When The Flatliners were touring across Canada, I sat down with the band’s front man Chris Cresswell to discuss their latest record Cavalcade among other things. Guitarist Scott Brigham was in the room too and helped answer questions for a little bit:
How is the Broadway Calls/Cobra Skulls tour treating you guys?
It’s cool, we’re big fans of those bands and we’ve known them for a few years now. We’ve toured together before so at the first show in San Diego, we all met up and there was no getting to know each other or anything, it was just like friends reuniting. We’ve always wanted to bring both of those bands to Canada and we pulled off bringing both of them at once so it’s pretty rad. The shows have been cool, maybe the best show so far has been Edmonton on a Monday night. It was nuts, like totally fucking crazy. Monday night shows usually suck so we were super stoked on that. Saskatchewan didn’t go so good, but that’s been the only bad show so far.
It was just at a senior’s centre and we played on the floor. I think it was just a last minute show and it wasn’t as good as the others, but it was still a good time.
How has the crowd been reacting to your new stuff?
Scott: It’s been great, we’re trying to play at least 3-4 new songs every night and so far, so good.
It’s weird. Being in a band, when I see bands play new songs I’m really excited to hear their new stuff, but kids in an energetic crowd will often bring it down a notch when the new song is played. They’ll just kind of stare and I don’t know if they’re listening or they just don’t give a shit, you know? But we’ve been lucky that we haven’t experienced that yet at all.
Moving onto the new stuff, what made you decide to call the record Cavalcade?
We thought of a few other titles before. We were going to call it Carry the Banner, but then we were reminded of that Pinhead Gunpowder record called Carry the Banner so we were pretty bummed out. (Laughs) We had a hard time finding another title to rival that idea we had because we were so into it. There was just this weird throwback theme to the record. It’s not a concept record, but all the songs have this general theme that relates to the Great Depression era. That’s where Carry the Banner came from. Like in the Great Depression when a homeless person didn’t have a safe place to sleep, their homeless buddy would ask them ‘Hey, where you going to sleep tonight?’ and they’d say ‘Oh, I’m going to carry the banner.’ Which just meant they’d sleep on the street or ride on the train to try and avoid getting locked up for vagrant charges or basically killed. We didn’t have a name still and the term cavalcade basically originated with settlers riding on horseback with a line of horses and carriages set out to explore new land. It’s pretty cheesy, but it’s basically what we do out on tour in the van. And now the term has evolved to where it can be a series of anything. People use the term cavalcade when talking about a series of moments, or ideas, or songs or whatever so it made sense. We were glad we finally found something else to rival Carry the Banner.
What is the main inspiration for the lyrics you write?
It depends. I’m not really one to make up stories or anything, a lot of bands are good at that, making up characters and stuff. We just kind of write about what we experience in our lives. It’s tough for me to write lyrics about something good than something that bothers me. Even the songs that don’t sound angry are pretty angry songs. There are a few exceptions on this record, but a lot of it is just shit that sucks.
Why is that the case for you?
I don’t know. I guess I’m just a pessimist. I actually think I’ve pulled off writing the most asshole-ish lyrics I’ve ever written on this record, which is cool. (Laughs)
Can you give some examples?
Well, there’s a song called “He Was a Jazzman.” We’ve all gone through so much tragedy and turmoil in the last few years and that song is basically just written from the standpoint that everyone dies one day, so who gives a shit? But friends and family members dying on you is still an awful, tragic thing. It’s basically written in the one moment in time where you’ve given up and you’re wondering what’s next. You’re just in that awful, dark pit and you’re wondering how shit can get any worse. It just kind of stems from that. There’s a song called “Sleep Your Life Away” and that’s basically about how friendships can disintegrate over something so stupid. It’s basically just calling out a lot of people who are, I won’t say weak minded, but their ideals of friendship are just so shallow so it’s hard to keep good friendships intact. I just like to judge people basically, I’m so judgemental. (Laughs)
This record is also heavier in the sense that there isn’t much ska in your music anymore.
Scott: Yeah. I think we had a couple more written, they just didn’t end up making the cut.
It was just the song in general, not the fact that it had upstrokes or a clean tone to it. That wasn’t the reason it didn’t make it onto the record. It just wasn’t as strong as the others. We didn’t really set out to write anything in a specific way, some songs turned out heavier because of the way we were feeling at the time. Others turned out a little mellower for the same reasons.
Scott: We didn’t want to go in and record another record that’s just like Destroy to Create.
