Toronto, Ontario’s finest sons, Cancer Bats, have been absolutely killing it on a constant basis since their inception. These guys formed the band in 2004 and have proceeded to put out six albums that have been better every single time, a boatload of E.Ps and split-releases that have been consistently fucking fantastic, and they’ve cultivated one of the most loyal and rabid followings in metal/hardcore and MAINTAINED it which is NO easy task in the internet age.
They can play shows with Hot Water Music (just did in fact) and Every Time I Die without batting an eyelash, their music is heavy and positive in equal measure, and they’re just fucking nice guys. They even play Black Sabbath covers as “Bat Sabbath” and if that’s not awesome to you I give up. Towel thrown in.
Cancer Bats is the kind of metal you get when musicians have universal health care.
What the fuck does that even mean? Who cares, it’s the internet- everything is true! I’ve been listening to these guys for a long time and they’re one of the few bands to come out of the early-2000’s metal/hardcore boom that has survived AND grown exponentially as artists while also retaining a fiercely devoted following. They’re true to their art first and foremost, and it shows. Their most recent album, “The Spark That Moves” took the creative leaps and bounds from the previous release, 2015’s “Searching for Zero” and expanded upon it even further, leaving them in that rare space where their sound is modern, forward thinking, and fully charged with the same energy they’ve had all along.
It probably sounds like I dig Cancer Bats a fuck of a lot.
That’s because I do, Ghosties- so I was THRILLED beyond belief when their guitarist Scott Middleton was down to do this interview. Everyone in the band has multiple projects going (Scott details ALL of that later on) so it was gonna be tough to get everyone together, but Scott had some time to spare and he graciously took the time to have a really rad conversation with me. I’m a guitarist too so it’s probably a natural fit anyway, funnily enough though I never really ask him much about gear- I figure there are PLENTY of “what’s your setup?” type interviews out there so as per usual, I’d rather go down a different path.
The rest of the band- Liam Cormier (vocals), Mike Peters (drums), and Jaye R. Schwarzer (bass)- are really missing out though, talking to me is an unparalleled experience in awesomeness that nobody should miss. Maybe I can ambush them another time, but for now- dig in to this fucking FANTASTIC conversation I had with Scott Middleton of the mighty Cancer Bats!
AFHGhost1/So you guys just did an EPIC run w/Hot Water Music- I would have given a kidney to be at one of those, how did that fantastic idea come about? You guys have such different energy but it’s coming from the same spirit so it WORKS.
Scott M./ Well, they were doing anniversary tours for two of their records at the same time and we happen to be good friends with their singer/guitarist Chris Cresswell who also plays in The Flatliners, and have toured with their drummer George when he was in Against Me!. Pretty sure Chris recommended us and it wasn’t a hard decision as the guys in my band are huge fans of HWM too! They were killer every night and all the shows were great. Especially the last two in Toronto.
HWM has always been one of the best live bands around and you guys share that distinction as well. A lot of sweat and beer must have been spilled at those shows! Another constant with you guys has been progression- you’ve achieved something not a lot of bands have achieved: you’ve grown and evolved on every single album AND managed to retain one of the most rabid fan bases in heavy music. It’s a testament to the life that flows through your music, I mean- if you listen to a Cancer Bats record and DON’T feel awesome you’re doing shit all wrong. In the age of misinformation and trolling you guys have managed to be one of the toughest bands for people to shit on- how do you think you guys pull that off? Constant growth in metal is tough to do without catching heat but you guys do whatever the fuck you want and things only get better.
Thanks so much, that means a lot to us! I think one of the things is that we’ve all been growing and learning how to be a better band, write better songs,and when to encourage one another to step things up. I think all of this comes from the value of working with amazing producers who taught us, challenged us, and made us have high expectations because they showed us what was possible. At the end of the day we love the music we play and that’s always the basic goal. We’re all picky music lovers and have high expectations of ourselves and that’s what seems to always propel us forward. It comes from a place of honesty rather than trying to chase current trends or make a pop metal record to get on the radio. We have diverse influences and that’s what allows us to have our own sound. I think with the tools our producers have given us and what we’ve learned after 15+ years of recording and writing songs, we are able to accurately represent ourselves in our own unique way without being bored or getting stale.
