Middleton and the rest of the Cancer Bats in the studio with producer Ross Robinson. Photo by Vince Edwards.
What was it like working with Ross?
We didn’t know what to expect because we’d heard all these stories about him going crazy on bands in the studio and making people freak out and cry. Some of our friends were warning us: “I don’t know if you guys will be able to handle this. You’re all such nice dudes. Maybe he’ll break you guys up.” But our managers were really into the idea, and we were positive about it, too. Ross has worked with so many cool bands. He also worked with bands we don’t like, but we could step back and recognize that Ross probably made their best records. Once we spoke to him on the phone, got a vibe, and sent him demos, we knew he was the guy. Now he’s one of our closest friends.
I’ve never met a guy so instantly inspired by any music that he hears. He hears something and says, “That’s so cool—why don’t we try it like this?” He fires ideas so quickly, and so many of them are good. Everything is so spontaneous. He’s also into making music that means something. We were in this tiny room recording drums, and he’d say, “Okay, Liam, before we record drums, tell us what the song is about.” If Liam said something that was kind of vague, he would call bullshit and ask, “No, what’s it really about?” He really gets into the psychology side of things. He’d ask me, “Okay, Scott, what does this mean to you? How does this make you feel? Why are you playing this song?” He would go through every band member, and everybody had a powerful story. Ross’ whole idea is that it's not just the singer singing the song—everybody sings the song with their instruments. If you’re only concentrating on playing and not putting your feelings into it, it’s just sterile bullshit.
Do you use your live rig in the studio?
Yeah, though on this record I used a prototype Diezel head, the Lil’ Fokker, because I couldn’t bring my rig down to Venice Beach where we recorded. Also, Ross has an old AC30 that we ran pedals into. The pedal that was on most was the new Klon KTR. Those things together just had a great sound. And the way Ross works, we would find the tone we were looking for, and then he would say, “Give me a take—let’s go!” I’m still deciding if I like the sound, but Ross is already 100 percent sure it’s the sound. I’m thinking we should do it again, but he’s like, “No, you played badass, man.” He’ll let me try it again, but when I play it one more time, he starts throwing shit at me. He grabbed a spindle of CDs and threw CDs. I’m thinking, “What are you doing, man? I’m fucking up.” But he’s like, “It’s awesome!” Because for Ross, mistakes are cool. He wants you to fuck up, because after you make a mistake, the next thing you play is going to be naturally inspired. You’ll play something weird. That’s how you catch something special.
So he kept you on your toes?
He’d say, “Okay, cool—we got the rippin’ metal heavy stuff. Now let’s see what the song sounds like when you play a Rickenbacker clean.” There was a vintage Rickenbacker lying around the studio that belonged to [Limp Bizkit’s] Wes Borland. Ross said, “Normally you play downstrokes on this part, right? Now make the equivalent chord, but only use the high strings and play it all upstrokes, like you’re in a reggae band.” We put that in a straight-up thrash-metal song called “All Hail”—a tribute to Dave Brockie from Gwar, who just passed away.
It sounds like you’re playing weird harmonics. Is that the Rickenbacker?
Yes. Ross was screaming, “Hit it fucking harder! Hit it harder!” I don’t know how we’re going to do that live, but it sounds super rad on the album.
You have many fuzz boxes. Do you get distortion mostly from the amp or from effects?
In the studio, 90 percent of the time it’s the amp. All the effects are just for color. When I used the Klon, it gives me the extra juice I need to play metal on an AC30.
Do you use a noise gate?
I use two, actually. In the effects loop of my amp I use the ISP Decimator G-String pedal. In front of my pedalboard I use the Rocktron Guitar Silencer. I could get by with just one, but the two totally kill hiss and hum.
You don’t solo much. Is that a conscious thing? It’s obvious you have chops.
For me, playing riffs is just as awesome as soloing. There can be just as much virtuosity in rhythm playing. I love listening to guys who can take solos to places I can’t, but I don’t think every song requires a solo. Not everybody listening to your band is a guitar player, and maybe they don’t like the indulgent guitar wanking. [Laughs.] And as the one guitar player in the band, if I do a solo, I want to be able to pull it off live, where I don’t have a rhythm guitar track underneath it.