Interview: Counterparts

Interview: Counterparts

“If people are still talking about Counterparts twenty years from now, then I’ve won”

Brendan Murphy is in a relaxed mood as we join him from his home in Hamilton, Ontario. Having recently returned home from a gruelling-yet-rewarding trek across the USA on the Vans Warped Tour now is the time for the frontman of Canada’s finest heavy bands Counterparts to unwind before the rest of 2017 becomes dominated by touring.

“I still haven’t unpacked my bags,” Brendan says with a giggle, reflecting on his overall experience of Warped, still fresh in his memory. “There were definitely days where we played to thousands more people than we usually would and I do think that we gained fans from the tour, so I’m glad we did it. But given the choice, I would take a club tour.

"It means we get to be on our own schedule. Being on someone else’s schedule sucks, like having to wake up at 8 am or 9 am and unload a full truck, then sit around and not find out when you’re playing until 10 am, you could be first, you could be dead last, you just don’t know.”

Soon Counterparts will embark on numerous club tours across the globe in support of their fifth full-length record ‘You’re Not You Anymore’, which allegedly contains ‘the coolest songs [Counterparts have] ever written’, and Brendan is keen to stress the ‘we’ that took place during the songwriting. “It was pretty cool because the way we’ve done it when Jesse [Doreen, ex-guitarist] and Alex [Re, ex-guitarist] were in the band, Alex would come to the table and say ‘I’ve written these three or four songs’ and Jesse would say ‘I’ve written seven or eight of these’ and it would just be like, that’s Jesse’s song, that’s Alex’s song,” Brendan explains. “So with the new record, there wasn’t really any of that because we wrote about three-quarters of the record together at the same time were all throwing around ideas.”

Determined to make the best record they possibly could, Brendan, alongside Blake Hardman (lead guitar), Adrian Lee (rhythm guitar), Tyler Williams (bass) and Kyle Brownlee (drums) worked meticulously with revered producer and close friend Will Putney and twice as hard as they have on any previous records, to strip it down to the absolute bare essentials. “We put all the crappy demos on GarageBand, then recorded them in the studio and worked on everything with Will and changed everything,” Brendan says. “So we did it then, and said, ‘this is what the record’s gonna be like, these are the songs,’ then we came back and said ‘okay, we’re gonna do it AGAIN, and narrow it down even further, then that’s the record.

"I think those two rounds of pre-pro really helped because the record doesn’t have any sleepers,” Brendan explains. “Every song is sick, and I think that’s the reason why we were all in there together and we were all hearing each other out. There was no big arguments or no anyone saying ‘well I wrote this, so I want it to be on the record’. We thought about it purely from a fan standpoint, like what would they want to hear?”

True to his words, ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ stands tall as one of the strongest releases from Counterparts, which stays true to Brendan’s honest and introspective lyrical approach, while allowing the rest of the band to venture into more melodic and diverse songwriting territory without sacrificing the concrete execution of their metalcore arrangements. Brendan believes the choice of singles released prior to the album ‘Bouquet’, ‘No Servant of Mine’ and ‘Thieves’ demonstrate ‘YNYA’’s variation.

“When we had the record done and we said ‘what song do we wanna release first,’” Brendan explains. “We all decided on ‘Bouquet’ because it is catchy and it reminds me of a high-energy version of ‘Collapse’ [from 2015’s ‘Tragedy Will Find Us’], then ‘No Servant…’ is reminiscent of older Counterparts, like apart from the fact that it has choruses, it could have been on [Counterparts’ 2010 debut album] ‘Prophets’.

"When we plan out these singles, we definitely try to showcase everything we’re doing. Obviously, ‘Thieves’ is the heavier song, and it wasn’t planned to be a single, but because it leaked and we were playing it on Warped, Pure Noise just said ‘fuck it, let’s release it,’” Brendan says of the one minute and sixteen-second track. “I never would have said ‘Oh Thieves, that’s a single for sure’, but it made more sense to just give kids what they already want.

"So when we picked singles, we wanted to walk that line between songs that kids who already love Counterparts will love, and kids who are on the fence about us will get reeled in by, as well as songs that’ll bring in new listeners as well,” Brendan says. “So that’s why we chose those songs, and even tracks like ‘Sink Beneath My Skin’ is gonna be the best song on the record.”

While Brendan always lets his own feelings and state of mind inspire him as a lyricist, the fact that so many Counterparts fans hold onto his words as a source of inspiration and a beacon of relatability is something that often brings out mixed feelings in him. “It makes me feel good, having people come up and tell you that your songs have saved their life, or you’re their favourite band, it’s definitely surprising to hear that,” he explains. “The hard part about hearing that is that half the time when people tell me, they’re younger kids and in my head I’m like ‘fuck, I wish you couldn’t relate to the lyrics,’ I don’t want younger people to have to go through this shit that I go through when I feel miserable.

