Underoath have been a staple in the music scene for fifteen years at this point. While they came up through the Warped Tour scene, they were always destined to be more, and were never content on being complacent.
This has been the case for their entire career, which started in 1997 but took off 7 years later with They’re Only Chasing Safety. It’s widely regarded as a “post-hardcore” (or whatever you want to call it) staple, but they were never simply satisfied with that success alone, or being pigeonholed into that one sound. Look no further than the album that followed that up: 2006’s Define the Great Line.
The album marked a stylistic shift for Underoath, experimenting more into different metal genres, outside of just “metalcore” or “post-hardcore.” The album was a critical and commercial success, and even earned the band a Grammy-nomination for Best Short Form Music Video for “Writing on the Walls.” Ever since then, the band have pushing their musical boundaries and always moving forward.
Unfortunately, Underoath disbanded in 2013 for reasons that will be touched on in our interview with the band below. Since coming back in 2015, Underoath have continued to push their sound, ditching all labels that were placed upon them, and only making music that they wanted to make. This includes ditching their “Christian-band” label — despite some members still actively practicing Christianity — and freeing themselves with their latest album, Erase Me.
Below is Substream’s exclusive interview with Underoath a few weeks back, where we caught up with Aaron Gillespie and Spencer Chamberlain to chat about Erase Me, ditching labels placed upon them, and much more.
Substream: You’re tour with Breaking Benjamin just started, and I just saw on Twitter that someone’s water broke after your set. I was going to ask how the first show was for you guys, but that probably sums it up, right?
Aaron Gillespie: I saw that. How does that happen? Too much rock. Too much rock.
Spencer Chamberlain: It’s different for us, but in a good way. We could’ve kept playing for the same people, but we just did our biggest headliner of our career and all of our fans got to come. Our setlist was an hour and a half, the biggest thing we’ve done, the biggest production. So now into 2019, you know, can we play for new people? Are there people out there that haven’t already made up their mind whether they love or they hate Underoath? Whether you’re able to go out there and swallow your pride and support bands, then nothing will change. I think, for us, it reminds us of being kids to go out and support bands.
A: This is the second time we’re supporting a band in a decade. We’re supporting Alice in Chains and Korn this summer. We’ve just never really done it. In the “scene world” you just go to one place and that’s the ceiling. For us, we want to share our music, and this is where we can go. We love that music, some of it we do, and some of we don’t, but I think it’s the only place we can go.
S: I think the only shitty thing is some fans really take it personally, like, “I don’t wanna see you with that band!’ Well, we just did a tour for all of our fans, we wanna see if there’s anyone new that hasn’t hear us yet. When we used to do Warped Tour, some people would be like, “I don’t wanna fucking go to that!” And we’re always going to be trying new things and try to — you know, my favorite thing as a concert goer, if I’m going to see a band I know and I don’t know the band that opens for them and I’m like, “Wow, that was sick,” and it means I was turned on to something new.
A: You’re also never, ever, ever, going to grow like that. You have to be true to yourself, do what you believe in, and if you end up doing something evenly when you do, it just shows you want to share your music with someone else, and I think that’s healthy.
S: I mean, if Justin Bieber asked Underoath to go on tour with him, we would. If we don’t have to change who we are, we will tour with you. If you’re bigger than us and you’re giving us money to where we can live, and we can play to some new people, we’ll go do it. I don’t care if that means everyone in the crowd gets stoked that we’re there or if they throw bottles of piss at us — and that’s happened before — we’re gonna do it.
You do hit a certain level as a band in this scene, for a band that’s been around as long as you guys.
A: In 2004, we were on tour with our first real touring record (They’re Only Chasing Safety). I feel like even more so now, Warped Tour is gone, except they’re doing a few commemorative things this year, so the scene…it kind of doesn’t exist anymore. There used to be alternative radio, which doesn’t play rock music at all anymore. We really only had that world. With Breaking Benjamin, it’s just a really cool opportunity for people that have never heard of this scene. With bands like Bring Me The Horizon and Beartooth, a lot of these bands are doing the same thing and I think it’s smart.
