Published Nov 02, 2017Ben Cook has earned his reputation as one of Toronto's busiest musicians. Known for his roles in Fucked Up, Yacht Club, Marvelous Darlings and his solo moniker Young Guv, few can successfully don so many musical hats, and even fewer can make an impact on a genre of music the way No Warning — his first venture into the world of punk and hardcore — have.
In 2002, the unit offered up what would become their magnum opus, Ill Blood; that record shifted the tide of the New York hardcore sound and gave rise to a great many of the bands that make up the NYHC scene today. Torture Culture, the band's first full-length in 13 years, draws from and builds upon the legendary sound the band harnessed over a decade ago — but their rise in the hardcore canon was not one that took place overnight.
"If you dig it enough to put it out there, and put yourself on the line a little bit, then that's as much as you can do," Cook explains, recalling the earlier days of the band. "People didn't really even get into [Ill Blood] until we were long gone. But sometimes that's just what it's like in music. Look at Fucked Up — the band didn't even get recognized until they were around for seven years or so. People are unpredictable and time is a strange thing."
As a young band, tackling the United States was the quickest way for the five-piece to cut their teeth; Toronto at the time was not the hub for punk and hardcore that it has grown into, but even then, exposure did not come easy. "We never even really did a tour for Ill Blood; the only tour we ever did for that record was with the Cro-Mags, for like two weeks and I don't think it was even out then."
Leading up to the release of their latest record, however, No Warning made their first major trek in years, seeing older songs met by new faces, with renewed energy since their departure. "We sort of just saw it as an opportunity to do something a little bit beyond what we've been doing, like hitting the random festivals in each territory," Cook says of the recent experience. "We thought it would be fun to get out there and get dirty with it again. Go for real and have a record come out off the back of that experience."
In 2004, with the release of their Greig Nori-produced sophomore record, Suffer, Survive, and their signing to Linkin Park-affiliated Machine Shop Records, No Warning made a shift in sound and a leap in audiences, a more mainstream push orchestrated by outside forces that led to the ultimate collapse of the band.
"I think I feel luckier now. Back then, we were just rabid, young little pricks you know? Teenage boys. Sometimes that's the most dangerous thing you can be, just little, white, middle-class suburban boys with no fucking father figures or anyone to tell them no. That's kind of why that train derailed; at some point, it was just getting ridiculous. We came from playing Who's Emma in Kensington Market and all of a sudden we're in this place where everyone's doing drugs and partying like they're Guns N' Roses. Now, after all of these years, touring with Fucked Up and being around the world and still being able to make a living from music, I just feel way more appreciative. I still have no idea where this road is going, but I'm happier to be on it."
The experience of making Torture Culture with complete control was altogether refreshing, and reinforced the group's decision to return to the project. "I've definitely been enjoying myself," Cook says. "We were lucky enough to be able to collaborate with our friends making this, and nothing ever felt forced. There's no label breathing down our necks or anything, we're just left to do whatever we want."
With the freedom to take the project in any direction they pleased, the members of No Warning wrote the record exclusively following intuition. "We wanted to make a sort of greasy, street metal record that sounded sketchy and referenced all of the best parts of '80s hardcore and thrash. We kind of went into it thinking about it being a mosaic of heavy music from our entire lives, rooted in the No Warning sound. There's a hard rock Alice in Chains-style ballad on the record, for instance."
The group's collective musical growth factored greatly into the writing of the new record, says Cook. Each member played their individual role perfectly, and their combined expertise made the process more natural and effective than ever.
"I think first and foremost I'm really comfortable in the studio — now I know what I want. Back at some point when I was in my 20s or in my late teens, I would think that I needed help or couldn't quite explain to someone what the sound I wanted was, but now I know exactly what the people around me can bring to the table, and it is just a matter of putting together the puzzle," he says. "I don't touch a guitar when it comes to No Warning — that is all Jordan [Posner] and Matt [Delong] — but I would consider myself the producer of the band.
"After being involved with Fucked Up, doing my own records as Young Guv, and just being blessed to have been able to work in a bunch of great studios with amazing people, I know what's up now. I have so much more experience. But that being said, that experience didn't make it any easier. It's always a painstaking process, bringing something to your desired level of perfection."
Lyrically, Torture Culture touches on myriad topics Cook has an axe to grind about, but more than anything references the self-destructive nature of modern life, he explains.
"I feel like the record title says it all. We're living in this time where we torture ourselves, it's all coming from within us. We have the power to change that, but there's a majority of the population that don't have the foresight to see what the fuck is happening, and maybe that's all we're destined for — to be in the dark and kill each other off. It speaks for itself. It's a No Warning record. When you have that shit blasting, you're going to know what we're trying to say."