Heavy Steps is the band’s first release in nearly five years since their 2017 record Outsider. It finds the band treading into heavier ground sonically and upping the production value, all while retaining their signature brand of metallic hardcore paired with anthemic choruses.
Forming over 20 years ago in 2000 in Winnipeg, Canada, Comeback Kid have consistently put out groundbreaking and genre-defining records. As a constantly evolving band, Heavy Steps is no exception, with an emphasis on making sure that the music, while heavy and aggressive at its core, cannot stay one-dimensional. Comeback Kid dial in and focus on the bigger moments, incorporating new sounds and introducing a level of artistic restraint when needed. The result is a record that shows a band that sounds fresh, innovative and exciting as ever with still so much left to say.
Leading up to the release, the band dropped a series of urgent and chaotic singles, ranging from the album’s title track, a song that vocalist Andrew Neufeld describes as being about “the fragility of life,” to the venomous, unrelenting “Crossed,” which features guest vocals from Joe Duplantier of the French metal group Gojira.
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We sat down with vocalist and songwriter Neufeld to discuss the lyrical content behind their long-awaited seventh full-length, incorporating new elements to the band’s already distinct sound, the state of modern hardcore music and more.
Heavy Steps is your first release in nearly five years. How does it feel to finally be releasing new material after a considerable amount of time since the last record?
It probably would have taken even longer if the tours we had lined up weren’t canceled [due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic], but that also stopped us in our tracks to get the record written and recorded. We’ve had this in the bag for so long already. It’s crazy how long it takes, from recording to actually getting out and on vinyl, and we wanted to make sure that the physical aspect came out with the record. Finally, people can hear it, and we can move on. [Laughs.]
Because you had the time to really sit with the writing and recording process with less of a rush, how did that inform the creation of this record, both lyrically and sonically?
We were able to craft it the way we wanted to. There was lots of discussion about the kind of songs that we wanted to write. Lyrically, that takes the longest out of anything, so it was good to have the time to hone that in. The funny thing is that we definitely leaned into some of the nostalgic-feeling stuff, and that was on purpose. People always say we do not veer too far off what Comeback Kid is.
It’s funny that you mention that because while there are those nostalgic elements, to me, this feels like the most modern-sounding Comeback Kid release to date.
100%, we juiced up the production element on it. We chose to work with [engineer] Will Putney [Knocked Loose, Counterparts] to mix the record this time. We always felt like we never had the tone we were looking for guitar-wise, and it’s always been this eternal search. Will reamped the guitars with a bunch of different amplifiers, and one that shot out for us was this company from our hometown called Revv Amplification, and it sounded so sick for the heavier tones.
Will immediately killed it on the drums as well, and we knew that he was going to be mixing it, so we wrote the songs leaning into that. Every time I’m working with anyone notable and know that before writing, I usually write to that a little bit more. What I like about the whole mix, in general, is that yeah, it’s edited and modern production, but you can still hear the slides of the guitars and a lot of stuff that’s very loose sounding but still carefully put together. You can still hear the greasiness of the record. With the vocal production, we also really pushed it this time and had more fun with it than we had before with previous records.
I think it’s important to note how consistent Comeback Kid have been able to incorporate an almost pop sensibility with a lot of the song arrangements and hooks that other bands in your genre may not. Where did this approach to songwriting come from?
Sometimes we’re trying to hide it a bit. Sometimes we call the choruses “sugary,” and with this record, we tried to stay away from a “sugary chorus.” The purist in us has to shine a bit to have the two sides of the coin, to pay attention to where if it is too sugary, maybe we need to pull back a little more. There’s a B-side on the record that I pulled back on because it was a little too poppy, so maybe we are very aware of that. Sometimes it’s fun, though, and I will even challenge myself to write a couple of songs in a major key, which is something hardcore bands never do. [Laughs.]
We’re trying to do what we do but still do it differently as well. I get so lost in records, especially heavy records where it’s one long wave through a whole record with not too many peaks and valleys. I guess the only trick we have is to almost subtract instruments from parts or really dial in certain parts. We really want to be able to focus on what the feature of the song is and the moments that we want to be remembered because it’s so easy with such aggressive and fast music to sound like one thick layer all the way through.
Jumping off that, with how distinct your vocal style is and seeing how it’s informed so many current vocalists in heavy music, I think your contributions to the genre are not documented nearly enough as they should be. For example, when listening to a record like Sempiternal by Bring Me The Horizon, I can immediately hear elements of your distinct style in the melodies and vocal inflections that frontman Oli Sykes chose.
