The Contortionist have been taking the prog metal scene by storm with their 2014 release “Language”. After adding Michael Lessard (Last Chance to Reason), Jordan Eberhardt (Scale the Summit), and Eric Guenther (Daath) to their arsenal, they were able to transcend their former style and write, in my opinion, a true work of art. After they just finished up a Spring headlining tour, I had the honor of snagging an interview with one of the founding members/guitarist Cameron Maynard; who I can’t thank enough for trudging through technical difficulties and letting me conduct an interview over Skype.
B = Bradley D
C = Cameron Maynard
B: First things first, I just want to thank you for doing this interview.
C: No worries man. I actually saw a link to an article where you guys compared “Language” to that piece of literature, which I can’t remember the name of the novel right now. But it was pretty cool. That was the first time I had seen a review quite like that. It was really cool to see that connection with the lyrical themes and content. Usually a lot of reviews are just someone doing their job, and not really intimate. Which is fine for some people I guess. Do you know who wrote that article?
B: Actually one of the co-founders of the website, Mike, brought on a writer named Dylan Sanders to do it. (side note for you readers, you can read that article HERE)
C: Okay, that's cool.
B: Alright so lets get this started. How the hell are you?
C: I’m doing alright. Weather’s getting better. At least for me. I’m in Indiana right now and the weather last week was frigid and we had like 9 inches of snow, which is pretty crazy for Indiana. Now there’s just something in the air. Springtimes comin. It’s almost 60 degrees outside now. It’s great. It’s definitely a much awaited springtime here. I’ve just been hangin out before we have to go back out on tour. We got a long time off which is really nice.
B: Awesome. So you just finished up a headlining tour w/ Revocation, Fallujah, and Toothgrinder. How did it go?
C: The tour was great. We had new lights and stage production for the first time that we had a lot of fun with. I can’t thank the other bands enough for being such great guys.
B: Were there any crazy moments?
C: Crazy moments….uuuh. There are always crazy moments. Never really a dull moment on tour. We were in Quebec city, and it was about negative 30 degrees with ice everywhere. We were staying at this hotel up on top of a hill. The next morning we were gonna go drive down to the venue which was only about two miles down the hill. We ended up going down this road. It was pretty steep grade, but nothing that would be normally something to worry about. Except there was ice everywhere. And actually we almost had an accident for the first time in a long time. We started sliding while going downhill, but it we were probably only going like 25 mph. It seemed like we were going a lot faster just because it was just that moment where we were like “oh no”. Anyway we got to the bottom of the hill, we did a little turn maneuver without flipping over, even though we weren’t even going that fast. And we were luckily able to come to a stop.
B: Oh damn, glad you guys ended up being okay.
C: Yeah. It’s crazy because we always talk about safety and that’s the number one thing we think about in the van. But it was a good learning experience. Now, we know what we need to do if we start sliding. Otherwise, it was a pretty smooth tour.
B: For sure. So, tell me, what is your favorite song to play live?
C: Oooooooh. That’s a tough question. I’m not one to talk about absolutes. The couple of songs I missed playing on this tour that we normally played like every tour for the past 3 years were “Holomovement” and “Causality”. “Causality” is really fun from a guitar standpoint. because it’s energetic, concise, and…I don’t know. It just has its moments.
B: Were the songs you played mostly from “Language”?
C: Definitely. Those songs are obviously the most updated and feel the most fresh and we, everyone playing, were the same people that composed it. We actually played “Thrive” for the first time on this tour which was pretty cool. We had some moments where people would sing along which is a good change of pace. We generally didn’t have those kind of moments until this new record came out. As far as energy, like when we’re all kind of connected on stage, “Language” is really fun. Right now, I like the songs for what they are. The minute they become old or stale, we’ll start playing different songs.
B: Awesome. I imagine thats great to hear live. Your style of writing music has changed a lot over the years. Especially when you look back before Exoplanet, at your early EPs like Shapeshifter and Apparition, that have more of a deathcore sound than your later work. Can I get a comparison of what you listened to in those early days of the band for inspiration vs what you listen to now for inspiration?
C: Definitely. Even the early EP’s into Exoplanet was a bit of a transition in itself. Back then that’s when we were all playing music not because we were composers, but because we enjoyed the energy of being on stage. The same reason most people like hardcore and metal in general is for that connection where you see blatant human emotion. It’s not like going to a theater and watching a play. It felt less like we were creating something on stage and more like we were just being it you know? We wouldn’t have enjoyed playing that music if it weren’t for the reaction from the crowd. Whereas now it’s more personal and more of trying to do our own thing and write better songs. As far as inspiration then versus now, the inspiration then was just metal in general. Just getting into metal and understanding that raw energy for the first time. And now it’s more just us growing as players and getting better with our craft. You’re always climbing a ladder. Always looking up to where you can be. Not necessarily thinking about the future too much, but that's just how we kind of think about it now. We started drawing influence from more jazz and blues. I mean I’ve always kind of listened to blues. That’s the reason I play guitar. My dad bought me my first guitar and it’s because he enjoyed bands like Frank Zappa, Robin Trower, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Music where it’s more about the feel. Like the way it feels on a guitar. Now it’s about getting into those abstract forms. Like “Wow that sounds weird, but it worked, how is that?” Then going in and searching for that and finding out exactly how to make weird work you know? It’s all about just trying to find yourself and see yourself in something. That’s all inspiration is really. You see yourself in something and say “wow, I want to be that or be able to do something like that”. As you get better with your craft obviously it makes sense why one would want to become more mature with their songwriting.
B: I just have to say, Language was my favorite album of last year. How exactly did the album come together? What kind of mindset did the band have when writing and recording the album?
