When it came to the list of five bands nominated for the Best Metal Performance category at the Grammy Awards 2024, one name stuck out among usual suspects like Metallica and Slipknot. Spiritbox. The independent Canadian band got the nod for their beguiling 2023 track Jaded. Suffice to say, it very much took the band’s frontwoman Courtney LaPlante by surprise.
“It was just so completely out of the realm of possibility,” grins LaPlante, as she tells Music Week why she actually decided to sleep through the nominations reveal. “Because I’d had a late night the day before I was like, ‘I'll find out when I wake up.’ [laughs] My manager started calling me at eight in the morning and I said, ‘Wait a second, Oh my God!’. I didn't even get to see it be broadcast live.”
But while LaPlante may not have seen the nomination coming, it isn’t really surprising that they’ve suddenly found themselves rubbing shoulders with metal royalty. Formed by LaPlante and husband/guitarist Mike Stringer in 2017 out of the ashes of Canadian metal experimentalists Iwrestledabearonce, Spiritbox have already scored a Top 20 UK with debut album Eternal Blue, released via independent label Pale Chord in conjunction with Rise Records.
Having also embraced regular EP releases, the group notched up 60 million streams before they had even released a full-length. To date, 2022’s Rotoscope EP has 28.5 million streams while their latest outing, 2023’s The Fear Of Fear – released last month – spawned the Grammy-nominated Jaded.
Despite specialising in a pulverising, but sonically textured brand of metal, they already have 2.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, headlined the Roundhouse twice, secured 441 million career streams across platforms and 77.4 million YouTube views. Next year, they play Reading & Leeds Festivals.
Perhaps the biggest sign of their ascension into mainstream affections came with their surprise 2023 collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion, the group having personally been recruited by the Houston rapper for an official remix of her track Cobra.
Here, Courtney LaPlante joins Music Week to talk about the Grammys, representing women in all too often male-dominated genre, the art of music videos, independence and why she would simply die if she ever met Beyoncé…
What the hell would Courtney LaPlante from IWrestledABearOnce make of where you are right now with Spiritbox: a Grammy nomination, a song with Megan Thee Stallion, selling out venues around the world…
“It's weird, it feels like it's happened so fast but then I also think about how long ago I started doing this type of music. It's really been my entire life – and I’m 34 now. On the one hand, my coping mechanism is that I'm a very self-deprecating person so my first instinct is to feel confused – and I still feel confused! But I'm trying to be more honest about how I really feel, so now I'm trying to just say, ‘This is confirming that I'm on the right path.’ We can sometimes forget just how polarising metal is for people that have never been exposed to it. We still make very strange music compared to the average person [laughs]. I know awards don't define an artist's career, but this is extremely important for a small band, a newer band, to have our name there as a nominee. No matter what happens you can't take that away, we're a nominee! That's life changing. Let's just say, whatever name is called, whether it's our name, Metallica's or whoever, we're gonna be cheering no matter what. Most likely it will never happen again!”
It’s really important for the health of the genre that a newer band – and the only one with a woman within its ranks – is also in this category, too….
“I can't help but feel a deep responsibility to win because I’m the only woman nominated. And technically, I'd be the first woman to win this award, as the category is now called. There was a couple years when it was called the Rock Performance Grammy, so Lzzy Hale did it for us with Halestorm. She broke the glass ceiling for us. But this one's never had a female winner. I kind of feel like… Why? [laughs] C’mon! A couple of years ago, in 2020, everyone nominated had a woman in their band or a person of colour. I was just like, ‘Oh my god, I could do this!’ If you see someone else that looks like you do something it makes you go, ‘Maybe I can do that as well.’ As a woman in this industry, you feel a different responsibility because you are a bit of a role model for other people. It confirms that it can be done when you’ve had your whole life of people telling you that can't. My cheeky answer when people ask me what it's like to be a woman in the music industry is that I just say, ‘It's the same how it feels to be a woman walking, breathing, existing in the world in any job that's male dominated or in the power structures where men are at the top.’”
And why do you think Jaded was nominated specifically?
