“Ten years!” The Acacia Strain’s vocalist Vincent Bennett exclaimed in front of a rabid crowd at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre. “This is for you!”
Those ten years Vincent is referring to is the time between the present and the band’s breakthrough album Continent, released on August 19th, 2008. After ten years and four new records, the group decided to revisit the album as part of its tenth anniversary, much to the excitement of longtime fans.
Before the band’s explosive performance at the Toronto stop of the “Rareform Across the Continent” tour, I sat down with Vincent to talk about playing Continent in its entirety live, his newfound appreciation for Canada, becoming a radio DJ, video games, and more. The audio of the interview is included above if you’d like to listen via SoundCloud.
It’s Monday, October 8th. I’m here with Vincent from The Acacia Strain as part of the ten year anniversary tour for Continent. How are you doing today?
Vincent Bennett: I’ve been better…
Big change in weather?
Vincent: The temperature changes have been going up and down and all over the place. I’m getting sick because of the weather.
It’s a “Bitter Pill” to swallow, but the time has come! Check out this killer track off of Gravebloom.
Hopefully you’re going to be well for tonight. As someone who picked up Continent when it came out ten years ago, I’m really glad you guys are revisiting it for the tenth anniversary. What’s it been like playing the whole album front to back?
Vincent: It’s weird. A lot of the songs we play anyways, but there are other songs like “Forget-Me-Now” and “Kraken” that we’ve never played live before. I think we realized why. They’re just not live songs. Some songs on a record, those are album songs. With a song like “Forget-Me-Now” I don’t think it translates, not necessarily well, I don’t think it translates into a live song. People might like it on record, but when they hear it live it’s a little different. But for the most part, it’s been really good, I think those are the only two songs off the album that we’ve never played live. Everything is going over really well.
I’m sure fans have been really enjoying it, new fans and old fans…
Vincent: There’s songs we haven’t played for nine years. These are songs that people really haven’t ever gotten to hear if they got into the band later on. This is a nice little thing, like a guarantee that they’re going to hear every song that they want to hear off the record.
With albums like The Dead Walk and Continent, those are the ones that got me into the band, I feel like since then you’ve grown musically and lyrically. Gravebloom was one of my favorites from 2017. How do you feel comparing Continent, and going forward from that to Gravebloom? Do you feel you’ve progressed lyrically and musically with the band, and are you proud of that transformation?
Vincent: That was ten years ago. Most people mature and grow through life experience, and just age changes people. We’re doing these songs and I’m like, “What was I even thinking when I was writing half of these things?” Whereas that record was more about my outward distaste for everything, the later records are more of an inward journey and I feel like that’s more of who I am now, I’m focusing more on my own psyche and my own problems and not really (thinking), “What else is going on in the world?” That doesn’t really affect me. I think songs and music and hardcore and metal are supposed to feel personal to everyone who’s listening and by adding your own personal flair to everything it really makes it personal for everyone else. Hearing the song for the first time, they kind of equate it to something that’s going on in their own life.
A lot of people tell me that Continent, like you said, Continent’s the record that got you into the band, but with Coma Witch that was the record that really helped people connect with the band. And the people that heard Coma Witch first, I feel like they have a special bond because those songs are so very personal, and with Continent, it’s more just like letting your anger out. Like I said, I’m a different person now than I was, it’s a huge contrast I’d say.
The Gravebloom album dropped in June 2017, through Rise Records.
That growth, definitely a lot changes over time, I think you guys are getting better and better. I also feel like Gravebloom was probably one of your most personal albums lyrically, and it also helped me go through a lot of stuff.
Vincent: Glad I could help.
This past summer you did a headlining tour of Canada, which was the first time you were playing Continent in its entirety. You got to play a lot of cities that bands don’t really go through. I saw a post on your Instagram that said you started the tour having mixed feelings about Canada, but by the end, you would consider Canada your second home. What changed? What made you fall in love with the country?
Vincent: Halifax. Honestly, if I had to move out of America for some reason, I would move to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. That really did it for me, because we’ve always done Toronto and Montreal, and the big cities, it’s the only real view I get of the country. First, you get harassed by border guards, and then you go to huge cities which I don’t like in the first place. In visiting the smaller towns like Moncton and Halifax, and even Thunder Bay which is kind of like an upside-down wasteland, it’s still different than what I’m used to in experiencing Canada.
Just being able to drive across the entire country, and see it for what it is, and not just see the cities it definitely helped me get a new perspective on the entire place. It’s like America, there’s so much between New York and LA, that it can get lost in the mix when you’re not really seeing the entire thing for what it is.
I’m sure a lot of the fans in those cities really appreciate it. My friends and I went out to Ottawa to see you guys there, and it was definitely worth it. So these next questions are more into the fun side. I know songs on Continent reference Arrested Development. Have you kept up that show ever since Netflix picked it up?
Vincent: No. I was a huge fan of seasons one, two, and three. When they were on television, and then I got the DVDs and really dove in and analyzed the shit out of them. With the newer seasons, when season four came out on Netflix, I watched the first episode and I was like “I can’t…”
The band’s video for “Cauterizer” off of Coma Witch may be The Acacia Strain’s most intense of all.
It’s different. Even the camera style was different…
Vincent: Kinda like the bastardized version of it, and also I think, it was done on purpose. For a while (show creator) Mitchell Hurwitz just was done with the show. They had their chance, the network canceled them, made them cut the season short. He was like “they keep asking me for a new season” and I figured in his mind he was like “Well, maybe if I do a really terrible job, they’ll just leave me alone about it.” I feel like THAT’S Arrested Development humor, to do something like that. I think that was a part of it. You know when you’re a kid and you break a dish on purpose and you don’t have to do the dishes anymore? That’s what he did with Arrested Development, he made it purposefully bad so that people would leave him alone about it.
