On April 15th, Cancer Bats will release their seventh full-length recording entitled Psychic Jailbreak, an album they put together in their three separate camps in Halifax, Toronto, and Winnipeg. Unable to be together during 2020 and 2021, the three musicians rose to the challenge of writing and recording their material differently. Liam even designed the cover artwork!
Psychic Jailbreak is the first album to be written and recorded by the current lineup of Liam Cormier (lead vocalist), Jaye Schwarzer (bass and guitar), and Mike Peters (drums), following the departure of founding member and guitarist Scott Middleton.
Psychic Jailbreak features eleven tight songs. Mike’s pummeling drums, Jaye’s bass and guitar licks, and Cormier’s guttural vocals deliver the goods. Psychic Jailbreak is another ripper! The band once again enlisted the watchful eyes and ears of producer JP Peters (Propagandhi) at his studio Private Ear Recordings in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over three weeks, Cormier, Schwarzer, and Peters saw their rough ideas they’d exchanged by emails grow from Garage Band home demos into thundering Cancer Bats songs.
Our heartfelt thanks to Liam for taking a healthy chunk out of his afternoon a few weeks ago to field a few questions for V13 via phone. The audio is available here via SoundCloud if you’d prefer to hear his answers in real-time.
The last time we talked, it was Heavy Montreal in 2019. It’s been a minute.
Liam Cormier: “Yeah, it feels crazy to even think back to being at a festival and hanging out with thousands of people.”
It’s been a real pandemic.
“Yeah. Things happened that obviously aren’t good (chuckles). But also good in a lot of ways. But in that way, to have a break and be able to have some perspective on things. I feel like it’s coming back to shows happening, and we are all really excited about it.”
I feel like that too, from the musicians I’ve been talking to. I actually went to my first big stadium live concert last weekend.
“Oh, good. Did it feel insane?”
Yeah! I went over the border. I went into Buffalo and saw Tool and then drove back. And I didn’t have the right COVID test, so that was a bit of a shitshow.
“Yeah, that stuff feels like it’s still a thing, even me flying down to the States. I had to upload a test that I was fine. I’m curious how much of this formality will continue around things. I’m happy about it, though. I want people to feel safe and confident and be able to travel and do all of those things. For me, getting a test isn’t a big deal. But it’s weird when you think you’ve got the right one and find out that you don’t. Or I’ve got friends that took their PCR test too soon before they flew, and they find out it’s not what they need. They just have to buy a 200 dollar one at the airport. It’s crazy.”
It feels like a bit of a cash grab. It is what it is.
“That sadly is the world that we live in.”
Let’s talk a bit about Cancer Bats in 2022. Where are you musically and mentally?
“Musically, we are in a really great place. We are feeling more confident than ever. We are on this new vibe within the band. It feels like we are all on. The three of us, Jaye, Mike, and I, are super pumped to share what we’ve been working on for the past two years with everyone and also to be playing shows again. Mikey’s in incredible shape. He’s been working out for the past two years. Jaye has always been shredded and ready to rip. So we’re all physically ready to crush it. Everyone is really excited. It feels really good to have that energy around everything.”
Cool. Are you still in Halifax? Do you live there?
“I live there. Yeah. I bought a house in Halifax in 2019. My plan was to move out there and bounce back and forth between Toronto and the coast, and then it ended up being full-time. I meant to be there most of the time, but I haven’t been back to Toronto in a while because of the Atlantic bubble. I love it out there. It’s been amazing. To relocate and have more time and space to do things like riding dirt bikes and skateboards and being around a community of super-great positive people who are all of those things has been an amazing change of pace.”
What prompted you to start a clothing company, Treadwell. How long has that been running, and what made you do it?
“It’s been going since about 2015. I’m super into motorcycles. It’s definitely something that I got very into and went looking at the merch world that was around that stuff. I have always liked taking care of the merch for Cancer Bats and a lot of that creative end of things. I thought it would be fun to do some motorcycle stuff and add something to that world, a little bit more positive in a lot of ways. That’s what I was thinking of doing. So I started making t-shirts and hats and stuff and then slowly had some success. And then I thought about maybe making some jackets and then quilted vests, and then I started making tons of stuff for riding. The company has just grown and grown over the last few years.”
Does Treadwell handle all of the Cancer Bats merch, or do you keep that stuff separate?
“I keep that stuff separate. I still do a lot of that stuff, but it’s operated out of separate spaces. I run Treadwell out of Halifax, and Cancer Bats merch is done out of Welland, Ontario with the Cut Loose guys. But with some of the manufacturing stuff that I handle and now know and have connections to, I have been able to use for Cancer Bats. So it’s definitely been mutually beneficial. I really love it. It’s also been my whole job for the past two years to just do Treadwell. So it was definitely at a really cool point to be able to focus on that and kind of help that company grow while we weren’t on tour. It’s been really fun.”
