Eight years into its existence, the fermentation process of Toronto hardcore heroes Cancer Bats may finally be complete.
At least that’s the opinion of lead singer/shouter/screamer Liam Cormier, who says the comfort level between himself and guitarist Scott Middleton, drummer Mike Peters and bassist Jaye Schwarzer has never been better.
If you need more proof, turn your ears toward his band’s latest opus, Dead Set On Living. “This being our fourth record, we’re really trying to step up our game as a band,” says Cormier. “We’ve figured out what we want to be musically, so at this point it’s less experimentation, and more just really driving home those ideas.”
If Dead Set On Living, replete with Middleton’s thundering fretwork and balls-to-the-wall rhythm support from the Schwarzer-Peters tandem, is indeed the breakthrough Cormier is wishing for, the quartet will have certainly earned it.
Since 2006’s introductory Birthing The Giant, the band has shown remarkable evolution with their subsequent album releases Hail Destroyer (2008) and the Juno-nominated Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones (2010), pummeling crowds at home in Canada, in the U.S. and on the U.K. club and festival circuit with their aural aggression.
And the fact that Cancer Bats has generated an international profile without the support of mainstream vehicles affords them the luxury of creative freedom.
“It gives us a confidence,” he admits. “The fact that we actually take a chance and play music that we really want to… and then to see that translate and work out not only in Canada – where we have our friends and peers – but with people we’ve met all around the world indicates that what we’re doing is working. And if this is working so far, let’s do whatever we want.”
While conceding that most of Cancer Bats’ earlier material dwelled on negative content, singer and lyricist Cormier initially had greater aspirations for Dead Set On Living.
“My goal was to write the most positive record that I could,” he explains. “The fans said Bears was really harsh and dark thematically. Some of them mentioned that they missed the positive songs we had on Hail Destroyer and Birthing, and it made me think a lot about that.”
However, at the time the album was written, Cormier’s best friend, at the young age of 29, suffered a heart attack. “That had a huge impact on me,” he admits. “That’s what the song ‘Dead Set On Living’ is about. Life went on and we started making this record, and I realized that it was unfair to write strictly about the positive, because life isn’t always positive.”
The friend has since recovered, but the ordeal gave Cormier plenty of grist for the mill. “You know, with my best friend being in the hospital, there are obvious songs that came around that,” he says, “like ‘R.A.T.S’ and ‘The Void,’ some of these more negative things that you can’t help but deal with. It was really helpful to have this record to work through that.”
The sanctuary where Cormier and the rest of Cancer Bats developed their ideas was a rehearsal space in the Lakeshore/Islington area of Toronto – one close enough to the hospital that the singer could visit his friend every night. The location also allowed them to bicycle to practice, an exercise that helped keep them fresh and contributed to their stamina in writing and demoing a song a day in their rehearsal studio.
“Everyone would ride 14K out of the city, get some fresh air and exercise, and then lock ourselves in a windowless room,” Cormier recalls. “When it came time for me to write lyrics, I found there was nothing better than working on verse ideas while pounding it out on the bike, because it’s all that you’re thinking about. Your mind is clear. You don’t have a lot of distractions.”
When it comes to the songwriting process, Cormier says Cancer Bats takes the communal line of attack.
“There are no egos,” Cormier insists. “And there’s no single person who kind of writes everything in the band. In the practice space, we throw around ideas, and even trade instruments. I had a second drum kit set up so I could write ideas even when we’re making the skeleton parts. Mike’s not worried that I’m going to step on his toes, because I’m not nearly as good a drummer as he is. Jaye can play guitar, and we’re comfortable with that.”
Overall, Cormier said Cancer Bats’ biggest concern is maintaining its integrity, and he feels that Dead Set On Living more than fulfills that mandate. “For me, I always want to be as honest as possible and as specific as possible to my own life. It’s that honesty in the song that people are able to relate to.”