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Interviews, Music

Interview: Cancer Bats Talk “The Spark That Moves”, Winnipeg Love, and “Hail Destroyer” 10th Anniversary

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Cancer Bats. (Photo: Asad Aman)

Cancer Bats. (Photo: Asad Aman)

Juno Award-nominated, Canadian hardcore punk band, Cancer Bats are back with their first new album in two years, The Spark That Moves, which came as a surprise release at 12:01 am on April 20th via Bat Skull Records/New Damage.

The Spark That Moves follows the band’s 2015 album, Searching for Zero, which landed Cancer Bats their fourth Juno Award nomination for Metal/Hard Music Album. Recorded in Winnipeg, under the watchful eyes and ears of J.P. Peters (Propagandhi) at his studio Private Ear and mixed by long-time collaborator and award-winning producer Eric Ratz, (producer of Hail Destroyer, Bears Mayors Scraps & Bones and Dead Set On Living), The Spark That Moves is Cancer Bats at its finest. Combining all of the elements from their last five releases, the 11 tracks that make up the album blend together the band’s most melodic moments with their most aggressive, becoming a savage sprint of hardcore, punk, sludge, and metal that leaves the listener craving more. Drummer Mike Peters and lead bass player Jaye Schwarzer seamlessly collide together like two wild beasts, while guitarist Scott Middleton blasts his signature layers of squeals and destruction over top. All of this thunderously led by singer Liam Cormier’s now fully formed melodic growl as he fires both positive, inspiring lyrics and scorching damnation as displayed on album opener “Gate Keeper”.  Without skipping a beat, they fire on track two, “Brightest Days”, shifting back to a classic Bats positive party anthem. The record seamlessly keeps this pace of raw, catchy, anthemic, metal and punk. Halfway through it breathes with the melodic standout “Bed Of Nails”, a touch of desert rock they add into the mix before diving back into the chaos that is “Head Wound”. This pace continues right until the crushing album closer “Winterpeg”, an ode to the very city they recorded in, featuring guest vocals from Chris Hannah of the legendary Winnipeg punk band, Propagandhi.

In our new interview, frontman Liam Cormier discusses the making of The Spark That Moves, his love of Winnipeg, the 10th anniversary of their beloved second album, Hail Destroyer, and more!

Why did you decide to surprise release this album?

The biggest reason for it is that we’re charge, and it was our call. We had a deal with BMG before, but they had some personnel changes, so we hadn’t heard from anybody in a really long time. It was rad working with Alexi [Corey-Smith], who was the head of the label at the time, but then we heard that she left, and so we were like “what’s the deal?”, and BMG was like “you guys are out of contract. Did no one tell you?” I can understand that different people have different visions, but I realized that Cancer Bats is Cancer Bats and The Rolling Stones are The Rolling Stones, and there’s a big difference.

While we were touring for Bat Sabbath, we had a lot of free time because our drummer had a baby, so we were already kind of taking the year of anyway, so we were in absolutely no rush. It was sort of like, “let’s see if we can make a record, and whether we still like doing this,” which made it very relaxed because nobody bothered us. And we had all these fans who were excited about new music at those shows, so it was way more motivating to finish the record. And by the time we toured the U.K., I was like “oh yeah, let’s for sure do this,” but we also wanted to set a firm release date because if we weren’t setting any deadlines I don’t think we would have ever finished the record, so that’s why I set the release date for around the Hail Destroyer 10th anniversary shows.

At that point we didn’t even think we were going to have anyone involved so we thought we were just going to put it out online and just press the records ourselves and maybe sell them from our website because we had no formal record deal because we didn’t really have any interest and we don’t understand how actual record distribution works so who cares we’ll just do it.

How did New Damage Records come into the picture?

That was when we were hanging around [Dine Alone Records] and they asked us about the new album and we told them that we had a lot of crazy ideas, and that we wanted to do this surprise release and they’re like “totally cool”. They helped us put it out ourselves and also handled the distribution side of things too.

What did producer J.P. Peters bring to the table?

He’s a phenomenal guy who none of us knew except for Mike [Peters], who recorded with him back in the day. We knew about his work because he recorded the last two Propagandhi records and those rip, so that was our whole decision. We were like “Propagandhi rules, and these records sound great,” and the studio was in Winnipeg, which is a city we love, and is where Mike lives, and more importantly where his baby lives, so he could be close to home and be a dad. When we showed up we realized that J.P. is a musical genius with perfect pitch, and someone who can play violin, piano, and he can also shred a guitar. He also used to tour in a ton of hardcore bands and he totally gets D.I.Y. hardcore, so it was the perfect kind of match without any research on our part.

Not many people say they love Winnipeg

Dude, Winnipeg is the best.

I mean, The Weakerthans, maybe.

I don’t even know. John K. Samson I guess doesn’t even live there anymore. I like Winnipeg. I think it’s definitely a city that I’ve grown to love because I think if you don’t have the right people to show you around it can be a really intimidating place.

I was going to ask about the new track “Winterpeg”, and it’s connection to the city.

There isn’t a more metal city than Winnipeg. I love the fact that there is so much art and culture that comes from Winnipeg. Plus the fact that the weather is so harsh, where it’s so cold in winter and so hot in the summer, and it’s super landlocked, and you have to drive really far if you want to do anything, so I really love that aspect that despite all of these things that people would see as negatives, there’s this great art community where there’s tons of bands, and different things happening, and so I was like “oh, that’s like super metal.” You’re like surviving against the odds.

