New Ruin is The Flatliners’ sixth studio album, set for release on August 5th, 2022, via Dine Alone Records (Canada) and Fat Wreck Chords (Worldwide). New Ruin is a heavier album for The Flatliners; it’s certainly heavier than their past two releases. It features eleven songs and can best be described as an all-killer-no-filler musical entity. Recorded at Toronto’s Noble Street Studios and Genesis Sound with long-time friend and engineer Matt Snell, the album sounds open and immediate, the cumulative effect of two decades of performing together. While the album isn’t necessarily a pandemic album, it’s undoubtedly an album enhanced and influenced by the last three to four years of world events.
Regarding New Ruin’s “Heirloom,” singer and guitarist Chris Cresswell said: “It’s hate mail to the previous generation. All their brilliance and ingenuity has just left our generation and future generations in the dust and unable to afford the world we live in, with this enormous emotional and environmental toll. It’s so demoralizing.”
Contrasting New Ruin’s dark themes, there is evidence of much musical joy on the album. In this interview, Cresswell admits to the recording process being a lot of fun, perhaps more fun than the band had enjoyed together in a while. He considers the album a gift.
Our heartfelt thanks to Chris for taking a healthy chunk out of his afternoon last week to field a few questions for V13 via phone. The audio is also available via SoundCloud if you’d prefer to hear his answers in real-time. Before starting to record the conversation, we’d been chatting about the state of the world, recent gun violence, and the decision in the U.S. to ban abortion in multiple states.
On the topic of terrible stuff, let’s talk about the cover image of the new album; I love that it’s a human being asleep on a bed floating over a flaming planet. Who did that for you? Did you commission an artist for that? Or did you commission a friend of yours to do that for you?
Chris Cresswell: “Yeah, we have our friend in an art studio in the Niagara region of Ontario called Quite Alright. They are old friends of ours, and they’ve been responsible for the album artwork and all the single artwork that’s coming out around the album so far.”
There’s a phrase on the bio that the publicist sent that I really liked referring to ‘an age of insecurity.’ I really feel like we’re there as a society. Can you maybe elaborate on that a little bit?
“Yeah, I definitely think we’re there, and I myself, I’m not without that. I mean, I’m not void of that. We’re all kind of products of our environment to a certain degree, and I think a song on the album called ‘Performative Hours’ that opens the record deals a lot with this kind of desire or need. It feels like more so now with people needing to be seen and validated. I think there’s a difference between being seen and being heard.
“I think that people with important things to say should be heard, and people with powerful things to say should be heard. But I feel like we’ve reached a point where a lot more people want to be seen more than they want to even be heard, and it’s just frustrating. Again, everyone has their minor hypocrisy and stuff like that, and I’m going to use the same tools everyone else spends a lot of time on every day to promote a record. And so will the record labels that are putting the record out. And this is the same for every band and every musician that’s trying to get back to the life of touring and stuff.
“Now that we’re able to do that again, I’m not trying to get up on any high horse and tell the world how to live their life. But I do have the outlet of writing music with my friends, and I think that writing (at least in my lyrical writing), I’ve always talked or honed in more on what’s happening in my personal life and the lives of those around me. But this time, having a few years to sit around and stay in a pretty uncomfortable moment for humanity forced me to look elsewhere and outward a lot. And to take that information in to see how it makes me feel and think about it and do a lot of self-reflection. So the age of insecurity and the woman on the cover of our record surrounded in flames is pretty much how I feel the world is going.”
I’m always amazed when I pop my phone open, and I get presented with a whole bunch of reels and clips, and it’s mostly women squishing their boobs together taking selfies. And these are the same women that are saying, ‘don’t objectify women.’ And I don’t know what to do with that; it’s just such an oxymoron to me. I’m like, Well, stop taking these vacuous selfies.
“Well, I don’t know, especially with what happened last week in the U.S. I don’t think it’s a man’s place; I don’t think it’s our place to comment on or have any kind of power over what a woman can do with her body. It’s completely her choice. There is something empowering with not caring what other people think. So I respect that.”
“But I think my greater issue with just how poorly people are treating each other on the planet, and I feel like it just gets worse and worse. So on the record, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think it takes a lot of unifying energy for people to really dig ourselves out of this hole, but I think it just feels like; I know this has been said a million times, especially since 2016, but it just feels like we are living in Idiocracy now. It’s more and more, day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year, or whatever it is, I feel we’re slipping more and more into a cartoon version of the world, and it’s not always entertaining. It’s become very frustrating. So again, I have the opportunity to just kind of take how I feel and turn it into some songs with my friends, hopefully helping other people to figure out they feel about it all.”
And on a more positive note, your sixth album New Ruin, it’s your best album. If you play it through, the eleven songs on it are just so solid. I’m very impressed.
“Thank you very much, man.”
How did you put such a strong hold together over two years of pandemic lockdowns? I’m really curious how that manifested for you.
