Following on the heels of the widely-accepted shitstorm that was 2016, you most certainly don’t need a punk rock news website to break to you the fact that 2017 has been a bit of a weird year. In many ways, both nationally and globally, there seem to be a lot of previously uncharted waters being navigated socially, politically, environmentally, and on and on and on. Yet just because waters are uncharted doesn’t mean that they have to be inherently bad. Enter The Flatliners. Weird though it might be, the calendar turning to 2017 kicked off a series of fairly important milestones in the history of the long-running Canadian punk rock quartet. All four members turn thirty this year. The band itself turns fifteen, and their highly-regarded Fat Wreck Chords debut, The Great Awake, turns ten.
2017 also marked the release of the band’s fifth full-length album, Inviting Light, which as you’re probably well-enough aware by now, marks a bit of a departure for a couple noteworthy reasons: while it still contains its fair share of snarling, aggressive moments, is easily the most anthemic “rock-and-roll” album in the band’s catalog. IT also marks their first album on a new label, Rise Records, after a decade on pioneering punk rock label Fat Wreck Chords.
Dying Scene chatted over the phone with Flatliners frontman Chris Cresswell just before the band left for their current eastern US tour with new SideOneDummy signee Pkew Pkew Pkew and Red City Radio‘s Garrett Dale. Cresswell is honest and engaging, even over the telephone; his frequently digressing rapid fire delivery could fool one into believing he comes from Boston Irish stock (were it not for the fact that he’s charming and humble and self-aware and so obviously Canadian). Cresswell and his Flatliners brothers are very aware that this is a big year for them, and they’re very aware of what some of the grumblings on the message boards and comment sections of the internet might opine about their band’s recent direction. They also come across as okay with all of it. “I’m always curious what people think when we put something new out, for sure, and sometimes that’s difficult,” says Cresswell. He’s also well aware that, while paying attention to some of the critics is okay, there has to be a bit of a balance. “You can’t get caught up in what other people think, because if that were the case, bands would make the same record over and over again. Filmmakers would make the same movie over and over again. The arts would suffer if you always listened to your critics. It’s not a great idea to shut them out either, because it is nice to have that push to always be better no matter what you’re doing in life.”
Due in part to the landmark nature of this particular year within the band, Cresswell and company (the band’s lineup of Scott Brigham on lead guitar, Jon Darbey on bass and Paul Ramirez on drums remains unchanged for the duration) figured it was as good a time as any to mix things up. “You do the same thing for fifteen years as a band, and ten years with the same label, even if it’s all good, there’s a part of you that wonders if there’s something else you could try,” says Cresswell. He’s more than aware of how the move from Fat to Rise Records might look, particularly as Inviting Light has a bit of a different sound. None of those rumblings are true. This is 2017; it’s not about money, it’s not about their old label declining to put it out or their new label influencing their sound. It’s really just about branching out as a band. “When you grow up on fucking Fat Wreck Chords bands and then you become one and you are one for ten years and you reach a level of personal success and fulfillment that you never dreamed to be a reachable or realistic at all, it kind of inspires you to be like “this is cool…what do we do now?” and that kind of thing.”
The band had fun — a lot of it — recording Inviting Light, and in spite of the extended space between albums (their last full length, Dead Language, was released four years ago) they actually recorded it fairly quickly, albeit in two separate chunks a year apart. Where Dead Language was recorded live in studio using only the band’s road gear, the Inviting Light sessions saw the band change things up in that avenue too. Drums and bass were still recorded live because, well, because that’s how Jon and Paul seem to groove the best. They initially “played everything live but we just kept the bass and drums, and when Paul and Jon lock up, it’s insane. It’s incredible. In the two sessions we did which were essentially a year apart, they did twenty songs in like four days!” When it came time to record guitars and vocals, however Cresswell and Brigham holed up in a new studio with new producers Peter Pablo and Derek Hoffman and got experimental, playing with tones and textures until dialing working sounds in and ripping through final takes.
