The Contortionist, an American Progressive Metal outfit formed in Indianapolis in 2007, have gone from strength to strength. Branching outwards from the heavy-leaning edge of the djent movement with slices of Deathcore, ‘Exoplanet’ and ‘Intrinsic’ featured a forward-thinking but much more brutal vibe than even more exploratory follow-up ‘Language’ and most recent release, the critically acclaimed ‘Clairvoyant.’ I caught up with the band’s frontman ahead of their upcoming Australian tour with UK Progressive Metal forebears SikTH.

Prior to the interview I was in a hurried state, preparing myself for a post-breakfast bolt out the door whilst current vocalist Mike Lessard was also expecting a string of interviews immediately following. Luckily, like the ethereal atmospherics of his band’s latest release, the man offered a calming, poignant and positive ethos, and the conversation settled like a chat between long-time friends.

“We’re currently just at the start of our headliner tour in USA, we just finished about a month of touring with a little band called Nothing More,” he notes.

When prompted as to how he felt about the upcoming tour, Lessard remarked on both his love for our nation and a band that influenced his own heavily. “Coming back to Australia, we love it there. Being able to tour with them, they’ve been a band we’ve all been inspired by for a long time. So to be able to come back to Australia and bring a band we’ve always looked up to and, for whatever reason they’re our support, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”

I queried as to how they felt about headlining a tour for a band which had blazed a trail in the Prog Metal and djent scenes just prior to The Contortionist’s arrival to heavy music. “It’s flattering but I get why – it’s a market that we’ve done four times now. It’s their first trip over there, so logistically and on paper why we’re headlining over them.” Past the logistical side, Lessard lamented that, ‘It’s still surreal, I listened to them long before I was ever in a band that anyone cared about!’

Australia is a place with which Lessard and the band recall with especial fondness. “I mean, we’ve met so, so many awesome people over there, many that will be lifelong friends.” They even found a regular engineering contact, “To the point of us having a guy who usually travels with us all around the world. Last time we were in Australia, he couldn’t come with us. We had such an amazing time and such an amazing guy in Dylan, instead of bringing our usual sound guy we thought, ‘Well seeing as we’re in Australia anyway, why not use him?'”

Forming friends within our music scene seemed a natural by-product of their tours here – “Dead Letter Circus, Sleepmakeswaves, Northlane, bands like that – just being able to come see those guys, people we’ve met on different continents, being able to see them on their home turf, travel with them and see the sights. Those are the things I love most about coming to see Australia. Seeing their home area, showing me things they did growing up or like to do currently. I love coming down.” Seems as though there was a mutual excitement between us, fans and the band about the tour, which will be the first voyage for SikTH.

Exploring the almost-inevitable, the conversation then turned to the marked difference between pre and post-arrival of Lessard into the band. With a hugely positive reception he also posits that, “I mean, there ARE people who… well I like to put it this way, damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” in relation to disgruntled fans of their softer, more pensive direction. “There are always going to be people who push back. We could’ve put out ‘Exoplanet 2’ and people would’ve still been mad. It’s one of those things, you’ve just gotta do what makes you happy.” Of course, a majority don’t see this as an issue, and have embraced the new directions of late. “The numbers don’t lie – the band’s the most successful it’s ever been, part of that has been due to the shift in sound.”

“In terms of the shift in sound, a lot of people attribute that to me coming on board, you know? I’m the most obvious change the band had, but at it’s core, when we play live I’m the one pushing to play ‘Exoplanet’ and ‘Intrinsic’ songs, just to give the fans a bit of that older sound.” The rest of the band are more adamant to keep on their current trajectory. “The other guys wanted something new – they wanted to shift the sound, we’re a band that was capable of that, so we figured ‘why not?’”

“For ‘Language’ I came in writing all the vocals, lyrics and the opening track,” says Lessard. Not diminishing his contribution, he notes that, “I don’t necessarily know if that’s what they wrote for me per se, like if they were like ‘well, we have a singer now.’ In terms of instrumentation,” he adds, “I was hesitant on writing too much. That’s what the guys wrote and that’s what they wanted.”

With respect to future directions, according to the frontman, songwriting flows with a semi-structured, organic process. “There’s always plans but it always ends up being a ‘take it as it comes’ situation.” Playing more from a position of intuition than mere logic, the flow of albums demonstrate a reflective pattern.  “When the time comes to write, it comes as almost a timestamp, a picture of that given period of our lives,” where “the sound is a culmination of everything we’re listening to and everything we’re going through,” he adds. “A lot of the time when I listen back when we wrote Clairvoyant, I can immediately tell what was going on in my life. Usually it just ends up being whatever happens at the given time.”

Grateful for the chance for me to interview him, the frontman espouses a natural attitude of being part of an honest, genuine collective who simply enjoy writing songs, touring and playing live. Like many others, I eagerly await to see the live translation of this palatable blend of sincerity, openness and musical freedom. With such a diverse back catalogue and an energetic, equally experimental support act, I think we are in store for one hell of an interesting tour.