By Genevieve Gao
It’s New Orleans, one of the oldest American cities and a place where the dirtiest HEAVY metal thrives, and it’s here that Cane Hill became fully immersed. Since forming in 2011, the group’s debut single Sunday School remains a defining representation, along with hard-hitting favourites from their self-titled EP  including Gemini and Screwtape.
The band’s full-length debut Smile truly captures Cane Hill at its best. Every record has its fuel, but those flames rise particularly high for frontman Elijah Witt, bluntly raising the reality that the majority of mainstream music has “no substance to it, no depth to the lyrics or musicianship in the actual instrumental parts either.
“Everything seems so flaccid to me and I feel like that’s one of the reasons why everything passes by really quickly before your eyes… because it’s just people making music that they think is going to get them somewhere. When we were recording, we were just bent on making music that we genuinely believed and enjoyed making… The lyrics were purposeful, as violent as they should be and sexual when they needed to be, and I think that everyone is too afraid to make music that’s real.”
One of my album favourites is St. Veronica, with a welcome change of pace from the record’s relentless ferocity underscored by the group’s hip hop influences. However, for the vocalist there was brutality of a different kind as he revealed that the track “was really difficult to write because I’m constantly thinking about how I’m not sure that it was my place.
“It’s from the perspective of a girl and it’s based off of things that I’ve seen in a best friend and relationships that I’ve been in, and the way women are treated in a very male-dominated sexual world… where they feel like they have to drink, get loose and do all these things that they don’t necessarily want to do just to keep a man happy.
“In relationships you see men just breaking the woman down, the backhanded comments like “You should’ve done this” or “Why are you looking like this in public?” The shit that’s coming out of my mouth seems fucking absurd to be said to somebody, but it happens every day.
“That’s why [there’s the lyric] I used to be an angel/Now I’m angel dust… I’ve seen my girlfriend back when I was a piece of shit just being broken down into someone that they weren’t before.” The four-piece’s ability to articulate our heaviest social issues shined through, yet what particularly resonated was Witt’s self-deprecating admission, moving in its urgency.
That rawness punches through the melodic You’re So Wonderful, captured in a recent music video directed by Scott Hansen [Digital Thunderdome].
“It was fun and good because we had an actress who didn’t mind being a little bit strange.” I could imagine the frontman smiling here. “Alexandra was f*cking amazing to work with, she dug it and wanted to make a good music video. You can bring someone who’s got a bad f*cking attitude and it ruins the whole thing, but having Scott, her and the rest of the band super into it… It was great.”
It wasn’t long before we started chatting about Drew Fulk, a man sticking with the quartet from the near-beginning as producer. After asking Witt to consider whether there was a difference in mindset between Fulk and the band going into Smile, the vocalist said “He [Fulk] moved from North Carolina to LA, which is where we recorded the full length, so I think there was a big difference even as far as our atmosphere. We were no longer in a shady area. In Gravesboro, we were in a weird, nice part of Los Angeles.
“But other than that, he’s grown significantly as a producer and develops himself quickly, if that makes sense. He’s the strangest human I’ve ever met [laughs]. His mind is literally always racing, which is why it’s great that he’s kind of the extra member to our band that we’ve always needed, and why we’ll probably always go back to Drew Fulk.”
Witt’s honesty peaked as I invited him to reflect on former rhythm guitarist and James Barnett’s [lead guitar] brother Bemo, who left the band last year.
“I think it made everything so much better. We’ve come back a much stronger, versatile and determined band. James is the one that’s been writing all the f*cking music from the get-go anyway… So it was no longer two guitarists, who were coincidentally brothers, butting heads trying to write a record. It was one guy with our producer, our bassist, drummer and the vocalist all on the same f*cking page doing the same thing. Brothers are weird.”
Before it all began however, the band tried pursing other paths, and with plenty of candor Witt divulged the moment he fully realised that music was for him.
“I remember being a little kid, like five or six, and I got a guitar that had an amplifier in it and genuinely wanted nothing to do with it,” he chuckled. “But then I got a band live DVD, Good Charlotte, and they had this one music video for Festival Song… I saw them pulling up in a van, getting onto a festival stage and everybody losing their minds throwing toilet paper in the fucking air. I think that’s when I realised that I wanted to be on a stage, making killer music that everybody enjoyed and lost their minds to.
“Thank god it worked out, because I was really f*cking up at school [laughs].”
Grab Smile HERE, out now via Rise Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.
Smile: Track Listing
02. (The New) Jesus
03. True Love
04. St. Veronica
05. Fountain Of Youth
06. Cream Pie
07. You’re So Wonderful
08. Ugly Model Mannequin
10. Strange Candy