The result, as you know by now, is different; more major chords, more melodic, more straight-forward, a little more dare-we-say optimistic, especially when compared to Dead Language. As you might imagine, there’s a reason for that. Says Cresswell: “Before this record, I was in a pretty shit place. If you listened to or read any of the lyrics to Dead Language, it’s pretty fucking bleak, and that’s why that record is so angry and has such heavy elements to it. I was going through a heavy time on a personal level. Nothing dangerous, but I was having a really hard time being away all the time.“
Lyrically speaking, Cresswell has tended to paint a bit of an admittedly bleak picture. Even as a native of the Toronto area, living as a socially-aware human in the wake of last year’s US Presidential election has been bleak in-and-of itself. “There’s a lot of evil in the world, especially with what’s happened over the last couple years on a global scale.” We’ve all seen the think-pieces on how the age of Trump will at least inspire some good, angry punk rock, and we’ve already started to see aggressive, confrontational “punk” rock albums come out and tackle those issues head on. Though this may be counter-intuitive to a stereotypical punk rock ethic, maybe there are ways to attack the issue that are less in-your-face. Cresswell offers that maybe his band’s way of trying to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel — hence Inviting Light — can help some people through a bullshit time, though he acknowledges with a self-deprecating laugh how “super fucking noble” that concept sounds. “If you can be, even to a small population of people, somebody who can help them through a tough time, that’s sick! That’s what music did for me when I was a kid and it still does it for me today!“
Reflecting on being away for weeks or months at a time has been an ongoing thing as Cresswell and the Flatliners round the corner on 30 years old, particularly when you’re as inward thinking as the frontman is. Any potential ego trips are balanced — and probably eliminated — by what Cresswell calls a “rabbit hole of a self-imposed guilt trip that’s usually at play in a lot of folks who tour a lot because it is a pretty self-serving thing that we do!” The older the band gets, the older their respective family members and close friendships get, meaning additional priorities and perspectives become factored into the increasingly difficult equation. Still, especially in the punk world, the pull of the road doesn’t go away just because you’re no longer in your twenties. “There’s this insatiable desire in us to just hit the road. For instance, if you play Chicago and no one fucking comes, you’re going to go back like three months later and play there again. Punk bands are the only bands that will keep going back and playing even if no one fucking comes out, because it’s just about the experiences of the road, and being away, and the story and just fucking living in a van for real!“
While the runs might get a little shorter or more spread out, hitting the road is still very much what this whole thing is about for Cresswell and The Flatliners. So far, 2017 has seen the band already complete tours of Canada with bands like The Dirty Nil and, of course, Weezer, and Europe with their longtime buds in The Menzingers. The aforementioned tour with Pkew Pkew Pkew and Garrett Dale showcases just how varied the bands that fall under the umbrella of punk rock have become, in an inspiring way. Changes in the music industry landscape have equated to differing changes, and like many of us, Cresswell knows that when it comes to one band’s sound or one person’s musical interests, “your brain musically doesn’t have to stay in one lane. You can be into whatever you want to be into. I know today there’s a lot of pressure and social anxiety is through the roof and there’s a reason for it. Day to day, it can be a tough world to live in for a lot of people, you know? But where you should be able to find solitude is in the music you’re into if you’re a music fan. You shouldn’t have to worry about what other people think.”
Check out our full conversation below. There’s a lot of other ground covered, particularly surrounding the band’s decision to leave Fat Wreck Chords – and the yearlong process of actually leaving: “It felt like a break-up, man. It was so sad… I’m just happy that we were able to go about it in a way that everybody is still friends. There’s no bad blood fucking whatsoever.” Check out all of the Flatliners upcoming tour dates here.
(***Formatting note: Chris and I spent a few minutes chatting but we sorta got into the good stuff rather abruptly – so abruptly that we’ll start the text of the interview midstream***)
Chris Cresswell (The Flatliners): I just decidedly walked away from (Facebook) just because I think it’s a waste of fucking time. I think it’s either people bragging or complaining, trying to puff up their chests and make their lives look really cool or just shit on other people because they think what someone else did isn’t cool or whatever. Everyone becomes this weird expert and it’s pretty heinous. I don’t know, it’s the perfect snapshot — if some alien life form were to look down to Earth and be like “look at those motherfuckers – check out Facebook!” That’s all they need to just point and laugh at us! (*both laugh*) I’m always curious what people think when we put something new out, for sure, and sometimes that’s difficult, but you can’t get caught up in what other people think, because if that were the case, bands would make the same record over and over again. Filmmakers would make the same movie over and over again. The arts would suffer if you always listened to your critics. It’s not a great idea to shut them out either, because it is nice to have that push to always be better no matter what you’re doing in life. And let’s be honest: everyone’s a fucking critic now, in every walk of life! It’s unavoidable, but if you can find that balance between the two and be confident in what you’re doing and not let some hater get in the way, that’s great. They’re always going to be there. I started a band to have fun, but then you realize that you’re just writing the songs that you wish you had heard someone else write?
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Is that a conscious thing still? Are there either songs that you hear that you wish you had written or that there’s a sentiment you feel like nobody else has really written about?
