Last August, Chris Cerulli had just come off Warped Tour – the annual three-month ‘punk rock summer camp’ full of sunshine and good times, where Motionless In White had been playing to hundreds of enthusiastic fans every day. He was in California working on the band’s fourth record, Graveyard Shift, when he received a phonecall from his sister: his dad had had a heart attack.
“Your jaw drops and you get that feeling in your stomach where it just… you don’t know what to think,” he says. “You’re kind of paralysed in fear and in the moment, and in such shock that you’re learning that information.”
He called his producer and his manager, and then he took the first flight home to Pennsylvania. At the hospital, he sat at his dad’s bedside with his brother and sister, where they spent two days chatting during his recovery. A shock moment turned into a chance to catch up.
“We spent time connecting,” Chris remembers. “It was one of those times where a tragic type of moment did bring our family even closer, which is kind of a classic story. I’m just happy everyone was there, and I put everything out of my mind and experienced that closeness.”
You can hear about the experience on Hourglass, from Motionless’s new album, Graveyard Shift. The lyrics read: ’Will I expire before my dreams unfold?’ It’s a poignant song, but Chris had actually started writing it back in December 2015. He had been thinking about the passage of time – a theme he had explored in previous songs about being stuck in the past, and most recently on Reincarnate’s Break The Cycle, which was about his ability to finally look towards the future. But Hourglass went a step further. This time, he was focusing on the uncertainty of his future, and whether he would have enough time to achieve all of his ambitions.
“I’m starting to get to a point in my life where I’m getting a little older, where I’m questioning, ‘What the fuck is next for me?’” says Chris, who turned 30 last year, as well as celebrating the band’s 10th anniversary. “I feel like there’s really no official stability. You have no idea if you’re going to wake up the next day, you have no idea if your career’s going to be available for you. There’s so much stuff we wanna accomplish, and it’s hard to know if those things are ever gonna happen. The phonecall put life into a new perspective for me. The song came to be closed off with that overtone of that experience happening to me that really shook my soul.”
It’s fair to say, the last 15 months or so have been a real time of change for Chris, as he’s taken stock of his life. Today we are chatting at London’s bustling Warners offices, as Graveyard Shift is the band’s debut record for legendary subsidiary Roadrunner. The towering frontman is all warm smiles and enveloping hugs, and is keen to discuss the songs that came from this period. One of them, Queen For Queen, addresses the end of some major friendships. We press for details, but he remains resolutely tight-lipped about the exact circumstances, only saying, “I grew apart from people. I don’t exactly agree with how they conduct themselves.”
Do you think it was as much about you changing, as it was other people’s actions?
“There have been one or two that I know are definitely not me. But I think that yes, in a lot of these cases, my own personal evolution has brought me to a point where maybe I see other people differently, so rather than them changing, my view on them is different. Realising how work basically runs my life – and how the most important thing above even working is my family – it doesn’t really leave me a whole lot of room to be tolerant towards anything else,” he explains.
“I say it in the song Queen For Queen – ’I never said I’m perfect and there’s a guilt behind these eyes, so check me if it helps you fall asleep at night’. And that’s fault in my own friendships and lives. If I can recognise I’m to blame for something, I like to put that out there.”
The single LOUD (Fuck It) also discusses relationships, but looks outwards. On Warped Tour, Chris ran networking workshops for kids, which promised to “highlight life experiences and share hardships he has faced in establishing friendships and working relationships”. They effectively turned into group therapy sessions, with festival-goers pouring their hearts out.
“There were some days where people were talking about being abused by other family members, and talking about their sexual orientation and the criticisms that they’ve taken because of that,” he remembers. “There were stories about people who were afraid to go to school every day, and then they woke up and were like, ‘Fuck it. I have to do what I have to do, because I matter most in this equation.’ And that’s where the title is stemming from. You need to get to the point where you say ‘Fuck it’, and make the best of whatever situation you’re in.”
But beyond the broken friendships, the fuck-its, and the self-determination, Graveyard Shift also has a lighthearted side, where darkness and humour collide – sometimes resulting in eye-rolling lyrics. The industrial Necessary Evil, featuring Jonathan Davis (see Here To Slay, below) contains the line, ’It’s my party and I’ll die when I want to’, while on the Zombie/Manson-influenced Soft, Chris implores people to ’Suck my middle fucking finger’.
“These songs are just this band’s way of showing some personality, as well as the horrorpunk and Misfits influences,” he grins, his dramatically dark eyes twinkling in his pale, contoured face. “I feel like people think we take ourselves so seriously! At the end of the day, we’re really just a bunch of dorks and goofballs. I think a lot of fans are gonna enjoy it – just being able to have a song or two where they can turn the serious factor off and laugh!”
Comic relief is important to a guy who admits to anxiety about the unknown, and following the completion of Graveyard Shift, there was more instability to come. Keyboardist and longest- serving member Josh Balz left the band in January, to spend more time with his family, changing a lineup Chris thought was set in stone.
“It’s definitely been interesting to see a person who’s been around you for almost 10 years… not be,” he considers. “You think you’re gonna leave for the next tour, and that person’s gonna be there, and you’re gonna talk to them pretty often about things going on with the band, and then just one day they’re not.”
With all the turmoil you’ve experienced in the last year or so, it is fair to say you’ve had an early midlife crisis?
“That’s a really interesting and awesome way to put it,” Chris considers. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a crisis, but more a very harsh realisation that at the end of the day, if you’re doing all these great things, but you don’t even have a minute to step back and appreciate it, what are you really working for? I needed to force myself to step back and relax, and appreciate all the things around me, like my family and the fans.”
Chris’s dad is back to health and has a renewed lease of life (“He’s happier, and you can tell he’s definitely learned a lesson about life himself”), and Chris has found some clarity. He’s embarked on his first long-term relationship in five years, and with no time to lose, he’s fixing his sights on Motionless In White’s next steps.
“If the band ended today, there’s still clearly these things we want to accomplish,” he says, his voice taking on an edge of determination. “This year we’re doing the Main Stage at Download, and that’s such a huge moment for us. The ambition is to be headliners in a couple of years.”
Beyond that, his goal is simply to keep the Motionless dream alive. The young lad from Scranton who envisioned starting a band and escaping his shitty job at Wal-Mart has resolved to see out another decade doing what he loves.
“On our home Warped tour show that we played in northeast Pennsylvania, in the 570 area, I stated that we’re going to be a band for another 10 years,” he explains. “It wasn’t that we hope to be, it was, ‘We’re gonna celebrate our 20th anniversary in 10 years from now.’ That’s the bold statement I made for myself, and I’m going to accomplish that goal.”
It’s a confident declaration from a band who know where they came from – and exactly where they want to go.
Graveyard Shift is out on May 5 via Roadrunner. Motionless in White play Download festival on Friday June 9
Here To Slay
How Korn’s Jonathan Davis ending up guesting on the song Necessary Evil
How did the collaboration with Motionless come about?
Jonathan: “Our label reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing that with him. We just came off the road with him and I liked the guys a lot, so I’m like, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’ I got the track and I sang on it – it’s that simple.”
What did you think when you first heard it?
“I thought it was cool. I got this really detailed email from Chris about what he wanted to do. There were things he wanted me to do that I didn’t wanna do, because it’s his song. I just placed my parts where I thought it was needed, and kept it at that.”
What’s it like working with a band who’ve been really influenced by Korn?
“I think it’s a trip. I see how excited Chris’s whole band got, and really, that’s what’s worth it for me. It’s an honour to be on his record – I love it!”