Canada’s hardcore greats Cancer Bats are currently touring Eastern Canada promoting their excellent 2018 album The Spark that Moves. Just before the tour kicked off we had a chance to speak with drummer Mike Peters. Read the interview below and catch the Cancer Bats in Ottawa this Saturday April 20th at The 27 Club, tickets available online and at Vertigo Records.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Mike. How is it in Winnipeg right now? Is it still Winterpegging?
Oh, no, it’s never ending here. I’m still looking at snow outside, but it’s slowly warming up. You know, the mornings are always cold and shitty. Then by the afternoon it has kind of warmed up and it feels like you get a glimmer of hope. And then you’re back to freezing cold at night.
Yeah we’re in the same boat in Ottawa. Excited that it’s going to be four degrees tomorrow, but then realize it’s like minus eight or nine with the wind chill in the morning.
The band just got back from Europe. It wasn’t your first time there, but how was touring Europe?
Well, I actually wasn’t there, because I had a baby in January. Yeah, I sat out for two tours and had a friend from Belgium fill in. He’s an awesome drummer, and he plays a lot more black metal than I do (laughs). But, you know, he’s a great drummer and a great dude and friends with a band. So it was really an easy thing to do.
But, I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, we have a really good fan base over there. We always enjoy going over to Europe. I think this time it was one of our best in terms of headlining over there. It was a was a big success. We were just there in October, supporting Anti-Flag and Silverstein and those shows were really big. So it was nice to go back and do a headlining tour to see what kind of fanbase we have grown from that tour. So it’s cool.
Let’s shift from Europe and talk about the band and the new album, Spark that Moves. It’s a great record and I’ve been listening to it a ton since it came out. When Cancer Bats started, did you guys think you would be at six albums and multiple Juno nominations and touring the world?
I mean, I don’t know if we ever really thought we would be here necessarily, but that was always kind of the plan. The plan was never to just do it, when I joined the band in 2005 I moved from Winnipeg to Toronto and dropped out of university to do it, because I just wanted to do the band. The band had already signed to Distort [Records] and had some momentum behind them.
While I played on every record. I wasn’t the first drummer. But, you know, when we were kind of getting going and starting to make Birthing the Giant, it was always the plan to tour as much as possible and just just go for it. We never had a plan like “oh in 14 years, we are going to be in different cities, I’m a parent, and you know, we would still be doing it. We’ve had to shift focus a few times to make sure that we can continue doing that. But I think that this is what we wanted to do and we’ve had a “make it work” kind of attitude. That has always stuck with a band.
So it wasn’t just like this like one-off thing, you guys had the intention of making a big deal of this and going for it.
Yeah, exactly. We all had that passion. Music is what we love and playing our instruments and doing all that, you know, so this is what we wanted to make our career. So next was how do we do that in a punk band? So yeah, we have shifted and we’ve just kept it going. We have ups and downs. There are times when we sort of feel defeated, but, you know, then you take a bit of time for yourself and have a break, and then you get excited to make a record again and feel inspired. And that’s cool.
From the flow of the six records, there’s obviously been an evolution as artists and you mentioned ups and downs. As I listen to Sparks, especially putting it on last the couple days, it feels a little darker than some of the some of the more recent stuff. And I just wanted to know if that’s just my personal observation, or if you could speak a little bit to that.
Well, I think musically, the one big difference is that we wrote a lot of this record separately, were before we were writing a lot of the music together in a room. Liam wasn’t quite as involved, he helped write maybe half the songs musically. And then for a lot of it he was gone. So Jay [R. Schwarzer] and I were just sending a lot of riff back and forth.
