INTERVIEW WITH COURTNEY LAPLANTE BY NATHAN KATSIAFICAS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KYLE JOINSON
Vancouver Island based progressive metallers Spiritbox have catapulted themselves to the forefront of the genre, despite playing only a few shows in their home country of Canada and a slew in Europe supporting After the Burial before the tour was cut short due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The band, comprised of metal power couple Courtney Laplante and Mike Stringer (both formerly of avant-garde metalcore act Iwrestledabearonce) and Bill Crook (formerly of Living with Lions and A Textbook Tragedy) has been making waves since their self-titled debut in 2017.
I’ve been fortunate to know Courtney since 2010, when she fronted the Victoria, British Columbia area mathcore band Unicron, and she reminded me that I was actually the first person to ever interview her. It’s been a wild ride seeing her go from that small act to fronting Iwrestledabearonce, and now with a new vision and much more creative control at the helm of Spiritbox. We had the chance to catch up with Courtney to speak with her about what Spiritbox is up to during the pandemic, as well as future plans, successes thus far, and the band’s latest single “Holy Roller.”
What would you be doing right now as a band if COVID hadn’t shut everything down? You had plans to be in the studio in April, right?
I’d be freaking out right now, stressing about making a music video for a song from our record, and just doing the general things that I’m normally doing, which is me running around freaking out! We would probably be on a tour in the US, because we had a couple awesome tour offers. Due to all this stuff, there were a couple international bands that had to drop off North American shows. We just all of a sudden got all of these summer tours. Sadly, we were way too optimistic that that would end up happening. So instead, we’re just stressing out for all of the other reasons we’re normally stressed out.
What are you doing instead? How are you keeping sane?
I feel like we’re able to stay sane and not be so stressed out because we’ve compartmentalized each month. We have our Patreon, and I think that’s really helping us stay busy and keeps us feeling accountable because someone is paying us to make them content. We would do it anyway, but now we need to meet the demand for this service people pay for. It’s been really exciting trying to navigate that. That’s been keeping us busy, and now we’re saying, “Hey, we had our record ready. Fuck it, let’s write some more songs!” Having “Holy Roller” come out and working on the video and on the song, that really distracted us in a nice way as well, from the gloom and doom of this whole thing.
“WE’RE ABLE TO STAY SANE AND NOT BE SO STRESSED OUT BECAUSE WE’VE COMPARTMENTALIZED EACH MONTH.”
About that, you just dropped “Holy Roller” with a very Midsommar-esque video. Where did the inspiration for that come from? And you guys directed it yourself?
So, we have 11 music videos. We’ve directed and edited eight of the 11. We do it out of necessity, not out of any passion for being a director. It’s one of those things where if the people you have access to are not impressive, do it yourself until you have access to the people you want to work with. Luckily for us, we have an amazing director, his name is Dylan. You can tell which ones he did—they’re clearly professionally made. He did the videos for “Blessed Be,” “Bleach Bath,” and “Perennial.” When we’re able to work together again, we’ll definitely be having Dylan back, but due to this pandemic, just when we thought we were done doing it ourselves, one more!
Why Midsommar though?
It’s the same reason for every single video that we personally make ourselves. Our budget is zero dollars, and making a flower crown costs about zero cents. Everything we do is built around a free or almost free idea, and then we build something around that. We always make sure to not really have a storyline. There are more so little vignettes, little scenes. That way the person watching can project whatever they want to on what they’re seeing. And then that makes it, rather than focusing and spending all this money on all these little scenes, actors, and equipment, we can focus on making the most clean video that we can and hopefully trick everyone into thinking that someone professional did it. You know, Bill Crook’s wife is a makeup artist, so let’s make the video about all her cool makeup looks.
Spiritbox has been releasing a new track every few months since November. Are there more in store? Do you plan to continue to follow this model alongside working on a full-length album?
We don’t do EPs and singles because we think that that’s better for our audience. It’s more of a “how are we going to pay for that album?” It costs a lot of money, it’s double the songs! We always joke that we have a month by month album service—we pay for a couple songs at a time. And then now, because we didn’t spend all of our money making an album that no one wanted, we are at a point where we can afford to do an awesome full album. I’m excited about that because although I like the singles model for building your band, I like the freedom of an album. We can just get weirder and more abstract on that format—everything isn’t meant to be on a Spotify playlist. It’s meant to all be listened to all at once, and it doesn’t have to follow a structure like a single would.
“BECAUSE WE DIDN’T SPEND ALL OF OUR MONEY MAKING AN ALBUM THAT NO ONE WANTED, WE ARE AT A POINT WHERE WE CAN AFFORD TO DO AN AWESOME FULL ALBUM.”
What can you tell us about this upcoming record?
We’re trying to record it in August. We have the whole thing booked—three weeks in August. I don’t think it’s going to happen though, because our producer is American and the guy drumming for us is American. Americans aren’t allowed in Canada, and we’re not allowed in America…well, I am but Michael can’t and Bill can’t. Until there isn’t a global pandemic anymore, I don’t think we’re going to all be able to get together. So, then we’re going to need to reassess and figure out if we need to do this remotely again.
Maybe drums in one studio and everything else in Canada?
Exactly. We might do that. If it works out, my goal, my dream is that we can put a song out in the fall. And potentially preorders out in the winter and maybe release an album in January or February. My original plan was to record the album in April and put it out in August, but of course that didn’t happen. We’re not really traditional in that way where we’re going to wait to be on tour to put the album out. We don’t care about first week numbers enough to withhold the music from coming out. I wanna ride this wave that we’re on right now. We don’t want things to get stale.
