Chrissy was out and about at Tells Bells Festival this past weekend and wanted to take the opportunity to interview Chris Cresswell of The Flatliners. Although their van reached the festival area only shortly before their performance due to stagnant traffic, Chris still took the time to answer some questions about the new album New Ruin (Fat Wreck Records) and the band’s 20th anniversary.
AFL: Today’s a Win-win for me because I’m both a big The Flatliners fan but also a big Hot Water Music fan. So thank you really much for taking your time.
Chris: Thank you!
AFL: So that’s your last but one show?
Chris: After today we have one show in Berlin, yeah!
AFL: How’s the tour going so far?
Chris: It’s been great, it’s flowing by. I mean aside from the major cities in Germany and London we haven’t been anywhere in mainland Europe since five years. So it’s been fun, we’ve been soaking it all up.
AFL: Was there anything special, any memorable moment?
We just put the new album out one week ago, so on the first dates of the tour that’s been really special to see…
AFL: …how they react?
Chris: Yeah, exactly! So before the new album came out we just played the three singles. And after the records been out we played the fourth song. And just looking out to the crowd and see people singing along and kind of dancing around and stuff – there were moments when it nearly was bringing out a tear in my eye. Cause its been so long – first to be here and then put the record out. And we know that we put so much into the album. So to see it instantly connecting with people feels really good!
„to be honest most of the record is just about being very embarrassed to be a human being.“
AFL: Tell me about New Ruin. What’s it about? What’s the message?
Chris: It’s pretty dark, haha!
AFL: But it also feels very hopeful to me.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I think over the years lyrically our band has had pretty dark subject matter in songs and there’s always the light at the end of the tunnel. But to be honest most of the record is just about being very embarrassed to be a human being.
And I do my best and try to be a good person and surround myself with good people. And I know there’s a lot of good in the world. I do know that. And I believe that. But there’s so much of the other side that really reared its ugly head in the last while. And it’s not a new thing but I think in the last few years I had a lot more opportunities to sit around and not being interrupted by being on tour. So I was able to really think about it and feel, and seeing what I saw, reading what I read and stuff. What was happening around me in the world made me feel – most of it it was just disgust.
You know, how people treat each other and themselves and the planet. And racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia, police brutality and just all this terrible stuff.
AFL: Yeah, so much happening at the same time.
Chris: Yeah and I think a lot of it comes down to like a power struggle in a way. I think the power is still and always in the hands of a few instead of in the hands of the many, of the people. And I think if you really distill New Ruin down to a thesis theme it would be…There are songs trying to create a power shift back to the people – the good people.
It’s not easy. These problems have been plaguing humanity for hundreds of years if not thousands of years. It’s only in the last few that – I mean embarrassing enough for me – instead of looking inward for lyrics about things that happen to me in my life I was sort of looking out to the world and just thought: This is fucked!
I had to write about it. I don’t know what kind of positive impact it makes but I know that at least…you know, when I was growing up and even now, when I was hearing a song that stands for something I agree with or if it’s something that I’m educated by it’s a little move in the right direction.
AFL: Yes, and you feel like someone understands you and that you’re not alone.
Chris: Yeah! And it’s not a big leap but it could be a small step forward and that’s just kind of how our lyrics came out for this record. And because of that and those ideas…the music matched the energy of the lyrics or the energy of the lyrics matched the music – which ever came first.
AFL: This brings me to my next question: How’s the writing process been? Also due to the amount of time you had, was there a difference between the albums before?
Chris: It was a little different because we were all spread out. Usually we write on tour, even kind of separate, you just have a moment with your guitar or your phone, you’re recording your voice notes and stuff. So with this there was so much time apart for the four of us that a lot of ideas like came together as like full ideas and then were shared with everyone. Just to give the guys an idea of at least what I had in mind, you know?
And we had a lot of time but we still didn’t wanna waste the time we had. Because the ideas kept coming. I was lucky for that. Because I have some friends that early on lockdown and everything weren’t able to write as much as normal, for whatever reason. I was lucky that it kept coming.
New Ruin was written in kinda the same time like Hot Water Musics Feel The Void record. So there was a lot happening and to have that time at home to be honest was kind of a blessing to be able to do all this stuff.
If the band was on the road I don’t think it would have happened this way. So there was just a lot of time to sit and think about how the world was making me feel. And if the lyrics came first then the energy with the music had to match with the lyrics. And if it was the opposite and the music came first then the lyrics had to match that energy. I think that’s where we got the power of the album. We all as a band wanted to make it a really powerful step forward. Like slapping the people around a little bit.
