Spiritbox Want to Be the "2 Chainz of Metalcore"
"If we don't allow different voices into this genre and adapt to become modern, we will get left in the dust like we deserve"
Published Aug 23, 2021Heavy metal is on the verge of a revolution. The old guard is retiring (Goodbye Slayer! So long Necrophagia!) and the future is in the hands of a new generation — the young metalheads who will push things to the next level, or let this genre sink into nostalgic irrelevance.
Enter Spiritbox. Formed in 2016, the Victoria, BC-based group's popularity has exploded in the past 12 months. SiriusXM's Liquid Metal channel voted "Holy Roller'' the best song of 2020, and "Secret Garden" cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Not bad for a progressive djent band about to release their first full-length album.
"Everything has changed," singer Courtney LaPlante tells Exclaim! "It all feels like it happened in an abstract way, online, like it was a double life. You have to pinch yourself."
LaPlante and her bandmate and husband, Mike Stringer, are speaking with Exclaim! from a Chicago parking lot outside the Lollapalooza afterparty. Stringer says that the full extent of Spiritbox's success is finally starting to dawn on him. "Until now, our success has come from numbers on a screen," he says. "Now we're getting our fulfillment from people in a room. When we rolled up to the venue, seeing security, it all just became so real."
In the past year, Spiritbox have become an underground sensation. LaPlante's massive range and ability to switch between harsh and soft styles help her stand out in a sea of metal vocalists. Her one-take YouTube videos rack up millions of views. Despite press coverage and a run of prominent guest appearances with the Acacia Strain, Make Them Suffer and Before I Turn, LaPlante says she still feels like a "musician trying to find her place in the industry."
She says, "I think that if I did feel like I had found my place, I would be in a lot of trouble, because that would mean that I was complacent where I am now. Not having a place yet is kind of strangely liberating. And I'm still looking forward to all the things I'm going to do with the influence our band is gaining."
LaPlante has used her newfound platform to launch her own podcast, Good for a Girl, featuring women from across the metal scene like SiriusXM's Octane host Caity Babs and UNIFIED Music Group label manager Francesca Caldara. The podcast was recorded over a few weeks last November, while Spiritbox were writing their debut album, Eternal Blue. LaPlante says one reason for starting the podcast was to reach out to the people who inspired her. But there were other reasons as well.
"There are spaces that don't get filled, things that don't get asked," she says. "Or there are questions that are asked that don't interest me. Like people asking where I learned to scream and why I do it. These are things that I and the women [on my podcast] know. They aren't inherently misogynistic or sexist, but eventually you realize that only you are ever asked these questions. And it's because of your gender."
She continues, "I was going through a lot of crazy new stuff with the band. We were starting to be recognized. So it was a good time to talk to all those women I respect. They had so much advice for me without me really needing to ask. I learned a lot, for sure. Sometimes it's nice just to take the pressure off and see a familiar face. We really like to find each other, and the more we find each other and show it's not a competition just because of our gender, the better it is for everyone."
Heavy metal has been slow — and sometimes even outright resistant — about changing its conversations around gender. This is a genre that built itself on shock value, whether through Satanic lyrics or hedonistic off-stage debauchery. There has been a lot of progress in the past few years, but many cling to an ultra-macho mindset that grows more dated by the day. LaPlante is already taking a step outside the norm with Good for a Girl — and she's fully aware of it.
"I don't know if metal is becoming more open or sensitive, but I know it's becoming more diverse," she reflects. "There are more voices from different backgrounds being allowed into the space, and therefore we're going to get more diverse art. Whether that's a song I write about a loss I suffered, or about aliens, or whatever anyone wants to write about, it's just cool to have people from different walks of life creating and consuming that art. And that's great for [heavy metal]. Because if we don't allow different voices into this genre and adapt to become modern, we will get left in the dust like we deserve."
LaPlante's lyrics also delve into subjects that aren't usually heard in heavy music. This is most apparent on 2020 single "Constance" and its accompanying music video. She reveals, "The music is in honour of my grandmother, who I lost last year. The video is in honour of the director Dylan [Hryciuk]'s grandmother, who has dementia. It's got the most on-the-nose thing I've ever written, which is, 'It's hard to lose and wonder why.' I usually feel safer talking about the things that upset me or make me feel self-conscious and insecure in metaphor."
Making new material has been a challenge for Spiritbox. LaPlante and Stringer live in Victoria, BC, while drummer Zev Rose lives in Philadelphia, PA. Stringer explains how Spiritbox managed to record Eternal Blue while dealing with the pandemic and the closed border. "We rented a house on a 20-acre property in the middle of the desert near Joshua Tree," he says. "We made our own bubble to make sure we didn't come into contact with anyone and lived there for about a month, and we wrote 'Circle with Me' in the kitchen of that Airbnb house. Definitely a weird experience, to say the least."
LaPlante adds, "We realized if we didn't turn this thing in by April, it wouldn't be coming out this year."
Spiritbox's pandemic problems aren't over yet. Rising Delta variant cases in the United States forced them to cancel their summer tour with Limp Bizkit. Eternal Blue is still coming out as planned on September 17 via Rise Records, but it looks like Spiritbox are back to playing the waiting game for now. LaPlante says she may record more podcast episodes or continue her vocal guest spots. As for who she might work with, the more unexpected the better.
"I wanna be, like, the 2 Chainz of metalcore," she muses. "I'd love to be on a Slipknot song, or Hayley Williams. One of my favourite musicians is FKA twigs. Doing something with her would be amazing."
It's a new day for metal, and, if LaPlante is any indication, it's going to be more diverse, more open-minded and more interesting than ever before.