I like the phrase “brain fart” to describe a lapse in judgment. While it’s not the kind of “proper” phrase you might bring up at Thanksgiving dinner with extended family, it describes exactly what happened with my first of two interviews with members of Underoath. In training the HM interns each time a new one comes to learn the magazine business, one of the things I show them is where we keep our stash of micro-cassette tapes to record telephone interviews. When I explain how the micro-cassette recorder, one of the things I sometimes do is I say, “These are the mistakes that you can make with this recorder,” followed by showing them the Voice-Activated-Recording on/off switch and the two equal-sized jacks for the microphone and headphones. “If you plug the recorder into the headphone jack, you will record nothing.”
After a thirty-minute interview with guitarist Tim McTague, I put in another tape for the next interview with Spencer Chamberlain … and I discovered that I’d done the unthinkable. I’d recorded nothing for half an hour, where I failed to document the words of the founding guitar player on all the hot issues that the band is being asked these days. It’s a good thing I had the interview with Spencer, or else this Underoath cover story might be nothing but some writer talking about himself and his opinions on said band. Lord, save us from this kind of article!
With Ø (Disambiguation) the band seems to collectively be in that “hungry” and “out to prove something” mindset that usually produces great music and even greater live shows. “We have just made what we think is our best album,” states McTague in a matter-of-fact and I-am-not-just-saying-this tone. “Some people would say that we’ve lost our most important member,” he goes on, revealing a slight chip on his shoulder – most assuredly because he’s heard some people suggest exactly that – “because of the visual image of the band. For some people that are concerned with that,” he muses, as if to imply that it’s petty, superficial and off-the-mark to judge a band by its image, “they might be thinking that. We think it’s fitting that, with this new album, we will prove that Underoath is more than just any one member.
Ahhh, the team concept… Underoath seem to be rallying around this theme right about now. The vibe I picked up from McTague and Chamberlain was one part defensive, one part being stoked about the new album’s sonics and songs and one part “Underoath vs. the world,” which are all factors that should serve them well. The wheels didn’t fall off the UO bus when lead vocalist Dallas Taylor left in 2002, nor when the band quit Warped Tour midway through the traveling show back in ’08, and this personnel change shouldn’t be catastrophic for the six-member group, either.
While the drama around the band is partly built on guesswork, rumors and innuendo, there’s no denying that the departure of Aaron Gillespie leaves a big hole to fill. His fiery red hair and boyish good looks were one thing, his personality and skills as one of the upfront speakers with a mic in a live situation was another, as were his fluid “clean” vocals (and don’t forget his mad drumming skills). There won’t be another article on Underoath in the next 12 months that don’t involve at least some details of his departure. Like the Warped Tour drama of ’08 (with people wondering if the anti-Christian heckling from “Fat Mike” of NOFX had anything to do with their canceling of the remaining tourdates).
There’s nothing like cutting to the chase, so I asked the obvious “why” question concerning the split with Aaron. “Bas-ic-ally,” Chamberlain replies, drawing the word out as if extending the syllables gave him more time to think of an adequate answer… “I’m trying to figure out the best way without sounding like a jerk or anything. Basically a lot of things went down in Europe, as far as just friendship-wise with people. I think there’s a lot of things he pointed out just as a friend… After that kind of conversation on the bus he brought up the idea of thinking a lot about quitting the band. He dropped it on us right before a show. Basically, after the show it was kind of like a, ‘Well, maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe I don’t want to quit. I don’t know.’ Then we all decided it would be best if he didn’t play with us anymore. ‘You brought it up and then retracted it’ and we were kind of like, ‘We all haven’t been seeing eye to eye basically at all.’ We’re all still friends. I talk to him. He called me up when he heard the record. There’s no bad blood at all. We didn’t see eye to eye. It felt like there were five guys in the band and he was kind of doing his own thing. We all decided. He kind of brought it up and then took it back. I don’t think he was decided one way or the other. We decided it would be particularly best for us. We felt way better as a band and he felt way better. He was like, ‘Good.’ I feel good for him. He can put himself way into his solo stuff and the Almost stuff and we’re way happier being true to what we want to write and playing with Daniel.”
