Why so serious?

Just kidding! iwrestledabearonce is doing just fine, and their new album, 'Hail Mary,' proves it

Photo by Jason Mageau

“The nice thing is that even though the band I was in had a lot of growing to do, IWABO still got a sense of what I was about through my old band. We wrote some kickass stuff. I definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but I think they felt really confident I could write songs, I could write the melodies and the rhythms and I could write the lyrics.

Courtney LaPlante makes you want to keep talking to her. She’s charming, her demeanor inviting and engaging. I called her 15 minutes late — mainly because I thought she was supposed to call me — and she let me have it: “I was sitting here, waiting by the phone,” she poured on. “You made me wait.” I extended my deepest apologies. “You’re a smart man,” she joked. She couldn’t keep up the facade very long, her nature more lighthearted. She’s full of active energy, something the leader of a band known for their energetic songs needs to be. That band, iwrestledabearonce, is about to release Hail Mary, their fourth full-length release, though it’s the second for LaPlante. She replaced former frontwoman Krysta Cameron in 2012 when she left to pursue a family. The energy on Hail Mary is there, but it’s a significantly denser energy. Their debut album, It’s All Happening, ended up at No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart partly on its technical prowess, spastic songwriting and genre exploration. But, as happens when the life of a band rolls on, IWABO now rests on a sole founding member — guitarist Steven Bradley — but for the current release, the songwriting got heavier. Really heavy. The grooves last longer. While the music may not sound exactly the same, it has the identity and fingerprints of IWABO; just like their debut album, it’s another way one of the more entertaining acts in the genre reminds us they exist on their own terms.

We’re just along for the ride.

Most people want to get to know you a little bit, so I found these cards that my wife and I have that are like “Get to Know You” questions. Are you down for this?
(Laughs) Yeah! Sure.

Okay, cool. These are supposed to be for when you first meet somebody, so here you go. First one: “Who was the last person you talked to on the phone, and who do you talk to most on the phone?” Not counting me.
The last person I talked to on the phone was… I just did an interview like an hour ago, but the last person I talked to on the phone, a personal call, was on Monday. My dad was picking me up from the airport in Atlanta, and he surprised me that my grandparents had driven down from Massachusetts to hang out with me.

Oh my God!
I don’t live in Alabama, I was just coming here to visit my dad, and I had a mental breakdown on the phone, crying.

Well that’s a really good answer.
I think the person I talk to the most on the phone is probably my mom. She lives in the same city as me. I talk to her the most on the phone because we live 40 minutes away from each other so we’re always organizing when to hang out. She’s a crazy hundred-mile ultra marathon runner. I am just starting out running, so I talk to the poor lady for an hour, at least once a week, trying to get tips from her (laughs).

Your mother sounds like an inspiration to live up to.
She’s an inspiration to live up to because she’s turning 50 and she looks like she’s 25. Everyone in my band stares at her and likes her pictures on Instagram inappropriately, a little too much.

(Laughs) This one kind of is close because you just said you were in Atlanta, I know you said you didn’t live there, but this card says: “Would you rather live in a place that was always very hot, or a place that was always very cold?”
Oh no. Well, I don’t know because my dad lives in Alabama. The closest airport is Atlanta. I lived in Alabama for ten years, and I really didn’t like the mugginess. I think if I had to pick, though, I would pick always hot. At least you have an air conditioner.

Photo by Jason Mageau

I’m with you on that. I live in Houston, so I’m familiar with the mugginess, and I would take that over snow and ice any day of the week.
I live in Canada, but I live on the West Coast so it’s never snowed this year, as an example. Yeah, I think I’d rather it be always hot and then have to have air conditioning and spend a bunch of money on air conditioning.

Given your chosen profession, you’ll likely be hotter most of the days and sweaty most of the time. You probably want some water and some ice after that. It’s probably better that way.
Yeah, exactly.

One more: “Who were your childhood idols?”
Okay, you have to give me…like childhood as in not a teenager yet?

I think the question is intended to be — like, I played with X-men, that kind of era.
You know what? It was everybody at Space Jam.

The day I stopped believing in God was the day that God didn’t answer my prayers that the frickin’ Looney Tunes squad would come out of my TV with Michael Jordan and be my friends. I did meet Charles Barkley once. Wait. Twice.

Oh yeah? He played for Houston, so he’s been around this town a lot.
Yeah, but my prayer was semi-answered, I got to meet somebody that was in Space Jam.