It’s good that you had something to do and put your energy into.
“Yeah, exactly. And it kind of had a creative thing as well. I really got into doing all of the art and being able to do the illustration and design for Treadwell. While there was lots of time, I thought maybe I would get really good at drawing and learn a bunch of art programs. Fast forward a bit, and I was able to use all of that knowledge to do the Cancer Bats album art. So it felt cool to have it all work out like this.”
So how do you, Mike, and Jaye approach putting an album together during a pandemic? What was the same, and what was different about doing it?
“Well, Mikey lives in Winnipeg, Jaye lives in Toronto, and I was in Halifax, so we were completely separate the entire time. So all of 2020. In 2021 we tried to get together a bunch of times and jam, and it would literally be like lockdowns were happening and flights would get canceled or rescheduled. All of this stuff would be changing, and we would all agree that we should just keep doing these demos as best we can on our own. We just tried to figure it out. But it was cool because Mike and Jaye both learned how to use Logic really well, and they were doing their own home recordings.
“I learned how to use GarageBand, so I had a mic set-up, and I was able to make demos and sing over stuff, so we all really got into it and figured out a way to make it work. It was cool. And now, coming out of it, we were able to do so much more on our own that it really helped with the writing. We don’t have to wait until we are in a room together to put some ideas down. So it feels really good that way too moving forward.”
Jaye did double duty, right? He did guitars and bass on the album?
“Mmm-hmm. Yeah, Jaye and Scott had already been sharing a lot of the writing duties since Searching For Zero. He wrote a lot of riffs on that record, and when it came to starting Spark That Moves, there were a lot of times when Jaye and I jammed together to get tracks like ‘Gatekeeper’ and ‘Winterpeg.’ A lot of those songs were like the two of us starting off, so when it came to starting to write for this record, it was already natural at that point because it was already two records deep that Jaye was already sending ideas on either his baritone or on a guitar and not feeling like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the bass player, so I’ll just wait.’ Lots of times, Scott would add his own ideas on top. But in this case, Jaye was writing all of these riffs and kind of just kept going. It was really cool.”
What’s your game plan for doing it live then? Are you bringing in somebody to either do bass or guitars then? I’m assuming Jaye is going to keep doing leads?
“Jaye is actually going to stay; he wanted to stay on bass.”
Oh, good for him.
“Yeah, which I thought was really interesting because I think Jaye is one of the best bass players on planet earth. But I feel like every bass player kind of wants to live out their guitar dreams? I don’t know, I can’t play guitar (laughs), so I don’t know any of that stuff. But I was really stoked that he said he loved playing bass and that he loves the groove that he has with Mikey. So he wanted to stay on bass, and we could then figure out somebody to play guitar. So we have that all sorted out and have the lineup sorted out for those shows in March.”
I’m asking this because I honestly don’t know; did you guys do any live streaming during the pandemic? Or did you just stay away from that?
“We tried, those times when we were trying to get together and jam. We thought we could do some live streaming stuff. And again, because of us not being in the same city, everything just kept getting canceled, which was funny for us because we all felt like we just couldn’t catch a break. I don’t know if you saw the Live from Winnepeg thing that we were able to do? When we put out those acoustic EPs, we made the Live From Winnepeg full band, and that felt amazing because we did those acoustic EPs completely separately.
“So we had never actually played those songs with anyone. We got to have Nick Sherman play guitar. And our friend Jordan played bass and mandolin and banjo, and our friend Linds came and sang. It felt amazing to actually be able to play those songs as they were meant to be. To really feel out what that acoustic side of Cancer Bats could be. Because when you do it in a studio, it doesn’t actually feel real sometimes. You’re just listening to what’s recorded; and Jaye is nailing this solo on this cool hollow body guitar, and when we were jamming, it felt amazing.”
I’m also asking this because I don’t know; Are you name-dropping Jimmy Page in “Keep On Breathin” on the new album?
“Oh yeah! More as a joke, kind of a nod. You know how everybody has those, ‘I sold my soul for rock n’ roll’ vibes? I thought it would be funny to ask for your soul back. Not that I don’t like rock n roll anymore, but I’m kind of older and wiser in the game now; I’ll get that soul back (laughs). It was more like tongue and cheek. I actually don’t know Jimmy Page.”
I figured. And then I was wondering if I was hearing it wrong. So I went back and played it again and went, “No, he’s saying Jimmy Page!”