C: Right on, glad you enjoyed it. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of thing before, but as far as the album coming together, it just sort of happened. There’s only one canvas and everyone just put a little of themselves on it. And for the first time in our writing career, we just kind of let things turn into things. Whereas before I, and actually this goes for everyone including myself, would kind of have something in their head and just try to get it out. And that was the goal, just to get whatever was in your head out and recorded the way you had it in your head. As we got more mature it became more about just letting things be. Letting songs turn into something that you would have never thought it would have turned into. And that’s why it’s such a beautiful thing. Having something in my head and then hearing it just completely change. Even though it’s the same material on paper and sheet music, the tones and atmospheres just end up sounding completely different. Like I remember writing something that was just like distorted guitar, and it had like loud drums. After it got turned in and transformed, it ended up sounding completely the opposite, but for the better. That kind of idea where having an idea in your head is a personal thing, but letting something grow and turn into something, in a natural setting because you’re working with other peers. That played a huge role, and that’s why we wrote an album about creation. It was a direct representation of what we were doing. We were in a pretty precarious time back at the end of the “Intrinsic” album cycle, just because of John having to leave the band and all that. Just having this new unit that was just refreshing, and knowing that we got Mike Lessard, and Jordan and Eric was just, almost like we could exhale. We got to continue to write music the way we want to. To enjoy it. Everything coalesced together and we became this new group bound by natural instinct, it was just so awesome to see everything make sense and work.
B: Was the writing done separately? Or were you altogether?
C: The writing was definitely done together. That being said, I could’ve been sitting at my desk and written a section that would turn into a section that would turn into a section. It’s like I packaged it away, and instead of trying to vomit it out and record it all the way it was in my head, I would crumple it up, and throw it to the guys who would throw it around. And keep changing it until it was perfect. That’s what makes this album really special for us. I don’t think we could have ever been able to write “Language” the way it is if it weren’t for that relationship of being able to let something take a different fork in the road and let it become something else. Now when I say the writing was done altogether, keep in mind we’ve all never lived in the same spot. Mike lives in Maine, Jordan’s in LA, Eric’s in Atlanta, and the twins and I are in Indiana. The writing was not done together in the literal sense. It’s irrelevant though, we were still able to throw ideas around and talk about it more so than just get something done. Instead of just trying to finish songs quickly, we would spend more time, and enjoy it, talking about it. Brainstorming and getting philosophical about it. I know now that’s how I want to make albums. It’s like I learned something that can’t be unlearned. It works really well. That’s not to say we won’t get together for the next album, but I don’t think it matters that much in terms of the literal location as long as there’s a communal consciousness about it.
B: What music would we find on your “guilty pleasure” playlist?
C: I can tell you Jordan’s would probably be like, for us, Metallica or something. But I don’t know. I wouldn’t really call any of our pleasures guilty. Maybe they were at one point in time. I guess like Robbie is really into Dirty Loops, not that we don’t enjoy Dirty Loops, but we give him a hard time about it sometimes. He’s ecstatic about it while we’re kinda like “Okay..yeah. That’s funny”. On this tour we actually somehow started listening to Backstreet Boys. I can’t remember what album it was. It was like their first hit or something. The fact that could play and we don’t feel uncomfortable is nice. Nothing is guilty for us, it’s all good fun. As far as me personally, I listen to like Dredg, Coheed and Cambria, a lot of Brian Eno. It’s all just different times, places, and colors.
B: If you could collab with any musicians on a song (dead or alive), who would they be?
C: I would say… Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, The Beatles, Tigran Hamasyan, Plini, just anyone being themselves really and just hitting it home.
B: Alright, lets get down to some business. Who would you fuck/marry/kill?: Jens Kidman, John Petrucci, and Neil Peart
C: I think I’d marry Neil Peart, Id kill John Petrucci, and I guess I’d fuck Jens Kidman. I think they’re all great. All masters of their craft.
B: Good choice. Neil is probably the wealthiest.
C: Yeah, I haven’t met any of them so I can’t really say based off personality.
B: What’s next for the band?
C: We are all enjoying some time off. Which is really time to work on our stuff. We got a headlining tour coming up in may. We also got another tour in the summer, which we’ll be a support band for. Pretty cool proggy tour. Possibly going back to Europe. We got the whole rest of the year and first part of next year pretty slated out. Nothing set in stone yet, but it’s all there. And I don’t wanna give too much away, but we’re gonna be doing a really cool album bonus edition with a documentary with some video. It’s gonna be really intimate and talk about why we did it. It’s gonna be in the same theme as to why we wrote “Language”.
B: That’s awesome man. I definitely gotta check you guys out next time you’re in California. Anything else to say to the fans?
C: Thanks, California is one of my favorite places in the world. I love it. I would just say thanks to everyone who is has been genuine and has had a genuine interest in the music we write and stuff we’re doing. I can’t stress enough how important it is that people really go out of their way to see the connection and see what it all means to themselves. I like when our music inspires people to create something that doesn’t even have to be music or art, just for people to go out there and create something insightful. I would say thank you to anyone who has bought the record, and that we’ve got a lot of intimate stuff coming. Which is something we’ve kind of lacked in the past, but it’s gonna be very inviting and honest. That’s all we’re trying to be. And I want to thank the fans for letting us make a career out of something we love to do.
B: Awesome. Thanks again for being doing this interview.
C: No problem. It was a pleasure. Thanks for sitting down with me and getting my voice out there. Enjoy that nice California weather. Cheers.
There you have it. Check out some killer tracks from these guys as we wait to hear specifics about those upcoming tours and bonus edition of “Language”