It's often argued that every iconic band has three truly great albums in them. But in the case of Pennsylvania weirdcore warriors Motionless In White, they were determined to prove otherwise. Disguise – their fifth studio effort, out now on Hopeless – takes their signature blend of pseudo-goth metalcore, floor-thumping dance-punk and ultra catchy pop-rock, cranks it all up to 11 and siphons it down into a syrup of all the bits their ravenous fanbase goes especially mental for.
It's the definitive Motionless In White album, and as frontman Chris "Motionless" Cerulli explains to Australian Guitar, there's a good reason for that: it's not their Motionless In White album... Well, it is, in a technical sense, but speaking more broadly, Disguise is an album crafted specifically for the fans – a calculated effort to make the album that best defines what Motionless In White is at its core, which uses its four predecessors as research tools and their respective reception as field data.
But thus begs the question: did it work? In this writer's opinion, totally – Disguise sits in square in the middle of the venn diagram that compiles the band's heavy, melodic and emotional components, and the production is bloody fantastic. But we implore you to make your own decision; Cerulli would too, as became instantly clear in our short interview with the makeup-painted maniac.
Five albums in, have you gotten used to the whole pre-release hype, or are you secretly still shitting bricks right now?
You do get used to it to an extent – to where it’s not new for you to put a record out, and you know what that entails. There are definitely nerves, and there could be stress – putting the last record out was a pretty stressful experience – but with this one, there’s nothing but excitement. And what usually dictates that is the feedback from fans on the singles that we release ahead of the record. It seems like most of the fans – or at least our core fanbase – has really supported all of the songs that we’ve put out so far. That’s basically all that we could ever ask for, and helps us go into a release feeling nothing but excitement.
Ushering in this new era of Motionless In White, how did you want Disguise to really take the band to the next level?
I think this record does a really good job at recognising what makes the band what it is, in every aspect. We tried to really trim the fat, and not have a bunch of stuff on there that could be 'take it or leave it'. We wanted everything that’s on there to be really crucial to the record. I think the biggest change within the band is that we listened to a lot of the fans’ feedback on what they do and don't like, and what they feel makes Motionless In White on, like, a heart-and-soul level – and that’s something we implemented on this record to make it stand out from the others. Normally, we kind of just do our own thing, and don’t pay attention to what the feedback from the previous record is before we start writing the next one. But with Disguise, we tried to find a good middle ground between what we like and what the fans like, and just make everything as good as it could be.
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that this is the most dynamic and diverse Motionless In White album yet. How did you guys go about striking that balance between the heavy and the melodic, or between the electronic and analogue?
A lot of years of failing at it [laughs]. Y’know, we put out a record in 2012 called Infamous, which... I think the record is great, and I’m happy that there's a lot of fans out there who love many of the songs on that record – but it was really, really all over the place, and it shows that the band was really struggling with its identity, and how to really put together all the things that we really wanted to have define the band. And ever since that record came out, we’ve been refining things and getting better – at least in my opinion – at doing that. So now, for us, it’s not necessarily that we have a formula, but we know exactly what we want to do and who we are. There’s no more questioning or experimenting with who we are; it’s going, “This is us – let’s go f***ing get it!” And that’s been very helpful for us, mentally, when writing a record.
So what was the creative dynamic like between the five of you in making Disguise?
This record was cool because I think all the guys in the band stepped up more than they have in the past. There’s always myself and our guitarist Ricky [Olson] that are, like, the core songwriters for the band – we usually have everything revolve around us, and then the other guys will step up at certain moments. But with this record, that happened a lot more – everyone had their input, and helped shape the record based on what we were all looking for as a group of friends and artists. I think that helped make the record a little more special, too.
You started out in Motionless In White as a guitarist – do you still approach the songwriting process with that headspace of an instrumentalist, knowing what the songs will sound like when it all comes together, or do you leave all of that up to Ryan and Ricky?
When we go into the writing process for a record, I basically pretend I’m not a vocalist and I just immediately go to work on all the music stuff, just because it’s less stressful. I avoid working on the vocals right until the end, just because I psych myself out and get super stressed over it. Even though I’m the fucking vocalist of the band [laughs]. I still don’t know how that happened, but… Here it is! Those guys will definitely have a really heavy hand in the refining process of the guitar stuff – I mean, that’s what they do; that’s their job in the band and that’s who they are.
I usually just come forth with the ideas that I have, and then the three of us will take it from there, either individually or together, depending on what our availabilities are or where we’re at with all that stuff. So it’s always different, and I love that – it never feels like it gets stale or stagnant, sitting in a room with them all the time. Like, we have our personal space and we can email parts back and forth to one another, and they’re just great at what they do. So I try to be a musician as much as I can and approach it that way, but at some point, I realise I have to be the vocalist and let those guys do their jobs, y’know?
When I listen to some of these songs, I can just picture them going down live with these ridiculous mosh pits and everyone going four-to-the-floor mental. But then some of them – like my favourite track, “Death Inc.” – are just pure, bouncy fun. When you were writing these tracks, were you thinking about how they would translate to the setlist?
Yeah! I mean, that kind of goes with the idea of us trying to listen to the fans, and make an album that best reflects what they love about our band. A song like “Death Inc.” came about because songs that are similar to that have typically been the ones that usually go over really well in the live set. So that’s us listening to the audience's reaction and wanting to have more songs that feel good live. I think it’s tough to ride the line between what sounds good on record and what good sounds live – and what sounds good on both – and try to navigate through that; but thankfully, we have a lot of ‘research’ to go off on in knowing how we want to approach things like that. I’m happy you chose to specifically highlight “Death Inc.”, too – I love that song!
When can we expect to see Motionless In White back on Australian stages?
I think we'll be back in the first half of next year. We basically have the rest of this year booked up between here and the UK, Europe and Russia. But Australia is a pretty high priority on our list. We want to make sure that we don’t wait until the end of an album cycle to get there – we want to come there in the heart of the cycle, and just bring more excitement to us being there. And so I think first half of next year is the most likely time that we can make that happen.