With Cancer Bats’ sophomore album Hail Destroyer now ten years old, Liam Cormier, Scott Middleton, Mike Peters and Jaye Schwarzer are spending a bit of time basking in the afterglow. With two sold-out celebratory Lee’s Palace shows just around the corner -- wherein the band will perform Hail Destroyer in entirety -- Cormier took a half hour out of his busy house renovating schedule to talk about that album. Ruminating on Hail Destroyer’s creation, where the band was at a decade ago, and how things have progressed since the album’s release, this interview features a typically animated Cormier proving insight into a much-loved album.
A lot has changed in ten years. Liam Cormier: Yeah. It’s funny. Doing a lot of these interviews people are asking what’s changed. When we were writing Hail Destroyer, I was literally homeless. (laughs) We had no places to live. Now we own places to live. Yeah, it’s great.
How many collective children do you all have now? Cormier: Mikey has a kid. That’s about it. That’s kind of why we have taken a bit of time off too. Which is nice. You focus on being a dad. I’ll focus on ripping a dirt bike.
When you think back ten or eleven years, and reflect on the creation of Hail Destroyer and the writing of it, what are the things that come to your mind? There must be one or two snapshots that are clear. Cormier: It was a super fun time. We had kind of been on tour for an entire year leading up to it. It was like coming back to the city and seeing all of our friends again, and everyone was kind of doing really awesome. Some of our friends were really starting to take hold with their own businesses. Everyone was doing all of these things around the city. So it was cool. We were back for the whole summer. Even though we were going to go and have band practice twelve hours a day it was sort of like re-connecting with all of our friends.
I think sharing a lot of those stories from tour with all of my friends - that’s what all of the lyrics ended up being in a lot of ways. Oh, we were driving, and it was crazy, and you have all of this stuff that you were talking about and realizing that those were the stories and kind of unfolded in the telling of that record. “I haven’t seen you for two years! This is what I’ve been doing. Hey, Cancer Bats fans, this is what we’ve been doing for the last two years.”
That was around the time when Jason left the band, and Jaye came on with the band. But I don’t think Jaye recorded any of the bass lines on that album, right? Cormier: No. We just wrote everything. Andrew McCracken was our original bass player. And he had started up Doublenaut, the graphic design company. Kind of when we had put out Birthing The Giant was kind of when their business started to get really busy. For him, the two things were kind of too much to juggle. And we had all of this tour booked. Like I said, we didn’t have places to live. So we’d just book month after month of tours. So we kind of needed to find someone last minute. Originally we had asked our friend Alan Riches, but he also worked touring with Finger Eleven and Three Days Grace and all of this stuff.
He was like “I really want to be in your band, but I can’t tour for free for a year.” Which is fair - you get to make money and tour. So that’s where almost like a week before we left on tour Mikey had suggested Jason Bailey who was in Figure Four to come on board. And he kind of did that six months of tour that we had straight. And by the time that was finished, we said: “see you later man, thanks.” And then we kind of set to like writing the record. It was just the three of us at that point. We needed someone who could kind of be a little more solid on bass. Especially for some of the things that we wanted to do. Andrew was definitely like our best friend. And he was OK with coming and playing bass for fun. But it was sort of at that point where we were like “If we want to take this seriously, we need a bass player who rips.”
Jaye was someone who we always thought of as having him as a second guitar player. But he was playing in some of his own bands. He was in a band called Kover that we all really liked and we thought was awesome. We kind of thought he was going to do more with them and that was why we didn’t ask him sooner. Because we didn’t want to break up Kover. And in hindsight he was like “Dude, I really wish you had just asked me to tour in January of 2007 when you needed somebody.” But whatever. I think everything kind of happens for a reason. So we were writing the record and we just kind of wrote the whole thing without a bass player. Because of that we just went with Scott playing bass on the album.
We didn’t have a lot of alternatives and we needed to get it done quickly. But Jaye was right there. We literally finished recording and then we loaded up and went out on tour with Gallows. Like February of 2008. And Jaye was on that tour. For me, I look at Hail Destroyer as Jaye being in the band while we were touring at the end of 2007. And I mean we were jamming all of those songs at soundcheck. Jaye was already kind of jamming them. He could have played on that record. I think it was just for simplicity. And I’m pretty sure at that time he just went back to work. He was like “I’m going to go and drive a forklift. I’ll see you guys when you need me.” Which was perfect. None of us were getting paid while we were in the studio.