There’s still time on the table. A lot of those guys are still alive.
I’ll make my rounds.

I don’t know what I can promise you in regards to the Looney Tunes, though.
Yeah, so that was like my big thing when I was little. The first CD I ever bought was the Space Jam soundtrack, when I was, like, 8.

That’s so definitive of an era, I guess is the best way to put it.
Yes, exactly.

Well then, tell me a little bit about what happened between Space Jam and now your music career, as a junior higher, through high school and into your musical life. How did your relationship with becoming the vocalist for a metal band come about?
It’s really weird. I grew up in Alabama, right. I went to a very average school in Jackson, Alabama, and I was always very high-achieving. I wanted to be everything. I wanted to make the highest grades but also be the prom queen and also be the fastest person on my track team and be a cheerleader and be President of Student Council. I think I was Vice President of the F.F.A. Society. It’s like I wanted to be everything, but I also would only try out for these things if I knew I was going to win. You know what I mean? So I only tried out for Homecoming if I knew I would win. Then I put my name out there. I was one of those over-achieving kids who was really scared.

It was a really small town, so I think what my destiny was to be that kid who was the best at everything and then went to college and realized they were not a special snowflake and that just because, “I’m pretty but I also love Dragon Ball Z, I’m so quirky and different,” and then realize, get over yourself. High school doesn’t matter.

It only gets you so far. Right.
And then when I was 15, I was taken away from there because of my mom. I moved to Canada, and I always liked playing guitar and stuff, and I taught my little brother how to play guitar, and he got way better than me and started playing metal. I was his singer.

We started out in a band and we were more like Rage Against the Machine with a girl singing. Then, as he started to like heavier, more extreme music, I also had to adapt, and he was showing me heavier, more extreme music, so it went from that to System of a Down to Between the Buried and Me to Meshuggah. He keep having this need for heavier and heavier music. I never set out to be in a metal band, I just set out to make rock music with my brother. Then we both discovered our love for metal music together.

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That’s a fantastic story, are you and your brother still very close?
Yeah, I was in a band with him for about six years. That’s the band that I left to join this band.

Don’t tell me that story yet. I have one more question I want to ask before we get to that story. F.F.A. For people that don’t know, that’s the Future Farmers of America.
(In a Southern accent) Future Farmers of America.

As a Texan, I’m familiar. Do you ever say that elsewhere in the country and people look at you like, What?
Yes. They don’t know that here in Canada. I don’t even know why I say that, then. I should say, “Oh, I might be able to be president of something at my school.” I do still have my F.F.A. jacket, you know. The corduroy jacket you get.

I was never actually in the club; it was just prevalent. I was too busy playing soccer. My dad came from England, so when I went to high school here, F.F.A. was somewhat foreign to all of us. I had to learn about it all.
What was your soccer team? Michael, in my band, his parents are British so he has to be a Manchester United fan.

My dad was born in Brighton, which is on the Southern side of England, and there’s no professional football team in that city. His dad, as I understand it, was in the Royal Navy so they didn’t spend as much time hooting and hollering and getting into trouble down at the pubs much. He had a different relationship with it, but he understood the value of being a part of a larger competitive organization, I think like your parents did. Keeping us busy, so otherwise we don’t get in to trouble.
(Laughs) You’re going to be a hooligan!

Exactly. And he was exactly right so I played soccer non-stop.
That’s awesome.

Do you feel like you got your drive from your mother? Do you think she encouraged you to be the best you could and that was you figuring that out?
Yeah, my mom was a teacher at my school, so she was my mom and she was my science teacher and she was my track coach.

During certain times of the year, I would be with her for the entire day and then go home with her.

And now you still spend time with her?
Yeah, and we get along so well. The job that I left to go join my band? She worked there, too. She ran the place I worked. We worked together for three years (laughs).

That’s an awesome success story.
Yeah, she’s awesome. She’s very driven.

Now tell me about your relationship with iwrestledabearonce. You got more and more into metal; was that band an inspiration to you and your brother?
Yeah, we loved them. I remember my brother saying, “Okay, I’m about to show you the coolest sh-t you’ve ever heard.”