I think that’s why everyone writes music; they love music. I think it’s a subconscious thing at first when you start doing it, and then you realize — I don’t mean this to sound like it’s coming from an arrogant place at all — but you just realize for yourself that when you do it so long and make writing music your life, that’s what you’re doing — you’re basically writing the music you want to hear yourself. You’re writing it because you haven’t heard that song by anyone else yet. Now, there are so many bands and artists out there now, so it’s pretty hard to come up with a 100% fresh idea, but that’s part of it too. Almost everything has kinda been done. I feel bad for bands just starting now, just on the subject now of what you name your band, you know?
Oh my god, yes I know! (*both laugh*)
And I don’t mean to say that there aren’t some new cool band names, but it’s fucking tough. But yeah, there are songs that definitely make you think “oh, I wish I wrote that,” but that’s also such an arrogant, self-serving thought. Then again, a lot of artists are fairly self-serving people! (*both laugh*)
That’s kinda the point, right?
Right! You can try your best to not be that, but it’s fucking who you are! (*laughs*) The whole thing is that you never see your family or a lot of your friends because you’re always on tour!
To back up a minute to the point about everyone being a critic, people give bands crap for taking a left turn or changing their sound or switching things up or changing record labels or whatever, but then those same people, particularly in this scene because we can be annoyingly fickle sometimes and bite the hands that feed us, but we’ll give crap to a band like Dropkick Murphys or like Rancid who have found a formula and it works and they keep doing it!
They don’t necessarily put out the “same” album, but they do what they do. And it’s the same people giving you guys or a band like Hot Water Music shit for changing their sound over the years will give those bands shit for keeping the same sound over the years.
For remaining great! (*laughs*) It does go so much further than just music — or just punk music. All in all, the community we’ve come up in in the punk world is a pretty amazing thing. We were able to spend a decade on Fat Wreck which was fucking nuts because that’s who got us into this in the first place when we were kids. It was incredible working with Fat. Everyone there was so great. With us, we were just curious what we could do with another team so to speak around a record. You do the same thing for fifteen years as a band, and ten years with the same label, even if it’s all good, there’s a part of you that wonders if there’s something else you could try. It’s not about fucking money. People are going to think that because we put this record out on a different label, that’s why it sounds stylistically a little different — which is untrue. And people are going to think that “oh, Fat didn’t want to put it out,” which is also untrue.
That’s what I mean when I say everyone’s a fucking expert. No one knows what happens behind the scenes with any band, with any of these situations. Luckily in the punk world, people aren’t talking shit all the time. It’s not like some other genres or some other professions; it’s a very supportive and understanding (place) for the most part. I mean, there is that whole issue about a lot of genres, especially punk music, being a boys club, but that’s being smashed to pieces, which is great. There’s a lot of great bands and artists who are women that deserve everyone’s attention. Sorry, I took a slight side-step there. It is largely supportive. But yeah, people become experts on everything, like “Rancid’s putting out a new album and it sounds like the last one.” And yeah, maybe…but that’s because Rancid is awesome! (*laughs*) Look at a band like Bad Religion. Bad Religion have a formula — and formula has almost become a dirty word, almost. They make incredible albums. Their most recent album, True North, was sick!
Yeah, that album is phenomenal!
It’s just a funny thing. When you take a step back and you realize what the common denominator is in all this shade that people throw around, it’s the internet. And it’s funny, because the internet has made it easier for any band to exist, so in that way it’s sick! It does level the playing field, so fundamentally speaking it is kinda cool. Freedom of speech is a real thing. It’s just a funny thing when you talk about music, and that music should just be about fun. And it is for a lot of people. We had a fucking blast writing this record and making this record, and there are some people we’ve met on the road over the last couple of months that have said “oh, I didn’t know about it at first, but it’s really grown on me.” And I’m like “that’s cool! That’s awesome!” But even if it’s not our band and it’s some other band or whatever, if there’s a record that you come back to if you initially don’t really know about it, that’s okay. We have other records that you might like (*both laugh*).
It’s been super fun though, playing new stuff live, mixing it in with stuff from our older records. It’s been really fun. We all started this band when we were super young and we all turn thirty this year, so we’ll still be young, but in road years, we’re pretty weathered! (*both laugh*) Maybe not weathered, but we’ve been hitting the road for more than ten years. This is our fifth record, and we feel like it’s a really reflective time to be in our band. It’s cool. I love it. We talk to the dudes in the Menzingers about the exact same thing. It’s a beautiful thing to kinda to compare notes, so to speak (*laughs*), to see what’s changed between 20 and 30, and you’re still touring and still making music and still doing what you love. And the thing is that we’ve had a lot of great people in our lives working with the band or fans of the band who have stuck with us and gone on this musical adventure with us, and that’s the fucking coolest, man. That’s the best part.
