» Chris Cerulli - Motionless In White
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Interview conducted March 10 2017
Interview published April 25 2017

"Every time we've put out a record there is a considerable group of fans that feel pretty disappointed in it."

American outfit Motionless In White lets go of its new making Graveyard Shift on May 5th and vocalist Chris "Motionless" Cerulli made a quick stop in Stockholm on his promotion trip to Europe. Chris might have kind of a scary look on stage, but he's in fact a very sweet guy who doesn't mind talking about his close relation to his family and that he is still learning stuff to improve his music and vocals.

Tobbe: Your 4th record is soon to be out and to avoid asking the same question "What differentiates it from the rest of your catalogue?", I will ask the opposite instead, so what does Graveyard Shift have in common with Reincarnate [2014]?

Chris: I like this already. I think what this one has with Reincarnate is that: You know, we talked in the past about Reincarnate being the album that we feel like we finally found ourselves with. We're a band that's been trying a lot of different techniques. Just like different things over the years to really find what we felt like our true potential was. So in that, this record represents more of a refinement of Reincarnate, so they definitely have, like, similar elements and similar styles in a lot of different songs.

Tobbe: Is there any stuff in particular that you, like, really, really try to put some extra effort in on the record?

Chris: Yeah. You know, we're a band that's starting to kind of see, like, a little bit of exposure on the radio in the States and for us what's really tough is that: To be on the radio kind of upsets a lot of fans just because then you happen to be associated with the radio. I don't know why that bothers fans, so for us it's really trying to stay true to the band while also writing songs that we love that could be on the radio, you know.

When people see, like, a lot of newer bands go to radio, they forget that Slipknot, Korn and Rob Zombie are on the radio too. So it's okay for a band to be played on the radio, so it's just trying to find that line, which is just too much vs. what the band really wants to do.

Tobbe: But radio is also a great way to some income too for the band and when money comes in the more you can put effort in the band and make it even greater.

Chris: Exactly. People get caught up in the whole sell-out, mainstream terms.

Tobbe: When you're about to lay down a catchy chorus on a heavy or kind of industrial background, what goes through your mind in that moment?

Chris: I mean, I think that's what's contributed to make the band have the sound that it does, and that is: You know, we have these songs that are either really heavy songs or they have, like you said, an industrial foundation, but the point of the song is to get to that chorus that provides the listeners to have, like, that sing-along moment.

So I think having that mentality allows the songs to be liked by people outside of the genre in which that they are, and that's kind of what I think is one of the charms of the band. It's that the music could sound very much one way and the vocal techniques could be something that fits that, but may attract listeners that are outside of that particular genre, so. At least that's something we try to do. [Laughs]

Tobbe: So when you put different vocal elements to the songs, in different parts of the songs, how do you figure out which style to approach?

Chris: You know, for me, part of that experimenting is trying to see what works where and sometimes I feel like, you know, in our music, in other bands' music, I hear screaming over stuff that when I hear the music I'm like "I don't hear that screaming should be over this.". You know, I hear that singing should have been here or something a little bit more theatrical should have been here.

I always finish the music before I start writing the vocals, for this exact reason, so great question. I think it's just a matter of figuring out what feels right with the song, but what allows me to, like, project the lyrics as well. It's tough; I'm still figuring it out. I think there's a couple times on this album that I may have screamed where maybe I didn't want to, but I did, because I felt that I had to, to get the lyric across.

Tobbe: So lyric-wise. What topics do you deal with this time?

Chris: There's a lot of, like, personal life experiences on this one. One of the songs that means a lot to me, that I rarely have gotten to talk about so far, is a song called Hourglass. While I was working on the record, before I had gotten to the lyrics of that song, I already knew what I wanted it to be about and that was kind of questioning time and questioning, like, I guess life in general, but more specifically the time. Like "How much time, in a lot of ways, am I gonna have left in the band? What's gonna happen after that? Where is my life gonna go?".

You know, it's been 10 years since the band has been a band and so much has changed already and "What's gonna happen in 10 more years? Where am I gonna be at?". And then what really gave it an extra layer of meaning to me is while I was working on the album, I was in Los Angeles, I'm from Pennsylvania, I got a call from my sister that said my dad had had a heart attack.

So when I got that call it kind of just put everything even to more of this perspective of, like "How much time am I gonna have left with my parents?". You know, like "Where is my life right now?" and it kind of brought to life what's really important to me and that's kind of what that song is about. So that's the one that means a whole hell of a lot internally and personally, so. There is that and there's other songs that are similar. You know, like different life experiences, just whether they are quite from an angry standpoint or a thoughtful standpoint. There's a lot of that.

Tobbe: So are you the one that kind of sits down and write a whole bunch of lyrics or do you, like, get ideas from all over the place and writes stuff down in your phone?

Chris: For me, on this record I tried something different and that was: If I knew what I wanted the song to be about I just sat down and I was like "Just go! Just try it! Just brainstorm whatever happens first!". Normally I'm not like that and I discovered that a lot of the stuff I like the most was some of the first thoughts I had.

