For Canadian Ska/Punk Rockers The Flatliners 2017 Is A Milestone Year, With Much More To Come

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The Flatliners are marking 15 years as a band this year, as well as continuing to tour in support of Inviting Light, their fifth album, which was released in the spring.

The year 2017 has a lot of significance to the four members of Canadian ska/punk band The Flatliners. It marks a significant milestone in the history of the band, it marks a significant personal milestone for each musician, and it’s the year that saw them release a new album, the critically-acclaimed Inviting Light on Dine Alone/Rise Records.

The band is currently on tour, doing some supporting dates for fellow Canadians SUM 41, including a stop in Belleville, Ontario to kick off the 2017 version of Empire Rockfest series on Thursday, July 20.

“Yes, it has been 15 years since we started and absolutely I have been thinking about it a lot because it feels good. It’s kind of hard to believe just because we all also turned 30 this year and we started this band so young and It’s definitely a little hard to fathom that we’re already in our 15th year as a band, but it is an incredible achievement and we’re all really proud of it,” said vocalist/songwriter Chris Cresswell. The lineup, which formed in the suburbs around Toronto, also features guitarist Scott Brigham, bassist Jon Darbey and drummer Paul Ramirez

“There are a few milestones happening this year. There’s the band turning 15, there’s all us turning 30. Our second record, The Great Awake, was the first to be put out on Fat Wreck Chords and it turns 10 this year and we just put out our fifth full-length studio album. So, yeah, there’s a lot of cool things happening this year. And it feels great but sometimes that feeling is paired with crippling paranoia of wondering what do we do now?

“But like you said, if you were running any kind of scheme or business or whatever and it lasted 15 years, it would feel good. And it’s always been the same four guys and we’re still great friends and brothers and we still do what we do and we still spend a lot of time together on the road, playing music. It’s pretty amazing. As much as I wanted to be in a band as a kid and as much as each of us has put in so much time and effort and sacrificed a lot to make this band work and make it what we want it to be, I still never thought we would get to 15 years.”

Inviting Light was released in March, comes four years after the last LP, Dead Language, although the band has released the Resuscitation of the Year 7” and the Nerves EP since then. The new album sees the band still bridging the gap between its ska and punk roots and a fearless willingness to try new things. Lyrically, the songs focus more on what many 30 years olds are grappling with these days – finding the balance between the real, fact-to-face world and the virtual world.

“When we started, the songs that became our first record, Destroy to Create {2005] were all very adolescent thoughts and kind of commenting on the world around me as a teenager, a world I didn’t understand. And years and years later, it’s still a world that I really don’t understand, but that’s kind of the point I think is that life will always keep you on your toes. I think as you grow older, and with every record that we’ve done, musically we evolve and we progress. We get better at our instruments, we become better songwriters – you hone your craft more and more,” Cresswell said.

“And in terms of the lyrical content, on Inviting Light there’s a lot of reflection. There is a lot of seeing where we’ve come from, seeing where we are now and seeing where we could go. But maybe that’s more so me as a person thinking about life. The subject matter does change with age. I have always been a lyricist who is very much inspired by the world around me and things happening in my life, and the lives of people that I know. There are song great writers who write lyrics based on fictional stories and characters and that’s incredible, but I can’t really do that.

“I write about life experiences and+ as you grow older you have different life experiences and you realize more and more that you have different kinds of responsibilities or you have a different outlook on certain things than you may have had when you were a teenager. And it’s interesting when you think about it because this band has pretty much grown up on record.”

Cresswell is particularly vexed by the hold that social media has on people and how it seems that whatever good is does in allowing people to communicate is being trampled by the onslaught of hate, pain, disinformation, bullying and distracting nonsense that chew up both data and our time.

“We have technology today at our fingertips to help us communicate, which is very true. But at the same time, if you talk to your folks or grandparents and what they used to do on the weekends or how they used to communicate and the world they used to live in, how they would spend so much time with their friends and family. And as much as there is the positive side of things where I can text or Skype a friend who lives in Europe or Australia and it’s great and a truly beautiful thing. But when you are sitting at a table at a restaurant or at someone’s home and everyone or almost everyone is on their phone, it’s a drag,” he said.