Well, [Oli Sykes] told me that. Bring Me The Horizon took my other band Sights & Sounds on the Sempiternal tour in Europe, and he told me that, at that the time, some of his biggest vocal inspirations were Chester Bennington and me. I haven’t connected with him too much as a friend, but he took my virtually unknown band on their album release at that time, and after that, they got really massive. That was a time and place, but really a testament of them being into the music. Hilariously enough, Jordan Fish from the band actually recorded the vocals for a song called “Full Swing” on our record Die Knowing in a cloakroom of an Italian venue on that same tour. [Laughs.]
What was your headspace like when penning the lyrics for this record? While I can certainly catch the heaviness or darkness of the lyrics, there still feels like this playful element behind it as well.
I feel like there is a desperate feeling — I hear desperation in the lyrics and vocal performances, but in struggle and desperation, you can also laugh at yourself during those times, and that’s presented in the lyrics, too. I can be going through something that’s really affecting me, but I can still drag myself and have a laugh a little bit about it. For the album name Heavy Steps and the song, in particular, it was a cool spark moment where it talks about the fragility of life and how fast we are moving and pivoting and how easily the floor could fall under our feet, so it’s a bit of a caution to the wind and “come test me” moment.
Also, when I talk about the music, it’s because I really fucking need this. We all have our little vices to get through, and it’s the same as any other Comeback Kid record, to be honest, and just trying to get through and talk about things that are hard. There’s this feeling of gratification when you get these things off your chest, and when I listen back and have those emotional moments, it helps articulate to yourself what you are feeling. It’s an empowering moment, and that’s the great thing about music.
My buddy died while we were making this record, too, and it was crazy because it felt like he was talking to us on this song on the record called “Everything Relates.” His name is SK [Sean Kennedy], and he played in that band Deez Nuts, and we were able to transpose a guitar riff that he wrote and put it into our song to tie it all together. When someone dies, you find those pieces that you can tie together, so that was another really special moment on the record. It was an emotional time in the studio, definitely.
Switching gears, there really seems to be new and exciting energy behind hardcore music right now, with these younger bands creating really passionate and groundbreaking music for the genre. In many ways, the scene and genre itself have never felt healthier. Would you agree? And what do you make of the current chapter of modern hardcore music?
Definitely, I feel like it’s one of the more exciting times in hardcore. I’m always really into checking out new bands, especially now since shows have come back and you see who’s playing out and stuff. One big shoutout I’d like to give is the label Flatspot Records, who are really doing it right, and I love a lot of the bands on the label. They’ve got Scowl and Zulu, who we just took on tour and are really exciting bands. I also just saw SECTION H8 in LA, and I feel like they could be the next Power Trip. There’s also this band from the Pacific Northwest called Punitive Damage that I really like and XL LIFE from the U.K. who I think are going to explode really soon. These are the bands that are really jazzing me up right now.
Being over two decades in writing and touring with Comeback Kid, what does it mean to you to still be putting out records and pushing the band further with no plans of slowing down? In other words, what has kept the passion alive for all these years and continuing the legacy?
For us, it’s definitely about the sense of community within this band, not only with ourselves but in our own city and across Canada. Being so spread out across Canada, every show feels like a hometown show. I look back on it all and feel very happy and thankful. To speak on the legacy, I don’t know. It’s hard because it’s still happening for me, so I’m not reflecting too often. A lot of people want us to reflect on the past, but I’m not really looking back often because I’m still right here, and this matters just as much as it did then.
In 2022, what else can we expect from the band in terms of additional releases or any other creative projects that may be in the works?
This is the most collaborative time for us and the biggest time where we’ve stepped out of our usual comfort zone. Even just the love that we put into making the videos, and doing a lot of it DIY as well, we’ve never spent so much time with the visuals before. Our newest video “Face The Fire” documents the last five months, festival appearances and just shit that I collected.
Right now, this is the era of collaboration, and we have so many listeners and supporters that grew up listening to us who are now in positions where they have creative projects that they want to work with us on like clothing brands, drinks and little fun things. We’re actually going to make a guitar pedal with Revv Amps and call it the “Heavy Step” pedal. I’m so excited about that, and I want to be an ambassador for them. [Laughs.] Usually, we put out a record, and it’s just a lot of touring, but now we’re trying to seek these kinds of things out and support our friends and do cool projects.