Spiritbox’s Courtney LaPlante discusses breakout album ‘Eternal Blue’
“I ignore meteoric rise,” vocalist Courtney LaPlante sings on “Sun Killer,” the opening track of Spiritbox’s debut album, Eternal Blue. While there’s probably no better phrase than “meteoric rise” to describe the breakout success the Canadian metal band have experienced in the past year, it’s now impossible to ignore Spiritbox’s sweeping popularity, or their soaring melodies.
Spiritbox—completed by guitarist (and LaPlante’s husband) Michael Stringer, bassist Bill Crook and drummer Zev Rose—started work on their debut album in the spring of 2019. “Everything is so intentional in there because we had so long to think about it,” LaPlante says. “We had two years to obsess over it.”
With shows canceled and recording time pushed back because of the pandemic, Spiritbox released “Holy Roller,” one of Eternal Blue’s heaviest tracks, last year. “Out of frustration, we decided to put out the song that was on our record that was just supposed to be the fun middle track,” LaPlante says. It was accompanied by a Midsommar-esque video that the band made themselves, with Stringer directing and editing. The song now has over 10 million streams on Spotify, with the video amassing 2.9 million views on YouTube. “I couldn’t believe it,” LaPlante says. “It was just a song that we wanted to release our frustration, and then that song basically got us to yesterday—me getting to play that amazing show at Louder Than Life.”
“Holy Roller” was just a small, but mighty, taste of what was to come. Eternal Blue was met with an overwhelming response, coming in at top spots in the charts after its release—13 in the U.S., 19 in the U.K., 8 in Australia, 17 in Germany and 17 in their native Canada, to be exact—an extraordinary feat for a metal band in 2021, let alone on their debut album.
Eternal Blue weaves together LaPlante’s delicate clean vocals with brutally aggressive guitars and otherworldly synths. It’s not just a metal album, though—it’s clear that Spiritbox are inspired by several styles of music. There’s an R&B-inflected groove to “We Live In A Strange World” and a pop flair to “The Summit,” whereas other songs (“Holy Roller,” “Silk In The Strings”) lean much heavier. New-wave and nü-metal influences find their way onto the album as well on songs such as the title track and “Hurt You,” respectively.
“My dream is for people to be really confused and not know which genre to put my band in,” LaPlante says. “Once that happens someday, then I’ll feel like I’ve achieved what I want. I don’t like belonging to any one subgenre because they never belonged to me.”
Last year, the hype started building up. Going into releasing your first record, you were on a lot of most anticipated lists. A lot of people were so excited about this album. How did that feel, getting all that recognition before even having your first album out?
It was weird. It made me freak out. [The hype] made me really nervous because I felt like so much is being projected on us. We are such a baby little band. But it also really made me excited because we had this album ready to go. It just motivated me to never stop trying to record this album because we just kept pushing it back and pushing it back. I think all the hype motivated us to keep working on it and keep making the songs better and stronger instead of just going, “Oh, they’re fine how they are.” We kept analyzing them and demoing them.
I was so physically removed from everything because it’s not like I could go out onstage and see people cheering. So I think it made me be firmly planted in the possibility of what this record could be when it comes out. It made us go, “Wow, we have this one shot. Everything’s been set up for us to hit a home run. So we can’t fuck this up, or it will be an absolute train wreck.”
And you recorded it in Joshua Tree? What was that experience like?
It was really cool. We literally recorded it in a kitchen in an Airbnb in Joshua Tree on a ranch. We got there, and we took all the dining room furniture out. Well, we kept the dining room table there, and we put the recording stuff on top of it, and we just did it there. Of course, we had good equipment. The guy who mixes our stuff and produces it, Dan [Braunstein], lives in Los Angeles, so he brought as much stuff as he could fit into his car out to Joshua Tree.
Honestly, I think that it helped us really focus on writing because there were no distractions. Where we were, there’s nothing to do. We were on a 20-acre property, and there were no people around. We love coming to L.A., but when we’re there, there’s always someone [who] wants to pop by and say hi to us or stop by the studio.
I think we were able to focus better because we were so isolated. Something about the record feels very dusty [Laughs.], like the valley. There was a layer of dust on everything that we owned. I felt like that’s what the music sounds like, too.
