Cane Hill’s second full-length album, “Too Far Gone” (released in January via Rise Records), is a huge leap forward, showing a band that has grown tremendously since album number one, “Smile” (2016). As you soon will read, that growth wasn’t an easy process, involving a healthy amount of self-reflection brought on by an unhealthy amount of substances. But the New Orleans-based quartet has emerged (relatively) clean and focused, and is set to make major waves in heavy music in 2018. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently spoke to vocalist Elijah Witt to get the details.
LIVE METAL: The new album, “Too Far Gone,” came out last month. I think it’s absolutely amazing. When I listen to it, it sounds like you took what you did with “Smile” and then kind of pushed everything further in every direction. Was that the goal?
ELIJAH WITT: I don’t know if that was necessarily the goal. It was just kind of what happened. When we started writing, it was just whatever came out, came out. In the beginning, it was just a bunch of soft songs. We didn’t really know where we were going with it. It just kind of naturally culminated into a solid progression, I guess.
In one of the press releases that came out, the band is quoted talking about your “dangerously intense romance with LSD.” How much of an impact did that have on this album?
I think it had a great deal, ‘cause what it did is it forced us to reflect on who we were and what we were doing, even if during the process we thought we were just doing it for fun or because we enjoyed what it made us see and feel. But in reality, it stressed us far past our own subconsciousness, and it started taking away the humanity out of our lives and out of our personal selves. Without it, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to tap into the feelings that we needed to, to write this record. It made us consider things about ourselves and about our surroundings that we never had.
Were there specific signs that you needed to stop?
Yeah. I think everybody’s gonna see very specific signs that tell them to stop when they’re abusing some sort of substance. It’s just whether or not you recognize them and take them seriously, or you disregard them. We definitely disregarded them for a while. (laughs) Then we realized that we just needed to stop.
Where in the process of making this album did you stop?
We stopped right before we started writing.
There’s a definite shift in the tone of your lyrics on this album from the previous one, and I think you can see it just in the opening lines of the two albums. On “Smile,” you start off saying, “Naive and oh so confident,” and then on “Too Far Gone,” it’s “Every day I’m awake I almost die.” What happened that made you change so much?
We were just living the lifestyle we preached on “Smile.” I think what that did was really put into perspective how “naive and oh so confident” we all were. It was very telling of what we were gonna do and who we were gonna be after “Smile,” the album. We made a lot of mistakes, man. We went down a lot of bad paths. We did a lot of stupid fucking shit that didn’t put us in the light that we wanted to be in or put us in situations we didn’t want or need to be in. And when you do that for a significant amount of time and you spend so much time reflecting on it through other substances, like we did with acid, it just kind of changes your entire view of yourself and the world around you in an uncontrollable way. It’s neither negative nor positive; it’s more just a simple act of consciousness. There’s a click, and you see yourself from the perspective of a mirror—like you’re watching yourself through a mirror—and you can critique it and analyze it, but you can’t change it, you can’t stop what’s happening. It’s a weird, weird feeling. It kind of haunts you. It stuck with me through all the writing process, it stuck with me through the lyrics, and it sticks with me now. So it’s a lot of what’s on all of our minds all the time.
My favorite song on the album is probably “It Follows.” What is that song about?
That’s a very specific one about that time period. They all kind of relate to different things, but that one encapsulates that entire time period—just that every single path we would go on would just end up in trouble. We were kind of craving the trouble ourselves on purpose in some ways, because it was just so constant. It was one of those things where if we had just sat back and thought, we probably could’ve avoided it. But the trouble just kind of found its way to us, and we found our way to it.
Obviously, these songs are all close to you—they’re about your experiences—but are there any that stand out to you as being your favorites or the most personal?
The ones that are most personal for me are probably “Singing in the Swamp,” “Why” and “The End.” “Singing in the Swamp” and “Why” are kind of related. “Singing in the Swamp” is about me destroying relationships on purpose and finding ways to put whatever chaos I wanted in my life before everyone else. I was self-destructive for whatever reason; my subconscious was telling me I should do it. That was a really fucked up period. Sometimes, I swear to God, I heard voices, which is really fucking weird. But when we went down those paths, it’s kind of what happened.
And then “Why” is the counter to that. I was just entering the relationship that I’m currently in right now that’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. There’s no self-destruction, there’s no toxicity, there’s no jealousy or manipulation in it at all. And James (Barnett), our guitarist, had just gone through a big break-up in a relationship that was toxic, that was dangerous, that was incredibly emotionally consuming. So he was on the polar opposite end of me. I was in the clouds, and he was in the ground. So that song is kind of a juxtaposition of the two at the same time.
And then “The End” is personal to me just because it’s a less angsty and mature take on why I don’t believe in religion and how I feel about the afterlife, which in comparison to my past anti-religious … music, I was just raving, ranting and very teenage-ish, I guess.
With this new material, thematically, being so different from what you’ve done before, has the live show changed in conjunction with it?
That really just depends on whatever tour we’re on. We tend to change our set list to manipulate the crowd into thinking that we are exactly what they want to hear at that moment. If we do a tour that calls for an atmospheric change, then we should play our softer songs, and we do. If there’s a tour where we know that we can be the heaviest … band on it, full of aggression, that’s how that remains, as well.
Are you staying clean out on the road?
We smoke pot. That’s it. All we do.
That’s a big change. What is it like?
We were talking to our friends the other day who recently quit drinking. They way they explained it—I’ve had a hard time putting words to it for some reason—there’s no highs, and there’s no lows. It’s very stable. It’s not exciting, it’s not boring. It is very even level, which I guess is what everybody’s kind of used to, but when you’re in this kind of industry, you’re exposed to day in, day out partying, with what seems like an inhuman ability to get away with it. But ever since we stopped, it’s just been really relaxed—nothing truly exciting, nothing truly abysmal. It’s helped us focus on our music. It’s helped us focus on our live show. It makes us feel that all of our performances are absolutely as peak as they can be, and we’re staying healthy while we’re doing it.
When you’re performing these songs that are about and inspired by these very tumultuous times in your life, are you reliving it up there on stage?
Most of being on stage ends up being a blackout of emotions. It’s not something that I really have any recollection of. I don’t think anyone in the band has much recollection of our last shows while they’re happening. Whatever we’re feeling is very in that moment, and I don’t think it’s very describable. I wouldn’t say it’s nostalgic or a throwback to those feelings. I think it’s just an exertion of those feelings that still remain in us, because I don’t think that they’re gone in any way. I don’t think those feelings are in the past. I think they’re very much still part of us.
You’re out right now with Of Mice & Men. How’s this tour going so far?
It’s been really good. We haven’t played this kind of demographic since we were out with Attila last year. We spent last year doing an older metalcore crowd and older, mainstream rock crowds, so it’s been really nice to revisit this world. We’ve done some substantial growth since the last time we did it, so it’s been enjoyable through and through.
After this run, you’ve got a handful of headline shows and then a couple festivals booked. What else will we see from Cane Hill this year?
Hopefully, just nonstop touring, and if we do stop, we’re gonna be writing. So maybe new music, maybe new tours. We’ll see where it goes.