INTERVIEW: Jeremy Hiebert (COMEBACK KID)
For a band that started as a side-project, Canadian hardcore heavies Comeback Kid have never been ones for complacency - in fact their overwhelming back catalogue is a living testament to their persistent innovation and commitment to challenging the world's (and their own) perceptions of the hardcore genre.
Never skimping on ferocity, Comeback Kid started out in the early 2000s, surely one of the more treacherous times to be starting out in the heavier realms. But with five (soon to be six) LPs, an EP, two live albums and countless shows over the course of 15-plus years, this formidable quintet are poised to bring the straightforward punk energy of their early years with lashings of thrashing and dizzying vocals on their forthcoming album 'Outsider'.
Lurching between vitriolic aggression and melodic bliss, 'Outsider' is the raucous follow up to 2014's 'Die Knowing' - but before this epic new album drops, who better to shed some light on the journey that transformed a couple of boys from Winnipeg into Canadian music royalty than Comeback Kid guitarist and founding member Jeremy Hiebert...
TIANA: Hey Jeremy, how's it going? So I have to say I'm pretty excited because in less than a month Comeback Kid are coming back with a brand new album 'Outsider'!
JEREMY: It's true!
TIANA: So this year has marked the first year of new Comeback Kid music since 2014's 'Die Knowing', and the band is quite notorious for evolving and pushing new boundaries....already this is obvious with the single off the new album 'Absolute'...and you snuck in an appearance on that one with fellow Canadian Devin Townsend I couldn't help but notice. But it's not the first time you guys have been involved with him, how much impact did this collaboration actually have on the song? Did you channel him and then pull him in, or more of a meeting in the middle with styles?
JEREMY: Let's just say, we're the kind of band that writes the music first and then the lyrics come after. So the whole time that we were rehearsing, just picking apart the song and rewriting it and what not...it would've never even crossed any of our minds. But then when we were in the studio and Andrew (Andrew Neufeld - lead vocals/guitars) was laying down his vocals, there was just that one part where it's just kind of a slow build. And it just seemed like Devin's vocal style would really complement that part in a big way...so we just sent him a message and at first he was like "ah...just send me the song just so I can hear it first". And we were like "Oh. Ok. Whatever, he probably doesn't wanna do it". Then he heard it and came back to us and he was like "oh yeah, I'd really like to put a couple tracks down on that". So he did, he didn't come down to the studio cos he's a studio maniac himself - so he just recorded his tracks and sent over the files and he said "just pick whatever you want"! There was some really wild 'Bohemian Rhapsody'-type stuff in there too, so we just put what thought fit best, and we were happy with how that turned out for sure.
TIANA: Incredible. Just picking and choosing what you like from Devin and throw it down. I love it!
JEREMY: (laughs) Yeah, he sent us...I don't know how many layers - like probably 10...20 different tracks, obviously knowing we couldn't put it all on there cos it would've just been way too busy. But just different styles that he does, you know that really clean opera style and really harsh death metal...and everything in between right?
TIANA: And you guys have released a few other songs in the lead up to the album as well, 'Surrender Control' most recently dropping last week. But what I'm starting to notice is a bit more thrash, more thrashing riffs and also some more melodic vocals. Was there a particular game plan this time round to go in this direction? Or was it just a natural evolution for you guys?
JEREMY: We don't ever really have a master game plan...I think the one thing we always try to tell ourselves when we start writing is "let's just always try to channel what we had on our first couple of records". Because I think that kind of helps anchor us from straying too far. Like you said, we're always evolving our sound and trying new things - not massive changes, but just this, that and the other. And just sort of having that sort of mentality when we're starting out the writing process helps keeps us grounded. And fortunately our first couple of records always had those elements of melody, but there's also a little bit of that heavier, aggressive kind of stuff. We feel like we have a bit of a free rein to do whatever we want, as long as we don't push those boundaries too far.
TIANA: Whenever anyone is talking or reviewing Comeback Kid, everyone always seems to lump you into the 'hardcore' genre. But it almost seems that you guys have so much versatility that expands beyond that as a very broad term...you guys are total bad ass, but then you're also very approachable sonically for people who might not necessarily listen to the hardcore genre normally. Do you feel like you fit within that label, or do you guys expand beyond that?
JEREMY: To be honest, and I'm not just trying to be fancy here - honestly both. Cos we were born of the whole hardcore thing, and we were just trying to put our spin on melodic hardcore when we started out and kind of evolved from there, I think it got a little bit heavier. But would always describe us as a 'hardcore' band with obvious punk and metallic influences. We kinda take our influences from all over the place, sometimes stuff that doesn't sound like we do, whether that be electronic or even hip hop. I'm not into hip hop at all, but Andrew is very much influenced by like rhythms and grooves that he sees there. For me, just random stuff that I'm listening to on the radio or whatever, it'll just give you ideas for the kind of music that we do. It's really hard to put us in a really specific box, but the general hardcore box...if we HAD to fit one (laughs) that's where we belong. That's where we feel at home too, in our heads.
TIANA: And speaking influences, how did you actually get into the hardcore realm yourself? Do you remember hearing one particular song and thinking "yes! This is what I love!"