“I think the inspiration was there just with everything we were just talking about. And as far as just writing music goes, during all the downtime from touring, I don’t know, I found myself in a position like I couldn’t really turn it off. Which I was grateful for, and I still am grateful for, looking back on that time. Because I don’t think it was that easy for a lot of people to do what they typically do during that time. And again, obviously, there’s elements of what I do that were impossible during that timeframe, but at least I was able to write.
“It kind of just kept coming, and I’m fortunate to be in a band with very supportive and reasonable people for the last 20 years who, when I told them early on, I was like, ‘Man, I got a lot of ideas, I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m just going to put my head down and work them out to a point where I think they’re really at a point of sharing.’ And I did just that, and I spent a lot of time working on these ideas before taking them to the guys, and once I took them to the guys, we finally all got together for the first time in a long time, for obvious reasons.
“And everyone kind of left their mark on it, and for the angriest record we’ve ever made, it was the most fun I’ve ever had making a Flatliners record. and I think part of that was because we hadn’t seen each other, we hadn’t been able to get the four of us in the same room for almost two years. It was emotional when we finally got back together. It was the first time since we started the band when we were in high school that it had been that long since we’d all been together. So to come together and make what we made, it feels powerful. For us, those moments, it felt like we were doing something really good, and I’m glad you enjoy it. I think it’s our best record too. I think every new record of ours is our best record, though. Because if it’s not, what’s the point, I guess?”
I know; I think it’s a band’s job to hype that when they put a new album out. But then it goes out to the masses; the music is really no longer yours, except that you perform it. It’s what everybody else thinks about it, and I think they’re really going to like what you’re putting forward.
“Thanks, man. I hope so. At least there’s four of us, and now you, so five of us that think so. But it’s true. One, you can spend all this time working on this thing that you’re so close to, and it’s a part of you. All the songs, they’re all pieces of you. It’s true and strange how it works, but no true value is put on that music until someone else hears it.”
Would you be able to share a bit of insight into how you approach your lyrics? Do you tend to pick a theme or write to it?
“This time that was the case. But again, I didn’t really have to choose a theme. The theme was kind of laid out there for me, it felt like. Just everything I was looking at and reading, and watching, and hearing. But yeah, that’s definitely true this time around. Typically in the past, like I said, it’d be a lot of songs about being on the road or the things you missed, just because that was my life, that was our life as a band for so many years, And all the insular experiences, isolating experiences, and also unifying experiences, I suppose.
“On the other hand, speaking of touring a lot, and traveling a lot, and being away a lot; obviously, what we do for a living is super fun; performing music with your friends is a dream job, but at the same time, the older you get, the more responsibilities you have. Life inevitable changes for everyone, so it’s not without its sacrifices. Not to sound dramatic or drab, but it’s true. We’re not the same 17-year-old kids that we were when we first started touring right out of high school. Things have changed. But this time with New Ruin, lyrically, I was just very angry in my day-to-day life.
“Reading the news and just learning about everything that’s been going on in the world and everything. And some of these things aren’t new. It’s not new behaviour. It’s just that I finally took a moment to really consider them all. But the fact that a lot of these behaviours we were starting to see in people? We were all starting to learn about the world at large in so many ways; the most frustrating thing is that a lot of those things have been happening for hundreds of years, so it’s completely embarrassing and infuriating and all these things. So when I was just kind of having this rage building up about the state of the world that the theme was chosen for me. And I think that the music then has to match that intensity of what I was feeling, and I think it does.
“I think we really got in there, and we didn’t have to work very hard to get there; it just kind of happened. Lyrically I’ve never been able to write about stuff that I like, really. At least not with The Flatliners. It’s always been an outlet for the things that enrage me or the things that I wish I could change. Or the things that I want to work on myself. All those kinds of things. And yeah, there’s a lot of anger on this album; I think that’s pretty clear.”
There aren’t really a lot of up-tempo, happy-place punk rock songs, though.
“Yeah, it’s funny that we pull that trick on people. We’ve pulled that trick on people a lot over the years. I can’t remember what the record was; it was either Cavalcade or Dead Language, but at one point, we were getting close to finishing the record, and we were going through the liner notes and everything as a band. Then the guys started reading the lyrics, and Scott turned to me at one point and said, ‘are you ok?’ after reading the lyrics. I said, ‘I’m fine, I have an outlet, I’m good.’
“This allows me to let it out. If I didn’t have this outlet, I wouldn’t be as evened out as I might seem to be or something. But I don’t know; it’s nice to have the outlet. Not everyone is so lucky to have an outlet like this. I understand that, but I hope that everyone gets a glimpse of something in their life or has a hold of something in their life that makes them feel like they can take the edge off. And feel like you’re doing something positive.”
I really like “Top Left Door.” And if you just sort of shut out the lyrics and just listen to it as a song, it’s pretty up-tempo and fun.
