The hardcore scene is thriving and at its centre are Canadian band Cancer Bats. The band may hail from Canada, but home these days is most definitely a tour bus, as the guys take their hardcore punk sound (with some metal thrown in) to pretty much every country on the planet. Vox caught up with them in Birmingham, UK, where they are supporting Bring Me The Horizon. They are half way through an intense tour schedule with only two days off in 5 months…taking in the UK twice - firstly with BMTH and then on their own headline tour, which kicks off at the end of October.
Here Vox caught up with guitarist Scott Middleton, who’s Vox Double Cutaway 55 - series guitar, is his new partner on stage:
VOX: When and why did you start playing guitar?
It was 18 years ago when I was about 11. I heard Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and it made me want to play. It was the first thing that really inspired me - it had me air guitaring for the first time ever!
I can see that as a turning point in my life. When I heard it I thought: ‘this is the best thing ever!’. I’d never heard music like that before and it absolutely inspired me.
VOX: How did you get the band together?
We were all in local bands before - hardcore and metal bands. In Toronto, there’s a close-knit scene and everyone knows everyone involved. I’ve known Liam and Jaye for many years and we met Mikey later on. Liam and I had always talked about starting a band – so one day we just did. Once we had the band name and a few songs it sort of went from there. I’d gone to recording school so I was able to record a demo for us and that’s basically what got us signed. From there we started touring and it just snowballed. People sort of took to it straight away, which is cool.
VOX: Your tour schedule looks very full on, with one tour starting straight after the other. How do you cope with the schedule?
The love of playing makes everything worth it. For all the bad stuff and sacrifices you put up with day in and day out, I think it’s worth it once you’re on stage. You forget about everything else. There’s a certain chemistry I have with the guys in the band that I don’t have with anyone else and once we’re all on stage together, everything just makes sense.
VOX: What do you think about the metal/hardcore scene in the UK?
Things are building up. When we first came here in 2006 bands like Gallows were just starting out and they really opened things up for other bands. A hard-core punk band been signed to a major label was unheard of at the time, but really it’s a good thing. It got kids that may not have listened hardcore previously to open their eyes to something new. Now you see Architects, The Plight, Hexes, SSS and Dead Swans, and those kind of bands making an impact worldwide. When we first starting coming here the only good UK hardcore band that I knew was Johnny Truant. Now the rest of the world is looking at the UK for new bands all the time. I think its great and you guys have some fantastic bands.
VOX: You have pretty much toured everywhere. Do you notice a difference in your fan base?
Absolutely. Everywhere is different. I would definitely say that coming to the UK and Europe, people have a greater interest in music in general - I think it’s a bigger part of everyone’s lives. Back in North America I feel music can be a bit of a throw away culture, whereas people over in Europe - I don’t know if they just grew up with more of an appreciation for music or if its because metal and punk originated here, but they seem to care more about music in general. Even the festival culture that you guys have. We don’t have that at home. You can’t have a festival of 100,000 people - that doesn’t really exist. We don’t have Reading and Leeds - especially in Canada, it’s just not possible, there are not enough people to support it in one place. You guys just have this intense music culture. Even the media covers music differently - it’s just more intense but I think in an amazing way. I also think the fans over here are hungrier for new music. Back home people seem a little more jaded…here - people are more eager to embrace something new.
VOX: What’s been your best gig so far this year and why?
Download festival for sure! We had played Download a few years ago and it was great, but this was a hundred times better! We had something like twenty or thirty thousand people show up to watch our set. I couldn’t even see past the people! It was a really special day for us, and one of our best shows ever as a band.
VOX: Who’s been your favourite band to tour with?
We’re always going to tour with our friends and the people that we have the personal relationships with. I mean, one thing we realised is that when you’re in a pro band you don’t get to pick and choose who you tour with. Sure I’d love to tour with Metallica, doesn’t mean I’m going to get to. But when you think about the friendships that we’ve formed….touring with BMTH is awesome - we just met those guys a couple of years ago, but we toured with them enough and now have those memories. So I like touring with them and also bands like Comeback Kid, Alexisonfire and Billy Talent. Those are all Canadian bands, which we have that bond with that have taken us out and helped us grow in other countries.
VOX: What made you want to try a Vox guitar
When I came over to the UK I saw Guitarist magazine had done a cover feature on the Virage guitars and I just thought they looked really cool. I liked that classic look and I thought it was interesting that Vox were making guitars again. I also saw that the design was a new approach - a vintage looking guitar, but with modern features. I think things like the new pick up system and the bridge design are really great. As well as that I wanted a guitar that had easy access to the upper frets and it has a special cutaway neck joint that just looked amazing to me. Just something new, without it being weird. Classic but fresh.
VOX: What was the first gig you used your Vox guitar at?
Tokyo. We were touring with Bullet For My Valentine and Bring Me The Horizon - I think there was about 3-4000 people there and it was just an insane show. I just plugged in right away and thought this guitar sounds great. You are always worried when it’s a guitar you’ve never played before, but any guitar you’re going to play is going to sound a little strange at first. But it was great. My main concern was “are the pickups going to sound good?” and they totally did! They had lots of power and clarity and that’s all I needed. It was awesome right out of the box.
VOX: Now that you have put the guitar through its paces live, what for you, are its best features?
I do really like the neck cutaway - for me that makes the guitar really comfortable in my hands, when I’m soloing up on the higher notes of the fretboard it just makes it easier to play when I have that effortless access.
One of the things that I really noticed when I started playing the guitar was how well it is made. I’ve played a lot of guitars, from lousy imports to really expensive handmade American ones. You know what a cheap guitar feels like if you’ve been playing long enough, and this is a very solid instrument. That’s what I love; that it is a thin guitar, that’s reasonably lightweight but feels very solid and not like a toy. Anyone else that I’ve handed it to thinks it looks and plays great. You can see the quality of the woodwork and craftsmanship…this is not a second rate guitar and that kind of thing is very important to me.
VOX: What sort of tuning do you use…regular?
No not really. I use Drop C tuning which is C-G-C-F-A-D, which is a classic metal tuning. I got that from listening to bands like Machine Head and Corrosion of Conformity when I was growing up. Down tuning seems to work really well for me. That’s the other thing - the Vox guitars stay in tune really well. I don’t have to reach for my tuning pegs after every song - that’s really important. It’s held the tuning on stage every night. You can tell the tuning machines are top quality. I also love the proprietary Vox bridge design. It’s a tailpiece and bridge in one and has a lot of room for intonation, which is very important for the drop tunings that I use. My Vox guitar actually sounds more in tune!
VOX: Are you using the Vox guitar on most of your set?
Well I tend to switch out because some of my other guitars have some custom features - like a killswitch – a momentary mute, a sort of ‘rage against the machine’ inspired effect, so I swap it our for that but lately I’ve use my Vox guitar on 50% or more of the set. I have used it on whole sets before too and it’s awesome. It worked best on a lot of the songs from our newer record, I really like it because the tuning is so stable and the intonation is so good. I believe it’s because of the new bridge system. A song like ‘Scared to Death’ has big octave chords high up on the neck and if those don’t sound in tune, then it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. Our opening song ‘We are the undead’, is another one that has big ringing chords throughout and sounds great with my Vox- I’ve noticed it also sounds great with all the pedals I use. I use a lot of wah pedal, and it sounds awesome with that.
VOX: What’s next for Cancer Bats?
Well we have our UK tour Oct/Nov where we will headline the Electric Ballroom in London. Then after the UK dates we start our North American tour, which takes us right up to Christmas!