Forming back in 2007, The Contortionist are a sextet hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana; founding member Cameron Maynard (guitar) and founding members/brothers Robby (guitar) and Joey Baca (drums, percussion) are joined by Jordan Eberhardt (bass), Eric Guenther (keyboards) and Michael Lessard (vocals), in a line-up that has been together since JUST before Language was recorded in 2014. The Contortionist have decided to come out from the woodwork this year with their fourth studio album Clairvoyant, which is being bought to you once again by EOne Music/Good Fight Records and will be available for purchase from September 15th.
Not only are The Contortionist releasing another record through EOne Music/Good Fight, they also decided to team up and work with producer Jamie King again; King was the producer of Language so the band knew what to expect!
OVERDRIVE got the opportunity to sit down and talk to Lessard about the upcoming album and its impending release date, not only getting to work with King again but also being supported by EOne for a fourth album, artists that influenced the band throughout the writing of the album and more; the first insight Lessard allowed us was in regard to how long The Contortionist have been waiting for Clairvoyant to be released, as well as how excited they are to finally have a release date set in stone:
“Clairvoyant has been in the works for a while now; to give a definitive answer is kind of hard because some of the stuff actually stems from writing from Language but it just didn’t seem right for that album so it just kind of sat on the sidelines until we picked up this album and started writing. For the most part we spent about a year or so, strictly focusing just on the album; it feels pretty awesome to finally have a release date, as the album has been finished for probably 4 or 5 months so to finally have it out in the open and have a couple of tracks out is just a relief!” He further elaborated about the wait, “It is the worst wait; it’s been ready to go for about four or five months and the wait is kind of hard to describe; you spend that much time working on something and it’s hard to really have perspective on whether it’s good or not, after you’ve been working on it for so long. Then you have to sit and wait to see what other people’s reactions are to it; it’s just torture!”
EOne Music/Good Fight Music have been the only record label that The Contortionist have worked with when releasing an album, having teamed up for Exoplanet (2010), Intrinsic (2012) and the previously mentioned Language (2014); that trend continued with the fourth album Clairvoyant. Lessard let OVERDRIVE in on some of the behind-the-scenes within The Contortionist base camp and the relationship with EOne:
“We love EOne; they’ve always just treated us well! To date, we have signed two extensions with them; Language was going to be the last album with the label and then we signed an extension to do the next album AND then before this album we signed another extension with them to do another album. We’ve always had a good relationship with them, they’ve always treated us well, they’ve always let us have all the creative room we’ve ever needed and have never tried to intervene with writing or anything like that; even with the music videos and everything like that, they’ve always let us have full control and do everything in house.”
Not only have The Contortionist stayed with the same record label, but they’ve also returned to the same producer that they used on Language; the one and only Jamie King of Between the Buried and Me and Through the Eyes of the Dead fame. Lessard explains the reasoning behind that, as well as how much a part of The Contortionist family King really is:
“Getting to work with Jamie is always a pleasure; this is actually my third album that I’ve done with him (and the second with The Contortionist) and he’s really kinda part of the band now. It’s always a pleasure as he’s one of the best human beings on the planet; just humble and a music genius with an ear that’s second to none! Not that you’d ever know that when you meet him because he is so humble, but get him into a room and he’s a machine. It’s weird because he’s kind of respected amongst all the people because he works with Between the Buried and Me and all these other great bands; it’s not until you get into a room with him that you realise just how unique of an individual he really is, because of how brilliant he is and how humble he is. He’s there to try and get your ideas across; I’ve never worked with him and not had what we were working on become better! It’s essential, because we don’t work well in stressful environments; working with him is a breeze because it doesn’t feel like work!”
Having worked with King on Language last time around, you’d think that either party would have taken notes on where to improve and what to focus on next time there was a project; after being slightly stumped by the question proposed, Lessard explains that due to the chain of events that take place after recording an album that might not always happen…
“That’s a tough one actually; when you work on an album, once it’s finished you might think ‘there’s this and this that we want to change next time’ but then you get stuck into the album cycle. Once you get spat out of that album cycle and it’s time to write again, you’ll think ‘what was that thing I wanted to change again?’ Having said that though, with every album that you finish you get better at the pre-production and the preparation as you have a better understanding of where you want to go, things you don’t want to repeat and just the general flow of things. Being able to go back to Jamie meant we were able to head back into the work environment we had for Language and fine-tune a couple of things; we’ve had a bad habit of having too many people in the room at one time during recording, so we made sure that most of that stuff was already done before even entering the studio. We actually took the time and headed up to Maine to work with a gentleman by the name of Evan Sammons who was in my last band Last Chance to Reason, and he helped us with the writing in pre-production of the album, so we already had 90% of the album written before we even went to Jamie’s. Once we went to Jamie’s, everybody just gave everybody their space and let them work with Jamie; that’s one thing we did learn during Language, not having too many cooks in the kitchen when we’re in the studio during the final tracking.”
