Already one of hardcore’s most universally valued bands thanks to their explosive live shows within extensive tour schedules, Canada’s Cancer Bats more than proved their worth with the release of Searching For Zero earlier this year.
The band’s fifth record clearly marks a turbulent and tragic period for the Toronto group, offering a gruelling, brutal honesty that steps out on untried ground wearing influences proudly on its sleeve. Recorded in Venice Beach, California alongside legendary producer Ross Robinson, Cancer Bats have combined the hardcore fury of their live shows with more expansive melodies that dutifully capture the raw emotions flooding from Liam Cormier’s vocals. It’s rare that a somewhat doom-laden album like this provides optimism, but there’s an unyielding resolve that grinds through the darkness. It rips like its predecessors, yet is clearly a more measured approach.
A band routinely tearing up 300+ shows a year, Cancer Bats have already crashed Searching For Zero through Europe and the US, as well as a number of undoubtedly frenzied shows in their homeland, and now back to the UK, which gave us a chance to speak to lead singer Liam Cormier.
When you’re writing a new record do you focus on how it works as an album or do you look for songs that would translate well live or is it just a coincidence when songs like “Devil’s Blood” sound so killer live?
Because we’re such a live band and that’s so much of what we do I definitely think we approach it more (around a live show) and you wanna be able to play the whole record. These are all the songs we’re gunna be playing live for the next two years so you kind of have to learn from mistakes we made on “Hail Destroyer” or “Birthing…” where it was “oh this is a song we can’t really play live, it works better on albums” so on “Dead Set On Living” we looked at that record like it was a setlist to crush from top to bottom.
Having been a band for ten years and to have a sizeable back catalogue how has the process of creating a setlist changed?
It’s what everyone agrees on; it’s definitely about putting in as many bangers as we can. We also gauge it because we hang out so much with kids at the show so for the most part when someone asks like when (for example) we were playing in Buffalo last week for ‘Drunken Physics’ I was like “we probably can’t play it tonight but we’ll figure it out for when we’re playing in Hamilton if you can make that show” – we try our best to accommodate.
Little touches like that aren’t what every band does though…
I think that goes with what we grew up with and what we knew about hardcore as we were getting into shows. We would always sit with the bands that were playing and you would just be in a hall or by their van outside so even though they’d just played to 300 or 400 kids they’re still all just dudes hanging out in the same way so that’s something we think you just do when you’re in a band. I also just like hanging out, I don’t wanna sit on the internet, I’d rather interact than watch videos of a panda sneezing – I can do that when I’m old!
What were the shows that stuck out most for you as a kid?
I think those old hall shows when we were younger and it would be at a community centre or the side hall of a hockey rink and you’d watch bands from Buffalo like Every Time I Die and Buried Alive and bands like Grade. Seeing Grade back in the 90’s just on the floor with kids going off was just such a good vibe.
Canadian bands seem to have such a great rapport, more so than a lot of other scenes
I’m sure that there is beef in Canada but it makes sense that you’re just gonna’ be friends with everybody because there’s probably only about twelve bands that’re actually doing anything. In the UK there’s such a bigger scene because you can have tons of cool bands from all over the place playing shows and able to do things themselves… in Canada it’s “there’s three bands from Winnipeg”. Especially for the metal bands like us being heavier, there’s barely any bands so when we find a band full of bros that you can hang out with you think “yeah let’s kick it, for sure”.
You do need to help each other out cos if some guys are gonna’ come drive 24 hours from Winnipeg to Toronto then let’s make it worth your while and it’s the same when we’re gonna’ come to Winnipeg if you guys can help us out to play a few shows round there then that makes it easier for everybody.
The new album feels very raw – was that deliberate or does it come naturally to you as a band?
No it’s definitely something that we wanna keep in perspective, as much as we’re getting older and listening to a lot of different stuff I realise that a lot of kids that started listening to us when they were thirteen are only twenty three right now so we try and think what we were like when we were twenty three year old hardcore kids. If your favourite band put out a record that sucks how bummed you would be. We approached it as fans because whenever my favourite band puts out a record I’m definitely worried they’re gonna’ blow it, I respect those bands that try and keep that in perspective. I always try and think of kids who have Cancer Bats tattoos and how I don’t wanna let any of them down, I’m sure that can happen but we do keep that in perspective when we’re writing a record.
It’s also quite bleak and deals with a lot of tragedy, were there times you felt like saying “fuck it” and giving up or did you have to write this album to express your emotions?
In a way writing about those things is therapeutic; it helps work through some of those things that you’re thinking and to come to a better place with it. On top of that to record it and tour a song that was really personal and have kids be like “this really helped me through a super hard time and I got a lot out of it” is cool because I really got a lot out of just writing it so the fact that it can help anyone else out too is amazing.
And how did you write something so dark in somewhere as nice as Venice beach?
The thing is that that was almost the end point so we’d kind of already dealt with those things and worked through it. We were only in Venice for three weeks so that almost was the reward for everything and a celebration – we’re still a band and we wrote this record, everything’s cool! These shitty things happen but it’s not like they made us want to quit doing this thing – we turn business now!
It almost sounds like a live record…
That’s 100% what it was, we were all packed in a room recording Mike’s drum take, just smashing it and not over thinking it by being too “oh does the cymbal sound OK?, is this the right tuning?” – It was just all the vibes. The bar was raised by the intense live show that we eventually played at Ross’ house and all the energy that that had we had to equal with our own performances.
And having Ross Robinson produce is definitely going to make you want to raise the bar?
Oh totally. His thing is that he knows every trick in the book, so you stop overthinking and just let it all go and just play the music that you naturally do every single night of tour.
Were you intimated by his reputation at all?
I knew his vibe from when we first spoke on the phone that this dude’s the best and he’s also the nicest dude. He’s no bullshit when it comes to pushing you to get the performance he wants to hear but it’s never in some mean spirited or malicious way – that performance is in you and he wants to bring that out.
You must be very excited to play with Danzig?
I’m totally stoked getting to tour with bands we grew up listening to, especially for us as a band that’s had our ten year, to see someone who’s been in music for thirty years, we always find that inspiring.
Anything left on the Bucket list?
After getting asked to play with Snapcase and Sick Of It All, I feel like the only thing we have left to do is play with Quicksand, Propagandhi and Metallica. We don’t really have any plans (for the next record) we just take it as it comes, if after touring the back of next year we’re ready to write a new record or have some ideas but the latest record’s still so fresh so to think of what’s next is tough wrapping our minds around. The one thing is we’ll definitely make more music, I know that for sure.
The Cancer Bats are currently on tour in the UK. Visit www.cancerbats.com for full tour dates.