"What a weird year," says Cane Hill's Elijah Witt, laughing with audible disbelief. "It really was a weird time for us — but without it, I don't think we would have gotten as good of an album, or as personal an album, as we did."
The frontman of the hard-hitting New Orleans quartet is referring to the period between the release of 2016's Smile, Cane Hill's acclaimed full-length debut, and the beginning stages of songwriting Too Far Gone, their new (and seriously blistering) follow-up — a period in which Witt, guitarist James Barnett, bassist Ryan Henriquez and drummer Devin Clark subjected themselves to a long-running psychedelic endurance test. "From Warped Tour in 2016 to ShipRocked at the beginning of 2017, we did a lot of acid," he explains. "Me and Devin were doing it once or twice a month, and there were time periods where Ryan and James were doing it, like, three times a week, which is just terrifying to me…
"But what it did was, it opened ourselves to a lot of deeply personal problems that we wouldn't talk about or even realize any other way," Witt continues. "We pushed ourselves to figure out who we were — and then went so far that it was painful, and we had to stop."
Cane Hill's collective quest to dangle themselves as far as possible into the lysergic abyss finally ground to a halt last January, while the band was playing on the ShipRocked cruise. "We were there in Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos," Witt recalls. "Lacey Sturm [ex-Flyleaf] came over to tell us she liked our band, because she'd seen us the night before. And everybody was freaking out — not because it was Lacey Sturm, but because we were all watching her face melt," Witt laughs.
"It just didn't go well, and it felt really unprofessional. For me, it felt like, 'I really don't want to fuck with this anymore; I'd like to be able to function and talk to people when I need to.' Everyone was just exhausted; everything felt broken, everything felt tired. It was just like a collective, 'Yeah, that one was terrible, no one had a good time, I think we should probably take a break.' Before that, we kept having friends, family and colleagues telling us that we were maybe going down the wrong road with this. And it all came to fruition that day, like, 'They're right — we look insane!'"
While the history of rock is littered with unlistenable self-indulgent albums made by musicians who pushed the hallucinogenic envelope too far, Cane Hill — named, perhaps appropriately, for a London asylum built in the 19th century — managed to channel the lessons gleaned from their acid explorations into a new sense of purpose and creativity. Produced by Drew Fulk (Motionless in White, Fear Factory), Too Far Gone is an incredibly focused record; cuts like "Lord of Flies," "Hateful" and the title-track find a cohesive (and very appealing) sonic middle-ground between Slipknot, Pantera, Korn and Alice in Chains. There isn't an ounce of musical fat anywhere on the album — it's just one ripping riff and jugular-slicing hook after another.
"We don't believe in bullshit," Witt explains. "We tried to make this album so that there was no filler, there was nothing extra that didn't need to be there — it was just very to-the-point. We wanted the hooks, we wanted the emotions; we wanted the songs to be able to pick you up, throw you and go get you and bring you back, all in three-and-a-half minutes."
The leanest and meanest song on Too Far Gone is "Scumbag," an excoriating riposte to America's burgeoning neo-Nazi movement that clocks in at a hair under two minutes. "I'd rather die before I watch you rise!" roars Witt, who has been photographed onstage wearing a shirt emblazoned with the motto "Fuck Nazis." "We don't have anything to lose on that front," he tells Revolver. "If there are any Nazis that like us, they'll probably stop liking us, and that's fine. James has ancestors who were at Auschwitz, there's Judaism in my lineage, and I've been studying the Holocaust since I was 10, so it's pretty personal for us to have all these white supremacists and neo-Nazis popping out of the woodwork now.
"We live in Louisiana, and the KKK is all around us, but this is like a new breed of it — this is going back to a white supremacist idealism that had quote-unquote scientific backing, that has well-dressed, clean-cut people at the forefront of it, giving it a look that people can latch onto. The KKK is run pretty much by negligent and idiotic people that don't have a grasp on how to get their message out there. But the alt-right and the neo-Nazis, they have formal education, they speak well, and they're growing in numbers because of it; it's much easier for an angry, disenfranchised white man who wants to blame all of his problems on black people or Jews to hop on a train with people who look like that. They're turning this evil, evil idea and giving it an attractive face, and that's even more fucked up, to me."
Speaking of fucked up, that's something Witt swears he and his bandmates won't be getting any time soon, since they did enough partying in that period between the albums to last a lifetime. "These days, we're just four relatively sober dudes," he admits. "Nobody drinks anymore, nobody does hallucinogenics; we just smoke a bunch of pot. Our song 'Singing in the Swamp' is a lot about how we used to put that sort of lifestyle ahead of our relationships, whether it was with girls or family members; for some reason, we had it in our heads that it was so cool to be the band that did it the most, and that no one could keep up with us with the weed, the acid or the drinking. I don't know why we thought that was cool, but that version of us is gone. We're completely different people now."