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THE CONTORTIONIST Vocalist Michael Lessard Discusses New Album’s Concept, Favorite Movies, & Solo Material

After the release of their Language album, I became very much engulfed in The Contortionist universe, attending as many of their shows that I could and attempting to decode the record's lyrics. With the announcement of the follow-up and tour dates, the excitement doubled. I was lucky enough to sit down backstage with vocalist Michael Lessard during the band's tour with Toothgrinder, Polyphia, and Between the Buried and Me on the Colors 10th Anniversary tour.

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We discussed the new album, the conceptual theme between Clairvoyant and Language, movies, solo material, and more. Check out all the questions below.

BTBAM Colors The Contortionist

You’re over halfway done with this tour. How has it been so far and can you discuss the other bands you’re sharing the stage with?

The tour has been amazing. There’s only been two shows that haven’t sold out, one of them was a massive room and it was pretty much packed. As far as the bands, we’re out with Toothgrinder, who are really good friends of ours and have gone out on our headliner tours before and are a great band based out of New Jersey. After that is Polyphia, who are also friends of ours that have been on some of our headliner tours and are an instrumental act from Texas. And then there’s nothing that I can say about Between the Buried and Me that hasn't already been said.

Between the Buried and Me are performing their Colors album front-to-back and on their previous run they did the same thing with the Coma Ecliptic record. Do you foresee The Contortionist doing something similar in the future?

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I don't think it’s out of the cards, but it’s going to be another five years before one of those albums makes it up to the anniversary point. If we can stay together and keep the wheels rolling, then yeah, absolutely. It’s a cool thing and it’s pretty monumental for a band to stay together for ten years. The metal industry is hard alone, but progressive metal is really niche. It shows how great of a band Between the Buried and Me are.

Last time we spoke it was during your tour with sleepmakeswaves, Entheos, and Monuments. I found the similarities between your guys’ sound and a post-rock group like sleepmakeswaves very interesting. Do you think you’ll do more tours with non-metal groups moving forward?

Absolutely. The main thing in our decision process for creating a tour is a diverse lineup. It makes the show more interesting and pulls in fans that might not necessarily be there for other bands. For that tour, all three of those bands share characteristics with us, but don’t share characteristics with each other. And that’s the ultimate goal, to bring in bands that focus on an area that we like to touch, but don’t necessarily stay in too long.

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The new album definitely is less musically heavy than the band’s previous albums. Do you think as The Contortionist continues to progress and become less heavy, you personally feel more distant or disconnected with the metal community?

I don’t think I feel less connected with the metal scene because as you’ll see tonight, we’re going to play Exoplanet songs. For me, it’s interesting because when we release an album, people will get up in arms and say we shouldn’t still consider ourselves a metal band. But from nine to ten months out of the year, I’m still screaming and playing tunes that they called metal. They’re viewing everything as a simple, linear line and that’s not how it works. I don’t feel disconnected from the metal scene at all. Who knows, we might get heavy on the next album. For us, albums are timestamps. They’re where we are in our life, what we want to do, and what type of music we are interested in. And we can’t really predict what that will be. If there's one thing that this band has made a habit of doing is doing something different than what we’ve done before.

I think a good chunk of the fans were curious to see if any unclean vocals would make this new record. Did you approach this album fully aware that there would be almost only clean vocals or make that decision within the writing process?

It was a decision made throughout the album process. The music just didn’t call for it. The older I get, the more I realize that my duty in a band is to serve the song. It’s not to serve myself or anybody else. If the song didn’t call for screaming, there’s no sense to have a contrived scream on there. There’s parts of Language that I go back and listen to now and cringe a bit because I feel it was forced to appease a certain demographic. And that’s just not honest music. There never was a meeting where we came to a conclusion that there wouldn’t be screams, it just happened.

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Language was one of my favorite albums and I think it spoke to a lot of other people. Did you have any reservations about returning to the studio to follow-up an album that received such high praise?

No, because I feel like anything that you put out there is going to have people that love it and think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done and there will be people that hate it and think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever done. And at the end of the day, as long as they feel extreme in one way or the other, that’s a good sign. It means you’ve made a piece of art that’s controversial. Ultimately as an artist, that’s what you want. If they dislike it, you want them making Facebook posts and spreading it out to other people. If there’s more hate, the love will balance it out, which is interesting because the theme of Language was balance. I was never worried about it. I was more worried about pleasing myself, making an album that all six of us could agree on, and not making any sacrifices to try to find middle ground. At the end of the day, if all six of us like it, there’s gotta be somebody out there that likes it.

