The Cover Story

Spiritbox: “We’re still figuring out what we are, and I don’t even know if I want to find out”

Two whirlwind years since debut album Eternal Blue, Spiritbox are rolling into the UK stronger than ever with a sold-out tour ahead of them. Barely taking time to breathe, Courtney LaPlante is finally taking time to reflect on their stratospheric rise, the lessons they’ve learned, and why their evolution has only just begun…

Spiritbox: “We’re still figuring out what we are, and I don’t even know if I want to find out”
Emma Wilkes
Jonathan Weiner

Courtney LaPlante is having a week off. It’s the longest break she and her bandmates have had since they left for tour in March – their previous record was three days. Between the end of their debut U.S. headline tour and the start of six-week run of festivals and support slots in Europe, they’ve only had 24 hours to stand still and breathe.

This is the after-effect of releasing one of the most essential heavy albums of the decade. Following the steadily intensifying hype mounting behind the band with the viral sensation Holy Roller, Spiritbox's debut LP Eternal Blue was met with dropped jaws and swelling appetites when it was released in September 2021, approaching down-tuned, downtrodden metalcore with both more grace, more aggression, more vitality than their peers. Now, they’re in the highest of demand. Their debut UK show at last year’s Download Festival attracted a crowd too big for the third-stage tent to handle, earning itself a place in Donington lore.

Spending their time off in Europe, the band are currently in Amsterdam, several thousand miles away from their own beds. By the time you read this, Spiritbox will be rolling into Birmingham for the first show of their sold-out debut UK headline tour at the city’s O2 Institute. Next week, they’ll be playing two nights at London’s Roundhouse, which holds almost four times more people than the O2 Academy Islington, where they played their first UK headline shows after Download. It’s quite the glow up.

Prior to their UK headline run, Spiritbox – completed by guitarist Michael Stringer, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer Zev Rose – spent six weeks traversing the continent, schooled in stagecraft from some of the best live bands around, including Ghost, Motionless In White and Bring Me The Horizon. “I love watching how they interact with their fans while still not taking away from the experience of the other 10,000 people in the arena,” says Courtney, dialling in from a hotel room she just checked into, her phone balanced precariously against an empty glass.

“You’re not just performing for the people you can see; you’re performing for people who can’t even see you! How do you still connect to those people?” Indeed, she’s just as intrigued by the “boring, dorky stuff” behind the scenes, like the gear being used, how the front of house engineer makes a band sound pristine, even down to how bright the strobes are.

She’s full of particular praise for Bring Me The Horizon, who Spiritbox first met at last year’s Malta Weekender. “Every piece of their show has their hands on it. Like, they’re geniuses. I just love how much they care about that. It was inspiring to me.” Courtney even joined them on multiple occasions for nihilist blues and One Day The Only Butterflies Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Death, performing parts originally sung by Grimes and Courtney’s idol Amy Lee (with the blessing of the Evanescence vocalist herself).

“It’s really intimidating to sing those songs knowing that Amy Lee will see it”

Hear Courtney on covering her idol’s vocal parts for BMTH

But Spiritbox weren’t going to escape months on the road without being a little battered by the end. Courtney contracted bronchitis during their U.S. headline run, while Josh has had his foot in a boot after breaking it on the first show of the tour (he hopes to have it off by the time Spiritbox touch down in the UK). Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, Michael had an infection in his finger so severe he needed surgery.

All this turmoil has taught the band that they don’t want to be on the road for four months in a row ever again. “That does not work with any of us,” Courtney asserts. “It’s really hard for anybody that’s away from home for their job, it’s hard to take care of your mental health because everything feels so up in the air all the time and you don’t have any stability. It’s something that I need to get better at doing.”

When asked how she’s taken care of her mental health while being under such strain for so long, her response is frank. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that.” On top of that, she’s struggled to establish a more rigid sense of separation between being Courtney from Spiritbox and being just Courtney. “We are just so consumed by everything we do with Spiritbox. That’s literally all we do. I feel like successful people are obsessed with what they do but they also know when they need to take some time away to recharge.”

