Courtney LaPlante didn’t feel like the real Courtney LaPlante until February 2020. It was Spiritbox’s first tour, in Europe, far from their home in Canada. She was no longer striving for academic achievements, she was no longer singing someone else’s songs, and she was no longer ‘office job Courtney’ working alongside indifferent colleagues – she was finally expressing herself authentically, to fans that connected with her music.
“It was physically seeing the people that support and care about us, and then seeing the response and getting confirmation that I’m not crazy – there is something special here,” she says of the moment that changed her. “I’m not crazy. We’re not crazy. This is special.”
But as Courtney was riding high on those feelings, Covid put an end to the tour, sending her into a panic. She had finally found what she’d been looking for, and now it was going to be cruelly snatched away?
“When everything came crashing down, I was like, ‘God, it’s over,’” she recalls. “I felt this momentum building, I felt it in the air, and it’s gone.” She pauses. “Then it kept going!”
Their single Holy Roller broke the internet, and they went on tour with Limp Bizkit. Last year’s stunning debut album, Eternal Blue, was a masterful synthesis of tech metal, nu metal, metalcore and alternative, brought to life by Courtney’s sweet and savage voice. It reached the Top 20 in the US and the UK, and No.5 in Metal Hammer’s critics’ poll – remarkable achievements for a new band. “I always joke about there being a glitch in the Matrix,” laughs Mike Stringer, guitarist and Courtney’s husband, of the hype they’ve unleashed.
For Courtney, who has long had depression and manages it with medication and the help of her support network, it’s like a big piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. “Of course I still have bad days, but I feel like I’m the real me now, and I don’t have to repress that part of me that wants to always express themselves creatively, and I feel understood by the people I’m spending my time with,” she smiles. “It’s great!”
Today the pair are talking to us via Zoom. Courtney is warm and lively with a deadpan sense of humour. Mike is protective, putting an arm around her when we ask personal questions, and backing up her answers.
They frequently talk over each other, predicting each other’s sentences or helping to fill in the words. They are currently visiting Courtney’s dad in Alabama en route to Florida’s Welcome To Rockville festival, and she is thrilled. She left the US for Vancouver Island, Canada, with her mum and four brothers when she was 15, following her parents’ divorce, and felt the distance keenly. Since being in touring bands, she’s been able to go back more often.
“I’m finally at the point now where I don’t lose my mind and sob on the ground every time I leave my dad,” she says. When she was growing up, her dad was a college basketball coach, so the family often moved if he got a good opening. Her mum was a teacher, and Courtney transferred schools whenever she moved jobs. But no matter where she went, her attitude was the same: to collect as many achievements as possible for her college application. “I was like a fake, Type A child,” she explains. “I wanted to be that, but I wasn’t.”
That didn’t stop her trying. She joined each cheerleading squad, and even became President of the Future Farmers Of America club. “Do you think I gave a shit about being a future farmer of America? No. But I knew that I could be its President. And I wanted that on my résumé.”
As Alabama was in the Bible Belt, going to church was a given, so Courtney didn’t question it, and even sang in a church band. It may have been a conservative upbringing, but it was all she knew, and the move to Canada was devastating. Transplanted into a new country with no friends, at first she only had her CDs for company: Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head, John Mayer’s Continuum and Foo Fighters’ The Colour And The Shape. Later, she’d get into nu metal and classic rock.
“I was a sad kid, but I was good at pretending not to be a sad kid. That’s how I squeaked through the cracks, and flew under the radar of what I really needed, which was probably a fuck-ton of therapy,” she says. “That’s why I felt like a magnet drawn to music, because when I moved here, that’s all I had.”
She stopped caring about school, but soon found that her new friends weren’t that fussed either. They were ambitious, sure, but happy enough to figure their lives out along the way, rather than trying to guarantee a specific future.
“That made a really big impression on me,” she says. “Then I went from a school that was very small to a school that was very big, and I was no longer the smartest or funniest or best athlete or any of that. I felt very free in being average; there was no pressure anymore. I could simply be a kid and hang out with my friends, and actually figure out what I like doing.”
What Courtney liked doing was playing the guitar, piano and singing, and she formed the band Unicron with her high-school boyfriend and her eldest brother, Jackson. Their first gig was a battle of the bands in 2007 when she was 18. “We had a friend’s wedding that day, but we were so determined, we left the wedding early!” she laughs.
They didn’t win. At this point she was still going to church, but when she saw Mike’s band, Fall In Archaea, she had an epiphany: “That’s when it hit me that I was really just looking for a community of people that shared the same interests as me, not specifically that I wanted to go to church,” she says. “So I found that scene, and I desperately wanted to be part of it.”
