“We’re still the same fucking band, we’re just on a different label now,” states Derek Archambault, defiantly. When Defeater announced their move from Bridge 9 to Epitaph records earlier this year, the punk purists came a-calling.
“We definitely got a lot of flack from people who… who knows what the fuck they think,” the vocalist reflects. “We were getting called sell outs from people thinking we were jumping ship. Chris [Wren, Bridge 9’s owner] put it very well. He said ‘Dude, it’s not a lateral move. You’re not moving to another label of the same size, it’s just natural progression,’ which is a weird thing for me to even say.
“It’s not something we ever thought we’d get to do with our band. We thought we’d just put out a record, tour on it and then probably break up, because that’s what bands do,” he reasons. “We got lucky.”
The first point of business at their new home of Epitaph is to release their fourth studio album ‘Abandoned’. The record carries on the narrative of a New Jersey family struggling post-World War 2, this time from the perspective of a lapsed catholic priest. The storyline has run through their whole back catalogue but a question about the limitations of this device is met with a resounding no. “In my head, these characters are living and breathing,” Derek states with absolute conviction.
“They’re meant to just be a vessel for the listener,” he explains. “I’ve heard a lot of different spins on the story and people taking very different things away. People connecting with it at all is incredible to me.”
“There’s definitely stuff written from a personal influence, but it’s meant to be for the everyman. I’ve pulled that influence from my favourite songwriters.” A humble disclaimer about not comparing himself to ‘The Boss’ is quickly shared before he continues. “The stuff I’ve taken from Springsteen is that it might seem like an incredibly personal song and it’s extremely affecting, but when it comes down to it, he’s just telling a story. He’s just really good at writing for the everyman. That’s why people connect so deeply with his music, they feel like it was written for them. That’s what I want to convey.”
Defeater’s audience has always felt connected to the band; from 2008’s ‘Travels’ to last year’s ‘Letters Home’, but it hasn’t always mirrored the band behind it. “We’ve hit a couple of rough patches where not everyone in the band was happy,” says Derek, “We were all much more involved with this new record and the last one though. We’re all happier with the results. We’re actually functioning as a band now,” he adds with a smile.
“Before things were hectic. We were doing everything by the seat of our pants and not putting forth the effort we should have. Now, we’ve been able to take the time and actually write as a band. It only took us 5 years but we’re much more of a real band now,” he continues. “We’ve practiced maybe 10 times in the past 6 ½ years so we’re not normal. Everyone’s talented enough that we can just show up and everyone can play their parts.”
Sitting backstage at Download Festival, interrupted by the offer of a ride to the stage while bassist Mike Poulin sits on a plastic chair eating food from a paper plate, Derek comments that being here is really strange for him. In a few hours, he’ll be commanding a packed tent. Even a guest appearance by Beratooth’s Caleb Shomo won’t detract from his captivating power. “I never saw our band getting to this point,” he repeats. “I’ve toured the UK and Europe with one of my old bands and that was mind-blowing. I knew it was attainable but not on this grand a scale. It’s very surreal.”
Even with ‘Abandoned’ being gifted a larger platform through Epitaph, Derek has no burning desire to force Defeater to the next level.
“I’m content here. I’m not trying to blow up or turn our band into anything bigger than it is. Whatever happens naturally happens but we’re not trying to play the main stage. At the root of it, we’re still just a bunch of idiot hardcore kids who want to relive our youth.”