An Interview with Underoath: Answered Prayers

An Interview with Underoath: Answered Prayers

—by , April 13, 2016

 

04-13 AQ Cover - Underoath 3 (Photo by Joshua Weaver)

When there is a question of what legacy the Millennial generation leaves music, Underoath comes to mind. Directly associated with nearly every post-hardcore, metal, emo, and indie scene in the early ’00s, Underoath, with their juxtaposition of clean and carnal vocals, play on melody and rhythm, lyrical anguish, and beginnings as a Christian band, unwittingly amalgamated genres to create a live act and sound that transcended all of them, bringing people together while their differences constantly threatened to pull them apart. A modern mythology forged by turmoil, the story of Underoath continues to write itself.

Back after a two-year hiatus and literally by popular demand, the Florida sextet is currently on the road playing a nearly sold-out, 35-date run of shows (with support from Massachusetts post-rock band Caspian) named quite aptly the Rebirth Tour; the return of founding member Aaron Gillespie (drums and vocals) pieces together the lineup that shaped the scene with They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line, joining Grant Brandell (bass guitar), Spencer Chamberlain (lead vocals), Chris Dudley (keyboards and programming), Timothy McTague (lead guitar), and James Smith (rhythm guitar).

Less than a week before the tour would kick off in St. Petersburg, FL where the last show of the Farewell took place in 2013, I had the distinct and surreal opportunity to speak with lead vocalist Spencer Chamberlain, who reverently and enthusiastically described their unique fanbase, getting the band back together, and what to expect from Underoath in the future.

A sold-out show, the first date of the month and a half long Underoath Rebirth Tour is in five days. How are you feeling?   

Uhh, very excited/overwhelmed! We had sort of a 10-day rehearsal thing, and then we took two weeks off. And then I went home, and Aaron went home, and we both flew back three days ago to Florida, and we’ve been rehearsing every night.

It’s been a long time for the band to play, and it’s been even longer since we’ve played with Aaron. And it was a thought that it would never happen again, so it kind of slowly, gradually fell into place over a long period of planning and talking and getting everyone back on the same page again and then, like, it kind of hits you when you are playing a few songs at practice, it’s like, “Oh my god…we are doing this thing right now!” It’s fun. Exciting.

The two dates following that kickoff, you headline A Day To Remember’s Self Help Festival and the So What? Music Festival. Did the band seek to include festivals for the reunion tour?

It kind of happened organically. We are good buddies with the A Day To Remember guys and it was brought up, like, “If we do that…” (I don’t know if you know how radius clauses work, but you can’t play the same city within X amount of days.) “…so, if we do that, we can’t do an L.A. show,” but, you know, it’s a festival that they run, we’ve toured around the world with those guys, and they’re Florida kids as well. We’re all homies and it’s was just kind of a no-brainer for us. We’d get to see a lot of friends and play with a lot of bands. And that’s cool too. We don’t really get to…

It’s also just one other band the whole tour, Caspian, so it’ll be great to play two festivals on the tour where we can get to see a lot of other friends.

In an interview [with Under the Gun Review], So What? founder and promoter Mike Ziemer talks about having the opportunity to book Taking Back Sunday and The Used in 2014 on the 10-year anniversary of his producing shows, and now the Underoath reunion this year, saying, “I do this because of bands like that… it just blows my mind to see where we started and where we are.” What do you think that says about this particular early-’00s scene in music history and what it means to people?

I think it means a lot to people because it was more of a movement, still is. When it started, bands like us and Taking Back Sunday and Poison The Well and Thursday and Thrice and so on and so forth, we were like a little community. We all toured together, we were all friends, we all kind of had like a family vibe to it, in the scene. And then Warped Tour got involved with bands like us, which had never happened before. It just grew, and I think the people that grew with it and were a part of that is something they’re never gonna forget.