While that explanation is not likely to quench all the rumors and speculation, it sounds pretty honest.
“There’s no bad blood or anything,” Chamberlain continues. “He’ll still text me and I’ll call him every once in a while and we keep in touch. We’re still friends. He’s been one of my best friends since before I joined the band. For a long time he was not really into heavy music. He even talked about it when I joined the band. I kind of feel like he wanted to do The Almost and that’s what he felt like he wanted to do and I think that’s great. We all feel happy as well continuing on with Daniel. I don’t think a lot of kids understand it. It’s not like we all hated him or anything.”
That’s not what I heard, but then what I was hearing was coming from haters and gossip. I decided to bring it up anyway, even though I phrased it: “How much truth is there to that silly rumor?”
“That we all hate each other,” the liberated frontman laughs. “We’re definitely the best friends any one could have. You have to understand, since I was 18 we’ve all been in a band, traveling together, we moved onto a bus. We’ve had life-changing things, like becoming a bigger band, having success, having family. There’s been times, of course… I spend more time with them than I do my family and my girlfriend. There’s time that you’re in a place with someone that things get a little heated sometimes, but we’re all best friends. We’d do anything for each other. I love those guys more than I could even explain to you over the phone. We all feel that way. I think maybe some of it was changed towards the end when Aaron was in the band. You could tell that there was, like, five of us wanting to do one thing and someone else wants to do another. And that just caused tension. But I think that was all needed and we’re all better in the end now than we were in the last year that he was in the band. And we’re having that stress relieved and Daniel joining the band has been like nobody’s bumming at all. Like everyone – the whole studio – writing stuff, we’ve just had a great time. We’re definitely all best friends, so those rumors aren’t true. I’ve definitely heard that about tons of bands and I’ve seen it in some bands, where people don’t hang out and talk once they’re off stage. That’s definitely not us.”
Spencer Chamberlain Interview:
You mentioned some songs or stuff on the new album that you probably wouldn’t have gone in that direction without Aaron. What are some specific examples or songs or song parts that you’re talking about.
There’s some heavier stuff. I guess that’d be a huge difference. We play heavier stuff than we would have done with Aaron. And then the songs that are more melodic, the entire song wouldn’t have happened, either. This album wouldn’t have turned out anything like it did. The five of us had been working on riffs before Daniel had joined, but when Daniel joined, we wrote the record. I couldn’t have… I have no idea how it would have turned out with Aaron if he had stayed in the band.
As you look back at your career with Underoath and you look back at the albums you played on and maybe even some of your perspective on the albums before you joined the band and then comparing them to this album, how would you describe … maybe go through the albums and give a brief description of each one and maybe explain the evolution or changes you made a long the way.
I think Chasing Safety was, you know, what inspired us at the time. We were young. When I joined the guys they were bigger on heavy music and were into the metal scene. More into change. More into something different. I was excited to be playing with new people. We go into the record and by the time we’re done with it we hate a lot of it. And that’s part of growing up. We were all 18, 19 years old. Some of us may have been 20. We were just kind of testing the new waters. People like that record. People love that record. We found slowly over time, also, we didn’t want to be a part of the ‘what’s cool right now’ thing. We wanted to challenge ourselves and challenge our thinking. We weren’t really sure how to do that, but we knew we wanted to change and that’s how Define the Great Line came out. I think that record turned out awesome. It really kind of jumped out of the box there. It turned out well. People thought it was cool. Lost in the Sound we were still on the same page as a band. It’s weird going through Chasing Safety… From Chasing Safety to Define the Great Line we changed who we were. The changes they hated who they were, so they changed. So then when we were trying to write Lost, it was like, ‘Well, we like who we are. We’re comfortable with who we are as far as doing. Let’s expand on this.’ I thought that’s what we did. We expanded and experiemented more with that style. We did drop-D off the hook. We pushed it further and there was stuff on Lost that we wouldn’t have done on Define, because we weren’t there yet. Then, I think from Lost to this record, there’s a huge step as well. It’s not like we hated who we were, but it’s like, ‘I don’t want to do that again. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to not be just another Warped Tour band or whatever we were looked at as. Let’s try to make a real record and really step out of the box here and do what’s right here for the music and not because a person wants to have his drums here or there. It was what was best for the songs of the album and just really expand on vibing off each other and maybe this new member and the excitement of change and just running with it. I think it’s a step of maturity – the way I see it. I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve seen it in other bands when they’ve done, you know, something and kind of accomplished something and kind of… Not being a cute band. We’re an adult band. I grew up in the ‘90s, listening to, you know, I had three older brothers. I was listening to … there’s things that I’ve loved for so long. It was a step of maturity and it was time to become a grown-up band.