At some point this year, Courtney and Michael are hoping to go on the honeymoon they never went on when they got married seven years ago. Even on their wedding day, they were putting Spiritbox – then, still a fledgling project – first, asking wedding guests for donations to help them fund the mixing and mastering of their debut EP in lieu of gifts. But now, there’s a balance to be redressed. They’re also trying to figure out what else they like doing away from music.

“We want some hobbies,” Courtney laughs. “And we want to go on vacation. You should try and give everything your all, but you need to be able to create a balance. You need to let other parts of your personality come out.”

From an outsider’s perspective, Courtney’s success seems hard-earned, even redemptive. It’s come after years of grinding away, beginning when she joined avant-garde metalcore experimentalists Iwrestledabearonce – in the middle of Warped Tour, no less – in 2012 and performed on their last two albums (with Michael joining later on). By the end, it brought diminishing returns. It wasn’t just the size of the crowds that were dwindling, Courtney and Michael’s sense of creative fulfilment was, too. They jumped ship and the band split up soon after. From there, they built Spiritbox from the ground up as an independent outlet, signed to a label their manager Jason Mageau created simply because he believed so strongly that they deserved to be heard. Industry plant finger-pointers be damned – Spiritbox have stacks of receipts proving their credentials.

And yet, this is not an ultimate victory. Not for Courtney, anyway. In her mind, this success is fragile, ephemeral. There is no triumphant, overdue feeling of ‘We made it!’ If they were to make the wrong moves, this will all be a memory they’d never be able to re-live. There is no feeling of safety.

“One successful tour or one successful album is completely meaningless. [You can’t think] that’s how your career is going to be,” she says. “I’m going to need two successful albums or two successful tours, then I’m going to need three successful tours, then I’m going to need four successful tours. It’s not that it needs to keep going like this, but it needs to be stable before I can feel any kind of relief. I feel just as on-edge as I’ve always felt because now the stakes are higher. I now have this as my career, and a whole team of people who rely on me for employment. I want to do a good job, because I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

To that end, what makes success harder for Courtney to process is its intangibility. She won’t believe it till there is physical proof in front of her. Take the idea of playing the Roundhouse – right now she’s never seen it, doesn’t know what it looks like, and the significance of playing there won’t become apparent until she’s staring out at those towering pillars. “I’m like, ‘How’s that possible? How did that many people want to come and see us?’ I don’t know when I’ll ever feel relaxed. It’s going to take a long time.”

It helps that the band, and especially Michael, as her husband, offer a robust support network. Not every couple’s marriage can remain steady when a relationship is intertwined with business, or when there’s little time apart. But for them, it works. Career-wise, they live in the same world, there’s very little they need to explain to each other, and they go through everything together.

“Anything that makes you a better bandmate or partner in business is the same thing that makes you a better husband or wife, too,” Courtney reckons. “That’s one of the reasons why I feel like this is so successful for me, because I have a very communicative, emotionally intelligent partner. I have a very supportive band with Josh and Zev – they really are great friends and great bandmates.”

There’s plenty of love for Courtney in the wider scene, too. As Spiritbox have surged in popularity, she has been held up as one of the most prominent figureheads in a time where women are leading the charge in one of music’s most notoriously gender-imbalanced genres. For the moment, however, she doesn’t consider it a source of pressure.

“I don’t feel like I’m selling a personal brand. It’s music being commercialised, and I feel like people are projecting their feelings onto the art more,” she says. “I feel that it’s a privilege if anyone considers me a role model. Maybe when there’s more people, I’ll feel a bit more pressure in that way, but right now, when you’re a new band, you don’t have crazy fans that are obsessed with you, it’s more nice people that want to give you a hug and be like, ‘Hey, we’re proud of you.’”