I think it’s the closest thing we have to the way that music used to move before the Internet, when we were kids, you know, “the ’90s.” Like with grunge and all that, the people who were a part of that probably felt like they were part of a family. And that’s really cool, because we got to build something together.

When you hear somebody say something like that, you don’t really realize it, especially at the time it was happening. That wasn’t really the goal. We weren’t looking to start a scene or make a new kind of genre or change everything. You can’t really think, “Let’s make a genre-defying record,” or anything like that when you’re making music. You’re making music to love it and trying to just make better records.

And then 10 years later you look back on it and see people talking about how that’s what got them into music or what shaped their band or Mike from So What? talking about what he does. You never would have thought anyone would have said that while writing Define The Great Line, you know what I mean?

Yeah, it’s crazy. Define The Great Line is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. The Get Up Kids just celebrated their 20-year. There are a lot of bands that are having 10-year tours and 10-year anniversaries for their albums and stuff. And the kids that were really young when you guys were blowing up, when They’re Only Chasing Safety came out…it’s just really cool to have those same people in the same place, again.

Yeah, dude. It’s awesome. I meet a lot of kids on the road playing with Sleepwave, my other band…I meet a lot of people that I never would have thought coming up to my merch table going like, “I’m so excited!” Or before we had announced that we we’re getting back to play together, people would always ask me, “Would you guys ever get the band back together? I never got to see you play.”

And that’s what’s really mind-blowing to me. Out of all the sold-out shows across the world over however many years, these kids were never any of those people in the audience. That’s crazy to think that our band getting back together is offering an opportunity for people like me.

When I grew up, I had three older brothers and I was into tons of bands that I wasn’t ever old enough to see, and never got a chance to see. Like they broke up, or the singer died, or whatever happened, there are plenty of bands that I wish I could have saw, you know? And it’s just cool to know that there are kids who were there throughout the whole thing at these shows, and there are people that were listening in their older brother’s car or in their bedroom and was never allowed to go, or couldn’t afford to go back in the day. That’s just pretty awesome.

Why did you choose the Electric Factory to record your live DVD Survive, Kaleidoscope? Are you excited to be back there again?

It’s a great venue. It’s the perfect size to shoot a DVD in, with the height of the ceilings and stuff. Philly has always been really good to us. We love that venue. First time we ever played there, we were like, “Man, if we could ever headline here..” and then when we did, we were like, “Yeah, let’s shoot a documentary there, or a DVD.”

This date sold out so fast; I’m really excited. I don’t think I’ve played there [with Sleepwave] since Underoath. So it’s cool. A lot of these venues are venues we played on the Farewell or during all the final years of Underoath and I haven’t set foot on those stages since.

New Jersey loves Underoath. Quite a few bands that formed around the same time and have been associated with a similar scene, like Thursday and My Chemical Romance, have roots in New Jersey. What have your experiences been like in the Garden State?

Oh, man, I love, love, love playing shows in New Jersey. That was like one of the first Northeast markets that, after we broke out of selling 25 tickets a night and started doing well, Jersey caught on before most Northeast states did. And I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad Jersey show since our first good Jersey show, which was like in 2004. So we really love playing up there, and we’re playing Starland on this tour, which is really cool.

Tell us a bit more about the crowdfunding campaign for Tired Violence, the farewell DVD. As I understand it, the company you were working with folded?

It was unfortunate, because it makes the reunion tour look a little strange, because it was so soon after that we released that documentary. The documentary was supposed to come out six months after the last show. From the moment we stepped off the stage at Janus Live, which is our hometown venue, the DVD was supposed to come out six months later. And it was like around a year where we were like, “What’s going on?” And it was kind of a beat around the bush thing until we found out that they were no longer a company anymore.

So we started to have to communicate within the band, and to each other, and that’s kind of part of the reason why the band is even back together. It forced us to talk and figure stuff out again. We had to find a way to get this out because wanted to get it out to our fans. And that’s really what got all the group emails, group chats, group texts going around, which eventually lead to us meeting up and having drinks or having dinner, and becoming friends again. And now we’re a band again.

