In March of 2020, Canadian metal band Spiritbox was raring to record. They had just gotten back from their first tour and were sitting on a pile of material.
COVID-19 derailed that plan indefinitely. At one point, the band thought, “We might have to just do this record over Zoom.” Now, that material is an album titled Eternal Blue that will finally release Sept. 17. Completing the album took nearly a year and an excursion to the Californian desert.
Spiritbox is made up of Mike Stringer, frontwoman (and Stringer’s wife) Courtney LaPlante, drummer Zev Rose and bassist Bill Crook. The band began in 2016 and has amassed a following that places them alongside metal acts like Underoath and Slipknot.
Here’s more from Stringer about the album’s creative process, Spiritbox’s upcoming tours and Stringer’s guitar style. The following conversation between the artist and The Daily has been edited for clarity.
Anish Tamhaney: Mike, how are you doing?
Mike Stringer: Doing well, man. Gearing up to leave in a couple days and getting the new set ready. It’s just kind of funny, being home for a very brief period of time and then having to go right back out again.
AT: So, Spiritbox’s debut album, Eternal Blue, is dropping in a few weeks, and I’m curious about your process for creating the album. Do you have a specific memory in the process of writing that album that really sticks out to you, or you cherish a lot?
MS: While everything else in the world was changing, we had to keep redesigning in our heads what the recording was going to look like. It even went to the point where we were like, well, ‘We might have to just do this record over Zoom.’ Just remotely. Now, the plus side of that is, it allowed us to write more, create a lot more music and have a big pot to pull from, so to speak. But the moments that I will cherish the most are actually just going out and doing it, back in this last February 2021. We went to Joshua Tree. And we got a random house on a 20-acre property in the middle of the desert. The average coffee run took about 45 minutes because that’s how far out we were. Just living that, day in, day out for 30 days, coming out with the album, having a finished product at the end of it was definitely something I’ll never forget. But what a lead-up. Oh my god, that was a long time of just sitting around just waiting and hoping that we could get in to record it soon. So, frustration, but also very fulfilling at the end.
AT: Going back to what you said about thinking about doing the album on Zoom, one thing I’ve heard you guys talk about is that years ago, when you were a smaller band, you were used to recording things in different rooms, maybe even across the country and then mixing them together later. Do you think that those early days prepared you for writing and recording an album during the pandemic?
MS: Big time. Everything up until Eternal Blue and the two singles we’ve done previously, “Blessed Be” and “Rule of Nines,” the first two EPs were done in my parents’ basement. We would hire an engineer to record my guitar and I would record bass as well. Then I would record Courtney’s vocals. We would send all those files off to Dan (Braunstein), who actually mixed and produced Eternal Blue as well. We’ve been working with him since day one. That do-it-yourself mentality — if that’s all you know, then you just become used to it. Going into a studio and physically recording it is such a treat, and it’s such a step up. Once we started doing that, with the first two singles “Blessed Be” and “Rule of Nines,” I was like, ‘I could never go back. I don’t want to do this in my parents’ basement anymore.’ With Eternal Blue, we did a lot of writing sessions over Zoom, with some stuff that actually made the album. Dan took control of my computer, I tracked it on and we just saved it. When we were thinking about having to do it all over Zoom, it was a bummer just because of the sheer amount of songs. “Holy Roller” and “Constance” were actually done over Zoom. So it’s not, ‘Oh, I don’t know, if we could pull this off.’ It was just more so like, ‘I know we can pull this off. But, I really don’t want to have to do an entire album, sitting in my apartment and hoping that the internet connection holds up the entire time.’ I definitely think acting in that way for so long really prepared us.
AT: I’m actually a guitarist myself, and one of the things that I appreciate about your playing, in particular, is that you always save room for cleaner tones. There’s always a variety rather than just distortion all the time. I’m curious to know, how does that fit into your writing process? How did striking that balance play a role in Eternal Blue?
