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The Contortionist: ‘All you can do is try and show how much you’ve Evolved’

The American rock/metal band’s vocalist Michael Lessard on how they’re doing less and more on their latest album ‘Clairvoyant’

Anurag Tagat Sep 15, 2017

American band The Contortionist make their India debut this week. Photo: Gobinder Jhitta

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How many bands can make a refreshingly technical prog album and then follow it up with a song that’s essentially pop-structured? On their first single “Reimagined,” off their upcoming fourth album Clairvoyant (out September 15th via eOne Music), Indianapolis prog rock/metal band The Contortionist sing about the point of life, in an evocative song that’s presented in the familiar verse, chorus, bridge format.

Vocalist Michael Lessard—who joined in 2013 and worked on their breakout 2014 album Language—says over the phone from Maine that “Reimagined” was a song he had written and presented to the band while working on his first album itself. He says, “Everybody liked it, but there was a common agreeance that it wasn’t quite time for a track like that for the band. It kind of sat collecting dust in my laptop and then you know, it finally got pulled out. It was nice to see that get a little bit of airtime if you will and finally see the light of day.”

One of the first things Lessard mentions is about working on videos for the band as a producer and editor, including the murky visuals on the super-poignant “Reimagined.” The music video shows us decay, emptiness and darkness, all of which are actually themes on Clairvoyant. Lessard says, “There is a concept and it’s a continuation of Language in a lot of ways. What Language was—an album about growing—this album is the opposite. It’s about death and decay, the more depressing side of it.” Even sonically, Clairvoyant explores different tonalities. Like their second single “Absolve,” which is delicately composed and grows with each listen.

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While some fans groaned over how Language’s widespread success has led to the accessible sound of Clairvoyant, Lessard says they weren’t in the least worried about living up to their previous release. He says, “All you can do is try and show how much you’ve evolved and hopefully other people enjoy it and appreciate it as much or more as the last one.”

Some of his favorite songs off Clairvoyant include “Return to Earth” and the nine-minute “Monochrome (Pensive).” Unlike Language, The Contortionist spent about a year on Clairvoyant. Lessard says it was a problem of plenty. “We had to go into the studio and we even extended our studio time by two months. There was just so much time and we had so much music, it was hard to choose at that point,” he says with a laugh.

But if their released songs are any indication, there’s real proof of effort that’s gone into songwriting. Clairvoyant seems to solidify the band’s place in modern prog that’s accessible yet technically dazzling. Lessard says, “Some people will say we’re slowly selling out or whatever their assumption might be, but we’re making music that we enjoy. It is accessible, but at the same time, to us, there is more technicality in some of the accessible stuff than there is in the blatant showboating that seems to capture people’s eyes and ears.” Being more subtle with the technicalities, Lessard says the goal was to make music that the average listener can follow along, while in-depth prog geeks can spot the intricacies and polyrhythms.

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They’re not the only ones, of course. The Contortionist’s upcoming tourmates, genre-jumping prog metallers Between the Buried and Me are among the best known for being operatic, brutal and catchy all at once. Then, closer home, there’s Indian-American prog rock/metallers Skyharbor in a similar space of prog, who toured with The Contortionist in November 2015. Lessard recalls how enriching it was to be around members of the Delhi/Mumbai/ Los Angeles/Cleveland band. “Honestly, I would tour with Skyharbor any time,” Lessard says, recalling specifically when Skyharbor bassist Krishna Jhaveri broke his teeth on tour. “They never seemed to get too flustered. They just have so much patience. One of them, he fractured his tooth and he was dealing with that. Even then, he was so polite and never trying to make anyone think about him. He was still very selfless, even in those moments.”

All that makes Lessard even more interested to come to India for a show with The Contortionist. While an offer came their way a year ago, he says they had to turn it down owing to prior family commitments. He adds, “But I really do hope we get to come out there. We’ve heard amazing things about it and I really hope we get to experience it in the near future.”

This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Rolling Stone India. 

Watch the video for “Return to Earth”

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