Frontman Mike Lessard was still a fresh face in The Contortionist when the band’s third LP, Language, came out in 2014. The album was recorded less than 12 months after he replaced former vocalist Jonathan Carpenter. However, the personnel disruption didn’t turn out to be a setback – Language not only showed an evolution in the band’s sound, but gained wide praise from critics, and increased The Contortionist’s fanbase.
“Early on I felt pretty comfortable,” says Lessard. “I’d known the guys for three years or so. I toured with them in my previous band [Last Chance to Reason]. We had mutual respect for each other, so it’s not like I felt like I was coming into a situation and I had to hold my tongue. When it came to the creative process, I do what I always do: I sit and look at the material and add to it.”
Indeed, rather than feeling like an outsider, Lessard was encouraged to inject his own ideas into The Contortionist’s sound.
“They gave me full creative control when it came to the vocals,” he says. “I wrote the opening sequence for the album. I just jumped in and started doing my thing. I didn’t really want to hold back, because there was no real point to.
“The guys had a vision of what they could possibly do [on Language]. They didn’t want to create the same sound. They wanted to explore new territory with what they could do. So I guess [me joining] gave them an excuse to explore some new genres, which they were going to do anyway. It’s in our natures.”
The genre exploration continues on Clairvoyant, the progressive metal band’s fourth LP, due in September. The American sextet upholds its reputation as an instrumentally complex progressive metal act while also including melodic sophistication, quieter, reflective moments, and jazz flourishes that resemble the likes of Meshuggah.
“There are no set guidelines when we go in to work on an album, no - ‘this is what we have to do,’” Lessard says. “We generally all like cohesive albums – albums that flow. There’s no break in between songs; it captures somebody’s attention for the whole period. There’s no moment where the trance is broken. That’s one of the things we aim to do.
“We wanted to try going to a more traditional style of composition for some of the tracks – verses, choruses and bridges – and that was a new challenge for us. To try to make the sound fit within that was an interesting thing.”
It’s exhausting to even contemplate the construction of an album as detailed as Clairvoyant. Lessard explains how the band members stay motivated through such a laborious writing and production process.
“You can’t do the same thing to get motivated,” he says. “You don’t know where inspiration’s going to come from. I watch movies, I listen to soundtracks, I look at paintings – I try not to stay stuck. If I’m staying on my couch and mindlessly doing things, that can cause me to be very complacent and unmotivated. Jumping from thing to thing keeps my mind going.”
Like Langugage, Clairvoyant was recorded with producer and engineer Jamie King. King has also worked with the likes of Between the Buried and Me and Lessard’s previous band, Last Chance to Reason. The Contortionist’s working relationship with King has now developed to the point that he feels like another band member.
“He’s a part of the process,” Lessard says. “At the end of the day, Jamie is a fan of music as much as he is a businessman trying to get business. But I’ve worked with him three times and I’ll probably work a million more times with Jamie. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. He’s honest, he’s humble, he’s smart, he’s hardworking. He’s everything you’d want out of a person. And that’s why it’s awesome to have him.”
Clairvoyant by The Contortionist will be released on Friday September 15 via Entertainment One/Good Fight Music.