An hour or so before their fantastic performance at Heavy Montréal on July 27th, Liam Cormier and über-shredder Scott Middleton were making their ways around the press tent doing some interviews. We pulled Cormier aside for a fifteen-minute chat that took place while bands on three stages were destroying eardrums in every direction surrounding us. There aren’t enough favourable words for the Cancer Bats; They are a veritable Canadian force of nature in the heavy music arena, currently touring across Canada in support of one of their best records, The Spark That Moves, which saw release in early 2018. If you still somehow haven’t gotten around to it, purchase or stream the album through your fave service here.
The audio for this interview is included here via SoundCloud. There is a bit of background noise; this interview was indeed recorded at the Heavy Montréal Festival amidst a melee of music; scurrying festival workers, and press types. It’s decent enough audio that we deemed it worthy of a listen and included it for listeners who’d like to hear Liam Cormier answering questions in the real.
I haven’t seen you play any of The Spark That Moves live yet. Liam Cormier: Oh really? Oh, sick. Yeah. Well even though our set isn’t super long, we’re still playing a bunch off of it. I feel like it’s a classic festival kind of setlist. You definitely need to come heavy with the bangers to kind of give a good impression. But yeah we’re playing a bunch. So much of the new stuff has been going down so well live. I mean, that’s kind of what we intended. I think we’ve finally figured out the formula a little bit of that; “Okay what’s the song that we can translate to a festival or that will work for all of these settings that we love playing.” Like, why don’t we make a record that actually works for that instead of just having something that’s (like) “oh we have a bunch of songs where it turns out we kind of can’t play. Or they’re slow, which is fun, but we’re not going to play a slow song at this festival.”
You couldn’t open a record any better than with “Gatekeeper,” the opening track on the Cancer Bats’ latest record The Spark That Moves. Check out the animated official music video, animated by Stevie Gee:
Slow can be heavy. Cormier: Now, there’s different kinds of slow. I feel like we’ve figured out what slow kind of works for us. More like the “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair;” that kind of like slower sort of southern metal, we do that well. Whereas like there’s some sort of vibes that we’ll try and have fun with. I like them, but I don’t think we’ll ever play that song.
You can always do a Sabbath cover. Cormier: Oh dude, we definitely have been peppering some Sabbath covers into things. Just because the requests have been so crazy. I think now that people know that we do a good job at it, there’s a lot of people who just really want to hear Sabbath. Just one. That’s the nice part is that like no one wants to get to overindulgent. We play one Sabbath song in the set, and everyone’s just like, “that was sick.” Now please play “Hail Destroyer.”
Please tell me it’s “Into The Void.” Cormier: Ahhhhh. I mean we could change it up. We weren’t planning on playing “Into The Void.” But dude, I love that one. So that cover that we do is closer to the Kyuss cover. It was kind of like where we were a little bit more influenced. I love playing that song. But I think we’re going to play it safe. We’re doing “War Pigs.” That’s what we’ve been doing just the last three shows, and it’s been killing. So, yeah, we kind of go with the classics.
Images of Liam Cormier at Heavy Montréal (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, Quebec) on July 27, 2019, by Mike Bax and Trevor Lamas:
I really liked how you secretly released The Spark That Moves. You just dropped it. Cormier: Yeah! We just had the freedom to do it because we didn't have to play by anyone's rules. That was because we're on an independent label (well, not even an independent label. Sorry, it's self-released) and all of the distros are also on our own terms too. And then it's New Damage who helped us (distribute) it in Canada. So it's like the best family. And then the UK was just like, "yeah, whatever you want to do." The only restriction was that we had to do it on a Friday. So that was why we kind of why we booked everything and lined everything up so that it would be on a traditional release date. But originally we were saying we should put it out on Wednesday and that we should do all this stuff. Then, because we have a little bit of (the) music industry, they were like, "maybe it's a better idea if you play by some rules." So we said ok. But it ended up working out so great. And people genuinely being excited to hear a new album and not having any previous biases.
We didn't overthink anything because we didn't have enough time. I didn't think it would result in people listening to the whole album, which was really unique. And because we didn't have any singles. No one was led to which one song would be their favourite. People just ended up picking the singles that then became the songs that we went with. So we knew that "Gatekeeper" should be the first song and I really wanted to make that cool video with our friend Stevie Gee doing the whole animation thing. So that naturally became a favourite. but the fact that people really got behind "Winterpeg?" I was like, "Sick. I love this song, this is great!" And then it was kind of like, "Ok, what other songs do you guys like?" They're like, "we love 'Space and Time!" "Ok, we'll play "Space and Time" at every show." It happened really naturally. As the record went on, people started telling us how much they love "Fear Will Kill Us All." So we just add it to the setlist as people kind of call it out. It's been like really cool and interactive like that.