“It's the guitar riff – we call it ‘The Riff’! It has so much energy and there's some really cool heavy parts in it. I love performing it. I think maybe it's the vulnerability of the song, too. A lot of people identify with being in this weird transition phase where you don't really know who you are sometimes. People pick up on the sadness.”
I can't help but feel a deep responsibility to win the Grammy because I’m the only woman nominated
Courtney LaPlante, Spiritbox
It’s been a pretty remarkable journey for you up to this point. Prior to starting Spiritbox, and after the dissolution of Iwrestledabearonce, did you always believe you’d get a second shot at music, or were there times where you were saying, ‘The dream is over…’?
“It was both. I was just working a shitty job. Every time my birthday came around, I would have some customer yelling at me about their coffee not being hot enough and I would have a little cry, like, ‘Oh my God, I'm 27, I work in a cafe, I make $8 an hour, I'm never gonna be able to afford to make music’. We didn't have any money. Our manager, Jason Mageau, wanted to get us a record deal and no-one would give us one. In fact, every record label that he shopped our self-titled EP around to didn't give a shit about it. I heard a lot of feedback that was very curious, like, ‘Well, who's gonna be home paying rent when they're on tour, because they’re a husband and wife?’ Stuff like that, a nice way of saying no. That made Jason so mad, and so determined that he was like, ‘I'm making a label and I'm signing you’. And that's what Pale Chord records is. He did that just because of how much he believes in our band. I love Jason so I hope that one day he really gets his flowers. He's such a great manager. That's the reason why I'm here right now.”
Why has your relationship with Jason worked so well?
“It's like a marriage. Your manager has to be obsessed with you. And you have to be obsessed with them. Jason is obsessed with us – every minute of every day he’s working his ass off to do what he can in an organic way to get our band to the next level. With him, it always stems from a place of just being like, ‘This would be fun - does that sound fun to you?’ He's not sitting there saying, ‘You need to do this because you are going to ruin your life if you don't!’ It's funny, he's only like 10 years older than me, not even, but he's like our dad. He's been there since the beginning. He was my manager in IWABO, he worked for himself for a long time and now he works at Roc Nation. I couldn't do any of this stuff without him. With a lot of bands that I talk to – and I'm not trying to be rude, but the younger bands – their manager isn't even talking to them much. Your manager shouldn't be a once a week call – that person is integral to your whole operation. They’re the COO! Yes, I watch Succession…”
Is it true that at the beginning of Spiritbox, Jason suggested you should only do music online for a couple of years before you started touring…
“Well, it was more like, ‘Hey, don't be insecure that you guys don't have a band! It's just you and Michael and it's okay – you guys are too broke to tour, just focus on making music, getting it out and put your money where you can control it.’ So we learned how to use Final Cut, operate cameras and make music videos and live music sessions. Michael probably spent 1,000 hours doing that, just learning. The internet has everything for free on there!”
It worked so well and yet it’s the antithesis of the old school approach of ‘Get on the road and play shows’ which bands tend to adhere to…
“If you plan on being a band that tours, you should do that. We were just in a really weird situation. We were like an old-aged dog in an animal shelter that got a second chance at life and a forever home. We've all collectively – other than Zev [Rose, Spiritbox drummer] because he's a lot younger than us – toured hundreds of times all over the world, and then we went into retirement before we said, ‘Let's do this on our own, instead of being a part of an already established band.’ If you haven't done that, you should do a bunch of shows and sleep on people's couches and floors. You don't want to be like us and go from never playing a show to then all of a sudden being asked, ‘Would you like to tour with Limp Bizkit?’ when we had only played 13 shows! It was like, ‘I hope we're good!’”
One of the interesting ways that Spiritbox have gone about things is how you’ve embraced EPs, whereas most rock/metal bands still favour an album-tour-album-tour cycle. Is it just a case of wanting to get new songs to people when they’re done, or is it more an acknowledgement of the changing way people consume music now on streaming?
