INTERVIEW: Elijah Witt of CANE HILL (February 2019)

Cane Hill’s self-described year-long “romance with LSD” yielded its superb second full-length album, “Too Far Gone” (review), released in January 2018. And while that year was a dark period in the band members’ lives, now that they’ve moved past it, it’s the gift that keeps giving. Emotions that didn’t have an outlet on the heavier material for which the band has become known helped inspire the new experimental, semi-acoustic EP, “Kill the Sun” (review), released in January 2019. When Cane Hill’s tour supporting Sevendust came to Rams Head Live in Baltimore, Maryland, Live Metal’s Greg Maki met up with frontman Elijah Witt before the show to discuss the new record, cartoons, disapproving middle-aged moms and more.

LIVE METAL: I follow you and the band on all the social media stuff, so I wanted to ask you about a few things you tweeted in the past week. You said a few days ago, “No one ever wants to interview us about our favorite cartoons and that’s pretty lame.” So here we are, let’s have it. What are your favorite cartoons?

Elijah Witt of Cane Hill

ELIJAH WITT: I knew that would get it! ‘90s cartoons, in general, are my personal favorite. I grew up with “Rocket Power” and “Ed, Edd n Eddy” and “CatDog”—a bunch of fuckin’ weird cartoons. When you revisit them, it’s fucked up. And then “King of the Hill” is my shit.

I like those weird ones. The ‘90s had the best animation, I guess. Everything was very surreal. None of the forms were anatomically correct. I remember this one episode of “Doug” back in the day. You always wondered why cartoons wore the same outfit every day, and then “Doug” went super meta and showed you Doug’s closet, and it was all the same outfit every day.

So ‘90s cartoons are my shit.

We’ve been watching a lot of anime recently—most specifically, “Dragon Ball Z.” We’ve been getting through all the sagas again, which we used to do back when “Toonami” was the shit on Cartoon Network—this late night, super teenager fuckin’ based shit where it’s all anime and kind of violent cartoons. So yeah, cartoons are sick.

My wife and her brother have gotten me into some anime stuff, which I never thought would happen, but some of it is pretty cool.

It’s a very deep world. Once you dive in, there’s just so much. I still don’t know 90 percent of it. Anime is deep. And the people that love anime are deeply into it.

Another thing you said the other day is “I’m a big fan of the idea of covering a Disturbed song.”

I am indeed.

Any one in particular?

“Stricken,” “Ten Thousand Fists.” We could cover one of their covers, just cover a Disturbed cover of “Shout.” (laughter) Honestly, like 90 percent of their songs are solid gold, so I don’t have a personal choice, just a Disturbed song.


Another one that I guess was about the first few shows of this tour, you were saying the moms were not happy with you. What’s the story there?

Right, right. Every day, Ryan (Henriquez) will come off stage, our bassist, and he’ll be like, “Yeah, so today I had another fuckin’ pissed off, 60-year-old mother just staring at me, wondering what we’re doing on stage.” These conservative mothers, man. I walked into the bar at the House of Blues New Orleans show, and as I’m walking out, I hear this 50-year-old woman scream, “Then Cane Hill comes on, with all the cussing and saying doodoo!” Verbatim, for what it’s worth. I’m not putting things in her mouth either. This fully grown-ass woman said the word doodoo. So I don’t know. The ultra-religious, Southern mothers with their bob cuts needing to speak to the manager don’t like us very much.

On this tour, you kind of stand out a little bit. The other bands are more rock.

Well, Sevendust is heavy as fuck. Tremonti’s got metal-as-hell riffs; it’s the vocals that aren’t as metal, I guess.

And he’s got a fan base that’s probably not as into the super heavy stuff.

cr18_canehill_9Super religious fan base, I would say, yes—Creed. (laughs) He was in Creed; that’s cool shit. But yeah, Lullwater and Kirra start it off every night, and they’re super Southern rock kind of vibes. And then that’s kind of, I guess, where the shock comes in when we come on stage, ‘cause we go straight for the fuckin’ guttural. So I don’t know, yeah. People are probably super weirded out when we come on. But it’s still a metal show. Sevendust is as metal as they come.

Speaking of religion, you’re an atheist, right?

I am indeed.

And then on Twitter, you go by “JESUS CHRIST.”

I do indeed.

What’s going on there?

I did that when I got verified, ‘cause I thought it would be funny to have a check mark next to JESUS CHRIST. And that is the whole story. (laughter) Still think it’s funny. My mom hates it.

I love that it’s in all caps.

Oh yeah, just put it really in your face. I get a lot of very questionable followers from what appears to be South African missionaries. They don’t realize.

Aside from the middle-aged moms, how’s this tour going so far?

It’s actually going really well, ‘cause aside from the middle-aged moms, everybody else seems to really dig it. Like I said, Sevendust is heavy, so I think a lot of the people that come here are super, deeply ingrained metal fans, and hearing us come on with our influences ranging back to probably what they grew up on—we fuckin’ love blasting out Metallica or Pantera mid-set, Black Sabbath. I think that really helps us, because these people grew up on what has influenced us to make our music. You’ll see Slipknot shirts everywhere. It’s weird when a Slipknot shirt guy is not into it. I’ve seen that, and I was like, “You haven’t heard what we’re compared to, have you?” But it’s been overall really, really good.

mail-1-1So the new album, new EP, “Kill the Sun”—

Very Slipknot inspired. (laughter)

But yeah, a big change in direction.

Yeah, curveball.

Was there something specific that pushed you that way, or was it you just wanting to develop and expand?