Or The Great Awake. I don’t think the new record is that far off from what we’ve been doing recently though, especially with the 7 inches we released between albums. I think those serve as a pretty good bridge to what we’re doing now. But yeah, like Scott said we don’t really want to do anything twice. And the other thing a lot of people may not know is that we wrote our first record, which is mainly a ska-punk record, when we were 14-years-old. Like almost all those songs were written when we were 14 and we recorded when we were 16. That was the first collection of songs that we had to put out on an album and we were really excited about it. Then afterwards when we started going on tour, we’ve evolved so much. We still love ska and reggae music, but there was a point where we wanted to write other stuff too.
I also heard you guys leaked a fake version of your record.
Yeah, I wish Paul [Ramirez, drummer] was here, he’s the one who mostly did it. We knew that this record was going to leak, there was no chance it wouldn’t because it happens to every album. You can’t help it, even though a lot of bands get pissed off about it. One thing that’s weird about our album is that iTunes put our record up for sale a month before it came out for 2-3 days. We were in Denver in early March. This kid came up to our merch guy and I think he thought he was in our band, but anyway he was like ‘I got your guys new record today and it’s awesome.’ And then our merch guy was like ‘Really? Hold on a second’ and he saw me and told me what the kid said. And all the while we had this fake record ready to go, which was like 10-15 seconds of our songs, then awful Beatles opera covers, high school bands covering Nirvana and Blink-182, then cats and dogs and shit like that. Totally just to fuck with people, right? When our merch guy told us this, I didn’t think he really had it. I downloaded records when I was younger, I thought I was downloading a Distillers record, but it turned out to be the Counting Crowes, you know what I mean?
Scott: Yeah, like those titles in Napster that would say NOFX, Bad Religion and Rancid all in one song. But then it would end up being a shitty cover from some other band.
So yeah, we had no idea where he got it so we asked him and he said he bought it off iTunes. And we thought it was really weird because every record leaks, but this is like a legal leak because people were buying it a month before it came out. It wasn’t like it was stolen or anything. We called the label after we found out and they were like ‘What the fuck?’ and started freaking out. There was just a glitch and when Fat sent them the files, I guess iTunes put the date in wrong or something, I don’t know exactly what happened, but it was totally iTunes fault. It worked out eventually so whatever, but it was still weird. We’re not really the ones to get bent out of shape when people download music though, it’s going to happen anyways. We just wanted to pull a joke on people and piss them off.
What was the recording process like?
We did it between tours, which was weird because we’ve never done that before. I wouldn’t recommend any band do it that way because it sucks. It worked out well in one way because we had all these songs recorded in the summertime, then we went on tour, then came back and came up with new stuff again. We were talking to Fat Mike all the while and he said he liked the songs, but we only had enough for a record. He thought we needed some extras and he didn’t know if we were ready to put something out because of that. We were going to put out this record in the fall and we were ready to put it out then. It really took an objective opinion like that to convince us to write more songs so we had the option to pick and choose what would make the final cut. At first it was a bummer, but then we were stoked on it because we got that second chance. Fat Mike would come up for a few days to work on the songs and give them a few tweaks here and there. We were so used to the way these songs were it was really tough to think of ways to try and improve them. Mike is really great at coming up with subtle ideas that really made a difference. It turned out great and we’re really proud of it.
What’s the best advice Fat Mike gave you while recording?
He’s full of wisdom, he really is. The man loves to talk.
Scott: He’s given us so much advice since we started with Fat.
He is a huge fan of the 2 minute long punk rock song. Before he came up to work on the record with us, we phoned him up and said ‘Hey man, we know you love that kind of stuff, we love that kind of stuff too, but we really want to try and do some different things too.’
Scott: He was so many great ideas, but we don’t really want to become another NOFX either. We want to be the Flatliners and have our own sound.
Yeah, and he was cool. After we put that on the table, he was like ‘Fuck yeah, it’s your band.’ He’s been such a huge supporter of us over the years, which is nuts. For kids like us, it’s amazing. When we first signed to Fat it was wild. None of us could believe it. The first time we walked into the Fat offices when we were on tour, we were so nervous. That feeling has never really gone away, but we have gotten used to going into the office and hanging out with the staff. We’ve become friends and they’re such an easy going label to work with too. And with Mike, it was just weird because we idolized the guy forever and grew up on NOFX. They were one of the first punk bands I ever heard. Then when NOFX started taking us out on tour that was retardedly cool. We’re not sure why our band has been so lucky, but we’ll take it.
Being a Canadian band, I’m sure it has benefitted your success in the States since you’re signed to Fat Wreck.
