Cancer Bats: “There are so many brutal things happening offstage that just suck”

Life on the road can be tough for any band, but it takes a really solid group of people to pull through and get out the other end unscathed. One such band is the Canadian hardcore punk quartet Cancer Bats, who have survived the deaths of close friends and family, the bankruptcy of their label and a gruelling tour schedule to get where they are today. All Things Loud spoke to frontman Liam Cormier in Amsterdam as they prepared to take on the Melkweg together with While She Sleeps. 

Our chat takes place next to a floating bike carrier just outside the front entrance of Amsterdam’s Melkweg venue. Tonight, Cancer Bats will take to the stage and perform for 750 people in the venue’s Oude Zaal, together with co-headliners While She Sleeps and special guests Hundredth and Oathbreaker. Now, though, the focus is on Cormier as he meets us in the venue lobby with a cup of coffee in his hand and a beanie covering his head. A few fans watch on from afar as we kick off the discussion with talk of Cancer Bats’ new studio album, Searching for Zero. The record sees the band go down a heavier and rawer path, adding a gritty edge to their hardcore punk. The first thing that Cormier points out is how he and his band spent more time than before working on Searching for Zero, something in part down to the band wanting to, “spend more time writing and thinking about it; not just banging out another record so that we could go on tour”. One thing which was also important for the Toronto group was to rest, though. The band spent a lot of time touring previous release Dead Set on Living, something which they could’ve kept doing if they hadn’t forced themselves to stop. “We could’ve kept touring that album if we’d maybe not burnt ourselves out” jokes Cormier as he points out that the last time Cancer Bats played in Holland was the 23rd of January 2013, as special guests to Enter Shikari. Since then, life on the road has been a mix of one-off headline shows and a handful of homecoming shows back in Canada. Cormier tells us how “nothing gets us more stoked than playing a show in our home country”, after which he briefly stops and then smiles to himself. He admits that they were so busy with touring and recording that they didn’t even notice it had been two years, although admittedly he’s very excited at the prospect of people still being so enthusiastic after so long. “People still want us to be band, and they’re stoked,” he starts, before adding, “We said to ourselves, ‘let’s get started on a new record and get stoked again’”.

It wasn’t an easy road, though. Searching for Zero drew inspiration from dark periods in the 10 year history of Cancer Bats, particularly in the deaths of people close to the band, as well as feelings of disconnectedness. Lead single Satellites focuses on the latter, with Cormier explaining how the song is “about that period of being on tour and being disconnected from things”. He continues by adding that Satellites focuses on “how to deal with that and still be a hard working band”. Referring to the long, drawn out touring period which surrounded Dead Set on Living, Cormier further explains how the band were “bigger than we’d ever been before”, which made it a problem when they felt like they didn’t want to go on tour. It was almost contradictory, with Cormier explaining how it’s hard to want to go on tour when you don’t feel like touring, as “there are so many things that happen offstage that just suck”. These ‘distractions’ led the band to realize how lucky they really are, as so many people would “kill to be in the position that we are, yet we’re here not enjoying it because of all the shit we have to deal with”. With that being the main focus behind Satellites, Cormier then starts talking about the track Arsenic in the Year of the Snake, which concerns a rather more personal frontier. “Arsenic is specifically just about our friends dying, and a lot of friends chalking it up to whether it’s just been an unlucky year,” which led Cormier to delve deeper into numerology for its lyrical content. “33 was how old I was back in 2013, which is supposed to be a very unlucky year,” he starts, explaining how their year was made even unluckier following the mid Shikari tour bankruptcy and eventual collapse of their former record label. It left them with nowhere to go and nothing to do, problems which were eventually solved when they signed a distribution deal with “big shots” BMG. When we resume, our discussion shifts to what really drives the band to tour as much as they do. “The shows are pretty rad and we’re always stoked” is the main gist of his answer, not once forgetting to use the word ‘stoked’ in each sentence. “There may be something brutal happening offstage, but you forget that for the hour that you’re onstage and then go deal with it afterwards,” he explains before we discuss the
toll all this touring may have on their health. “Once you hit 10 years of being a band, you tend to get over that stuff. When we just started out, it was hard because you had to get used to your voice” he explains, before subsequently picking out some of his favourite shows he’s played. Emphasizing the music scene in Canada, Cormier tells us that “Canada is always trying to find new venues”. Part of the reason for this is because of the reluctance to have bars and clubs host all ages shows, something which almost forcibly pushes the hunt for playable venues into that corner. “You do shows in the weirdest fucking places, like weird churches or random halls,” adding that the band once played a show on the Canadian East Coast in an old Bingo hall with no stage. “300 kids showed up to the show, all falling over eachother and jumping onstage and tripping over our gear,” something which perfectly sums up a Cancer Bats show.

Our attention shifts to the present day, in particular their current co-headlining tour with English metalcore group While She Sleeps. The tour came about through a friendship with the band which was made stronger by the fact that they hold similar music tastes and enjoy skateboarding. “Their record and our record were coming out at the same time, and we said ‘oh, shit, we can definitely tour together this time’”, before agreeing on doing a co-headlining tour which Cormier suitably described as being, “sick”. Hundredth and Oathbreaker are both along for the ride on this tour, although there was supposedly a long list of bands that they also tried to take with them. Code Orange, who hail from Pennsylvania, were one of these bands, whereas Iron Reagan were also on the shortlist. “They’re a trash band, and they’re fucking awesome,” he said of the Tony Foresta-fronted group, before explaining that they decided on Hundredth and Oathbreaker thanks to While She Sleeps’ recommendations. Once this tour is done, the band will take Searching for Zero around the world in the hope of expanding their fanbase even more than ever before and taking those big steps to the top of the metal world. With an album as strong as Searching for Zero under their belts, as well as an almost iron-like work ethic, you’d expect it to be a breeze for the band. If there’s one thing that we’ve learnt today, though, it’s that a lot of shit gets thrown at Cancer Bats which they manage to eliminate one way or another, without forgetting who they are and where they came from.

Searching for Zero is out now.