Whenever a band releases an album that contains a track that shares its name, there is always a bright spotlight and a very fine tooth comb that gets cast over it in judgement. The Contortionist have more then delivered with ‘Clairvoyant’ as it showcases a glimpse of the entire album within a single track! Ranging from driving drums with metal styled guitar to beautifully operatic/harmonic showcases and everything in between, this track certainly doesn’t pull any punches. When responding to whether it was planned or just something that occurred, Lessard mentioned that, “It was something that just kinda happened more or less; we were a little uncertain of what the album title was going to be whereas with Language, the album title was there before the first song was even finished! We ended up going with Clairvoyant; the lyrics kind of appealed to us the most off the album so it seemed like a fitting title track. It just kind of fell into place more or less. It definitely encompasses every part of the album within that song; there’s a little piece of everything in that track, so in its own natural way it ended up being a great title track and we got lucky.”
Lessard gave OVERDRIVE a little bit more of an insight into the mentality that was behind the creation of Clairvoyant, starting off by staying how “we didn’t actually release lyrics for the album, but if you pay attention lyrically all the lyrical themes seem to have precursors in the track prior; we’ve tried to make it as cohesive as possible,” before elaborating further on how this interviewer expressed his appreciation for songs that flowed seamlessly into each other. “If you ever get a chance to see us live, we actually don’t ever stop until the very end and that’s when we say “Thank you for coming out, we’re The Contortionist.” We’re firm believers in keeping people’s attention and having them sucked in from beginning to end and then breaking that trance; we wanted to do the same thing with the album. I feel that breaks between tracks gives you a second to gather your thoughts too much; I’d much rather just have the person kinda be in a trance throughout the whole thing.”
This interviewer got the opportunity to listen to Clairvoyant to help prepare for the interview; what a treat fans have in store when it becomes available September 15th! Without giving too much away, this interviewer really felt like he was listening to an album that was constructed during a Pink Floyd sound-layering masterclass, being paired with hard hitting lyrics that were a result of some personal writing time with Serj Tankian (System of A Down)… not to mention a vocal range of Matt Bellamy from Muse; were The Contortionist influenced by any of these mentioned artists?
“Everybody you’ve listed has been an influence either recently or at some point in my life. Even Serj,” was as much as Lessard could get out before the phone call went silent for close to a minute; this interviewer quickly hung up and called back so the interview could continue. Once Lessard answered again, this interviewer mentioned how “Serj” was the last thing heard which allowed Lessard to continue, “Even Serj; his approach to some of the lyrical content with System is unorthodox… it takes a little bit of thought sometimes to piece together the exact message that he’s trying to get across. I also love his use of sarcasm; for example with ‘B.Y.O.B,’ you know ‘Bring Your Own Bombs,’ just that sarcastic approach he has that people don’t catch onto sometimes. In regards to Pink Floyd, whenever I go to work on an album (some of the other guys too), you HAVE to listen to Pink Floyd. In terms of making a conceptual album or an album as a whole that is just a beautiful cohesive piece of music, no one has ever done it better than Pink Floyd.”
After our interview dropped out for the second time due to bad reception, Lessard came out and apologised for “being the worst interviewee ever.” This interviewer let Lessard know that “during previous interviews I’ve conducted, they’ve been crashed by other band members joining in, as well as other band members just sitting down nearby and eating a kebab which derailed the interview.” This brought on a good chuckle from Lessard, which seemed to make him seem at ease again. Considering these interviews are taking place during the personal time of the interviewee (part of this one was taking place whilst Lessard was driving to the store, the reason why will be revealed later!), you have to expect things to occasionally be interrupted or to have the odd technical issue arise here and there.
Getting right back into the interview, Lessard opened up about what songs from Clairvoyant not only The Contortionist are most looking forward to playing live, but also what songs personally Lessard can’t wait to play:
“We’re excited to play any new songs! We’ve been playing all the previous albums pretty much non-stop the last few years, so anything new is very welcome at this point. Regarding the Between the Buried and Me tour, it’s still kind of up in the air exactly what we’re going to be playing; we were actually just talking about that yesterday! We’re terrible at deciding because everyone has a different idea on what they want to do; I’m sure that the closer to the tour we get, the better of an idea we’ll have but I’m sure we’ll play ‘Reimagined,’ plus we have another music video coming out soon so we’ll most likely play that track but we’ll just play it by ear and see what songs we end up picking.” HE continued, “For me personally, it would be ‘Reimagined.’ It’s a track that I wrote and it’s been around for probably four years now, but just sitting on my laptop for the most part (chuckles). So to see that actually take life and I think it has some of the coolest soundscapes on the album in terms of darker tones, which I think will translate well live. Plus I think it fits my voice a bit; you know, it’s a song that I wrote so my ear pulls to things that emphasise and reinforce my voice.”
