”There’s something about the dark undertone of Cane Hill that draws you into them. A static, almost neurological connection with the explicit subconscious, that vocalist Elijah Witt describes as, “no matter who you are you have that in your brain.”
“no matter who you are you have that (darkness) in your brain.” – Elijah Witt
Hailing from Louisiana, the homicide capital of the USA, it’s understandable as to why these four men appear to be so hardened. Their records have opened on taboos that are both uncomfortable and fascinating. Drug use, sexual freedom, ‘anti-religious banter’, and pushing the boundaries of what society deems as acceptable. In a time where metal seems to be gearing away from the once enjoyable violence and offence that made so many 90s parents hurl anything remotely heavy records (RIP Iowa) out of the moving car windows, Cane Hill are reviving what it is that made the metal genre both provocative, and influential.
Today we find ourselves in the basement of the O2 Ritz in Manchester. Like many musicians, the contemptuous, benumbed and unashamed exterior often thrown around in both the far from PG music videos put out by the band, through to their undeniably strong and dominating stage presence is safely tucked away. Instead, we’re surrounded by four reasonably young musicians, of whom are both as youthful as they are intellectual. “When I was in college it was $40,000 a semester, not a year but for a semester at university for a piss poor education.” Laughs vocalist Elijah Witt when asked about why both himself and his fellow band mates have set out to dedicate their lives to the road rather than life in the failing dystopia that is the American Dream. Mathematically it dawns on us that despite a career spanning over eight years, both global and heavy touring schedules, and not one, but three successful records in, Cane Hill are not only championing the metal scene, but are one of the youngest bands to be doing so.
“the generation before us who ruined the ‘American Dream’ are upset we can’t find a way to become successful in the dystopia they created.”
“The majority of people aren’t getting employment in the field they’ve specialised in. Nobody warns you, they’ll always tell you to go to college then you’ll get a job and a home and that’s not how it works anymore”. Continues Witt. This further leads us to the conclusion that one reason as to why their recent sophomore record, Too Far Gone has become almost unnervingly relatable, is because of the relatability to reflect on the absolute, for lack of a better word, shit position our generation finds itself in. Witt and his fellow band mates don’t fit the uneducated, and ‘rather be on the road’ stereotypes our parents have often been sticking to musicians, Witt himself attended college to study history, bassist Ryan Henriquez also studying business management at college level, and both guitarist James Barnett and drummer Devin Clark completing high school before turning to become professional touring musicians. “Now you see articles saying millennials are killing this and that. The generation before us who ruined the ‘American Dream’ are upset we can’t find a way to become successful in the dystopia they created.” Shrugs Witt. “Health care is too expensive, I can barely afford health care, I can barely afford rent on my apartment. That’s bullshit.”
YOU CAN VIEW OUR EXLUSIVE ACCESS ALL AREAS GALLERY HERE
Realising their life options may have become limited in ‘the dystopia’ of their homeland, Cane Hill are a band that you’ll find consistently on the road, maybe a reason as to why their live show is so intense, entertaining, and crushing. From playing their UK debut in Camden’s back bar, The Black Heart, (a show that bassist Ryan laughs at for having, ‘almost blown up all of our equipment’), through to conquering stages at Download festival, and stealing the show from major headline metal acts such as Of Mice & Men, if anything is assertive it’s that “Cane Hill aren’t a studio band.” Showmanship is a strength across the entire outfit, one built on false personas, and it bloody well works. “We used to watch and still watch live videos of Pantera in their prime.” Reflects Witt on the band’s influence. “Watching them is completely different, a complete different world of captivation but they knew how to get a crowd to eat out of the palm of their hand. There’s this festival show we are always watching, and Phil Aneslmo is standing up on the stage saying, “Did you hear that fucking bass?” and he didn’t get the response he wanted so he looks at the crowd and says “Answer me! Did you hear that fucking bass?”. I love that aggression out of him, the fact that he knows he’s the king of that moment.”
“I JUST LOVE THAT AGGRESSION” – ELIJAH WITT
While Pantera remain an obvious influence, whether it be from including squealing lead guitar lines and particularly the whammy drenched solo on ‘Singing in the Swamp’, or the live aggression that Witt uses to whip his crowd into shape, there’s still a question as to why this band seems to so heavily deny being labelled as ‘Nu metal’. “We talk about this a lot between ourselves and what we chalked it up to be is our influences. I mean our influences are 90’s metal besides the hip-hop and pop. So, we figured nu-metal bands from the 2000’s probably had similar influences ya know? Like Metallica, Megadeath and Pantera, which is why there is some form of similarities in our music to theirs. Nowadays kids are grasping to relate music to something because they’re afraid of something new or to relate to something they’re already familiar with. If it came down to it, it may just be the grooviness of our music which is what you get with nu-metal, that body popping and head bobbing music”.