You’re rehearsed up for that? You can play any of them? Cormier: Yeah, we can play pretty much the whole album. I mean, at this point whenever we keep asking people, they’re like “Gatekeeper,” “Brightest Days,” “Winterpeg.” You know, it is like the top five. So we pretty much rotate between those. But a lot of times it’s fun. You said you like “Into The Void.” At a club show, I would be like, “Oh, we’re just playing ‘Into The Void’ tonight.” Everyone’s down for that. It’s a really nice place to be too, with the band. It’s like, “Yeah, let’s have fun; let’s just do whatever.” Some of them we have to practice. Kids have been asking for older songs. I wish I could play “Golden Tanks” just on a whim. But I don’t even remember those lyrics. Like I would have to do a little bit of research. Someone was asking about “Ghost Bus That.” I can’t even remember how that song goes. I would be hard-pressed to hum that song to you, but it’s fun though, otherwise.
Also from The Spark That Moves, “Winterpeg” is about one of the band’s favourite cities and in their own words, their “second home.” Watch the video now:
I did an interview with you around those Lee’s PalaceSpark shows. You did two of them. Cormier: Yeah.
Just before you dropped the album, and you didn’t let that out at all. Cormier: Well I was really trying to keep it under wraps. Just because, again, we’re all on the inside (and it’s cool and all), but I wasn’t even telling our band friends. Because I just genuinely wanted it to be like a cool surprise for everyone. And I was just like, “this, then, won’t ruin that.” Like in that way that organically people in the music industry are also going to find out. And I had a lot of people, like journalists and stuff, and people from radio be like, “Yo, why didn’t you tell us? We would have done something.” And I was like, “but you’re still doing it. It’s fine.” But then I was like, “But how excited were you when you just saw this record? When was the last time you had something surprise you?” Or as a journalist, when was the last time you actually listened to a whole record? Because I feel like that hasn’t come down the pipe in a really long time. It’s not like we’re groundbreaking, but more as I said, we didn’t really pre-think anything. All that stuff, we kind of realized that it was just natural and fun.
It’s hard to keep a secret in this day and age. Cormier: Right? Luckily for us, we only finished recording that album in like February of 2018. So we finished recording it; We sent it off to get mixed; Within a week it was mixed; We sent it to get mastered, and then we had to deliver it to the pressing plant. To get it literally for that date. So we only picked up the vinyl two days before that Lee’s Palace show. So we were so flat out busy, it was almost easier to keep a secret. In that context, we only had one month of secret, really. But (drummer) Mikey (Peters) and I were working like crazy because again, this was our first self-released album. So it was just answering emails; trying to get these videos done; trying to get everybody in the loop for a distro and all that stuff. Which, again, made it really fun because on the day it came out it was like, “Whew. Now it all worked. So we can just go on tour.”
The Spark That Moves, the Cancer Bats' sixth studio album, was released on April 24th, 2018 via New Damage Records. View the artwork:
Do you get asked to do covers of other bands? To the excess that you’ve done Black Sabbath covers? Do people want that from you? Cormier: I feel like at this point people know us as the Sabbath kind of band. So I feel like we get less asks like; “Oh, you guys should cover this, or, this would be cool.” Just because now we’re so like associated with that (Sabbath). I mean we also can’t play a show without doing the “Sabotage” cover. I think we would get beat up. Or a lot of people would be really bummed.
It’s a good cover. Cormier: It’s a great cover. I’m in the business of entertaining people. If you want to hear “Sabotage” that bad, I don’t want to not play it. When I’m at merch or hanging at the bar, it’s the number one song that people ask for. So I’m like, “oh yeah, I’ll play that for sure.” You want to hear “Hail Destroyer,” “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair,” and “Sabotage?” I’ll play those for the rest of my life. I’m happy that people want to come and party. But at that same side, I feel like there are not as many people saying you should cover like anything else. “You should cover the Allman Brothers” or whatever. But who knows? I like doing covers. I think it’s really fun.
You are a band that tours a lot. Is there a number of days (or weeks) that you would prefer to adhere to that’s a comfortable time for you to tour? Cormier: We have like a new kind of rule (a loose rule) that’s three weeks. So three weeks is our touring window because people have kids. So that’s sort of rule, we can’t tour more than three weeks. Which I think is a good balance. Now when we used to go out for 80 to 90 days, we would just get nuts. That said, there are still some opportunities that come up that we want to extend things for. I don’t have kids, and I like being a maniac, so I’m always like, “Yeah, but what about France?!” Or “What about here?!” So sometimes we kind of have some things creep up.
That’s why we have a friend who can fill in on drums, so Mike can also be with his family. Our friend plays in that band Wiegedood. It’s like a Belgian black metal band. So he’ll come and fill in with us. So we have some shows there just at the end of the tour that Mike can’t do. So like Wim is going to come and play. But he’s already going to be on tour with us for the whole month, just hanging out and selling merch. So it’s kind of like now we have this crew that we can kind of transition people in and out. So I’m stoked about that too. I like that Cancer Bats is kind of growing secretly.
