Most bands dream of taking their basement and garage projects to incredible heights but THE FLATLINERS are pretty content with where they are now. The Toronto-based punks have a thirst for writing, a way of stumbling into a local venue spot near you, and like The Menzingers, Make Do And Mend and Against Me!, they live for chord-driven grit that bleeds more emotion than a broken heart. Their records don’t emphasize universal angst, but they leave you feeling united as they project a mesh of intensified blue collar alternative that’s lyrically complex and sensitive.
Before the European and North American tour dates and the premiere of the single “Drown In Blood”, it merely took a mid-afternoon chat with Chris Cresswell to understand that Dead Language would introduce a different aesthetic. In our chat, the vocalist/guitarist reflected on the pressures of being a lyricist, performing at the upcoming Fest in Florida, and how recording the band’s fourth LP has produced a perfect storm of songs that’s carving a new future.
As a musician, which can be more stressful: touring relentlessly or spending time in the studio?
I think they can both be stressful, just in different ways. Touring relentlessly has to do with being a part of the group – and you not always wanting to do what the group does (laughs). When you’re not on tour, you just get to live your life and be with whoever you want to be with, but if you’re halfway around the world, you probably want to stick to the group. Sometimes you don’t want to because you want to go to do your own thing or because you’re a long way from home and away from the people you love and miss. The worst day on tour is when you’re sick. It just somehow makes everything the worst, not fun at all, just terrible – especially when you’re the singer. Being sick just sucks all the fun out of it and it’s not exactly fair, but you still get to travel the world, see all these beautiful places and meet all these great people and play music for them because that’s what you do with your life.
The stress of the studio is something I’ve always been affected by. I put a lot of pressure on myself in the studio and I think there’s a lot of creative pressure too, but I really just feel the need to always be in the studio for every part that’s recorded. You want your new material to turn out perfectly. You want a song to turn out to be what you find recorded in your head. At times, so many people are involved because you’re in a band and it’s a collaborative effort, and while it’s not exactly fair, you think the way you envision it is the way it has to come out. It can create a lot of stress because this person here and this person there and this person over there probably have a different vision of how a song should come out. Then you’ll finally have everything finished or recorded and you just have to hope that you love it. If you love it, then that stress wasn’t all for nothing as it gets justified.
Though studios present their own kind of stress, you have said that you enjoyed the recording process this time around for your new album. What made things different this time?
I did really enjoy it and we just… we really didn’t think about much. I know that sounds so idiotic but we didn’t really take the time to stop and think about things and really have everything kind sorted out in advance. We had a bunch of songs written that we were so happy with and so excited about so we went into the studio and recorded them all together live off the floor. Other than a couple lead guitar parts here and there, most of the music on our new album Dead Language is live off the floor without a click track. I think it was more exciting that way because it felt like us four playing in a room together rather than us four playing together but having the drums recorded, and then the bass, then the guitars and then the vocals. A lot of records are made that way but it was just way more fun to do it organically. It’s what we do all year anyway as we’re playing shows so we know how to play music together.
I read somewhere that you guys had actually decided to pay to record this album yourself even though you are signed to a label. Is there a specific intention behind that choice?
Not exactly. I think it was just something the four of us wanted to pull off. The touring we did the last couple years created an opportunity for us to finally do that and the only reason we wanted to take that step was so we could do it at our own pace. They’ll give you this much money but it can only afford this much time.
This time, we recorded the album with Steve Rizun who’s done all of our albums and he made it fun. We’d do a couple take chunks and we’d asked him how much money we owed him and we’d pay him, and then we’d do a few more chunks after a tour or whatever and we’d pay him the amount again. We were kind of blown away that we had gotten to the point where we were able to afford to do that as a band, and I think that’s a huge reason why the process was so fun and why it was so relaxed time-wise in the studio. At a certain point, we were just going there once a week instead of spending three, four, five weeks just recording. I think that’s why in the past we might have over-thought some things and even just plainly got frustrated.
Would you say the lack of a deadline and a relaxed atmosphere contributed to a better album?
