“It was terrifying, because I didn’t know how it was going to affect me as a person. This record is about the past four or five years of my life that were absolutely miserable, and I needed something to get it out.”
That’s how The Acacia Strain‘s vocalist Vincent Bennett describes writing eighth album Gravebloom, the very first record to put the magnifying glass on his own hardships rather than external topics. Forming back in 2001, the Massachusetts metal group have carved their path across eight albums and extensive touring with the likes of Hatebreed and Architects – all while crafting a sound combining doom elements with rhythmic and vocal power.
Bennett’s introspection wasn’t the only spark of a fresh approach, with the album signalling bassist Griffin Landa‘s first Acacia Strain record. Ahead of the quintet’s Australian tour next month, the singer sat down to talk about his deep friendship with supports Kublai Khan, self-pressure, and the local bands that shaped him growing up.
You guys are going on tour here with some really good mates in Kublai Khan. When did your relationship with them solidify?
“We did a tour in 2013 with them called the All Stars Tour. It was a weird one, but Kublai Khan was the only band that we had anything in common with. They were a young band, and just really excited to be out. That’s how we always are. We saw ourselves in them, and they became like our baby brothers. We’ve tried to tour with them as much as possible. The opportunity to go to Australia was there, and they were the first band that we thought of… It’s going to be a good experience hanging out in a different place with people I’ve known for four or five years.”
Now that you guys aren’t hyperfocused on the release of Gravebloom, how would you reflect on writing the record?
“Writing was stressful. We did most of it while we were on tour, which was different for us. We’re used to blocking off a good amount of time just to sit and come together with ideas, but we didn’t have that this time around. We’d lock ourselves in these hotel rooms, just sit and bounce ideas off one another. So it was a really stressful experience, but I think that helped push the creativity along. Sometimes when you’re under stress, you come up with your best stuff. I think in doing that we really came out with something that reflected the absolute misery we were going through, trying to come up with ideas while we were on the road. It reflects us growing up as well as our fans.”
It’s interesting that the first album Griffin has done with you guys has been the most intense. How did he handle that?
“He’s kind of used to it. He has a job where he has to go through news reports and find mentions of some company – it’s very intricate and I don’t really know what he’s meant to do, but he spends six hours a day doing this thing. He also owns a studio and records bands, so he knows what it’s like to be under that kind of stress. I think him having that background calmed us down. He was a breath of fresh air, because he was 100 percent ready to go and he’s super creative. He wanted to prove himself as a bass player, and he comes from a guitar background too, so that was helpful.
“He helped add more than the lot of us did, I feel like (laughs).”
I know you waited for a month to listen to Gravebloom, because you had some trepidation. Where does that self-pressure stems from?
“I think from being in this band for as long as I have. I’ve been doing this for 16 years, so what do I have left to say, and what’s the point of any of it? You question yourself. Can I go any further, be more creative? You get down on yourself after a while, and I had to step back and not be a part of it for a month. I didn’t think about the record, the band, anything. Then I finally came back and listened to it, and went, ‘Holy shit. We did it’.
“I felt it in my inner being. I remembered the reason I wrote what I wrote, and I was reliving those experiences. I played some of the songs for the dudes in Kublai Khan, and when they were over, Matt (Honeycutt, vocalist) looked at me and went, ‘Dude, I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m about to cry’. That’s the point of music, really. You want people to feel it, and if you’re doing it for any other reason, what’s the point?”
That really comes through with you not writing about topics, but your own hardships for the first time. That’s scary but therapeutic, right?
“It was terrifying, because I didn’t know how it was going to affect me as a person. This record is about the past four or five years of my life that were absolutely miserable, and I needed something to get it out. I had a pretty bad run for a bit, and it was all built up inside me for the longest time… I still have a hard time hearing these songs and playing them live. It is therapeutic in a way, but at the same time I had to keep reliving the shit that happened to me. But it does help that I got it all out.”
Even though with Gravebloom you’re reflecting on those past four or five years, did you find any childhood hardships bleeding into the songwriting at all?
“Not really. I had a good childhood – it wasn’t normal, but it wasn’t bad. Everyone goes through shit as a kid, but I think I hashed all those problems out – not on previous records – but of my own accord. My dad died when I was 10, and my mum was a single mum with no job. We were on government assistance, but all things considered, my mum was good and did what she could. I did get bullied but a lot of kids do, and that helped make me who I am today. So I’ve never really thought, ‘Oh this is a song about my childhood’, because I didn’t have a bad one.”
What’s great about heavy music is that it’s such a great personal outlet for anger. Who were those bands for you growing up?
“There was Overcast from Massachusetts, and it felt like everything they were talking about resonated with me. When I was 16, 17 I found Converge, and I resonated with them forever. Those older records still have a special place in my heart. But there are just so many bands that made me want to be in one. I was like, ‘Fuck, there’s more to music that whatever’s on the radio’, or record stores even, because some of those records you had to buy from the bands directly.
“If I have any message for anybody out there, it’s your problems aren’t just yours. If you can find a common community like the underground music scene, you’ll find a family. A way to get rid of those problems. Start a band, play music and get it out.”
Your split with Thy Art Is Murder and Fit For An Autopsy is a real reflection of where bands can just get together and make awesome songs.
“We just started bouncing ideas off one another, and came up with us each doing a cover and an original. Something that the fans can get into. We didn’t make it because we wanted to sell records, but because we wanted to do something cool with our friends, and fans can see that…
“When I was a kid, bands did splits all the time. Coalesce did one with The Get Up Kids (the Burned Bridges/I’m Giving Up On This One EP) and they covered one of those songs, and that was one of the coolest things I’d ever heard, because those bands don’t sound anything alike. That inspired me to do something like that, because you don’t see that anymore. There needs to be more bands that do it for themselves obviously, but if people like what you do, you should show them you’re having a good time.”
Interview by Genevieve Gao
The Acacia Strain are set to unleash the full Gravebloom experience for the first time, kicking off their Aussie tour on December 4 in Brisbane – tickets available here.
THE ACACIA STRAIN – Australian Tour
with guests KUBLAI KHAN
Mon 4th Dec: The Brightside, Brisbane 18+
Tue 5th Dec: The Small Ballroom, Newcastle 18+
Wed 6th Dec: Factory Theatre, Sydney Lic/AA
Fri 8th Dec: The Basement, Canberra 18+
Sat 9th Dec: Invasion Fest, Melbourne AA
Sun 10th Dec: Corner Hotel, Melbourne 18+
Mon 11th Dec: Fowlers Live, Adelaide Lic/AA
Tue 12th Dec: Amplifier Bar, Perth 18+