Counterparts – ‘It all depends on how willing you are to help yourself’

Words: Tamara Samardžić

There aren’t many bands out there that have such devoted and passionate fans as Counterparts. And it’s not that hard to see why. Record after record, they go all-in, pouring every bit of their emotions and feelings into their songs. Their latest album, ‘Nothing Left To Love’ is no different. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch them on their current European tour, but we did get on the phone with frontman Brendan Murphy to discuss the new record, their dream tours, relationship with fans, band’s visual identity, and much more. Check it out.

Congrats on the new album! Not trying to degrade any of your previous work, but ‘Nothing Left To Love’ sounds like a masterpiece in every aspect. Are you satisfied with the feedback you’ve got so far?
Brendan: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it could always be better, but for the most part, yeah. We’ve done enough records now, and it’s always kind of scary putting out a new one, ’cause, you’re like, “Well, I think this rocks. I hope everybody else does.” But I think every time we put out the new album, the reactions have always been better than the one before it. It’s always been a little bigger, it always reaches a little bit more people and everything. So, I think ‘Nothing Left To Love’ was no different. It was just a bigger record than ‘You’re Not You Anymore.’ And then, you know, I love the record, I think it’s great. So, I would say I’m happy with it for sure. I mean, if a million more people wanted to buy it, I’m not going to say no, but it definitely worked out well for us.

I really like the artwork for it, and I think it gives a pretty accurate vibe of what the album sounds like. What does this artwork represent to you?
Brendan: Yeah, I agree, for sure. I think it definitely helps convey a darker vibe. I feel like the record is a little bit darker than ‘You’re Not You…’ was in that sense. I think the songs alone are just more of an early two-thousands metalcore then we’ve done, and I liked the whole oil painting style looking album artwork that was such a common thing in the early two-thousands. Like, every record had that sort of like painted, dark looking, scary-looking type thing. So given the lyrical content, the vibe, and the sound of the record, I think it’s pretty spot-on.

Once again, you teamed up with Hal Hales III. How does working with him look like – do you tell him exactly what you have in mind, give him directions, or give him complete freedom?
Brendan: Trey‘s one of my best friends, so at this point, I kinda just give him complete freedom. He’s done everything visual for Counterparts since, like 2015, I think. He’s designed like every piece of the merch, he’s done most of the album artworks – he did ‘You’re Not You Anymore,’ he did ‘Nothing Left To Love.’ He’s written music video treatments, and he designs all of our tour posters and everything. He’s so in tune with it now that I give him complete freedom to do whatever he thinks makes sense. Then he’ll show me, and, you know, I might have like slight adjustments, I might be like – well what if we move that down here, use a different color, stuff like that.

But the idea itself is basically his. He’s like a sixth member of the band because of what he contributes visually to the band. And I feel that’s something that we have as an advantage over other bands. All of the visual stuff is very cohesive and it all makes sense. It all blends well together. We never really put out a shirt where people are like – “What the hell? That’s weird.” You know what I mean? It all makes sense. So yeah, working with him is great. If he wasn’t doing our artwork, I legitimately don’t know who I would even ask, ’cause it’s just been 100% him for so long.

You have been a band for over a decade now, and we have seen quite a few line-up changes during that time. Do you see this more as an advantage or a disadvantage? How hard was it to stay focused on where you want to go as a band with all the changes going on?
Brendan: I feel like it’s both. It’s an advantage when we have a lineup that isn’t working well together, or if we have a member that doesn’t really want to do it anymore so they’re just kind of lazy, and they don’t really give a shit. Then, it’s definitely an advantage to have somebody new coming in because you want the morale to be high, you want everybody to be on the same page. And when you’re not, that’s when things get confusing. It’s like a machine, and sometimes, certain parts don’t work the way that they should. So I think getting new members is an advantage in that regard. But it’s definitely a disadvantage in terms of people coming and going.