You talk about that journey…it seems from where I sit that The Flatliners are one of those bands, and The Menzingers are certainly another one, that it seems like have just been around forever. I did a story about Lucero a year or so ago, and I talked to a few people for it and everybody agreed that they’re a band that has always kinda been around; nobody really remembers when they started it just seems like they’ve always been playing, but when you got introduced to them sorta defines what their “sound” is to you, but they’ve obviously changed stylistically a lot over the years so they don’t really have a “sound” even though they’ve been around forever and have always played a couple hundred shows a year. I feel like that’s the same for the Flatliners too, so the fact that you guys are turning 30 this year — I’m turning 38 — fucking floors me! (*both laugh*) That is amazing to me.
It kinda floors us too! We started adding all these milestones up, and we kinda said “shit, a lot happens this year.” We all turn thirty, the band turns fifteen, we’ve got our fifth record out, our first record on Fat (The Great Awake) turns 10 this fall. It’s crazy. It’s awesome. And the thing with Lucero is that they know what works for them, man. They are a live, touring band that loves playing and writing music, so they’re always going to put out a new record every two, three, four years, whatever it is. It’s still what they want to do. I’m assuming — I’m not sure — but I’m assuming as far as their age goes that they’ve got about ten years on us, right?
Um, yeah, I know Brian (Venable) is forty-six, and I think he’s got a couple years anyway on Ben (Nichols).
Yeah, okay. The reason I bring that up is that I think it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing seeing bands like Bad Religion or Hot Water Music or The Bouncing Souls still fucking crushing it. These are the bands that I personally have grown up listening to, and then to be able to be in this band with some of these other bands and befriend some of these other bands and get the opportunity to see some of these bands years and years after they initially inspired me and have them continue to inspire me and so fucking many other people, it’s incredible. And it’s because live music is the fucking best!! (*both laugh*) Have you ever met someone who, when you ask them what they’re listening to, they say either “oh, I’m not really into music” or “I like listening to records but I don’t really like live music”? They have no soul! It’s scary! Who are those people!
Oh I know it. It seems so foreign.
What we do with our lives and what all those bands do with their lives as far as touring and whatever kinda comes out of necessity as well, because you’re not really sitting around waiting for your record to sell (*laughs*). No one can pull that off unless you’re like Tool or something. It’s out of necessity, but I don’t know, it’s also a really beautiful thing that the show is what it really is all centered around now. I think it’s great. Even a band like Lucero, you’re right, they just grind it out, man. So many bands do because that’s really what you’ve gotta do now.
But I think they know their fans are along for the ride with them and because of that they can take chances; they know that if they want to add a horn section to the band, they’ll add a horn section to the band.
Oh dude, I love that. (1372) Overton Park? That record is sweet. And it was right around the same time that a band like The Hold Steady was finally embraced —
–by the punk world. And now look at The Hold Steady, they’re heroes of modern day punk rock. They’re a punk band or a rock band or whatever you want to call them; genre is really just a way to define to your friend what some song sounds like. It’s cool, man. I really enjoy how the umbrella of punk rock and rock music has really stretched and really grown to include all of these sub-genres and offshoots and that kind of stuff. Like I mentioned earlier, especially with the inclusion of some really great female-fronted or female-represented bands, it’s a really cool thing, man. It’s an exciting time to be playing music, especially under that umbrella. If you consider what we do, and what we did on the new record, punk or not, that’s fine.
But we’re still under that umbrella, and that canopy of sound is so experimental now for rock and roll music and punk rock music that it’s just so cool, man. You’ve got bands like The Dirty Nil, from Canada, and who we just wrapped up a bunch of touring with, who to me sound like only themselves, but at the same time you can hear that early Weezer influence or early Nirvana influence. But the thing they do themselves, I’ve never seen another band perform that way. I’ve never heard a band really sound like that. You can hear where you think it’s coming from, but it still just sounds like them and only them. I guess the most exciting thing is that it’s tough to navigate through, meaning that if the modern-day state of punk rock music is a river and you’re in there with hip waders, you’re just going to hit a rock that you can’t get passed, and you’re going to say “shit, this is awesome! I don’t want to go anywhere! I’m going to slowly make my way to the next rock, which is only two paces down the river!” It’s cool that it’s grown so much. It’s fun to be a part of.
Oh certainly. I know that when I got into punk rock, in ‘92 or ‘93, somewhere in there, punk rock was, at least to us in our little community, basically one thing: it was Epitaph and it was Fat Wreck Chords, and that was almost it, and that was great. It’s all the music that we loved and that’s the same for a whole generation of people. But now, just look at the guys that you have on the road with you on this East Coast US tour: Pkew Pkew Pkew is completely different than The Flatliners, and you’re both completely different than Red City Radio or Garrett Dale, and yet it’s all “punk” now. It all fits on the same bill, and I don’t feel like that was typically the case at all twenty years ago.