S: None of us listen to Breaking Benjamin, but they’re nice, they’re cool, and I don’t think they listen to us either, but they respect what we do and we respect what they do and for our audiences to come together, that’s good for rock music in general. For example, the Alice in Chains and Korn tour, we grew up listening to them in middle school. To go on tour with them, that’s a dream come true for us. We would do that tour and pay to be on that tour. But this opportunity with Breaking Benjamin, it’s so sick. We met their guitar player a while ago and he came out to one of our shows and we started a relationship and they asked us to do this tour. For us, when someone offers — when you look at it, that band is massive. Breaking Benjamin has had hits since we’ve all probably been in middle school. If a band like that goes, “Hey, wanna go on tour with us?” and you say “No,” you’re stupid, in my opinion. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by passing that up.
A: It’s such a different fanbase. For instance, when Underoath goes on an American tour, it’s New York, LA, Dallas, and every once in a while we do a B-market tour, which is smaller cities. But the tour we’re on with them, we played in Saginaw, Michigan last night — we’ve never been there. Do you know what I mean? We’re playing Moline, Illinois. Those folks have a really big active rock scene or whatever you want to call it, and the people come out in thousands. I think for them it’s cool for them to have a band like us out. It’s one hand shaking the other.
S: And the crowds are so receptive of rock. They’re not judgmental like the scene we grew up in where if you’re not cool enough and you don’t wear the right clothes, they’ll make fun of you. We’re not turning our back on anything we’ve done before, we’re so thankful for our background and our fans, but the new fans we’re getting to give them a chance to hear our music. They like it, they’re into stuff like that, they’re just not familiar with it. They didn’t grow up probably the way that you and I did, going to scene shows and cool bands would come through. We’re playing in these places where bands like Every Time I Die and bands I grew up watching, like Poison the Well probably didn’t stop by, so they were probably never used to it. So we don’t discriminate against who wants to listen to our music, take any opportunity to play.
Aside from being an opening act and having a shorter set, do you feel like you go into these shows preparing any differently — knowing that this crowd might be mainly new to your band?
S: No, I mean, I just think — it’s not our show, we don’t have production, it’s not our thing.
A: We’re putting on a sampler for them, we’re just doing our thing. We’re putting our best stuff forward, our best energy forward. Like he said, we don’t have a bunch of shit — bells and whistles, you know.
S: We tried to cram as many songs into the setlist time they gave us. There’s not like any talking or, you know, a whole lot of, you know, tricks or anything. I mean, we didn’t even get any production. It’s just house lights and music. We just get out there and play as much as we can.
Your latest record, Erase Me, seems to have opened up a lot of these crazy opportunities for you guys. Is this something you expected when it was time to get back together and do a new record?
S: Hell no. I’ve always wanted to tour with Korn and Alice in Chains, but I never thought anything like that would ever happen for this band.
A: It’s freeing in a way that you’re getting to see the lines blur in music.
S: I think rock music has been very segregated, and we’ve done that ourselves. You’ve got Warped Tour bands, scene bands, punk bands, hardcore bands, active rock bands, and a lot of those bands would never play together. I’ll never understand why it’s uncool for us to go out with Breaking Benjamin but cool for us to go on Warped Tour with Reel Big Fish. If we go back in time a little bit when Underoath started doing Warped, we were the only band that was heavy back then. It didn’t end up becoming a screamo or metalcore or whatever the fuck you wanna call that, like, it became that — when we started, The Used was the heaviest band. When we were made fun of and picked on for being different, it wasn’t a safe place for us to do that. I think, like what Aaron said, the lines are starting to blur. Like with all of these [Danny Wimmer Presents] festivals, like Rock on the Range, he has a bunch of festivals, and he started to do that. He started to bring Underoath, Thrice, and Bring Me the Horizon, Beartooth, those bands have been kind of doing his festivals for the past 3 years. That’s really knocking down some walls, and I think some of these older, what they call “active rock bands” are seeing the worth of bands like us or Bring Me The Horizon that grew up on the other side of the fence, which I think is cool, cause like, you don’t see hip hop or other genres segregated in their festivals like rock did. There used to be active rock festivals or Warped style festivals. But now it’s like, if you play guitar or drums and it’s real and it’s loud and it’s not a computer, let’s do it together! And that’s what needs to happen now.
