The Flatliners Fuse Angst With Energy
We all know the world has been a crazy place over the past few years. There’s widespread division, numerous social issues, tragedies happening on a daily basis, people just treating each other like garbage and we’re still dealing with COVID-19. With all this madness and uncertainty, there’s been a lot of music coming out to reflect on it and The Flatliners from Toronto are giving their own take on the times with their sixth album New Ruin. The new record came out on August 5 via both Dine Alone Records and Fat Wreck Chords and it’s their most pissed off release yet. In support of the album, they’re going to be doing a run of shows that’ll be starting at The Rickshaw in Vancouver, BC on September 8.
Northern Transmissions had a talk with guitar & vocalist Chris Cresswell about the inspiration behind New Ruin, putting out a trilogy of music videos, recently becoming a member of one of his favorite bands and the message he wants to get across with the new album.
Northern Transmissions: New Ruin definitely has a lot of angst that fuels within the music and you’ve referred to the album as “hate mail to the previous generation”. What was the spark that made you and the band want to make this kind of record that’s pretty much a musical middle finger?
Chris Cresswell: I like the musical middle finger, that’s nice. For the most part, that description is accurate about the entire record but that quote is more about a particular song like “Heirloom”. It’s about the way that previous generations to mine have set up my generation and future generations to fail through industry, the environmental toll it takes and all these kinds of things. It is still true about the record at large in a way where I think recently while we were writing the record and while I was writing the lyrics to the record the world was just falling apart. It’s fairly obvious at this point that there’s a lot of problems going on. I had a lot of time to sit in those moments and feel that out rather than just be on tour, live the tunnel vision life, live in my own bubble and think about my immediate surroundings and write about my immediate surroundings. I had the opportunity to see how the world was making me feel in general, kind of let that bounce around my brain and out comes some songs from all that. I don’t know, it’s a pretty embarrassing time to be a human being so I had the outlet to write about it. I didn’t even decide to write about it, it was just what came out.
NT: It seems like the songwriting was pretty natural for you as a reaction to everything that’s been going on in the world.
NT: The music video for the single “Performative Hours” off the album parodies late night talk shows with the host habitually drinking, getting beat up, cutting himself while slicing an onion, passing out and just being a complete mess. Who had the idea for the video and how did you go about getting the actors for it?
CC: I came up with the idea for a trilogy of videos which the one for “Performative Hours” is a part of. When we decided which songs we were going to put out there first and everything, it made a lot of sense tonally speaking which part of the story we should tell. You can tell the story out of order if you’d like but we wanted there to be an obvious throughline so the story could be told sequentially. I wrote up the idea, I pitched it to the guys in the band and everyone was really into it which was like the first time that’s ever happened in our band, usually we don’t collectively come up with an idea ourselves. It was really fun to get into it from the get go and have a really fun idea that we could play around with, explore and really be excited about.
Finding the actors was the biggest challenge in my mind when I was coming up with the inception of the idea but in actuality it ended up being pretty seamless. I just cold called Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll who plays Ron Regal in all the videos and it turned out he was familiar with the band and he was into the idea. Him and I chatted a bunch about it, he was on board right away and he put me in touch with so many more comedians, who especially rounded out the cast of the first video for “Performative Hours”. A bunch of them also appear in the videos for “Souvenir” and “Rat King” as well so he was instrumental in getting the cast together. Mitch Barnes, our director, was just a friend of a friend. He’s done a lot of videos for The Dirty Nil who are good friends of ours so we were familiar with his work and we really love what he’s done. That team of people with Ron and all of the comedians being able to convey that emotion without dialogue and Mitch being able to tell the story that we wanted to tell was a great combination. It was so fun to make those videos, usually I don’t really like making music videos because it’s a long day. You’re not involved with the creative process of the video, I think oftentimes people in bands are kind of like “Whatever, we’re just doing this to do it and it’ll be a video no one will watch.” This time it felt great to have the idea from the get go, watch it grow and be super involved with the production of the video, the writing of the video and everything. Everyone was supportive and it was great.
