Counterparts have always been the kind of band where the lyrics can’t possibly be overlooked, mostly because of how much essential they are for understanding what the band is really about. In their new album, Tragedy Will Find Us, vocalist and lyricist Brandon Murphy writes about a moment in his life where he said to be his “rock bottom”. That was one of our multiple excuses to talk with Brandon about another well-crafted Counterparts’ album.
You’ve just toured Europe and played a bunch of festivals and shows. How that went?
It was great. The festivals were cool, we got to hang with Stray From The Path a lot, see much of our other friends like Defeater, Every Time I Die, and stuff like that, so… Yeah, it was cool. We had a good time, definitely.
Did you have the opportunity of playing some of the new songs off of the new record?
We did. We played “Burn” and it’s the first tour that we started to play “Collapse”. Since the last time we were in Europe, with Architects, we end our set with a little sample of the song “Choke” off of the new record, like the mosh part of that song. Yeah, it was the first tour that we get to start playing “Collapse” on, which is cool.
How’s been people’s reaction to the new material?
It’s been really good so far. Especially with “Burn”. We didn’t think that was going to be like as big of a deal as it was, but people really liked that song and “Collapse” is going really well too. And actually yesterday we put out a new single, a song called “Tragedy” and the response to that has been really, really good too. So far, and it may not be this way for a long, but I’ve only seen positive feedback in regards to the new record. I thought for sure people would be hating it by now but people are into it. [laughs] It’s good in my book.
Counterparts are a band that has suffered a bunch of lineup changes. How do you feel with this version of the band?
Honestly, I think that it’s the best version of the band, just solely based on the fact that everybody is on the same page for once. With the other members I found often that, for example, there would be like two guys in the band that hated being on tour and don’t want to tour at all, and the other three love to go on tour. For the first time everybody is on the same page and there’s like common ground amongst everybody that’s in the band right now, and it just makes being in a band way easier. I’m completely happy with the lineup. I hope everybody else in the band is, and I’m hoping that nobody else leaves anytime soon. [laughs] When we started touring, we were just out of high school, like 19 or 20 years-old, and the thought was, “The tour is going to be awesome. It’s going to be sick.” But for some people, they just sort of outlive it and they just don’t want to do it anymore. You just do it, people just come and go and you have to adapt.
You said, about the new album, “Lyrically, it represents me at rock bottom. But I feel like when you hit that low, you have nowhere to go but up.” Were you documenting that at the moment or it is a recollection of past moments?
It’s like a recollection of past moments. Earlier on in the year I was just going through a whole bunch of bullshit and I was at my lowest point, at the time writing all these lyrics. So, I was experiencing all these things… You know, people go through changes, and people experience things every single day. Whether the severity is like huge or whether is not very severe at all, it is just something that you live with, but for like the first couple of months of this year I was just in a really, really dark spot. So this record is about those couple of months in my life, whereas as right now I don’t necessarily feel the same way the same way as I did back when I wrote those lyrics, but they are still huge live events that I had to get over, and I had to overcome and make my way out for the better. The songs do mean a lot to me, a lot more to me that some of the older material, just because it will represent that exact period of my life. And it was really shitty. [laughs]
Did you ever document while you were living those moments? I mean, it must be fairly different documenting while you’re living it, or afterwards.
Yeah, there’s a significant change. And with this record it was definitely documenting during. Something would happen and I would write a song about it, like immediately. It wasn’t sort of like waiting for the dust to settle and then writing about it. It was just
immediately, “This is what I feel right now, and so this is what the song is about.” And I think that’s why this new record is fairly more emotional than our other releases.
That statement that I quoted before shows some positivism, but the title Tragedy Will Find Us reflects the exact opposite. Would it be fair to assume that positivism versus negativism is an internal and ongoing fight and struggle of yours?
Yeah, absolutely! You’ve nailed right there. I do deal with a lot of negativity in my life, and a lot of pessimism, and all those sorts of things, but I think that when people talk to me and people see that I’m still here, that I’m still alive, that I’m still doing things, people sort of get that impression, “Ok, no matter how bad things are… You’ll find a way to get over and be alive.” Yeah, that is an ongoing battle that’s been happening with me for years and I honestly don’t think that will ever go away, I don’t think I will ever decide one of the other. I think I will be just sort of on the fence and just finding a way to stay on fence, and don’t succumb to either side.
