When Spiritbox's Courtney LaPlante was 15 years old, she moved from her childhood home in humid, conservative Alabama to Vancouver Island, 60 miles west of Canada’s British Columbia. The move was intended to be a new start, following her parents’ divorce three years before, and as a young, angsty teenager, Courtney had had very little say in the matter.
As she gazed out of the window of the ferry transporting her to her new home, at a seemingly endless, cold ocean, she was filled with mounting rage. “I remember thinking, ‘What the fuck is my life now?’” she recalls. “I [told] my uncle, ‘The second I turn 18, I’m coming back to Alabama.’ He was like, ‘I’m going to bet you in one month, you’ll have changed your mind.’”
He was right, of course. Looking back now, Courtney recognises how pivotal the move was, pinpointing it as the beginning of her transformation into the magnetic, personable frontperson she is today. Speaking to Hammer over Zoom, she’s still a Vancouver Island resident, 17 years after she swore she would leave. The only difference? Now, Courtney is a superstar-in-waiting - the face of post-metalcore trio Spiritbox, the most exciting band in heavy music, and on the cusp of releasing Eternal Blue, the most hyped debut album of recent years.
“That was a very sad time for me in my life, to move to a different country, but it gave me a chance to recreate who I was as a person,” she recalls, twirling long blue hair between her fingers. “Coming here made me realise my true priorities were completely different to who I was pretending to be when I was down there. Back then I was a sorority girl. Everything had to be perfect. When I was 12 years old, I was already trying to figure out what I needed to do to be the Homecoming Queen when I was 18. That’s unhealthy. Then I moved here and the kids I started hanging out with had identities outside of that. They were curating stuff they actually liked, not what society was telling them to do.”
Courtney never did become the Homecoming Queen. Instead, when she was 18, she made the decision to pursue music professionally. “I’ve never had a plan B since,” she smiles, and she’s never needed one. Later that year, she would meet and befriend her now husband, musical soulmate and Spiritbox guitarist, Michael Stringer, with whom she shares an almost symbiotic creative bond. “He was my cute little friend for many years, and I never thought about him in a romantic way,” she says. “The second I saw him play guitar I was like, ‘What can I do to make this guy want to be in my band instead of the band he’s in?’ I have to make music with this guy.”
The pair would go on to join avant-garde metal mob Iwrestledabearonce, but by 2015, they were struggling and disillusioned with the music they were making. “We were playing these really bad shows, not making any money, sleeping in a van,” she remembers today. “[It wasn’t] bringing anyone any joy.”
Soon after, when Iwrestledabearonce disintegrated quietly with little fanfare, Courtney and Michael went to ground to lay the foundations for Spiritbox, a band that would provide them with the sonic fluidity they craved. Cherry-picking from brutal progressive metal, metalcore and emotionally hefty post-metal, they created a lush, genre-bending sound that has opened tech metal up to an audience way beyond chin-stroking aficionados, blowing raspberries at the notion of boundary and what it means to be ‘heavy’. “Some of the songs on Eternal Blue don’t sound like metal songs to me,” she muses when asked where she thinks the band slot in 2021’s scene. “I’m influenced by so much music I couldn’t tell you where we fit.”
Spiritbox released their first, self- titled EP in 2017, followed by a blossom of singles, including Blessed Be and Rule Of Nines, which put them on the radar of a small, but enthusiastic group of metal fans. The latter would spawn a wave of reaction videos on Youtube marvelling at Courtney’s remarkable silky-to-volatile vocals. (“I try not to watch too many of them because I don’t want to get my validation from people on the internet.”) But things really exploded last year, when they released their behemoth, industrial-tinged single Holy Roller.
Accompanied by a horror-inspired music video based on Ari Aster’s 2019 film, Midsommar, which the band filmed during the pandemic “for like five dollars”, they watched in disbelief as the Youtube view counter ticked upwards: hundreds, thousands, then into the millions. “I never thought we’d be putting this album out at this stage at this level of interest,” Courtney admits. “People are like, ‘How did you guys anticipate making music people really like?’ but we’re just really lucky. Hopefully my luck lasts for another 20 years.”
Following Holy Roller, more tracks – the cathartic Circle With Me and devastatingly emotional Constance, a mediation on the cruelty of dementia - followed, showing off every aspect of the band’s multi-faceted sound. “They were never meant to be singles but we had a hard time picking any singles on this record,” Courtney reveals. “We wrote it to be listened to from the front to the back.” That makes sense when you realise Eternal Blue is best approached as a sensory experience: a raw, emotional journey Courtney states is “about dealing with my depression”, something that has plagued her since her teenage years.
Recording the album, she says, was “physically and mentally exhausting” as she delved again and again into her darkest moments. “Every day I would wake up and be more and more tired. It’s like acting. Someone has to hear your emotion in their ears, so you have to get into the mentality of whoever the narrator is singing the song. The narrator is usually myself but at different points in my life. It was a safe environment, though; I was with Dan [Braunstein, producer], Bill [Crook, bassist] and Michael, and they are people who love me and were there to protect me if things got too weird.”
Her emotions came to a head when recording Circle With Me. “I went to record it and I had no confidence,” she remembers. “I sounded so bad, and the guys had to pause my recording session. I had a frickin’ mental breakdown.” All at once, her old go-to of chasing perfection bubbled to the surface again. “The guys were like, ‘It’s OK Courtney, we can do this again tomorrow,’ and I went into a closet in my room and cried and cried. The next day, magic happened. If I hadn’t had that breakdown the night before I wouldn’t have been able to perform the song like I did the next day.”
Given the furore surrounding Eternal Blue’s imminent release, it’s easy to forget just how green as a band Spiritbox actually are. Having spent their first few years as a mostly visual concept, churning out exceptionally slick music videos, they’re yet to properly tour.
“At this point, I’ve had more shows cancelled as Spiritbox than I’ve played as Spiritbox,” Courtney sighs, referring to the band’s two jaunts to date, supporting After The Burial in 2020 and then a few ill-fated US dates with Limp Bizkit earlier this year, which were both called off due to the pandemic. “I’d love to get a tour laminate where I completed the whole tour!”
As a result, despite the weight of expectation threatening to sweep them away, she’s heading into the eye of the storm, determined to keep her feet planted firmly on the floor. “I want to be an opening band for a long time,” she says. “We don’t have a team to go on tour with yet and we have a lot to learn before we have the audacity to put on a huge Spiritbox show. I feel like people are going to have expectations of perfection from us and I want to live up to those expectations. I’m not scared of them. They just make me even more inspired.”
Eternal Blue is out now via Rise Records