A: Rock music has fallen off so badly in popular culture. I think that if everyone kind of bands together and everyone keeps making their own genuine thing, it’ll come back. It’s rock and roll, it’ll never die. I think that’s gonna help, the lines blurring, will help bring it forward again. Now a seventeen year old kid doesn’t know who the Foo Fighters are, but they know who Post Malone is and that’s as far as it gets, and no slight to him, he’s a talented guy. I think that the blurring of lines will make it easier and more accessible for people.
S: What a fucking, like, [kudos] for a band like Alice in Chains or Korn to bring a younger generation acts like us or Fever 333, like he was saying, a seventeen year old kid that comes to see us is gonna see the shit that we love. Or the 40, 30 year old guy that loves Alice in Chains or Korn is gonna see a younger generation’s rock that’s not dead and it’s still coming. You just saying the Foo Fighters kinda blew my mind, like what if the Foo Fighters brought out a band that was younger and more relevant out on tour to stir things up, like that would be sick. And not any diss to Foo Fighters, they’re one of my favorite bands, and like don’t print that I hate them!
A: It’s true, if you look at like, you know, we were looking this morning at the Rolling Stones and the tickets are like a thousand dollars to sit behind a fucking pole, it’s so expensive, but the reason is like we know they’re not gonna do it again, they’re 75 years old. That band, though, takes out like Cage the Elephant, and that’s cool. And that’s them going, “what’s cool right now?”
S: I’m a huge fan.
A: Same, but if we could continue to do that, I mean, there’s few bands in rock music that can sell real tickets. I don’t mean like 3-4,000 tickets, like real tickets, and that’s like U2, The Foos, Korn, Alice in Chains, Breaking Benjamin –there’s few.
S: Tool, Metallica, Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold–
A: There’s not more than 20 though.
S: Yeah, and that’s why, going back to our conversation, it’s the funny thing about it, we had so many plans for this record but never support it. We sat down and had a meeting, if we could land a support tour for this record. That’s what we need –you know, we’ll headline and tour the world and do whatever if that’s what we do, but we need to support a band that’s bigger than us that makes sense, that would be great. And our team pulled that together. Our whole year of 2019 is all support besides these little —
A: These are called “underplays” where you play somewhere real small and gross with 700 people in a room.
S: We don’t ever get to do that. If we’re on a big tour, we’ve got all of this production room, an 18-wheeler, big venues. On a tour like this, we don’t have stuff, we’re not allowed to have stuff. It allows us to be like, let’s throw it back to the homies and throw like a punk rock show. 2019 is shaping up to be, like, what we asked for which is opportunities and we’re really lucky that any of these bands considered us. It’s pretty wild. If you told 12 year old me that Alice in Chains or Korn or whatever would know what music I’m playing, I would never believe you in a million years. Never.
What was particularly interesting about Erase Me, I think, is that it undoubtedly has a different sound for you guys. But it’s not one that doesn’t seem out of place, as Underoath have been progressing with each album your entire career. If this dropped in 2012, no one would have said anything. When it was time to make an Underoath record again, did you guys go into it knowing what you wanted the end result to be?
S: No, we wanted to make a record that we wanted to hear. I think it’s not dissing anything about who we are or where we come from, but I think as a collective group this is the first record that all of us can say we would actually listen to if it wasn’t us. I feel like there are Underoath records that, I don’t know if it wasn’t us, I would listen to it, which is a weird thing to say and I’m not bashing anything. I just think it’s hard with this many people to get together to make a record, and there’s always gonna be stuff that you’re not gonna like on it, even being in the band. This is the first time, I mean like front to back, I would listen to this if it was someone I didn’t know, like whoever.
