Confession: The Chronicles Of Life And Death
Our own elder statesman of the mosh realm Michael Crafter opens up about Confession’s cathartic new record.
Michael Crafter hates cancer. Like really, really hates cancer. So much so, in fact, that over the years he’s named Confession’s debut album Cancer, made and sold hundreds of T-shirts emblazoned with the bold slogan of “Fuck Cancer”, and most recently even penned a song with that same name. As he explains to us, there’s quite a history behind his personal vendetta against the disease.
“A couple of years ago I found out my best friend had brain cancer, and it was just one downhill experience. He kept being operated on and it kept coming back, and it finally got him,” he sighs. “When he passed away I was so lost about everything. Someone who had been in my life as long as I could remember was gone. Then a while later I found out my mum had cancer. I got the phone call and I just fell to my knees, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. She’s actually travelling pretty well now though, considering what the prognosis was at first.”
Unfortunately for the Crafter family, the battles weren’t over yet. Just shortly before Confession were due to enter the studio to record the follow-up to 2011’s The Long Way Home, Crafter’s father was also diagnosed with throat cancer, plunging them back into a nightmare they had thought almost over.
“When I got to America [to record the album], my girlfriend called me and told me he was doing really bad – he was in hospital, on feeding tubes and all this crazy stuff. I didn’t know what to do. I let the guys start tracking, and I kind of just kept to myself for a week. I slept a lot, and when I wasn’t sleeping I was in a zombie state of being so upset, barely talking to everyone.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Crafter would find himself changing the majority of the record to reflect this experience.
“I kind of deleted everything I’d written, and the only stuff I kept was what I’d already written about my mum and my family. Everything else I made up while I was there. I wanted to go home, but my family told me to stay, that my dad was in good hands. I had a rough week, but it helped me write some good stuff and get on a personal level. There was real emotion there. I wasn’t just writing stuff because I needed to make a record, I was writing stuff that was helping me.”
This mixture of frustration, worry, sadness and anger would manifest itself more overtly than ever in the song “Fuck Cancer”, the lead single of Confession’s upcoming third album, the broadly-but-aptly titled Life And Death (“In one year, I dealt with the life – the birth of my daughter – and the death of my closest friend”). After a heart-to-heart with producer Dan Castleman, who had also lost his father to cancer, Crafter would find himself in the vocal booth roaring the line, ‘Fuck cancer, I will scream these words loud’ – a mantra for those who don’t have a voice to scream it themselves.
“Because my dad’s cancer is in his throat, he can’t talk at the moment,” he explains, “but I can scream that for my family and for him when he can’t.”
Now when a guy who’s always saying how much he hates cancer starts talking about how much he loves Cancer, the Confession album, the conversation can get a little confusing. But it’s unmistakably obvious that Life And Death is a sonic throwback to Cancer with its simpler, mosh-heavy structures, signature Confession guitar tones and melodic overlays. Crafter is the first to admit that this was deliberate – except for one particular ingredient.
“I loved the Cancer album, except for the singing parts,” he admits. “I think we threw them in at the end, and I don’t even know why we did that. But I think if we did that record again without those singing parts and with a much better recording it would be a 50-times-better bloody record, so for this album I think I wanted to… not replicate, but have similar influences from that album, to be as heavy as we can be but still with a good melodic presence.
“I think we strayed a little bit off with the last album too. The Long Way Home has its good moments, but again there are songs on that album that would never ever get played live, and there’s so much singing on it. There are 50 billion bands who do that style, and only the cream of the crop – the Amitys and the In Hearts Wakes – are the ones that sit at the top, so if you don’t do it really well you’re just another sheep in a paddock. It was more detrimental to us because we lost a lot of the fans who liked us because we were a heavy band.”
This aversion to having a spotlight on clean vocals is particularly interesting when you realise how close Life And Death came to having exactly that. After Crafter infamously booted his entire band in 2012 (a story for another time, if you haven’t heard it already), the addition of Doyle “D At Sea” Perez to the band seemed to signal the beginning of a more commercial direction for Confession, to the delight of some and to the horror of others. Perez’s presence, however, was short lived, with the angel-voiced guitarist departing a short time after the release of the single “This Is A War” – his first and only recorded contribution to the band. While Crafter shows no signs of malice or bitterness over the apparently amicable split, it’s clear that for the band it was a necessity for moving forward.
“We were talking about how we wanted to record soon, and he was saying that he was really busy, he was doing his album stuff and he wanted to focus on that. It just made sense for us to do our own thing; we had tours booked and a record to make. It kind of came at a really good point. I mean we had worked on one song together, but it wasn’t like we were in the middle of tracking guitars and vocals for the album, you know? We had done a bit of pre-pro, but we weren’t really seeing eye-to-eye on the music, and in the end none of that saw the light of day on this album. We went back to the drawing board, took a heavier direction and we’re stoked on the effect it had on the album. We finished this recording totally stoked. We left with smiles on our faces, and when you can do that, you’ve really done something special for yourself.”
As for the band he has behind him now, Crafter couldn’t be happier. Recently appointed drummer Jake Dargaville has more than earned his keep behind the tubs after an uncertain start (“We were having a few people fill in for tours and stuff. Jake had tried out before, but he wasn’t actually in the band as an official member because he wasn’t that great of a drummer at that point”) and put his considerable multi-instrumental skill to use to become the driving creative force behind the band’s sonic direction – somewhat to Crafter’s own surprise.
“Looking at it now, if Jake wasn’t in the band, there wouldn’t even be a band anymore, because he’s not only a crazy drummer now, he’s also an incredible guitarist and he wrote the whole album himself. There aren’t many bands where the drummer can go in and write a whole album. He’s just a talented musician, and he and I just kind of feed off each other really well. And this whole line-up is just a bunch of mates, we’ve all toured together before and been in bands that have played together for years, and we all have the same mindset.”