The Flatliner’s New Ruin, out August 5 on Fat Wreck Chords, is full of power, anger, and some darkness. Vocalist and songwriter Chris Cresswell had a lot of time to think over the past few years. With The Flats living in different cities and off the road due to the pandemic, Cresswell had time to tune in and listen to the sound of the planet. New Ruin isn’t a summation of current events, but a sampling of thoughts and feelings gathered from a big globe with big problems.
“The only difference now is to get back on the road and sing about it and talk about it,” he says. “But it was the first record in a long time where the majority of the record isn’t about what’s happening in my life, in my immediate environment, or bands in the immediate environment. It was really about what was happening all around us. And we’ve all been through some pretty terrible shit in the last couple years. Just think about it and let it out. I am fully aware that we are a band of four suburban, white men, (and) that no one needs to listen to anything any suburban, white man has to say anymore. But, if we can use our music to express the things that we really wanna talk about with people in our lives and really try to shine a light on things that we want to see change, then we wanna do that.”
Cresswell had time and physical space to develop the thoughts captured on this record.
“I think with all that downtime over the last couple years, I was able to spend some time with my own thoughts and really process a lot of that information. I suppose part of my privilege is, I wasn’t confronted with those realities all the time. It’s just been in that downtime (that) I’ve really had the time and space to reflect on a lot of stuff in my own life and people’s lives around me. The world around me really is what it is, I have the outlet to sing about. It’s just a whole whirlwind of frustration.”
After taking a break from touring, The Flats are back. They’re back with New Ruin, and they’re back with new shows. Cresswell sets the stage:
“I’m everywhere (at) once all of a sudden after being in one place for so long, and it feels good. It feels good; (we) just did the first shows with the Flats back since 2019 in the U.K. and then did a little double duty with Flats and Hot Water at Slam Dunk in England and then went home for 48 hours and just touched down in Denver. I love it here. I guess it’s been, like three years since I’ve been here, but it doesn’t feel like that long. So, it’s nice to be back.”
If The Flatliners are metaphorically driving a manual stick shift like a sports car, this is a fast record. If Inviting Light was running strong in fifth gear on the transmission, they shifted into overdrive. New Ruin is a sixth gear for The Flats.
“It’s definitely powerful. It’s got its own power. It’s got its own gear to it. There’s definitely some of the heaviest moments we’ve ever written musically on this record, and it feels good. I think every time we get together to do something, it ends up being a direct response to what we did last time. I believe that. I really do believe that some of the heaviest moments before New Ruin came around were on Inviting Light— even though there’s also some of the lightest, most approachable moments that we’ve had.”
Inviting Light is heavy and light, New Ruin has its own weight. It’s fast and powerful as well as serious and sometimes dark. Maybe more than a sports car, it’s a fully loaded bullet train moving through a tunnel striving to find a light, looking for an end to the darkness.
“As exciting as it is the getting back to playing music and doing this together, there’s a bit of a different gravity to this record cuz it’s, it’s a serious record, dark, I guess. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I think there always is with the music we write. But that’s the reason it’s heavy, and that’s the reason it’s angry; it’s cuz we are, and I hope that comes across. “Heirloom” and “Big Strum” are two of the kind of thesis statement songs. The meanings of those songs are kind of the greater kind of thought process for these songs.”
After 20 years, The Flatliners have made one of their fastest, most powerful albums — words and chords. A record that’s trying to shine a light. All metaphors aside, Cresswell offers his own comparison and explanation of the growth in their sound and message,
“Certain songs like “Unconditional Love,” we got pretty heavy. Even though it’s still melodic, there was still some real kind of heft to it. I think because we were able to access that other side of ourselves musically with Inviting Light, it frees us up to do the next thing. I think that’s why New Ruin has ended up being a response to Inviting Light, and it turned out the way it turned out. Another part of why it turned out the way it turned out is because of everything that was happening in the world around us all. We were, like, sitting in a really uncomfortable moment and continue to sit in an uncomfortable moment.”
He breaks the album’s thesis down further with “Heirloom” and Big Strum” as examples.
“I mean, “Heirloom” was a lot about our generation now having to work twice as hard, and every hobby you have becomes a side hustle, becomes a job, and becomes something that you really rely on monetarily to get by in a world that was kind of stacked against us in part by previous generations. How the world was back then, and how much money was spent on certain things, and how much value was placed in other things—now for a touring musician or anyone, even someone who dreams, which happens less and less—anyone busting their ass and trying to make a living. It’s really hard. It’s near impossible to get those kind of important “benchmarks,” quote unquote, in your life at a similar rate that our parents did. It’s not necessarily about the timelines as it is just, like, the disparity of the generation. There’s an environmental toll that all that takes. It sometimes feels like there’s not much of a future left for who is always told is the future, which is the children. It can be dark and discouraging.
“And “Big Strum” is more just on the offensive, exposing terrible people for being terrible people. I think that people always grow, and people can learn from their mistakes, all these things. At the same time, it just feels like each year we go down the track of humanity, there’s just more and more ugliness that is exposed.”
His frame of mind and critical thinking shouldn’t be shocking to people who have listened and have heard Cresswell’s words.
“I think fans of the band aren’t surprised that I’m not singing about stuff that makes me happy 20 years in. I never really have; it’s time to take a look at each and every one of ourselves in the mirror and, like, really kind of see how we can each make a difference, how we can each improve ourselves. I think it starts with ourselves. It’s making sure that people are being represented in all corners of the world that have largely turned their backs on them.”
What Cresswell see’s when the spotlight is on and pointed forward is this:
“I do have a faith in the future. I wish that my faith in the future wasn’t hinged on human beings because typically when we all get together to try to do something, it’s not that we fail, but we fumble, and it’s hard; it’s harder and harder to trust. It’s harder and harder to trust people. The people in my life that I love and I know love me, that’s gotten deeper. I do have faith in the youth; I feel like there is a really beautiful kind of connectivity among kids now.”
Bad in the world with some good, connectivity among the youth, dark with some light, a spotlight to shine, New Ruin is a record striving to pull people together by first listening and processing—then shouting heavy thoughts over heavy riffs. “Burn it all down,” and try to build it back up.
Cresswell sums up The Flatliner’s last few years of reflection, writing, discovering, and the birth of New Ruin.
“We’re very, very happy to be back doing this and, like, the record we made, I mean, we love the record we make every time. I sound like a broken record, but it’s kind of a thing with us; we’re not gonna put a record out if we don’t really believe in it. That that’s part of the reason why there’s time between records and stuff. It’s not that we need to reinvigorate our love in what we do or our belief ourselves, but we like to let things kind of take its time and kind of reveal themselves to us.
“We like to kind of discover the songs ourselves. It sounds a little corny, but when they present themselves to us, you know, and with this one, New Ruin, we had a lot of downtime in the last couple years to really sit and think and reflect and write and work on stuff. Albeit not together cuz not all four of us live in the same city anymore, but we were able to make really good use of that time away from the road. It’s got some power to it. I mean it’s—I’m so thrilled with it—I think people are gonna like it, if not, or at least four of us do.”
Watch the video for “Rat King” here:
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Photo courtesy of Josh Maranhas