“I’ve been very unwell and I needed to talk about that” - Bury Tomorrow’s Dani Winter-Bates talks baring his soul on new album Cannibal
The conversation surrounding mental health has gone from being non-existent to fundamental over the last few years. Not only are more and more high-profile people speaking out about their own circumstances, it’s now a key part of marketing for so many of the world’s biggest brands and increasingly prevalent in education.
One person who has done more than most in that regard is Bury Tomorrow frontman Dani Winter-Bates. As the band toured their 2018 record Black Flame, Winter-Bates facilitated safe spaces for fans where mental health provision and mindfulness can be discussed, while he’s also a manager for the NHS in his day job.
And, for his band’s new album Cannibal, he has produced a deeply personal, stark record which goes in deep about his own struggles with mental health.
Sonically steeped in the band’s traditional mix of steel-plated riffs and ferocious metalcore, Cannibal has been recorded with Kids In Glass Houses/Enter Shikari man Dan Weller. It’s the band's sixth LP and their most accomplished to date.
With the album on shelves now, we spoke to Winter-Bates about why he’d decided to be so open on this new album and why he’s champing at the bit to get back on tour...
When did you start collecting songs for this album? Did you start during touring?
“We’re always writing. Daws (Guitarist Kristan Dawson) is always writing riffs and constantly sending me demos, he keeps me at it. We knew that we had studio time booked in for the summer of 2019, which was just after we came off tour, so it was building towards that. We collect and then we get together for pre-production to really get started.”
You’ve worked with Dan Weller, who produced Black Flame, again on this album? Were you always going to keep that relationship going?
“We’ve known Dan for years and years. He did our very first record. He’s a very old friend, we really trust him and he’s an absolute expert when it comes to songwriting in our field. This album isn’t at the same level as Black Flame, it’s much better, but even if it were an identical piece of work, the production would still be first class.”
Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do differently with this album?
“We wanted to have a different mixer and getting Nolly (Adam "Nolly" Getgood) was massive for us. We knew he and Dan would work perfectly together, they’ve done it in the past. We got the best of both worlds, familiarity for them, but a real step up for us.”
How was recording? You used a couple of different studios. Was it a smooth process?
“We did the drums and rhythm guitars in Nolly’s studio, then we went back to Vale Studios in Worcestershire, which is where we made Black Flame. We’re quite a comfortable band. We like to feel happy with our surroundings and really trust the location. The subject matter for this album is difficult. It didn’t to be exaggerated by having a stressful time in the studio. We spent a lot of time in pre-production making sure we were ready to get it down. We always work hard, but we like to be comfortable.”
Did that mean you knew which tracks were going to make the record?
“We always have a good sense of that. I know it’s the fashion for albums to be really long for streaming platforms, but we wanted an album that was short and sweet. The songs were lending themselves to being direct and a short tracklisting fitted with that. We’ve 11 on the album and we laid down about 15, so there’s a few for the deluxe and reissues if it comes to it.”
Was a short album the plan going in?
“It’s not a rule in the band. We’ve never sat down and all agreed to never go over a certain number. If there were 15 great songs, they’d all be on the album. This is just the best thing to get the music across.”
You’ve been very open about the facts that the lyrics address your own mental health in quite stark terms. Did you make a decision to be open? Or is it just what came out?
“It’s a bit of both. I wanted to talk about it. I’m the wellest I’ve been in a long time, but that’s taken work. I’ve been putting on safe space events up and down the country. It’s a big part of who I am and I needed to put my money where my mouth is. This band gives me a platform and Black Flame opened a lot of new doors for us."
"I talked it over with the others and we agreed if I was going to address it, it had to be head-on. If I’d be hinting at things or trying to be discreet, it defeats the whole point of my progress, which is to be open and honest with people.”
Did having such a clear sense of subject matter make writing lyrics easier or harder?
“It never felt like a rigid thing. But I’ve been very unwell and I needed to talk about that. It’s too easy to say it and then move on with your life. It’s never going to be something that isn’t an issue for me and lots of other people. I wanted to be honest about that in the lyrics.”
When did you decide on Cannibal for the title?
“It was the first one we all agreed on. Album names are really important to us. We spend a lot of time making sure we’ve got the right one and this one absolutely sums up the record.”
It fits perfectly with the artwork too…
“Nightjar (Adam Burke) is a genius. We asked him to do it, he sent us back a sketch and painted it up and we were blown away. It’s absolutely perfect.”
It’s your second record for Music For Nations, how’s the partnership going?
“They’ve given us a great reach. We’re signed to Sony in all but name and they’ve got real resources that we can deploy. We want to be a huge band. They want us to be a huge band.”
You’re happy with how things are going then?
“We’re the biggest band on Music for Nations. That’s a bit of a burden. You’re the flag bearers for a label. But they’ve bought into us. They want to push us on. That doesn’t mean that they’re standing over our shoulders, demanding we make our choruses bigger. We’ve always been autonomous. We’ve left labels and managers in the past who’ve tried to change us. Music for Nations know that. They don’t need to tell us to work hard. We always do.”
It’s a very odd time to release a record, you’d be in the thick of release shows now in normal times…
“This year will represent the longest time we’ve gone without playing a show since the band got started and easily the lowest in a year. It’s frustrating, but it’s not like we’ve made a mistake. We feel quite lucky to be at the start of an album cycle. There are lots of bands who were halfway through, big tours booked and real momentum and they can’t get that back. Bands who’ve broken through and were mopping up with a final tour. It’s those bands I feel sorry for.”
Do you have any sense of when you’ll be back out there?
“At the moment, 2021 is absolutely slammed full. We’ll be doing as many shows as we possibly can. So will a lot of bands, all trying to claw back the money they’ve lost this year. Bury Tomorrow has always been a very business savvy band. We know our value and we know that hard work pays off. We’ll be working very hard next year.”
Have you given any thought to the setlist you’ll be playing? You’ve got six records now…
“It’s getting silly. Especially for festival sets. 45 minutes is one song from each album, two at the most. You always want to put in as many new ones as you can, but we know our fans, we pay a lot of attention to which songs are getting traction and we’ll build the set around that.”
Have you used the time to do any more writing or are you taking stock?
“Daws has been back at it, but I needed a break. The nature of the songs for Cannibal, putting that all down, I just needed to stop.”