Cancer Bats is a great handle for a hardcore punk band. The four-member, Southern Ontario unit comprised of lead vocalist Liam Cormier, guitarist Scott Middleton,bassist Jaye R Schwarzer and drummer Mike Peters have just released their fifth record, `Searching For Zero’ on New Damage Records and make no apologies if you’ve never heard of them.
At the time of writing this missive, Cancer Bats are beginning a month-long tour of Europe that will take them through Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Belgium, France, Poland, Czech Republic and the United Kingdom having just appeared at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas and launched their new opus with a concert March 12th at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto.
At a time when new bands are complaining that they can’t get gigs, can’t sell records and can’t attract radio airplay, Cancer Bats have been sailing along quite nicely since their formation in 2004 when Cormier and Middleton left local heavy metal band At The Mercy Of Inspiration to form a new band which combined their love of heavy metal and hard core punk. Kind of like Led Zeppelin meets Black Flag.[quote]My first love has always been punk, that’s what I listened to as a kid, that’s what my friends listened to[/quote]
“My first love has always been punk, that’s what I listened to as a kid, that’s what my friends listened to. We’d all hang out at the same clubs around Waterloo and were drawn to the same music,” explained Cormier over the phone as the band travelled from Dallas to Nashville for a concert date before moving on to Richmond Virginia and then heading across the Atlantic to Holland to launch their month-long European junket. “From day one, it was always about getting out and playing, making friends and having fun, we just love to be out on the road.”
Since recording their first demo tape in 2004, Cormier, Middleton and original members; bassist Scott McCracken and drummer Joel Bath, quickly identified a niche in a punk rock scene which still had a strong following and quickly recorded their first studio record “Birthing The Nation” which received some initial strong radio support from Toronto’s The Edge FM radio station. Mike Peters quickly replaced Bath on drums and the band were soon heavily involved in touring established punk clubs with the likes of Billy Talent, Alexisonfire and Every Time I Die.
In creating the bands distinctive moniker, Cormier and Co decided it would be cool to combine the names of an illness with an animal name. So after some consideration, Cancer Bats was agreed upon, ( Pneumonia Hawk didn’t make the cut!).
Since that point, Cancer Bats have released four more records; “Hail Destroyer” in 2008, “Bears, Mayors,Scraps, Bones in 2010, “Dead Set On Living” in 2012 and their latest release “Searching For Zero” which came out in March. Schwarzer established himself as the band’s bassist in 2007 and the lineup has been constant ever since. “Right now we have the definitive lineup, all four of us work so well together that I don’t think a new member could re-interpret what we do, “ informed Cormier. “We are so solid that I think this band would break up if anyone decided to leave.”
Song titles off the new record like “No More Bullshit”, “Devil’s Blood” and “Cursed All Conscience” might suggest that content is the usual punk rock angst yet Cormier is insistent that the band’s sound is taking on a natural progression and that they devoted six months to working on this project.
“Some people can be dismissive of hardcore but I personally think we have shown a great deal of maturity in our musical progression,” allowed Cormier. “Our musicianship is a lot stronger on this record, I am reaching notes I couldn’t possibly reach before and I know our writing and song production are much stronger. Yet when we play the new songs along side our previous material, it all just fits, even though the new songs have a lot more choruses in the arrangements”
What is impressive is that over the past eight years or so, Cancer Bats have conquered the globe, performing consistently all over Europe (including Great Britain) , where hardcore, punk and metal festivals are still monstrous affairs, appearing in major U.S tours like Taste of Chaos as well as far-flung places like Australia and Japan.
“There’s still a huge loyal following of punk and hardcore music,” allows Cormier. “Adults who were once into punk/hardcore as kids, are still into us but now they bring their kids along to the shows. You especially see this at festivals where people had great memories of going to big festivals like Reading, Leeds and Donington and now want to bring their kids along and share the experience with them and tell them stories of some of their fondest memories.”
As a side project, The Cancer Bats have toured Canada as `Bat Sabbath’, a Black Sabbath tribute band which initially debuted at Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth England July 8th 2011, debuting a medley of Sabbath hits during an after-show party. “We re-introduced Bat Sabbath at a recent concert in Japan as a favour to the promoter, performing a three-song encore after our regular Cancer Bats set,” confired Cormier. “But it’s not something we do on a regular basis” (even though the original Sabbath has just announced they are wrapping things up).
So how do bands, who constantly worry about how to expand their touring options, attract interest outside of Canada? “Just go for it, get your band together, your gear together and go,” encouraged Cormier. “There were no guarantees when we went over at first. We’d just go for like three months and play wherever people gave us a gig. Whether it was England or Germany or Spain, we just played wherever we could find an audience. Eventually we built up a following and got repeat bookings but we still had to make the effort. Fortunately for us, our kind of music was popular over there, also by being Canadian, we were viewed as something different, and when we made the cover of (British metal magazine bible) Kerrang in 2007 and got press in magazines like Metal Hammer, that set us up for the festivals, and we’ve kept on building this following up ever since.”
Cormier tells the story of a recent gig the band had in St Louis on the way down to playing at SXSW. “When we got to the venue, there was like 11 paid people in the place, apparently there were four other big shows in town that night, but to us it was like, well we’re here in St Louis, might as well make the best of it. The fact is, that 11 people made the effort to come and see us and one guy had a logo from our first record tattooed on one of his fingers, so we dedicated our set to him. We just made sure those 11 people had a great time and hope that next time through they’ll all come back and bring a bunch of their friends with them.”
One positive off-shoot of their audience is that these people, for the most part, still collect CD’s and vinyl recordings and are not totally into streaming music into their iPhones and other such devices. “So what happens when their IPhones crash and they lose everything,” Cormier jokes. “Social Media may be the thing now but I find people still love going to shows and collecting vinyl, cassettes and CD’s. Our fans love to hold something that’s tangible.”
So as Cancer Bats contemplate another month of steering their van along the motorways and autobahns of Europe, does Cormier ever wish they could travel by bus or by plane to their distant venues?
“Where’s the fun in that,”he jokingly protests. “We got into this business in the beginning because we wanted to tour which means we wanted to see places. It would be no fun being parked in a bus parking lot miles away from any attractions or being constantly stuck at an airport. We love the idea of being in a van and being able to visit the tourist sites and meet the people. Every time, we get our itinerary we are looking for familiar venues and cities where have friends and we can go to our favourite restaurants and coffee shops. That’s what touring is really all about.”
Photos by Viktor Radics.
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