Speaking of that wave, Spiritbox has amassed millions of streams and thousands of fans without any major touring until recently. What do you attribute your success to?
I think it’s because we didn’t focus on spending our money on things that served our egos, but focused instead on things that served the business that we’re trying to run. A lot of people are going to spend money on going on a DIY tour for two and a half weeks, playing to 12 people every night, because they want mom and dad to know that they’re in a rock band and they get to rock out and do shows. That’s just not something that really interests us. We’re essentially trying to skip the line. Since we’re older, we have all those things that you learn on the road. We’ve already gotten to learn them as we’ve cumulatively done thousands of shows in our own separate projects. I think we were able to then, instead of focusing our very small amount of money onto touring and investing in gear for touring, invest our money in ways that grow our business.
“IN THIS TIME IN THE WORLD, WITH THE TECHNOLOGY WE HAVE, WHY WOULD YOU LET GEOGRAPHY DETERMINE WHO YOU’RE WORKING WITH?”
Other than that, it’s just purely chance. You never know what people are going to be into. All you can hope is that they like the thing that you make. I think the other factor, other than being in Iwrestledabearonce—we had a built-in fan base from that—is that, if you’re a local band, you need to not think of yourself as a local band. You need to not worry about what your local scene thinks, who is going to let you play at this bar or that bar. You need to not let geography determine who you work with, because then you’ll fall into the trap of working with the best manager in your town or the best video director in your town, and so on and so on. I think that is just really shortsighted. In this time in the world, with the technology we have, why would you let geography determine who you’re working with? Now everyone is approachable and doing online work remotely, seize on that.
How did your previous adventures with Iwrestledabearonce and other musical projects prepare you for Spiritbox?
I think that Iwrestledabearonce was awesome because it trained Michael and I to figure things out. We joined a band that was an established band, but we didn’t join it at its height. We joined it during its descent. We got to have a front row seat to be a part of something that was on its downturn, making less and less money, having less and less interest, and less and less people go to shows. We got to see and learn that having a sustainable model and actual fans that feel like they are a part of things…I mean, it’s weird. I don’t even like to call our fans, “fans.” It seems cheap. These aren’t fans, I know all these people. I talk to them and I have their numbers and stuff.
“WE’VE ALL BEEN ABLE TO BE THAT FLY ON THE WALL AND HAVE A GLIMPSE INTO THIS WORLD OF REALLY SUCCESSFUL BANDS”
As we grow, I won’t know all our fans, but the couple hundred core people, I know them all. Iwrestledabearonce didn’t have that. We were the band that people said, “Oh, there was that one song of yours I really liked in high school.” They were a more novel band, and it taught me that that can help you for a while, but it’s not really sustainable. You need to invest money back into your band. I don’t feel like Iwrestledabearonce really invested money back into the band. We recorded ourselves for free. We had a record budget, but then we would record ourselves, ourselves. I mean, that’s crazy. We could’ve worked with the best people in the world. But then I also learned how hard you have to work to get to that spot. And I watched those guys just work their asses off and be ahead of the curve. I’m so thankful because I learned so much from those guys. And learned from all our tour mates as well. Same with Bill—he was in a band that opened for A Day To Remember and toured with Metallica and shit. We’ve all been able to be that fly on the wall and have a glimpse into this world of really successful bands and learn as much as possible from the very short time of being around them. I’m very thankful for the time I had in Iwrestledabearonce. Without being in that band, I would not be where I am today at all, zero percent chance.
Can you talk about what your Patreon entails. What can fans expect if they join?
It’s all the stuff that we are obsessed with, documenting that only people that really, really like our band would care about, so we don’t inflict in onto the rest of the world. It’s essentially like home videos. It’s little things. Like for instance, I’m going to probably record a vocal play through for “Holy Roller” this weekend, and so I’ve been recording every practice I do for a vlog. And the people on our Patreon, they’ve known about “Holy Roller” since April. They saw the video where we made it, they saw the video where I recorded my vocals, where Michael recorded his guitar and bass, and where we named the song. It’s like if you got a DVD, it’s all the bonus content on the DVD, like “If you like Lord of the Rings, you’re sure gonna like that bonus content.” But if you don’t love Lord of the Rings and you don’t like it, you probably won’t care. It’s really fun, it’s like a fan club. We give our patrons everything first. For instance, right now we have a new shirt coming out that’ll probably sell out, so we give them a link to it first. We show them the new songs before they come out. I really enjoy it! It feels like a safe place for us to try new things and experiment and stuff. It’s a very positive space for us to put our toe in the water and try out new stuff. I love it so much!
“THE MORE NEGATIVE COMMENTS YOU SEE, THE HAPPIER YOU SHOULD BE FOR US, BECAUSE IT MEANS WE’RE BREAKING OUT”
Do you feel that helps when dealing with trolls, like some of the comments on the “Holy Roller” video?
I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone because I just haven’t been sad yet about Spiritbox. We’re at that weird little graph plot point where we’re going up, but we’re not known enough for people to hate us. It’s about to tip, right? Like I always joke with our fans, the more negative comments you see, the happier you should be for us, because it means we’re breaking out of our sweet little angel bubble of all our fans who are so positive. Whenever I see someone be like, “This is trash!” I feel like, “Oh my god, we broke through. This is working!” I’m hoping that we’re going to grow enough that there’s going to be that negative feedback. Now that we have such a strong community, I’m not going to give a shit about that. I was in Iwrestledabearonce for four years. There’s nothing anybody can say to me that I haven’t heard already. I’m like, bring it on, man!