A: There are fans that are like, “Where’s my Underoath?” I think that, like you said, had we put this out 2 years after the last record, people would be like, “Oh, I don’t care” because we always do that. I think a good way to explain it is that, like, if you’re training for something or trying to lose a bunch of weight or whatever and you’re doing the same exercise over and over again, nothing will change, you’ll be stagnant.
S: I know it happens a lot in our genre people hit a mark and it goes well and then I feel like every record after that, it’s the same but new songs. I’m a fan, that’s why I’m here, I listen to it, I love it, I worshipped it, I play it, I’ve played it my whole life, I go to shows even when I’m not on tour, like, I love it. And when a band I love puts out the same record over and over again, I stop listening. Like, I’ll check it out when it comes out and it sounds like songs that were meant for the last record that would have been really good, and I’m not saying for every band that you have to change every record. Like, we’re not going to put out a country record, like, art — it’s like if you went to the Salvador Dali Museum and every painting looked the same, you’d be like, “Why did I spent $50 to come in here?” That’s just an example because that’s a museum in my hometown. But anybody, like, would you go to a Rolling Stones concert to hear three hours of the same song just reimagined? It’s like, come on. Look at The Beatles, that’s the very first rock and roll.
A: This is my favorite thing. If The Beatles were to put out Sgt. Pepper’s after Beatles for Sale, people would have shit themselves. Imagine the internet. They would have murdered The Beatles. They were still pissed.
S: There wasn’t internet back then.
A: Even still, if there was an Instagram, I mean…
S: Look at Led Zeppelin III, but if there was enough comments for this band to read and get upset about, would there have even been “Stairway to Heaven” or Led Zeppelin IV? They didn’t give a fuck, they did what they wanted to do. You know, we have some music that even our grandkids won’t listen to today. It’s like, all of this stuff about what people have to say, we’re just in a place where everyone feels safe to talk shit. That’s my opinion. I think the internet is a place for hate, not for love. I think it’s kind of dark, and I don’t really care. If me and my best friend who are writing the song are stoked to listen to it, that’s what we’re gonna do. If we write a song that we don’t want to put on, it’s like…we’re not gonna put it out, and that’s how we would feel if we made Define the Great Line Part 4. Those songs are always gonna be there, and we’re always gonna play that, that’s part of our discography, they’re never going away — you can’t delete that.
A: And whether or not people realize that, they don’t want that, either. People might think they do, they would hate on it worse because it would be fake on our part.
People can tell that.
A: Of course they can. People like to talk shit because they can.
S: No one gets picked on or bullied in school anymore because it’s all against the law and all of this stuff, and everyone’s super projected on that. But kids go home and get online and they’re just like — AHHH. Just like online bullying has gone through the roof. We don’t feel like we’re bullied, by any means. It was a testament to see that the Erase Me tour was the biggest headlining tour of our entire 13-14 year long career. I mean, that’s enough for me. Whatever.
You guys used this album and reunion to sort of redefine what Underoath is. From shedding the christian band label to continuing to evolve musically. How important was it to redefine the overall essence of what this band is?
A: It’s just like the music. You can’t do the same thing over and over. People change, and people grow up. I think something that’s interesting that happens when you’re a band, when you’re 18 — to be in the club, everyone has to be in the club. You have to be the same, you act the same, everyone wears the same shit to the restaurant.
S: That’s when you start the band. We all wanted the same thing.
A: When you’re 22-23, you go, “Oh, wait, I don’t agree with any of that. I don’t know if I believe that or that I like that idea.” That’s what sucks. That’s what breaks bands. Plain and simple, that’s it.
