Beartooth is Born Again

After a season of depression and anxiety, Caleb Shomo and his new band, Beartooth, are getting a second wind

Photo by Graham Fielder

This story isn’t about me, but I’m going to talk about myself in it. It’s not really about you, either – at least directly – but in a way, it’s about all of us, so there’s the possibility I could be talking about you in it. This story is definitely about the band Beartooth, the brainchild of a guy name Caleb Shomo; it’s truly about him. He has a studio in his house, and to exercise his creative needs, he wrote and recorded the four songs that would come to be known as an EP called Sick. He can’t play all the instruments at the same time, so when the band, collectively, performs live, Shomo performs with his good friends. Friends he’s known for a long time. Friends that helped him get over being sick.

“I was going down a path I think could get really, really dangerous and really bad for my health.”

He’s somewhere on tour – he knows it’s the Webster Theater, just not in what city – his band Beartooth is jumping on a 10-day run with another band called City Lights. The tour they’re piggy-backing on tonight has been dubbed the All Stars 2013 tour, and Beartooth will play the song “I Have a Problem” on stage later that night.

“That song was just specifically about the end of when I was in Attack Attack! And towards the end of that, just what was going on with my life.”

What Shomo goes on to talk to me about isn’t something particularly easy for men to talk about. In truth, the fact that he’s talking about it at all is tough for most men. For some, they’ll go to the grave without talking, perhaps even early. Some of the ones that don’t die may end up living out a life alone, maybe broke, maybe with steep medical problems.

For some reason, men aren’t allowed to open their mouths. They’re not allowed to ask questions and ask for help. As a man, I know this. It’s some unspoken, deep-rooted law of human nature. Right or wrong, it’s tough to get over. And for Shomo to admit he has a problem – in song, no less – is a huge step, and the definitive mark of a self-confidence most people can’t reach. Some would say it’s step one.

My first step was surrounding myself intentionally with people that I knew were going to be healthy for me to be around. People that I know love the Lord and love me. I hadn’t hung out with or talked to those guys in so long. I literally hit them up. I was just like, “Look, dude, I need a place. I need somewhere that I can just get away, and I need to get away from all this stuff. I need to get away from my house.” Not even a hesitation: “Absolutely, man.” No question asked.

For a long time, Shomo wasn’t surrounded by many people at all. He was living with a couple people when his former band, the aforementioned electro-metalcore group Attack! Attack!, was home from a tour. He was falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole to where, eventually, they couldn’t be around him anymore. They moved out. Shomo says they didn’t want to see him do the things to he was doing to himself. “I lost a whole lot of things in my life that were really, really important to me,” he says.

Friends. Family. His fiancée. Completely out of touch. Deep down in the dark hole, Shomo was a different person than the one he is now, the one who fronts Beartooth. He was someone with a problem.

I deal with really bad depression and anxiety. I struggled with being suicidal since I was in middle school. I just was not in a place, mentally, where I should be. It just keeps getting darker and it was really rough. Clearly, from the song, I was just drinking a whole lot, because that just helps you to not feel anything.

I have a problem with drinking alcohol. I don’t drink it anymore, because when I did, I would drink as much as I could to painfully fight off a daily battle with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t necessarily about the alcohol itself; it was the means to an end. When I drank, it made me forget about life for a while. It made me forget about what was going through my head; it allowed me to escape myself.

You might have this issue. In fact, it’s a pretty common issue, but not a lot of people like to admit it, especially men. This is despite the fact that the first rule about alcohol abuse – which I know you know – is to admit you have a problem. Some would call it step one.

Even though Beartooth’s “I Have a Problem” is about Shomo’s struggles, it certainly resonated with me, and it may resonate with you. I hear his words and I not only know exactly what he’s talking about, but I can literally pinpoint the exact same moments he describes to me in my own life.

Alcohol honestly didn’t do anything, but that’s just what I chose to escape. Drinking, smoking weed, whatever, there are a lot of things. But I think I became addicted to coping, and not dealing with whatever I needed to deal with.

My advice to myself was doing whatever it took to get out of my own head because I just never wanted to be alone with my own thoughts. I always wanted to be out walking around, keeping my mind off things, or I wanted to be drinking.

That was my goal, was to not have to sit down and deal with, “How do I really feel? Why am I here right now? What do I need to do to take care of this so I can get my life together?” I didn’t want to ask those questions. That’s what that song is about. It’s about just that part of my life, what was going through my head, and all that stuff.

Looking back, it’s a little bizarre to hear him say this. The irony is that while Shomo might not have been able to sit down and confront his own thoughts, he could put a pen to paper and use his musical talent to express his inner torment with no problem.

“I didn’t write those songs for anybody else when I wrote them,” he says. I’ve asked him if the “tormented artist” is a crutch or a way to guarantee a cool live show when they have a gig, but he’s adamant. He was writing for his own personal emotional outlet, but at the same time being as honest as he can – “complete transparency,” he says.

I could really care less about how many people are (at a show), or how many people think we’re cool. That’s not why I wrote the songs. I literally wrote them to just keep my head on straight, and just be honest with myself in a lot of ways, because I had never been honest with myself before.

There’s more to the Sick EP than just these problems. For fans of Shomo’s previous band, Attack Attack!, this one doesn’t have anything “electro” in it; it’s raw metalcore, a brash four-song powerhouse that gets in and gets out before it overstays its welcome.

The EP may only have four songs – four really good ones, at that – but, as I mentioned to him, it’s impossible to tour on four songs.