* Laughter *
AFL: You returned to Fat Wreck Records. How did Fat Mike win you back?
Chris: To be honest, the years we were off the label it didn’t feel like we were. Because they’re still our friends and you know… when we were in San Francisco on tour we stayed in Aarons house and we would see the whole Fat Wreck Records Family. They’re great friends of ours. They’re family of ours. Our last record came out on Rise in 2017 but our friendships never changed with Fat.
AFL: So it just fit?
Chris: Yeah! So when the four of us in the band started talking in the spring of last year about what we wanted to do, when we wanted to record – at this moment we had a lot of songs – and we were talking about who we wanted to work with on the record, we were all like: Come on! Let’s just do it. Why not?! Because it was like we never left in our minds and I think to Fat as well I hope.
We value their friendship and their believe in us as a band over the years especially a label that took a chance on us when we were nineteen. Fat Mike took a chance on us when we were nineteen and everyone else at the label was like „they’re kids“! He was like: „Gawd we’ll be fine!“ We’re so grateful for him and everyone and for all that.
But with Inviting Lights we decided to go a different road. We had a lot of conversations with people at Fat about the things we wanted to try. So we had their blessing. But everyone was very happy to get back together. * Laughs *
AFL: 20 years! That’s the next reason to celebrate this year. So that’s crazy: twenty years in a band and also the same cast.
Chris: Yeah! Same four guys.
AFL: That’s not usual.
Chris: I guess not, I don’t know . It feels very special to us, but it doesn’t feel real that it’s been twenty years. And it doesn’t feel strange that it has been the same four of us because it’s always been the four of us. It’s a boring answer but: it feels normal to us.
AFL: Is there any secret you could tell any other band?
Chris: No, we’ve all been friends for even longer than the band has been around. Like I met Scott the first day at kindergarten. Our moms introduced us. And I met Jon at grade two. Then we discovered that we lived on the same street and after that point we walked to school every day. We met Paul when we were 11 or 12, something like that. And it just became normal for us four always being around each other.
I think any of us would think: If things are good then celebrate each other and if things are a challenge or especially on the road a lot – like if your friend needs space – give them space. Now there’s almost like a telekinesis happening among the four of us. It’s been there for years. Like I can pick up on the other guys energies a little bit and they could pick up on mine. And we know, „okay he needs to be aloooone, no problem.“ Or like when everything’s good, let’s keep the good times going. I don’t know. There’s not much like a science to it. I think you gotta be there for each other. In good and bad.
AFL: In preparation to this interview I was thinking that I can’t ask the standard questions because you heard them all over the twenty years…
Chris: * Laughs *
AFL: …but then I thought how different it must be to be interviewed today in comparison to twenty years earlier. So how does it feel today with twenty years on which you can look back?
Chris: I don’t know if I’m much wiser. I’m still excited, it’s still nice to have people interested in what we are thinking and how things work and everything but … I mean so much has changed but also the same time not much has changed as well. It’s just kind of like life happens and responsibilities grow and everything and now each of us have more of a life outside of the band versus twenty years ago when the band would have been our entire life for each of us. But this is still like the center piece to all of us.
We just figured out how to make our lives work. I mean to be here, to be anywhere, to play even songs that are twenty years old, or five years old or twenty years old or the brand new songs and to have people listen and show up and sing along – that’s great.
AFL: Is there any song you don’t like to play anymore?
Chris: Ahh sometimes, but it’s not that we don’t like those songs, but it’s usually the songs that we used to play all the time at every single show and then you can’t fill them all in at this point. There are a couple of songs in particular, older songs, that people will yell all the time and we just make those people wait to the very end of the show. 😉
AFL: But you play them then?
Chris: Sometimes, it depends. 😉 We’re never angry or upset to play the songs but sometimes we just like to have a little joke with the crowd. And that’s all they wanna hear. And in-between every song they’re just gonna ask for the same song. We just like to remind people that we’ve planned for the show. We know what we’re gonna play and maybe we’ll do your song at the end.
* Laughs *
„without a band like Hot Water Music The Flatliners wouldn’t be the band we are.“
AFL: You became part of Hot Water Music in 2018?
Chris: End of 2017, yeah!
AFL: How is it to be part of two such big deals? I think you get influenced by Hot Water Music but maybe also the other way round. I mean you have a very recognizable voice which I like at Hot Water Music and which ist very special and new for me….