But for all of the anxiety, trepidation and imposter syndrome that comes with being in the band of the moment, there are opportunities to personally bloom. Courtney has grown enough to feel a slightly removed from some of the more sorrow-drenched lyrics on Eternal Blue, and a little further away from its feelings of loss and depression. She isn’t reliving those emotions onstage in the same way she used to, but now, she’s connected to that time in a way that provokes “a happy cry instead of a sad cry”.

“I feel a lot more confident in myself,” she adds. “I feel like, in the industry, I have something to prove. But I don’t feel like I have something to prove to our fans. I feel like I’m performing for my friends. They know that I’m going to hit that note, that Michael is going to nail the solo, that Zev is going to nail the drum part. When I wrote those lyrics, I had so much doubt and anything that felt confident in those songs was almost a fantasy for me. Now, I just feel like I have more fun.”

“I have more courage to be emotional when I sing”

Hear Courtney on the changing significance of performing certain songs live

Spiritbox don’t have any other songs like The Void. Although their latest single isn’t miles away from the sound the band have sculpted over the years, it wouldn’t quite fit on Eternal Blue. Its percussion is faster and more urgent, almost reminiscent of drum’n’bass, while its guitars blend into a thick, ethereal haze, with a hint of a chug that makes its sense of attack feel delicate. It’s heavy in a different way, a subtler way, but it’s still just as thrilling as anything else the Vancouver Island quartet have put their names to.

Some fans suggested it reminded them of Pendulum, but the similarity is accidental; Courtney has never listened to them, but when the comparison is made, she makes a note to check them out. Its actual inspirations, however, aren’t quite so obvious. “It’s like a metal Jimmy Eat World song,” she suggests. “I love Jimmy Eat World, I love Turnstile. I feel like we’re always chasing that Everlong by Foo Fighters feeling, and that song is definitely a love letter to that side of alternative rock.”

“The Void is like our new little baby we want to show the world”

Hear Courtney on the importance of latest single The Void

Despite said adoration, Spiritbox may never write a song like The Void again. It doesn’t mean they don’t love it, describing it as “our new little baby that we want to show to the world”, but it’s more of a blueprint for the future. It’s not necessarily a linear progression, but perhaps a sideways one – not so much going forwards but outwards, expanding rather than evolving.

“I feel like our sub-genre of metal is so obsessed with the idea that any song you hear from a band is a mission statement, as in, ‘This is now what this band sounds like,’” Courtney sighs. “Maybe it’s like this in every genre and I just don’t see it as much, but when Doja Cat puts a song out, and she’s singing, [the fans] don’t go, ‘She’s never going to rap again!’ We always have to tell people that when you hear a song, that doesn’t mean it was created in a linear vacuum, where a band made a song and then they put out only that song. You might hear a song that was written two years after the next song you hear. You don’t know when they came into existence.

“The messaging is always funny there, and I feel like bands never message that right either,” she continues. “Every time they put out boring music, they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve matured.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not mature or grown-up, I just wrote a song that’s more radio-friendly. I also wrote an ass-beater song – you just haven’t heard it yet!’”

Spiritbox are far from limited in the moves they could make next. As easy as it to forget that they’re still a relatively young band with only one album to their name, in Courtney’s mind, this is an advantage.

“I don’t feel like we’ve been around long enough to disappoint anyone. We are just getting started, and we’re still figuring out what we are, and I don’t even know if I want to find out. I don’t care about genre, I just know we like making heavy music with low-tuned guitars. But I’m like, ‘Take me or leave me, this is what we sound like.’ I feel like a lot of bands are having fun with that too.”

So is there more new music on the horizon? “I think that everyone will be pleasantly surprised this year,” Courtney smiles. Even though they’ve been touring for four months on the trot, they’ve somehow managed to get into the studio, although the singer hesitates from revealing more because they’re still deciding what to do with the new material.

“I want to show you now. The only way I can really communicate how I feel about stuff is with music.”

The world is listening.

Spiritbox are touring the UK now

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