And we had kind of got our indie rock fill, as Jay and I have a band called Julie and the Wrong Guys with Julie Doiron and Eamon McGrath. And I think we got a lot of our like indie rock and maybe lighter side or popular side or whatever out there. So when we were doing Cancer Bats we’re always listening to all kinds of music, you know, and we had this outlet to do the the lighter stuff through that. And then we went into writing the Cancer Bats records, and when Jay and I had written the Julie record with Eamon we were just sending riffs back and forth via email, because I’m in Winnipeg, and they’re in Toronto. And when we were writing the Bats record, we had all these heavy ideas sitting in the back, and all the lighter ones got used in Julie and the Wrong Guys (laughs)
So we wrote this really like heavy dark record. We started writing in March of 2017, and my first son was born in April. And like that whole heaviness of the responsibility of having a child was weighting on my shoulders. I spent a lot of time walking around the graveyard, which happens to be right next to my house, just pushing pushing my son listening to riff the Jason sent me. And I think it just all came out more like us. This is just kind of made us write this darker music. Process wise Jay would send me a riff and I would demo drums over top of it. And then we’d send it to the other guy. So Liam was hearing all this heavy stuff, while he was like, riding motorcycles through Mexico or wherever. I don’t know exactly where he was, he sort of just travels around riding motorcycles when we aren’t on tour. He was doing his thing and getting inspiration that way to write lyrics. So I think all those things combined just wound up with a heavy, more dark and heavy record.
That is super rad. I now have this imagery of a next music video of a dad pushing a child through a graveyard in a stroller, with heavy music blasting, and then a cut scene to Liam on a motorcycle somewhere nice and sunny, singing.
Yeah. Liam and I have conversations all the time where he’s like, “you know what, his time?” and then I’m like, I count every minute. I have a child that has strict bedtimes and dinner. If we don’t follow these we are screwed (laughs)
That’s wicked. On a lot of your records, you guys do collaborate and bring in a lot of guest vocalists. And I know once again you have some on this album as well. I was just wondering what does that mean to you guys to bring in friends and, and others onto your albums? And any fun stories of collaborations either on this album or in the past?
Well, I think it’s always cool. We spend so much time touring and meeting rad other musicians and people that we just really click with and so when we’re writing songs, sometimes we just hear parts and think of someone. With Spark, to be fair, actually all the guests on the record we didn’t really know prior. Like I sort of know Chris Hanna from Propagangi just because I live in Winnipeg, but it was Liam’s idea to have them come on. I mean I’m also a huge fan and love the band so I was really stoked.
Then with like, Jenna [Priestner] from Mobina [Galore], we recorded the record in Winnipeg and we were rehearsing, getting ready doing pre-production, the week before we went into the studio, and just ran into her in the jam space, and we started chatting with her. And Liam was like I think it would be rad to have her sing on our record, we all like her band and her voice is wicked, so he kind of found apart for her. Usually, we get someone to sing on the record, and then Liam blends his vocals in with it. And with her, her voice just fit so perfectly on that part. He was like, just take me out, I’m making it worse, and Jenna is killing it.
And then Jill, who sings on “Head Wounds” has this rad all-female kind of power pop 70s glam rock band called The Sorels. And when we were doing the gang vocals, we wanted to have have equal male and female voices on the gang. Because it always seems to be that you get your buddies to come and yell on the record and and then it ends up being like 10 dudes and it just sounds like a bunch of dudes yelling. You know we really like that our shows get a lot of females in the pit singing along and stuff like that. So we wanted to have that representation of the record, too. So we we asked The Sorels to come in to the gangs and then we got both the gals from Mobena to come in and do the gangs. So we just asked her kind of on the spot and were like, you can have as many beers and pizza to sing on the record and she was stoked to do it.
Great so it sounds like much of it was pretty organic, kind of just time and place and cool opportunities.
Exactly. We are big fans of music, and we’re just listening to bands all the time. So we knew about their bands and and I’ve been friends with Jill for a long time. So yeah, we made a really Winnipeg record even though I’m the only one living here.
That speaks volumes to the collaboration you guys have within your band that you’re not just like we’re all in Toronto, so we must record in Toronto or something
Yeah, exactly. We haven’t done a record in Toronto for a few records now actually.
Shifting more to the upcoming tour. You are going to be on the tour right?
I am yeah. I took a few months off to be with my family. Just make sure everything was cool, but with two good healthy boys that are going to be a handful for my wife, but she is a saint and she will make it happen.