“Well, that [old way] worked really well for people when that was the only way you could hear music. People really put the album on a pedestal in our world – and I do too! I love albums – good albums that feel like every song was not just put on there. But people forget about the business part of the music business. I'm not speaking for myself because I would die for every song that goes on an album, but people need to realise that with a lot of that stuff, they're not giving you 12 songs because they have so much music flowing out of them that they need to give you 12 songs. It's a contractual obligation. I'm very proud of whenever we put out a record or an EP, it's not a business contract. We've put out EPs that we could have lumped all into one and made an album, but it just didn't feel right. It's a privilege, we can make our decisions based off when we want to do it and we have a team that supports that. I love both formats. I can't wait to put out a second album, but putting out these EPs just made me feel feel creatively expressed because otherwise, we would have had to have waited another year for anyone to hear those songs.”
There is also a debate in the industry right now where some people argue that music videos are a waste of money. Yet you’ve just made a video for every song off The Fear Of Fear EP and the medium has always been inextricably linked to your music and its appeal – the Holy Roller video is basically a short horror film of its own accord. Why do you take them so seriously when some would say your money is better spent on short-form content or marketing?
“For the same reason we put this stuff on record as well. It's just as important to us that music and visuals are so tied together. A lot of people create a visual in their head when they're listening to music anyway. That's what Beyoncé says, ‘You are the visuals, baby!’ when everyone asked where the visuals were [for Renaissance]. The audio cannot escape the visual for me. I always link it back to the Disney animated film Fantasia – those visuals introduced me to classical music. And I grew up in an era where videos were important. Some people don't see a point and that's great because it isn't necessary. You don't need to have a music video to then get on MTV, the barrier to entry isn't like, ‘There must be a music video that’s syndicated’ anymore. There isn't financially a point anymore, unless you're really, really convinced that you’re going to go viral, whatever that means! But then at the same time, there are those of us that love that stuff. Some of our videos – like the Holy Roller video – were free. Michael wrote that, shot it, and edited it. He learned how to do all those things because we couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do it. He's a little genius.”
You were very upfront addressing the challenges that a lot of touring bands faced during the pandemic. What practical things do you think the industry could do to help newer bands?
“Well, first of all, I think there's going to be a backlash, and more independent labels or just independent, self-releasing bands, will come forward. A lot of labels seem to me to be saying, like, ‘You do it – you be the A&R’ to bands. Artists are becoming self-aware that they don't need these people. A lot of people probably assume that a record label deal changes your life. I like to say we're the exception because we love our label, they get us and we have a great thing going. But that is an exception, in my opinion. The rule is mostly you selling yourself short to get money that you probably could have slowly saved up with your friends or been extremely financially irresponsible, like me, by putting everything on your credit card [laughs]. People would be shocked that there are bands that sign a deal for $5,000. That's crazy to me, if you have five members of your band. Labels need to realise that these bands don't need them if they're not going to be providing them with the development part of this whole thing. They need to focus on artist development more.”
Last but not least: Megan Thee Stallion and Spiritbox’s Cobra remix. No one saw that coming. Did you?
“God! I still can't believe it. I just went to see the Beyoncé movie and there's a part where she plays in Houston, Texas, and Megan comes out. I was like, ‘I! Have! A! Song! With! Her! Argh!’ This is something that would have been so interesting to me anyway, even if I wasn't a huge fan, because it was just such a cool, unique idea that she would, with no reluctance, trust this random band to interpret her song. It was like Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and all the holidays wrapped into one for me. I love Cobra, it resonated with me so much in its message. I usually hate when people say, ‘That is so brave!’ but it was just so fierce that she would put all that on the line.”
How did the remix actually happen? Did her team reach out to you?
“We’re both on Roc Nation. I think Megan was interested in doing a heavy version of her song and her management knows my manager and was like, ‘Why not? Let's try it out and see what happens’. I'm not joking, man, it came out 36 hours after Michael received the stems for the song. It was crazy. I'm so grateful that she let me sing a chorus – that was her idea. It was so cool that we were able to do that so quickly and with no, like, ‘Oh, maybe we should listen to it for a few days.’ She's like, ‘Nope, I want it like this. This is perfect.’ I love that.”
The real question now is how do you now go about manifesting a remix of Spiritbox’s Cellar Door with Beyoncé?
“If you would like me to be alive, that can’t happen. Because I would die. Literally, my heart would stop and then the band would have to find a new vocalist. I would die from heart failure. It would have to be a posthumous release!”