When quizzed as to why it took so long for ‘Reimagined’ to see the light of day, Lessard explained how the only thing holding it back from being released earlier was, “I think just timing; when I came into the band for Language, it was a big step away from some of the previous releases. I felt like that song might have been too far of a step away; I kind of presented it to the band and they liked it, but I still thought that it’s too much of a step away and isn’t right for this album, so I sat on it for a little longer and kept messing with it, which eventually turned into what it is now. I’m glad we waited, because if we didn’t it wouldn’t have turned into what it is now! It was a welcomed song; I think in terms of song structure, it was a little too far removed from what the band had done at that point. I think it was a little too impractical because before this album, we weren’t really known as a band that had conventional song structure, so we were waiting for the right time.”
Knowing that Lessard has previously produced songs in his own time, it felt right to ask whether he considered himself “talented enough” to be considered a guitar player for example. Lessard was pretty honest with the opinion he gave of himself:
“I crudely play guitar and keyboard, stuff like that; during ‘Reimagined’ I wrote the majority of that song. I wouldn’t consider myself somebody who plays other instruments; I would consider myself more of a songwriter. I love song writing, that’s always been my passion; it’s something that I’m glad the band is slowly starting to incorporate more of in terms of dynamics and stuff like that. I’ve always loved pop music and how they do it differently; the idea of keeping the same four chords (which can get really boring) but somehow they can still manage to make this huge thing based off of layers and dynamics with different tones. I want to take that and apply it to more technically savvy music. You know, I’m still working on that but I love song writing. I own a couple of guitars, a couple of keyboards. I know enough to get me by but I wouldn’t call myself a guitarist or a keyboardist.”
Lessard then started to open up and talk about his other musical passion:
“You’re talking different chord tensions and moving between chords or different rhythmic tensions. Music is so endless in the way that you can build, subtract and create all these different moods and environments based off rhythm, melody, harmony, tonality and all these different things; that’s what I find so fascinating about song writing. If I could, I would just live in a studio and just make weird sounds all day! I mean, I love traveling and I’m very lucky to do it but the end goal is to be able to work and collaborate with other people; not necessarily so much be in the spotlight but be somebody else, get their ideas out or presenting ideas to them and getting them excited, which helps them get new ideas. I love the creative process; having an idea and then making that a tangible thing that people can actually hear, I think that’s fascinating. With anything really, even with building a table or something like that; just the process where somebody can have a thought and then make it a reality, that’s a crazy concept to me!”
The discussion of Lessard’s passion with the production and more technical side of music lead this interviewer to ask whether a home studio was planned once singing not only for The Contortionist but as a whole had concluded. Lessard informed OVERDRIVE that, “I actually have a small home studio; before I got in the car and started this interview I was working on the new song, so I’ve kinda set that up for myself but it’s not something that’s become a form of income. I also do a lot of video editing; I do all the production and producing on our music videos. If you saw the ‘Reimagined’ video I was a producer on that, plus I also came up with all the conceptual stuff; even the ‘Language’ music video, I did that also. So whenever we get music budgets, actually when we did something for our Rediscovered shoot I produced that as well. I’m doing all our studio updates; I’m also into video editing; I just love creating so if I could just be in a room and create an environment and a headspace for other people to enjoy and be in, that’s the end goal right there.”
Lessard then closed this portion of the interview with a really good piece of advice:
“If you’re in a negative mind space, nothing will sound good or nothing will seem good because you don’t feel good; but if you can get a good environment or a good groove on, everything feels right and it keeps you inspired and keeps you working and keeps you excited. Even if the idea isn’t the best idea, you’re excited to continue to work on it and you just continue to shape it; if you’re not excited you don’t do anything on it and then it doesn’t move. Most definitely the flow of things is one of the most important parts; like I said with being in the studio, we learned from Language not to have too many people in there when we’re doing the tracking, because sometimes it can be counter-intuitive to what we’re trying to do.”
Touching on the travelling and the new stamps to the passport The Contortionist are looking at earning with Clairvoyant, will it be visiting a country for the first time or going somewhere for a return visit?
“I mean, we want to go everywhere; we love Europe, we love Australia, we haven’t been to New Zealand yet. The band went to Japan prior to me joining; I’d love to go to Japan because I haven’t had the opportunity and the guys speak so highly of the culture there. I’d love to go to South Africa, South America; basically we love to travel and get to meet new fans. We’re thankful to have a job that allows us to do that, it’s amazing; definitely it is work though, because not every day you wake up, want to go scream at the top of your lungs and have people judge you on it. But at the end of the day there’s no better job out there at least for me! I get to create and then share that creation with other people; it can most definitely be work at times but I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in.”
Knowing that The Contortionist are major fans of coming to Australia, what does that mean for Australian fans and the chance of having the band grace our shores one more time?
“We’ll be down I’m sure, sooner rather than later; we love coming down to Australia. We’ve had a great time every time we’ve come down so I’m sure in the very near future we’ll be back!”
Clairvoyant will be available via EOne Heavy/Good Fight from September 15th 2017 so make a note in your calendar; not to mention OVERDRIVE will have an album review coming in next few weeks, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for that as well!