So it was kind of like a blessing in disguise, because at that point, Underoath wasn’t a business or a company anymore. It wasn’t a band, there was no money left in the bank. There was no bank. We had shut it down, that was it. We were never going to play again. And the documentary was like… “Oh, that’s not going out!” So we’re like, “Well, we gotta get this out…We’ll see if any of our fans want to help us finish it.”

And it went so well, super easy to pull off, and it was huge for us too because since from whenever this band caught on until the day before we announced the Rebirth Tour and the band being back together, our fans have not stopped being supportive of the band. Even during the years of us being broken up, and that was also a huge reason why we decided to play again, because were talking and going through all this documentary stuff and how were going to pull this off, and you realize that every day these kids are still…

And I’m straight-up saying this so people hopefully read or hear this, I don’t know what kind of interview this is, but hopefully they will read and realize that they had a part in this. Like every kid on Twitter or on Facebook or on Instagram is just like, you know, “If only Underoath would get back together,” you know, they’re just commenting about Underoath. Every day, Underoath. “I still listen to Underoath.” “Man, I miss Underoath.”  “I pray Underoath will get back together.”

It was every day, every day, every day, and it’s just kind of like, “These kids are not going to stop!” And we owe it to them. At first it was like, “Let’s just do a reunion show.” And that was like, well, that’s kind of messed up, because we didn’t do a whole farewell tour. How pissed would people be in California if we only played one more show, and it’s only in St. Pete? That will really suck. And then it became, “Let’s do a tour,” and then it became, “Well, why don’t we just lift the hiatus and possibly be a band again and see where it goes?” That’s kind of where we’re at now. This won’t be the last tour, and maybe only there will be more music, who knows.

But we just laid the foundation down of, like, we’ve burnt our house down and now we’re rebuilding it, kinda in a metaphoric way. The foundation is still a little wet, so we don’t want to put too much pressure on it. We’re really focused on the tour, but anything can happen. We can build it as far as we want to go, it just depends on how much time everyone has, and how this tour goes, and we’ll just see. And that’s really exciting.

In the doc, producer Matt Goldman said, “Any band member had veto power all the times.” Could you explain that? How do you think that set up affecting the way the band operated?

It kind of sucked. That means the guy who doesn’t write any music at all can just walk in the room as you’re finishing the vocals and say, “I don’t like it.” And I go, “Okay…So do you have any ideas or opinions?” “No I just don’t like it.” So I had to change it.

And that’s was Matt Goldman was meaning by that, like it was very, like…I don’t know how to say this and not sound like a dick…it was a very unhealthy way to make a record. Most people, you just trust each other to do the right thing, and you can talk about parts and stuff. But it is the magic of what makes Underoath sound the way it does that eventually turned poisonous, and became what kind of killed the band. That eventually becomes a poisonous environment.

At certain times, when the band was getting along a lot better and we were really good friends, it made for great music; by the end, it made for bitter fights, and people hating each other. We clearly weren’t getting along by the end. And I think that’s why if you overwork a band and over-tour a band…

We were huge, we didn’t need to tour 11 months out of the year. We were touring like nobody knew who we were and we needed to get recognized. And, you know, I think when you’re touring that much and you have no time to pull your head out of the smoke, you have your blinders on. You’re so far in it that you can’t see clearly and I think when that starts happening and people are growing apart or going through different things and fighting and you never get a break from each other or the band or anything like that, it eventually becomes a poisonous an environment, and that will break any band up. And I don’t suggest any band working the way that we did.