Feast your eyes on the “Deathsmarch” video, here. Now. Do it!
Now, how about the guest musicians that you brought in for Hail Destroyer? You’ve got Tim from Rise Against. Ben and Wade. How did you wind up getting them involved? Aside from your obvious friendship and tour mates and whatnot. Cormier: That was the main thing. All three of those bands All of those bands were kind of who we’d spent the entire year with touring. So we went from touring with Alexis to then touring with Billy Talent - we did like a full US thing, so like a month and a half. And we literally left our van in Los Angeles and jumped on a plane and flew to Europe to start a tour with Rise Against. It was sort of like all of those bands were the most important bands in touring up to that. So it was more like a fun kind of friendship when it came to like asking them to do the recording.
For Tim, we had toured in the States with them again at the end of 2007, and he actually came out and during sound check would like play bass with us. Because we didn’t have a bass player, basically. Tim would say that a song sounds cool and he’d just play bass over “Pray for Darkness”. Because he’s a homie like that - “Oh, that’s super fun, let’s jam.” So when we said “Dude, you should come and sing on this record. That would be sick.” It was all kind of little ideas like that. Eric Ratz had recorded the last two Billy Talent Records, Kenny Luong was just texting Ben saying “Yo, you should sing on this song. This would be super sick. We’re recording just up the street. Come and hang out.” Same with Wade. You know, the studio we were recording at was just right around the corner from where Dine Alone and Distort were when their offices were on Queen Street.
So I feel like Wade was in the neighborhood when we were like “Yo, you should come and just hang out.” He was eating burritos with us the night before. “Come and just sing on the record. That would be sick.” So it was fun in that sort of vibe. It wasn’t like, you know, people saying “yo, I’ll get Lemmy from Motorhead to sing on this record and it will be good exposure.” And you’re like “But, are you friends with Lemmy? Is there like a reason why you are doing this, other than like Motorhead is sick?” Y’know? For me, I still I wanted it to really be like punk in that same way? It's not because these guys are in big bands. It’s because these guys are awesome dudes and have great vocals and have made a real impact on the band. I’m really glad that that was the organic way that all happened. And that everyone who saw it was like “Oh yeah, obviously you guys are all homies.”
I don’t think that I even knew that they were on the album until I picked the liner notes up to prep today. It was like “Oh. Holy shit. look at that.” Cormier: That side of things I think is cool too. Some of the more corporate talent, obviously the dudes in the band don’t care. But when the labels and the record industry types are like ”Oh, you can’t market your album based on the fact that these people are on it.” And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t give a shit. Ok. Cool, dick? Like that’s fine.” And the guys in the band are like “Ok. That’s weird. Anyways, this song rips.”
You don’t want to ride one somebody else’s laurels to make your band anyways. Cormier: No. It’s like, weird, the record industry people missing the point on something?? Totally.
So, talk a little bit about bringing Eric Ratz in. That was your first album with him? He’s done three with you, if I’ve got my math right. Cormier: Yeah. So he’s technically done four. Eric and Kenny both worked on Birthing The Giant. So they worked with Gavin Brown, and they were kind of his team that he had like brought in to be like: Eric is going to Engineer and Kenny is going to do all of our Pro-Tools edits. And then we can kind of all be working - Scott can work with Kenny on guitar and Eric can be working with Mikey on drums and we can kind of all be working on things just cause we had a lot of catching up to do with Birthing.
So, I think because we work so closely with all of those guys we were sort of like: Gavin brought a lot to the table, and he’s like an incredible songwriter, but I think it was sort of at that point where we can’t afford round two Gavin Brown. And we really liked working with Eric and Kenny and why don’t we just scale back our budget and we can sort of just work with those guys in that capacity. And still work at Vespa and still do all of those things. And that’s where we kind of all kind of just hit our stride. Because this was like their first gig producing instead of just engineering. So it was kind of all of us kind of working on this project. And we had everything go wrong, obviously. Like the computers were crashing. The board was crashing.
