Who We Are: An Interview With Underoath

When I speak to Chris Dudley, he is literally in the future—15 and a half hours ahead of New Jersey in Adelaide, Australia. In Adelaide, it’s 12 p.m. (“just turned noon!”), “sun-shiny and hot,” middle of summer. The guys were off yesterday (a couple dates in Melbourne, then Sydney, then Brisbane before that), but tonight is the second to last date on this leg of the tour with native support from Australian instrumental band sleepmakeswaves. I imagine Underoath lolling about with midday ease in some hotel overlooking water, forms in dark t-shirts and jeans standing stark in silhouette against blue skies and ocean and yellow heat, maybe even drinking from coconuts. Just hanging.

The night following that of this interview, the sextet would play in Perth and go directly from the show to the airport to fly back to the U.S. to get ready for the American Nightmare Tour with metalcore contemporaries Bring Me The Horizon and Beartooth that kicked off earlier this month. It’s surreal to recall that just one year ago, Chris (keys), along with Grant Brandell (bass guitar), Spencer Chamberlain (lead vocals), founding member Aaron Gillespie (drums and vocals), Timothy McTague (lead guitar) and James Smith (rhythm guitar), embarked on the sold-out Rebirth Tour that broke their storied three-year hiatus.

Starting the run in their native Florida and making their way up the East Coast for shows in New York City and Philly next week, Underoath is just doing Underoath, performing the music that defined and defied the “core”-music genres, stuff of Millennial fever-dreams. Some of us are coming back for it, others get to experience it for the first time, and a question for many is what the future holds for this now-nearly 20-year-old outfit. But sometimes music, like a relationship, is best made in the present.

How’s the return “Down Under” been? For us Americans, what are the differences in the big cities there?

You know, we’ve always said that outside of the U.S., Australia is probably our favorite place to go just because ever since the first time we’ve come here, our shows have always been really, really good. As far as cities and sightseeing and the scenery and things that we are able to do, obviously there’s a lot of cool stuff that you don’t have in the U.S. Last time we were here, we were able to go to New Zealand and do a bunch of stuff over there, but overall, the differences aren’t huge. Just equally good, and to be able to go somewhere that we know is going to be awesome is a pretty good feeling

Skipping over the U.S. a moment, you are headed back to the U.K. and Europe in April. What are you most looking forward to?

Oh, wow—For me, personally, I’m just looking forward to the travel portion of the tour in general, because I guess we broke up for a few years and we didn’t think were ever gonna play again or tour again. And before that, I had been playing in this band since I was 16 years old and had just always traveled, and it was kind of just part of what it is that we did, and it was something that we had to do. So I viewed traveling and going places as, “I have to do this in order to go on tour.” And I viewed it more as an obligation.

But having a few years off and not thinking I was ever going to do it again kind of gave me a newfound appreciation for the fact that I was able to travel and able to see these places. And, you know when we would go to Europe before, I would go see a thing or two here and there. But I’m just really excited to go over there and really just take it all in. And I think that we’re all in that same boat. With this tour in general, and just being together again we have a genuine appreciation for just being able to do this. So we’re looking forward to getting over to Europe and the U.K., experiencing it with a new perspective.

The Electric Factory date on last year’s U.S. leg of the Rebirth Tour sold out super fast. You had recorded your live DVD Survive, Kaleidoscope there. If you would, tell us about that show.

Honestly, it was just great. It sounds so cliché to just be like, “It was a great show—We had a good time!” But it was one of those shows, and Philly is one of those cities, and the Electric Factory is one of those venues, where when we get off stage we’re all just in the dressing room talking amongst ourselves like, “Wow. That was ridiculously good.” ’Cause you get off stage and you have those discussions of like, “I messed up on this part,” or, “There was this lighting thing that got messed up,” or, “I didn’t feel good about XYZ,” but I can say that that show and every other show that we have played at the Electric Factory, we always just walk off stage and just say, “Man that was just so good.”

(Laughs) No matter how we play, no matter how we perform, we always just come off stage there and just say, “Man that was just so, so good.” So we are just excited to get back in the area. The Northeast in general has always been, from the time we were teenagers playing in this band, just a really good spot for us to play.

I was lucky enough to attend said show. Spencer asked something to the effect of, “Is it safe to say, that you guys want us back?” I think that this year of touring has answered that question beyond a reasonable doubt. But what is something you didn’t expect to learn this year? Something that surprised you?

I think I can speak for the band on this, but when were on the Rebirth Tour and on the tour that we are currently on, Spencer from stage every now and then would ask, “Who is seeing us for the first time?” And it’s generally been quarter to a half of the crowd that has never seen us play live before, and we are talking to a lot of these people personally, and they’re saying like, “Yeah, when you guys were touring full time, my brother was into you and I was too young,” or, “I didn’t get into you guys until you guys had went away,” and that is genuinely surprising to us because we toured full time for, like, 13 years, a majority of that being in the U.S. The fact that we can come to a city and half the crowd had never seen us before, that’s crazy to us, but in a good way.

These are all new people who are just discovering who we are or finally getting to come see us. That’s just awesome, because we didn’t think that would be the case at all.

I was definitely one of those people [that saw you for the first time].

Well, there you go!

When I interviewed Spencer last year, I asked, “Where did you get all that energy, having worked so hard during your entire run together?” And Spencer said, “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.” Can you comment on that?

