Interview: CNTS

Getting to reclaim our band and our potential feels about as good as anything can feel. 

Thoughts & Prayers, the latest album on Ipecac from LA hardcore punk firebrands CNTS is an album that may not have happened had events transpired differently due to a car accident that the band’s vocalist Matt Cronk was involved in that left him unable to speak and, obviously, sing. Thankfully, Matt made a remarkable recovery and came back reinvigorated with CNTS and this is personified on the fiery nature of Thoughts & Prayers. Ahead of the release of the album, Gavin Brown caught up with both Matt Cronk and CNTS guitar player Michael Craine to hear about the new album in depth, the return of CNTS and how catharsis fuelled the album’s power.

E&D: Your new album Thoughts & Prayers is out very soon. How does it feel for CNTS to back with this album and what can we expect this time around?

Matt: It feels incredible! Our last record came out in 2019 and we were able to do one short tour before the lockdown, so we never really got to go out and tour as we had hoped. After lockdown I was injured and was out of commision for a long time, not knowing if or when I would ever be able to sing again. Now that I’m healed up and we have a new record we are thrilled to get after it. So, barring any unforeseen global tragedies, you can expect to see us on the road, working our asses off. 

Michael: We’re ecstatic. We worked so damn hard making this record. I, in particular locked myself in the studio for days on end ignoring other (paying) work watching my bank account dwindle to nothing and my anxiety go through the roof. But as any artist will tell you, when you believe in something you have to go all in or don’t go at all. The listener can expect choruses on this record. Lot’s of parts to sing along to.

E&D: You’ve brought out a couple of tracks from the album so far, what has the reaction to the new music been like so far?

Matt: So far it’s been really positive. We made a concerted effort to write simpler songs with hooks and choruses and people seem to like them. 

Michael: I think it’s been good but I can’t really tell. I just keep pushing forward and never look back. Which might be part of my problem in life.

E&D: There were some dark times prior to making this album with Matt’s accident. Was there a chance that the band might have had to call it a day?

Matt: Yes, in fact we did call it a day. We had tried to carry on, trying a different singer, moving me to guitar, etc, but nothing was working. The thing with my voice was the doctors told me there was a good chance it would never come back or, if it did, it would likely take years. So after a couple months with no improvement we announced we were done. It ended up taking about seven months for my voice to start to come back. Within a couple months of that we decided to give it another shot and it worked. 

Michael: We absolutely called it a day. It was more than Matt’s accident. It was like the Universe was telling us to do something else so we all started doing other stuff. We started a recording project called COWARDS, Matt started a project with Stu Brooks and Paul Christiansen called FAKE LEGS, and I was recruited to play lead guitar for FIDLAR for their comeback.

E&D: Was making this album a cathartic experience for the band because of that and how does it feel to be making music as CNTS again?

Matt: Yes, it certainly was! We (along with the rest of the world) had all been through a lot in the years since our first record and we never had a chance to realize our potential. When we called it quits after my accident I was left feeling pretty hopeless. My recovery, however, seemed to coincide with several other factors in all of our lives that made it apparent the time was right to give it another shot. Getting to reclaim our band and our potential feels about as good as anything can feel. 

Michael: It was nothing short of an exorcism. We love playing as CNTS. We get to be complete dorks and have fun with your friends. 

E&D: Do the songs on the album reflect those dark times?

Matt: They sure do. A lot of the lyrics were inspired by my personal struggles but I also tried to write about things in a relatable way, certainly more so than I ever have. For my part, I have always had a tendency to write very oblique and pedantic lyrics. I’m not always comfortable with “A+B+C”, but I made an effort to just say what I’m trying to express more literally and I’m pretty happy with it. I had a lot of help from the other guys. We all contribute.

Michael: Yes, absolutely. Matt really dug deep on his lyrical content. He delved into some uncomfortable territory and we both love the results.

E&D: What music were you listening to when you were making Thoughts & Prayers?

Matt: So much different stuff. I find myself listening to a lot of classic rock; ZZ Top, Zeppelin, Stones, AC/DC. The Ramones are a constant with me, too. I’ve been enjoying the new remix version of The Replacements’ TimRun The Jewels 4, Jason Isbell, Napalm Death – Time Waits For No Slave, Raw Power, Butthole Surfers, The Chronic

Michael: I referenced the fuck out of early AC/DC. High Voltage in particular. In all times of indecision or turmoil I’d ask myself, “what would Malcom and Angus do?”

E&D: Can you tell us about the album cover for Thoughts & Prayers and why you chose that image?

Matt: We were out shooting content and happened upon the burning car in East LA so we jumped out and shot video in front of it. The photo is a still from that. We chose it for the cover because it looks cool and it’s funny, playing up my being injured. I mean, what’s cooler than fire and explosions? 

Michael: I think that was my stupid idea. I think we just thought it was funny and slightly off putting. 

E&D: Was making the video for ‘Smart Mouth’ as fun as it looks?

