When Liam Cormier, vocalist of Toronto hardcore act Cancer Bats entered the studio to begin work on Dead Set On Living, their fourth full-length, there was no shortage of inspiration for the four-piece. Taking cues from not only their live set, past records as well as a number of intriguing contemporaries, Cancer Bats have constructed a record that manages to encompass the surprising enormity of the band’s aesthetic.
For Cormier, reached on the phone before he attends the Kerrang! Awards in London, the band had to first embrace their roots as a live band. “We had to have that conversation about what we love doing as a band and what we want to do in the future,” says the 31 year old.
“We started thinking about why we put certain songs on our setlist and what songs work live. We started to think about a record the way we would a live show, because we are a live band first and foremost. We thought, ‘Why don’t we embrace that?’ Everytime we make a record, there’s a few songs that we all vibe on in the studio and then it doesn’t work so well live. People might like it, but they can be vibe-killers. So we tried to avoid writing those kinds of songs for this record and write a bunch of songs that we can play live. 40 minutes is the norm that we play live, so we thought about building this record as we would a setlist.”
While their raging, engrossing live show has quickly become what Cancer Bats is indeed renowned for, as with many bands, the studio can then often appear more constraining than liberating.
Cormier admits that entering the studio with the goal of capturing their live sound has presented challenges in the past. However this time around, with a few subtle changes, the band figured out how to wrangle the studio into submission.
“If we’re going to be approaching the record as a live set, then we should be approaching the songs as if we’re touring them,” he says with noted confidence.
“We’ll record most of it ourselves in our practice space and have it as close to finished as possible. It was just playing it for three weeks over and over; we got everything to memory. And then when we went into the studio, we were able to record together. Sometimes we’d run out of space to record everything at once, but we did our best to keep the energy as high as we could. We tried to learn from our past records.”
Cormier continues, noting how listening through some of Cancer Bats past records helped better define the sound they were actually striving for on Dead Set On Living.
Cancer Bats sound consistently consumed by the music around them, be in their past records or the records played on the tour bus. Touring, as Cormier contends, has no strain on the creative process.
“I don’t think (Touring) holds us back,” he says. “We spend a lot of time on the road just thinking about what we could do better. All of us just hanging out, talking about records just gets us excited about getting back into the studio after a few years of touring. Listening to records and pushing ourselves to be as creative as possible is what we try to do.”
Cormier names the new Fleet Foxes, Feist and Black Lips records as ones that “Continue on being creative and representing the ideals that those bands represent, but not playing it safe. What gets us excited as a band is trying new things.”
Now four albums into their career, one could forgive Cancer Bats for resting on their laurels. Yet Cormier contends that by looking to bands around them, they manage to constantly push the envelope.
“You get that inspiration from other artists,” he says rather pointedly. “When we go into the studio, we get inspired by new albums. Last album, we listened to Brand New’s Daisy. That was such a heavy record. I loved that they could’ve taken the easy route but wrote songs they were excited about. They pushed their fans as far as what they expect from the band.”
“We’re big fans of Tegan And Sara,” he continues. “When we heard The Con, we realized they were doing whatever they wanted. We understood that you can have that kind of freedom while still maintaining interest from true fans. That might be what lead us to explore all kinds of different sounds.”
As the sonic landscape of Cancer Bats continues to evolve in scope over time, one thing that remains a constant is Cormier’s honest and emotive lyrical approach.
It’s what maintains Cancer Bats’ unwavering love from their fans, and Cormier knows it.
“For me, I’ve tried to become a better writer. I’m trying to clear up a lot of ideas. I’m not going to be there to explain the idea of the song to… a kid in Idaho. I need to make sure that when he listens to the song that I convey the point in three minutes. I keep that in the back of my mind when I’m writing. I’ve learned the more honest I am, the better feedback I get from fans.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Dead Set On Living is out now on Shock Records. CANCER BATS will be appearing alongside Metallica, Blink-182, Tomahawk and many, many more at the 2013 Soundwave Festival, with the Melbourne leg taking place Friday March 1. Visit www.soundwavefestival.com for more details.