From what I’ve seen and talking to other people and even listening to the album myself, I feel like there’s such a strong connection to it. I was interested to hear what your thoughts were on that, if you had any ideas why people are connecting so strongly to it?
Michael is my favorite guitar player and songwriter ever, so I’m a little biased, obviously. I think instrumentally, all the layers of guitar and bass and drums and all the synths, they sound very human to me. All [Michael’s] guitar parts to me sound like somebody crying. It sounds like someone in pain or sad, which sounds awful, but I mean that in the best way possible.
I think also that a lot of the heavy music that we like, it’s very full throttle and high octane, the way that everyone sings. The way that I feel most comfortable singing most of the time, the way that I feel like I can best express my voice, is to sing a little bit more understated. So I think the contrast of how heavy and low-tuned our stuff is mixed with my more self-reflective way of singing—because that’s just the pitch where my voice feels the most comfortable and the most me—I think it gives [it] a very vulnerable vibe.
I think a lot of the heavy music that I listen to is very aggressively confident. I think there’s a bit of vulnerability in the songs. That’s what I take away from it. It’s just one of those things where I think it’s going to take me a long time to figure out why people like it. [Laughs.] I don’t know yet.
I think vulnerability is an interesting point because even the lyrics are so vulnerable. Even a line like “I am happier when I hurt you”—that’s such a powerful and difficult thing to admit, and you do that in the chorus of the song.
I’ve just been really attracted to any artist that feels like they’re bringing a different perspective to our genre of music, where you can just feel it in the way that they’re singing. Even if you don’t see them, and you can’t visually see that they may look like you, you can hear [it] in their voice, and somehow it makes you feel like they understand you. Those are the artists that I really like.
Our genre is very dominated by men, and it’s overwhelmingly white. I think that more diversity in it will strengthen it up and make it more relevant because I think the major thing that we’re lacking in it is diversity. I know people use diversity like it’s a token thing, but I just think that it seems like more people that used to not feel like they could make this or be accepted in this type of music like myself—where I’ve been under the assumption that I wasn’t going to be accepted forever, and a lot of my peers felt the same way—I feel like we’re willingly coming into the fold now and carving our own thing within it.
Yeah, I think that’s a good point, too. I definitely was super excited to have this huge metal release with a woman singing, and I felt very seen by that fact, too.
One of the reasons I make music [and] I started doing this type of stuff is when I heard the band that I had joined, Iwrestledabearonce. Because I had never heard a female vocalist that I felt—without ever meeting her or seeing what she looked like or anything; I could just tell by hearing her voice—I heard what I was trying to do in it, and it really excited me because I just hadn’t been exposed to anything like that.
Obviously, there are just so many women that we’ve built off the backs of… I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and I cannot express how much it has changed. I think that’s going to make it so that more people like me feel more—even though everyone should feel deserving—I think that they’ll feel more deserving of a seat at the table because it really has changed.
I’m shocked now, when someone says something really misogynistic or sexist to me, because I know people will always think that stuff. But the world has changed enough in a way where at least they’re starting to feel self-conscious. Then other people, even if they’re not of the same gender as me, they feel comfortable calling those people out, either educating them or defending, even if they’re a guy or they’re not female-presenting. They still feel passionate about it. So it’s been really cool.
I wanted to talk about what you were saying earlier about Michael’s songwriting because I do feel like your music is so emotive. The music itself is so intricate and layered, and then your voice is so emotional, too. It’s like you don’t even need lyrics. You could just listen to it and not pay attention to the lyrics and feel so strongly.
That’s how I write. I write the melody first, and then the lyrics just show themselves, like a puzzle, little by little. Because to me, the phonetics are so much more important than the actual lyric. The lyric needs to create itself around how something is phonetically pleasing. That’s how I like to write.
There’s a lot of emotion in it because I think that you’re hearing musicians that were so obsessed with being technically proficient that we all lost sight of everything good about playing music. We just got so caught up in “How novelty, heavy, crazy, shreddy can this be?” in our old music. I’m like, “Did I write a good song? Or did I just write a series of parts of a song that [are] strung together?” I think something clicked where Michael decided to focus all that energy that he had been focusing on being this guitar shredder into just creating good music.
I’m not competing with anything. We’re just supporting one another in the song, which I’ve never had before. I’ve always been in crazy noodling bands, with all this shit going on, and I’m just along for the ride.
You can read the full interview in issue 399, available here.