INTERVIEW: Spencer Chamberlain – “I Am More Proud Of This Record Than Anything I Have Ever Done”

Former Underoath frontman, Spencer Chamberlain, finds redemption in forming alt. rock band, Sleepwave

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While Underoath may have “saved” countless fans throughout the years during their reign over the metalcore scene, after their disbandment in 2013, frontman Spencer Chamberlain was the one in desperate need of saving.  The answer was found in Sleepwave, a grungy, soul-baring alternative rock project Chamberlain formed with bandmate Stephen Bowman.  With the recent release of the duo’s debut album, Broken Compass, Chamberlain gets real about the gritty lows he faced after the Underoath split, the redemption he’s found in this new chapter of his life and why he’s more proud of this record than anything else he’s accomplished in his career thus far.

Substream Magazine: You’ve said that when Underoath split, you lost everything.  Music is your first passion, and it seems like you were lost without it. Would you say you needed this project to survive? What can you say about that time of your life when you had nothing, and what did it take to get through it?

Spencer Chamberlain: After Underoath called it quits there was a very short period of time before my life started caving in around me. I lost everything, my home, my car, all of my money, it wasn’t easy for me but at the same time I think it was something that had to happen. I took the last of my money and invested it in [Sleepwave].  I wasn’t about to change paths. The first “sold out show” I ever played I was 12 years old, so I’ve been playing music my entire life. As far as getting through it, well, I am still working on that, the only thing I had was my songs and now at least they are out there for the world to hear, so in my mind I’m on my way back up.

SM: Sleepwave and Underoath obviously have very different influences regarding sound but with just as much genuine heart.  What gravitated you towards this alternative rock sound with this project, rather than just creating what you could call ‘Underoath part 2’ ? Has this sound always been a part of you or did you grow into it?

SC: Like I said before, I’ve been in bands my entire life; I started taking guitar lessons around first grade and never stopped exploring different instruments and writing. I’ve been in everything from piano based bands all the way to three piece punk rock garage bands. Underoath just happened to be the “hardcore/metal” band that I was in that actually stuck. So yes, my influences on this Sleepwave record have always been a part of me. Never in a million years would I take the easy way out and make Underoath 2.0 not unless it was with all the members of Underoath. If you paid attention to our career we never even took the easy route when we were “on top” it seemed…well…too easy to do that, we always liked pushing the boundaries and exploring new spaces. Sleepwave is an opportunity for me to be me and there are no rules when you start over, there was no previous Sleepwave album so I got to make it exactly the way I wanted it.

SM: Who are some of the specific bands that influenced Broken Compass and the overall sound of Sleepwave?

SC: When I first started writing this album I knew for sure what I didn’t want. That drove me to make more decisions at the beginning of this process. I didn’t wanna be like everyone else, I didn’t wanna be Underoath 2.0 but I did want to keep it dark and heavy. Heavy to me isn’t necessarily de tuned guitars and off time break downs, to me heavy is in the chord progression and the choice of vocal melody. I took notes from my favorite bands, Nirvana being the biggest influence of my entire musical life as a kid, also Alice in Chains, The Deftones, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden all the way down to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin (my first love) The Doors, The Who, I could name a hundred bands but I never ever would want to bite someone’s style either. I look at what I love about Rock music and also look at what I hate about it, especially now. There is so much missing, so much I wasn’t hearing, I was almost angry at what I was hearing at the time. I took what I loved about what I grew up on and let my personality and what I hear in my head twist it into something different, something modern, something that isn’t happening at the moment and I think that’s what became Broken Compass.

SM: While Sleepwave may lack that certain metal/hardcore element to it that Underoath was known for, it is rock at its core while still managing to capture aggression without that generic, watered down sound we often hear on rock radio. Even though you may have been at your lowest point, how crucial was it for you to still make honest music instead of copping out with a generic “radio friendly” album?

SC: For me all I had were my songs at my lowest, it was my therapy. All I wanted to do was share them with the world and I lost everything just to make them happen, never in a million years would I abuse that opportunity. This for me was the first time in 10 years I could come at music with nothing else in my life. Yes every Underoath record was brutally honest as well but once people know you it’s harder to approach writing from the bottom when you aren’t really there. This record was all the pain and struggle I went through over the last two years of my life; it’s the most honest record I’ve made to date.