Absolutely, when you’re making music from a place of artistic purity AND you allow yourself to grow organically in whatever direction that purity takes you- THAT’S what makes exceptional art happen. Staying true to yourself, understanding that things change, I could get all deep here cause it’s really just metaphors for life in general but I’d hate to bore you to sleep so I’ll shut the fuck up about it. It IS true though, life is exponentially better when we stay true to ourselves and our convictions, and as you can see I’m not real great at shutting the fuck up! Anywho, I think the most incredible jump was between Dead Set on Living and Searching for Zero, almost like a dividing line. Searching for Zero took your sound to so many new places, that one MUST have been a conscious decision right? You guys must have at minimum got into the room together and just said “let’s dive off this cliff and see what happens”. The good news is, it paid off- HUGELY. As someone who appreciates your whole catalog that one might be my personal favorite. It’s just got SO much range and it really takes your signature sound and explores so many different shapes. It’s fucking impressive.
Yeah it is certainly our biggest difference between records, the lions share of that we owe to the producer of that record Ross Robinson. I think any band that works with him and opens up will have their sound changed, shot into another dimension, and will show a new side of themselves….and that’s certainly what happened to us! I do think it’s natural to not want to repeat yourself and the way we wrote that record was by essentially writing 25-30 songs and narrowing it down to the best ones. Not even necessarily trying to make it a massive departure or anything like that, just trying to write the best songs we could that were in us at the time.
I think if you were to hear the demos we made for it you’d see how much closer they were to sounding like what people might expect from us, but we decided to work with Ross to shake things up and be challenged with a less familiar scenario to see how it would unfold. It would’ve been dishonest for us to do anything else. He helped us grow, and certainly being a producer myself, his influence on how I think about music was profoundly changed and invigorated. His focus was on helping us better arrange our songs, challenging us to write something better on the spot, and focusing on energetic emotional and off the cuff performances over something technically perfect and slick sounding.
Ross is an auteur the way a director like Tarantino or Kubrick is. You’re either on board or you’re not. For some people who like our band they didn’t get into the production style and change of sound. Others loved it and were inspired. That’s fair either way, cause we love it, and no one complains about those songs when we play them live, they translate really well into our set and I’ve had some fans say they hope we do a live version of that record because they love the Searching for Zero songs live even more than on record! I think that could be a lot of fun!
Oh for sure man, that would be SUPER rad. Ross really does have that spider sense of getting bands out of their comfort zone and getting them to find a new magic. To me he, and any producer really, is like an alchemist- taking existing ingredients and making something new. It’s absolutely wonderful when it works and as a listener it was really great to hear the success of that alchemy on that record. The Spark That Moves then took that shit and ran with it even further, I just think it’s tremendous to see bands that have been around the block a time or twelve being able to keep up the passion AND grow so much, that’s what makes the framework of metal & hardcore so versatile- heavy can mean so many different things to people and to be able to play with that and have it turn out so well is a great thing.
I was thinking of something else about Cancer Bats, you guys have always embraced humor and positivity in a way that really compliments your music and SO many bands that came up around the same time as you guys really dug their heels in on the super dark imagery and unfortunately a lot of those early metalcore bands also fell perilously close to misogyny and “party rock” cliche. I’ve heard you guys described as “party metal” before but that never fit you guys to me. You’re a fucking FUN band, sure- but I think there has always been a lot more going on than those bands had and I’m glad that you guys never fell into that trap. I’ve always gotten the impression that you were just nice dudes and I’m one of those weirdos that likes to know that the people he’s co-signing on aren’t a bunch of dicks.
So- is it the result of good mothers, Canadian stereotypes, or is it because you guys know Chris Hannah and he’d most definitely whack you guys with his hockey stick if you strayed from the good path? A gumbo of all those ingredients perhaps?
I think you hit the nail on the head: great parents, similar backgrounds and ethics, and we all cut our teeth in the late 90’s/early 2000’s hardcore scene. Listening to Propaghandi for sure was an influence too!
Nice, I like it when my weird ideas turn out to be correct! Propagandhi has been such a MASSIVE influence on me as a musician and a human being, they’re that rare band that not only pushes boundaries musically with every album but they also make you want to be a better person. Chris Hannah is about as close to a superhero as a dude in a band can get, ethically speaking, and those guys just get better and better with age. So while we’re talking about all this growth and creativity- I know Liam has the clothing line, you’re producing- you guys have a lot of hustle in your band, but musically speaking, is there anything you guys want to do that you haven’t tried yet? Or, maybe something that’s SUCH a departure that you haven’t taken the plunge? Please tell me smooth jazz is on the short list.