We had to like split up and go to different studios. There was tonnes of stuff where I feel like for their first official production that it couldn’t have been harder. It should have been just a bunch of buds making music together. We had to deal with like all of this shit. But I think, in the spirit of how hard it was to kind of like figure out all of these things and keep us scrambling. The heat was not working in the studios, so it was throwing all of the guitars off. So guitars were like way behind. So I went to a studio downtown to track vocals.
So that was where like Kenny and I would go downtown and work on vocals or Ratz, and I would go downtown and work on vocals while the other guys were up in Vespa which is in Rexdale. So we couldn’t have been physically further apart. And we’d just be waiting for a track to be finished so we could start tracking vocals on it. So, it was really funny that side of scrambling to get things done and like those sort of ideas where we really overcame a lot of odds. (laughs) The fact that this record worked and sounds amazing - it doesn’t sound like we had a lot of problems. In the production, it sounds like the guitars were like as smooth as anything.
Check out the video for the single “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” here.
So, what do you think making Hail Destroyer taught you guys? Cormier: Uh, I think to just really bet on ourselves. I think that being the big thing that we got. A lot of us believing in this. Even people who heard those songs in 2007, that summer, we had a lot of labels who were really interested because we had done a lot of things. In the States, there were labels who thought we were really cool and then they heard a lot of the songs and they were like “Nah. I don’t think this is going to work.” And we were like “Nah, we really think this is going to work. This record rules. We are really stoked. I think kids are going to be really into it.”
That kind of like built our own confidence. We’d hear “Oh I don’t know what song we should do for a single,” and we’d say “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” is going to crush. I know kids are going to get behind this song.” And that is one of our most popular songs hands down. You know what I mean? A lot of those things, for us, going out on a limb and kind of taking that step forward. On our first record, we were kind of going with whatever people thought. And sort of going with the flow. And then album where we knew it needed to be heavy. We needed it to be brutal. And I don’t give a shit if it’s on the radio. Like, none of the songs on the last record were, so who cares? That sticking to our guns and really going for it; I felt like it actually paid off. (cheers)
I think I saw you down in the states with Billy Talent before Hail Destroyer came out. I think you were road-testing a couple of those songs. Cormier: Yeah. We were probably, at that point we may have just had just started playing around with some of the ideas. Because definitely by the end of 2007 we had already started putting “Hail Destroyer” in our set. And that was kind of, I think, where that confidence kind of came from. Because we were like touring UK, Europe, Australia and we were playing “Hail Destroyer”' And by the second chorus kids were singing along and I was like “Ah, this is going to crush.” And we were like recording demos for “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” in the backstage in a venue in Austria. We were on tour with Comeback Kid and Parkway Drive. And both of those bands were like “Yo, that song is sick.” You know what I mean? “You guys are killing it. Were playing 1000 cap venues and if you guys think it’s good, then it’s got some merit. And I just sang it in a dressing room.” (laughs)
I like that you just mentioned demoing. I have a question further in here, and I’ll just ask it now. What does a Cancer Bats demo sound like? How finessed are they? Cormier: Well this is the thing that’s interesting. So very quickly I feel like Cancer Bats existed in the weird point where technology went from zero to a thousand. So it used to be so hard to demo. Doing a demo you had to have a laptop that could handle it, and you had to have microphones, and you had to have gear. So we kind of didn’t demo a lot of stuff. And there were a lot of elements that we only figured out once we were in the studio. So I would say we made demos for “Lucifer’s” just to make sure we were on the right track and I think we made a couple of other demos with a friend at a studio in Ryerson for what would become “Sorceress” and what would become, I’m trying to think here, “Let It Pour” I think we demoed?
And it was just like “Oh, we don’t really own any of this gear.” And that was like what we learned. All of the songs that we demoed we were able to make so much better. We needed to do this. By the time Bears came around, we had bought actual gear that we could demo with, and we could actually do things. As I said, we didn’t have any money. So we could barely afford a practice space. (laughs) Yet alone purchasing demo gear. Back then you needed things that you could plug into. Like an outboard - a rig that you could run microphones through. And now, fast forward, we can make all of our demos on our phone.
It is pretty crazy how technology has advanced in ten years. Cormier: It’s the best. I feel like there are going to be albums that people just record on their iPhones and put them out that way.
