Cancer Bats: Zeros And Ones
The toughest band in toronto are ready to shake things up. The question is, are you? BLUNT spoke with Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier about a decade of change, working with rock royalty and fandom that goes beyond skin-deep.
You take the punk, you take the thrash, you take the metal and there you have the coolest mother-Canuckers around: Cancer Bats. The Toronto natives have made a decade-plus career out of putting the heavier spectrum of music into the blender and throwing out the result onto the unsuspecting masses. For their fifth album, Searching For Zero, the band felt that a change was not only inevitable, it was overdue. You can still pick them out of a line, but there’s something identifiably different going on here.
“It’s definitely on the raw side,” says Liam Cormier, the band’s lead vocalist, when describing what you’ll hear when you press play on Searching For Zero. “It’s stripped down and it’s closer to what we sound like live. We realised that everything we’ve recorded in the past was recorded by the same guy, our friend Eric Ratz. By default, anything else we do is going to lose that signature sound. There was another guy, Kenny Luong, who’s worked on everything with us, too – we more or less consider those guys honorary members of the band. I think that’s also what comes through on this record – it’s a big change. A lot of people have come to know how Ratz will make each of us sound, and now we’ve gone to Ross Robinson – and everything is different. His entire approach makes for a very different sound. What’s gotten me stoked, though, is that when kids have heard the new stuff, they’ve still been able to identify it as Bats. In spite of all the change, they still know it’s us at the end of it.”
As mentioned, the Bats enlisted the production expertise of veteran knob-fiddler Ross Robinson on Searching For Zero. The name itself may not initially be familiar to some readers, but perhaps some of the bands he has worked with over the years – Deftones, Slipknot, Glassjaw, The Cure – will be. Given he’s responsible for some of the most acclaimed rock records of the last 20 years, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Cancer Bats were aiming high for this album – and it’s something, they feel, has paid off. According to the band, there’s never been a better time to listen in – they’re in peak condition.
“I definitely could not have sung this album in 2005,” says Cormier with a laugh. “You set a higher bar on every record for yourself; you constantly want to be better. We got to that point where we knew that we could do this, we could handle a project this big and get pushed this hard. Look at some of the bands Ross has worked with, and the point at which he worked with them – At The Drive-In were at their peak, Blood Brothers were crushing it, even Sepultura were stepping it up to the next level. I’m not saying we’ve just recorded our Roots Bloody Roots or anything, but I think we’re definitely at the point where we’re capable of working with someone like Ross and having all of these new ideas going into the mix. We knew what we were getting into.”
Cormier continues the notion of wanting to constantly better yourself in your band by noting the amount of time between albums, which is the longest gap yet. It wasn’t a matter of being creatively stifled, however. It was a matter of figuring a way around not making the same record twice – especially a record the band, as a whole, were so adamantly proud to have put their name to.
“I think that [previous album, 2012’s] Dead Set On Living was the best thing we’d done up to that point,” he says. “When it came to following it, I had no idea if we could out-do it – especially if we went through the same recording channels and the same process as we did before. It would have just felt like a ‘part two’ sort of thing. That’s not what we’re about. After taking tons of time off, we were ready to turn this band on its head. We were ready to fuck with it. It’s still the four of us in a practice space, which is important to us, but it felt as though something needed to change. Taking time off meant that we were shifting around our usual process, and that meant getting us out of sync. That ended up being exactly what we needed.”
Last year, Cancer Bats celebrated a full 10 years together. What began as a bit of knock-about fun between Cormier and guitarist Scott Middleton has evolved into something that has become all-encompassing of their lives, as well as plenty of others along the way. The band have a hugely dedicated and thoroughly devoted army of fans that span well beyond their native land and across the entire world – to the point where there is a photo album on the band’s Facebook page of over 180 Cancer Bats tattoos. And counting, it must be pointed out.
“10 years ago, I could have never thought that I’d be speaking to and hearing from people outside of even Toronto telling us how stoked they were on my band and our albums,” he says, the incredulity in his voice near unshakeable. “I can’t believe what this band has become, and the things people have said to me about it. I can still remember the first time I saw someone with a Cancer Bats tattoo – I think it was really early on, too, which surprised me the most. He wasn’t even a local Toronto dude! He was some guy that came up after a show and was talking about how much Birthing The Giant meant to him. Ever since then, with every Bats tattoo that I see, I always want to make sure we’re doing something that they’ll be happy they got that tattoo for.”