Oh yeah, for sure. It’s a tough place to crack, but Fat Wreck Chords has definitely helped. Just before around the time we signed, we did a quick tour of Michigan in the spring of 2007. We have a lot of friends there so we played a bunch of basement shows then one at an actual venue. Some kids came up to us after the show at the venue and they were like ‘I came out because I heard you guys had just signed to Fat, I’ve never heard of you before’ and at that point, we had just finished recording our album so they hadn’t heard anything off that record on Fat, but they were still there. The best part of that label is the built in demographic that really gives every new band a really good shot. And then the first time we were at the office, we sat down with Mike and he pitched us an idea to sell our CDs for The Great Awake when it came out for $5, to keep the cost so low. He told us bands don’t make much money off the CD anyways. He was like ‘If you have a problem selling your CDs for $5, you don’t have to, but I figure we should to get your name out there.’ So we did it and it worked fucking amazingly. It was the best idea and we’ve always been firm believers of selling our merch for as cheap as possible. Especially on the tours with like NOFX, we could sell like 50 or 60 copies a night, sometimes even 100 because we’d sell a bunch inside and then we’d go outside with boxes and be like ‘Hey man, it’s only $5’ and so many people went for it. They know what they’re doing, I know every label is struggling these days and the music industry is pretty fucked up, it’s hard to make a buck or whatever, but we just enjoy touring and we’re really in good hands with Fat. They know how it works with actual punk rock bands. They don’t promise us the world, they don’t blow smoke up their asses, they tell us exactly what we need to do, what we can’t do, they’ll figure it out. It’s really cool, there’s no bullshit at all. They’re fucking awesome.
You also have a bunch of guests on this record from A Wilhelm Scream, Cancer Bats and Dillinger Four.
Yeah, it was only originally supposed to be Nuno from A Wilhelm Scream. We didn’t know what song, but we wanted him to sing a verse or something, like his own thing. And we wanted to get Chicken from Dead to Me to sing because he’s become a good buddy of ours. That didn’t work out, the studio where we were going to do that in San Francisco was pretty booked up so it never worked out. But then everything kind of snowballed, we set up some ProTools tracks and sent them over to Massachusetts where him and Trevor recorded it and then sent it back to us. It was rad, we love that band. And yeah, Cancer Bats. Those guys are always on tour and we’ve gotten to know them over the last couple of years. We were lucky because they weren’t on tour when we were recording, so they came in and did all the gang vocals with us on the whole album with a couple of our other friends. Liam did back-ups on a couple of lines. Then Dillinger Four rolled into Toronto on tour, which was super lucky for us because A) they hardly ever tour and B) when they do they never come to Canada. So they were playing Toronto and I was talking to Erik a few days before the show just about the show and then I asked them what they were doing the next day. This was pretty early on in the summertime recording we did and we had a couple of songs finished. Anyway, he said that they didn’t fly out until 8 and they were getting kicked out of the hotel at 11, so I told him the studio we were recording at was like 10 minutes from the airport. So we basically traded a ride to the airport to get them to appear on our album. (Laughs) It was awesome, it was one of the best times of my life, especially in the studio. I mean recording can be fun, but it can also be pretty stressful. That was just bad ass, they showed up, we went out for food, we showed them the songs, told them what it was about. We kind of figured out all the lines we wanted to do together and yeah, that’s how it went. They ended up on a song called “Bleed.” We had so many friends on this record and they all came out and helped us make the record rad. I think we would have made a good record on our own, but to have these people come on and lend their talents, that was really cool. It got pretty ridiculous with the amount of guests on this record, but we don’t give a shit. It’s awesome.
What do you want to accomplish with Cavalcade?
I don’t know, there’s no clear intention. We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully get better. All we really care about is the shows, we don’t really care about how many records we sell. This kid when we were in Australia asked us how many records we sold there and I was like ‘I have no idea.’ And then he asked about Canada and the States and it was so strange. I was just like ‘I don’t care, why do you care?’ It wasn’t an interview, I was just having a beer watching some bands and he was asking me those questions. I just hope the shows get better. I don’t even think it’s that easy for bands to get really huge nowadays just with how the music industry is. I think it’s better to just care about having great shows and not about how many records you sell.
Lastly, any plans for videos?
Yeah, we’ll be doing two videos sometime in between touring Europe and Warped Tour, I don’t fucking know when exactly. One will be “Carry the Banner” and we don’t know the other one yet, we just know we’re doing two at once because that’s when we have the time to do it. In July, we’ll head back home to recuperate and then go back on tour in the fall. There’s no immediate plans for tours or anything right now though.