I got the impression from Tim that one of the things you guys had been in the past was that all six of you had to be going in the same direction and, I may be reading between the lines, but has anything changed as far as your status or how you would articulate yourselves concerning Jesus and Christianity and being a Chrsitian band or Christians in a band and all that stuff?
I think we’re all on the same page – roughly. There’s a few things wide and broad. I think a lot of times you get to be 27 – some guys are 28 or 26 – a lot has happened. Things like… People are on different pages. Some people have kids. They’ve lost family members or whatever it is. I think we’ve learned how to communicate. And it’s okay if we’re not all on the same page at the same time. We’re all still going for the same goal. We’re all still trying to be the best that we can be – to spread positivity to various people what Jesus has done in our lives. We’re all on the same team. We all have our ups and downs and we used to hide it and pretend that doesn’t happen. There’s no one in this world you can tell me that doesn’t have that. You’d be lying to me or to yourself if you said that. We just got to the point where we could talk about it and be okay. ‘If you’re not feeling so great today on fire for God that it’s not the end of the world. We’ll talk about this and things will get better. You know, people have bad days, bad months and bad years, you know? Then things will always get better if we’re there for each other and we’re a family system. I think when we were 18 we had to all be on the same page. You couldn’t have any different way of thinking. Some people have developed … a little bit.
Tell me a little bit about the Ø (Disambiguation) album title.
”One of us just typed in the O-slash into the dictionary online,” explains Chamberlain, “and the way it comes up on a web page is the o-slash with ‘Disambiguation’ in parenthesis, like we have it. We were looking over it and a lot of definitions are ‘to make things clear,’ you know? That’s kind of what we were trying to make clear with the record. It’s a new Underoath. We are very confident of and proud of who we are and this band and these six members. This is what we want to make clear – that this is the direction of the band. It’s a little less lyrical as far as to what type of record. There’s obviously parts on the record about your life and making things clear, but it’s basically more of a, ‘This is who we are.’ There’s a lot of different definitions that could mean something different to different people. Everyone in the band at least liked one of the definitions of it, so I thought that was pretty cool.”
Tell me about how you’re feeling about this album and what songs stand out to you and why?
We feel that, without a doubt, that this is our best record that we’ve ever done. This is kind of our – after being in a band for ten years – this is our kind of only chance to make another somewhat first impression – with a different drummer and a lot of things, like I’m just doing everything. We had a lot more freedom. There was things that we always wanted to, but we were never on the same page with, but now with Daniel we definitely were all on the same page. I think, for the first time ever, down to every little detail. Everyone likes their own things, but down to every color line, drum fills, vocal lines, everything. All six guys put their stamps of approval on it, which has never happened before. It was always like, ‘I’m not really into it, but whatever. It works.’ It’s tough for six people to have all six people go, ‘Yeah, man. That’s exactly the way this part needs to be.’
“We’re really proud of how mature and how much … I think it’s a big step. I feel like Chasing Safety to Define was a huge step and progression. we felt like Lost was, but I see why people thought it was very similar to Define the Great Line. There were things that lyrically that we thought we were way beyond Define the Great Line. I still think that, but I see the similarities of … in theory. All the sentimental sides. But I feel like with this record there’s that step again. We’ve really stepped outside of our box and boundaries on both sides of the spectrum. Musically, there is more experiments than we’ve ever done. There’s more melodies on this record than on any other record, but not in the Chasing Safety kind of way. It’s still dark and heavy, but with songs with singing over it. Not like before where we had singing over it, but it was a poppier song. But with some singing over it. I feel like this was a better fit for me in my mind. The band vibe overall is way different and better in my opinion. All the people involved – the label and the producers – everyone feels really good about it.