“I do deal with a lot of negativity in my life, and a lot of pessimism, and all those sorts of things, but I think that when people talk to me and people see that I’m still here, that I’m still alive, that I’m still doing thing”
Well, it wouldn’t be that bad to succumb to positivism. [laughs]
Yeah, that would be… yeah. [laughs] That wouldn’t be necessarily bad but I think that having a life like that, clearly there’s something, maybe not wrong but the fact that nothing is wrong is like that in itself wrong, you know what I mean?
It feels like you are living a lie.
Exactly. If I meet someone and they’re like, “No, my life is perfect. Nothing bad ever happened”… Ok, give it a couple of years then and something will, and you will not know how to handle because you’re so used to this perfect lifestyle and when there’s a wrench in the gear, or something terrible happens, those are the first people that don’t know how to handle and they just go, “Oh fuck, my life is screwed up now. What do I do?” Whereas someone who deals with a lot of bullshit in their day-to-day life, they’re sort of better at coping and dealing the terrible things that eventually happen.
How does it feel to relive all those moments that you’ve been writing about when you’re performing live? I mean, your lyrics are known for their dark aesthetic and for documenting really dark moments of your own life.
I sort of see it as a coping mechanism for me because I get to… It’s weird, but when all these terrible things are happening the ability of being able to take all the fuss in my head and sort of compiling them together, and lay them out as one final product that sort of explains how I’m feeling at the moment… That’s a huge relief of emotion and it’s definitely a very cool outlet for feeling like shitty a lot of the times. And when we play them live I often find myself thinking, “These are some of the darkest lyrics I’ve written. I don’t know if kids are going to be able to relate to this.” And then there are kids screaming along. It’s almost a weird dilemma because I’m happy that people are singing along and that people can relate to our music, but it’s also fucked up to see that many people being able to relate. Because I don’t want anybody to be able to relate. I want to be the one that feels that sad shit and everybody else is having a happy life, you know what I mean? I don’t want to inflict what I feel, at certain times in my life, on other people, but it’s cool to know that I’m not alone, and they’re not alone. There’s always this common denominator between all of us, which is really cool and at the same time really shitty.
Going back to the record. Did you enter the studio with everything composed and rehearsed or did you finish it while recording it?
Pretty much everything, at least the music side of it, is ready when we enter the studio. Like, we enter the studio with something like ten songs written, and then obviously we do pre-production and we work out all the details. Sometimes it’s just a slow night in the studio and Jesse [Doreen, guitarist] will write a new song and it’s like, “Ok, cool. Let’s just throw it on the record.” But for the lyrical aspect of it, I did a lot of the lyric writing while I was in the studio. I don’t know why, but with this last record I didn’t really feel anything until my life started to go to shit early on in the year, so then suddenly I was motivated to write like every song on the album. It just happens to be while we were in the studio. It worked out great for me, because I went from having no material to having all material. In terms of the music aspect we’re pretty well prepared when we go into the studio. We go into the studio with enough material to record a full album, and then if Jesse happens to write more while we’re there, then so be it, and we deal with it then. The guys practice before going into the studio and everybody knows the parts just because that’s how we, growing up, thought all musicians did. We didn’t know that bands sometimes go into the studio and write a full record in the studio. We didn’t know that sometimes record producers will write the all fucking album and then the band just learns how to play it. We didn’t know that was a thing, so…
It’s not a thing for punk rock bands. [laughs]
Exactly. [laughs] And I sort of try not to hear about those kind of bands because then it just makes me hate them. [laughs]
How is it to work with Will Putney (Northlane, Suicide Silence, FourYear Strong, Miss May I, etc.)?
Working with Will is great. At this point, because we’re so happy with the past two records that we’ve done with him, I don’t think we could really go anywhere else, honestly. He pushes us to write the best album that we can. We recorded in other places where it’s like, “That take is ok. Whatever, it will be fine.” With Will it’s like, “No! This has to be perfect.” Sometimes we go fucking crazy, especially me with lyrics and stuff like that, but then a couple of months after of us being in the studio I go back and I listen to the songs, and I read again the lyrics, and I think to myself, “Goddammit, I’m so glad he push me to write… When I had just ok lines he told me that I had to come up with something better. That made the record better.”