It’s true, man. The age of the troubadour is back, and people are just going to do what they do. Like I said, everyone can be an expert and everyone can be a critic, but at the same time you’re not going to slow any band or any artist down from doing what they want to do. That’s always been a point of ours; to push the envelope and show the world how we see things. And again, like I said earlier, music is supposed to be about fun and expressing yourself, and if you can do it in a live show setting, which is the whole deal — that’s the point to what a lot of bands do, you might as well make it a fun, eclectic mix of genres. I was talking to this dude at a show I went to last week about that kind of thing, and we were talking kind of how we are talking now, about how cool it is that things have changed. He was at a show that we played in Toronto a week before, and the lineup on that tour was The Dirty Nil, as I mentioned, and this Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, who are just a badass rock and roll band.
So you’ve got a badass rock and roll band, you’ve got The Dirty Nil who have that 90s influence but have a real special and unique thing, and then you have us — a punk band or a rock band or whatever the fuck kind of band you think we are. It was a really cool mix, and this guy that I was speaking to about was interested in that, and I told him that it’s just fun to mix it up. Having Garrett Dale out on the road with us is super fun because I also do the solo acoustic thing from time to time and it’s a really liberating thing, and it’s so different than playing with your band, and it really throws you into a new kind of comfort zone, if any comfort zone at all! (*laughs*) I still get terrified sometimes when I play acoustic shows. And then you’ve got Pkew Pkew Pkew who are fucking definitely an awesome band and we’re psyched to bring them. They’re a Toronto band and they just signed to SideOneDummy, which is sick.
But you’re right, we are a different kind of band and that’s the point. Show people that you don’t have to — how do I put it — your brain musically doesn’t have to stay in one lane. You can be into whatever you want to be into. I know today there’s a lot of pressure and social anxiety is through the roof and there’s a reason for it. Day to day, it can be a tough world to live in for a lot of people, you know? But where you should be able to find solitude is in the music you’re into if you’re a music fan. You shouldn’t have to worry about what other people think. If you’re into this band or that band or whatever, that’s cool man. That’s the choice you get to make! It’s for you, and it’s for you to decide! Me and all the guys in the Flats have been, this year, a little more able if we’re headlining to choose a lineup that we tried our best to make it a bit of an eclectic show. I think people will remember that more than seeing, like, seven bands that all sound the same.
I prefer it like that, myself.
I think a lot of people do. I guess it’s not like we’re on to some new, revolutionary wave! (*laughs*) But I like that it’s gone that way.
True, but there are still people that are holdovers from the old days who want to see just eight Fat Wreck Chords bands or eight Epitaph — well, old Epitaph bands — and to call that a show. That’s what the Warped Tour used to be, you know?
Oh for sure. A couple summers ago, we did the Fat 25th anniversary tour which was exactly that. It was fun, but those tours can’t always happen, in part because of how many bands are on the tour. Logistically, you need it to be happening probably during the summer because you have a lot of bigger venues doing outdoor stuff for a show like that. So you kind of have to isolate those tours to a certain time of year. We were psyched to be on that tour, man. That kind of tour never happens anymore! Every one of these bands typically goes out and headlines their own show. Like we spoke of earlier, your hand has been kind of forced to take a crack at the touring thing rather than sitting back and seeing if your record sells Even the band that was on first that was on those Fat shows, you know that typically during the year they’re going out and doing their own tours too. It was in a good way that we thought that things like that don’t happen anymore, because it felt like a special thing to be a part of.
The band that was on first at least here, but I think in most places, was Bad Cop / Bad Cop who…
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I couldn’t remember, because they hopped on and off a leg or something.
Well yeah, and they had issues in the band and Stacey had her own issues involving drugs that she has talked about and has luckily put behind her. I was in Boston, and I want to say that that was the first show —
That was definitely the first US show. It started in Canada. So yeah, I think that’s where I got confused, because I don’t think Bad Cop did the Canada shows. They started in Boston. And that show was sweet!
Yeah! And they’re a great band in their own right!
Absolutely! But you’ll see Bad Cop go to Europe or do a West Coast tour or wherever and they’re headlining. So it’s cool to see that there’s this sliding scale of what’s possible. toyGuitar and Swingin’ Utters do a lot of shows together because they share a couple members. We’ll go out usually, more often than not and headline our own shows, unless there’s a sweet support tour opportunity, which, why would you not do that. Typically, bands — especially punk bands, who are so unlike any other kind of genre — are just going to go out there and play wherever they can fucking play, and play as many times as they can fucking play. We’re impatient people in this realm of music! (*both laugh*) We just want to get out there and fucking do it. There’s this insatiable desire in us to just hit the road. For instance, if you play Chicago and no one fucking comes, you’re going to go back like three months later and play there again. Punk bands are the only bands that will keep going back and playing even if no one fucking comes out, because it’s just about the experiences of the road, and being away, and the story and just fucking living in a van for real. It’s not an easy life, but it’s definitely a lot more interesting than just sitting around or going to the same job every fucking day.