What is the thought and the feeling about the dynamic of … in the past Aaron was doing the clean vocals and you were doing the screams…
There was a lot of stuff I sang as well. People just don’t really realize that. That’s okay. I do a lot of singing. What was your question now?
How is that dynamic going to be handled now? Like with the older songs as well as the new stuff
What do you mean?
Well, the old songs I do everything I can, unless there is screaming overlapping the singing. If there’s stuff overlapping Tim sings the other parts. As far as the new record goes, I wrote it for one voice with one person, so there’s not that overlapping too many vocals happening at once. I’ll be screaming or singing… I wrote it for whatever works best for just me to do it. So, the new stuff is just me. The older stuff will have a bit of __ as well and some songs that aren’t really that extreme for the band, so if there’s some competing and overlapping screaming, then Tim will handle that.
How would you label your music? I think Tim used the phrase “heavy ambient.”
I don’t know. I don’t know how to label things very well.
How did… What’s the story of Daniel coming into the band and what are some of the strengths he brings to the band for you guys?
Basically, we’ve all known Daniel, you know, give or take a few years for some of the guys, for a long time. I’ve known him from before I was in the band. My old band played shows with Norma Jean. Underoath has been playing shows with Norma Jean for a long time. Basically, it was one of our first thoughts. It was a shock for all of us when we found out that he left Norma Jean a few years ago. And then when we had that talk with Aaron and decided it was best if we didn’t play together anymore, after letting that settle and say, ‘well, that’s it with us and Aaron,’ the first person we thought of was Daniel. ‘Well, he’s been a great friend. We all get along with him. He’s a killer drummer. He is pretty familiar with the style of music that we play. He kind of invented that style of drumming in my mind. He’s had a lot to do with how drummers play in heavy music. It was kind of a call of like, ‘Hey man, we’re writing a record. We don’t know if we want someone to come in to play the drums and we’ll find a drummer later or if we want to get a real drummer. We just need to, like…if you are interested at all, why don’t you just come down and jam with us. We’re writing songs for our new record.’ He came down and it was just like a no-brainer. Within the first five minutes I knew, for sure, that we’d be an idiot to not have him be our drummer. I talked to him about what he thought and he told me that he really wants to do it, so we didn’t make any final decisions. We all knew he was a great drummer and we started the writing process and we were in the studio demo-ing … and ever since then there’s been great energy. He brought a lot to the table, as far as, you know, just playing with someone new and different – someone who’s excited to play heavy music. We haven’t had that in a long time. He’s great at that. There’s things that Aaron didn’t want to do in the past that we might have wanted to do. Daniel was right on board, so it was fun to go new directions. There’s a lot of things on this record that we would’ve never done if Aaron would have been drumming with us. It never would’ve happened. There’s a lot of things – there’s melodic things and heavy things that would’ve not happened if … Everyone knows their role. No one was fighting for any other reason or over-thinking, ‘This song has this or that…’ It was just like, ‘What’s best for the song?’”
That makes sense. Is there anything else you wanted to add or articulate or this album and the band at this time?
I guess we are really proud of this record and we’re super excited for everyone to hear it. I think a lot of people are excited about it, but a lot of people are making judgment calls before they’ve even heard it. No one’s heard this record except the band. Fans that are freaking out because Aaron’s not in the band anymore or whatever, they don’t know how we wrote songs before. There wasn’t… It’s not like. I think a lot of kids are worried, but there’s nothing to worry about. Go listen to the last three records and … My advice to everyone is whether you love us or hate us or are unsure of it, listen to it before you make a judgement call. If you listen to it and hate it I have no problem with that, but we’re confident that this is the best Underoath record we’ve ever made. Fear not, people are gonna love it, too.
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