“I like it too as like what you were saying; ‘Wait, did I hear that right? Did he just say Jimmy Page?’ The funny thing too is I was thinking of all the different people I could say, too. Jimmy Page is easier to say than, say, Tony Iommi. So it was like, Jimmy Page works, and he’s cool, so ok, I’m going to go with that. I don’t particularly want to get Jimmy into hot water by saying that he has my soul under lock and key and that he’s not willing to give it back. I don’t want to start any beef, you know?”
That’s probably wise. So you have some actual concert dates lined up with Comeback Kid and A Wilhelm Scream. That’s pretty exciting. What is that? Three or four weeks out now?
“Yeah! We’re like actually going to gig! It feels really good.”
I’m knocking on wood.
“I feel like this one is finally going to be a safe bet, you know? It feels like we are in the clear of a lot of that stuff, and even when the dates that were being announced. March 14th was originally when they were going to drop all of the mandated stuff. We were curious as to whether we should even try and change these dates. I was like, ‘we’ve got to just do this. We’ve got to just let these shows go. If we have to do them at half capacity at this point, we just need to be playing some shows.’ To just be getting out there and doing it. So I’m really happy that we didn’t have to change those dates. It looks like these things are actually going to come to fruition. We’re close now. I’m pumped.”
Can you speak a bit to the importance of physical media to a band like Cancer Bats? LPs; CDs; Tapes; Merch; that kind of stuff?
“Oh yeah. We have a full-on merch store that we do. Luckily we have rad fans that want to grab all of that stuff. That was a huge help for us over the pandemic. We didn’t have any government subsidy or anything like that; that we could get for the band. So for us being able to just sell merch and LPs and all of that stuff through our webstore was what helped keep us afloat and pay all of our bills while we were chilling for the past two years. It’s been amazing.
“I definitely feel really fortunate that we have such a cool crowd backing us. I feel like Cancer Bats fans are really rad, and they are up for all of the things. Especially, lots of folks who can say that they didn’t stop working this whole time, I’m happy to buy a record. Or if we’d do a sale, they would be like, ‘cool, I’m going to buy a skateboard and a hoodie.’ They would put their support into this thing. So I’m really grateful that we have that kind of support about us.”
Cool. I ask that question because the PR blasts that I get emailed to me all of the time; it’s always like, “1.5 Million streams!” And I’m like, “I know what they got paid for that, and it’s not much.” So would you rather see people buying a physical CD or buying an album because you just get so much more out of that from a cash standpoint?
“I definitely can’t complain. We are really fortunate to own our publishing. We definitely run our own record label, so for us, if people want to listen to it on streaming services, that also helps because of how we set up our band and our business. I think streaming is rad. I’m definitely really happy for it. Having been a band when you’d put our records on, and it would just get streamed online, and you wouldn’t get any money for it, to fast-forwarding ten years later when we get monthly payouts for people streaming our stuff, that’s also super helpful.
“I definitely think there’s a bit of a conversation within that. I know people are wanting higher rates which I’m here for as well, but for us, streaming is super helpful, and I appreciate people wanting to do it. If people put on Cancer Bats every single day that they woke up to listen to it, that would be the best. Or jam it all day long too (laughs)!”
Nice. I kind of went backward during the pandemic. I bought a turntable six months before lockdown, and I’ve just been playing records solid. I don’t stream anything anymore; I’m all about analog.
“Yeah, totally. I definitely know a lot of people who got more into that too. I think both are great. If you are on these things and you are using it to find out about new artists? I got super into North African jazz over the pandemic. That’s 90 percent of what I’ll listen to while making music. That’s a whole side of things; Moroccan jazz? I would not know where to find it. So to have this streaming platform that makes all of these really great suggestions for me? Now I have found this wealth of music I can buy LPs for and all of those things. I think that as long as everybody is having a good time and finding out about cool music, I’m definitely here for it.”
I’ll finish up with one last one. You said that Jaye and Mike are ripped and ready to go. You’re not going to walk on stage in a pair of Homer Simpson’s pants, are you? (laughs) Did you stay in shape?
“I definitely need to keep up. That’s why I’m happy to be on this dirt bike trip. I’ve got to pump it up, too, so I’ll be killing it with my dudes. I’m also looking at putting my game face on for these shows. Homer Simpson pants, though? (laughs)”
Well, you know, I got to September of 2020, and I was up probably 20 pounds. At that point, I said that I needed to do something and started throttling my calorie intake and running more and trying not to be so sedentary.
“Totally. I think those are good things too. To have those moments where you know you’ve got to fire this thing up. I’m with you too. I’ve been answering more emails than I have been riding dirt bikes; I’ve got to crank this up.”