Motionless In White’s Chris Motionless: “Religion continues to show itself for how vile it is”

Chris Motionless
(Image credit: Rock Candy)

Chris Motionless loves music. His own, sure, but especially other people’s. “I’m still a full-blown music fan,” says Motionless In White’s singer and mastermind. “I consider myself a bigger music fan than I am an artist or a creator of music myself. When we toured with Slipknot a few years ago, Corey Taylor would just sit down and hang out. And I was, like, ‘Dude, is this fucking happening?’ Same with Korn. Like, ‘Jonathan Davis is singing on one of our songs?’”

Of course, the man born Chris Cerulli has frequently inspired the same levels of devotion since he formed the band that became Motionless In White in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2004 (the MIW moniker was officially adopted on January 1, 2005, after trying out “a bunch of different names which didn’t really work”). 

Since then, Motionless have gradually evolved away from their metalcore roots across the course of six albums, with Chris himself becoming a sometimes reluctant figurehead for an army of fans. Their latest album, Scoring The End Of The World, mirrors the chaos, uncertainty, desperation and anger of the times.

“There’s a lot of anger and a lot of hatred – the song Slaughterhouse is really fucking angry,” says Chris of the album, as he gets ready to look back over his life and career. “But there’s a lot of sadness, there’s a lot of energy too.”

The title Scoring The Of The World is pretty on the nose…

"The funny thing is, I’ve had it since, like, 2014. We were considering calling [2014’s] Reincarnate that, but it just didn’t feel right. I’ve been holding onto it, waiting for the perfect moment. When it was time to figure out what this record was going to be, I was, like [rubbing hands], ‘Oh, have I got a title for you…’"

Did you find it hard or easy to be creative during lockdown?

"It was like a nice break. We actually felt creatively stunted to a degree with our touring schedule and stuff, so the pandemic kind of opened it up to feel like we could do whatever we want it. It didn’t feel like we were under some sort of deadline, which kills creativity some of the time."

You still live in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is where you grew up. What kind of town is it?

"It’s very basic, just a very blue collar, working class city. The locomotive industry used to be really big in Scranton, so there's a lot of heritage with that, but until the [the US version of the TV show] The Office came out, there wasn’t really any claim to fame."

Did you ever have the urge to get the hell out of there?

"I don't know if I ever necessarily thought about it in the sense of this rebellious, ‘I want to get out of here because I’ll never go anywhere.’ It was more that I just want to be on tour and playing shows around the world. I just wanted to travel and play music."

What kind of household did you grow up in?

"I have two siblings, so my mom was a stay at home mom. She took care of the three of us, which is arguably the hardest job in the world. I was very close to my mom, very close to my siblings. My dad owns his own company - he does concrete flooring, like inside of industrial warehouses. He worked a lot."

Did you help him out? It’s kind of hard to imagine you on your hands and knees, pouring concrete…

"[Laughs] Oh yes. I spent many years of my life grinding concrete edges, mixing all kinds of polyurethanes. That was my first job. I had other jobs later in malls, I worked in a tattoo shop."

Is it true that you got fired from Wal-Mart when you were a kid?

"I did. I was in high school and I worked in the toy department, and all my friends were always there just to hang out with me, fucking with the Nerf guns. This went on for like a year and no one said anything, and then there was a new management shift and they immediately fired me. [Laughs] just when I was starting to build a resumé."

What was the 15-year-old Chris Cerulli like?

"I was incredibly shy, introverted, and an outsider in any setting that wasn't with my friends. When it came to my friendship group, it always felt like I was the natural leader – not self appointed, it just ended up happening that way. I'd be the guy going, ‘Let's do this, let’s do that!’ I’d make the calls, I'd be the connector. No one else did that, so it kind of ended up on my shoulders. Or I put it on my shoulders, maybe."

Is it still like that?

"Oh definitely. That migrated into being the leader of a band. We’re all friends in the band and we like to do the same stuff and everyone has the same vision, but someone has to be the leader of it. And that ended up being a kind of natural progression of where I was going. It feels very similar to the way it was in high school, we’re just much older now."

Were there musicians in your family?

"My parents loved music but weren’t musicians. But my grandfather was big into country stuff like Johnny Cash and Elvis and I grew up hearing a lot of that stuff. He tried to show me guitar when I was really young but I wasn't interested. He passed away when I was still young, so it sucks that it didn’t get a chance to come to life when he was still alive. But I like to think that maybe there’s some way he knows about it and is proud that he planted the seeds."

