Closing a tour in London at a sold-out venue with the grandeur of Camden’s Koko has got to be pretty special – but it’s not the first time The Contortionist have played here, even though this is only their second UK tour. At the end of 2014 they played with Protest The Hero with The Safety Fire and Palm Reader on the very stage they are set to grace as main support for TesseracT’s 2016 UK tour.
Prior to the show, I sat down with vocalist Michael Lessard, who joined the band before their last album cycle began for third record Language; a sublime piece of progressive metal which added his considerable talents to crafting a textured and incredibly organic record the envy of many.
We talked about topics both tour-related and not, including why he would win in an inter-band free-for-all, why he won’t do karaoke, and why the next album cycle is going to be a new experience for every member of the band.
Photos by Hannah Cole.
Let’s start off on a light note: in a free-for-all between all of the members of the bands, who would win and why?
I might be a little biased with this answer, but I believe I would – only because I’m the only one with actual fight training…but Eric [Guenther, keyboards] is tall; he’s lanky, I’d have to get by the reach, and Cam [Maynard, guitar] is kind of wirey. He’s a dark horse I think.
[laughs] there’s always one isn’t there?
Yeah, he’d be the one gouging some eyes out or something crazy! I’ll go with me though.
What kind of fight training do you have?
I do Muay Thai, Jiu-jitsu, kickboxing – basically mixed martial arts. There’s definitely some styles that I focus more on than others.
How long have you been doing it?
Six or seven years now?
Oh really? Yeah, I’d definitely go with you then!
[laughs] my brother fights, so I grew up training with him.
Awesome! Sort of related, but what would be your wrestling name?
My wrestling name? I feel like I can’t use my last name because it doesn’t really have a ring to it…
You could be like Mike “The Something” Lessard.
Yeah, I guess I feel like it would have have to start with an M or an L. Maybe “The Magician”? I could do magic tricks on my way out; disappear from the ring.
You’ve got to have a skit haven’t you?
Oh, absolutely! I think it’s essential for any successful wrestling star.
If you could have any famous person make a documentary about The Contortionist, who would you choose?
Do they have to be alive?
No, could be anyone!
Stanley Kubrick. I’m a big fan of cinematography and he has some of the most beautiful cinematography in his films, so I’d go with him. I know even if the substance wasn’t there, because we’re boring…
…he would at least make it look beautiful.
Alright, fair enough! What’s your favourite pop song from the last year – if you listen to pop?
I listen to a lot of pop – mostly pop, actually, for production value purposes. Oof, that’s a real good question. Halsey put out an album called Badlands, and there’s two tracks on that: “Roman Holiday” and “Colors“; one of those two tracks. They’re your stereotypical chorus hits before 45 seconds-type songs, but they’re really impactful; the production’s very synth-pop type stuff but it makes me feel something every time I hear it so I dig it.
What would be the most useful superpower to have on tour?
The ability to not smell? Maybe? That’d be a good one. The ability to function without sleep would be another really good one – even though in Europe we sleep great because we have the bus so we get our own bunk. The ability to perform at your highest potential every night? I feel like that would be quite the awesome ability; you could just turn on and turn off.
Yeah, just make optimal use of it.
Yeah, I feel like that would actually be my choice right there.
This is a bit of a weird one: what should the first city on Mars be called? Or who should name it; who gets the honour?
I’m gonna give myself the honour and I’m gonna pick the name. I would go with…I’m thinking really hard!
It’s a tough one man!
I feel like I’d name it a female name or something, so…Sophia Mars? That might be the name of my solo project actually. Related to Bruno.
Yeah! Exactly. So tour’s pretty tough on your diet; are you craving any foods right now?
I’m pretty simple; as long as it tastes good I’m okay with it, I don’t usually crave certain foods but I definitely feel the effects of having to dine out every night. I’m pretty strict about my diet when I’m home, so yeah, I’m craving to have structure in my daily eating regimen!
When do you eat?
Everybody’s different: Jordan, our bass player, he has to eat right when he gets up or he can’t function. I usually don’t eat until maybe six hours after I get up? I feel like I function a little better on an empty stomach; something about having that hunger makes my primal instincts come out a little bit more? So I just had a peanut butter sandwich and I probably won’t eat again until the show’s over, so I eat maybe two or three times a day: usually two, an hour or two before we play and then late at night before I go to sleep.
What’s your karaoke song?
I don’t do karaoke!
Yeah! You could ask any of the guys, I will not do karaoke!
Reason being? Well one, I’m a party-pooper, just a natural-born party-pooper. But as a singer? I see the appeal of karaoke, and I looove watching karaoke, don’t get me wrong; my buddy used to live next to a bar that had Wednesday night karaoke, so I’d just go there every Wednesday…so I could enjoy it, because those people are going up there and giving it a hundred percent even though they’re so far off the mark, and they don’t care and they’re having a blast – which is the point – but as a singer…I do sing for fun but I take singing very seriously and I couldn’t just let loose, just wail whatever. I’d be thinking “oh, well this note’s coming up next; how can I bring this down; where do I need to be dynamics-wise for this next part”. It wouldn’t be fun!
Like overthinking it?
Yeah, I don’t wanna overthink it, just cause as a singer that’s what I naturally needed to teach myself to do – especially being a live performer, the idea is to be as accurate as you can every night, so yeah, that would be my reason! That, and I’m a party-pooper.
That’s absolutely fair enough; I’m exactly the same. Except I can’t sing…
What are you going to remember most about this tour, do you think?
There’s a lot of things to remember, but I think the biggest take-away that will probably stick with me is being able to watch TesseracT and Nordic Giants and…I mean this is the thing I take away from any tour is when I tour with bands that inspire me: being able to take away the fact that I was inspired watching them; they make me want to perform better, they make me want to become just better as an artist. Nordic Giants’ visual display is amazing, so…
Yeah, it’s phenomenal isn’t it?
Yeah, it makes you realise “oh, I need to get better in that aspect of performance”, because it’s this huge multi-faceted type of art, you know? The same with recording; there’s all these different layers that involve different sets of skills. So being able to go out on tour and seeing those bands replicate what they do on album and adding new elements and being able to perform at their highest potential is very inspiring. That’s what I’ll take away from this.
Yep! And then finally: what does the rest of 2016 hold for The Contortionist?
We go home for six days after this, and then we do five weeks with Monuments and Entheos and Sleepmakeswaves.
That’ll be amazing!
Yeah. Very excited for that tour.
Have you toured with Monuments before, or seen them live?
I have not but we’ve been friends with those guys for a while, so I’m excited for that. All the bands are great in their own way and we try to do tours where every bands is different, but all the bands – since we’re the headliner – have pieces of what we try to incorporate in our music. I think that’s going to be a a very interesting and exciting tour.
After that we take time off – there’s no set time frame on how much time we take off to write the next album – we’ll go in the studio whenever we feel like it and yeah, do the next album. We’ve been lucky enough with the last album that it’s put us in a position where we no longer have to meet the requirements of put an album out, tour two years straight, write an album in three months, go in the studio for a month, get all the stuff ready for the album cycle and release it, tour two years…rinse repeat. The last album has put us in a position where we don’t have to do that any more. We get to sit down as a collective and write the first album that any of us have been able to write with no time-frame and no expectations. We got Language out of the way which was my first effort with the band, and that was…it was one of those things where we wanted to do something different and we did, but it’s a tightrope walk when you come into an already-established situation and people are going to hate it no matter what, people might enjoy it more – there’s always going to be a mixed bag – so now that pressure is off. We’ve got that out of the way and we can do whatever the hell we want! And I’m excited for that.