It is, when you first hear it. It really is.
He showed me on MySpace, and then we were huge fans. I added them all on Facebook and every once in a while, I’d be like, “I love you guys!” I never met them and they never really talked to me, but I was always a big fan. We were big, big fans. We never got to see them live, because they never came out to my little island I lived on in Canada. Then I was at work, just going about my business, and I got a call — I think Jason (Mageau), the band’s manager called. He was like, “Hey, so their singer quit, do you want to finish Warped Tour with us?” And I was like, yeah! When do you want me to start? He’s like, “Now. Can you leave now?”

Were you told it would be interim?
Oh no, they were like, we just need you to finish Warped Tour. This was literally the second their singer quit. They already knew of me because the band I was in was a regional band, and there’s not a ton of girls that sing and scream like that. In a way, if we didn’t both have girl vocalists, no one would compare us. But we had interesting styles, so they were aware of me. They probably had been like, “You know, if we ever need somebody… She’s a cool lady.”

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(Laughs) If something ever goes down…
I went out there the next day. I flew out the first flight, five in the morning to Oklahoma where they had the day off for the Fourth of July. And then I met them. We didn’t practice or anything, they just let me go on their tour bus: “So you can just turn up our songs really loud on the tour bus and scream to break in your voice. Then, hopefully, you sound okay tomorrow.” Because I hadn’t done any vocals in probably four months.

That was my next question, how long the separation had been from your previous band and this moment and how it went.
They were like, “Go, go for it.” It was my brother and my boyfriend. They were very supportive. They never said, “No, no no.” They were more like, “She might join the band, but, if anything, it’s going to help all of us with exposure, so go! Run!” They weren’t mad when I joined, because they were really proud of me.

It was after a few days, and then the guys were like, “Do you want to go on a world tour with us and be our singer?” They already had a world tour booked, everywhere, like Europe, America, Asia and Australia. “Okay, I’ll do that!”

You were lucky in that you were in a position to say yes.
Yeah, it just clicked. I was kind of weirded out. I just went on a bus with 20 dudes. They were sharing a bus with the band Vanna. I get to my friend, the guy’s house in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and he was having this giant pool party with all these dudes and they’re all sunburned and everyone has these face tattoos. Everyone in Vanna has face tattoos and I don’t even know which guys are in my band and which guys aren’t in my band. They all look the same!

Yeah, and I had no idea what was going on. I went in there and everyone was drunk because they were all stressed out and everyone was sunburned from being on Warped Tour and being in the pool all day. I just gave them all a hug and and told them, We’re going to get through this, guys. Mildred the Dog was there and she cuddled me because I was stressed out. And the next day, I was going out and doing the show.

Was the world tour with Vanna?
They were on the American and the European leg of it, so I became really close with them. I did my first three tours with iwrestledabearonce (Warped Tour, Europe and America), and Vanna was there the whole time. I got really close to those dudes because they also were there helping me. They told me, Hey, I know you’re probably freaking out right now because your whole life’s about to change, but it’s okay. It’s like they were like my dad when I was going through puberty: “You’re going through some changes.

Davey (Muise, vocalist for Vanna) was a replacement singer, so he was very great to me. He knew what I was going through.

That’s great for him to lend an ear and to give you some advice.
Oh yeah. I owe him so much.

Let’s talk about Hail Mary for a second. I’ve only heard the first single; I haven’t heard the actual album yet. I’ve listened to iwrestledabearone probably almost as long as you have. The single itself sounded leaner, almost a heavier sound than I’ve heard from the band before. It’s almost like the fat was stripped away. Still raw, super charged, a little frenetic, but it doesn’t really give you the breaks that—
It doesn’t feel like jazz breaks are coming or something.

Right, they’re just not there. Even the riffs are more punishing.
Yeah, that’s the best way to describe that song. That’s perfect what you just said. It punishes you.

Also, I’d say — this is a sneak peek — that song is probably the least technical song on the album. I’d say as far as instruments, that one is our least technical song I think. I’m excited to show the other songs (laughs).

The major note I made was that in the landscape of music, it sounds like people are writing more for the broader fan base. If you’re going to do that, that’s fine, but I feel like in an era where bands like Chon and Polyphia are selling albums and with iwrestledabearonce’s history, that you would decide to go so heavy with the album. Personally, I love heavy, but I wanted to hear what you thought about that.
You know, I’ve been really bored with everything I hear. I’ve just been so bored. It’s like nothing has any balls to it. I want this song, the song that we release, to be like a kick in the balls (laughs).