I kind of liked the fourth and fifth seasons. At first, it was definitely hard to jump back in…
Vincent: I heard they re-edited the fourth season to make more sense, so maybe I’ll watch that.
You host a segment on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal channel called “Hey Vincent, What Band Is That?” How’d that end up happening?
Vincent: I’ve always wanted to be a radio DJ. Ever since I was a kid, I used to have a boombox with a tape in it and I used to record myself, and then I’d play music. Just for me and my friends and it was fun. Before my dad died, he became a radio DJ, and it was something he always wanted to do. I’m not sure if that’s a really a part of why I wanted to do it, but I’ve just always wanted to be a radio DJ. I go on Sirius XM Liquid Metal every once in a while to do interviews with (hosts) Shawn (“The Butcher” Winkler) and Jose (Mangin).
One day I reached out to Shawn and I was like “Hey, what would it take for me to do something like a specialty segment?” And he was like, “Let me talk to Jose about it.” And a year passed, and I was like “Alright, I’m gonna reach out and try this again.” It finally hit home. They’re like “Alright, we’ll try this out. We’ll give you 60 seconds to talk and you can play one song. We’ll run it a couple times a week.” It kinda turned into something more, where people were reacting to it, and Jose and Shawn really liked it. So they gave me a little more than 60 seconds, I get to talk for… not forever but for a little bit longer. They play me three times a day, all week long, which is awesome, I get 21 spots. And the reaction has been pretty cool.
I’m playing stuff… the point was to play stuff that people have never heard on that station. It’s underground… but they do play stuff like Pantera and Metallica, which is obvious, they have to do that. But sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. I remember one interview I did with Shawn, I suggested he play Gatecreeper, and that was kind of like the thing. He said, “You should do this, we should go back and do this.” And that’s what I do now. I just play a lot of stuff that will never get played on there. Sometimes I play it and it goes into the rotation. I’m trying to help other bands out.
The Continent album came out ten years ago…. nuts!
What bands are you into these days that you would put on the show?
Vincent: This week was Pallbearer, because they did that Type O Negative cover and it’s October. Couple of weeks ago it was Innumerable Forms. I played Harm’s Way on there before they started playing Harm’s Way on there, I played Jesus Piece before they played Jesus Piece on there. It’s cool that I’m getting to influence what gets played.
Another fun topic, I see you’re very into World of Warcraft. I’m a Horde player as well…
Have you been enjoying the new expansion Battle for Azeroth?
Vincent: I was on tour when it came out, I got home a week after it came out, so I was very behind. I didn’t get to start raiding when my raid group started raiding, so I never got to do the new raid. I’ve just been having fun on my own. I’ll go and do dungeons with friends or whatever, I like the battlefronts, I think those are cool. I like the story, I’m really, really bummed I didn’t get to raid because I’m a huge lore fan and I really know what’s going on without spoiling it for myself. Now I’m on tour, and (patch) 8.1 is coming out and it’s like “God, what do I do now?” I have my laptop but a lot of the venue WiFi (signals) have just been shit.
“The Hills Have Eyes” is another standout from the band’s 2010 record Wormwood.
Yeah, you can’t raid or do anything intense on that.
Vincent: I love it, I will always love World of Warcraft no matter what they do, even if it’s bad like Warlords of Draenor. But, I had a good time with it, and it’s a game. At the end of the day, when people take it very seriously and it’s almost like a job and it’s like you have to just remember it’s a game, it’s a video game. It’s meant to be fun.
Yeah, you can’t gatekeep video games. It’s fun for people. Besides World of Warcraft, I see you always post about retro gaming and old school games. Is there something about old systems and games that you prefer today’s consoles?
Vincent: It’s just my childhood. It’s very nostalgia… a lot of our generation’s nostalgia culture, and it’s just trying to buy our childhoods back. And I’m not saying new games are bad, there’s a lot of good games out there right now. It’s crazy. I just got the game Slain! (Our guitarist) Devin has been playing Dead Cells and the new Mega Man is fucking awesome.
There’s just something about old, 8-bit games with the limitations that they had, and the charm, and the flair that they had to put into certain games to make them good. Eight-bit, 16-bit, they had to use more imagination than not, and now everything is like… that new Spider-Man game is insane, it’s so good, but it’s like, it doesn’t have that retro charm to it. And that’s what I love about it.
Another thing I love about retro gaming is that there’s an end to it. There’s only a certain amount of Nintendo games, there’s only a certain amount of Genesis games, that ends. It’s good to have a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a collector, I like to collect things.
Shots of The Acacia Strain, After The Burial, Erra, and Make Them Suffer @ The Phoenix on October 8th.
One last question. In the Gravebloom booklet, there’s a line that says “The Acacia Strain is 4-5 people at any given time.” Every other band would have listed each member. Is that how you see the band, as more than just the members that are in it?
Vincent: The band is a presence. The band has stopped being… We’ve been through so many members. It can be different. There’s a reason that Gravebloom sounds different from Coma Witch, that sounds different from all of our other records. It’s different input in every record, and I think… we’re still the same band though. It’s a spirit. It’s a non-living entity. That’s what The Acacia Strain is. It will always be the same because we always have the same mentality.
Every member comes in knowing what The Acacia Strain is all about. And they bring their version of The Acacia Strain to the table, and I think that’s important. I don’t think this band has ever been about singular humans. It’s working as a unit, and that’s why I don’t think it’s important to have any names in the record at all.
Do you want to give any shoutouts, or anything to end this interview with?
Vincent: Shout out to you for getting the life choked out of you at that show in Ottawa.
(laughs) It was just a perfect shot, it literally happened only for one second.
Vincent: We thought you were dead, so thanks for doing that.