“We needed to grow beyond what we were. We needed to make an important record” – hmv.com talks to Cancer Bats
For a band like Cancer Bats, who are as punk rock as they come, the decision to go with a major label is probably the biggest choice they’ll ever make. But, as they tell us in this interview, their choice was simple, they could go back to studios they knew, to producers they knew they were comfortable with, to a touring path they’d trodden before, or they could change it up, and change it up big time.
Their new album Searching For Zero (which is out on March 9th) isn’t a major departure from the aggressive, turbo-charged hardcore of their older material, but it’s just that bit slicker, that bit more controlled and that bit better.
We talk to the band about life on a major label, working with notoriously hard taskmaster Ross Robinson and searching for absolute zero…
Searching For Zero is finally out on Monday, how long did it take you to make it?
Liam (Cormier, vocals): “We finished it in June last year and mixing and mastering took the rest of the summer. It was all done by August. Making it was awesome, we started right after we finished touring in support of Dead Set On Living and we took a couple of months off, just some time to get away from touring and we all started on ideas.”
Mike (Peters, drums): “We did a Canadian tour that really got us pumped and made us want to write again. We were doing an hour of Cancer Bats and then Bat Sabbath (Cancer Bats’ alter ego who cover exclusively Black Sabbath songs), it got us right back in the mood, we got our riff brains on.”
Scott (Middleton, guitar): “We wrote every day after that, we were literally writing a song a day, going through every riff idea, we wound up with like 25 songs, lots to work with.”
Jaye (Schwarzer, bass): “We had a tour after that and then Christmas off, we came back to all these songs and we pretty quickly we knew which ones sucked and which ones were pretty good.”
Liam: “We jammed those and tightened them up until we got the call to find out we’d be working with Ross (Robinson). We did as much pre-production as we could, we basically wanted to walk into the studio and show him ‘Look man, we have actually been working’.”
How did you end up working with Ross Robinson? He’s a big name, pretty much every person with an interest in heavy music over the last 20 years has grown up listening to albums he produced…
Liam: “He was somebody we’d talked about, but just in the way you throw around ideas. It was our manager in LA, he’d heard he was starting to produce bands again, but only bands that he was really pumped on.”
Mike: “We obviously thought ‘Wow that’d be cool’, but we’ve never really recorded outside of Canada, we don’t have huge budgets. It was cool that we had a new label who actually said to us ‘Who do you want to work with?’ and find out that Ross wasn’t too concerned about budgets either.”
Liam: “We didn’t need the same budget as The Cure, thankfully.”
How did you find working with a big-name producer?
Liam: “We wanted to try something completely different, we knew what we could make an awesome record with Ratz and Kenny (Eric Ratz and Kenny Luong, the band’s previous producer) again and have a tonne of fun, but we didn’t want to make Dead Set On Living part two. We said to each other let’s get someone who will push us, who will throw ideas at us, Ross really pushed us too, he wants to try anything.”
Jaye: “He doesn’t mess around either, ideas get a couple of minutes to work and then if they don’t they’re thrown out completely.”
Were you intimidated by him?
Liam: “Yeah, at first you hear so many crazy stories that you can’t help it. He is really impressive and really aggressive too, he’s this softly spoken dude, but he’s just got so much energy. He’s not scared of anyone, if he walked into a room with Metallica he’d be quite prepared to tell all those guys to ‘F**k Off’ and he wouldn’t give it a second thought.”
It’s a more polished record, it’s much bigger than your other albums…
Liam: “There’s a lot more going on. It’s more polished, but weirdly this feels like the most live record we’ve ever made. We learned so much more about how many pieces you can add and how you can really pull records apart.”
Jaye: “We really wanted something more. We knew we had to move on.”
Scott: “I knew we needed to be challenged, to break into something new, we needed to grow beyond what we were and make an important record. We needed to stand out, to be apart from everyone else in 2015, we didn’t want people saying ‘Same old Cancer Bats, another heavy record’. So much of heavy music is the same, with digital recording you can get everything perfect, just with no personality. I wanted us to sound nothing like anyone else.”
What kind of record is this lyrically?
Liam: “There was a lot of heavy stuff going on, a lot of deaths, a lot of hard times for our friends, a song like ‘Arsenic’ is full of that pain, it’s a super heavy song. There are mellower parts, but it’s still us channelling us a lot of negativity. A lot of the stuff is about coming through that pain.”
Is that where the title comes from?
Liam: “It’s about coming through all that. Once you feel like you’ve found true zero, there’s nowhere else left to go, no more bullsh*t, you have to work your way back up.”
Jaye: “We re-evaluated everything making this album, this had to be the best record we’d ever done, it had to set us apart. The title represents all that.”
Scott: “When Liam came to us with the title, no one even had to ask what it meant, we all just knew, it connected us all.”
You’ve talked a lot about how this had to be different, why did you feel like you needed to make the change?
Liam: “I knew at the outset that I didn’t just want to write another record so we could go on tour. I didn’t want a record with one or two singles and that would enable us to tour for the sake of touring. Everything had to stop.”
It sounds like the last touring cycle was a bit difficult…
Liam: “The shows were some of the best we’ve ever done, but a lot of stuff was going on at home. We were playing the best shows and then coming off on stage to find out our friends were sick and dying. Playing live is the best, it’s other 22 and a half hours of the day that made that hard.”
You’re now on a major label, how did that change come about?
Liam: “We were out of contract everywhere. We met people from BMG at the festivals and they were super cool and it made sense.”
Mike: “It was great to meet new people who are super into the band and want to take us to the next level.”
Scott: “A lot of heavy bands don’t last past 10 years, but they want us to go even bigger.”
Are you going to tour as hard as you ever did?
Liam: “I think we know we have to make the shows and the tours count now. We can’t do 400 shows a year anymore, we’re older and we need to work out what’s best for us. We’ll still be on the road all the time, but we’re going to choose when and where.”
Cancer Bats’ new album Searching For Zero is released on Monday (March 9th), you can pre-order it now in hmv stores across the UK.