Definitely not a smooth jazz recording coming from our band ever! We’ll see what the future holds, but who knows? Maybe we’ll do a residency in Vegas when Celine Dion retires and get really weird.
You’ve said it publicly now, so you MUST do exactly that! I’d move my family to Vegas just to go see that shit every night, mark my words. Dibs on first guest list slots.
So you’ve got a new little one at home I see, is this your first kiddo? We talk a lot about parenting on The Ghost Generation because there aren’t NEARLY enough people getting real about that shit on the internet. We have two ourselves, 4 and 2, so we’re essentially clinically insane. How are you guys holding up with a “fresh” one? Is he a sleeper? Our daughter was a sleep gangster from 8 weeks onward but our son was the polar opposite. Homie didn’t sleep for 10 fucking months, literally. Had to get a specialist and everything.
I don’t think anyone is ever prepared properly enough for parenting. I think there should be mandatory classes everyone should take in school and before bringing a life into this world.
Our son is a beautiful little guy and we are so proud! He’s great at sleeping. It’s us as parents that struggle more with that than him I think. The first 2-3 months threw my life upside down and I am so thankful my friend Wade MacNeil helped me out and filled in for me on tour while I was in full first- time dad mode. Our family just flew to Europe for the first time with our son to introduce him to his Slovak family. We ended up missing a connection because we were changing a diaper and that was a bit of a nightmare. It all worked out in the end, but we are certainly green in certain scenarios. Of course it’s all about learning and that’s one of the best things about becoming a parent. Learning a lot about yourself, and it gives you a lot of perspective and appreciation for all parents and especially mothers. Hats off and massive respect for anyone who manages to somehow raise a family on their own; I think single parents must be superheroes.
I agree 1,000,000%, and no book can prepare you for how much your whole world changes once you’re a parent. It’s the most wonderful thing you’ll ever do, it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do, and it is 100% the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. The problem is, nobody tells you this shit- at least, not ENOUGH of it. People are so afraid to appear vulnerable that instead they just try to come off perfect on social media and it’s absolute bullshit. I love my kids, but some days it’s tough to just get through the day. We have two kids under 5, we don’t have any family helping us out, and we’re both working- and I’m trying to build THIS shit too! Some days you feel like you can’t do it, and that’s OK. It’s perfectly OK to feel like throwing in the towel sometimes, because the thing is- most of us don’t. Sure, some parents fuck off, leave their kids, and go live shitty selfish lives (my father being one) but the vast majority of us fucking power through cause we’re tougher than we give ourselves credit for. Double that for the mothers!
Parenting has taught me how strong I am, how awe-inspiring my wife is, and how solid our marriage is too. We’re a tough fucking team and it’s because we have done it all out of love- that’s what the world is missing right now, if everyone would just LOVE fiercely I bet you’d see all the hate simmer down pretty fucking quick. I’m not even going into all THAT shit with you because I’m enjoying this WAY too much to bring any darkness in dammit!
That’s really rad that Wade was able to do that for you, and that you did that for YOURSELF and your family too. That early time is important and our society kind of shits all over it, so it makes me happy to know that you got that opportunity to be with your little guy. He’s quite a looker, and I can see how much you love him. Have you and your wife talked about how you’re going to navigate the touring situation moving forward? I can do The Ghost Generation from anywhere but you HAVE to go on the road, otherwise you’d be Cancer SATS instead of BATS, am I right? I did throw that super-shitty dad joke in on purpose by the way, just so we’re clear.
I think there’s just a general understanding that this is an important part of my career and our family income. Being away from loved ones sucks, and in certain scenarios we can get people to fill in for us, but you don’t want to let anyone down, whether that be our family, our bandmates, or our fans. I think for us, it’s the point where we’ve matured a lot, being nearly 40 we’ve started having kids and our mantra is this: we tour smarter instead of harder.
We’re not trying to do grueling tours supporting other bands for no money and sleeping in the van every night like we would do in 2007. We want to take this seriously, professionally, and have it be most of all enjoyable. I don’t think any of us want to be away from home and not enjoy being onstage, but we have responsibilities to provide for our family. I think there’s also a learning curve in all this. Mikey has a couple of years on me as a dad and has two sons. I can and do learn through him and other parents we are friends with in the music community who also tour a lot. Again, everyone’s situation and journeys are different and I think communication is key with everything we are doing within music and our respective families.
