Published Nov 04, 2019When listeners hear Counterparts' new album, Nothing Left to Love, many will presume that vocalist Brendan Murphy is objectively miserable. He's not.
He clarifies to Exclaim! from a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia — he was, but he's not anymore.
"The band have always been my constant. My life may be shit, but at least I have the band. It's the one thing keeping me from going over the edge."
This train of thought informs Nothing Left to Love, an effort that almost completely removes itself from the air of optimism that encompassed 2017's You're Not You Anymore. "There's maybe one song with something positive to say in it," Murphy affirms.
The record was created through hurdles and lineup changes. Much like past works of Counterparts, it almost did not see the light of day. Lee and recent addition Blake Hardman were handling guitar duties while touring full-time, whilst core songwriters Alex Re and Jesse Doreen shifted into the background after their respective departures in 2013 and 2016. They contributed to 2015's Tragedy Will Find Us and You're Not You Anymore, but earlier this year, Lee let Murphy know that it would be his last year with the group. Thoughts arose about continuing as a four-piece or hiring session musicians. For Murphy, the solution to the departure was a simple question posed to Re and Doreen — "Okay, which one of you is coming back?"
"I didn't really know what the fuck we were going to do," Murphy says. "Assuming nothing terrible happens or Alex sucks at guitar now, we should be alright. I think maybe he even got better."
Murphy jokes, but he is also incredibly self-aware. He calls this a "classic Counterparts thing." He knows the regrouping is an overriding talking point about Nothing Left to Love.
"Someone leaves. I start freaking out. I wonder who the fuck is going to do it, and sure enough it gets taken care of. Kids make it out to be a bigger deal than it is," Murphy says. "[Lee] was the oldest member of the band, so he's at a point in his life where he feels the need to do something more consistent. I get it. There are days where I log into my TD banking app and wonder if it's time to get a real job."
He's much more serious about what Re returning to the band means for the sound of Nothing Left to Love. Many instances of the record are a return to the dark cynicism of their 2010 debut Prophets ("Your Own Knife") and technical intricacies of The Difference Between Hell and Home ("Ocean of Another"), which is to be expected from the group's seven-album-deep catalogue. The visitation to older moments of their craft has allowed Murphy to reflect on what has and has not worked in their decade-spanning career.
"It sounds like every record except The Current Will Carry Us, because that record bites. If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to recite the lyrics to 'Uncertainty,' I'd just tell them to shoot me. There are songs on there that shouldn't have seen the light of day."
Counterparts inspire strong gusts of nostalgia with Nothing Left to Love, but Murphy and company will not be playing that game with whispers of a Prophets ten-year anniversary tour in 2020.
"I ask why? So 30 kids from Barrie can drive up and have a great show? So some guy in Thunder Bay can say he remembers 'Sturdy Wings?' If we did that, no one outside of Southern Ontario would care," Murphy explains. "It's still a cool record that put us on the map, but too much time has passed. [Poison the Well's] The Opposite of December, [Misery Signals'] Of Malice and the Magnum Heart and [Parkway Drive's] Killing With a Smile make sense. Those records are timeless. Prophets wasn't huge. It took us from empty shows to shows with 20 people."
Nothing Left to Love holds a torch to the shining pieces in the Counterparts discography. According to Murphy, the secret to their success is completely organic and unformulaic.
"Poison the Well and Misery Signals were always able to have super melodic elements and depth alongside simple, hard riffs. It's better to take that route than be a fucking scientist with your music," Murphy says. "A lot of bands think they hit a ceiling and need to change it up, switch producers and go record with fucking candles in the dark. We will always try to do the same thing and be better at it… You don't have to try and turn the world upside down."
Nothing Left to Love is out now on New Damage Records.