And something I learned about myself is to kind of just trust that internal, first instinct towards a song. But yeah, there is notes and notes and notes in my phone, of lyrics, or voice recordings of me just like being like "Yeah, I really like this thought. How can I get from here to here?".

Tobbe: When you're writing the lyrics, do you feel that you get into a flow sometimes and can write, like, 2 or 3 or 4 songs in an instant?

Chris: That's actually what I tried to do. For me, to start and stop really gets me out of the flow, like: If I write a song and then, you know, takes a week working on something else I feel like I have to start all over again. So what I do is I'll gather all my initial first notes for the songs and I'll get, like, the goal and mind in what I want and then I just will try to attack as many as I could write in a row.

The only problem I've discovered with that is sometimes I kind of get stuck on certain words I wanna use. At different times in my life different words just are stuck in my head, so I'll end up writing the same kind of style of vocabulary and I don't like that. So I'm gonna try to figure out how to correct that for the next record. I think I use the word crown, or king, or something like that, not a very eloquent word, but I maybe used that a few times and there's a couple other lines that, for the better of the song I had to use it, but I hate that I used it twice or three times.

Tobbe: I've gotta ask this. About Jonathan Davis' involvement of course. [On the song Necessary Evil] So how about that?

Chris: Back in October of 2016 we did a tour with Korn and it was really cool because Korn is such a massive influence for our band. You know, finding out that those guys were really, really nice people really kind of made it extra special to, like, find out that all these years of looking up to them was justified. So yeah, when I actually heard myself record the vocals I was like "This sounds cool, but I hear Jonathan Davis on it.". Like "I need to hear his voice on this song or it won't feel complete to me.".

So I was just like "Okay. I'm just gonna suck it up and take the risk and just ask." and I did and he was really cool, like into doing it and it was no bullshit, just like total professional, got me the stuff that I needed and it all worked out. When I hear it I can't listen to it as part of the band; I listen to it as, like, a fan. So it's pretty cool.

Tobbe: Maybe you should have put it as the last song on the record then, just for yourself. But for the fans it's probably important to have a guest appearance a little bit sooner.

Chris: Yeah, you know, I felt like putting it pretty early [Song number 3] was just like a nicer way to help really get that first couple early thoughts of the album. To have like "Oh! That's another cool thing to focus on.", so.

Tobbe: Graveyard Shift is probably, I think, your lightest and most melodic record so far and what do you expect fans to think of this record then?

Chris: It's weird for me to listen to it, because yes, when I hear how, I guess, melodic it is and how much it focuses around, like, not so much just brutal, intense screaming all the time, it is a lot lighter in that realm, in that aspect. However, I think the songs are coming from a slightly more aggressive standpoint, so it seems heavier to me than I think it actually is.

I know that a lot of the songs, that maybe aren't as heavy, are coming from a standpoint of, like, being angry about something, where I, you know, needed to get that out. So I think fans will see that this is where the band has been going and I don't think it'll be really a surprise. Maybe they won't like all of it and then wish that there was some more, you know, heavier material, but there's plenty of it on there to help suffice, you know.

Tobbe: As your development goes on, is it possible to keep the same fans over the 4 records, or do you lose some fans, yet gain some fans along the road?

Chris: That's been a hard thing that we've had to deal with in the past. Every time we've put out a record there is a considerable group of fans that feel pretty disappointed in it. And I can see it in each record cycle. You know, even just through social media I can see that there's like this hardcore group of fans that come and go in each cycle.

Right now I recognize, like, 30 different people that tweet at me all the time and I'm wondering if they're still gonna be there when the album comes out or if 30 new people are gonna always be tweeting at me, you know. It is tough, but we've let people know a long time ago that "We're doing it for us, and if you love it and wanna be a part of it, great!, but we're writing the music that we wanna write and we're not really sorry if you don't like either.", you know.

Tobbe: You've changed your vocal style a bit too, as part of the process of course, and have you ever hit a wall on some occasion and had to back a few steps down for that matter and wait for natural growth instead of pushing it?

Chris: Yes. A big focus on this record was trying to make sure that I put myself in a position to be recognized. You know, I'm known as Chris Motionless in the band, so I've been struggling with making sure that people hear our records and say "That's Chris Motionless!". Look, if I was doing a guest vocal on another band's song… You know, Jonathan Davis did the guest vocal on our song and when you hear it you know that that's Jonathan Davis. I wanna be that kind of vocalist where you hear it and you know.

So this record was definitely in an effort to explore all of what I could do of my voice and really find what I liked that I felt set me apart. However, yes, you're very much right, in that I hit a few walls. It was very literally and figuratively. I think I still have a bruise on one of my knuckles, from one of the later days in the studio, trying to accomplish a specific thing and I just got really mad and the wall felt the fury, and so did my knuckles.

Tobbe: If it's possible to come out original in this day and age, then what makes Motionless In White to a unique experience?

Chris: Ah. That is a question for the ages. What even is original these days? You know, not just in our sense, but a lot of bands and just music in general, I really do think that everything has been done. I don't think there has been one riff left unwritten. I don't think there's one type of vocal that's left untried.