I couldn’t agree more, communication is everything- it sounds cliche but it’s SO huge. My wife & I are about the same age as you and we keep watching other couples around us falling apart. While I can’t know every detail I do know one thing-the constant in all of them is that communication broke down somewhere. When you stop talking, and stop trying to get on the same page, it’s a recipe for failure ESPECIALLY once kids are involved. It just takes so much out of you, you really have to make sure you’re putting in the work on your marriage so everyone stays on the level. My wife is my best friend, and vice-versa, and like I said before- I’m lucky that I can do this pretty much anywhere but it still comes with sacrifices of its own.
I think “tour smarter, not harder” is the perfect mindset for you guys to be in, and you’re in a great place to be able to do it. You’re an established band with a rabid following AND longevity- newer bands have to try to get on every fucking bill they can, but you can can be a lot more choosy. Working that way will help you guys be a better band too, cause there’s nothing worse than having the thing you love burn you out. Believe me, I’m still kicking and screaming my way to 40, but accepting that we all get older helps us be the best we can be. trying to be 25 forever is a losing battle, I’d rather fight the ones I can win.
So, I have a very unique and wonderful problem right now Scott, and that problem is this- I only seek out interviews with people I WANT to work with and respect, so I say this to pretty much everyone but it rings true for you nonetheless: I’m pretty sure we could keep this going for a LONG fucking time and I’m enjoying our conversation immensely. That said, you’re a busy man and a new dad so I want to get you back to that baby! Tell me what’s ahead for the rest of 2020 in your world, and if there’s anything you wanna plug it’s all you!
Well for 2020 we have lots of awesome Cancer Bats touring ahead of us, and a lot of Canadian shows in towns we haven’t played in nearly ten years which is great. We have the anniversary of our 3rd album Bears, Mayors, Scraps, and Bones coming up and you may just see something special for that being released! We will also have some Bat Sabbath gigs this year too which is always a blast, and we’re also getting excited to start writing the next record! The last release we did was a split 7 inch with Single Mothers where we do a switcheroo and cover each other’s songs. That was a ton of fun to do and everyone should check that out. It was the first time I recorded and mixed one of our songs entirely since our first release so that was extra fun for me! Jaye does sweet woodwork and you should check that out at 1024woodshop.com, Liam makes super rad moto gear with his brand Treadwell Clothing, Mikey has an amazing band called Agapito, and I produce, master and mix records at Schoolhouse Studios in Hamilton ON! My website is www.scottmiddletonproducer.com and anyone who wants to have a blast making a great record should hit me up! I’ve got amazing releases from bands like Sleepy Hungry, Napoleon, Spill Your Guts, Deck Piss, Hidden Mothers, Lawless Sons and Incisions coming out this year that I’d love people to take the time and check out. I will be launching a podcast called Audio Punks where myself and my studio partner Nick Ginn will be talking about what we’ve learned from years of being in touring bands, recording punk and metal at our studio, and nerding out about all the gear we love! Look for that in the next month or so!
Wow, you guys sure as hell have the whole “side hustle” thing down fucking pat. That’s smart, I like how you guys operate. Man, everything about this has been fan-fucking-tastic, and it goes without saying but you guys have an open invitation with The Ghost Generation. I’m down to chat with you guys ANYTIME and I appreciate you taking the time to do this very much. I think it’s gonna be an amazing year for Cancer Bats and everything you guys have going on, and I wish you the absolute best with little man and your family too.
This interview was a lot of fun! Thanks for having me!
HUGE thanks to Scott Middleton and Cancer Bats for the opportunity to annoy one of them for a while. You can check out all things Cancer Bats here, so go buy some shit and tell them The Ghost Generation sent you.
Thanks for reading, Ghosties- next interview in line is Frankie Palmeri (EMMURE) and you’re NOT gonna want to miss that one so stay tuned!
For now, here’s video of them murdering the shit out of the stage at last year’s Bloodstock fest. Enjoy. 🙂
A blog/website where these happily married, 30-something parents of 2 little minions rant, rave, and speak in tongues. Raw, honest, and riddled with profanity. Get on board and let’s make The Ghost Generation awesome together! http://theghostgeneration.com Twitter.com/Gh0stGeneration