That’s awesome. Great to hear that they’re healthy. And it’s always good to give a shout out to your wife for being a saint.
So the tour is taking you out east and you’re stopping in Ottawa, which is very exciting for me as I’m a big fan who has seen you countless times. So I was wondering, when you think of playing Ottawa, what do you think of? What does it mean to come play Ottawa?
Ottawa was one of the first places we were playing shows. It’s sort of like second home. Liam has a lot of family there and he lived there for a while when he was younger, and it’s just one of those cities where it’s close enough to Toronto so that fans are always going back and forth. So you’d be playing shows in Toronto with, Buried Inside and all these great Ottawa bands. And then we go to Ottawa and play shows and you’re like trading back and forth. So it’s always kind of felt like going on, you know, it’s like another hometown show. Which is great and super fun.
I’ve been to the venue, I was there with Julie and the Wrong Guys. Cancer Bats haven’t played it, but the that 27 Club looks great. I mean, it’s it’s not doesn’t have quite the character that Zaphod’s did, but it’s nice and open. You can see from everywhere, which is great. So yeah Ottawa has just always been a good time. We always have a lot of fun. I love the city. It’s beautiful. You know, hopefully, it’ll be a little bit warmer and the snow will be gone. We’ve got a few weeks ago.
And I don’t know if you if you realize that you’re playing on 4/20 in Ottawa. It’ll be the one year anniversary of your album Spark and it’ll be the first 4/20 since cannabis is legal.
Oh, yeah. I will say that I always get stoked when I’m playing and I can smell someone smoking weed. Like it makes me so happy. I don’t know why. But it just mean someone’s really enjoying the show (laughs). The dirty bar beer smell is just kind of gross. But when you smell some dank herb and the air be pretty sweet.
I’m sure many venues have panic attacks and the bands love it.
Oh, yeah. Totally. Totally.
You’re actually the first drummer I’ve ever interviewed. And I’ve often asked singers, what’s the song that you like that gets the crowd going or stuff like that. But from the drummer point of view, what are some of your favorite jams to kick out?
Off the new record, “Fear Will Kill Us All” is is one of my favorite songs to play. I think it just has some really cool drum parts and lots of cool fills. We haven’t talked about the setlist yet for the tour. But last time I was on tour, we were playing it so hopefully we keep playing it. But yeah I love playing that song. And it’s a new song.
You know, we play “Sabotage,” we play “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” and “Hail Destroyer,” and those songs are super fun. And when we get into the groove of some of those songs, it’s really sick. Both from a drummer and from the audience you get the vibes.
“Fear” is actually my favorite song off the new record. That’s the one I’m most often hitting repeat on, especially when driving. It gets a lot of spin.
Oh, that’s awesome. That was just one of my favorite songs. That intro thing that we have happens is just I don’t know. Jay wrote it and I could not get it out of my head. I was like, we have to make this a song. We tried it with two different songs and Jay and I pushed that part hard on the other two guys.
Hopefully you’ll lobby to play it on tour to so I can see it live. You spoke already a little about Julie and the Wrong Guys, but I just wanted to say that the crossover and seeing those styles come together is great.
Yeah, it’s really fun. Eamon [McGrath] is so busy, Cancer Bats are so busy. And I think Julie’s actually starting to write and work on a new album. We’re just all busy, but I think eventually we’ll get it together and go do another record.
Like every three years type of thing.
Yeah something like that. I think it took us five years from the start of the band to actually get the record out. Five years of playing shows and trying to figure out what the band was and then it just came down us saying we have to make a record. So it’ll probably be something like that, but hopefully not as long because now we have a record under our belt and we’ve done a bunch of shows so it feels more like we know what we’re doing that band.
Those are all my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really stoked actually that we could do get to do the one year of The Spark That Moves in Ottawa. It’ll be awesome and the show is going to be wicked. And we’re really looking forward to it.
I mean it’s 4/20, smoke em up. Bring in your joints, hopefully security won’t be too tight (laughs). Shawn [Scallen] will be mad at me for this.