Is that mentality still the same at thirty as it was at twenty?
I think it is, man. I mean, there are certain things in you that change. There are some things that shift, like responsibilities at home. I have a very incredible partner in my life who I still feel bad when I leave all the time, but they’re extremely supportive in what I do. And I’m not the only one in those shoes in our band. You do miss your family more and you do miss your friends more, because I do think at that age that things sink in more because you’re in your thirties and you become a dad, or your parents are getting older, or they’re retired so they’re chilling but that also means they’ve got a lot more downtime and that could be downtime that you’re spending together. Any example can bring you down this rabbit hole of a self-imposed guilt trip that’s usually at play in a lot of folks who tour a lot because, like how we started this conversation, it is a pretty self-serving thing that we do.
But, it’s a beautiful thing how no matter if you’re having a good day or a bad day on the road, one thing that will never change is that if you meet somebody that likes your music and tells you “man, this helped me through a pretty tough time,” that makes it all worth it. Because it helps me through a pretty tough time! Whatever it’s done for that person, it’s done for me, and that’s kinda what it’s there for. Lyrically, I usually paint a dark picture of a light at the end of the tunnel. But I feel like the light is pretty close, finally. As any person living today, I think every person is a work in progress. I think we all feel like that about ourselves. And that’s okay, because I think that’s what it is to be alive today. To try to be the best you can.
There’s a lot of evil in the world, especially with what’s happened over the last couple years on a global scale, with Trump and all this bullshit. It is definitely a difficult thing to live in the modern world, but if what we can do — and this isn’t trying to sound super fucking noble or anything (*both laugh*) but on that other side of the fence from that guilt trip we give ourselves about always being away, if you can be, even to a small population of people, somebody who can help them through a tough time, that’s sick! That’s what music did for me when I was a kid and it still does it for me today! It’s interesting being a part of that to some people.
I’m sure you’re aware of your reputation, not just yours personally but the Flats collectively as being like the nicest group of guys on the planet. That’s pretty much universally accepted as Gospel, I think. But having that sort of reputation but then writing from a sort of dark perspective where you’re chasing — like the new album is called Inviting Light — chasing that light at the end of the tunnel I think is what resonates with most people. There’s a lot of people who write about some really dark shit but they’re also really dark people, you know what I mean?
For sure! (*laughs*)
You have a way of musically, like on the song “Chameleon Skin,” which I currently think is one of my favorite songs by anybody —
Dude, thank you!
— and that happened quickly, where I pretty much knew from the first time through the chorus that, yup, I fucking get it!
(*laughs*) I’m glad you said that, and I’m going to blow your mind, because that song almost didn’t even make the record!
You know what, I was going to ask about that, because I have this fascination with songs that either end up as B-sides or almost don’t make records, because I feel like that’s where, almost 100% of the time, that tends to be the one that to me is either the best song or resonates the most but that was a little bit too hard a left turn or whatever.
I think, for us, we knew it was so different, and we had a bunch of extra songs that didn’t make the record, since we usually record a lot more than we need and then whittle it down. That’s always worked well for us. And that was one where we kind of hemmed and hawed for a while on it. We all loved how it turned out, but this is definitely a side of the band that no one has ever heard. So for a while, it was “do we do it now, or do we save this for something else where it can be a little more isolated and maybe not a little more special but where it could be on its own?” And then it was like, you know what man? Fuck it. It ended up being that that’s what we were doing on this record. At that point, we knew we were exploring some new territory, so it was just like, “might as well put it on, bud!” (*both laugh*) That song is a pretty good example of writing from a pretty dark place but being someone who likes talking to people and likes being in a band. I have a great life. I am a pretty happy guy, albeit an introspective guy, I guess. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, and sometimes I feel like it’s hard for me to turn my brain off. Usually I’m thinking about stuff that probably doesn’t really matter. There’s a lot of us in this world who are guilty of falling into that trap that your mind can set for you, you know?
Yeah, I’m guilty of that daily myself.
Writing this stuff helps me through whatever I’m going through, you know? And that’s different day to day, but then again I think that’s a part of just living these days; there’s a lot of weird waters to navigate and shit. But I think that before this record, I was in a pretty shit place. If you listened to or read any of the lyrics to Dead Language, it’s pretty fucking bleak, and that’s why that record is so angry and has such heavy elements to it. I was going through a heavy time on a personal level. Nothing dangerous, but I was having a really hard time being away all the time. I was not at a crossroads, but I was a young man trying to figure out what the fuck my life was really about and all these kinds of things. And then, in my personal life, some fucking rugs were pulled out from under my feet and it was really hard to deal with it.