But let’s step away from the more musical elements and influences of both this record and this band for a minute. Over their almost decade-long career, like many young musicians suddenly overwhelmed with the ‘endless possibilities’ of ‘rock n roll’, Cane Hill have faced both public and personal backlashes. The album title, Too Far Gone is exactly as it reads. An open confession to, “how you can make one stupid mistake, and no one ever lets it drop.” Rewind back to two years ago, and upon making their debut upon the Dogtooth stage at Download festival, an intoxicated, and much younger Witt offered his crowd advice on, ‘getting drunk, taking drugs and getting laid’. Luckily this was greeted with a mass roar from their millennial crowd, but when asked about the affair, Witt is firm to reassure us that the days of mass excess are behind them. “We’ve learned how easy it is to die.” Muses Witt. “We went into this full-hearted, big-headed, thinking we are indestructible because we were young kids. When you watched all these metal bands that just push their lives into chaos and it looked like so much fun…”. Almost instantly Too Far Gone is painted in an entirely confessional light.
““We’ve learned how easy it is to die….”
Tracks such as, Erased paints an image of Witt self-prosecuting himself for his past actions, daunting on the idea that a life of excess is far from the golden dream that he once thought it would be. “They’re (these older bands) are high all the time, and we thought, ‘we can do that, that’s how we’ll make good music.” Reflects Witt. “That’s how they did made good music, they got addicted and wrote about their struggles, like okay… done… I’m addicted… it all blows up in your face. It’s scary and that’s what I can take away from this”. And while the debut stained a lot of first impressions of the band, Witt further adds, “Since the Download performance, we’ve significantly calmed down our lifestyles. I think everyone deserves to push themselves to their limits because you only learn about yourself and you only enjoy to the fullest what you’re allowed to experience.”
While it is arguable that a lot of the visual and lyrical content of their music is both explicit, and at times raunchy, Cane Hill aren’t here to offend, if anything far from it. More particularly the unadulterated fetish video for, True Love is a video that won’t air on daytime TV any time soon, and with various album art to match the disturbing, and taboo confronting themes of their records, Cane Hill are, if anything, just being more open and honest on subjects that need to be more openly spoken about. “We approached it (sex) carefully, we approached it from all sides. Making sure that we are doing and saying exactly what we feel, so there is no room for error. We wanted to shock people because we felt it was the only way to make people think critically about the situations. The way we tried to put it was to normalise weird sex. If you like being pissed on you like being pissed on, whatever gets you off. It is something that you should enjoy and unashamed of it”.
In the spring of 1961, Cane Hill’s hometown of New Orleans was tarnished with a headline in the historical LIFE magazine, ‘When Nazis tried to come to New Orleans, these holocaust survivors were ready to fight.’ Fast forward 47 years later, and Witt will still tell the press, that the small town of Folsom he grew up in, was, ‘in the middle of fucking nowhere,’ and, ‘highly racist and homophobic’. Witt of course never shared these views with those surrounding him, and subjects such as LGBTQ rights and anti-racism still lie heavily within both the band’s and his own beliefs and music. Newer material such as the bluntly titled, Scumbag, hits a hard nail into the face of fascism and the far right movements, with Witt commenting. “It was an obvious one against Nazis and the far right, which seems like a simple opinion.” And while Witt is quick to confirm that this record is is one that is far from politicising the band, if you take a step back onto their previous record, Smile, it has more of a political backbone. Even more particularly, the Manson-esque New Jesus, of which confronts the bible’s outdated views on LGBTQ rights, a track that seemed eerily timed for what would happen when the band were firmly on the safe grounds of Donnington. “We were at Download when we heard about the mass shooting at the Orlando LGBTQ nightclub which was a double hit for us. It’s frightening when someone can easily create mass hysteria and violence just as a single person, also the hatred that is being targeted at specific groups that don’t deserve it.” Remembers Witt. “Being so far away from it was demoralising, depressing and we felt like we were just watching our own worlds implode.”
” if you don’t put yourself before others and your wants and desires ahead of what society tells you is okay it will hold you back.”
Cane Hill are a band that truly are a phenomenon both musically, and in the social contexts of metal today. With the likes of explicit icons such as Slipknot ‘calming down’ their videos, and Korn venturing off down a more techno lane, it seems that Cane Hill really are one of the last bands, although fairly new, to keep us connected with a genre that was once merited for both it’s shock factor, and also to exist at a time where the genre of ‘metal’ wasn’t sub categorised into suffocating pigeonholes. But as they continue to build speed, and become unstoppable, what is it that this band, and Witt himself still fears the most? “The older I become the warier I am of who I trust and I think everyone should become that way. It’s going to end up biting you in the ass. We’re speaking about the validity, that everybody does have that darker side. Everyone has the side who is willing to hurt someone for their gain. Who is willing to put yourself before others which isn’t always the worst side of you. It’s not always a bad thing because, if you don’t put yourself before others and your wants and desires ahead of what society tells you is okay it will hold you back.” Reflecting over the last hour spent with Witt, and with him reflecting over a career that has pushed both Cane Hill and the boundaries of metal, his final words are both uplifting as they are both realistic and daunting. “You don’t have to almost die to create the art you want, I should have listened to my mom (laughs).”
Too Far Gone is out now via Rise Records. READ THE REVIEW HERE