36 Crazyfists: Catharsis
Alaska’s 36 Crazyfists were a band you could set your watch to, releasing a new full-length every two years. Despite this almost clockwork consistency, life unfortunately doesn’t always go as one plans. After the release of 2010’s Collisions And Castaways, frontman Brock Lindow’s mother was diagnosed cancer, which she subsequently passed away from. We spoke to Lindow about how he dealt with the grief and pain of loss, and the cathartic journey of channelling these emotions into the first 36 Crazyfists album in five years.
Your newest album Time And Trauma came out in February after the longest gap you’ve had between releases. Why did this album take so long to come about compared to your other releases?
Mostly because my mum passed away and my bass player’s mum passed away. We just needed the dust to settle there. Between the two albums we had a drummer retire – we got our new drummer Kyle [Baltus] about three years ago – so there are a number of reasons. Mostly it was just life situations.
During this period of inactivity was there ever a feeling of finality for the band? Did you ever think, “This is it for 36 Crazyfists, we’re done”?
I know I didn’t verbalise it, I never talked about it, but there was an uncertainty because of losing our drummer who’d been in the band for many years, and not being sure if our old bassist could come back. There was a little bit of uncertainty there for a little while. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, to be honest. I was distracted with my own family to really focus on it too much; it was more or less that than anything else. I wasn’t really focusing on the band being done. We’ve been together for so many years that I’ve never really been able to see the end of the band and I still haven’t.
You mentioned your drummer leaving and the return of your old bassist Mick Whitney. What did they bring to the table when creating Time And Trauma?
It’s almost countless, to be honest. Mick is just a tremendous musician and an awesome person, and the same can be said for Kyle. He’s so friendly and brings so much laughter. That’s what the guys bring. It’s easy to say it was fresh-breath, but overall there is an overall happier vibe with all four of us in the band now. You see us on stage, cracking up at each other. There really hasn’t been laughter on stage for many years. It was more businesslike, and it wasn’t that fun towards the end with Thomas [Noonan], and he’d be the first to admit it. He was burnt out, and in turn that kind of burnt everybody out with that type of mindset. The guys, they’re tremendous musicians for one, but even better people. We all get along together and have so much fun. They slowly recharged the batteries for me, personally.
Now that the album is finally out there, what’s the feedback been like and how do you feel about it personally?
I’m extremely proud of it; lyrically, it’s the most important record I’ve ever written. I know what it means to me personally, and the band couldn’t be more grateful. We were gone for five years, and we’ve charted higher in every country we’ve ever charted in. It’s been overwhelmingly awesome, and we’re so grateful that people have purchased the record. Of course, there are a few bad reviews as there is with anything, but it’s been mostly positive. We’re stoked – it feels so good to have it out and be able to play it live. We’ve been playing some of the songs over the past year without the album, so it’s good to finally get material out there. People know the songs now and you see them immediately sing along with you.
There’s a heavy theme of grief and loss that runs throughout the album, particularly the track is “11.24.11”, which has one of the most emotional lines of the album: “I loved loving you was the last thing she said”. Could you tell us a bit about that?
The date itself was the date that my mum passed. I wrote that song during a pretty dark time of my life. It’s just one of the songs, for me, that when I listen to it I will always remember the state I was in, which was one of sadness, depression and anger. But looking back at it now, I’ve come quite a long way since 2011. You learn to manage grief a bit better. That line was the last thing my mum said to me – I got it tattooed on my arm. That song, it was a punisher for me – in both the lyrics and meaning – and musically it was a pretty heavy jam.
Was dealing with this grief why you chose the album title “Time And Trauma” – which, to me, felt somewhat like a play on the phrase “Time heals all wounds”. Did this album serve as a form of catharsis or therapy for you?
Yeah, no question – but they always are for me. That’s what it’s always been about for me, but not like this. I didn’t have this kind of content before. It was a big tool for me to get things off my chest and I was pretty grateful that the guys were so patient with me. The music was done for a bit before I got a hold of it and started putting my thoughts down on paper. It was definitely cathartic. The title, to be honest, I didn’t really notice the light at the end. In the beginning I wanted the title to be “Lightless”, which is also a track on the record, but I could tell not all the boys were grooving on that. I’m glad that we didn’t chose that, because I think “Time And Trauma” has an uplifting vibe to it while “Lightless” is pretty doomy. All the things that the record has provided for me have worked; it was all meant to be. From the delay of having a record out to our fans, to getting back with the guys, all these things took a little bit longer than we would have hoped but it all happened for a reason. We’re out here, firing on all cylinders. The band is having a blast and really delivering on a nightly basis, which I felt like that maybe we weren’t doing that consistently on the last album. It just feels much better, the timing was just right. All things happen for a reason.