Like, we’re on tour right now and Alex [Re] is playing guitar for us, and everyone’s like – “Where is Adrian [Lee]? Where is Adrian?” And I have to be like – “Well, he quit.” And then everybody goes like- “Why did he quit it?” And I’m like – “Does it matter?” You know what I mean? We’re still doing it. It doesn’t matter. He just didn’t really want to be in the band anymore. And I think that for the most part, anyone that’s come and gone from the band, it’s always their choice, where they’re like – “I don’t really think that I should be doing this anymore.” And it’s okay. It definitely sets us back at the start ’cause it takes a lot of practice. They have to learn all these songs, and if we don’t know them already, we have to figure out whether or not we like them and want to be around them, you know, 24/7 for months at a time. But all in all, I would say that even when it seems like it’s a bad thing, I think it’s still more good than bad. We have Alex playing guitar for us now, and things are just running a little bit smoother, ’cause I feel like Adrian just didn’t really want to tour anymore. He wasn’t excited, whereas Alex is so stoked to be back in the band, playing to bigger crowds than when he was in the band before and everything.

The lyrics you write consistently reference personal experience and feelings, and on the new record, you once again went all-in. Were you ever in a situation, especially on tour, that you were actually having a good day, and then some of your own lyrics brought you down while singing and reliving them?
Brendan: Honestly, I don’t think that’s ever really happened, straight up. I write the lyrics, and they are personal, they are pretty depressing and everything, but when I do write them and get them out there, it’s like getting it off my chest. It’s kind of being, “Okay, I’m over this now. I can talk about it. It happened, it sucks, but I’m over it.” And then, when we play on stage every night, it’s not necessarily that I’m brought back to a darker place. If anything, I’ll be singing the words, and then in my head, I’ll be like: “Man, I was pretty miserable, and you know, I’m actually having a pretty good time now.” It’s almost a good thing, ’cause I’m like: “Yeah, look at me. I made it. I fucking got over it. I went through shit, I didn’t give up, and now I’m here, and I’m doing better.”

You have been involved in the scene for quite some time now. When was the first time you realized that you have truly impacted people and literally saved someone’s life with your music?
Brendan: I think around 2013, when we put out ‘The Difference Between Hell and Home.’ That was the first record that we did that started gaining traction. We put it out, and immediately, everyone was like – “Okay, this rocks! I’m down with this!” So that’s the one that pushed us into like – “Okay, this band is actually, kind of, sick.” So we would notice, being on tours and people would come up and talk to us and, and just straight up tell us that stuff. They would tell us that we had a big impact on their lives and that they appreciate the lyrics and everything like that. And then, around that time, people started getting Counterparts tattoos, other people were coming up being like: “Hey, I like you guys so much. You guys inspired me, I started my own band.” Like, all these kinds of things.

That was when I first started to realize like – “Oh shit. I think people actually really care about the band.” Like, we might not be the biggest band, but I think there are people that actually like us a lot. I feel like there’s not a lot of people that, when they hear Counterparts, they’re like – “Yeah, this is okay.” It’s either like they don’t give a shit at all, or they’re like – “Yeah, I love this band. They’re one of my favorite bands.” So, when we’ve opened big shows, and there’s like 10,000 people, there’s probably like a thousand kids or 500 kids that even know who we are. But you know that they really like your band a lot. Your band means a lot to them, as opposed to having more people in the room that are just like, “Yeah, I don’t even know who the fuck this is.” It’s definitely more up our alley. It’s a lot cooler in my opinion to have a smaller fan base, but be like their favorite band ever.

And you really do have a very passionate fan base. I can agree with that.
Brendan: Yeah, I think so. And it’s awesome. That’s what makes this worth it. You know what I mean?

Every year levels of depression and anxiety are increasing worldwide. Different people cope differently with different issues. But, the fact is that a lot of people are angry, they are frustrated and tired of all the bullshit. How to focus that energy on something positive and not waste in on telling people to go kill themselves all over social media?
Brendan: I think it depends on how willing you are to help yourself. There’s a lot of people that I know that go through the same sort of things that I do, and there are people who are like-minded like me who are like – “Well you know what, I’m going to use this, and try to be better. I want help. I want to fix this. I don’t want to feel like this.” But certain people, it’s almost like they feel like there’s no possible way that they can come back from it. So it deters them, makes them angry, and really holds them back from being the best version of themselves, and allowing themselves to get better, because they just feel like it’s hopeless.