I’m sure. There probably already is. Cormier: Yeah. And I bet they rule. We are probably just listening to them and not even noticing them.
Are there songs on Hail Destroyer that you’ve never played live? That you are going to have to do at these upcoming shows when you do the whole album? Cormier: Yeah. We’ve definitely never played “Zed’s Dead.” Every other song we have. And that’s where jamming them is fun. Because it’s like “Oh yeah. This song rules. “Let it Pour?” This song is sick. Or “Smiling Politely?” This song is way better than I ever remembered. Why haven’t we played this since 2013?” You know? Some of those? I feel like there are a couple there... you can tell that “PMA” - even though people like “PMA,” it’s kind of a bonkers song. (laughs) We probably would have fixed this if we had a little bit more time just to make it a little bit smoother. I mean it’s still fun to play. Even things like “Zed’s Dead” is a cool song.
I just remember looking at it - it was interesting because we were contractually obligated to make a fourty-minute record. And I remember that being like the big kind of stress of the album. Okay, we have to have fourty minutes of music. I look at it now, and we could have just had a ten-song album, and that would have been sick. And those two songs could have just been b-sides that we just figured out later. But I definitely like looking back on it, and I’m still super stoked on the fact that we can play it. At Manitoba Metal Fest we just like ripped through all of those songs. I’m not at any point going “Aw, what were we doing? What were we thinking?” There’s nothing cringe-worthy on any of it.
Get your headbang on with the Bats’ video for “Hail Destroyer” here.
What’s your all-time favourite Scotty riff? And why? Cormier: Uh, I definitely think “Hail Destroyer.” It’s such an interesting thing for such a straight-up hardcore song. It’s such an interesting riff. I have no idea where he came up with that. And I feel like we don’t have anything else that sort of sounds like it?
You’re right. It is kind of a straight-up rock song. It’s different than some of your other stuff. Cormier: Yeah. There’s almost part of me that doesn’t even remember writing that song. I feel like one day it was there. And then Mikey came up with this crazy drum beat and again, that song just really effortlessly floated out. I had that idea of “Hail Destroyer” from a lot of the lyrics I was writing. So that was one of the first songs that we kind of wrote and had finished for the album. And I was like I already have this idea, and I think it will work with this song and I kind of want to call the whole record “Hail Destroyer” and all this stuff.
Weirdly, that song just fell into place a lot easier. For me, listening to it, this song is really different and really crazy. How did we? I don’t remember writing it. I just think one day it was there. (laughs) Where as everything else on the album there was something. For as straight up a song as “Let It Pour” I feel like it took way longer than “Hail Destroyer” even though that sounds like the more natural hardcore song. Or like “Lucifer’s” we had a bunch of trouble with because it doesn’t really follow any format. It’s like every part is the chorus? Just these weird ideas. We didn’t really know how to write songs either. So there was a lot of stuff where we’d go “Oh, I dunno.” But for whatever reason “Hail Destroyer” just really lined up.
When did “Engine Skull” and the three covers come together? That must have been done afterward, right? Cormier: No, so that was all done at the same time too. Uh, cause again, contractually, we had to have b-sides. Which again was like “Why? Who cares?” Because it’s funny. We have these contracts, and as easy going as Greg Below (Distort Entertainment) was, there was lots of stuff where he was like “No. It has to be like this. You have to do this.” So, I think because we were like so stretched for time and counter creativity we were like “okay, we have ‘Engine Skull’ we could use that.” And then that was where we thought we’d just do a bunch of covers. And we were like that’s how we will like fill up this space.
The Faint, we really liked that cover. So that one came really easy. And Murder City Devils is like a huge influence on our band, so that one was cool. I kind of already feel like we sound like Murder City Devils, so that was easy. And then the Tegan and Sara song kind of was the last one, and I think I only sang on that song before that tour EP came out. That one was very like back-burner. Kind of like “Uh, whatever.” I like Tegan and Sara. They are awesome. Their albums are a big influence on us. But that was sort of an afterthought, their song. But I feel like all of those covers are kind of what spawned the “Sabotage” idea.
