There’s no question that San Diego is primarily known for being the home of legendary broadcaster Ron Burgundy, but a new icon arises from the sun-drenched beaches of SoCal: Austin Visser and his chaotic compadres known as The Undertaking!. While one legend brought us the news, for the past few weeks, these new heroes are peppering the news on a seemingly daily basis: announcing their signing with Solid State Records, announcing a new music video for “No Friends” (featuring a guest spot from Saosin’s Cove Reber), announcing the release of their debut album, Funeral Psalms, for the end of April. It’s been a whirlwind for the band, especially as they draw closer to that release, and, once live performances resume and The Undertaking! has completed a full tour, there’s little doubt that the combination of their songwriting and fan-centric, frenzied live show will allow them to become a regular name in the metalcore/hardcore scene. The first time I heard them – a sound similar to and inspired by the likes of Refused, Every Time I Die, and the Southern groove of early Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – was sometime early last summer when we connected about their self-released banger, “Who’s Afraid of Eleven Wolves?” (which was later featured on HM for the song’s video release).
Personally, I had known nothing about the sun-baked quintet – drummer Brent Jasperse, guitarist Keith Butsko, bassist James Moyer, guitarist and vocalist Johnny Mercuri, all alongside Visser – except that they were wild to the point where anyone who had run across them would not just notice them but take them seriously. This was a melding of metal, punk, and tumult that, close to a year later, has evolved into a remarkable group that caught the ears of faith-based cornerstone label Solid State Records, putting them alongside titans like Demon Hunter, The Devil Wears Prada, and Fit for a King. While it may feel like The Undertaking! came out of nowhere (which isn’t true), they are definitively heading somewhere bright, led by the rays in which they bask in their hometown. Andrew Voigt, a contributing writer to HM, sat down with Austin Visser of The Undertaking! to discuss the new album, the history of the band, and how their creative freedom reigns supreme.
You guys recently announced signing with Solid State Records and your first record with them that’s set for an April release. How did the partnership with Solid State come about?
So, obviously, a dream come true. We are absolutely so over the moon to sign with Solid State because, back in the early 2000s, all those albums they put out, those were so fundamental to each one of us in the band. So when we had the opportunity to sign with them, it was a no-brainer for us. The way that that relationship started was pretty crazy because, about a year ago, the whole industry shut down and we’re sitting here without the ability to play shows. We were just about to play a show in San Diego. We were going to open for The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and some (other) cool bands were on this tour and then it got shut down. Then our response was, well, shoot, let’s start making more music. In home studios at our different houses, we created “Who’s Afraid of Eleven Wolves?”. We had used Joey Bradford, the guitarist of The Used, to mix our previous two singles. He was on tour promoting The Used’s new album, so he got us in contact with a friend of his, Tanner Sparks, who is a producer for Switchfoot. He helped us out with that, so we are super stoked with the product. Completely DIY.
We were on the verge of putting it out and got wind of a distribution company that wanted to put the song out for us. We start to go down the road with them to see what that would look like, trying not to fall head over heels on the first person who came knocking at our door to say, “Hey, we like your music; we want to help you guys put it out.” We shot it out to Joey – and I was in a meeting at work – and Joey calls. I work with our guitarist, Johnny, and I show him. “Joey’s calling, what the heck?” Like, he never calls. We’re always texting and stuff. So, after the meeting, I call him back and he’s like, “Hey, don’t do the distribution deal. Pause. I’ve already called Solid State and like three or four other labels to see if they want to pick you guys up.”
Literally the next day, I’m on the phone with Adam, the A&R guy at Solid State, and I’m, like, so nervous about the conversation. I’m pitching the band, telling him all this stuff, and then halfway through I’m like, “Hey, what do you want? Do you want me to keep talking about the band and tell you more about us?” And he was like, “Oh shoot! I should have told you: We fully intend to sign you guys. We like what you’re doing; we like your sound.” You can imagine my jaw dropping on the phone call. That’s in May of 2020. In July of 2020 we signed and in August of 2020 we hopped into the studio for the entire month to record the album that you will hear in a couple of weeks.
Solid State Records is a very reputable label, which is great for you guys.
Even today, I’m still waiting for the call for them to be like, “Oh, yeah, we’re dropping you. We’re pulling the plug on this whole thing.” We’re pessimists. We’re optimists on the outside (pretend optimists!); then, on the inside, we’re all super pessimistic, and we’re like, oh, yeah, everybody’s gonna hate this and we’re gonna get dropped and it’s all gonna fall apart. It hasn’t yet, and so we’re cruising along until we get to the end of the road.
If you could pick a band, any band, that you could open for when you begin touring, who would it be?
I think – purely based on connections that we have and mutual connections – The Devil Wears Prada would be pretty fun. Our manager, Joey, knows their booking agent, so that would be pretty cool. And they love sports, too, so I think we’d be a good fit together.
Are all the guys in The Undertaking! in San Diego?
Yeah, we’re not only in San Diego, we’re in North County San Diego. Everyone in our band lives within ten minutes of each other. Like, last night, we hopped on Twitch together in our guitarist’s garage and we played NFL Blitz. The whole COVID situation, we’ve all been in each others’ bubble anyways. Most of our families are pretty close.
