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Last year, we tipped Spiritbox for greatness. Now, with a debut Download set and the band’s London headline shows selling out in minutes, we caught up with them on the road in America as their dreams start to come true…
Courtney LaPlante sits in her dressing room alone, doing her make-up, getting ready for showtime. Outside the door she can hear Spiritbox drummer Zev Rosenberg talking with members of the other bands on their current U.S. tour – Underøath, Bad Omens and Stray From The Path.
It’s the sort of unremarkable interaction between musicians that used to take place every single night on the road. But after two years of enforced absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was something about this particular conversation that soon saw Courtney’s carefully applied mascara become smudged.
“They were just talking about nerdy drum stuff,” she smiles. “Their favourite sticks, their favourite drummers… But it made me so happy to hear Zev talking to other people that like to do what he likes to do. It made me emotional, because we’ve not been able to do that for years. I felt like a proud mom, doing my mascara and crying.”
Over the past few months, those emotional scenes have been echoed all around the world as musicians and fans slowly-but-surely rediscover the unique thrill of live music.
But Spiritbox – Courtney, Zev and guitarist (and Courtney’s husband) Mike Stringer – felt its absence more than most. After all, two years ago, they were just embarking on their first major European tour, supporting After The Burial, when the world shut down and they found themselves rushing back to Vancouver Island, Canada, $20,000 in the hole and with the band’s very existence under threat. When they next ventured out, supporting Limp Bizkit between lockdowns in summer 2021, the tour was again abruptly pulled due to COVID concerns.
As for many people, the extended quarantine period changed their lives. But for Spiritbox, the effects weren’t all negative.
Unable to go out and play, the band focused on building their online presence. They dropped huge tracks such as Holy Roller, Constance and Hurt You that, accompanied by intriguing videos and a carefully curated social media presence, saw them go from a band no-one had ever heard of to one metal fans couldn’t stop talking about.
“I thought the band was done when [lockdown] happened,” says Mike. “Like, ‘We’ve got all this debt, we need to figure this out.’ It was the most negative time mentally for the band, but then these doors started opening. All these horrible things were happening in the world, yet our career as Spiritbox essentially started at that time. Looking back, I’ve always asked myself: ‘Had that not happened, would we be here?’”
Given the phenomenal quality of Spiritbox’s debut album, Eternal Blue – a Top 20 hit in the UK, U.S., Canada, Germany and Australia and the most grippingly essential metal record in many a year – the answer is surely, ‘Yes, probably.’ But after all that success – so rare for a debut release in this day and age – some would see playing support as a backward step.
Not Courtney and Mike. Talking to Kerrang! from snowbound Salt Lake City, snuggled up on their tour bus with cute sweater-wearing dogs at their feet, they display no sign of rock star pretensions. They give up on the dodgy WiFi to use Courtney’s data for the Zoom call (“Anything for Kerrang!”) and position the phone to shield our eyes from the passing naked crew members.
Not only are they thrilled to be back on the road and, for now at least, problem-free – Salt Lake City is their 11th gig in a row, the longest streak the band has ever completed – but they also see this foray as “proof of concept” for the music they cooked up and released in isolation, deprived of the usual real-world feedback bands rely upon.
“We’ve been obsessed with this thing since we started writing music in 2015,” says Courtney. “We’re a very different group of people now; we’ve gone through way more stuff than I thought we would as a band. This whole time has felt like we know some secret and hoping that people understand what we’re trying to do.”
And, as it turns out, they do. Courtney and Mike seem genuinely taken aback by the ecstatic crowd reaction to them at every stop (“Now when I stick my microphone out to the crowd, I have a 50 per cent belief they’re actually going to sing!” laughs Courtney). Meanwhile, although she cheerfully admits to suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’, she says the respect from other bands is something she’s never experienced before. But there is zero chance of Spiritbox’s heads getting as big as their riffs.
“No matter how quickly you ascend to something, you still have to earn it,” Courtney stresses. “And we’re still earning it. We’ve been given a gift – one that we deserve – but we still have worked really hard. And now the hard work has begun.”
Mike admits to feeling the pressure of living up to the heightened expectations that come with being what Kerrang!’s 2021 cover story called “the hottest band in the world”. But while the first few shows were “nerve-wracking”, they’re now starting to relax and even – whisper it – enjoy themselves.