That song is heavy, but it’s definitely not the heaviest. That’s probably the least guitar-driven song on the album, as far as lead guitar work. (IWABO bassist) Michael (Martin) and (guitarist) Steven (Bradley) outdid themselves. Me and Michael went home after recording was done, but I’m pretty sure Steven and Michael took a nap for a week straight after they recorded because they were probably just mentally and physically drained.

For the record, that’s your guitarist and drummer, correct?
We have three Michaels in our band.

Which one here?
We have young Michael; he is our new guitar player. He’s my boyfriend. Then we have Michael Martin, we call him Ricky, Rickshaw. He’s the bass player. Then we have Mikey Montgomery. We have young Michael, Mikey and we have Ricky (laughs). They’re all named Michael. It’s a total sh-t show.

Ricky is one of the founders, correct?
Ricky and Mikey aren’t technically the founders of the band, but I feel like it’s weird to say they’re not founders because the band started with (former vocalist) Krysta (Cameron), (former guitarist) John Ganey and Steven. They got big enough and they needed to tour, so they got random people in their band that didn’t really work out. Ricky and Mikey, they haven’t been in it since the very beginning, but they’re the founding members in my eyes.

I don’t mean to derail your original statement, I just was trying to give reference to the family tree, if you will.
Yeah, I always just lie and sat they’re original members.

(Laughs) It’s definitely easier.
Who’ll Wikipedia that?

Yeah. Screw that.
They were in the sh-t. They were there.

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When you entered the picture, did they press a direction on you, or were you allowed the freedom to help guide it? Are you mainly doing lyrics? Is that your goal here?
The nice thing is that even though the band I was in had a lot of growing to do, IWABO still got a sense of what I was about through my old band. We wrote some kickass stuff. I definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but I think they felt really confident I could write songs, I could write the melodies and the rhythms and I could write the lyrics.

That’s like my own little world. They’re not a part of that world. I go in my room and I write stuff and I come in and that’s where the guys might say, “Hey, maybe you could do your rhythm this way.” They give me guidance in that way as far as what I’m actually recording, but for my part, I go in my own direction. They go in their own direction with writing the music, and we have to pray we meet up in the middle somewhere. So far, it works.

Late for Nothing, I guess late 2013, was the last one we did, and that one was really cool. I had complete control, but this one was even cooler because I didn’t have anything to prove anymore.

You can let loose.
Yeah, I don’t care if people don’t like it because I don’t have to prove anything. I already proved myself. It’s a nice feeling of relief. It’s nice not to have that anxiety or care what people think because you made it for your own selfish creativity. It’s an awesome feeling.

When you wrote Hail Mary, what were you thinking about?
The feeling the song gave you — not lyrically, but the overall feeling of the song — led to themes of dread and heaviness and darkness and evilness. That’s kind of what my lyrics reflected.

You call it going off into your little room, I guess you just put on the music on some headphones and disappear?
Yeah. I do that and I go on a jog. I’ve been training for half marathons so I write on my runs. A lot of my runs are really long. They’re like two hours long.

I ran a half marathon last year and it almost killed me.
Oh that’s amazing, though. I’m cool with it. Mine’s in June, and I’ve already run that distance, so I’ll be fine.

I have a brand new respect for anyone that runs more than six miles at a time.
It’s really hard. I don’t think I’ll ever want to do more than this. It’s so time consuming to train for. I’m trying to train in rural Alabama right now. I went on my long run yesterday. I was going to run 11 miles, and I got through six. I had to call Michael — he’s here, too, visiting my family, young Michael — and have him come pick me up because I was out in the middle of nowhere and there were so many damn stray dogs that live on farms chasing me and stuff.

You were straight out of a horror movie.
Yeah, it was scary. I had to run around with sticks and rocks so I could throw them at the dogs.

Really, you’re just trying to put yourself in the mindset of the album.
If I could have written the album here, when the dogs were chasing me, it would have been even scarier. I need to go on a six mile run today. It’s not going to happen.

How about this, then: What’s your favorite fried food? Is it chicken or is it going to be like a jalapeno popper?
I don’t know. I’m a vegetarian now, but I grew up (in Alabama) not being a vegetarian, so it might be like fried catfish and hush puppies. Tonight we’re going to Cooter Brown’s Rib House out here, and I’m going to eat ten hush puppies.

Hell yeah you are! You’re going to eat ten of those damn hush puppies.
Then I’m just going to lay down.

iwrestledabearonce was posted on June 24, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by .