Originally published online at BLUNT Magazine.
You know an interview is going to be good when it starts with a conversation about Adam Sandler’s magnum opus Happy Gilmore. We spoke to Chris Cresswell, frontman of Canadian punk rock outfit The Flatliners, about the recent release and curation of their B-side collection, Divisions Of Spoils, while also discussing his solo acoustic work and what it is about that format that attracts so many punk musicians. Strap yourself in folks, because this is a long one.
Congrats on having the most amazingly obscure Halloween costume possible.
[Laughs] I’m glad you like it.
Is Happy Gilmore your favourite Adam Sandler film?
That is my favourite film.
Yeah, somehow over the years it’s just become my favourite movie of all time. The thing is, The Flatliners have been away from home for the past nine Halloweens. So this year we decided to not go on tour; we’re usually at The Fest in Florida. We decided we didn’t want to do it this year and work on writing a record and stuff. I’ve had that idea in my head for at least the last two years – I’ve had that T-shirt for two years. A friend of mine got it for me, and like, I can’t wear this shirt in public unless it’s Halloween because it’s super offensive and fucking bright orange.
Did you do a group costume, because your friend is dressed as the alligator that took Chubbs’ hand?
No, as far as Happy Gilmore characters go it was just her and I. Her and a friend who are always mistaken as sisters were going to do the twins from The Simpsons, the ones with the purple hair and sweaters. I can’t remember their names. But our friend wasn’t feeling too well and couldn’t come up for Halloween, so Katie had to make a last minute decision.
You mentioned you’re working on new material. Could you tell us about that? You guys usually take your time in between records.
I think if you look at the release year of each record they’re always three years apart. We like to take our time. I feel like if we weren’t on the road as much we could probably get a record out earlier, or at least sooner than we usually do. There’s always a couple of songs kicking around at the end of an album recording that we never got the chance to get to. We’ve got a couple kicking around, but to get into the fully-fledged writing of a record, the band doesn’t cohesively get to it while on the road. Each of us might be coming up with our own ideas privately while we’re on tour, but nothing really comes to fruition until we have time to really focus on it.
You released a B-Side collection, Divisions Of Spoils, back in August. How did that project come about?
Going as far back as our first demo in 2002 we’ve had these songs lying around that we never really put out – those demo songs in particular. We never put those out in a commercial sense; we only have them on burned CD copies that I made on my computer when I was like 16 years old. We’ve had a couple of songs kick around from a long way back that we’ve never released, and as time went on, album-to-album, we always ended up with a couple extra tracks recorded. For Dead Language we recorded like 20 songs, for Cavalcade we recorded 18 songs; for The Great Awake we only had one or two extras. And on top of that, we’ve been lucky enough to be apart of a lot of cool cover and tribute albums, and compilations with a bunch of other bands. We just wanted to finally put all these songs on one thing. For the most part, a lot of those songs have been released on 7” and stuff like that over the years, because we love doing that stuff like that, but for as many fans we have who love collecting vinyl and that kind of stuff, there are a lot of people who just aren’t into it. We thought it’d be a good idea to put them all together. We still had three or four extra tracks from Dead Language that no one had ever heard, so we felt now was the time to put them together while we’re working on a new record. I think the timing was right.
I don’t know if this is a weird sounding compliment, but the way it’s put together is really impressive. It feels like an actual album, not a mish-mash of random song like most B-side collections are. Was this cohesion something you really strived for?
To be totally honest, I was looking at certain bands who I love and who had done B-side records before as an inspiration for this one, and a lot of those bands have just done a thing where they start with the newest B-sides and then go back. It was actually Chad Williams at Fat Wreck Chords who suggested we sequence it like a record, so I can’t even take credit for that. I did sequence it for the most part, but it was Chad’s idea. If he had never suggested that I don’t think we would have done it. That’s actually the biggest compliment we’ve gotten from this record. I know there are people out there who actually think this is a new album. I think the sequencing works and I’m really glad Chad suggested it. It has a nice flow to it, and seeing these little moments of time captured on the record, it’s like a celebration of all the weird shit that we’ve written over the years.
Did you come across anything and think: “Woah, I forget we made that! This rules!”
Yeah, actually; there’s a demo version of a song we wrote for The Great Awake. The demo must have been from 2006 – it was those demos that we sent Fat Mike when he peaked his interested in our band. The song is unfortunately titled “Sleep is for Bitches,” because we were kids and thought that was funny – it’s not and I wish we could change the name of the song, but we can’t. That was a song we unearthed and it was like, “Holy shit, we still have this!” And we kind of umm-ed and ahh-ed for a minute, trying to figure out whether or not we should put it on the B-side collection but I’m glad we decided to. The moment I heard it for the first time in years I was so stoked. It’s so raw and I’d totally forgotten about in general.
You guys are playing as a part of the Fat Wrecked for 25 Years tour. How does it feel to be a part of a celebration like that?
It was wild. We’ve always had this kind of air of unbelievability of the fact that we landed a spot of Fat. We’ve been on the label for almost ten years now, which is nuts. It was so cool because we were right in the middle of the show and right after us it was Swingin’ Utters, Strung Out, Lagwagon, NOFX. Those are four bands that got me and the other dudes in Flatliners into punk. We’ve already had the experience of meeting these bands and touring with them, but it never gets old. You just sit back and think: “How the fuck did I get here? This is rad!” I think there’s a lot of luck involved, but it was definitely a trip to be on that tour. I mean, we’ve only doing a few tours this year so we can work on this new record, and we were so happy to be on that one.
