Dan Newman

Underøath’s Chris Dudley Discusses ‘Voyeurist,’ Film Scoring, & Pancakes

Earlier this month Aquarian writer Ray Romanski wrote that “Underøath cannot be chained down.” Then he went ahead and proved his point in conversation with them.

Underøath released their ninth studio album, Voyeurist, just a few weeks ago, and the consensus here is that it is all killer, no filler. Keyboardist Chris Dudley met with us via Zoom for a chat about this new album right after it dropped, but he also found time to talk about Dudley’s side hustle as a film scorer, new pets, and more.

How are you?

I’m great – staying busy with release week. Already working on other projects and hanging out with the family.

I see you recently adopted a dog!

Yes, our drum tech has a Great Pyrenees and it had a bunch of puppies. I texted him because we lost our dog a couple months prior and [mentioned] that I was looking for another dog. He brought it down from Tennessee. Her name is Liz Lemon. We named her, and it had to be a good name, and we love 30 Rock.

How has the pandemic affected you and your bandmates?

It was a hard thing in a lot of ways. One being that since I was 16, I was making a living – well, I wasn’t making a living at 16. My career since I’ve had one, I’ll say, was being a touring musician. It’s weird because pre-COVID, you wouldn’t even think of live music not being a thing. We always lived our lives in a cycle like that of writing, recording, and going on tour. Back in 2017, I started film scoring. That’s something I really wanted to do. Thankfully, I had a bunch of projects lined up that I was planning on having to do from the road that I just did here. I’ve not been busier than I have in 2020 through 2021 – super thankful for that because I’d rather have the stress of “I’ve got too much going on and don’t know how to schedule it” as opposed to the stress of “Well, I don’t know what I’m gonna do to pay for my kids to eat.” It’s two different stresses and I’ll take the first.

Were you all remotely recording?

Uh… ish? We got a lot of the ideas remotely. Me, Aaron, and Tim all have our own studios so we were able to work on stuff and send it back and forth, but the majority of the stuff on Voyeurist is all stuff from when we all came together. We had some demoing sessions and whatnot but there wasn’t a point where we had a song, just the start of a song or a riff. That’s part of the reason why the record came out as good as it did.

I know there are some deeply personal songs on this record, including “Pneumonia” for Tim. Are there any on this record that resonate with you on that level?

That one to me really hits on a real level, as well. I lost my stepdad quite a few years back and that was the first real loss I had of any close to me. He basically raised me. My mom got married when I was nine, so when Tim lost his dad, I knew exactly what he was going through. And our friend Seth who also came in and played guitar on the record lost his dad not too long ago. To me, one of the most impactful and jarring points in that song is the exact end of it and had this thought of… whenever that time does come, passing from here, living, to whatever it is that comes next, there’s going to be a moment where there’s this…this realization, this thing that you knew was coming one day is happening now. I think about that moment a lot because everyone has it with different ideas of what that moment is, but we all have this moment of transition. That’s super impactful, but earlier in the song it talks about every bloodline has its own start meaning. For me, yes, I lost my stepdad, and Tim lost his dad, but I am the dad in my house. Tim is the dad in his house. We have our own bloodlines we’re passing forward. Tim losing his dad is not the end of it, that’s just another part of it. It’s pretty heavy and it’s a lot.

It is, but I feel it’s cathartic. A lot of people have had this realization since 2020 started and this song articulates that well.

Thank you. I appreciate it. Personal to us for sure, but the fact other people are connecting with it, as well, is awesome.

Another track, “Cycle,” features Ghostmane. How did you come to the decision to work with him? What was it like working with him?

We knew we wanted somebody on the outro bridge that was not us and also not a guy in our scene. We knew we wanted a hip-hop element to the song. Honestly, he was the first one to come to mind. It’s funny; we reached out to him, I think via Instagram DM, and hadn’t heard back. Management reached out to him and didn’t hear anything back. Then, randomly, he messaged Aaron on Instagram and was like, “Hey, just wanted to reach out and say I appreciate Underøath, grew up listening to you guys, and you’re a big reason why I’m in music.” And Aaron said, “Oh, so does that mean you’re in?” “What do you mean?” “We’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a song,” and he responded, “Oh, I had no idea. Send it over. I’d love to check it out.” So we sent it over to him and what is on the record is literally what he sent back – within a day.

This is your first self-produced album. Was that challenging at all?

It was infinitely harder to do it ourselves just because we’ve never done it before. We were all in there like, “Damn, I guess we’re making our own record; let’s see how it goes.” We got our friend Chad Howitz to mix. It was difficult technically and personally, but 100% worth it. I said this quite a bit lately but we were supposed to record this album at the beginning of 2020 because we had a tour booked for the summer of 2020 with Slipknot and the plan was to have the record done by then. Then COVID hit, so we literally just sat on the record for almost a year and there’s only one song from the original batch that ended up making it over to the final album – “Take a Breath.” That’s very similar to what we had since 2020 but the rest is all post-that.

It sounds like there are some hints at genre exploration on this record. When you’re not with UØ, what do you listen to?