“A couple of days ago, we were like, ‘Are we having… fun? Are we laughing and goofing around right now?’” chuckles Courtney. “We remember from our old bands that this is what it’s like when you finally get in the groove of something. It feels weird to not have a nervous breakdown before I go onstage every day, but I could really get used to this!”
By the time they reach the UK in June, Spiritbox should be flying. With their 2020 British jaunt scuppered by that initial lockdown, they have yet to properly introduce themselves to fans on this side of the pond. Yet they’ve already had their Download Festival stage upgraded, while tickets for their headline show at London’s O2 Academy Islington were gone, quite literally, in 60 seconds. They added another, which also sold out instantly.
“I feel kinda bad,” says Courtney, apologetically. “Because I don’t like exclusivity; I want everyone to be able to come. But we need to grow our live show and find a team of people who are going to help us create something really cool. We don’t want to go out there and just press the space bar on a laptop. It’s going to be awesome, but I wish we could play five shows.”
Mike and Courtney promise some “deep cuts” for the London dates, including a possible rare appearance for all three parts of The Mara Effect, from their 2017 self-titled EP. Download, meanwhile, is what Mike calls “a bucket-list thing”, whatever the weather.
“We’re ready to get dirty!” he quips.
“Where we live, we don’t get snow like the rest of Canada,” adds Courtney. “We feel at home anywhere where there’s rainy, grey, overcast, muddy weather.”
Sounds like they’re going to love Download almost as much as Download will love them. But then, for Mike and Courtney – both veterans of experimental metalcore band Iwrestledabearonce – and Bill (a former member of pop-punkers Living With Lions), Spiritbox is a second chance to do things the right way.
“Our previous bands were a huge learning experience in what not to do,” explains Mike. “I’m very grateful we had that experience, though, because it enabled us to go into Spiritbox with a clear head and be like, ‘This is exactly what we should be doing, these are the people we want to work with, when we tour we want to do it like this.’ It’s been good to avoid certain situations that we’d be walking into blind, had we not had that.”
“We learned a lot of good stuff from our old band, too,” says Courtney. “They made a lot of mistakes for us before we were even in the band – and then we all made a bunch of mistakes together! That band had blown up out of nowhere, similar to this, and that’s very overwhelming. Sometimes you stumble and get knocked back down, which is what happened to us in that band. The last show we played, there were 40 people there and it was like, ‘Time to go home and write some new music.’”
In contrast, Spiritbox are a great advert for doing things your own way. They may now be on the mighty Rise Records, and with a great chance of moving from the hottest to the biggest new band in the world, but Mike and Courtney stress their freedom to determine where they go next.
“As scary as it is, you just have to do what makes you happy, create the music you want to create, and work with the people you want to work with,” says Mike. “Because the moment you start limiting yourself, the music suffers.”
To that end, the couple have already written around eight new songs. One even nearly made it onto the tour setlist before they ultimately decided to keep their powder dry.
“They’re really different to the songs on Eternal Blue,” enthuses Courtney. “I think some people might even hate them. But that makes me excited. I thrive on negativity!”
“Eternal Blue spanned over two years,” adds Mike. “And so much happened over those years. Now we’re different people with different tastes and it’s nice to be able to sit down and be like, ‘What do I want to hear? What do I enjoy?’”
“We feel really energised playing and recording the new songs,” says Courtney. “I hope that will translate to those listening. It makes me want to drive around really fast in a car – I don’t even have a licence, but I’ll do it!”
For now, however, Spiritbox’s travel plans revolve around getting their 2022 live dates to “full term” without other problems getting in the way. That may not be easy, but after years stuck at home, Courtney and Mike are determined to see it through, come what may.
“With all the stuff happening in the world again, we’ll never take any of this stuff for granted,” she says, resolutely. “The world wants to be at peace and do things people enjoy, like going to shows. I hope that soon everyone can do that, including those in Russia and Ukraine. We have so much love for those people, we have lovely fans there and there are so many amazing bands from those places that are going through so much right now. We all want to get back together and do music. That’s all we want.”
There will no doubt be some more smudged mascara along the way. But this time, surely nothing is going to be able to stop Spiritbox.
Spiritbox play Download Festival June 12 (get your tickets now) and London’s O2 Academy Islington 13 – 14.
This article originally appeared in the March issue of Kerrang!.
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