INTERVIEW: Cancer Bats

“We have the most Covid unsafe shows, just sweating, spitting and being on top of each other, it’d be like a super spreader situation.”

INTERVIEW: Cancer Bats

By Tom Walsh

Jan 26, 2021 16:25

When penning the lyrics to the future Cancer Bats anthem ‘Deathsmarch’ in the spring of 2008, that he’d be still talking about the song’s impact over 12 years later wasn't really in the forefront of Liam Cormier’s mind. Revisiting this song in the middle of a somewhat neverending pandemic, those words take on an extra level of poignancy.

The message is one of defiance. Cormier screams the chorus line, “Hey world, you’ll never break me / Try your hardest, try your hardest”, typically met with a visceral rebuttal from hordes of sweat-stained fans in a basement anywhere from Nova Scotia to Norwich. While the venues are a little quieter now, the sentiment of that call to arms is ringing louder than ever.

“There’s always people who reach out and tell me how much ‘Deathsmarch’ has been a real inspiration at a low point,” Cormier tells us via Zoom. “To have this kind of song that’s been a rally for themselves and, like, a bit of a mantra to get them through hard times, I think it’s such an amazing thing to have that kind of connection.”

For a hardworking, hard-touring band such as Cancer Bats, the enforced break has given its members time for reflection. Split across the vast swathes of Canada’s picturesque, rugged landscape, each have found their own way of returning to ‘civilian’ life, as it were, out of the cycle of traversing the dive bars of North America, Europe and beyond.

“In a way, it’s been kind of cool to be forced to take an actual break,” Cormier says. “Being able to really take a huge step back from the band and the internal pressure that we kind of put on ourselves to be creating and all this stuff. It’s really great. I miss the guys, but we need to enjoy this downtime.”

Like with many artists across the globe, the downtime has allowed Cormier and Cancer Bats to broaden their horizons. At the tail-end of the dumpster fire that was 2020, the band released ‘You’ll Never Break Us: Separation Sessions Vol. 1’, a rare chance to hear the hardcore royalty as you’d never heard them before.

This stripped back acoustic EP – the proceeds of which all went to Water First, an NGO aiming to combat water challenges in indigenous communities across Canada – saw the band re-work some of their most aggressive fan-favourites into dark, brooding, country-esque songs. Even after over 15 years as a band, Cormier regards this as a huge learning curve and adding another string to an already elaborate bow.

“I’ve definitely figured out how to sing now,” he laughs. “At year 15, I think we’re all friends with our fans and we’re all in this together, we all listen to a lot of different stuff. I feel like every time we do something like this, we gain a little more confidence. It’s alway fun to see where it goes.”

However, if there are fans concerned that this could be the beginning of Cancer Bats heading in a completely different direction, Cormier is quick to quell those fears. “Hopefully there’s nobody like, ‘Oh my God, are you guys gonna stop making heavy music?!’ No, we’re just hanging out, this is cool. Chill,” he laughs.

While his band may be off the road, Cormier has been very much on it. The break has allowed him to indulge is one of his favourite pastimes – motorbiking. In recent years, he has combined his love of the open road with touring, traversing the landscapes of Europe before ripping up a show in one of the continent’s sweatiest clubs. This pursuit has provided a lot of unexpected opportunities such as launching a motorcycle-inspired clothing brand, Tread Well Clothing, and provided an invaluable creative space.

“I feel like [motorbiking] has become my new writing tool,” Cormier explains. “When I ride a road bike, it’s like mindfulness practice, you can think of other things. You’re never on your phone, you’re never distracted, you’re just ultra present. I find working on song ideas and lyrics while I’m riding just clicks, being on a motorcycle makes everything so easier to come up with ideas and concepts.”

As he explores the expanses and stunning scenery of his now adopted home of Nova Scotia, the inspiration flows. “It’s really peaceful, you can focus on things like the emotions and ideas, it’s really grounding in a way,” he laughs.

While he travels there is still the looming question of when life can return to normal and when his band can get back to doing what they love but Cormier, as is his character, remains optimistic – though also with a heavy dose of realism.

“A Cancer Bats show is probably the most Covid unsafe thing you can do,” he smiles. “We’re physically sweating, spitting and being on top of each other. It’s like the super spreader situation. There will be Cancer Bats shows again, but maybe let’s pump the brakes for a bit.”

As poignant as it was 12 years ago, the message of ‘Deathsmarch’ – of never being defeated or broken down – resonates louder now than ever before. And a Cancer Bats celebration at the end of this tumultuous period will be one worth waiting for.


‘You’ll Never Break Us: Separation Sessions Vol. 1’ is out now at Bandcamp here.

Read our review here.