Chris Cresswell, the lead vocalist and guitarist for Toronto’s The Flatliners, was preparing for yet another stint on the road when TheInertia.com interrupted him with a bunch of typically American questions about life in Canada. Chris also discussed the band’s latest album, Cavalcade, which many are hailing as one of the best releases of 2010. But hear it for yourself! Enter for a chance to win your very own Cavalcade CD, poster, and some goods from Fat Wreck Chords by answering the trivia question that follows the interview.
So Chris, your band always seems to start a record off with a song that’s good and aggressive. What’s one of your favorite album-opening tracks ever?
Thanks! We’re definitely fans of that “charging out of the gate” feel. One song that comes to mind is “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite” off of So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes…that’s how you start a record.
The Flatliners seem to have a grittiness about them. Some of that vibe comes from the band’s vocals. Who were your favorite singers growing up?
One big influence for me was the guys from Hot Water Music. Their sound is so raw and passionate; I’ve always loved it. I’m a big fan of Dillinger Four, too.
For a band in their early twenties, you’ve already accomplished so much, including plenty of international touring. What’s the biggest culture shock you’ve experienced on the road?
Hmm, I guess I’d have to say Japan. Because when you’re done playing a song, the crowd is yelling and applauding just like kids anywhere else, but then after two to three seconds, it immediately becomes dead silent. It’s nice, because they’re being respectful, but it definitely caught me off guard the first time I experienced that.
What place haven’t you played yet that you’re most looking forward to?
Well, we’ve yet to play Spain…I want to check out Mexico, Brazil…Costa Rica! We still haven’t managed to try surfing yet. We went to Australia, but had no money, and we couldn’t afford surf lessons and were just so busy the entire time we were there. But it will happen.
Your band has played some great music festivals: The Fest in Gainesville many times, Groezrock in Belgium, and Riot Fest in Chicago this month…off the top of your head, what’s the funniest/strangest thing you can remember seeing at one of these weekends?
Well, The Fest is always just sort of generally crazy, every day, all the time. I think the catering at Groezrock stands out for me, because we were just in this big sort of punk rock cafeteria with all the other bands. It was like a strange high school, like, “Oh, that’s the Sick of it All table.” Weird, but cool.
A lot of American bands have held punk rock bowling tournaments. What about the four of you Canucks calling up SNFU, Propaghandi, and organizing up some punk rock curling?
Oh wow, that could be cool. I think Jon [Darbey, bass] might be the only guy in the band who’s tried it before. He’s the sports guy out of all of us. But that would definitely be interesting, especially if beer were involved.
The Briggs played some Los Angeles Kings hockey games this year, and Dropkick Murphys played on national television for the 2010 NHL Winter Classic in Boston. When are you guys going to write a rock anthem for your hometown Maple Leafs?
Oh, we would love to do a Leafs game…we did actually play at a Toronto Marlies game. They’re the farm team. It was really cool because they were hosting the Chicago Wolves and we got to see [48-year old NHL great] Chris Chelios playing one of his last pro games. We had a lot of fun doing “The Hockey Song”…we didn’t play the Stompin’ Tom Connors version though, we did the other version, the Hanson Brothers one.
What will the world see first: the next Dillinger Four release or Toronto ending their Stanley Cup drought?
Aw man, that’s really tough. I would love to say both are gonna happen soon, but they both probably won’t. I’ll have to predict that the next D4 record will come out before Toronto wins the Stanley Cup. Jon would hopefully disagree with me on that. People around here are always saying how Toronto’s becoming a great team, but I’ve heard that kind of shit for years, you know? A lot of people here have a kind of blind faith in the team, but… Well, I’d still be happy to see a D4 record though. Because D4 is good.
They sure are. Many of your fans have pointed out your apparent shift from ska-punk towards a more straightforward punk rock style, wondering if it might’ve happened because you signed with Fat Wreck Chords, or maybe just that your tastes changed with time. How do you perceive all this chatter? Does it affect how you make a setlist for a show or what bands you tour with?
Not really. We kind of knew that was coming. When we sat down to write songs for The Great Awake, our second record, we hadn’t really sat down to write a bunch of new songs in three, really almost four years. We wrote most of Destroy To Create when we were fourteen, a bit more when we were sixteen, and toured when we got out of high school, so we’re still in our more formative years of learning about music. We’ve always drawn from a lot of different influences, and our music has just…evolved.
We knew that some kids would feel alienated or whatever with the changes, but a lot of people we meet say they were a little bummed out initially, but then they grew too, and really came around and ended up enjoying the new songs. There’s no disrespect here towards ska and reggae music, too, because we all still enjoy that kind of music, but we’re also trying to see what we can come up with on our own now.
A lot of your songwriting appears to take really dark, depressing subject matter and then the song comes out with a sort of inspirational twist, like “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” or something. What’s something that’s inspired you in this respect?
That’s very flattering. I think we do have this recurring thing where you’re wading through a lot of shit to get to something good. Basically, cynicism with a positive note at the end – that’s sort of my outlook on life, and that’s a huge part of why our songs might turn out like that. Your life can be good – and mine has been – but most people have to fight against something to make it that way, and that’s kind of what we went for. Also, death has inspired the band a little bit. A good friend of ours passed away and then we ended up writing the song “Eulogy” because of it. The idea of death has been all around us recently. Family members, friends at home, people we bring with us on the road, a lot of those people have been kind of disappearing and it’s certainly affected us.
The lyrics to “Shithawks” on your new record seem to be aimed at underhanded, shit-talking people. Who’s the worst shithawk you were thinking of when you wrote this?
Well, nobody beats Lahey, the original, from Trailer Park Boys, am I right? That’s where the song gets its name from, if you didn’t know. He’s the worst. Also, everyone should see that show. And those movies!
Have you seen Andrew W.K.’s show, Destroy Build Destroy? It’s like the concept of your album title Destroy To Create, but with one extra step where they blow everything up.
No, I haven’t. I’ll have to check that out sometime.
Thought you might’ve…you certainly like to use a lot of audio clips from television & movies on each of your albums. Do you have a bunch saved up?
Oh yeah, there’s a few. We’ve had some issues where we had to cut songs that were paired with those clips, and they’ll probably make it out there one day. But we’re constantly making mental notes of all the funny stuff we hear. I grew up loving those Dillinger Four records with their little inside jokes, and was always like “Where do they find this stuff?” It’s a lot of fun to add those little bits of humor into your music.
What’s a better Canadian rockumentary: Anvil! The Story of Anvil or FUBAR?
Good question. Part of me is partial to the Anvil guys, being the hardworkin’ Toronto band that they are. Both of these are great films, and they’re both equally bummers. I’m gonna have to say FUBAR takes the cake, though. I hear they’re making a FUBAR II!
Nice. On occasion, the media has portrayed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a music guy who has a huge vinyl collection, plays piano–
Really? That’s stunning. The guy doesn’t seem like he does anything. He’s so boring, it’s like watching a dormant volcano or something. Politically, I have no faith in the guy. But he seems like one of those weirdos that doesn’t even listen to music at all. I mean, I wouldn’t even want to know what his favorite artists are.
Alright then, let’s wrap this up with some free association: Polaroids, vitamins, ________?
TRIVIA: In what year were all of the members of The Flatliners born? Send your answer to info@theinertia,com, and win The Flatliners’ new CD and a prize pack from Fat Wreck Chords.