With hundreds of millions of streams online, fans spanning the globe, and a sold-out tour that hit Philadelphia last night and comes to New York City later this week, it’s safe to say that Beartooth has made their mark and are here to stay.
Beartooth singer Caleb Shomo put a great deal of work into growing as a musician, lyricist, and person over the past few years. As a result, Beartooth’s new album, The Surface, is a tour de force and testament to Shomo’s evolution and relentless drive to deliver immensely powerful music and potent lyrics. Its tracks are an engaging reflection of the vocalist’s transformation to embracing positivity and promise over dread and despair.
Shomo is best-known for expressing personal strife and a dark outlook – including his battles with severe depression and addiction – through music He literally roars in agony on previous albums, and while the screams are still filled with anguish on The Surface, the lyrics are now optimistic. His clean vocals at many times closer to pop than the band’s usual metal and hardcore sound.
Lyrically, Shomo declares on “Riptide” that he doesn’t “want to sing another hopeless song” and on “What Are You Waiting For” states, “Turn your life around – no better time than now to ask yourself, ‘What are you waiting, what are you waiting for?’” Other song titles include “Might Love Myself,” “My New Reality,” and “The Better Me,” featuring Hardy (revered country music singer-songwriter). Album closer “I Was Alive” was inspired by Shomo’s last talk with his dying grandfather, in which the latter expressed satisfaction with a life well lived.
The vocalist writes all of the songs and plays all of the instruments in the studio. He also produces and engineers the band’s recordings. Guitarists Zach Huston and Will Deely, bassist Oshie Bichar, and drummer Connor Denis perform the songs live as part of the official Beartooth lineup. However, it is Shomo’s ever-growing fearlessness as an artist and individual to manifest themselves in a determined and visceral effort that makes The Surface essential listening.
Beartooth, as a unit, are performing on January 26 at the Palladium Times Square with fellow passionate rock bands The Plot In You, Invent Animate, and Sleep Theory. Prior to that, following the tour kickoff in Cincinnati, we spoke to Caleb Shomo about hitting the road with this new record.
This is Beartooth’s first tour supporting The Surface. What type of show can fans expect?
This is the first tour since the album came out. We’ve been working on this show for a long time and the whole headspace has been really about how we just want to put on an arena or a stadium show in a club. For us, we’ve realized that it comes with the preparation, and there’s so much work that goes into it, but after show number one, I’m glad we put in the work. I’m really proud of this show – every aspect of just how tight we are as a band, how the production works, how every moving part works into the next.
In the past some Beartooth tours have had a bare bones production. Why the change?
We’re trying to kind of get a little bit better at some things. We’ve put on a show where it was a little more of that eighties rock and roll style where we just put on the amps and crank them as loud as we can, just play a bunch of songs and say see you later, which is always fun. We’ve always been proud of that era of our band.
Now we want to make sure that at the end of the day every single person is doing the absolute best that they can, including our crew and every part of our band. At the end of the day, we’re making sure that people who paid good money that they had to earn to buy tickets get every single cent worth.
The Surface is a big leap for you from previous Beartooth albums. Your lyrics embrace a new, positive outlook, and at times your vocals are closer to pop than metal. What precipitated that development?
It was 100% natural. I got myself to a place in life where I was listening to a little bit more uplifting stuff. I’m always going to be a metalhead. That’s always going to be in Beartooth’s music, no doubt. So, heavy’s always there, but being able to explore more pop and see where that leaves me is kind of what happened on this new record.
Really, all I said to myself at the start of the record is, “The motto of the record is no fear. If I want to do something, I want to dive all the way in. If I’m feeling a heavy part, just let it be heavy. If I’m feeling something with pop, just let it be pop. Do what feels right and trust your gut and go all the way. There’ no point in holding back.”
This is also an album that charts your personal progression. How did writing from a more positive mindset affect you? Did you surprise yourself when the words started flowing?
I’ve always had the mentality, with Beartooth specifically, that no matter what I’m going to write, at the end of the day, it’s the most raw and most personal and honest things I can write. Beartooth has always been kind of a therapy session in that regard; that definitely didn’t change for this record. I was just going through some different things in life, and I think it kind of added a new dimension to our repertoire.
It’s really been a journey of self-discovery and craving something else. I’m sure like for a lot of us COVID was absolutely a big catalyst. Everything shutting down and being forced into this really painful isolation, I realized that life is very short. We get one short ride and maybe there are some things in my life that I could do a little better and figure out a little more.
It’s that process. Working on myself and finding things I could take out of my life and add to my life that really at the end of the day brings me more happiness on a daily basis. That was how it happened.
How do you work as a writer? Do you sit down purposefully to write lyrics, jot down phrases here and there? Is it a difficult process?
It definitely varies. Sometimes stuff will come to me literally in the middle of the night and I’ll wake up and write up an idea in my notes. Sometimes it’ a very thought-out thing where I sit down and get away and spend a few hours with the notepad on my iPhone and start going for it. A lot of this new record my process was lyrics and melody first. I’d literally just walk outside the studio and pace around, just writing the song in my head for hours. I’d be writing lyrics and melody, and have the tempo and the key and the chord progression in my head, and then I’d write the song and go start recording.
“I Was Alive” came from a conversation with your late grandfather. How would you characterize that discussion?
That song was inspired by the last conversation that I had with my grandfather. He was just talking about his life, what he did, and how basically he was content and happy, and he was proud about what he did. It inspired me to want to write a song about that and manifest that for myself, for my own life.
Were you nervous about fan reaction to the new direction?
The thing that I think is the coolest is that people are just happy with the positive direction. It’s a very scary thing for me with Beartooth’s history being almost every song is about the negative part of my life and about the pain and about the hardship. I’ve done four albums about that, so I’ve built a fanbase around that. This kind of big change that I’m going through, with this positivity, it’s scary to do, but the fact that everybody’s really supportive of that? More than feeling supportive of me – that they’re feeling it themselves? That’s absolutely the coolest thing.
What can you tell us about the band as people and musicians?
I have some of the best players in the world and some of my best friends and I’m incredibly blessed to share the stage with them every night. It’s just the mentality and the work ethic and the hunger to be the best version of themselves as a musician that everybody on that stage shares. That’s what feels so amazing and so special, and I think that’s what goes such a long way. I’m very proud of every one of them.
This year is the 10th anniversary of Disgusting, Beartooth’s first full-length album. Has that caused you to reflect on the past decade?
Yes, 100%. It was pretty crazy. When you’re in the music business it’s very easy to just be focusing on right now and two-three years into the future (because you’re always planning so far ahead). After yesterday, playing a big, sold-out show and having a really good time, I took a minute at the end of the night to reflect on how far we’ve come. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’m definitely very proud of where I am and I’m sure if I told myself 10 years ago that this is where’d I be, I would have been thrilled. When this thing started, I didn’t plan on it really being anything. I planned on it being something for fun and something’s that’s a passion project and that would remain a passion project. I guess the fact that people resonated with this passion project is pretty cool to the point where this is happening. It’s hard for me to believe. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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