NT: That’s awesome. Outside of The Flatliners, you’re also a member of Hot Water Music who also put out a new album this year back in March called Feel The Void and it’s your first album with the band as an official member. How would you compare and differentiate the experience of making New Ruin versus making Feel The Void? Did the making of both albums overlap with each other at all when it came to the sessions and everything like that?
CC: Amazing, I don’t have any other words to describe it properly. It’s incredible, it’s been an incredible ride and it’s made for an incredible year this year of releasing music. My involvement in Hot Water Music is one that still feels very surreal and it’s very special to me that I get to now be a member of this band. For the past few years I was playing with them, touring with them and stuff like that but those guys are so welcoming to me and have been since the jump. Now being a member of the band, being on a record with them and all of these other things, it’s beautiful and I really don’t understand it.
I don’t really get how it’s me being able to pull this off but I’m thrilled about it to say the least. Making that record with Hot Water Music was amazing because of all I just said, because of my fandom of the band, my respect & admiration for them and just getting the biggest peek behind the curtain that anyone the likes of me could ever ask for when it comes to how the record is made. I’m in Canada, Chuck [Ragan] is out in California and the rest of the guys are in Florida while Brian McTernan who produced the record is in Baltimore, so there were a lot of phone calls and Zoom calls talking about ideas, sharing riffs with each other and sharing arrangement ideas. There was so much work that happened separately ahead of time before we all got in a room together but we really made amazing use of our time during a time that no one could hit the road because of COVID-19. It took about a year to write Feel The Void and get it to a place where we could get in a room together and finally record it.
Once we did, there’s always a little magic at the end, right? “Habitual” for instance came to fruition when the five of us were in a room and that was the first time Hot Water Music had been five people playing music together. That was a trip to say the least but it was cool, it was more than cool. It was powerful, it was such an incredible time in my life to be able to make music with one of my favorite bands. I’m so appreciative and grateful to those guys for trusting me to be involved in that process and also to Hot Water’s fan base for trusting me to be the first guy to come in and pierce the armor of what was before then always the same four guys. That was a wild ride too, then I went home after making the record last summer in Florida for a couple weeks and we went right into making New Ruin so we made those records pretty much back to back.
New Ruin was written before I left for Florida to record Feel The Void so basically that means over the course of 2020 and 2021 both albums were being written in tandem at the same time. It was just a time in my life where I could not stop writing music, it felt great and it felt like it kept coming. I don’t know how to really describe it, during all that downtime I was able to make really good use of this scary & uncertain point in time and those two records were made back-to-back. Making New Ruin was the most fun I had making a Flatliners record by far, I think part of that was because it was the first time the four of us saw each other in two years. It was the longest it had ever been since the band started at that point which was 18 years ago and now 20 years ago so it was wild, dude. It was kind of emotional to be honest. When we first started tracking the record, after the first one we laid down it was like we were a team and we had a “good game” kind of thing. It was sort of this ceremony before we started recording and I got a little choked up, this was the first time we had done anything in years. New Ruin is the first record we’ve put out in five years and that was the first time we really got together in two years to do something so it was special.
Writing wise a lot of it was done separately and I was sharing full ideas with the guys for the first time in a long time because I wanted to give everyone a really clear indication of where I was coming from musically. Lucky for me I have super supportive friends in the band that wanted to see the vision carried out. During the making of the record we were all having a blast and I think you can feel it while listening. It’s a pissed off record, it’s an angry record but also there’s this clarity to it and a power to it that only comes from knowing yourself. I think at this point being 20 years deep each of us know ourselves and we know what we wanted to accomplish. It’s the clearest vision we’ve ever had as a band for making a record.
NT: It’s awesome that it worked out that way. When it comes to 20 years and this year marking the 20th anniversary of The Flatliners being a band, would you say that vision you just mentioned has grown the most since the start of the band or is it something else? Also, what is your proudest accomplishment from being part of The Flatliners?
