Are you ready to be mesmerized? No, really. Northlane’s new record Mesmer has exactly that intention, starting with the fact that the band decided to surprise release the album. So why try to pull a Beyoncé?
According to guitarist Josh Smith, it’s not just for the shock value, but for the fans. “We kind of felt like we owed it to our fans who have been supporting us,” he says, “to give them the record the moment they knew about it rather than make them wait. We just wanted them to be able to hear it straight away.”
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Mesmer is a lot to take in in one sitting. It’s the next chapter of Northlane’s insatiable desire to ask big questions about the human experience. To that end, they reached back into the past for inspiration. The record actually got its name from the 18th century physician Franz Anton Mesmer (and yes, that is where the word “mesmerize” comes from). Mesmer was the first person to be associated with the concept of hypnosis, but that wasn’t his goal. He developed a theory called “animal magnetism” that claimed a person’s health was determined by their internal magnetism, positive or negative.
While Mesmer ended up being quite the laughingstock of the medical community and denounced as a fraud, the concept of animal magnetism intrigued the members of Northlane so much that they made a record out of it. “While it’s been debunked,” Smith comments, “I thought [the theory] was really interesting. It obviously also has the connotation of being mesmerized. The record kind of started with a lot of songs about existential topics.” The song “Heartmachine,” for instance, finds itself at the center of these existential concepts, trying to negotiate the meaning of the human heart being a complex, biomechanical object, while at the same time being the source of human feeling. It is at this point where theoretical inquiry meets human emotion that we find the true meaning of Mesmer.
While the record reflects on topics that reach far beyond the individual, it also burrows into the personal lives of the band members. “We personally experienced loss during the writing process in our inner circle,” Smith continues, “and that prompted us to take the direction of writing songs that were more of a personal nature; something real we were experiencing at the time.” Vocalist Marcus Bridge adds, “We were a lot more open when it came to writing lyrics and we were able to touch on more personal stuff. I feel more comfortable doing that [now]. I guess in the past it’s always been something I’ve been afraid to do.”
The end result was personal growth, confidence and a version of Northlane that was better able to relate to one another.
“He kind of broke us a bit to build us back up again,” Smith says. “I don’t think we would’ve been capable of conveying the emotions through these songs without that push over the edge from him. Of Mice & Men warned us, but we didn’t listen,” he adds with a laugh.
The legendary producer used some strange but insightful tactics to get Northlane ready to record Mesmer. “The first day, to kind of figure out the dynamic in our group, he asked us to pick up an object on the floor of the studio without using our hands,” Smith shares. “He taught us more about ourselves in five minutes than we were able to figure out in five years. Who makes the decisions, who feels like they can’t speak up, who the ringleaders are…”
The end result was personal growth, confidence and a version of Northlane that was better able to relate to one another. What the fans get out of it is an album that is heavier, more psychedelic and more varied than the band’s previous releases. “[Mesmer] is a pretty true representation of where Northlane’s headed,” Bridge says. And that destination seems to be the intersection of imagination and experience.