When you see your favourite bands touring the world, playing gigs to thousands of fans, it’s hard to imagine them having a “normal life” away from the band. Can you picture your favourite rockstar putting out the bins or doing the school run? Of course, you can’t. However, for most groups, the reality of life back home is no different to that of their fans and one band wanting to show that side of life is Canadian hardcore punks Cancer Bats.
Taken from their new acoustic EP, You’ll Never Break Us/Separation Sessions Vol 1, their new video for “Deathsmarch To a New Acoustic Beat” takes fans into the personal lives of the band. We recently spoke with frontman Liam Cormier about the video, life away from the band during lockdown, and how these riotous hardcore punks ended up recording an acoustic EP.
How’s it going Liam?
Liam Cormier: “It’s going pretty good. Just hanging out. We’ve just had a bit of snow here. We don’t get a lot here because we’re near the ocean but I like it, it’s fun.”
So, you’ve got the new EP out and the video, you’ve obviously been keeping busy during this strange year?
“Yeah, we’ve managed to be productive in this time (laughs). Despite our current situation. It’s been fun to have this as maybe more of an excuse for us to still be working on stuff. We’re all physically really far apart right now. We all live in different cities and are spread out across the country. For us, doing this little EP was good for us to stay active and be still be putting something out and have a reason to be on social media and putting stuff out there. As we were working on these little acoustic versions we thought they were pretty cool and realized we could put these on the internet.”
Cancer Bats aren’t a band you’d associate with acoustic songs but it works really well…
“It does. We’ve actually been against doing acoustic songs but maybe it was the time, not out of necessity, but maybe because we had the time to do it. The reason we don’t love acoustic stuff is you never really reinvent the song. I feel like nine times out of ten you just play the song on an acoustic guitar which is fine but it doesn’t get any of us too excited. This was like what if we did ‘Black Metal Bicycle’ but did it a little bit different. Or ‘Darkness Lives’ but made it a little bit different. It was going those songs that made us really see that we could be creative in doing it.”
I guess you had the time to be a bit more creative without any pressures from anyone?
“Sure. At the moment we don’t have a label or management so no one is pressuring us into doing anything. A lot of it is genuinely from us being inspired and excited and that’s always a good way to be especially as an artist.”
Did you have any worries about putting out an acoustic record given your hardcore fanbase?
“Again, because we had do those Instagram and Facebook versions on our phones, we got so much positive feedback from that. I feel like our fans are also pretty cool that they know we’re doing it just to have fun. I think if we had some weird, slick image, or started playing pop country then it would be obvious that something was up but I think people can tell this is just us having some fun.”
Has the pace of life at the moment inspired you to write material like this?
“This time has been more mellow. I feel like a lot of us have been listening to a lot more chilled stuff too. Maybe part and parcel of the fact that we were inspired to do this, we’re listening to music like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. We all like that stuff anyway but I think that we’re listening to them more because we’re coming up with these ideas. Versus when we’re writing records and we’ll be listening to old Melvins albums and stuff like that to be inspired (laughs).”
On the new video, you’ve given fans an insight into your personal lives. How did that feel putting your life on the internet?
“That came from us all talking. I wanted to bring home the idea that we’re all physically separated as a band so to show all of us are doing completely different things and that is what inspired this as well. I aimed to show we’re all doing these things. I love (bassist) Jaye (Schwarzer) working out with his dog, just some of those aspects that people see because of social media and being open about what you’re doing during these times. Like, what have we been doing during COVID? Some people know that I like riding motorcycles so I wanted to show that. Most of the time I’ve been working on the EP is when I’ve been coming and going from dirt biking. I’ll be singing in the truck and hanging out, (drummer) Mike (Peters) and (guitarist) Scott (Middleton) both have kids and I wanted to show that because this, in some ways, has been a positive.
Even Jaye getting to be with his dogs and hang out with them, that’s a big part of that sacrifice everybody knows about but doesn’t really talk about. It’s our job and it’s what we do. I felt like this showed the positive side of being off the road, for us, is doing these things like being with our loved ones and doing the things we’re passionate about. That has also been a nice, refreshing break.”
Although a lot of bands are suffering because of not touring, it’s also given bands of a certain level, a break from a brutal industry. Would you agree with that?
“Yeah, I compare it to someone who has a kid. For Mike, he was Facetiming his kid from Australia, and trying to deal with that is not something that is in a parent handbook. I feel like those aspects of being a full-time band are now nicely being put to the side and you can feel like a dad for the next year and a half. Sure, we all miss touring and being on the road and playing shows but I wanted to show another aspect to that like Jaye being in his woodshop or Scott being able to focus on being in the studio which I know is something he really loves as well. These are times for people to be able to explore other things.”
Speaking of exploring other things, the new EP shows a different side to your vocals. What did you learn about yourself as a singer?
“I guess I really like any of these opportunities now to step up to try things a different way. Now that I’ve been doing this for about 15 years, my voice has finally opened up in a lot of ways. I would never have thought that screaming would have helped me be a better singer, but, having figured it out over the years, I now have a better understanding of how to sing. Learning to sing all those Black Sabbath songs really helped to push my vocals in one way. From doing that, I’m really up for trying different things and, at the end of the day, that can only make me a better singer.”
