Interview with vocalist/guitarist Spencer Chamberlain | By John Silva
After nearly a quarter-century of hot, sweaty good times, the cross-country Van’s Warped Tour is coming to an end in 2018. Founder Kevin Lyman released a statement saying, “I have been proud to work with so many artists who have grown to be some of the largest stars in the world. Countless bands have played in hot parking lots and through summer storms for you at some point.” Though the full tour is no more, fans and friends will gather in 2019 to celebrate 25 years of Warped.
In the meantime, UNDERØATH are one of the heavy hitters who will be sending the annual tour off in style this year!
In the mid-2000s, UNDERØATH were an undeniable powerhouse in the alternative scene. The Tooth & Nail band—at the time, unabashedly Christian—fused the angsty aggression of Refused with the hooky melodies of Jimmy Eat World, thus functioning as a gateway into the world of heavy music for many young people.
On the outside, the band appeared to be soaring, but internally, it was a different story. Fueled in part by the identity crisis of determining whether or not they were still a faith-based band, the six members fought with each other ruthlessly to the point of misery. “We used to fight through everything,” frontman Spencer Chamberlain says, “and the recording process used to be really painful. None of us wanted to be around each other, ‘cause we’d just fight all the time.” Eventually, they couldn’t take it anymore, and in 2013, the group formally disbanded.
However, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. “We found a way to mend all of our relationships, within ourselves and within each other,” Chamberlain says.
Originally, the plan was for the band to reunite for a tour celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their 2006 fan-favorite album, Define the Great Line. Fans expected it to be a one-off, but when the six members got back together, new music became less improbable and more inevitable. “We come from the era of pre-laptop bands. We came from the era—at least at the beginning of our band—of writing stuff in [the] garage,” Chamberlain says. “So, obviously, if we’re a band of people who mess around with instruments, stuff is gonna start happening.”
As the group set out to write new music, they decided they wouldn’t limit themselves by trying to create a record that resembled the rest of their discography. “We had kind of boxed ourselves in over time, and our box kept getting smaller as opposed to bigger, so I think we just had to start over,” Chamberlain explains. “I don’t want to hear the same record five times from a band. I think it sucks when bands give me the same stuff over and over and every record sounds like a B-side of the record before.”
In allowing themselves that creative liberty, UNDERØATH were able to make Erase Me—released April 6 via Fearless Records—an album that sounds markedly different from their previous work yet still has the bite that made fans fall in love with them in the first place. Chamberlain says their goal was to recreate the feeling that they gave people, just not the sound. “I feel like bands make that mistake all the time,” he says. “Especially bands that get back together. They’re like, ‘Oh, let’s go recreate our most popular album! That’s why people love us!’ No, they don’t! They love you ‘cause it made them feel something. It could have been disguised in any genre, as long as you just did you the right way—and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Accompanying their new musical direction are some of the most vulnerable lyrics UNDERØATH have ever written. Erase Me doesn’t shy away from heavy personal topics, from the band’s relationship with organized religion to Chamberlain’s struggles with substance abuse. “I’m lucky that I have an outlet where I can sing and write about things I might not want to talk about,” he says. “I feel like there’s a lot of people who deal with the same demons that I have who don’t have that liberty, so the least I can do is let myself be out there naked for everyone to see.”
Many music lovers have a hard time with change, and some of UNDERØATH’s longtime fans will undoubtedly have some difficulty accepting their new alt-rock direction. But that doesn’t matter, because the band are proud of what they’ve made. “This is the hardest we’ve worked on a record since—maybe ever!” Chamberlain says. “We spent a lot of time, and we had the time, ‘cause there was no pressure. It wasn’t like, ‘You’ve gotta get a record out by this date!’ It was, ‘We’re gonna write until we’re happy, and we’re gonna make the record that we love, and then, when it’s ready, we’ll release it.’”
Chamberlain believes this isn’t the last of UNDERØATH. With the sacrifices that the other members made to reunite, he says it is inevitable that the band will write more music to make it worth their while. “Those dudes gave up a lot to start this whole thing over and really believe in the songs that [we] were writing,” he concludes. “I feel like it’s obvious that if those guys are quitting jobs to do this so we can tour and make people happy and make ourselves happy, we’re gonna be doing it for a long time.”
To catch UNDEROATH on the farewell voyage of cross-country Van’s Warped Tour, grab your tickets here!
Photo by Jordyn Besche