Cancer Bats have spoken to NME about their love for IDLES – as well how mindfulness shaped their “heavy as fuck” new album ‘Psychic Jailbreak’, and the return of their Black Sabbath-inspired side project Bat Sabbath.
Formed in Toronto in 2004 by vocalist Liam Cormier and guitarist Scott Middleton, the hardcore band were soon rounded out by drummer Mike Peters and drummer Jaye R. Schwarzer. Last year, Middleton announced he was leaving the band, telling fans: “After recent life events, now more than ever it feels the time is right for me to prioritise my family, personal growth/health.”
“It was the most Canadian of splits,” Cormier told NME, before revealing he had spoken to Middleton on the previous day. “There was no real drama, that’s just not what we do,” he explained.
His decision didn’t derail the creation of new album ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ (which was already 70 per cent complete), nor did it make Cormier question his own future with the group. “I was having a blast, as were the other guys, so we just carried on.” he said. “We were feeling more creative than we’d felt in a while, probably because we had so much free time.”
Thanks to COVID, Cormier was spending his days skateboarding or dirt-biking around the Nova Scotian landscape he now calls home. “Making this record was just another fun thing to do,” he continued. “That being said, we knew we needed to make this a sick Cancer Bats record. I didn’t want people to hear it, then worry about what’s happening in the Bats camp, or what we’re going to do moving forward. It needed to be a statement.”
He added: “We weren’t thinking about making a rock opera, we weren’t concerned about thinking outside the box, we just wanted to hammer home what we love about Cancer Bats.”
During Lockdown, Cancer Bats released two EPs in the ‘You’ll Never Break Us’ series, with the band reworking previous hardcore hits into something stripped-back and acoustic. “It was cool to see the evolving nature of the band. We were 20-something kids when we wrote a lot of those songs, and we’ve come so far as players,” said Cormier, noting that the project came about from simply wanting to entertain people during lockdown.
“It was good to be humbled by it, too,” he added. “If those tracks went on to get millions of views, it would have changed how we viewed this band. But they didn’t. It was a fun extra thing that was able to raise some money for charity that also served as a reminder that people love our band because we’re heavy. It meant that ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ had to be heavy as fuck.”
The lockdown had another impact on the creation of ‘Psychic Jailbreak’, allowing Cormier more time to reflect while writing the lyrics away from the chaos of being on tour.
“A ‘psychic jailbreak’ describes a massive shift in perspective,” he explained. The actual song was written about how there are different theories about the perception of time, but beyond that, “Cancer Bats have also undergone a real psychic jailbreak with Scott stepping back and this being our new reality,” he said.
“I feel like the whole world has undergone a lot of shifts in perspective,” he went on. “All around the globe, there are concepts that people have really taken onboard over the past few years in a really positive way, from thinking about mindfulness to deconstructing racism. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got time to think about the world at large, rather than focusing on the day-to-day grind.”
That new outlook is reflected in high-energy songs of rebellion like ‘Friday Night that “speaks about activism and various protests I saw across the world” with lyrics like “we’re sick and tired, tired of you and your time here is running out”, but is also present in tracks like ‘The Hoof’ – an introspective track about how skateboarding has changed Cormier’s life – and ‘Lonely Bong’, which is “almost like a therapy session asking why I’m drawn to this restless life of being a touring musician.”
Speaking about the themes of the album, Cormier said: “I could never write a concept record. I just don’t have the attention span. It’s just a reflection of who I am as a person though, those 11 ideas are constantly on my mind – I think about things like the world, the universe but also how much I love skateboarding. It’s just about having the confidence to know our music can tackle all those things.”
Still, he declares that ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ is full of the “jam tunes” that people have come to expect.
“A song like ‘Radiate’ is a fun song but even if you just Google the word ‘interconnectedness’, that will hopefully lead to people understanding the importance of mindfulness, while a song like ‘Friday Night’ will hopefully encourage people to feel heard and like they have a place in this world,” said Cormier.
“Ultimately, I want this record to prove to people that Cancer Bats are a band you can still count on.”
Following the success of 2018’s ‘The Spark That Moves as “a kick-ass record that saw us stick to our guns” and a recent sold-out mini-tour across Ontario that saw the band play their biggest ever headline show, Cormier knows “we just have to keep being Cancer Bats and this whole group of people will be stoked. We don’t need to be Foo Fighters, because there’s already a great band called Foo Fighters.”
Admitting that he’s “stoked” about the current punk movement, Cormier described IDLES as “basically the biggest hardcore band on the planet,” and that the Bristol punks touring with the likes of Witch Fever made “the whole scene feel exciting”.
“At the same time, we know who Cancer Bats are so we can enjoy these bands without feeling like we have to emulate them to be successful or relevant,” he admitted. That said, Cancer Bats have also made a name for themselves with a sideline in paying homage to Black Sabbath.
Performing under the name Bat Sabbath, the group have toured sporadically and released a self-titled five-track EP in 2013. “We made a fun Bat Sabbath thing when we were in the studio that we still haven’t released,” revealed Cormier. Over lockdown, the group were texting each other about other Sabbath classics they should add to their repertoire and are considering touring it next year. “We’re also thinking about asking (Black Sabbath guitarist) Tony Iommi to join us. Now that Scott’s left and Black Sabbath have stopped touring, it feels like the perfect time.”
Bat Sabbath also means that any theatrical itches Cormier might have are scratched thanks to the “psychopathic” cape-wearing frontman he gets to play in that band. “It’s so over the top, and it’s so fun to do but I also know we don’t ever need an eight-minute Cancer Bats song now. Can you imagine head-banging for that long?”
‘Psychic Jailbreak’ by Cancer Bats is out now.
Cancer Bats have also been announced as part of the line-up for the 2022 Slam Dunk Festival alongside Neck Deep, Sum 41, and Alexisonfire on June 3 and 4. The North edition of the event, held at Temple Newsam in Leeds will take place on June 3, 2022, while Slam Dunk South in Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire will take place a day later on June 4. Visit here for tickets and more information.