Yeah, yeah. I wondered if those were your first covers. Because that is probably your most famous cover. Cormier: My idea with that was I was sick of people being really into these covers and people saying things like “oh your cover of The Faint is sick.” That’s awesome that you guys listen to different music, but then we play those songs, and nobody who is showing up to see the Cancer Bats in Wolverhampton knows who The Faint is, you know what I mean? There’s too much of a disconnect. So, I was like we need to come up with a song that we can cover that everybody knows. I’m sick of playing this, and one Murder City Devils fan rips the pit. So that’s when I was like “Dude, ‘Sabotage.’” “Sabotage” is like the vibe. That was kind of like our reason.
Because people were always calling out for these covers that we could do, and then we’ll play it, and everyone will stand still. And it’s just going to bum everyone out. That was where like “Sabotage” came and it’s funny because “Sabotage” then lead to the whole Bat Sabbath thing. Because Sonisphere was like “You guys have this one cover that you are kind of known for. Why don’t you do some other covers and maybe you do a set of Beastie Boys songs.” We went Ehhnn. “Or do whatever - AC/DC or Black Sabbath.” So it’s sort of funny. All of that could kind of could be sort of centered back on those three covers from that tour. That’s sort of what spawned the whole cover band side of Cancer Bats.
This is the cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”.
What kept you coming back to Distort Records? Every album was on Distort. Aside from them being favourable to your band, what is it about Distort that works for the Cancer Bats? Cormier: Uhm, I mean for us, we were just signed to that deal. So we kind of just obligated the number of albums that we were allotted to them. Once DSOL came out, we were contractually out of that deal. So that’s why the new album came out on New Damage. Yeah. That’s sort of where that went from. In a lot of ways I know Distort sort of did things after DSOL? DSOL was sort of the last of that OG team of Distort. That was why we just went “Oh. Jen Cymek is connected to this. I basically got Rich Fernandes hired to put DSOL out. But, um, that was sort of the last of our Distort team. I don’t even think they are doing anything anymore.
But I will say when Hail came out, that was such an awesome time to be a part of that label where it was a real kind of like a crew. Us and Johnny Truant and The End there was a tonne of bands. The Gorgeous. All of those bands were kind of like happening at that same time, and we had such a really cool vibe. I feel like Hail Destroyer was definitely when all of that was cracking off and happening. And it was cool to be a part of that at that time at that label. Architects were on that label too at that time. It was like a really rad thing for us.
We would do label tours, and it was everyone from the label would tour together. We put Johnny Truant in our van. Black Lungs came out on Dine Alone, but Black Lungs were part of that whole gang too. It was definitely like a really cool time for all of us. Everyone was working on each other’s records, and we were promoting each other’s stuff. I feel like Johnny Truant, and Architects spread the word for us in the UK and vice versa. We were like “Dudes, this band is sick. We’ll bring Johnny Truant on every tour.” That kind of whole scene that was happening. Same with The Gorgeous. There was this “Canada's got such sick hardcore now” vibe then. Time and place.
I think they had Periphery there for a little while too. An album maybe? Cormier: Yeah. That was when we were doing DSOL. I think they put out the first Periphery EP. They did some Oceana stuff too. There was definitely some cool things happening, but I feel like it was just, you know, transitions of the music industry and all of those things that happen. Whatever. Definitely no regrets. Everything that we had going on with those guys - we wouldn’t have been on Much Music if it wasn’t for Distort. Alexis were the ones who got us signed to Distort originally because they were on that label too. And they were like “Oh man, put this record out. These guys are sick. We’ll take them on tour.” Alexis are the best.
Do you find you look back and go “Holy fuck. Ten Years! Where did that go?” You know what I mean? You are starting to have these milestones - does it make you feel older? Cormier: Ah, no. I think we are all in such a good spot now. To think that everyone is really stoked and everything is in a good place, and we are at a ten-year point where you look at some bands and ten years is almost like a reunion for them and less of just a cool celebration. Not to say that reunions are bad or anything, but I’m really stoked for us that all of it is really positive. Like I said, when we wrote that record none of us had any money. I was living in a tent in the Truth Explosion office loft. You know? That’s where I was at. So I look back and think everything is wicked now. Mikey’s got a kid. We all have places to live. This is really great.
Cancer Bats perform two celebratory Hail Destroyer hometown shows at Lee's Palace on April 20th and April 21st. Both shows will definitely rip.