How long have you and the guys known each other?
Keith, our shirtless guitarist, and our drummer Brent – I’ve known Brent since we were little kids – the three of us have been playing music together since junior high school in different pop-punk bands and all that kind of stuff. Then we created the first iteration of The Undertaking! in high school and then had careers and life. We all kept in contact. Two years ago, when we created this version of the band, that’s when we all sent the text around to say, hey, let’s play some music again and see what we can do. So yeah, we’ve known each other for a really long time.
So it’s more like getting together with friends, not just a band.
Oh, 100%. We’re friends. Obviously, we’re in a business together and we’re doing a band together, but we’re family and that’s really important.
As a band who recently went from unsigned to labelmates alongside some massive metalcore acts, do you feel that you still have some creative freedom?
I cannot stress enough how amazing Solid State has been to work with. There have been no parameters set for what we bring to them and what we do. So, when we recorded our album that is coming out in April, we went into the studio and then sent him (Adam at Solid State) 11 songs. The response was, “Awesome.” And we had no idea if they were going to come back and have notes, if they were going to come back and have us change things – and they didn’t do any of that. To have this insane creative moment for a month together in the studio and then to come out with the product that we had and for the label just to be like, “Two thumbs up! We’re stoked on it!”, that was pretty validating for us.
Even up to this point, we have creative freedom on content and music videos. The label helped us out with the lyric video we put out for “Oh, Negative,” but, everything else, they’re letting us do our own thing. I think Adam truly wants us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Everything you hear on our album was played by us. There’s no pads, there’s no samples. It’s all real. As hard as it is on my vocals, it’s all there. It’s pretty raw.
It was last year that we (HM) connected with you, which led to featuring your video, “Who’s Afraid of Eleven Wolves?” on HMTV. It’s been quite a year watching you guys.
The relationship that we established in May, I feel like that was a pretty quick thing. The fact that you guys responded to us and opened up your arms and embraced us was huge for us. And then your response to our music video was super helpful in the success of that song, which I think all played together in Solid State’s confidence in signing us.
That was a video we shot on our own; I edited it on my own. That’s what we do. Up to this point, everything that you see from us was pretty much us doing it because we were like, “OK, we don’t know how to do this, let’s figure out how to do it so we can do it ourselves.” (Laughs) That’s how we got here. We worked super hard and did it all ourselves.
Despite not wanting to be labeled as a Christian band, you are (personally) a Christian and have a heart for your faith. I think people will really enjoy that aspect of your music.
I’m waiting for the bomb to drop for people to realize that we’re a little darker than the Christianity that they want. And our response is going to be like, “Have you read the Bible? It’s super dark.” The themes that we’re playing in are all biblical. I’m actually really excited for people to dive into it. I hope it’s challenging for them.
I mean, even for “Oh, Negative” – that is a song about mental health. That song, for us, is written from that place in that deep, dark hole. And you’re praying and calling out to God and there’s no answer. I think it might be a little too dark for people, but it’s real life. The fact that you guys are discussing matters of faith, even if it’s a bit serious, I think that is very much lacking in the scene and a welcome voice to many listeners. Honestly, from my perspective, that’s why I got into this. Being “Christians in a band” is going to expose us to bars and situations. We’re just normal dudes yelling into microphones and playing guitars but then you dig into our lyrics and you get to know us and you’re like, “Oh, there’s something different about you.” That’s my Christianity. I’m not the Evangelical guy knocking on your door and handing out pamphlets. I want you to get to know me. I want to talk sports and movies and music.
I’m really excited for fans – myself included – to get to experience The Undertaking! live on tour.
Yeah, we’re eager to get out and show people our thing. If you pay attention to the videos we put out, we’re climbing on people and trying to bring a little bit of The Chariot vibe back and old Norma Jean. We’re really excited for people to get to know us.
If you had a favorite song on the upcoming record, what would it be?
“Take Me Down The River” is probably the one where I stretched my vocals the farthest. That was a fun song for me.
How can fans, both old and new, support you guys?
The best way that they can support us right now is to follow us on Spotify, stream our music, follow us on Instagram, and share it with your friends.
A fun fact about you is that you’re a pastor in San Diego. How does your faith impact your writing?
I grew up in a Christian Reformed Church, so heavy on doctrine, Heidelberg Catechism, and layers of extra rules and doctrine thrown on top of Jesus’ mission. So, when I became an adult and established my own relationship with Jesus Christ, I started to realize that there’s a real relationship that he’s calling us to have.
And you really dive into David and the Psalms, like when God says that David is a man after his own heart. You realize that David was a messed up dude and cried out to God, was mad at God, yelled at God, stumbled and fell all the time. My approach is that something God values is authenticity. All that to say that my approach to writing is tricky because I have to feel every emotion that I sing in a song. This is real. These are real, visceral emotions that we’re putting out there. In relationship to my beliefs, it’s authentic. There are struggles, there are doubts, and there are moments of insecurity. It’s real, and I hope people can hear that.
The Undertaking! was posted on March 25, 2021 for HM Magazine and authored by Andrew Voigt.