Artistic expression, my friend. We would be very bored if we wrote the same thing over and over again. After doing so much LSD as we did, there was a lot of sadness inside of us, as you could imagine. I’d say 90 percent were not the happiest experiences in our lives. I would rate our year of acid as probably the darkest period in my existence, so there was a lot of stuff to write about that wasn’t necessarily angry or aggressive. It was much more reflective and depressing, which I think I fucking flourish in, ‘cause I’m a depressed son of a bitch.

So yeah, it was just kind of us trying to have fun, do what we want, keep people on their toes and create this platform or historical bed of our band, where no matter what we decide to do, nobody’s gonna be super caught off guard and want to beat us with sticks for selling out. It’s like, “No, no, no, we told you we were gonna do this six years ago. We’re gonna do it again now.”

Do you plan to continue exploring this direction?

I don’t know. I really don’t have a clue. Until recently, I thought we would be going into the studio and doing something really heavy. But the more we talk about it, the more I think we just kind of want to get weirder and weirder—not necessarily in an acoustic way but just strange metal.

Lyrically and musically, this is a very vulnerable album. Was there any kind of hesitation or doubts before doing that?

Yeah. I think anyone who opens himself up in such a transparent way is gonna have doubts about whether or not it’s comfortable for them to do or a good idea to do. But we’ve always kind of prided ourselves on being really honest with our music and not holding anything back, because it’s just gonna hinder us and hinder the art that we’re trying to make if we’re not as genuine as we can be. So when it really came down to it, it wasn’t that hard to do, ‘cause we kind of already expected that’s what we’d have to do. So it was just making sure we were conveying it accurately and as emotive as possible.

Going through this process, did you learn anything about yourself or your bandmates?

No, acid made us learn all that. So we learned all that previously. This was all very well discussed up until this point.

Did you know (drummer) Devin (Clark) could play saxophone?

That was new! That’s a really fair point, yeah. We did not know Devin could play saxophone.

How did he hide it?

He just never brought a saxophone around. And then we were listening to the new Plot in You album, and Bring Me the Horizon had put out “That’s the Spirit” with a saxophone, and we were like “That’s a good idea. Saxophones are super sexy. Bring a saxophone in.” Devin put his hand up and was like, “I played saxophone before I played drums.”

As soon as he said that, you were like, “That’s going on the album.”

Yeah, we bought a $200 fuckin’ used saxophone from some dude in a Starbucks parking lot, and it turned out spectacularly.

Do you have any plans to play these songs live? I’m sure they don’t really fit into a set like this.

No, they don’t fit in yet. The whole consensus for playing these live is that we want to make sure that it’s very good. We don’t want to half-ass it. We don’t want to show up and give people this fraction of what it could be while they’re still spending a whole amount of money. And what that takes for us is a little bit more equipment and a little bit more time, because we don’t want all of our electronic sounds coming out of a fucking computer. We want to play them, make sure that it’s a full-on experience. We can’t do it in a fucking coffee shop. We can’t do it without a P.A. We need a very planned-out ordeal to make this happen. But it’s definitely something we do want to make happen before we continue putting out more music. Our plan is: Play “Kill the Sun” live, then think about other music later.

You’ve really put out a lot of content in the past year or so—”Too Far Gone,” the live album, “Kill the Sun.” Do you want to and think you can keep going at that pace?

Nah. We definitely want to, but we also want to make sure what we do after “Kill the Sun” lives up to what “Kill the Sun” is to us, because as creative and explorative and weird as it was—and well put together, in our opinion—we know that we’ve set a very high bar for what we’re capable of doing, and we’d like to surpass it. So that might take a solid amount of time.

All the reviews I’ve seen have been glowing. How important is that to you?

Super important. I really don’t want people listening to it and saying it’s bad. We were surprised by all the positive responses, because we expected people to full-on be like, “Cane Hill is a bunch of idiots. What the fuck did they just do? This is terrible.” Because when you make something, you’re automatically gonna like it. You’re like, “This is good. I made this.” Look at every mother with their ugly baby. They love that little thing, but it looks like a tarantula mixed with a gargoyle. And that’s what our EP was to us—a tarantula mixed with a gargoyle.

But having all of these publications that we know and read when we were kids—like Kerrang and Alternative Press, Metal Hammer, Revolver—say that it was at least good, that’s pretty fuckin’ sick, and that has a lot of influence over what people are gonna be willing to even listen to. If Kerrang said it was utter trash, I don’t know if a bunch of little British kids are gonna listen to it. But they liked it, so they did.

But then think about that Alt Press gave, I’m pretty sure it was Rob Zombie’s first album, a one-star review, and look at that guy now. So do reviews matter? I don’t know. Do I want them to matter? Yes, very much.

DL2019_5048_EnterShikari_MASTER-POSTER-1000px-04-900x1260You’re going back over to Europe, and you’re playing Download on the main stage.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s pretty sick.

Are you gonna break out anything special for that?

(laughs) I don’t know. When we were on tour with Bury Tomorrow, they were like, “Yeah, when we played main stage (of) Download, we definitely built a wall of cabs just for that day, and it was ridiculous and worth every penny.” OK, so how much does pyro cost? Can we get fire the first set of the day on Sunday? So I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just gonna go in really, really raw and think, “Aw, yeah, this is the good way to do it. Flashiness is overrated.” But that’s really just our wallets being empty. Who knows?

The last time I talked to you was right before the headline tour last fall, your first headline tour. How did it go?

It was really good. It was nice being able to play specifically for our fans—not have to go into it with the mentality “I’ve got a win all these fuckers over,” which I think definitely gave it a different vibe. And since they were so intimate, it was already a pretty different vibe. So I’m excited to do it again—maybe bigger, maybe better. But good experience.

That’s about all the questions I have.

Well, they were excellent questions, man.

Anything else you want to say?

No, that was good.



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