(Laughs) It’s all true. We’ve always had a mentality as far as playing live of we want to go out, and not in a negative way, put on a show that makes everyone else need to put on a better show. I have this saying: “Go till you puke.” Put as much into it as you can until you are so exhausted that you are vomiting, and keep going after that. And I think that’s how we’ve always approached playing live because when we started, we’ve always been a band that has focused on touring and playing live. And from the time that we were teenagers, our whole mindset was just that we wanted to be able to play in front of people. Put us in front of a crowd and leave the rest to us, let us win that crowd over. We’ll play in front of anybody; we don’t care. And I think that’s kind of carried over for our entire career.

There’s plenty of time where we would be hurt. Like now, our bass player [Grant] is hurt, I’m hurt. But our mindset is still the same. If we’re hurt, who cares? We’re still going to go out and put on the most energetic show we can and the most chaotic show we can. And that’s just where we’re at. If people are going to come to these shows and they are going to pay money to see us, we’re not going to walk off stage to just give 75%. We’re going to walk off, or crawl off, or get dragged off (laughs) if need be to make sure that we knew that we did the best we could.

How did you get hurt?

I have a couple fused vertebrae in my neck. About a year ago, I started having a hard time swallowing. And I went to the doctor and they took some X-rays, and they asked if I had been in a car accident (laughs) just from moving my head like an idiot while we play. So I have these two vertebrae where they are fusing together and they are pushing against my esophagus and they’re like, “That’s what we usually see if you were in a car accident a long time ago.” No, I’m just an idiot…so, I have got that going on. Which is a ton of fun. And our bass player, he’s got some issues with his foot, with his neck…you know! It’s rock and roll. Go till you puke, right? (Laughs)

You seem super into fitness now. Does that have something to do with wanting to put on a good show?

In general, before we stopped doing tours, I used to eat like it was a contest. But we were touring so much and were playing so much that my calorie burn was through the roof. So I was still overweight but staying steady. But when we stopped touring, I kept eating as if we were touring, and wasn’t doing anything physical. So I got to almost 300 pounds within eight months of us coming off the road. And I kind of had one of those moments, like…I’ve got three kids, it just clicked for me. Like, maybe I don’t want to die of heart disease when I’m just 50, you know. And I realize that no matter what, I was going to have to get my body in check, and since then I’ve done a lot of work. If I hadn’t done so, I would probably be falling over more on stage than I am now, so. (Laughs)

You had two small children when the band broke up in 2013, and had another child in October. Congrats! How was that transition been? What advice do you have for touring musicians that have, or plan to one day have, a family?

Thank you! The transition for this…It’s interesting. When we stopped touring, my kids were at an age where they kind of knew what I was doing but they were young enough to where they didn’t really get me being gone all the time. But now my oldest daughter is seven, my younger daughter is five, my son is only four months. So when were touring before, there wasn’t FaceTime, we didn’t have any of that. Now, my daughters have an iPod and they can FaceTime me whenever they want. We’re not going to be touring nearly as much as we used to. A couple months a year maybe, but I’m going to be home for a majority of the time. But it hasn’t been too bad. I’m able to keep in touch with my wife and my daughters in a way that I wasn’t able to before.

But as far as advice for other musicians that have or want to have kids…It’s a complicated thing. It really depends on your parenting style and what type of person you are. Because I have friends that have families and tour full-time, nine, 10 months out of the year. And they are awesome guys, they are awesome dads, they are awesome husbands, but that’s what they do. And personally, that’s not the type of dad and the type of husband that I wanted to be. I wanted to be home more. I still want to be home more. What we’re doing now is perfect. Like I said, I’ll be gone for two or three months a year, but the other nine months I’ll be at home.

I’ll say that the biggest piece of advice is have a clear view of what sort of father you want to be and how that relates to your career as a musician and structure your life accordingly. There’s not one answer that’s right for everyone, and think that where we are as a band is perfect for me and all the other guys in the band that have families. So we’ve found what is good for us and there are a million different ways for a million different dudes on how it works for them

I hope this question isn’t inappropriate, but any chance you’ll have another baby anytime soon? And by baby, I mean a new album?

(Laughs) We don’t know! At this point, we’re kind of enjoying being a group again and just being on the road and being friends and enjoying time together. We’re not really focusing on that. We’re just kind of wanting to make sure that we are putting 100% into these shows and putting our best foot forward there. But, yeah—who knows?

As to be expected, people within the industry, as well as consumers, have different feelings and opinions about the band getting back together. Similarly, people have complained about the LCD Soundsystem reunion, the more negative of sentiments being that it cheapened their swansong at MSG, and sort of took fans for a ride. Knowing that you yourself and the band can’t help how people feel, and being a fan of music yourself, what do you think this says about how people feel about music artists, and their personal stake in what they do?

I honestly see both sides of the coin on that, but can only speak from our own experience. And the spot that we were at when we, what we thought, were broke up, was a genuine, “We are not doing this anymore.” And I know that people have said, like, “It seems like you guys broke up so you could get back together and tour again.” All I can say to that is that we were all in tears at the end of that last tour and I literally just threw out all my instruments and started a new life not being a musician. And through reconnecting with the dudes in a different way and through a lot of different circumstances we realized, “Hey, we can do this, and we want to do this, but in a different way.”

Again, I see how somebody can view it as using that as some sort of ploy, but I’ll say it was 100% not that at all. I would have kept all my instruments, it would have saved me a lot of money had I known we were going to be doing something again. (Laughs) But I don’t know. I’d say that’s a valid point, but all I can say that for us, that was not the intent at all. We’re in a spot now where we feel that we are better than we’ve ever been and it took tearing our band down and starting new lives to get us to a point where we are playing better and we are happier than we’ve ever been on the road. To me, that’s worth it.


Underoath performs March 20 and 21 at Terminal 5 in New York City and March 22 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. For more information, visit underoath777.com.