Motionless In White

(Image credit: Roadrunner/Press)

Who was the band or artist that made you want to be a musician?

"I didn’t want to be a singer. I played guitar, then I got a drum set, I tried to dabble on piano – I just wanted to play the instrument and not have anything to do with singing. But Metallica were the big gateway band for me. I learned so many of their songs on drums and guitar. They made feel, like, ‘Fuck work, I just want to play my guitar and play my drums.’"

So how did you end up singing?

"I was with a group of friends, we were a Metallica tribute band called Thunderhead. They didn’t have a singer. They asked if I would do it, and I was, like, ‘I will, but I have to play guitar as well, because I just can’t sing.’ That was my very first show, and I was the vocalist. "

What was the first Metallica song you sang?

"It was Creeping Death. I have the VHS tape somewhere. I’ve got to dig it out."

When did Chris Cerulli become Chris Motionless? 

"I did not give myself the name. Once we changed our name to Motionless In White, people started referring to me as that. Once I realised, ‘Okay, I am a singer I'm a performer, I'm onstage, this is what I’m gonna do’, I think that that maybe that Chris Motionless persona and the idea of accepting that this is actually happening became synonymous with each other."

Was the look in place from the start of Motionless in White or did it come later?

"The look was always there. I was super into the make-up and all-black stuff before Motionless In White was even was a thing. I've been doing it since high school and here I am, and still it's a major part of our band. I hated when bands would have that look and then the next two years later, they just abandoned it."

What was the ambition in the beginning of Motionless In White? Did you want to become rich and famous?

"It was an outlet. I had a fire in me just to be involved with music in any capacity. I used to buy punk compilations all the time, but I felt like on every comp there was only one or two songs that were really good, and they were by bands that were already big. I remember saying: ‘I don’t want to just be another band on a comp, I want to create something that has its own following – people who want to be part of what we were doing and grow it and experience it.’"

How do you look back on those early years?

"Dude, I would give anything in this world to go back and experience the first couple of years. I'm very grateful for where we're at right now – I don't know if I would be able to survive not touring on a bus again. But there's some magic to the idea of getting in a fucking van and a trailer with six of your best friends and just doing it. Playing to five people in a city you’ve never been to before."

Did you ever play to a crowd that absolutely hated you?

"Very many times. We were just fucking horrible. There was one song that I didn't even have lyrics for - I was just singing gibberish over gibberish melodies. It was so fucking ugly. But it didn’t matter. It's just such an indescribable feeling to set up your first show in front of four people in South Carolina who don’t give a shit about you. It’s just amazing."

What was the toughest album to make?

"Two of them have been tough. One was godawful. Our second record, [2012’s] Infamous, had the darkest creation. It was really stressful. Just really, really bad. And it came out sounding horrible, and then it leaked a month before it was released, which was just the icing on the shit cake. I’m glad that all these years later fans still enjoy the record for what it is, but I listen to half of it and I want to implode.

And [2017’s] Graveyard Shift was tough to make. For some reason I put way more pressure on myself with that record than any other. I felt unhappy with everything I did, and it drove everyone around me fucking crazy. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, but I do think there's some great songs on the album that I really love."

It sounds like you’re prone to beating yourself up over stuff, to the point where it affects your mental health…

"I feel like all the different aspects of my fears come into play. I feel like I’m a people-pleaser, where I’m always in this position where I have to sacrifice what I truly want to do: ‘Okay, I’m sorry, I don’t want to take too long with this track, we can just go with this one.’ And I take the hit to make sure the other person is happy.

And I have bouts of extreme paranoia, and I start to think that everyone around me fucking hates me: ‘Why did this person get out of bed today and not say hi to me? Do they fucking hate me?’

It just spirals. It’s ridiculous at times. It has caused me to either distance myself from people or burn myself out to the point where it’s hard to participate at the level something might require."

You’ve talked about going into therapy in the last couple of years, after being resistant to it. What changed?

"I had no other option. I heard great things from people close to me about therapy. I had this preconceived notion that it meant that they were automatically going to prescribe you a medication: you go, you get your pills, and then you take your pills and melt your brain. And that's it. And that was a very uneducated, very ignorant opinion that I sat with for a while."