And now we’ve had our time apart and we’ve been in our relationships and friendships, and it’s really cool because you take one step back and two steps forward. And I think that as much I didn’t want the band to break up…and it was really hard on me, I went through a lot during that breakup time, just emotionally and in my personal life. Like it was shitty time for me, cuz I didn’t want it to end, like a last man standing kind of thing…

But now that we’ve gone through all that it’s, like, we’re all closer than ever and we get along and we remember why we did this, and it’s because we love each other. We love music and we’re friends. We’re family. Like, I’ve spent more time with these guys than I have my own family. Like, you don’t spend over a decade with someone, 360 years out of the year…Like, honestly, up until we parted ways with Aaron, I spent 360 days out of the year with him, I lived with him. We had a house together, and we toured together, and I only didn’t see him for the five days I flew home to see my family for Christmas. That was it. I mean, that’s a lot of time to spend with people.

And I think now that we all had a four year break of this band and this business, we’re better than ever. And I think that’s great. I think it was painful and I wouldn’t sign up to do that again but I think it’s something that had to happen.

In Tired Violence, one of the guys says in a voiceover, “I don’t know if your legacy is up to you to ultimately guide or decide. And it just up to the people who have experienced who you were to decide what your legacy is.” Can you expand on that?

It’s kind of like you can’t pick and choose what people are going to remember from the work that you put in. I’m trying to remember at what point [towards the end] we were talking about that. I think it was more like a, you can’t really pick when it’s time to stop, and at that time, for everyone but me and Grant and Daniel, half the band was very clear that we shouldn’t be playing anymore, that we were done. This time for this kind of music is over, there’s no need for us to be here anymore, we don’t want to be here anymore, it’s not up for debate of whether we go down in history as the next Rolling Stones or whoever the hell we are. I think that was what was being hinted at in that conversation.

I don’t know if I agree with that 100%…I guess I do. You can’t decide what people will like and are not going to like and how they are going to remember you and whether they give a shit or not. That’s all fine and dandy or whatever, but I think that we thought, or they definitely thought, that Underoath’s book was done, closed…I dunno, it was definitely a strange time.

More of an anecdote leading into a question. In a 2007 Warped Wednesday interview, My Chemical Romance’s Ray Toro, Frank Iero, and Gerard Way talked about playing Warped Tour and how bands they’d tour with back in the day [at old bars and stuff] would pop up, including Underoath, who headlined one year.

Ray: “They we’re one of those bands that we kind learned how to play live [from]. And just, the work ethic. They were always hard workers.”

Frank: “They played Winter Warped Tour, as well. And they mopped the floor with every band on that tour. Including us. They were really, like, ruining everyone’s time.”

Gerard: “I would actually avoid watching, before we went on.”

Where did you get all that energy, having worked so hard during your entire run together?

It’s just what we did. We pushed each other really hard; we were very competitive within the band. I compared it to what I think a frat would be…that was another thing. A fraternity. You’re all kind of the same dude, and everyone picks on each other, and the guy that’s a little different gets beat up. That was Underoath. And we pushed each other a lot and we were very competitive and we were all very similar. And eventually you turn into a man and you get your individuality and you got your own personality, and that starts to become a problem within the band.

But that’s really flattering to hear My Chemical Romance say that because I do love all those dudes a lot. We did do a lot of touring with them and they are dear friends of ours and I’ve never heard those stories come from them before. That’s very sweet.

But yeah, it was kind of one of those things to where I think our band was very fragile, like we kind of did break up a lot under the table. We went home from a tour once because of Aaron. Aaron left a couple tours because he couldn’t finish them. They kicked me out once because I had a drug issue going on. Like, there was tons of turmoil. We were very fragile.

But when it came to the show, we were very professional. Our whole day revolved around that show, and it still does. I do that with my other band Sleepwave. It’s very, “You know what? There’s a ton of people in this crowd who would cut off their arm to be on that stage and play their music, so don’t take this shit lightly.” We kind of had a thing, like, “Go until you pass out or you puke or you see blood,” and that’s what we would do. We would just give it everything we could until that clock said our set is over. And that was it.