S: We broke ourselves up. Every problem we’ve had as adults, be it drugs, or egos, or anxiety. All of those things we did to ourselves by trying to make everyone happy but ourselves and putting so many boxes around the music and how we wrote it and what people expected of our belief system [which was] another restraint on that. And when everyone started to go through things — you know, the key to a healthy relationship, whether it be your wife, or your girlfriend or boyfriend, or your best friend, or your father, or your mother, the same thing goes with being in a band — it’s communication. It’s what you put some restraints on the music, we’re not allowed to do this or do that anymore, and the restraints get tighter and tighter. In the personal side of things, we’re a Christian band, so we can’t do these things. You can’t do that, you’re not allowed to do this or that. Then when you start questioning anything and freaking out, we can’t talk about it because we’re a Christian band. We can’t openly talk about it, like, labels are like, “If people knew you were like this, that would be a problem.” So what does that do in turn? It causes all of these other problems in your life and in the band.
That’s like all of these boxes and all of this stuff that people are mad about us doing now is the very reason we broke up [in the first place]. Being a Christian band, we couldn’t talk to each other, we couldn’t talk about our problems, what we were really feeling, what was really going on. And in the music, we really started to hate because everything got smaller. There was less creativity because we have to do this, this, this. Every Underoath record we released until the new one was like, “We’re not gonna do this anymore so take that off. We’re not gonna do this anymore so take that off the table, too.” And everyone had a different one of those things and that’s going to slowly suffocate you. And when you’re not happy with your music and you’re not talking and you’ve got a handful of problems you can’t talk to your best friends about, you’re like, “Fuck this, I’m going home.”
A: Which, truthfully I believe, to force yourself under those parameters and release that music, I think that’s unfair. In my opinion, I don’t think that it would be true or right for us to release music that is regurgitated. Which is why we dropped from our label, why we dropped the rules. Now we have a saying, if the song is king, whatever that is, it might be a fucking accoustic guitar and drum machine, if the song is king, and if it comes from us, it is us. I’m so tired of that statement, the bands saying, “This is us.” What is us? It’s the music. I’m not saying go out and get a banjo.
S: Right. If your heart is in it, it will be true.
A: So for us to go forward with a label that — and people still believe in that label — it’s a disservice to the fans. And if that fan is offended by that, then that fan can listen to the past music because that’s okay. Even though the lyrics are the same thing as they are now. That’s my opinion, but I think as a man or woman, you have to change and grow. In the relationship, you don’t do the same thing every day. That’s why divorce is so high; you wake up, you go to work, go to bed, wake up. You need to do things with your other half, you need to do a different thing in order to keep it fresh, to keep the fire burning. Same way with bands. It’s the closest thing to being in a band. I’m married and I’m in a band, and sometimes being in a band is harder than being married. It is the closest relationship you can compare to being in a band, a marriage. You can burn that motherfucker down if you don’t give it space to breathe.
It almost seems like one of the best things to happen to you guys?
A: We just don’t have any rules anymore. There’s guys in the band that are atheist, there’s guys in the band that don’t know, there’s guys in the band that are devout Christians. I think that our music will continue to be that way as well. There will be things that are super heavy, then there will be things that aren’t heavy at all. There’ll be things that don’t make sense to you, and I think that’s what makes Underoath, Underoath.
One of the coolest things is that this record, specifically “ihateit” and “Rapture” got radio play on mainstream rock radio. For a band that’s been around for 20 years, thats still an awesome new accomplishment right?
A: I don’t listen to the radio, but if I did, radio’s different now. A lot of cities have great rock stations, but the city I live in doesn’t have one at all.