Matt: It actually was! Personally, I always hate making videos, for any number of reasons, but mostly I find having to lip synch and thrash around in mock-ecstacy to be humiliating. It makes me feel like an idiot. However, this shoot was really fun. Great director, great crew, and we got no static from anyone. It was nothing short of miraculous. At every location we used, everyone we encountered was cool. At our first location, a cop car rolled up and we were bracing for whatever shit they were gonna give us but they asked what we were doing and just said, “cool!” They actually got out of our way to let us finish our shot. The whole day was like that, nothing but good vibes. I was shocked. 

Michael: It was super fun. We just piled into a van with our friend Meriel and her crew and were like “let’s shoot there, and there, and there”. 

 

E&D: Is this new album even angrier than your first record?

Matt: I’m not sure exactly how to quantify that. I suppose the anger is more focussed. Like the song, ‘Thoughts And Prayers’, I wanted to express how I feel when I get into a deep funk. I’m not an unhappy person but I do have a dark side that can get the better of me and my thoughts can get pretty ugly. I wrote about that without trying to be clever, just saying what I’m thinking. There is a lot of joy and catharsis in spewing bile sometimes. 

Michael: I think it’s just more well thought out with better song craft. 

E&D: Have you ever had any backlash because of the band’s name?

Matt: Yeah, a bit. But what are ya gonna do? I hate to get into some trite discussion about, “you can’t say anything anymore, blah, blah blah”. We live in a time when people are out searching for outrage like they’re panning for gold. It’s like a new form of entertainment. I will say that if you just can’t stand that we, a punk band, have a name you don’t like, we’re pretty easy to avoid. It’s not as if we’re winning Grammys or playing the Super Bowl halftime show. In fact, that vast majority of people have never even heard of us. Go hang out with them. 

Michael: Absolutely. It nearly destroyed us in the States. The algorithm on Instagram and Facebook won’t allow us to even write or say it anymore. The writing was on the wall so to speak.

E&D: What are some of your favourite other offensive band names or albums?

Matt: I guess people were offended by The Butthole Surfers and I love them. I mean, people were up in arms about Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols. I have always loved poor taste. Big Black’s Songs About Fucking, The Dwarves’ Blood Guts and Pussy (hilarious title and even funnier album cover), GG Allin’s whole catalogue is pretty funny. There was a shitty punk band in the 90s called John Cougar Concentration Camp that made me chuckle. David Yow told me about a band that opened for The Jesus Lizard called The Diarrhea Of Anne Frank. Some friends of mine were in an all-girl band called Coup D’twat. I feel like I’m forgetting some great ones but this is all I can think of at the moment. 

Michael: Songs About Fucking – Big Black. The Dwarves’ Blood Guts and Pussy and everything from GG Allin.

E&D: Who is the biggest cunt that you have ever encountered?

Matt: Biggest? I could write a book… The first name that comes to mind is my eighth grade english teacher, Mrs. Kuretzky. I hated her even more than she hated me. 

Michael: My now deceased Stepdad.

E&D: How did your shows with OFF! go last year and what were some of the highlights?

Matt: It was a lot of fun! We’ve known those guys for a long time and, of course, have a world of respect and admiration for them. We were extremely grateful to be asked to play with them. 

Michael: It was amazing. I love those guys. Just getting to share the stage with those dudes is honourable enough.  

E&D: What have been some of the most memorable CNTS live shows you’ve done so far?

Matt: Opening for Mr Bungle was certainly a favourite. Really, every night that we toured with the Melvins back in 2020 was killer. On that tour we played at Slim’s in San Francisco. That was a fun night. There was a phalanx of belligerent people in the front row who seemed like they were there specifically to hate us, palpably hostile. We went out and did our thing and seemed to win them over. Our first show last year, after all the tumult, was a great night. We’re so happy to be back at it. 

Michael: The shows with the Melvins right before the pandemic were some of the best by far. Their fans loved us.

E&D: What’s the best live show that you’ve ever witnessed in terms of sheer ferocity?

Matt: Easy. The Jesus Lizard, Cows, and Six Finger Satellite, at First Avenue in Minneapolis in 1996. My first time seeing the Jesus Lizard and I’ve never really recovered from it.

Michael: That’s a great question. It’d have to be back in the 1990’s with the noise rock era I think. Or actually I saw Korn and the Deftones at the Whiskey A Go Go in LA in 1995 or 96 I think. I didn’t know who they were and they absolutely fucking destroyed that place.

E&D: What are your touring plans when Thoughts & Prayers comes out and will you be making it over to the UK and Europe?

Matt: We will be touring the US this spring and into summer, with hopes to do more later in the year. As of now, the plan is to go over to UK/EU late this year or early next year. Can’t wait.

Michael: I’m hoping as early as November/December this year. 

E&D: Have you had any thoughts about further CNTS material at all at the moment?

Matt: We’re working on the next batch of songs. We are constantly writing new music.

Michael: Yes actually. We are already starting to lay the groundwork for another release.  

E&D: Have any of your other bands got any music coming in 2024?

Matt: I don’t think so, not this year. My band, Qui, is writing a new record and will be recording in fits and starts as it comes together. Hopefully that will see the light of day next year. We always have irons in the fire, so to speak, but I don’t know what, if anything, is coming this year.

Michael: We are going to self release the COWARDS LP we did during the pandemic and Matt and I started doing Sade covers that Mike Patton wants to sing. That’s about it I think.

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