You’ve talked about listening to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Did they inspire you vocally?
“When you listen to any of those artists, you think of how much of Paul Simon is just vocal-driven. So much of it is just vocal melodies and he does separate them from the guitar work that is happening. Sometimes you can just take away the instrumentation and it’s just his vocal carrying the whole thing. It’s the same with Bob Dylan as well. I feel like that, as we get more band-orientated, you move further from that idea. You know? No one is going to want to hear ‘Hail Destroyer’ with no music, that would sound stupid! I really love the idea of wanting to step up and doing something that could hold its own without the music. So, when I was trying to sing the chorus of ‘Deaths March,’ I wanted that to be it’s own hook now that it isn’t just shouting.”
Now you’ve done something away from the aggressive vocals, would you consider doing something as a solo project?
“I don’t know. That wasn’t where my mind was when we were doing it. Also, unfortunately, I can’t play any instruments. I can play drums but nobody wants to hear me singing over the top of some bongo drums. I think in a lot of ways, I love bringing all these ideas back to Cancer Bats and ultimately making Cancer Bats a better band. That being said, I definitely love playing different music but I wasn’t thinking that now I could start my mini rock band (laughs).”
Looking forward then, and especially for hardcore bands like Cancer Bats, how do you imagine those first shows back to be?
“Hardcore shows, in my opinion, are probably going to be one of the last to come back, or maybe the first? I don’t know. One or the other. That’s because they’re so underground so I think they’re going to happen regardless. There are probably hardcore shows happening that we just don’t know about. For me personally, I think there will be this explosion of us being on a stage and it will feel so crazy. However, I do think that before we’re even allowed on a plane to somewhere like the UK, things have got to be pretty chilled so that nobody will be nervous at a show. When that happens and Cancer Bats get to go to somewhere like the UK then it’s going to be game on! By the time we’re ready to play shows, people are going to be psyched to just let loose! I’m going to be ramping up to it and I’ll be in shape because I’ll be going off harder than I ever have.”
Until life returns to normal, the EP is, I guess, something of a stop-gap. In terms of a new album, what’s the situation with that?
“We’ve definitely been talking about stuff like that and we’ve definitely been sending stuff back and forth. It’s tricky because, for us, we need to be in the same room together or at least a few of us whether it’s me on drums and Jay on guitar just to get ideas rolling. We’ve got a plan for that to happen sometime next year.”
Have you seen any of the band recently?
“I haven’t seen any of the band since March. That side of things has been really crazy. I feel like we have to navigate that and can get together to put some ideas down. I know everybody has been working on stuff on their own so we all have bits and pieces that we’ve been doing. A huge part of Cancer Bats writing a record is sending inspirational things to each other. I feel like a lot of us are talking about records and vibes that we love and want to recreate and sending each other YouTube videos from like weird Eyehategod videos and Buzzoven, and stuff like that, you know? That real crusty, heavy, especially the old live, almost VHS recordings and we’ll be like ‘Dude, we need this, this is what our next record should sound like’ and I feel like those conversations are really good and those videos are what will help to spark the next Cancer Bats record. That, along with the fact that we’re not in rush and we’re taking our time will ultimately make for a better Cancer Bats record when we all come together.”
So, do you have any concrete plans for 2021 or are you just winging it like everybody else?
“Oh yeah. If there is one thing about Cancer Bats, it is the fact that we have the least plans out of anyone. Even getting that surprise release together, we finished recording it at the last possible minute and then we put it out three months later. We’re not like a long-game band. We’ll figure it out, you know, it’ll get done (laughs). There is something to be said about that energy though that, again, as our music is explosive and spontaneous, it can’t be overthought. A lot of it has to be charged with that same energy so that’s why it works for us to be in the same room just vibing off each other.”
How will you be signing off 2020? Will it be a quiet one or a big fuck you to the last twelve months?
“I think it will be pretty chilled. I get a lot of excitement in my life as it is so, when it comes to those things, I’m down to just hang out, drinking coffee. There’s usually lots of fireworks happening as that’s a big New Year’s thing, so I know people will be setting lots of fireworks off in their backyards so I’ll be happy to hang out and watch that as it will be pretty sick.”
Just to finish then, how would you sum up 2020 for you?
“To sum it up I feel like this whole year has been a much-needed break in a lot of ways. I know there has been a lot of crazy stuff happening and it has been quite stressful for a lot of people. I feel for so many bands starting out who are sitting on a sick album and it’s at the point in your career where the only thing you can do is go on tour but you’re not allowed so my heart goes out to so many people who have been struggling over the last year.
The other side to that is that, if Cancer Bats were at the stage we were at two years ago and just putting out a new record now, I would be singing a different tune. For me though, I feel really fortunate that I’m in a part of the country that is really chilled and surrounded by nature so I’ve been able to spend this year taking a step back and just enjoying everything around me. I’ve been hanging out with my girlfriend and going to the lake and going swimming, riding my dirt bike, and hanging out. I feel like that this has been a year to take some time and take some much-needed rest. I feel grateful for this time and this opportunity to take some time to rest.”