“Even before the EP came out, I’d written about six or seven songs before we even got signed,” Shomo says. “I have almost have an entire full length written now. Sometimes I’ll get on this weird week stretch kick of writing, where I just really go down and write a new song every day. It just kind of all happens. The EP, honestly, was just me picking and choosing out of the songs which one I thought were fits for the first four ones that we put out.”

There’s the possibility they’ll keep a couple of those songs for a full-length, but don’t hold out hope. As Shomo says, writing comes very naturally to him, and there’s plenty more where it came from. “I have a ton of new stuff written. It’s going to be mostly all new stuff.” The goal is the beginning of 2014.

Each song gets its own treatment when he’s writing it. It’s whatever sticks in his mind as the seed, building around it until it’s full-grown. “It may start with a vocal. I’ll write one set of lyrics or a melody or some yelling chant thing. It’s honestly never the same any given time. Sometimes I’ll just write the entire song’s music and then put the lyrics on after that. … It just kind of happens.”

I told him it was a very transparent EP, and also very aggressive lyrically. That it has to be emotionally draining to relive all that every night. “The songs are so personal,” he admits. “I just put on an intense show no matter what. We could be playing in front of five people, but I’m still going to be putting on the same show for my own sake…” He kind of stammers through a couple non-sentences, before, “The way it started was me writing intense, personal songs, not even caring about what they’re about or what anyone thought about them. I just wrote them for me.

“I just try and write about something that is really important to me. I try and not hold anything back lyrically. I don’t want to hide any of my stuff that I’ve gone through. I just want it to be me, completely transparent, describing as honestly as I can whatever I’m going through.”

Music has long been known to be a cathartic element, both as listener and creator. But it’s rarely the savior. It’s almost always a combination of things – friends, family, environment, religion – and in Shomo’s case, most of those overlapped.

“My dad is the pastor of a church, or he was for a long time,” Shomo says. “Even that aside, (my parents) are just the best people I have ever met on the planet. I literally couldn’t be more blessed with the parents I have, and how cool they are and supportive they are.

“I was just a different person,” he admits, segueing into how his parents got involved. “I was really weird and dark and no good. My parents actually came over to my house one day. They were like, ‘Look, we have no idea what’s going on, but we know it’s probably something not good. We just want to help you. What can we do to help you?’ I just broke down and told them everything that was going on.”

It wasn’t long before Shomo realized he needed a change of scenery, and he moved in with a good friend of his for a few weeks, surrounding himself with people that would help keep him on track.

“Honestly, I think putting all that stuff aside and realizing I needed help was the biggest thing,” he says, reflecting on that time in his life. “I can remember sitting in my garage one day. It was actually that day. It was the same day that I left Attack! Attack! I just dropped everything that was going on in my life.”

I remember sitting in my garage, and I was like, “God, if you care – at all – this is a great time. You can just do whatever you want with me. I don’t really care anymore. I have nothing going for me. I have nothing to live for. I don’t even want to be living.”

I know that feeling, and anyone that has this issue who has eventually gotten help knows that feeling, too. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who know that feeling and never make it out. It’s commonly referred to as “rock bottom,” but when you’re there – when you’re legitimately ready to die because the weight of your soul is so unbearably crushing your body cannot even physically muster enough desire to take another step – rock bottom doesn’t even creep into your head. When that emotional turmoil creates physical paralysis, the only thing you want is death.

“From there,” he says, circling back through his story, “this whole string of unexplainable events happened (that allowed me) to get my life together,” Shomo says. It was here he took that first physical step, surrounding himself with people that loved him and loved the Lord. And, exactly like the church and the body were meant to be, they welcomed him in, no questions asked.

“Come live here and hang out for a while,” they said. So he did.

One of the biggest misconceptions – probably due to the glamorous stories told in books and movies – is that if this were a movie, at this point, you would see Shomo walk into this House of Recovery as the screen fades to black, and the returning shot would be him counseling others after his recovery, helping them with their own battle.

But there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of steps in between, most of which aren’t glamorous at all. I had to bury my uncle. You might have had to watch a friend die. Move cities. Shomo took a much more intimate hit.

“From there, I had to cut things off with my fiancée for a while,” he says. “We just took a break. I was like, ‘I need to get myself together before I can get this together.’”
She understood.

“She was in England, because that’s where she’s from,” he says. “All she did for a while was just read the Bible and really grow in making her own faith so much stronger and able to support me better and keep me on track.”

“Slowly but surely,” I say to him, speaking from personal experience, “that chain of events starts to form around that ‘a-ha’ moment and you start to get your life back on track. Every single second is hard, but it’s putting your left foot in front of your right.”

“It was this really cool thing that happened,” he says. “Eventually, we were like, ‘Yeah, we are both at peace about this.’ Now we’re married. It’s so much better than it could have been had I carried on doing what I was doing. And being so lethargic, no caring and not being who I’m supposed to be as a husband, supporting her and letting her support me.”
“Like you said,” I say, “it’s God working that indescribable, unseeable plan. When I get up to heaven, I just want to laugh and be like, ‘Dude, really? You had to put me through all that before I got to be happy? Because that was awful.’”

We laugh. “At the end of the day,” he says, “I know for you and me – I’m sure you could say this – you’re so much more content where you are now, knowing what you know. I learned how to go through life with having a purpose, having a drive. I get to talk to people on a daily basis about the stuff I’ve gone through. Anybody who listens to what I write about is going to know exactly what I was going through at that moment in time.

“I know it’s cliché, and a lot of people say it, but honestly, I think Jesus saved my life and brought me to where I am today. And honestly, He’s the reason I’m still living.”

“It may be a cliché, but it’s also a fact,” I offer.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a fact,” he says. “There’s no question about that.”

Beartooth was posted on September 5, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by .