JEREMY: See, I kinda got into it a little later than a lot of kids did, cos up here in Canada I lived in a really remote rural area. I'm 41 now, so I was getting into the heavy music in the early 90s, and I came from a really Christian background and so (laughs) I was into Christian thrash metal/death metal...believe it or not there was that sort of scene there! But at the age of 18 I moved out and had to do my own thing and I just started going to shows, going to a few hardcore shows and just feeling that unique energy there that I loved. I think it was a little more zen than now, but it still exists. Just people from all walks of life, whether you had opposing political views or opposing religious views - veganism, this that or the other...it just seemed like a safe place to exchange ideas. So that's what it always was, just sort of that environment that l learned a lot from, and I still am and I'm thankful for that, even though the hardcore scene has a long way to go! It definitely helped open my eyes to ideas, now being the vegan atheist that I am!
TIANA: That's a pretty spectacular journey. And based on what you listen to these days, are there any modern bands kicking around now that are on your radar?
JEREMY: Yeah, there's still some exciting bands. Actually, there's this band on the east coast of the US called Jesus Piece (hardcore Philadelphia band) and I think they're starting to kick up a little dust. I'm stoked we can take them out on our next US tour. There's always new bands, a lot of them don't last very long, and I'd love to see them get past their first or second record before they break up! But, I mean, as you get older it's harder to feel like you're on top of things as they come out. But any kind of booking ideas - send them our way! I'd love to check them out just to see what's new! (laughs)
TIANA: There are so many bands out there and everyone's got this even platform now where they can be releasing new music and getting it out there so easily, it's not like back in the day...
JEREMY: Oh yeah, order a demo and wait 6 months for it to show up! (laughs).
TIANA: You mentioned how so many bands lately seem to burn out after a few albums...but you've been with Comeback Kid since day one, and you've obviously seen shifts in members and all of that. Has the change in members ever been a catalyst for big changes in sound?
JEREMY: No, I mean the primary song writers for all the records were always Andrew and myself, so I think as far as the musical direction it has stayed within what we've always wanted to do. So the newer influences within the band haven't really affected the sound too much. This record maybe a little more so because Stu (Stu Ross – rhythm guitar, vocals) contributed to this record for the first time...well actually he did have a hand in the last record too, but overall I think the sound has evolved as Andrew and I have.
TIANA: And for day one with Comeback Kid we're talking early 2000s...and I don't mean this in a negative way at all, but the early days of Comeback Kid seemed simpler. And not in a boring or basic way, but there was something so simplistic about those early days...
JEREMY: Oh for sure, yeah. There's no question in that, especially 'Turn It Around' (Comeback Kid's debut EP - 2002). You know, just the way we recorded things and did things, we'd have a rhythm guitar and sometimes another folk rhythm guitar doing the same thing or we might have lead guitar doing some octave leaps over in a really simplistic way. But now (laughs) we sometimes get carried away with layering different ideas. I will say that I always think it's important when we're in the studio, and this doesn't go for every band just for us, just to kind of do our best to keep a rein on that because I still subscribe to the idea that, a lot of times, less is more. Just having that clarity pushing through sometimes can be a monster compared to just stacking a bunch of different things going on at once.
TIANA: Now I know you'd already be aware of it, but you guys have a huge cult following in Australia...and I hope it's not a sore topic, but we love you guys so much we actually stole your bass player Kevin (Kevin Call) back in the day....
JEREMY: (laughs) Yes, I think he's back in Minneapolis now with his Australian wife and daughters, but you never know they might do a few years there then a few years over there back and forth. But you guys stole him for a while!
TIANA: Well do you think we'll get to see you guys back on our shores anytime soon, or are you worried we're gonna run off with more of your band members?
JEREMY: Oh, we'll be back! And if there's some available members, we're happy to share them with Australia. We've always had that good back and forth connection. Actually our guitar player is also married to an Australian in Sydney. And Andrew himself, his girlfriend is also from Sydney, so we've got two members in the band that are married or dating Australians.
TIANA: Excellent, we've got a nice little infiltration going then! But back to the new album, 'Outsider' is due out in September, have you got a favourite track on the album? Or is that a secret til it comes out?
JEREMY: Ahh...I don't know, that's one of those things I kind of go back and forth on. The first two that dropped are definitely two of my favourites...it was funny we had a little back and forth with the track listing and there's this one song that I wanted to start the record with...it ended up being 10 of the 12. But it's short, fast and sweet and that one might be my favourite (FYI - sneaking a peek on Nuclear Blast's website, the track Jeremy's referring to is 'Livid, I'm Prime'). But I really like 'Absolute', I think that one kind of represents a lot of our current sound right now. It's got that hardcore mosh in there, you've got that big metallic breakdown, you've got some fast stuff in there...kinda represents where that record is in terms of how I see it. But everybody's gonna get something else out of it...so I'm not trying to steer anybody (laughs).
TIANA: Well it's a very exciting representation and we're all excited to see what will come next!
JEREMY: Awesome. We'll be down there. Probably next year some time, we don't have anything set in stone yet, but the talks amongst us are happening!
TIANA: Cannot wait! Well thanks so much for your time, and am so looking forward to 'Outsider' when it comes out.
JEREMY: Appreciate you taking the time, thanks!
Comeback Kid's new album 'Outsider' is due out September 8th, 2017. More info below.
BY TIANA SPETER