Their tours are longer and their expectatons are higher, but Underoath want you to know they still exist as true musicians who play with heart and a captivating touch.
Photo Creds: Jeff Parsons
The comfort of being behind the wheel of a vehicle is suppose to be relaxing, but my palms are sweaty. Headed down Highway 427, my girlfriend points out the directions to our target: The Kool Haus. An unorthodox trio of musical talent accompanies us on this unnaturally warm winter evening in Toronto, and driving past the venue, the line proves we’ve met our destination. Coiling around the perimeter of the building like a cold-blooded snake anticipating its prey, I smile to myself knowing I won’t step a foot inside just yet. Today I’m going for the gusto. Somewhere, there are figures pacing, anticipating my arrival. God damn it, my palms are sweaty.
Led through the secured doors, the hallway is dark but not pitch black to the point that I can’t see the unparalleled lead vocalist a few feet ahead of me. His long greasy hair was flowng past his shoulders where his black leather jacket and fitted pants revealed his skeletal outline. I think to myself many must think of him to be meek at first sight, but what thoughts swirl through the nerves of their complex brains after hearing his prodigious voice?
Only a few moments pass, and I’m situated in a separate room. The drummer is a mere foot in front of me, carelessly tapping on his chest, asking something of his vocals counterpart, while the lead guitarist hops past me looking as if he’s on a mission. The amount of energy back here is intense, and as I turn to look behind me, the band’s rhythm guitarist hovers above me. After a short and sweet introduction, we move to a small dark grey room with three separate couches. Poorly lit with no windows to speak of, the setting is promising with a conversation that’s intriguing and personal.
“It doesn’t seem real to be quite honest,” explains rhythm guitarist James Smith. “I’ve never felt we were that band. I mean it’s awesome, I have it up on my wall at home. I’m sure in years to come this will all make more sense.”
The fact a record like Define The Great Line went gold still mesmerizes a distinguished band like Underoath. Through line-up changes and dealing with what the media classifies as music, it’s hard to see why. Smith, along with Spencer Chamberlain (vocals), Aaron Gillespie (vocals/drums), Tim McTague (lead guitar), Grant Brandell (bass) and Chris Dudley (keyboards/synth), have been through numerous circumstances which have led to success. Watching as these guys take the stage platform that is their playground in a realm populated with beautiful noise, it begins to make a little bit of sense, even to me.
The crowd is sweating profusely and the room that is the Kool Haus is packed to the tits. Innerpartysystem and Norma Jean gave on-lookers a workout your local fitness centre can’t provide, but now it’s time for the real show to begin. The lights dim and a short film begins to roll. A hooded being donning a gas mask holds up his hand, allowing the crowd to read the exclamation “I Am The Messenger” smeared in black on his left palm. A woman runs in obvious fear through an open field. The cinematography’s split frame shots and awkward angles produce an unsettling feeling inside of everyone and the room’s anticipation only doubles in the time of this short creative piece. The venue fills even more as people move from the bars and smoking sections and fight to gain a spot in the middle of the crowded sea.
With no room to breathe, Underoath take their positions and genuinely serenade with “Breathing In A New Mentality”, an appropriate opener derived from the deepest shadows and performed with a brutal, yet artistic mindset. The band from Tampa, Florida, come out guns blazing with arms and instruments flailing in every angle that could be read with a measurement in degrees. The six-peice move and play like this is the last show they will ever play; the only show that matters. Perhaps this is what sets them apart from so many bands and solidifies their rightful position as one of aggressive music’s most promising acts. Perhaps this is what will help make their success seem clearer in the years to come.
Since releasing the monster that is They’re Only Chasing Safety in 2004, the group has been touring and working relentlessly as musicians. Fans of all spectrums have been collected along the way, special edition discs have been snagged and innocent individuals have been left with abusive scars from their fellow concert-goers at gigs. Enjoying the bittersweet drop of life seems like paradise, but sometimes, it can be a hell that’s nerve-wracking to the soul inside of anyone who breathes.
“It’s tough man, some people just push the right buttons some days,” says Smith. “Being on stage daily is tiring, but once you’re up there, you find the energy to give it your all. I personally do yoga, and try to get away from everyone as much as possible, even if it is just a quiet walk around whatever city we’re in. You know, just to get your mind straight.”
It’s quite apparent while watching Underoath – especially by an adoring listener who has seen them repeatedly since their existence – that they have grown together as musicians into a tighter and much more confident band. No matter how many times they are welcomed by the same destination every year, venues and their inhabitants are undeniably treated to something new. As they grow, so does their music. Like a diabolical yet charming adolescent, Underoath seem to gain a more powerful voice as time goes on. One that’s sharp and sophisticated.
“With the new album, we wanted it to be more expansive, pushing ourselves in all directions,” notes Smith. “We wanted the heavier parts to be heavier, and to just push ourselves further on the melodic and experimental parts.”
Mind-blowing as it sounds, Underoath draw from unusual experiences when they dive into the studio. For their latest release, Lost In The Sound Of Separation, the band were influenced by a group that were once known for spellbinding audiences with estranged guitar work and inhuman vocals.
“While recording the album, we were listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin,” says Smith. “Believe it or not, they heavily influenced the track “Emergency Broadcast: The End Is Near”. One particular thing about that song is it was actually written start to finish in the studio which is the first time we’ve done something like that.”
Along with help from bands that once were, the group also received assistance from professionals who are definitive icons in the music industry. Since both Chamberlain and Gillespie have evolved as vocalists over the past few releases, it makes one wonder about the details of their progression.
“Spencer actually trains with a voice teacher named Melissa Cross,” states Smith. “She has helped him redo how he does things and since then, he practices everyday to a tune on his iPod. Aaron has also taken lessons in the past and he continues to take them off the road.”
“We just keep pushing,” says Smith on how the band has come this far. “As long as we keep thinking progressively, I think we’ll be okay. I don’t know if we’ll always be on top, no one usually is and that’s fine. We don’t set out to be on top, we just want to write the best songs the six of us can.”
A video rolls again. The hooded being returns. Bodies lay scattered in an open field with black marks on their skin. That unsettled feeling is back, but it soon leaves as everyone becomes distracted by the reappearance of six figures on stage. The lights dim and Underoath kick into a familiar tune. The video changes into artful cinematography, with ghastly skeletons clapping in time with the crowd to the chant “Good God, can you still get us home?” The crowd seems almost humbled by this triumphant closer, until they burst into their final song, “Writing On The Walls”. Conjuring every last bit of energy, the room continues its reign of terror as bodies smash against one another, and human spit flies in the air as everyone tries their best to make their voice heard by the band. The final breakdown ignites an aggression one has never witnessed before. Every member hits each note harder than ever, and Chamberlain’s howl demands the entire venue’s attention.
Leaving the venue that night, I hold my girlfriend close to me and puff on a cigarette. The cool night’s air feels good as we make our way to the car. The concrete pathways lead us home and I find myself replaying the night in my head. The phrase “Good God, can you still get us home?” is ringing in my head, shattering the silence around me. I feel peaceful. I feel renewed. I feel love. And as I look over at my girlfriend asleep in the seat beside me, a sincere smile stretches across my face. Like the epic six-piece that wooed innocent souls earlier that night, I am assured of one thing.
I am home.