“I am an avid social media user because I see the benefit to it and enjoy it, especially for band stuff as it’s a great way to connect with your fans. But there is a layer of it where it just takes over and becomes a disconnected and disenchanted way to live. It worries me for the next generation because it’s going to get worse as the years go on; there’s going to be a lot less human interaction and I think it’s so much easier for people to be pitted against each other. Facebook is just a lot of people bragging or complaining or bullying and it’s just kind of a gross place and I try to stay away as much as possible because it’s completely f***ing useless, man.

“There’s also a lot of stuff on the record about feeling your age as someone who has been touring for 12, 13 years, and being in a band for 15. There’s a lot about that and wondering what you can do in your life to be a good person, even though you’re always the person in a lot of friends and family members’ lives who is always away. You’re the absentee son, boyfriend, nephew, grandson, whatever. There is a weird element of touring a lot where I think it can bring on a self-imposed guilt trip. But this kind of reflection because it forces people like us to check ourselves, to get out of our bubble and call mom, or our partner, or brother. What we do fulfills the ego so much, but you still want to exist in a world outside that bubble, and sometimes that can be difficult.”

The Flatliners consider themselves to be independent, or DIY (do it yourself) and have gravitated to small indie labels over the years, spending the bulk of their career with Fat Wreck Chords (10 years) before moving to Dine Alone for Canada and Rise for the rest of the world.

“We have a team that works with the band for a lot of things, but we’re also doing a lot of it ourselves. The touring side of things is such a huge amount of work, just to get everything set up, all the paperwork and getting the gear and then actually doing the f***king shows, it’s a lot of work. All the labels we have worked with have been independent, although some may have had deals with major labels for distribution, but that is the closest we have come to a major label,” Cresswell said.

“We have never had any sort of offer from a major label and I am okay with that. I think it’s fine, because they’re probably really busy doing their thing with other bands that they can either make into stars or ruin their lives. The thing is, people do paint a picture of a major label being an evil place, and I don’t know much about that, I have never had much experience with it. But I will say that I understand, like a lot of things in this world, it depends on the band itself. I think being with a major label could work wonders for some bands, like the Arkells for instance, but I think it can be the kiss of death for others. For every one that does well there’s a million bands who have gone to a major label and got f***ing eaten alive.

“For our band, we’re happy doing what we do. We have been able to work with such great labels over the years and they were all indies and they all worked really hard, man. This day and age people say it’s really hard for a band to exist because no one is really buying records, but that means it’s even harder for a label to exist, especially a smaller one. A band is putting out one record every couple of years and trying to sell it. A label is putting out 10, 20 or more a year and trying to sell all of them. We were on Fat Wreck Chords for a long time and it was a beautiful place to be. We hit the 10 year mark with them and we said maybe we should try something else and see where it goes, it was pure curiosity.”

Indie or otherwise, The Flatliners have had an enviable career by any measurement, having the opportunity to tour around the world, something not every Canadian band gets to do, let alone a Canadian punk band.

“Prior to this tour we had a couple of weeks off, but before that we were out for about three months. We did Canada twice, Europe and the U.K. and a little bit of the U.S. and Brazil. Now we’re doing these shows in North America with SUM 41 and after that we’re going to do more shows on our own in the U.S. and Europe again in the fall, including a big festival in Florida. So in a year when we have a new record, there’s always a lot going on,” Cresswell said.

“It’s been a great year so far and even in the previous years it’s been great too as we’re coming to the realization that there are a lot of people in some pretty cool and far off places that enjoy our band, and it’s nice to be able to go to them. Especially finally being able to go to Brazil after years of trying was such a trip. It was amazing because it was a brand new place for us, and after all these years, there aren’t many new places left to tour. We had been hearing from people there for so long and to see folks singing along and being so happy that we were there was amazing. And the attitude and the positive outlook was maxed out because we were so happy to be there. It was really gratifying.

“They’re just so full of passion down there and they really go off at the shows. They’re not just standing there saying ‘impress me, play for me.’ We also went to Costa Rica for one show earlier this year and that was just as crazy. It feels good to be down there and giving those amazing people the music that they like.”

The Flatliners are hoping for a similarly passionate response when they hit the stage at Empire Rockfest in Belleville on July 20. After that, they open for SUM 41 in Rimouski on July 21 and Saguenay on July 22, before headlining their own show in Quebec City at L’Anti Bar on July 23.

For more information on the band and its tour dates, visit http://www.theflatliners.com.

  • Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at jimbarberwritingservices@gmail.com.

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