Between your last album, Searching For Zero, in 2015, and this record, how have you guys evolved as a band?

A lot of what’s changed from Searching For Zero to now was all of the things that we learned from making that record. We’ve gone on to apply that to what we are as a band because we wrote that record before we met Ross [Robinson], and Ross helped us a ton with that album. The album is really important in terms of us dealing with a lot of really heavy negative things that happened leading up to Searching For Zero, and Ross helped us tap into that emotional energy and make it really raw and dark, and I love that aspect of it. Ross is such an amazing, positive person that everything we learned from him we injected it into The Spark That Moves, so I’d say that Ross should be credited for this album as much as he was on the last one even though he wasn’t there in the studio with us.

I feel the same way with Birthing The Giant to Hail Destroyer, where we learned so much from Gavin Brown. But then when it came to record Hail Destroyer, we couldn’t afford any producers, so we just took all of those important things that we learned from him and we applied that to the songwriting. Plus, we didn’t have enough time working with Gavin to even fix all those songs, so I felt like a lot of that teaching that he imparted on us was why Hail Destroyer is such a well-written record.

Cancer Bats surprise released their new album, The Spark That Moves, on April 20th.

Cancer Bats surprise released their new album, The Spark That Moves, on April 20th.

I love the brief piano intro to “Fear Will Kill Us All”. Was there any creative reluctance to incorporate elements like piano that don’t often appear in hardcore songs?

By that point when Jaye [Schwarzer] and I came up with that idea, we were already sequencing the record, and we were already deep into working with J.P., who was pushing a lot of different ideas. He was like “we should put organ on “Brightest Days”, so it was that idea that I was listening to how hard “Headwound” sounds, which is probably the most brutal song on the record, and so I wanted there to be a breather between “Headwound” and “Fear Will Kill Us All”, and I wanted it to have a little bit of a reset kind of moment.

You guys faced the imminent threat of homelessness in between your first and second albums, where you basically lived on tour and struggled to live off of tour for any extended period of time. What did you learn during that time about being a touring band and making a living as an artist?

I guess the only thing I would say is that we weren’t really worried and it was more that we embraced it. That’s what Hail Destroyer is all about in terms of embracing that idea of being reduced to nothing so then you’re appreciating everything. I always hesitate to say “homeless” because I never want to be disrespectful to people who actually go through that, because we were choosing to live this lifestyle of just constantly being on tour, and it was in doing that when someone welcomes you into their house like when you have a place to live it’s very different than when you don’t and when someone is so kind to just be like “you can sleep on my floor”, and that means so much more now that I have nothing. And that’s where the idea for Hail Destroyer came from where it was like “let yourself be reduced to nothing and everything will be so great as a result.”

The guests featured on Hail Destroyer looks like a whos-who of early-to-mid-2000s punk with Tim from Rise Against, Wade from Alexisonfire, and Ben from Billy Talent. How did those collaborations come about?

All of those guys were just people we toured with in 2007, so with Billy Talent, who we had done an extensive US tour with and became really close friends, and then Alexisonfire, who we toured the world with, and then Rise Against, who because of Alexisonfire and Billy Talent’s recommendations, we toured with those guys and became super good friends as well, so I really like that all the guest vocals were guys from bands that were selling hundreds of thousands of records and we are just some super small punk band, but because we had these genuine relationships, there were like “of course I’m going to bed n this record”, and that was sick. We were writing Hail Destroyer while we were on tour with all those guys and Tim [McIlrath] was around while we were working on those songs, and then we toured with them in the States, we were actually playing those songs on stage, and he eventually agreed to sing on the record.

With a record like Hail Destroyer, that was the album that served as a gateway to punk and hardcore. What was that record(s) for you?

I would say probably say Snapcase’s Progression Through Unlearning (1997) because that was a huge hardcore album for me, or maybe Sick Of It All’s Scratch The Surface (1994), because I think of the ’90s me and the kids that I met at that time, so 10 years later in 2008 this 18-year-old kid finds out about hardcore or this sixteen year old kid is watching Much Music and finds out about hardcore.

Probably by watching The Punk Show

Yeah, exactly.  So I think of those same sort of gateway kind of things when you’re like “oh, this is what hardcore is” and someone else is like “yeah, Youth of Today is hardcore”, but this other band is punk.

How do you differentiate between hardcore and punk?

I think of punk being a lot of the mentality and hardcore being like the mentality of the D.I.Y. kids.

Punk is the mentality, and Hardcore is the sound

Yeah, or I think of both of them blurring together because I always think of it being fiercely D.I.Y. and self-motivated, and those I think are more the idea that is punk and hardcore then almost musically in a lot of ways. When you’re screaming versus melodic singing, there’s a difference. If you’re really passionate about something that you can’t communicate any other way other than screaming and you’re not screaming to be cool but because there’s some sort of emotional connection to it, than to me that’s what hardcore is, and that’s what hardcore punk kind of comes from. And then that would be my definition of where metalcore is different because you’re using it as more of a style versus something like hardcore where it’s just like there’s no other option.

Purchase or stream The Spark That Moves HERE

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