Was it hard to choose “Burn” as the lead single of the new album?
Not really. We were all in agreement that it would be the lead single for the record, just because that’s the first song that Jesse wrote after [2013’s album] The Difference Between Hell and Home, so it’s for us familiar Counterparts song, but if people didn’t know anything but they know our band they could go, “Oh shit, is Counterparts, right?” Not that I think that this new record is that different from our older stuff, but it is a different record and at the same time you want to showcase that like, “Hey, we didn’t write The Difference Between Hell and Home Part. II.” But you also don’t want to be like, “Hey, we went to the fucking deep end and you might not like it.” So, “Burn” when we listen to all the songs back to back… This is a perfect example of a Counterparts’ song, like it has all of the things that we’re good and I guess know for in this song, so let’s do this one first. Obviously we made the right decision. You know, we all thought when “Collapse” came out that it was going to be people’s favorite song on the record, but I think that everybody is just into “Burn”.
“The songs do mean a lot to me, a lot more to me that some of the older material, just because it will represent that exact period of my life. And it was really shitty.”
Can you talk about the cover art? Who idea was to do it like that, with that cool ass lettering?
When Jess and I were sort of talking about what we had in mind for the cover, we went through a lot of different examples. We went from the complete opposite end of the spectrum but eventually we decided on that because… The guy that did it is Nick [Steinhardt] from Touché Amoré and he’s known for…
He did the cover for Deafheaven’s last album, Sunbather.
Exactly, and that was one of the biggest examples. We wanted something like not simplistic but…I guess simplistic but not in a bad way. Something simple, but still elegant. We, as a band, right now are aesthetically focusing more, and more in simplicity as supposed to long drown out art, I guess. A while back you could see bands going on tour and having like fifteen different shirt designs and it’s overwhelming. With us we sort of consciously made an effort to be like art. I think it’s confusing to people, and overwhelming, and we don’t want that anymore. We want the music to speak for itself and we just don’t want the album cover to make the record, you know what I mean? When we were looking up examples of like simplistic album artworks the first to come to mind was Deahfeaven’s Sunbather. That album artwork is beautiful and it’s fucking everywhere because it looks amazing,and when you see the album artwork you don’t think it’s a black metal/post-rock album. No one thinks that right off the bat and I think that’s really cool because it’s aesthetically pleasing to everybody in the world. They might not like the music, but the album cover is sick.
Tragedy WIll Find Us is Counterparts’ debut on Pure Noise Records. How do you feel about this new home?
I feel great. I think a label like Pure Noise, and New Damage for Canada… Those are the labels that we needed to be on since day one. Obviously when we were just starting out we didn’t have the authority to sort of pick and choose where we wanted to go, but… Pure Noise operates their label the same way we operate our band. I think that’s huge. It makes working together so, so easy, and there’s no bullshit, no lies, and no hiding anything from each other. Just complete straightforward. “Hey, can we do this? Nahh, you can’t do it for this reason. Ok, cool.” Or, “Do you guys want to do this? Nahh, we’re not felling it. Alright.” There’s no pressure there where there was with our other labels. It’s a great home to have and we’ve been on the label for not even a year and… they have been unbelievable. It’s great. I would recommend it to anybody. [laughs]
Why did you leave Victory?
We left Victory because when it came time to renew the contract, just the way… Like, we had a different vision for our band, and I think Victory signed us to fill this void that they didn’t have. They kept putting us in with bands like… They wanted us to be like a Close Your Eyes kind of band, and that’s just not the kind of band we are. Then hearing that they were like, “That’s why we signed you for.” Not that was a conversation that ever happened, but it was just like… They saw the band as one thing and we saw the band as another. That and we just got tired of fucking arguing about everything. Literally, we couldn’t do anything without existing an issue. There was always an issue, some reason as to why. What they wanted always came first, so there was a lot of tension with the label and when it came time for us to say, “Ok, we can leave and go wherever we want,” we didn’t even entertain the option of staying in Victory. We were just like, “Nope, we’re out. Sorry, we’re not interested.”