Lyrically the Language album seemed kinda cryptic, filled with symbolism and metaphor where Clairvoyant has some rather straight-forward lyrics. Was it more natural to write with less symbolism this time?

I don’t know it it’s more natural. I wanted to write with less because I wanted to do something different. There’s moments of vagueness throughout the album because I like the idea of leaving an empty container for the listener to fill with whatever it is they perceive that message to be. The lyrics for “Reimagined” actually toy with that idea with the “it” factor, with “it” being anything. I wanted this album to be more honest and grounded lyrically. Some of our older fans might not have connected as well with it because it is more personal, but the album hasn’t even been out a month yet and there’s been fans coming to shows saying it has helped them veer away from suicide or overcome abusive relationships. That was never my intent when making the album, it was therapeutic for me. But the fact alone that someone else can connect and resonate with the music like that, it makes me proud that I made that decision.

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I understand that both Language and this new record conceptually references to a close friend of yours who passed away. Is it emotionally difficult to reference to these topics when writing and performing?

At this stage, I think I’m past it. When I’m singing on stage, I’m not so much in the headspace where I’m thinking about what I’m singing about. Writing it is the harder part because you have to figure out what you’re feeling, how you currently feel, how to describe it, and apply that to a certain musical backdrop. I think that’s one of the hardest things of being a singer, listen to a piece of music, know what your message is, and then find a way to take that color and have it apply to the message. There’s a lot of unresolved things with the whole scenario of what these two albums are about and this one definitely helped me close off that chapter in my life. Throughout the album, there are different perspectives of someone who may be dealing some form of addiction or depression. At the end, it’s me speaking directly and more conversational.

Was there a specific song that was most difficult? To me, “Return to Earth” seems very personal.

Especially the part that says “you were so sick, you were skin and bones, and you fed yourselves excuses, just to keep it going.” To me, that’s the most powerful line on the album. And then the next song follows up saying “when all that's left is just all your bones.” I wanted to end with those two songs because I felt they were the most powerful lyric lines.

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Besides music, are there other ways you use to express yourself therapeutically? I recall you said you were very much into kickboxing before.

Yeah, I do MMA and stuff like that. In the past year or so I’ve been kinda slow with it. I had a pretty bad back injury last year, so I took time off of that. I also do video editing. And I love movies like dissecting them and the storytelling that is more subliminal. In the past couple years, film and video in general has become my favorite form of media and art because you can use music and visual. Music is cool because it is vague and you can imagine the imagery. But yeah, I have fallen in love with film recently.

Any movies in particular you’re enjoying?

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Swiss Army Man was a very interesting film. It has these moments of over the top beauty, but they don’t want you to take it too seriously so there’s a fart and you’re jerked back. There’s huge moments of contrast and they took a silly premise to draw you in with it. Another movie that I love is called Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling. Spoiler alert for anyone reading, but he is mentally distraught after losing his mother and socially awkward, so he orders a doll and starts telling people it’s his girlfriend. And then people start to go along with it and she becomes a part of the community. Then one day he decides she’s dead and everyone is crying and is upset with him. It makes you feel emotional towards an inanimate object. I found that fascinating. I like campy movies like big blockbusters too. I like it all.

You previously mentioned an interest in a Last Chance to Reason reunion and new album. Clearly you're busy with The Contortionist currently, but has there been any further discussion with those guys at all? 

Yeah, absolutely. They came out to the Boston show this tour. They've been working on tunes and I'm always working on music whether it be The Contortionist, Last Chance to Reason, or solo stuff. I'm 99.9% sure that Last Chance to Reason is in the future.

Can you discuss further about what solo material you've been working on?

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I'm always writing and working on something, so I've just been compiling music over the years. It's always been out there that I'll eventually do it. I'e released snippets throughout the years. I'm slow to get it out there because it's going to be exactly the way I want it. I've written metal, hip hop, pop, and country songs. Maybe it'll be a country album. Maybe it'll be a trip hop album. Maybe it'll be all of those. It really depends on when the time is right.

What are the plans for the band after this tour?

We should have more touring. The album just came out so the tour cycle is very much just started. We have some stuff in the works, nothing announced yet. We'll be in Europe, Australia, hopefully Mexico again, US, and hopefully go back to Japan. We want to hit as many places as we can and share the good vibes. There'll be some headlining stuff too.

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