Did therapy help?

"Yes, it did. I felt like I was able to trace patterns of why things may be the way that they are, and when you recognise something for what it is, it's a lot easier to change it, or at least a lot easier to try to create new patterns how you can live differently and circumvent these types of issues that may still be in you that you can't get rid of. And sometimes it's just a person to talk that feels unbiased, and that's really beneficial. I found a lot of a lot of solace from it on multiple levels."

Would you say you’re in a better place now?

"It's a very ongoing thing. I think it comes and goes. I thought I was doing pretty good, and then the pandemic hit, and you're, you're overwhelmed with this unstable uncertainty. A lot of that just avalanched on me, but I got through it by consistently going to therapy. And I ended up trying medications to see if that could help.

Some people don’t like asking for help. Some people don’t like taking a pill or a medication that might be able to help, because it feels, in a certain way, that you're not doing it on your own. And there is power to accomplishing something on your own versus with help from medication. I still grapple with that today, but I’m grateful that I did, because it can help."

Does the music industry have a duty of care in terms of looking after musicians and what they might be going through?

"To me, it’s more like a universal projection that mental health is as important as physical health. We cancelled a show on our last tour, half because of my physical health and the other half because of my fucking mental health. I was not even able to perform because I was so sick. The night before, I was on stage and I literally could not even sing. It wasn't even so much that I was worried about my physical health, it was that my mental health during that show just collapsed. 

I got off stage, and it was a fucking disaster. It just crushed me. I was like, ‘There is no way I can go on stage tomorrow.’ And that's ended up what happened. We cancelled the show. And it sucked. I felt like I was letting everybody down: the fans, the band management. I just felt horrible about it. But thankfully, it seemed like everybody was very supportive. 

The emphasis on the fact that mental health is really serious needs to be maintained. People should know that it's okay to do that for yourself when you need to, because then it makes you feel like you can exist as a person who has faults and who has moments that you need to take a pause."

You’ve never drank alcohol or taken illegal drugs, right?

"When I was younger, very early teens, I ingested small amounts of alcohol, but I've never smoked a cigarette or anything else. Unfortunately, there was a person in my family that destroyed my mom's side of the family by being a heroin addict. That happened when I was very young, so I linked every form of usage of anything like that with ‘this is what happens.’ 

My dad and I had a pretty rocky relationship occasionally, and I think my brain probably related that to whenever he was drinking. It’s not like he was an alcoholic or anything, but if he ever did drink, it felt like there was a shift in personality and character that I became more afraid of. Those two things were enough for me to just be like, ‘Nope, that’s not for me, not what I want to become.’"

You say you had a rocky relationship with your father when you were younger, but in 2017 he had a heart attack and was hospitalised. He recovered, but that must have been hard to deal with?

"When my parents were together, it was a pretty tense household. After they split, my father and I didn’t see each other for, like, a year. And then when he introduced himself back into our lives, he was like a totally different person, a lot more compassionate, willing to be a lot more of the ways that were really a struggle. 

It was pretty devastating [when he became ill] because it's the first time I've ever experienced that in my life. It makes you look at your own mortality. There's a there's a track on Graveyard Shift called Hourglass that’s very much about looking at your own mortality. Songs like Holding Onto Smoke… it unlocked that idea of, ‘Oh my god, my own mortality is something I have to focus on as well…’ It became a big topic for me."

You’ve made it clear in the past that you’re not a religious person. You’ve criticised “people who abuse Gods name by using it to… cause harm to others emotionally or physically”. Do you still stand by that?

"I feel like the way that people pump religion is as this sole way to live. I stand by it in that there are people that should not have the power that they have. With religion, I think, now more than ever, it continues to show itself for how vile it is. You have things like Roe versus Wade being overturned, or this situation here with the Supreme Court that is religiously backed, that is not an ethical or moral decision. That is based on these fucking people being psychotically religious. Yes, I will stand by the fact that people use that for really cruel and evil ways that do that cause a regression of evolution and progress in our world."

Does being in Motionless In White make you happy all the time?

"Even in the worst moments, I'm just so grateful that I’m in a place where I get to do what I get to do and that I've put in so much hard work, even to the detriment of my mental health and other relationships in my life. At the core, yes, it makes me incredibly happy."

Scoring The End Of The World is out now via Roadrunner

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.