Interview with vocalist Elijah Witt | By Natasha Van Duser | Photo by Ale Gibson
Fans of the New Orleans four-piece Cane Hill know the band by their aggressive sound and abrasive attitude, tying in old-school Metallica-like musicianship with contemporary metalcore moments. Their music is loud, snarky, in-your-face, and, most importantly, heavy. However, their latest EP, Kill the Sun, out Jan. 18 through Rise Records, is anything but. Instead, the group created six heavily acoustic tracks reminiscent of a ’90s “MTV Unplugged” set.
“I think, from the get-go, our opinion was, no matter what song it was, as long as it was us playing it and me singing it, it would sound like a Cane Hill song,” frontman Elijah Witt explains. “To us, it doesn’t feel like a complete left turn because of the softer songs we’ve done in the past, like ‘Strange Candy’ [from the 2016 LP, Smile], or ‘Why?’ [from the 2018 LP, Too Far Gone]. […] It’s just an exaggerated version of all those songs.”
“Probably since our first EP, [2015’s Cane Hill], we’ve always thought about the idea of putting acoustic or electronic songs on things,” he adds. “[That] EP had a ton of it on ‘French 75,’ but we never really did anything about it.”
After playing an acoustic gig in the U.K. and realizing they didn’t have enough material that translated seamlessly into an unplugged set, Cane Hill reached out to their label and got the green light to create a softer EP intended to be an amalgam of revisited tracks and covers. “When we started writing everything, we realized we were creating new songs rapidly, like we had the ability to make so many different kinds of songs because we’d never done it before,” Witt says. “So, we scrapped the whole idea of reimagining anything or doing any covers.”
Kill the Sun is a six-part journey through very low highs, very high lows, and everything in between. Though it lacks any of the heavy aggression found on Smile or Too Far Gone, there’s an overall darkness that encompasses the EP as the band explore a time when they fell deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. “There was no, like, concept for what we were going to do,” Witt says, “but then, after we started writing and the songs started developing, we sat there and looked at the lyrical content and how the songs swell into one another. It slowly became much more conceptual than I think we ever expected, because it is just a very straight-line story about us in early 2016 on through Warped Tour.”
The tracks flow through Cane Hill’s descent into hallucinogens, starting with the heavily electronic “86d – No Escort.” “This [was a] period of us not giving a shit about anybody, and it was the beginning of our experimentations with LSD and a lot of other drugs,” Witt notes. “[It was] us deciding to be as wild as possible and, honestly, looking back, as obnoxious as possible.”
The following tracks expand on Cane Hill’s experimentation and eventual reconciliation with a toxic lifestyle but also showcase the band’s extensive musicianship. “Empty” embraces Latin guitar influences, Witt sings in a range akin to Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley on “Kill the Sun,” and the entire record pulls heavily from the production stylings of The Weeknd’s iconic 2012 album, Trilogy.
“[Guitarist] James [Barnett] went through this period of sadness, and when he’s sad, he listens to super sexual pop, and that’s where all of that came from,” Witt says. “A lot of the production is based off either The Weeknd, Drake, Michael Jackson, or Usher. [The rest of it is] Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the whole Seattle grunge scene. So, we just kind of tried to take modern pop and trap music, ’80s electropop, and then ’90s grunge and meld it all into one.”
Perhaps the most blatant track on Kill the Sun is “Acid Rain,” featuring a chorus that coos out, “I hope that every goddamn day / That the dope man comes my way,” and a trippy music video directed by Bullet For My Valentine’s tour photographer, Ryan Chang. “[The visuals are] very much the same kind of strangeness that you experience when you’re doing acid once or twice a week,” Witt explains. “Nothing really makes sense, you don’t really know where you are, and your brain is going on this, like, weird loop of not understanding what you’re supposed to be seeing and what you are seeing.”
The EP concludes with “Smoking Man,” which Witt cites as his realization that he needed to escape this lifestyle. “I can’t think of doing a hallucinogenic drug without getting physically terrified of it,” he says. “It’s a place that scares me and that worries me, and who I was and who I wanted to be back then is not ideal to me anymore. So, that’s very much where all of it goes—the decisions of doing everything that we did to harm ourselves, to push ourselves, to see what our emotions and our blame were capable of handling—and it got to the point where it was just too much.”
The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze,” J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” and basically all of Alice In Chains’ 1992 album, Dirt, embody a rock ’n’ roll that was brutally honest and shameless about the drugs that helped define their respective lifestyles and careers. It’s an honesty that feels somewhat lost in modern rock, but as Witt states, “That’s what makes good music to us: the honesty, the realness behind it.”
“I could write a million songs about never backing down or doing your best or whatever other generic metalcore [trope] you could think of,” he continues, “but that’s so boring to me, and I don’t believe in myself, and I don’t think that if you try your best that things will go right, so it’s just much better for us to be able to perform and deliver and believe what we make is genuine, honest, and sincere.”
Cane Hill are touring the U.S. with Sevendust through February and into early March, and though they dropped Kill the Sun beforehand, they decided to put playing these darker, slower songs on hold until they can deliver the best possible performance.
And diehard Cane Hill fans, have no fear: Witt promises that the next record is going to be “a heavy-as-fuck album.”