I found my way of dealing with it, and my contribution to, like, “Okay, what am I going to do with all this shit?” The honest fucking stuff that’s happened, like how am I going to make it better? Counterparts are just my way of dealing with that. I think it’s all just a matter of how bad you want to help yourself, and with the amount of time it takes, you’ll just, sort of, figure out how you’re going to do it.

As we said, Counterparts have really passionate and devoted fans, and that people listen to everything you say and watch everything you do. Do you ever feel some kind of pressure of expectations from these people who look up to you, and how do you cope with it?
Brendan: Um, not necessarily. I feel like there’s definitely pressure when it comes time to do a new record and try to make a better record than we did before and stuff like that. That’s sort of the pressure that we feel, but I never worried that I’m going to let people down or anything like that because, I feel like lyrically, the band is so transparent, so honest, and I think that’s a big thing for us. There’s no shit behind the scenes and front that we’re putting on. I think that the pressure for us only kicks in around the time to make a record because we want it to be the best thing we’ve ever done. But at the end of the day, once you’ve done that, you did the hard part. Now everything else is just fun. You’ve put in the work, and now it’s like summer vacation. Now you get to have fun and reap the benefits of the product that you put everything into.

You have toured the USA, Canada, and Europe for some years now. Did you notice any major differences in the daily problems that people in different countries face?
Brendan: For the most part, I think it’s pretty similar everywhere we go. I feel like the people that I’ve spoken to, about the things that they go through and everything, it’s all kind of similar. It’s all, kind of, in the same realm to where it’s not really surprising. Obviously, there are always going to be certain scenarios, like if someone lives in a certain country, and they’re upset because they’re, gay or whatever, and it’s not as widely accepted, or something like that. Like, those are major differences, and it’s like – “Oh wow! I wouldn’t even think about that issue in Canada or some other places.” But I think, for the most part, what I go through, and what the people that can relate to us go through, it’s all just, kind of – I don’t want to underplay it and say that’s just growing up, that’s just what happens – ’cause I think there’s a little bit more to it than that. But for the most part, I think that the reason why people like our lyrics and can relate to them well is that the things that I went through, that I’m talking about, they probably went through the same thing. It’s not like that anything insane and completely crazy happened to me. It’s just like the everyday struggle that people go through.

As I said, you toured quite a lot over the years. Who are your favorite bands to tour with? Do you still have anyone you want to tour with, and didn’t have a chance so far?
Brendan: Some of our closest friends in the touring world are Stray From The Path, Varials, Knocked Loose… We’re on tour with Chamber right now. There are tons of bands we’ve just been friends with forever, like Architects, Stick To Your Guns… Every time we go on tour together, it’s just fun. We just have the best time because we’re all such good friends, to begin with. Um, in terms of like a dream tour thing, it’s not necessarily certain bands that I am longing to tour with. I think it’s more so of styles and stuff. For example, I would love to do a tour where we open up for a band that’s big, but still heavy. Like, as much as I would love to open up for The 1975, that’s just not going to ever happen. (laughs)

But if a band like Bring Me The Horizon send a tour offer, or A Day To Remember or someone like that. We’ve never really done that, and I’m actually curious to see if those sort of kids that like those types of bands could hear us. To see if they’d be like – “This is actually kind of cool,” or if we do the tour and they go – “Oh no, this fucking sucks, this is just like I’m watching my friends have band practice, this isn’t a show.” Like if they’re just up to talking around and making jokes and stuff. I’m really curious to see how well we would do in that sort of situation. Because I think we kinda covered it all. We’ve done tours where we’re the heaviest band, we’ve done tours where we were the softest band, we’ve done tours with metal, like real metal bands, and we toured this Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! We’ve done it all, we toured with Senses Fail, we played shows with The Used, it’s like we’ve kinda hit every sort of market that we can, except those bigger arena-size bands, bordering on mainstream. But I just want to do it once, you know?

So, apart from your upcoming European tour, what’s on the table for you in 2020?
Brendan: So after this, we go home, and we have a couple of months off. Then in the summer, we’re coming back to Europe again to do a festival tour, we’re playing Jera On Air and some others which I can’t say yet. And then after that, we just confirmed the US tour, I can’t say anything about it yet, but it’s going to be fucking crazy. And then at the end of the year, we come back for a couple of weeks to Europe again, like mostly Germany, and then we’re done for the year.

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