But through all that, I was able to write that record with my buddies and to tour it for a few years and I would meet people who I guess it helped along the way too, so after that, I was like, “man, I’ve got a pretty good life!” And that’s where the whole “Chameleon Skin” thing came from. As much as I can give myself shit for, like, missing mom’s birthday — which never feels good — but you realize that, you know, I don’t really want to go back to that dark time where it was difficult to make it happen, and instead to just be who I am. I’m just trying harder these days to enjoy life, rather than look for a reason to question why something is the way it is. That’s where the Inviting Light thing comes from, in part. I definitely feel closer to that balance that everyone is kinda looking for. I feel much closer to having found mine than ever before, and that came through in the music. There’s a lot more major key, almost party vibes to the record. I know there’s some slower songs on the record, but we really worked really hard on trying to hone our craft as songwriters and see what we could do. And I mean, we didn’t really have a genre in mind when we did it, so if that’s something that a very purist punk fan doesn’t enjoy, then that’s too bad. But they can put on Cavalcade and have a ball, I hope! (*laughs*) That’ll always be there for them. But this is here for us as well. It’s here for everybody, but we’ve always written for us, and to make sure that we’re fulfilled — that’s self-serving as hell! — but that we feel confident in what we’re doing if we’re going to put it out. And that’s also why there’s so much time between our records. We want to take our time doing it. We tour so much, and this record and the last two, Cavalcade and Dead Language, we recorded in two big chunks with six-months to a year between recording sessions. We’ll just go on tour and sit on it, and we’ll come back and see “hey, do you still like that song? Cool, we’ll put it on the record” or “no, I don’t like that one so much anymore, so maybe that won’t go on the record but I’ve got this other new song!” So we’ve come up with our own formula as far as process goes, and it works, man!
Well, and you worked with different producers this time for the first time on a full-length. How did that influence the sound…or did that help influence the sound or the direction of the project?
Oh absolutely, man! The production on this record is a lot different than any of our other records. Cavalcade is a really polished record, but this one is polished in a different way. I think if you listen to Dead Language in anticipation of hearing to the new record and then put the new record on right away, there’s a stark difference. But again, I guess it does come from a place where every few years — not every one or two years like we’ve put records out in the past — but it’s a snapshot of your life and how you’re feeling about things and you always want to try something new. For Dead Language, what we wanted to try new was to do the record live. We were going to fucking go out and play it live anyway, so we figured we’d make it raw and just do it that way. We did that, and I love still to this day how that record turned out.
Oh so do I. It’s my favorite.
Oh thank you! When we got down to writing the new one, it was kind of a tough decision to go with someone new because we had done all of our other records with Steve (Rizun). We had done four records with him, and we just thought “hey, let’s try something else!” since we were already in the mode of trying something new. So we got together with our friends Peter and Derek — and Derek came into the process fairly late. We were working on pre-production with Peter, and he’s a really talented musician from Toronto who we all really admire and he’s become a good friend of ours. He can play a lot of instruments, and he has this knack for being able to pick up anything and just be awesome at it. He has a really rich background with more of the rock and roll side of the coin.
Then we started recording, and we did the bass and drums live in a studio in Toronto with Peter and there was kind of a part of us that wanted to do everything live again. When we got down to it, though, we thought that we didn’t need a whole large studio to get guitars and vocals sounding good on a record. But you should go to a nice bug studio if you can to get bass and drums because nothing beats a fucking loud, rock and roll drum kit in a sick live room at a studio. So once we realized that was the route we were going to take, we thought we didn’t really need to be in a big, expensive studio! (*laughs*) So we played everything live but we just kept the bass and drums, and when Paul and Jon lock up, it’s insane. It’s incredible. In the two sessions we did which were essentially a year apart, they did twenty songs in like four days!
They’re really good. They’re really, really good! (*laughs*) Scott and I were able to go to a different studio, Fox Sounds, which is Derek’s studio and is also in Toronto, and really get into tones with guitars with Peter and Derek. So it was me, Scott, Peter and Derek the whole rest of the time doing guitars and vocals. IT was just super fun, because Derek really comes from more of the pop side of things, so you’ve got us in the middle who are the punk guys, then you’ve got Peter on one side who is this rock guy and Derek on the other side who is this pop guy, and that’s why the record turned out the way it did. There are some real poppy songs on it, there’s some real rock-and-roll on it, but there are also some that I think could have been on Dead Language or Cavalcade.