Chris: Thank you, that’s awesome! I think without a band like Hot Water Music The Flatliners wouldn’t be the band we are. We are massive fans of that band and have been and were ever since before we got to meet them and play with them and now become like involved. I guess were like cousin bands or brother bands. 😀
Without Hot water Music The Flatliners wouldn’t sound the way we sound. I think there are so many bands in our punk world and musical world in general that are really influenced from Hot Water Music. And now we get to be a part of that band as well. I don’t know if I’m bringing a Flatliners thing to that band, but since we’ve been able to be involved with writing – which is absolutely insane and unreal to me and it’s beautiful thing – I’m bringing a bit of me to that I guess which is amazing and those guys have been so welcoming and nurturing with the whole thing.
I think without Hot Water Music a lot of bands wouldn’t exist or would not sound the way they sound so now that I get to be a part of one of these bands that means a great deal to me. I feel like a responsibility to be honest. It’s not like a weight at all cause it’s so real and fun and beautiful but there’s a responsibility there. Like that band is a legacy. I don’t wanna tarnish that legacy. I’m doing all I can. What ever tiny little impact I might have on parts of songs I hope it’s a positive one.
AFL: How do you listen to music when you’re on a festival like this?
Are you behind the stage or are you backstage all the time because you wanna focus?
Chris: Oh it depends. It’s a nerdy answer but it depends on the band’s setup. So if the band playing on stage have their in ear monitors and everything I probably go out in front of the stage to watch them and hear the whole thing. Because on stage you won’t hear any vocal. I wanna hear the song. But if every one is just using their monitors on the stage I might just relax on stage and watch from there.
„when I’m at home and I go to a show with my wife and friends I find myself studying the band way more than just listening and feeling the music. (…) I can’t turn it off. I’m completely obsessed with music.“
AFL: And how do you listen to music in general? Are you also listening to it like a professional , like a nerd? Or can you just enjoy the melodies?
Chris: I can just enjoy it. But in a live setting I find that now…when I’m at home and I go to a show with my wife and friends I find myself studying the band way more than just listening and feeling the music. For me it gives me the same positivity. I’m there to study and learn. I appreciate it but it’s my whole life, a thing that makes me feel the most like myself and it’s the thing that makes me the happiest. You know sometimes I go to shows and my wife is just like: „You’re like making notes right now in your fucking head.“ She’s like: „I can tell“
I have to! I mean I can’t not. I think that is what makes us better probably. I can’t turn it off. I’m completely obsessed with music.
The funny thing is though on tour I don’t listen to as much music because we’re just running around all the time. But at home I always have headphones in and listen to music as much as possible.
AFL: What are you listening to when in the tour bus?
Chris: Like nothing. I mean we play the show, we watch our friends bands and then the nights over and we just hang out and chat and then we go to bed. I might like watch something to fall asleep. But I don’t listen to music to fall asleep cause if I try to I would stay up all night studying it.
I could be moments from falling asleep and then someone puts a record on, especially a record I really love, I can’t relax.
AFL: I was listening to your first record again. On your very first album the first words are „When everything falls apart, create.“ I think it’s like a bracket around it all.
Chris: Weird how this comes to create a full circle. That’s how I still feel. And like I said before, I know how lucky I am to have the outlet cause I might not typically write things down I’m happy about or that make me feel good. I appreciate the positive moments in life too but I way rather just enjoy those moments than trying to pull them apart and try to understand why it makes me happy. I guess instead I’m way more interested in learning why the things that make me angry or upset or confused make me feel that way and I get to write about it. But I still feel that way.
I think like with the band and writing music and playing music for all these years, and especially having the opportunity to write with different groups now I think I’ve probably accomplished everything I’ve ever dreamt of accomplishing years ago. But still every time a record is being written and recorded and released you push the level of achievement you want for yourself and your friends a little further. And so, the longer we do it, probably things feel like they’re falling apart along the way.
AFL: Did you imagine you would be at this point today twenty years ago?
Chris: No, I never imagined it would turn out this way.
AFL: Did you wish it?
Chris: I mean, I wanted to do this my whole life. Ever since I was a kid. Scott and I were starting to take guitar lessons in ’98. So we were 11 years old. But before that I loved music, like we all grew up loving music. I always kinda dreamt of it.
But it’s not just about us. I mean a Flatliners show would suck if no one came so. Every band’s show would be boring if nobody was there, so it’s just as much the people who support our band as much as we’re out there on the road. I really believe it’s a 50:50 thing. So in that perspective we achieved what we set out to do years ago. So the first time we came to Europe and really people came we were like „Check“, like that was enough. But it’s great to be back here and see people connecting with the brand new stuff that has been out for one week.
AFL: I’m really excited to hear it now.
Chris: We have a fourty minutes set so we gonna play as much as we can. I mean we’re older now so it’s bit of a challenge. Thank you so much for your time.
AFL: I thank you! Have fun on stage!