And what I think sets people apart is obviously the vocals and the band, you know. How many iconic vocalists sound just like someone else? They're the only people that sound like that. So I think that's where the main focus should be. I think vocals are the most important part of every song, even if I like music more.

If your music does sound similar to something that has come out in the past you really have to make sure that the vocals stand on their own and, like we just talked about, that's something I really try to do. But it's tough. I mean, it's always gonna be compared to something else, because that's just the point in music that we're at. Everything is gonna sound like something else, you know.

Tobbe: Your influence hails mostly from the 90's, I reckon, but did you pay some attention too to the 70's and the 80's music when you were younger, or was that to you more the old folks' music?

Chris: You know, I grew up on all kinds of, I guess, older music, regardless of the time period. My mom's a huge [The] Beatles fan and my dad's really into Led Zeppelin and Rush and bands like that. So I've had, I guess, a pretty well-rounded upbringing, in that I've heard a lot of classic rock and a lot of just classic bands in general. So I've always appreciated it and that's where my essential growth is starting from. But you know, coming from a place where Metallica is the band that really changed my life and really became that gateway band, I think 80's music really is behind me and where Metallica starts is where my, like, real history with music begins.

Tobbe: So you've signed to a new label, Roadrunner Records, so what might that collaboration generate?

Chris: I think, honestly, to be here is kind of proof of what we were going for. You know, we've been touring the United States for so long and putting so much time in and we have gone elsewhere in the world and seen a lot of countries a lot of times, but I don't think we've ever gotten the chance in, you know, Europe, Australia, Japan. We've never gotten the full chance to go here and really explore and actually, like, have a chance to get our name out there.

So something I talked about with Roadrunner, as part of the deal of signing with them, is that I want to make sure they were gonna, like, give us a presence in Europe, give us a presence in Australia and I'm seeing that their end of the word is being held on. You know, I'm here; I'm not on tour right now; I'm here because they offered to bring me here to have these moments and that's what it means to me. It's really expanding outside of the States, for real.

Tobbe: So which one would be most important out of these two, because to some heavy metal fans you're not really metal, as you know, and especially to the hardcore fans, so: Getting recognition from the entire metal world for what you do, or: Be a band on the edge of metal that would headline arenas?

Chris: Aah, I might go with the arenas, just because I've never seen our band as a strictly metal band. You know, that is very much where my roots are planted in, like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth. All those bands are the bands that really kick-started me into what became all of my interest. So my roots are there.

And, like I said, even coming from Led Zeppelin and Rush and all that stuff. I'm coming from a long history of that. So it would be nice to be recognized, but at the same time I don't know if I call Motionless In White a metal band. So if they don't wanna come along for the ride, then "Fuck 'em!". [Expressed in a polite manner.]

Tobbe: About Josh [Balz, keyboards]. He recently left the band, or quit the band, or got fired, I don't know, and after being part of the lineup for so long, for like a decade, what lies behind his decision, really? And don't give me some fabricated, sweet story now.

Chris: It's pretty simple. I mean, he is just over touring. Even when you're in a position now where we are, we're in a bus and we're playing these pretty awesome shows with Korn and Slipknot, it's still a lot of work and he's just over it. He wants to get married, he wants to approach other things in his life and he kind of just recognized that there is more to life than that tour bus and then those shows every day year after year after year. He loved it and I know that was, like, what kept him holding on, but it's just time for him to grow up and get out of the bus and get married and live a life, so. He's just over it, yeah.

Tobbe: So what will the rest of 2017 look like for Motionless In White?

Chris: We better be getting our ass to Sweden, I'll tell you that. You know, the first kick-start or kick-off for us coming to Europe a lot more are these upcoming festivals. So there's a lot of those June/July festivals that are gonna start us off and then, I believe, something in the summer in the U.S.. I'm just gonna be pushing the issue to, like "Let's go back to Europe! Let's do Australia!". For as much as I hate flying I'll just figure it out. That's what takes the most mental strength from me, getting on that plane.

But yeah, it's not gonna be unlikely to possibly see us, you know, two times a year on Euro tours and Australian tours and elsewhere. That is my goal. That's the number one thing with this cycle that I want to accomplish; to build the band's establishment outside of the U.S..

Tobbe: So my final question. Besides what you just told me, what's most important for Motionless In White or for you personally at this point?

Chris: This is gonna sound like a fabricated answer, but it's not. One of the things that matters so much to me, and is probably the top priority of my life, is my family. Especially, as we talked about earlier, finding out my dad had a heart attack and getting to a point where I'm really unsure how much time is left.

You know, it's not like they're sick in the hospital, they're not, and they're doing well, but for me the biggest, most important thing is trying to continue to make my family proud and finding time outside of this busy schedule to really make sure that I get the most out of that remaining time with them. I don't know how long it's gonna be and I would hate my life and my career would mean nothing if I looked back at it and thought I gave up too much of my time with them to chase this dream.

So that's where my heart is at at the moment. Thankfully they're both really supportive and they have always been, so they're really proud and I think that they feel accomplished as well because they helped me get up off the ground and go, so.

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