S: I’m the kind of person that — I have satellite radio, I have Spotify, I have FM radio all programmed in my car. I just listen to music so much, in the gym and stuff, sometimes I don’t wanna be in charge so I’ll turn on the radio and all that stuff kinda keeps me knowing I’m not living under the rock. I know the newest pop, country, hip-hop, rock songs. So sometimes I do surf through it, especially on road trips, and hearing your song on the radio is fucking wild. I think it’s awesome. Him talking about the label being Christian, we also shredded our record label and worked with a group of people that see and know the potential of this band and want it to work as hard as we do, which I don’t think we’ve ever had. Not to bash our old label, but we’ve never had a label that’s willing to go this extra mile. We turned in the record and they were floored. They hadn’t heard a demo. It wasn’t like, “You guys did what we want so you can get on the radio!” No, we did what we wanted and turned it in and they were so ecstatic that they worked as hard as we have, which is wild. It’s how it should be. And it’s like they’re taking every avenue they can to do their job, which is to make more people know about Underoath, and one of those avenues is the radio, which luckily accepted us. It was never in mind, and that’s what makes it cool. Just like when you write a record, you’re not thinking about getting an Alice in Chains tour, but when you do, we’re doing something, somebody’s noticing. Something new is happening.
A: That’s all you can hope for.
As for the future of Underoath, it seems like it’s almost never been brighter — but where do you think you guys will go from here?
S: Me and [Aaron] in particular have worked harder than since we were 18 years old. When this band first came out, you’ve got a lot to prove and you jump on every tour you can. It hasn’t been since then that me and him have had to work this hard. Every spare moment for a while there, they had us on airplanes and packed on vans doing acoustic stuff. We actually did something here in a park in Cincinnati. There was a point where we were just like, I don’t know if I can even do this. We were working so hard. I think your comment about the future being bright, it’s not getting lucky; every good thing you do takes a lot of hard work. Like Lady Gaga said when she won that award, it’s true. All things are possible if you work hard at them, and I believe that. Put the work in, things are gonna happen. And we’re gonna do it again, and again, and again.
A: I think we’re a band that believes in sweat equity. We came from nothing, we gotta put our kids through school and play music. I think for us, that’s based on the fact that our fans have been so good to us and sweat equity. If you wanna do that, you can do it too. I think a lot of where we are now in music is so different, and it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful because now you can record a song on your laptop and release it that day. Post Malone broke out over night. He put a song on Soundcloud and woke up the next day and was a fucking rockstar. And that’s a great story. With the way I think it should be done, start at the bottom and bust your ass that way. You look at child actors that got famous, not that they didn’t do any work, but they get older and they end up weird as shit because they didn’t have any real life. I wake up in the morning and go, “Oh, we’re touring with Alice in Chains,” that still doesn’t feel real because we killed each other on the way, worked our asses the whole way, and I wouldn’t change that.
S: I have no plan of kicking back and relaxing, either. Being out here and seeing all of this stuff, I think any fan that hates on us for going on tour with Alice in Chains or Breaking Benjamin, it opens my eyes to see, like, there’s a lot more people out there that are willing to listen to rock music of all sorts. We have a lot more work to do. There’s a lot of people that don’t know who the fuck we are, like, so why not? Why not?
A: If you go to Warped Tour, they already know us.
S: Right, they’ve already made up their mind. They either love Underoath or they fucking hate it.
A: I had that thought last night, we walked out on stage, Saginaw, Michigan, hours from Detroit, 6,000 or 7,000 people [are] hours from a big city there to see guitar, bass, and drums. And that’s really, really special. That gives me hope because I feel like people like us, when you stop working you just die. Like [Spencer’s] dad is 71 and he’s still working. There’s several people who just don’t stop. I don’t wanna play fucking golf. I don’t wanna sit and write pop songs for other people — I mean I’ll do thats some, but I wanna go out there and do it, experience feelings with other people. It’s just a fucking good feeling to know that it exists in random cities. It’s bizarre.
Bands like you guys don’t go there.
S: We wouldn’t have gone into the things we got into as kids unless we saw something. It wasn’t Spotify or Youtube. When I was going to shows with my older brother, it’s like, I heard Every Time I Die because I saw Poison the Well. I saw Poision the Well because I saw a local band that got signed to a big label called Code Seven. It’s how we did it. But we were in cities that had that, and there are a lot of places in the world that didn’t get what we got.
A: It’s interesting talking to people, like, how did you do it? Like, you don’t know, the internet? When we did it, you just went out and did it.