Oh, I totally agree.
I have a biased opinion, obviously, but a song like “Nicotine Lips” could have been on either of our last two records. It was fun, man. We worked quick, man, but we were also explorative and experimental and tried a lot of cool stuff. It was kind of like measure twice, cut once. We’d fuck around with tone for a while, and then once we’d dial it in, we were able to just nail it. We’ve never worked that way before. Dude…Dead Language was our fucking road gear. We just plugged our road gear in and were like “this is it!” We did it live and it was super fun and it turned out great, but there are some songs that took a fucking while. When you add it all up, there’s one song in particular that actually didn’t even make the record that just took like all fucking day because a guitar wouldn’t stay in tune. We’d re-tune it and people would have to just sit around waiting all fucking day. For some reason, we just kinda clicked on the new one. We worked the quickest we’ve ever worked, I think we wrote some of the best work that we’ve ever written on this new record, it was a whole new, exciting experience because of all the new people involved.
Who had to break the news to Mike and Erin that you weren’t coming back to Fat?
(*sighs*) Ugggh…I did. That was tough, man. They were so fucking cool about it, though. We decidedly let them know probably about a year before anyone — like the general public — knew what was going on. We were thinking of making a move, and they were extremely supportive from the get-go about it. And I was out there a few times in San Francisco; when I was out there to record the Scorpios thing, I hung out with Erin and Chad from Fat and had lunch with them and talked to them about it at great length that time, but that wasn’t even the first time. We saw each other a lot in that twelve months where it was a well-known thing that this could happen. It felt like a break-up, man. It was so sad. I’ve told this story before, and I’m sure when some people hear me, they’re like “well, then why’d you leave?”
It was really just pure curiosity to see what we could pull off. When you grow up on fucking Fat Wreck Chords bands and then you become one and you are one for ten years and you reach a level of personal success and fulfillment that you never dreamed to be a reachable or realistic at all, it kind of inspires you to be like “this is cool…what do we do now?” and that kind of thing. It’s not that what they did was never enough; it’s definitely not that. Plus…we’ve got some shit up our sleeves too! (*both laugh*) We have some cool shit in the works. It was definitely tough to make those phone calls. I called Mike, I called Chad, I called Vanessa one by one. Everyone gets it, you know? It’s not like the situation is not without precedent; this has happened before. I’m just happy that we were able to go about it in a way that everybody is still friends. There’s no bad blood fucking whatsoever, everyone was well-informed about it rather than just us bailing. Because that sucks. I know bands have reasons to just fucking go and be like “surprise! We’re leaving!” I understand that those things happen, but I was happy that we were able to do it in a way that was like weening ourselves off of a drug! (*both laugh*)
But at the same time, having it out there for a year has got to be torture!
You know, it was a thing where, and you know, you do one album at a time with Fat. That’s the sickest thing with that label, because they understand that things can change. Your feelings about what you’re doing and the way in which you make it happen and your process of making a record and touring and all those things, they all make a difference. You can be an entirely different person and have an entirely different outlook on how you run your band two years after the last record came out. That’s why they do the one-album deal thing, man. They understand. By doing that, they grant their bands ultimate freedom. It’s really incredible, and it’s something that most labels, if not every label, really should do! Especially these days with the way music works, it’s still crazy to hear labels are signing bands to five album deals. Like, fuck off! It’s disgusting. Victory Records, go fuck yourselves! (*both laugh*)
Honestly. Absolutely right.
And you can print that if you want to! (*both laugh*)
I’m happy to, and I’ll attribute it to myself nevermind you if I have to! (*both laugh*)
It’s just a crazy thing. It was definitely difficult to make the final decision. Because we went back and forth for a while about what to do and where does this end up for everyone. It was a thing where we decided “fuck it, let’s try this. If we’re right, we’re right. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong.” All it is is a record. It’s just the music part. We’re still going to do what we do, which is go on tour. You hope things get better all the time. As someone who’s been in a band for fifteen years now, it’s just as fun, if not more fun, as it used to be.
This year has been great so far. This year has been crazy. We were able to tour with a band that we listened to forever. One of the first tapes I ever got was Weezer, and then we were on tour with Weezer this year. It’s crazy. And we were able to go to Europe with The Menzingers. We’ve been buddies for a long time and we hadn’t toured together in a long time. And we’ve been able to do a lot of shows in the last three months that were fucking cool. That’s the funny thing about being a band now. People put so much importance on who puts your record out or what it kinda sounds like or whatever, and all of those things are contributing factors, but the most important thing is to hit the road. Hopefully people come to the shows and hear those songs they like and are like “fuck yeah!” That’s what this whole thing is about! It’s all about the show, man!