MS: The album is very different from a lot of our stuff that we’ve done. It has the widest variety of styles that we’ve done … Learning the balance … beforehand was a big back and forth because we actually weren’t including Courtney on the writing process. I would make an entire song and show it to her. And then I’d be like, ‘You have to figure this out because I’ve spent a couple weeks on this, so I’m not going back and changing stuff.’ Moving forward for every song on Eternal Blue, whenever I would write something, Courtney would immediately get on the mic, and she would start humming a melody or whatever. In that way, we could figure out immediately if this was the right key or comfortable in her range. She ultimately is the most important part of this band — she’s the voice of it. So, with the clean and ambient elements, I feel like there’s a lot more of a balance on Eternal Blue because I was able to hear and see what Courtney was going to do on each part … It’s all about serving the part, it’s all about serving the song … I’ve kind of taken an approach of stepping back a little bit and just having the guitar sit where it needs to. I’ve been learning how to do that, and I still have a little ways to go. But I think this effort, at least, is a lot more glued and cohesive around the board.
AT: What you’re describing is more of a conversation than just you presenting a finished part. Do you see that maybe extending to your drummer Zev Rose and your bassist Bill Crook in the future, where you’re all having a more open conversation?
MS: I’ve always written and recorded the bass. I don’t know if that will change. Zev actually did collaborate with me on this album, and I’m really happy that he did. He’s an incredible drummer, and I can only do so much … Zev and I would go back and forth, where I would present him something and then he would go on the e-kit and actually perform the parts and add some extra flair. That made it so much better because you can only program drums so much. The moment that you can actually take the performance of someone’s hands and put it in there, it’s a whole ’nother ball game … The nature of this album, being in the middle of a pandemic, (Zev and I) only spent 13 or 14 days together. We still have a little bit more getting to know each other, and I hope that we can soon. He’s just an incredible drummer, and he added a lot to this album. I could see on that front, even if we move towards working with real drums, which I hope we do, I could see him having more of a pull. I’d be cool with it because the dude shreds — he’s amazing.
AT: Courtney mentioned on an Instagram live stream that her favorite song on the new record is the title track. Do you have a favorite?
MS: The answer changes for me … Right now, I really love “The Summit.” The melody that plays in the whole song has always stuck in my head … My favorite goes hand-in-hand with how I’m feeling. I think the album is very sad, and I think the album is honest. It’s really dark in a pretty way, but it’s pretty dark. There’s a lot of negativity in the world right now. It sounds kind of teenage-angsty, but, when our tour with Limp Bizkit got canceled, I hadn’t actually listened to the record for about a month and a half before then. We were driving somewhere, said ‘Let’s put on our album’ and it hit a lot differently: … Man, this is a really sad album that represents how I’m feeling right now. As far as favorite songs, the catchy ones are definitely, “Halcyon,” “The Summit” and “Eternal Blue.” That’s been Courtney’s favorite since day one. But I’m interested to see what everyone else’s favorite songs are. We’ve been dying for everybody to hear it.
AT: Let’s talk a little more about the variety of guitar styles on this album. I think with the older Spiritbox material, like the self-titled EP and the singles collection, I would call it more progressive or djent. Then there’s “Holy Roller,” which is just simple, heavy and to the point. Do you think that there’s one direction or the other that Spiritbox is moving to? Or are you intentionally trying to keep everyone on their toes?
MS: That’s a great question. I think this band since day one has always had the goal of ‘Let’s not worry about genre, let’s just worry about if this gets stuck in our heads, and if this is something that makes us feel good doing.’ Again, with Eternal Blue, we had two and a half years of writing. We wrote 18 or 19 songs and narrowed it down to 12. And the whole time, we were just thinking, ‘Who cares if this song is similar to a Billie Eilish song and this song is the heaviest song we’ve ever done outside of “Holy Roller”? It doesn’t matter, it all belongs in the same body of work.’ Moving forward, I think that’s just going to become more and more apparent. We may decide to go crazy, crazy heavy on a nine-string, or we might decide to have a song with no guitars. Nothing’s off-limits. I think that if it’s good and it’s honest, then that’s all it matters. That’s the biggest thing — trying to keep it honest. That’s one thing that we’ve always done. We’ve gone into recordings or writing sessions without an expectation. Whatever happens, happens, and if it’s catchy, let’s use it. I think we will continue to do that.
AT: Those are all the questions I had. Is there anything that hasn’t come up that you want to mention?
MS: You know, I’m just in disbelief that the album’s coming out in two and a half weeks. I would just implore everybody to check it out and hope that they like it. And thank everybody for caring and actually giving a shit about what we do … We’re just gearing up to leave. We’re gearing up to release this sucker. I hope that people like it.
AT: Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I really appreciate it.
MS: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, man.
Daily Arts Writer Anish Tamhaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.