those vocals I was just able to put over the chorus and said: “Okay, this song is going to be called ‘Hail Destroyer,’ the record is going to be called Hail Destroyer, fuck yeah, it’s going to be the first single…” That’s the song we played for everybody. Wade was in Toronto and we invited him to our practice space. We had three songs, two of which were never finished, but “Hail Destroyer” was the third. And we played him all the songs, and he said: “Those other two are weird, but that ‘Hail Destroyer’ song is dope.” So Wade was the first tip-off.
“PMA ‘til I’m DOA” has some really uplifting lyrics that kind of foil the musical style. Why is it important for you to make a statement like that on a record like this?
Liam: I think it was to erase the misconception that if you make a record like this, you’re pissed off, depressed, or bummed out. We’re incredibly positive people about what we’re doing and being able to live this life. Even to hear a song like “Hail Destroyer,” which to us is incredibly positive, but you could read into as being a negative song, so… If you just look at it from the outside, it’s like “whoa, destroyer?” Like, no no – you have to lose everything before you can actually appreciate something, and that’s the whole idea. If we weren’t in this band, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the idea of sleeping on someone’s floor, or getting a free meal when you’re out on tour. Even in the case where you go play a show, and there are only 30 people but they’re super psyched, if you’re on the outside of that, you don’t realize that it means the world to us. Even just one person getting our band name tattooed on them is like, “holy fuck!”
Do you get that often?
Liam: Not too often, but it’s starting to creep up. It’s really cool that we have cool artwork that’s worthy of being tattooed, you know? Like, I have artwork from the record tattooed on my wrist [shows his tats], just because I think this record is awesome. That’s my life. That’s my shit. [laughs]
Does that get you free access to shows? (Ed. Alexisonfire used to announce on their website that anybody sporting an Alexis tattoo got into shows for free.)
Liam: Yeah, I guess so. If you have a tattoo, you can pretty much get into the shows if you want.
Bros helping bros?
Liam: Bros helping bros! Fuck yeah, man. You get a Cancer Bats tattoo? You’re down!