“That song is one of the first songs that was written for the album, actually. That was sitting around for quite a while. And especially lyrically, that one comes from a bit of a different place than a lot of the other songs because that song is basically just about missing the people in your life or missing the life that you once knew. It’s strange because that song was written in 2019. And if you kind of look at the lyrics a little bit, it seems kind of like a COVID song, but I guarantee it is not a COVID song. I don’t think the world needs more of that. It’s something we’ve all lived through, but I don’t know if it’s a moment we’re all going to want to go back to.”
Have you had any lineup changes over two decades?
So it’s you guys, full-on, 20 years in.
“Yeah, the same four guys.”
Most marriages don’t last that long, sir.
“I’m hoping mine does (laughs)!
You are also on the coolest label in the world, Dine Alone Records. From the outside looking in, it appears to be the best place to be a band. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I kind of feel like it is from the artists that I talk to. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like being under their umbrella?
“Yeah. Dine Alone is a great record company run by people who truly love music. That’s kind of all you can ask for. That doesn’t happen that often. I think we’ve been lucky over the years; the labels we’ve worked with have all been that. But there are a lot of record companies out there that aren’t necessarily like that, or maybe not to that level. Yeah, the staff, the folks at Dine Alone are rampant music fans. They also have such an eclectic roster, which is very cool, and I think that is the proof of them being such fans. It’s not just that they love punk music or rock music or whatever, there’s so many things under that umbrella, and it’s been a success. Look at the bands they have; they have some of Canada’s biggest bands on the label.
“We have really great friendships with people there, and our relationship with Dine Alone started with Dead Language, which came out on New Damage, which is more like punk (even maybe now these it’s the more hardcore), heavy end of things. But then, with Inviting Life, the way that record turned out, it made more sense for us to put it out on Dine Alone instead of New Damage, given the kind of sonic nature of things, which was cool because then we were able to grow. It’s cool that this kind of movement is available to bands and allowed to happen. Because Dine Alone doesn’t care, they just wanted to put out records. They want to put it records they like; they want to put out records they love; they want to work with bands they are fans of. It’s nice to be included in that, absolutely. It’s been cool to see just how far they’ve taken it.
“We filmed the video for ‘Performative Hours’ at the Dine Alone office. It’s this stunning space with an event room, and a bar, and obviously, it’s like the office is a whole other part of the building. But the warehouse is there, and then this commercial-grade kitchen. That scene where the characters Ron and Moira are in the kitchen, like that Food Network looking kind of part of that video if you’ve seen it? That’s Dine Alone’s offices. They’re doing some good work, and it’s nice to be involved. It’s cool that sometimes very successful labels want to stick their fingers in the pie, so to speak, when an artist is making music. And that has never happened with us. We’ve kind of never allowed that to happen with any label we’ve worked with, but we’ve never had to fight anything that hard. I want that to be clear; with all the years on FAT, and now we’re back on FAT, and all the years on Dine Alone, no one’s ever tried to get in there and say, ‘what if you tried this?’
“That does happen a lot in the music industry, in the music business, but I think Dine Alone and FAT are both labels who trust the artist to be an artist and trust us to bring them something that they’re going to enjoy and that at least we’re proud of. Because that’s really where it starts. And we’ve never felt a need to explain ourselves, or we’ve never been in a position to fight creatively for something. They just let us do whatever the hell we want to do. That’s the dream.”
It looks like you’re going to spend a chunk of the summer in Europe, and then you’re going to tour North America in the fall. Does it feel a little surreal to have tour dates booked like that?
“Yeah. I’ve been on the road myself since last September, and it’s varying degrees of things panning out and things being postponed. It’s all been pretty good. The first kind of trip anywhere feels bizarre. It’s something you’re so used to, but then it’s been taken away, and you haven’t done it so long now that it’s kind of strange. But there is an evident feeling out there of people being really excited to be back at shows. To really be seeing the bands they love and singing along.
“And we just wrapped up a couple of tours now. We just wrapped up a quick Midwest run of shows. Some of those cities are the best cities for our band in the U.S. Specifically in Cleveland and Chicago, and those shows were insane. And it feels great to be back out there; there’s definitely an extra kind of gravity to everything; there’s more weight to things. You want people to feel safe at your show.
“That was always the case, but now there’s on top of all the other reasons, there is everything we’ve just all lived through. You want to make people sure that we understand the responsibility; we want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable. We also want to make sure everyone’s having fun. And we want to make sure we’re having fun, that we are safe, and that everyone’s kind of taking care of everyone. It’s impossible to control all those things, but at the same time, it’s the very least you can do is to be mindful of this kind of stuff, to just kind of enjoy it. Not enjoy it while it lasts, but enjoy it because we know that it was taken away from everyone that does this for a living, or even just as a fan so quickly.
“So I think everyone in maybe my position and is a lover of music, and a concertgoer’s position has that in the back of their mind. Let’s enjoy it because you never know. But it is surreal. We went to the UK in May, and that was very surreal to get off the plane and feel like, ‘ok, there’s an ocean between us and where we live!’ It was very reminiscent of going to places for the first time back in the day.”