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Courtney’s big break came in 2012 when the manager of Iwrestledabearonce contacted her on Messenger. Their singer, Krysta Cameron, was leaving the Warped Tour. Courtney was asked to replace her... and to do so immediately. She quit her job at a yoga clothing store on the spot, and barely had time to pack her bags and say goodbye to Mike – by then they were together – before she boarded a plane at 5am the next day. It had been six months since she’d played live, she’d never practised with the band, and she didn’t know all the lyrics – but she wasn’t about to let that stop her.
“You know the Dunning-Kruger effect? When someone is so self-assured that they can’t see their own faults? I was the epitome of that guy. Like, ‘I can do this, and I’m gonna go up there and sing to these thousands of people who don’t know that the singer has quit, and they’re gonna be really upset.’”
The Youtube comments on the show footage were brutal: Courtney sucked. Today Mike leaps to her defence, saying that IWABO hadn’t adequately explained the situation to their fans. “Courtney was set up for failure,” he says. “They put out a press release basically saying, ‘Our vocalist is stepping down for the time being, but don’t worry, our good friend Courtney is coming out, she has it all down, she’s gonna kill it. Come out and support us.’ The truth of the matter is, though, they had never met.”
“I did suck,” Courtney says. “[But] I feel like I should have been allowed the sucking a bit more.”
Still, she followed up Warped Tour with a world tour, and forged a career with IWABO. Mike unofficially joined them as a guitarist in 2013. But life in the band began to steadily decline, offering diminishing financial and creative rewards. They decided to call it quits while on tour in Connecticut.
“That decision was not taken lightly,” says Mike, “and it’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. “You go from being in a band that tours, and you have that fulfilment, to then real life, where you don’t have anything, and you won’t have anything for many years – if you’re lucky enough to get to that point. You have to get real jobs, and experience the real world, which I’m very grateful now that I did. But that was a very difficult transition.”
Courtney reflects on IWABO as a learning experience, but is relieved she’s no longer the “eternal stepmom”. Even after she’d established herself, people would yell, ‘Where’s Krysta?’ and ‘Krysta’s better!’ while she was singing. “I never, ever once had an ego in that band. I never had a chance to become egotistical, because I was told constantly by their fans that I was shit,” she says. “It pummelled my self-confidence. I think anyone who’s a replacement singer goes through that. To have that lifted off me was amazing.”
Back in Canada, they got jobs and set to work on new music, but weren’t sure which direction to go in. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna care about defining the genre this is gonna be; I’m gonna write music that I enjoy and hopefully Courtney enjoys it,’” Mike recalls.
With zero label interest, they put out Spiritbox’s first EP independently in 2017. Now they’re in the strange position of having found success during a time of isolation, with streaming numbers and Likes the biggest indicators of their newfound fame. As well as bringing in bassist Bill Crook in 2018, they’re now excited to have drummer Zev Rose in the ranks, but are under pressure to live up to people’s expectations IRL.
“It’s weird to go from a smaller project that’s struggling, to the world shutting down, then that project sky-rocketing to a certain degree, and then coming out of it, and everyone just thinks that within a year of you not playing, you’re gonna be perfect live,” says Mike. So mentally, it’s a struggle.”
Courtney confesses that when she’s asked about the festivals they’re playing, she replies that she’s “shitting her pants”, but has been heartened to see other musicians backstage who are also nervous after their enforced break. Meanwhile, signs of their rising status are cropping up. When they went to Knotfest in LA as punters, Cherry Bombs – the dance troupe led by Corey Taylor’s wife, Alicia Dove – came out to Holy Roller. “We were screaming!” exclaims Mike.
“Then Alicia came out after, to hype everyone up,” says Courtney. “Like [adopts a low growl], ‘Alright, motherfuckers, are you ready for Bring Me The Horizon?’ I was like, ‘She needs to be a fucking vocalist... She can take over Spiritbox!’”
Building up other women is something Courtney excels at. She hosts a podcast series called Good For A Girl, where she interviews female musicians and industry figures about the challenges they face, and feels there’s still a glass ceiling – although she’s getting closer to it.
“What I love most about this, is I wanna keep soaring, and then all the pieces-of-shit guys who are using their stardom and their influence to harm other people? Every time one of them gets got, I’m like, ‘Alright, there’s more room on the bill now! Put that name up, take those other ones down!’”
The band’s sights are set on the future, and Mike says their biggest hurdle will be following up Eternal Blue. By the time you read this, they will have started writing new material with producer/mixer/co-conspirator Dan Braunstein. “I’m nervous about it, but I think getting in there and starting is gonna be such a relieving experience,” says Mike.
There’s a steely determination in the way the couple talk. For all the happiness they’re experiencing, they’re aware that rapid success can be fleeting, and after years of solid graft, they’re not about to let this chance slip through their fingers.
“We’ve never gotten to a point where we felt like that dangling carrot is really close,” says Mike. “And now, it seems like, ‘OK, you’ve got this opportunity, don’t mess it up.’” “We don’t feel safe yet,” Courtney adds. “We feel like the hard work has just begun.”
Eternal Blue is out now via Rise. Spiritbox play Download this June.