You guys are out here soon supporting Lagwagon, but you, specifically, are also going to be supporting Joey Cape’s solo acoustic set. How did you get you get into playing in that style?
There’s always been a part of me that’s enjoyed the quieter, more delicate and mellower kind of music, since I was a kid. My roots and my heart are most into punk rock, but silently for a time I had few songs just kicking around. It came to a point where I was considering recording a few songs here and there, but never really having the intention of releasing an album with them and just putting them out one by one. I’d know Joey for a few years –we’d toured with Lagwagon once or twice– and his other band Scorpios were doing a tribute tour for the late-and-great Tony Sly. I played the Toronto show with them, and right before their set began –which was a two-hour set, by the way– Joey came up to me and said, “Man, I’ve really got to talk to you about something important but we’ve got to play now, so I’ll tell you after our set.” So I spent the next two hours wondering what the hell does he want to talk to me about? I was kind of nervous; I thought I was in trouble or something, I don’t know why! So after the show, he told me that he has this idea where he wants to start a label called One Week Records and that he’s hand-picked friends of his to come to San Francisco and record a ten song album in his home studio in a week. I couldn’t say no; I jumped at the chance. I wrote a few more songs; Joey obviously produced it and I worked really close with him. But had he never offered, I don’t think if I’d ever done it.
In terms of One Week Records, how does making an album as a part of that set-up compare from your usual process?
It was much different for a lot of reasons. I was very naïve going into it this process because a lot of these songs he and I had already worked out. We’d send stuff back and forth, and he’d give me notes on them. He’s producing; we’re collaborating, so we’d already done a bit of work before I got there. But I was under the impression that because it’s an acoustic album and I wasn’t yelling, there was no electric guitar or drums or bass that it wouldn’t take that long and it’d be a breeze. I never anticipated in my entire life how exhausting it was. It was all for good reason; it was fun and we did some great stuff together, and I love how it turned out. I’m still very proud of it, and the fact that I got to work on a record with Joey Cape is nuts to a kid like me. But, when you’re making a solo acoustic album, you’re the only one performing. We’d record for like 10 hours a day, for a week. We got to day five and were almost done, which was great. We definitely worked hard and quick, but it was exhausting. I never ever anticipated that. But I guess the thing I found is that because there’s no distortion, there’s no bass, there’s no drums, there’s no this-or-that that you’d normally have, there’s a lot of open space and time. In those moments, those quiet and delicate moments, there’s a lot more concentration to nail it.
Why do you think punk musicians gravitate towards acoustic solo performances?
I think eventually for certain people it’s just inevitable. I don’t know anyone who got into music by getting into punk first. When you’re a kid, your family is playing music around you or you hear music when you’re out, I don’t know, shopping in the grocery store with your mum it’s not a punk song. Punk is something you get introduced to by the sketchy weird kid at school, or your older brother, or maybe a skate video. Those were all the ways I got into punk. So I feel like eventually you get to a point as a music fan in general, but more so a musician or a songwriter you just want to go back to your roots. You really want to celebrate where you came from as far as being a music fan and songwriter goes. I think inevitably it’s also something that becomes interesting to someone who spends a lot of time touring with a band and you get used to writing songs that way, then sometimes they can’t stand-alone. I think the greatest test for any song is that if the hook is just as catchy and it’s just as engaging as a song when it’s stripped down, then to me, that makes it a really good song. But it’s really challenging. I think a lot of people just get accustomed to being a part of a unit, and then have the desire to try something on their own. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I was pretty nervous at first because I had to go to my dudes and be like, “Hey, I’m going to go do this acoustic solo thing. Is that okay?” And I never had any anticipation that they’d say no or anything, but there is that thing that gets ingrained in a lot of people that when you’re in a group for a long time it might cause tension to branch off. But in the end, all you’re doing is exploring your creativity and I think I’ve become a better songwriter for doing that.
The Flatliners have been playing together for almost 15 years now, and you yourself have been in bands since you were 14. Do you ever stop and consider just where you are now and how much you’ve accomplished?
My mind doesn’t normally catch up to my body, but there are moments whether it’s something really crazy happening while on the road, or meeting someone I really admire, or just sitting around and reflecting, but it’s definitely crossed my mind a few times that I am a really lucky young man. I started a band with my buddies in Canada and now I get to go to Australia for the fourth time in my life, which is great. Some people don’t even get that opportunity at all. It’s like, how much of a lucky fucking prick am I that I can just go there with my friends and just play songs [laughs].
Are there any standout memories from your time as the Flatliners?
I think the standout ones are those moments and encounters with people I really look up to. I think me and the guys have all been very lucky in befriending some of those people. That’s the trippiest part. If the teenaged version of my self could see who I’m talking to right now and the friendships I have with this person now, it’d blow their head off. One standout thing, in terms of meeting people I admire, was that I was walking down the street with the guys while at South By South-West a few years ago and Mick Jones was just hanging out. We got to meet him, but no one had anything to say because we were just in complete awe that a living legend was there right before our eyes. That’s honestly one of the coolest things that’s ever happened.