Children of Darkness, check out the classic Cancer Bats’ video for their rager “Hail Destroyer:”
Is there a gateway band or a concert that you can recall that made you want to get up and rage on stage? Cormier: One of the earliest crazy shows I got to see was Rocket From the Crypt and Rancid. That, to me, was like a really life-altering show. I think because Rancid was so huge. I was living in the States, so I got to actually see that show. But seeing a band like Rocket From the Crypt that was so genre, they were on a super-punk mohawk tour, but then they were wearing sparkly shirts, and they had horns, but they weren’t a ska band. It was really bad-ass rock n’ roll. It was actually really heavy. I remember that making such a huge impression. I love Rancid still to this day. But I was obsessed with Rocket From the Crypt at that point. And that was in 1995. I was like 15 years old, being like, “I need to get a Rocket tattoo!” And just being so excited about this whole weird kind of world of San Diego that I like knew nothing about up until that point. And that was when Scream Dracula Scream came out. So it was kind of like this like perfect timing that I was exposed to this band.
I feel like that had such a lasting impression, because then for those guys to go on and do Hot Snakes and that being like so cool and different. And then me also getting into Drive like Jehu. I feel like that kind of show is a bit of the epicenter of where I got weird. You know, realizing that just because you’re into one thing, doesn’t mean you have to make one style of music. For me, between Rocket From the Crypt and listening to the Beastie Boys, I was like, “Oh, it’s cool to like every kind of music.” And that realization just like taking a real load off my shoulders, pressure-wise as a teenager. I was like, “Ok cool, I’m gonna listen to jazz then.” It was just because these guys are literally the coolest people ever and they’re doing all of this stuff. Beastie Boys and Rocket From the Crypt, everybody was into all this different stuff. So it was just like, “ok, yeah, I can still be cool and listen to anything.”
You have played both Heavy Toronto and Heavy Montréal in a number of incarnations right? I think Heavy Montréal was as Bat Sabbath. Cormier: Yeah! I got to kick off main stage with Bat Sabbath. Which was a trip because we didn’t know if anyone was going to show up to watch us. And we had a huge crowd at like 11:30 in the morning. And that was sick. That was like a bunch of like Quebecois bikers partying. That was awesome. But yeah, I know. We’ve been really lucky to have been invited so many times. And especially big ups to Heavy Montréal outlasting a lot of other festivals.
This is the tenth one, right? Cormier: Yeah. And that’s unique. I think the fact that Evenko just put on such a good fest. I think the setting is so good. The fact that they do ‘77 now as the Friday, I think it is so cool. It’s such a cool vibe that I feel like a lot of other festivals are going to start picking up on it as well. But yeah, I really love it.
Check out “Inside Out,” a banger of a track that wasn’t included on The Spark That Moves:
I think they tried to mash the punk in that one year, and I guess a lot of people complained about it. And yet, they can still do ‘77 in front of Heavy Montréal, and they get crossover. People come to both. Cormier: Yeah. And that’s the thing. I think there’s something to be said about staying in your lane and just focusing on what would make something cool and not trying to mix everything up. Because you want to give main stage bands their do, but sometimes it doesn’t make sense to have Sum 41 play before Slayer you know? Or like when Billy Talent actually WAS playing before Slayer, and they were like, “Man, we don’t want to do this! This isn’t right! This isn’t the energy we want!”
But both bands rip. So if you just have a punk day and have a metal day, everyone who wants to go to both can do that. I know so many people who fly out for both. People from Alberta, people from the West Coast, East Coast. All of my friends drove from New Brunswick to come for the whole weekend. It’s sick; this is like a rad idea. Because you don’t need to max-out your lineup to please everybody. Because there are some times where I feel bad for those bands that are on the weird kind of bill. Because they’re technically due more than this.
I like at the European festivals, you can see Journey and then Cannibal Corpse. And everybody’s into it. Cormier: Yeah there is. Graspop is especially like that. I find that’s like the Belgian kind of version of Heavy. Hellfest is a little bit like that too like Lynyrd Skynyrd played literally on one of the stages right before Lamb of God. And people were stoked. Maybe it’s a little bit more like European, but I don’t know. There’s just a part of me that thinks that having a day, like the way the Download Festival kind of has the days a little bit more lined up. And even Hellfest to a certain degree. You can look at the lineup, the Friday was like all stoner rock. That’s where you’re like, “Ok cool if you’re into just stoner, just buy the Friday ticket,” and like then go and hang out in downtown Clisson and have a good time and maybe come back on the Sunday to watch Cancer Bats and Refused. You can kind of pick and choose which I think is a cool vibe.
If you can answer this; What do you think is the most important characteristic of the Cancer Bats in the genre of music that you play? Cormier: The thing that came to my mind is that we don’t give a fuck. I think that’s maybe the most important part is that we aren’t too concerned with where we fit in at this point. Or of what other bands are doing. We’re just really stoked to be in a position that we can do what we want. And that we have all these rad people that are also of the same mindset. I think that’s where we’re at, just kind of like we’re not overthinking anything anymore, we’re just really having a good time. And that’s what’s fueling every decision. I like it.