There were days where we were throwing up, there were nights that we’d spend in hospitals, there were days where we accidentally hurt fans, there were days where Chris was just, like, passed out… (laughs) That was a thing about Underoath that was so cool. I think that is why They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line worked is cuz back then you didn’t hear music before you saw it live, because the Internet wasn’t as viral as it is now. You’d see a band, and then end up catching another band, and then buy the record; most bands, you’d see live first.

We never sounded like They’re Only Chasing Safety live. That record was a little too polished, a little too poppy, but the way we played it live was as if we were hinting toward what Define The Great Line was. Because live it was very violent and fast and aggressive and dirty, it was like a Dillinger Escape Plan was trying to play They’re Only Chasing Safety. (laughs) It was insane, and I think that slowly, people would see us live first and think, “Wow, that was a killer live band, buy that record,” and the record was catchy, and then we dropped Define The Great Line, and Underoath could finally figure out who they were.

We had had two years of touring They’re Only Chasing Safety, and we had finally found our identity through our live show. We tried to make our next record feel the way we were live. And that’s kind of how that evolved.

This question has been asked in so many ways, but do you think the band will have a better idea of whether or not they’ll put out another record after this tour?

Absolutely. I think that it’s crazy to think that we won’t write music. You’re going to have us touring on a bus for two months, you think we’re not going to be creative? But right now we’re trying not to. We’re trying to focus on the tour. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Everyone knows how fragile it was at the end. And it’s really strong right now. Everyone’s really digging each other and really grown up a lot, everyone has, including myself. It’s just we’re so focused on the tour. We’re playing a lot of songs, and we put a lot into our sets.

If you’ve ever seen us live, we’ve always had a lot of cool stuff going on in our live show. There’s a lot of work to be done and everyone also has other things going on in our lives. The other dudes have jobs, Aaron has Paramore, I have Sleepwave, most of the people in the band have kids; there’s a lot of other stuff going on.

So instead of doing it the Underoath way, which is bite off more than you could chew and completely stress yourself out and overwhelm yourself to the point where you clearly don’t want to play music anymore, we’re just kind of taking it one step at a time. Then there’s also the legal side of things; who knows if our contracts are still in, we just kind of left everything. So there’s actually a lot that would have to take place to write a record and find out when that makes sense.

We’ll just have to see. I’m hopeful, but I also am not putting pressure on anyone. I play music for a living. I don’t have anything else to give up, other guys do. So as of right now, I’m really focused on the tour and making sure that these are the best shows that Underoath has ever played in their lives, for us and for the kids, and trying to work out a way to get the Rebirth Tour to go to other countries as well. That’s the first steps for me, because I do want to make sure that the people in Europe and Australia and South America and all the places we’ve played get a chance to see this tour, because it’s going to be really special.

And throughout that time, if we start working on a record, we start working on a record. If not, I’m sure one day it’ll eventually happen, at least in my mind. But I’m only one guy, so. We’ll see.

Fingers crossed. Quick word to the fans?

Thank you. Thank you for being so dedicated and so relentless in begging for the band to come back together online. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think anyone in our band realized how important we were, because you don’t really realize. It sounds crazy, but I think a lot of our fans consider Underoath to be very important to them. And it’s kind of that stupid thing, like you don’t, what’s that saying…You don’t know what you got till it’s gone, or whatever? And I think for us, it’s our fans that are just die-hard, and such a blessing. To see the response all the way until we announced the Rebirth, and then the response after that, just how excited and happy everyone was, it’s like, they’re the reason we’re a band again, I would say. 100%.

We wouldn’t be who we are or where we are or even thinking about tour if our fans didn’t speak up when we were gone. And there are a lot of bands that break up that people love and still listen to and they probably don’t spend their spare time Facebooking and Twittering and Instagraming about how much they miss the band. I don’t know if they were doing it hoping we would see it or just doing it cuz they love it, but either way, we saw it, we heard it, and now we’re back.

 

Underoath performs April 14 at PlayStation Theater in New York City, April 15 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, and April 16 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. For more information, go to underoath777.com. To read the full interview, go to theaquarian.com.


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