WORDS: SEAN HUBBARD | PHOTOS: RYAN MACKFALL
2019 has been a huge year for the Boston melodic-hardcore quintet Defeater. With the addition of new guitarist Adam Crowe and the release of their self-titled fifth full-length record the band returned for the first time since 2015’s Abandoned with a continuation of their longstanding storyline around a post-World War Two family and their struggles. With the release of their self-titled record Defeater have signalled their progression, and frontman Derek Archambault describes it as “the most Defeater record that we’ve made.”
Thematically Defeater spans the entire story of the band, Archambault explains that the entire storyline is discussed, saying it has lyrics that “explain so many things that have been part of records and tell the real side of the story.” Interestingly self-titling was actually Derek’s second choice for the title for the record, but he refused to reveal his original choice, saying that it is included somewhere within the record but also that it gives far too much away for him to reveal it now – alongside the fact that he has considered recycling it into another project of his.
“it made us realise that whatever issues we had with each other were not as important as we felt they were.”
Considering that this was their first release since 2015 and the band had taken some time off, the writing process came surprisingly easily to the band. They began by simply just getting into a room together, and apparently in that first session they came up with 15 songs over 3 days, to which Derek’s reaction was simply “Holy shit this is gonna be great!” This break since the last album has been a boost for Defeater, having given them time to breathe and reflect on their career so far and how they want to move forward. The general consensus between the band was that the pause came at the right time for the band to “realise that whatever issues we had with each other were not as important as we felt,” and has led to their most well-rounded album so far.
Of course not all of Defeater’s problems have always been resolved by taking a break, and the removal of former guitarist Jay Maas in 2015 was the culmination of personal problems that were severely affecting the band. Derek was severely worried that the band could have imploded if they hadn’t immediately gone on tour, but their mindset switched to “we keep playing because we aren’t going to let what he did stop us.” And what a comeback they have made with the self-titled album, the spirit of resilience that the band has written about throughout their storyline is also exemplified by their bouncing back from this incident.
Defeater have been around for quite a while, and they’ve grown up while playing in a band and now a lot has happened in their personal lives. Archambault became a father in 2018, the entire band are now much older and potentially a bit wiser, but now the most important thing for them to achieve is a balance between the musical lifestyle and a semblance of normality. For a full time touring band taking time off has been a complete shock to the system but after easing into it Derek reckons “after a few months at home I think everybody really started to enjoy being at home,” and having that time to spend more time with their families which is often a very rare thing for a full time band when taking into account time spent away touring and recording. Now having achieved that balance when it comes to making music and touring “it means that much more to us” and the whole process “feels as natural as possible” as opposed to when it becomes strained after working with music non-stop.
“we were a different band and weren’t just trying to be a flash in a pan.”
Despite the storyline taking place in the post-war era Derek always tries to write from personal experiences such as mental health and loss. Interestingly despite many of the themes being highly topical, he never writes with this in mind – with the possible exception of the homeless nature of the protagonist in the self-titled record, which influenced Derek because of a recent homeless problem in his hometown. One of the few truly political statements that Defeater make is simply the emotional resonance of events they are writing about happening over 70 years ago and yet people can still relate: “All these things we talk about are meant to be statements about the current day.” Addiction is one of major parts of the Defeater storyline since the very first record, and it has been a hugely devastating part of Derek’s life, both personally and within his circle of friends and family. As someone who has personally been sober for over 6 years he has serious opinions on addiction, and his life experience seeing people “constantly chasing that high and figuring out cheaper ways to get high,” and eventually losing people to addiction – a deep topic that constantly rears its head in the Defeater storyline.
Defeater have never been a band to follow trends or do something simply because its cool, there’s always been an element of risk to their sound, with Derek feeling that putting their acoustic track on Travels was the biggest risk of their career, but is one that certainly helped in demonstrating that “we were a different band and weren’t just trying to be a flash in a pan.” Over a decade later Defeater are still going strong after several pan flashes have blown out, of which the band was never lost in those flames.