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INTERVIEW: Michael Lessard – The Contortionist

WORDS: Henry Jones

Distorted Sound caught up with THE CONTORTIONIST vocalist Michael Lessard earlier this month to discuss touring, the next album, and the writing process behind Language.

So how are you finding the UK so far?

Michael: The UK’s awesome! This is my third time here, second time with THE CONTORTIONIST. I filled in for VOLUMES, on their tour with NORTHLANE, about three or four months ago. So, I love it here, man. The crowds are good, the venues are awesome, can’t really ask for much more than that. London tends to be usually the better shows, you know, biggest city, biggest crowds, the reaction is always good to hear, but I actually love playing Manchester too. I’ve never played the Academy 2 before though, I’ve always played downstairs, and those shows are always awesome. It’s a nice, intimate atmosphere, so we’ll see how Academy 2 goes tonight.

THE CONTORTIONIST has changed a lot in terms of style over the years. What primarily influenced the transition?

Michael: I think just, you know, we’re young musicians, so we’re growing at a fast rate at the moment, in terms of maturity and what we like to listen to and we just like to experiment. It’s no secret that this band is always changing sounds on every album, and that’s because we feel, as musicians, in order to grow, you have to get outside your comfort zone and try new things. And honestly, if we did the same album every time we released an album, we’d not only feel like we’re cheating people that are buying it, but we’d be cheating ourselves as quote-unquote “artists”.

What was different about writing and recording Language then?

Michael: Well, I was a new member for that album. So, new frontman, and the headspace was different. It was an album that I think, for the first time, everybody was in the same house for the whole process. And Robby [Baca] actually played bass and guitar on the album, so that was a change of pace. Eric [Guenther], our now keyboardist, was only coming in to play keyboards. So he was kind of a gun for hire and then eventually we brought him in as a full time guy. So that was kind of different. New producer, you know, so the whole process was kind of different, the headspace was different, and with me coming into the band, it gave the other guys a chance to do something new. You know, I do screaming as well, but we wanted to kind of jump on the melodic side of things because we had the opportunity to.

Changing vocalists early on can make or break a career. How do you think you’ve affected the band and its direction?

Michael: Yeah, you’re absolutely right about that. And, well, album sales are double what they used to be, the crowds are way bigger than they used to be, so I think it’s a positive affect! So far, so good. We’ll really be able to tell with the next album.

What’s the plan for the next album cycle?

Michael: Same thing, man. Nose to the grindstone, tour as much as possible, play with as many bands as possible. As the years have progressed, we haven’t toured as much, we’ve been taking breaks here and there, because, you know, we’re able to get better money for the tours, we play bigger tours, so it makes it so that we don’t have to tour as much if we don’t want to. But we enjoy touring, and it means more fans and all that stuff, chances to go out with the bigger bands. We just happen to get a lot of offers to do a lot of tours, so we try to get as many as possible.

Where do you see the next record going?

Michael: Couldn’t tell you until we sit down and write. It’s one of those things where for us, as musicians, when we make an album, it’s a timestamp, it’s a way for us to look back and listen to that album and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I was into at that time, that’s what I was trying to do back then.” As opposed to being about what will generate us the most money, or what’s going to do this or that. It’s a matter of, you know, when we sit down and write, we write what comes out, maybe it’s going to be heavier than Exoplanet, or maybe it’s going to be softer than Language. It’s hard to tell until we sit down. Because we didn’t expect Language to be what it was, or how it’s ended up being what it is.

So is there any future material penned in anywhere?

Michael: You know, we’ve been writing a little bit, but we always write, so it’s hard to tell what will actually make the cut and what won’t. We just write a bunch of music, and once it’s time to go to the studio, we go, “Alright, this is what we should use, this stuff, this stuff we cut.” If I write something that doesn’t make it, I have a pile of stuff building up, because I’m slowly working on a solo album, so I think, “This can potentially go to this, or that, or this…” You know, I’m getting into songwriting for other people, so it could be something like that. There’s always a bunch of possibilities.

So you went from a really heavy sound, to a really proggy sound, but you still tour with bands such as TESSERACT. How do you feel about the term “djent”?

Michael: I don’t mind it. It’s just a word. I don’t know if I consider us djent, but if somebody else does, that’s what they consider us, you know, you can’t change somebody’s mind there. It is what it is. It’s a word, it’s a label for music. I don’t think it has any particularly negative or positive connotations.

What’s the plan for the rest of 2016?

Michael: Well, we finish this tour with TESSERACT, and then we go home into a headliner tour, with MONUMENTS, ENTHEOS, and SLEEPMAKESWAVES. We do that tour for about five weeks, and then we take some time off for about nine months to write and record, and then we’re back out on the road with the new album. I know we’re going to Australia at some point too. Yeah, we just keep doing what we’re doing at a steady pace. You know, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so we’re just going to keep writing and see where we go.

Thanks for a great interview!

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