Do you hope that someone out there who’s struggling with the same sort of loss can listen to the album and think, “Hey, it’s hard now but it gets better”?
Absolutely – the entire career of the band, we’ve talked to people we’ve just met or received letters about how certain songs helped them through dark times. I really enjoy that; I really love getting those letters. This record in particular, there’s no beating around the bush with the lyrics. If you’ve read the bio or know anything about this album lyrically, you know what it’s about. My lyrics are usually much more open to interpretation because I am a fairly vague writer. It’s not like I didn’t write the same way that I usually do, but it’s just a little bit more to the point. Now when I get these messages, it’s overwhelming. It’s a special thing that connected with people who are hurting. That something that you and your brothers came up with can help people, that’s all we’re asking for. We’re trying to convey a message of gratitude every night, that if we can repay them in any way and make their lives better, that’s a total bonus to me. I’m grateful to read their letters and hear how the music has helped them with their struggle, because that’s exactly what it’s done with me as well.
Specifically focusing on your lyrics, how have they evolved during the course of your career? Do you find yourself more open and vulnerable to sharing what you have to say?
I think I’ve always been open and vulnerable, because I’m trying to bear all for myself, and for the people secondly. With these things I’m trying to get some kind of a release, an outlet, and that’s what music has always been about for me. The content has changed, of course; going back to 1995 with the first cassette tapes we put out, those are more teenage angst shit and issues. I’m not looking down on it, but I’m 39 years old now, so I’m not writing about those things anymore. With every album you have a different period of time, which dealt with a change in my life, in one shape or form. I’ve never really had so many songs, which were consecutively about the same concept, like this album has. It didn’t make it easy, but I had so much content for that time period that I was living in and experiencing, it’s only natural for me to give myself some therapy. I saw a little bit of professional help as well, so I think perspectives were being handed to me, how to look at things in a certain light here and there.
That’s the cool thing about certain songs on the record; they also turn back into my own issues. The song “Swing The Noose” is about shedding burdens and being aware of your burden, and how to get away from it and feel a little bit lighter in your life. I don’t think I haven’t made any mistakes in my life. I think that goes to show that we’re not all perfect; we’re only human but if you don’t have those alarms, those signals of awareness, where you’re running amok on autopilot… When I’ve done that in my life, it’s been fairly damaging. It’s certain things. It’s all part of the process – that time spent with my mum, because it wasn’t just about her and her cancer and her dying, it was about how she was telling me that, “This is how you need to live your life still. This is what’s going to be beneficial to your life”. So it’s all one big catharsis, writing and learning about life. Learning from loss, that’s what I’ve taken away from the album, which is something. It now being 2015 when this stuff was written back in 2011 to 2013-ish – we started recording early 2014 – I’m lightyears beyond where I was when I started writing it. That’s what’s turned such a bad event in my life into a form of thinking about fond memories and what I’m still learning about the management of it all. It’s interesting to see how the lyrical content is still evolving even though it’s already been written.
If we could move away from the band for one moment, you opened your own restaurant a couple years back and you record a podcast about beer. How did both of these come about, and how are they going?
[Laughs] Well, I’ve always wanted to open my own bar so I joined up with some friends and we opened a bar together. It’s a cool place. I’m a big ice hockey fan, so it’s a sports bar with black-and-white vintage hockey décor, a lot of local beers and local Alaskan seafood. As for The Beer Show, it was something I just kind of fell into. I’ve done a bunch of radio over these years, I had my own metal rock show called Beat It Back With Brock on a rock channel at home, and I was a guest on The Beer Show – it’s called The Beer Show With Chris And Brock now. I was a guest at first, but one of the partners got fired and a couple days later I got asked if I wanted to co-host it, and that was about three years ago. We interview local brewers and brewers from around the world when the Beer Fest happens in Alaska. It’s something we do once a week and airs on Saturdays – it’s a lot of fun.