CC: To go backwards, I think my proudest accomplishment from being in The Flatliners is that it’s still the four of us after 20 years. I think that’s a testament to our friendships, being in a band that long you learn a lot about people. Even before the band started most of us have known each other since we were kids. We started when we were 14 and 15, Scott [Brigham] and I met Paul [Ramirez] when we were 12 but before that I met Scott when I was five and we met Jon [Darbey] when I was seven. This is lifelong shit, which is cool, and that’s my proudest accomplishment for sure that it’s still the four of us. As far as the vision thing goes, we started so young that there wasn’t much of a vision aside from just being a band. Then playing a show, going on tour and all of those firsts. We luckily got the attention of people like the ones at Stomp Records back in the day and Fat Wreck Chords and Dine Alone now, everyone we’ve worked with really gave us a shot to do what we do. In those early years, it was really Stomp and Fat who gave us that shot of becoming a touring band. Once we got to that point, it wasn’t much of a grand vision aside from just touring nonstop.
Maybe the grand vision was that we want people to know who we are. I don’t know if that’s the coolest thing but it’s kind of the idea. While being in a band, hitting the road and stuff you want people to hear your music and see you play. Once we started becoming a heavy touring band those years all blurred together and they all kind of faded into one thing because we would be on the road for 10 months a year for a few records in a row. We’re at the point now where we can do what we want and what we wanted to do for our 20th anniversary was to put a new record out that we loved. I think the vision, if it’s ever there, constantly changes and it’s never super profound. It’s just about seeing what we can do with writing songs, playing some shows and whatever else. There’s never been a super clear mission statement from our band but I think with each record musically we have a statement to make, I think it’s more of that. The vision per record is probably the best indication of where we’re at with the band.
NT: I totally understand that. What is the main message you want to get across with New Ruin when someone listens to it?
CC: The main theme of the record is that what I’m trying to get across in the lyrics is that as people and as a planet, we’re in a pretty terrible spot. I have the utmost faith in the youth and the future, I feel like kids are so much more in tune now with the needs of others and there’s a reason why these terms you hear like “self-care” and “self-love” a lot more these days. Kids are a lot more open to those things and it’s really good, I think it’s beneficial for humanity in general. I do know and believe that there are good people out there in the world and there are many, many good people doing good things. The greater feeling I get these days is that the way people treat each other is terrible, the way they treat themselves usually is terrible and the way we treat the planet is terrible so I guess the main theme of this record is being so frustrated and embarrassed by being here now.
I’m not a perfect person, everyone’s flawed which I think we already know but the grander point is that we all should try harder to do better for each other, for ourselves and for the planet. It’s not too late but it feels like it almost is, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in these songs but the tunnel is fucking long. It’s the Shawshank tunnel of shit right now and I think in every song there’s a different kind of subject being sung about but really in the end it all adds up to that. I think we can try harder to do better and I’m certainly trying harder to do better in daily life. I know that I’m writing music with my friends but I’m hopeful that the music can help people through a hard time in their life if it’s personally, if it’s emotionally, if it’s this or that.
A song like “Oath” for instance is all about basically being allowed to love who you want to love, being allowed to be whoever you want to be. The fact that we’re still living in a world rife with homophobia, transphobia and all this terrible shit, it’s embarrassing and it’s shit that we should leave in the rear view mirror. Sadly, it’s stuff that we see every single day. It’s none of my business what you do with your romantic life, I want you to be the version of yourself you want to be, I want you to be able to love whoever you want to love. A song like “Big Strum” is about exposing terrible people for being exactly that, it’s no secret that a lot of folks in positions of power, whether if it’s political, economical or all these things, they are typically terrible people because you usually don’t get to the top by being a good person. It’s just these things that I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think about the way the world seems to be operating around me. It’s dark but I think we can all work together, unify and shine a light. I know it’s a bit corny but I think it’s true.
Purchase New Ruin by The Flatliners HERE
Looking for something new to listen to?
Sign up to our all-new newsletter for top-notch reviews, news, videos and playlists.