SM: How did you and Stephen Bowman meet, and how was it proposed that you guys would create music together? What advantages are there to hiring musicians for live performances rather than finding full-time members?

SC: I met Stephen in a group of mutual friends about nine or 10 years ago. Coming on and off tour he’d normally be with the group of friends I was a part of in St. Petersburg, Fl. One day we started talking about music and found out we saw eye to eye on just about every band we loved or hated. A few years pass of being buddies and keeping in touch before we decided to grab some beers and jam, just for fun. We used to just play, loud as hell, in his living room for hours on end, no conversations, just playing around each other’s riffs and having fun. Stephen had a little home studio set up, nothing special just the bare essentials to get by. We started tracking the ideas we had, never talked about it being a band or making it into an album, everything we did was just for fun. Not too long after all that Underoath decided to slow down and potentially stop playing all together, so the next time I was home we talked about taking these ideas we loved and turning them into songs. Before I knew it we had about 30 songs and I was taking meetings with labels all over the US. It all happened so organically and so honestly it’s really what kept me believing things would work out.  Hiring musicians keeps its simple, if me and Stephen are the only ones on the record (besides a hired drummer) why would I put myself in the position to have someone else be able to tell me the band is over again? So I didn’t, I kept it us two cause it has always been us two, after trying to add many many drummers into the equation and never coming out with a positive solution we decided before we even signed a record deal that we would keep it just him and I. It works out pretty well for us and we have a group of friends that believe in us that are willing to be the live band.

SM: Underoath was often categorized as a ‘Christian’ band, will this project still be inspired by faith or a new journey in your life?

SC: Sleepwave is a band, I don’t want to put any other word in front of it, I guess you could call us a “Rock band” but anything other than that you start to put up walls. If music is a universal language why are we putting words on it like “Christian” or “Straight Edge” or “Satanic?”  Why can’t we just be bands and have the listeners interpret the lyrics however they would like?  I believe music has the power to help more people than we could ever understand BUT if we put a category on it we are no longer making it universal.  I’ve seen songs do some pretty amazing things for people, including myself and when I was a kid if I heard a song and someone told me it was a “Christian” band I would have never listened to it in the first place. Sleepwave is honest music written from the heart and if people connect to it, good, I won’t be calling it anything other than it is.

SM: You’ve been on covers of magazines, had multiple Grammy nominations and have become one of the most familiar names in the music scene, so after the hiatus that you had and with this opportunity you have to create music again, do your you feel like you’re reinventing your career, or entering a new chapter of your life?

SC: This is an entirely new chapter in my life, I think a lot of my “fans” still don’t even know I’m making music again, I run into people all the time that recognize me and ask what I’m up to now a days, when I tell them about Sleepwave they have no idea. I hope my fans will follow me through this journey as well. Underoath is a part of my past now, it is something I am very proud of but no matter how many Grammy nominations and how many Gold Records we had I am more proud of this record than anything I have ever done.  Even being on the “bottom” with nothing to call my own, I was happier than I have ever been in my life, sure it was and still is tough but I believe in this music and believe in this album. This is more than the next chapter, that book is closed.  Now this is my second book and I don’t plan on stopping.  Sleepwave will be around for a very long time if I have anything to do with it.

SM: Do you have any plans for upcoming tour dates or other plans that you can talk about?

SC: Yes, we will be touring…a lot. I’m not sure if I can talk about it now or not but expect to see us in three different countries that I know of right now over the next couple of months. The end of 2014 and all of 2015 is going to be very busy for us, we have no plans of stopping.

SM: What’s one message you hope listener’s take away from Broken Compass and what is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself through this process of redemption in your music career?

SC: I hope people take away “honesty” from this record. No matter how it comes across it is honest. At the end of the day you have to trust yourself, learn to believe in yourself and stand on your own two feet. Broken Compass is my journey of being lost and hitting the bottom, picking myself back up and learning how to move forward, trusting myself and all of my instincts. There is hope; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The world might deal us some shitty cards but I also believe it doesn’t deal us a hand we cannot handle. Find the strength in yourself to carry on no matter how bumpy the road gets.  I’m still running for the light, I haven’t reached it yet but its damn close, at least my music is out there now. Now all I have to do is tour around the world and show it to everyone.

Keep up with Sleepwave here.