"But at the same time, I think; Good. I’m glad that you have something to relate to. If we’re the one band that have songs that deal with what they feel every day, then that’s a whole new achievement in itself, because we’re helping people realise that they’re not the only ones going through this shit. That’s what I think is the coolest part about being in this band. It’s this thing that I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to, and for a lot of people in the whole world, it means just as much to them as it does to me.”

“If I wanted a million dollars, I wouldn’t be playing in a metalcore band”

Over five albums, Counterparts have gained a revered reputation in the metalcore underground for letting their personalities define their music and writing songs that serve as an outlet for their own emotional needs before anyone else’s. In a scene where much bigger ‘core bands have exhausted the typical “you can do it” message to the point of pastiche. The rise of bands whose lyrics are more open about struggles with mental health and personal issues in their life have garnered more attention from young metal fans who have grown fed up of being given the same positive message again and again.

“It’s no secret that there are bands that don’t even write their own songs. There’s been so many times when we’ve been recording with Will Putney, and he’s writing songs for other bands,” Brendan responds to the idea of Counterparts representing the antithesis of bands that produce music for commercial gain in the metalcore scene.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world, if you just wanna play music and you want to play in a bigger band and sing these songs that don’t really mean anything to you, but you’re still making money, and you’re okay with it, then fuck it, go ahead.

"Maybe they have it figured out, and I’m the dumbass,” Brendan chuckles, “But at the end of the day for me, I’m the only original member of Counterparts left, I’ve been through sleeping on people’s floors and the only payment was kids coming up to me after shows and talking to me about the impact our music has had on them. There are so many big bands that kids love, and they’ll bend over backwards, but how long is that gonna last? And then you have these smaller bands who really believe in what they’re doing because that’s the only reason that they do it. Like, if I wanted a million dollars, I wouldn’t be playing in a metalcore band.”

The honesty and self-belief that has fueled Counterparts’ back catalogue has undoubtedly put them in good company with bands they’ve shared stages with over the years. This appears no more apparent as the recent announcement that they’ll be supporting metalcore icons and close friends, Architects, when they play their biggest show to date in London’s 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace. For Brendan, it’s guaranteed to be the biggest crowd he’s ever played in front of. “I think the biggest amount of people we’ve ever played to was at Download when we played a couple of years ago and that was about 5,000 people. So we’re taking that and we way we all thought ‘Oh holy shit, this is insane’ and you’re essentially doubling it,” he says, admitting he’s as nervous as he is excited about the occasion.

“What’s really cool to me is that Architects are obviously a metalcore band, and they’re playing in venues that mainstream acts will also go to, this isn’t little league underground shit anymore,” Brendan says excitedly. “Playing a 10,000 capacity venue is a big deal no matter who you are and what genre you play, but the fact that it is a heavy band makes it an even bigger deal because we’re not this underdog thing anymore. We’re not this little brother music scene to pop.”

While this show will be a Counterparts to show off themselves to a vast audience of newcomers, Brendan appreciates that Counterparts have provided the same platform for smaller bands on an underground level, and actions like taking hardcore’s rising stars Knocked Loose out as support across Europe and the UK, and letting the Kentucky quintet play their first ever shows outside of America. “When we do headliners and we have the chance to bring bands out, it’s really cool that we get to pick our friends and we get to pick bands that we like and we get to stand behind,” Brendan says. “It’s always awesome when our friends then say ‘that tour we did with you guys, that what really helped us get to a better level, and that’s really awesome because bands did that to us when we were growing up, so now that we’re in that position, I wanna return the favour because we’ve been there.”

Elaborating on this, Brendan recalls how Shane Told, frontman of post-hardcore icons Silverstein set the example for him about putting everything into promoting smaller bands he believes in. “When we were a local band in Hamilton and we were first starting to get attention, all the other bands in our area would hate us and would try and fuck with us, so we were grateful for Shane coming out and saying ‘yo fuck you guys, Counterparts are sick’” Brendan recalls.

“Shane put out our first record on his label, and Silverstein were the ones that started bringing us along and telling kids ‘don’t listen to what the fucking losers have to say about this, just listen to the music and decide for yourselves,” Brendan explains. “So now when I think of what I can do to give back to a scene that helped me make this my career, I try to do that exactly. I want to help bands, that’s my main thing.”

In their ten years of existence, Counterparts have set the standard of persevering through the grueling life of a touring band and continuing to release music that bears meaning for them and their fans, and ‘You’re Not You Anymore’ is an album that will solidify the legacy they’ve left as one of the most consistent bands of metal’s modern age. “I feel like a lot of our fans will outlive the band itself, and I think that’s the coolest payoff in terms of what I’m doing,” Brendan Murphy concludes.

“You know, if people are still talking about Counterparts twenty years from now, then I’ve won, I’ve made it. We may not have been rich, and we may not have had the most lavish lifestyle, but we’re still being talked about, and I see that with the bands that I look up to and love.”

‘You’re Not You Anymore’ by Counterparts is released on 22nd September on Pure Noise Records.

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Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)