I think so. We probably ended up frustrating the label we were working with more (laughs). But they’ve been super patient and helpful so we have to thank them at the end of the day of course. Not to sound like a broken record, but we were having fun and I think that really comes out in the recordings, which is strange as the lyrical content for the new songs isn’t positive. Being the main lyricist, I’ve never been really able to write lyrics about what I enjoy or what makes me happy. It’s usually stuff about what frustrates me or really angers me. Dead Language might come off as a little conflicted as people will hear about how much fun we were having in the studio and then they’ll learn that the songs are about this weird perfect storm. To us, I think our excitement definitely comes across in the recordings.
Going back to what you said about how you recorded Dead Language in segments – when you re-entered the studio, what ensured that you were going to move forward with the recordings?
To tell you the truth, we went into the studio with the intention of recording demos and didn’t plan to put out any songs anytime soon. We recorded 11 or 12 songs in a couple days and we started listening to them and discovered that they actually sounded like pretty good demos. We didn’t have any intentions of putting them out so we went on tour and kind of sat on them for a little while. It’s just with the process of writing a song – being so confident and turning them into demos, and then pulling them apart and re-recording for the album is a daunting task.
We did that for The Great Awake and then Calvacade, and to be honest with you, it kind of sucks. For some songs, it’s necessary to re-write and for certain songs of ours, it’s been a necessary process. We recorded 20 tracks for this album and though not all of them are going to be on the record, we had choices there, which is nice.
Did the two songs from the split you guys did with Make Do and Mend come from those sessions?
Pretty much, yeah. We essentially recorded them all and all of the songs were contenders for the album, and we just kind of started to choose which ones would go on the album and which ones would go on the split or be saved for later. It’s a difficult process with there being so many people involved. I think we chose two appropriate songs to put out on that split because those two songs give folks a taste of what’s to come on the album. I think we made the right choices there but if not, then we’ll never know (laughs).
You guys are hitting The Fest in the fall and it seems like you’re already pretty excited about it. What can you tell me about your personal experiences there and are you more so excited to test your new material live in Gainesville?
It’s always great. I think this will be the seventh year we’ve done it and it’s just the best weekend of the year, every year. The reason it’s so fun for me is that it’s almost like a spot for everyone you know from every band in North America, Europe and even Australia and Japan. It’s also full of people that you’ve met on tour and music fans you’ve met and even people you know that work for bands – like everyone in the community of punk rock and rock n’ roll is there that weekend. And in a small college town in Florida. It’s just so cool, like there’s shows all day and night, so many bands, so many venues, so many parties – you feel like it’s this drunken, tattooed family reunion.
I think The Fest have done a really good job. They’ve kept tickets cheap for those who want to go, even for those who want to travel to it. Gainesville is just a really cool town in general with a lot of bars, restaurants and things to do, plus a great music history as well. Like you have Tom Petty, Hot Water Music, Against Me!, Less Than Jake and just a myriad of other amazing bands from the area. It’s also cool because you get to play these shows with your heroes. That’s what makes it a perfect weekend. Like you can’t even fucking talk after the weekend because of all the fun you’ve had. Seven years in for us, it’s still the best weekend of the year every year.
Would you say The Fest feels more like a family gathering because it sticks to punk genres?
I think so. It is largely a punk rock festival but at the same time you can dive pretty deep into the genre of punk rock and experience different realms of it. All of those parts of punk are very well represented at The Fest every year, especially this year. I think there’s around 300 bands playing, maybe more. Being in a punk rock band myself, we do spend time with other bands in the same vein of us. On our last tour, we were with A Wilhelm Scream and Such Gold, and all three of us are punk bands but we’re different kinds of punk bands that bring out different crowds. It was a perfect mix and such a great tour because all of the shows were unreal and almost overwhelming at times.
With a ten-year anniversary and four full-length albums under your belt, what do you think will be the next big achievement for The Flatliners?
We’ve never really been a band that’s hoping for these big accolades or something. I think we’re pretty content with things just the way they are. It’s been a really great run and things have just grown the past few years. We can’t thank our fans enough for staying with us for so long and for being so patient between albums (laughs). I know it may sound like a cop-out that we’re excited to see things continually grow and see what happens, but I don’t think any of us expect to become some giant band with another album because we’re content with playing shows. If the shows get bigger and better and we get some cool opportunities, then that’s awesome. As it is we’re already lucky enough to have people listen to us and come out to our shows wherever we go. That’s enough for us.