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but podcasts. I’m working on music all the time so I don’t want to hear more. I’m actually gonna check what I’ve been listening to lately…. The Smile, super excited about that. Snakes of Russia put out a a new EP with CNJR is really good. I like that new Code Orange song. The Converge and Chelsea Wolfe album is great. As far as heavy stuff, not a ton. Always go back to Converge. Frontierer is a good band. I listen to a lot of soundtrack stuff, not really overtly electronic music. I like them when they’re done a certain way

Is it fair to say Voyeurist is a concept album?

It’s weird because lyrically it does have those themes (about social media). There are other themes running through it, as well, but it’s not a concept album in the way we didn’t set out to make it this way. As we were working with visual promo, we came up with Voyeruist and it came together like that. So, yeah, there is a concept and a theme, but it wasn’t intended

How does it feel to be a part of a band for over 20 years and still experimenting?

Uh, crazy! It’s not lost on me that we’ve been doing this for as long as we have, but are doing things that are not smart business-wise as far as creative process and also have longevity. You can write a record that sells really well and say, “Ok, if I want to continue doing this as a career, I’m going to capitalize on that and continue to do that.” You can have a lifelong career doing that, but an audience growing with the band normally doesn’t happen. Normally, you start with this many people listening to you and change what you’re doing, and it shrinks to here – do that again it shrinks further. The fact that our audience grows with us and accepts all of our swings over the years is amazing. If we’re writing music that is making us excited and stoked, someone out there will be stoked to hear it. Even when we broke up and reunited, people thought we should do an accessible album, but we wanted to be more melodic, more rock structured, and maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing, but it worked out. We were nominated for a Grammy.

I hope to see Voyeurist win a Grammy.

Yeah, we’ll see. We like to say three-time Grammy-losing. It’s more apt. If you’re nominated for a Grammy, you still get sent these little medals, so I have three of them and my son asked if I won them, and I said, “No, we didn’t win.” “They give you these for losing?” he asked, and, yeah, I guess they do.

You also have an impressive film scoring career of about 12 movies, documentaries, and even a video game.

It’s been busy for sure. Right now as I’m working on this, there are two films I think I’ve done. One is on Amazon and the other you can buy wherever. I’ve got a third feature we went to Tribeca with last year, coming out this year. A fourth and a fifth coming out this year. But a majority of the stuff I’ve been working on in the past few years will be coming out this year which is cool. It’ll look good on paper because this guy wrote four features in a year, but I’ve been working on them for a while. I’m super thankful to be able to do it. I technically have only done two horror movies: Orphan: First Kill is a prequel to the one from a few years ago and I came in on the last six weeks of that, so I wasn’t the main composer on that but they were pushing a deadline and the composer hit me up and said, “Hey, hop on here for the last six weeks.” The Beast of Bray Road is an X-Files doc about a rumored beast. Majority of the stuff I’ve done is drama/thriller stuff. God’s Waiting Room is the one at Tribeca; that’s just a character drama. I did another one by the same director called Peace in the Valley. The one I’m working on now is a trippy drama. I’m still not really sure where my niche is because so little of my work is out there yet. I think the next couple years will be big. I’m finding out what I’m good at, what I need more work at… huge learning experience.

So, do you see the film then write music for it or does the director pitch what it should sound like?

It’s a project by project thing. It might be during the script phase and I’ll talk to the director about what I think it should sound like versus what they think, have some ideas, work from there. There are films where basically I see almost a final edit and start from there and everything in between. It really depends on the director you’re working with.

Upcoming tour with Spiritbox. That’s a show I’m excited to see!

Yes and alongside Spiritbox we have 2 bands that we’re bringing on strong bands that I’m crazy pumped on. Insanely pumped to be back on tour, too. We got to play a few one-offs in 2021, but just holdovers from 2020. That was surreal seeing thousands of people huddled together like that and super emotional for me to be back doing club shows; both 2021 shows were fests. We’re in the process of getting our setlist together, production stuff – it’s gonna be insane.

I want to see if you remember a concert. Summer 2019: Korn, Alice in Chains, Underøath, and Ho99o9, the New Jersey date that rained and rained. Do you remember that day?

Yes, that show got canceled. I do remember that. That was a bummer because we all waited to see if the show would go on. And I remember standing on the stage, with Jerry [Cantrell], a couple of the Ho99o9 guys, and crew guys. The stage is all set and we’re ready to go, but we got the call that we had to cancel. Jerry wanted to go play outside somehow to the people that were there but none of that could really happen. It was a bummer, but stuff like that happens. Excited to get back to Jersey now. I think we’re doing Starland, right? Starland is such a unique place because there’s nothing there. A lot of the appeal of the venue for the band is the surrounding area, so for Starland, there’s nothing nearby. We’re going to be hanging out in a parking lot all day.

The thing about Starland is the giant screen with all the upcoming shows and people shouting for IHOP.

There’s an ad for the IHOP that appears on the screen and whenever it comes on the PowerPoint, people go crazy.

I never knew about that. Horrible pun; is the IHOP hopping after the shows?

Yes, always.

Maybe that should be my plan. I gotta plan something fun for that day. Maybe I’ll say, “After the show, I’m going to IHOP and stuffing my face with pancakes.”

That will get a big applause from the crowd.

You think so?

An eruption.

Huh. Jersey likes pancakes, I guess.