Underoath Interview

Underoath

Fearless Records

It has been awhile since the last Underoath album. Erase Me is the veteran metalcore band’s eighth studio album, and first since 2010. Guitarist Tim McTague tells us about the new album, touring, how the band members’ relationships have evolved, the state of the music industry and other subjects.

Chad Bowar: Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Erase Me compared to previous albums?
Tim McTague: This album was definitely different in a lot of ways. In the past, we had written all of our albums together, in one room. Everyone lived locally and really didn’t have anything else in their lives to conflict with the number one thing we had to do, write an album. For this album, we found ourselves broken up with no gear and one singer in Salt Lake City (Aaron) and the other in New York City (Spencer). We had to figure out a new way.

What ended up happening is Chris and I were getting together every week for a few months in my studio in Tampa and Aaron and Spencer were flying to each other to track different things in different cities. Ultimately, we had a newly introduced duo of songwriters attacking the same project through two different lenses which I think adds to the diversity and allowed us to circumvent the hurdles we had based on time zones and proximity.

Johnny Andrews co-wrote a couple of songs. Had you worked with an outside writer before?
Honestly, I don’t even know what this guy looks like. Spencer wrote “Wake Me” and “Rapture” with Johnny for a completely different project when he thought Underoath was never getting back together. When we went into the studio we had a pretty polygamist-based relationship where everyone threw anything they had been working on on the side into the pot. These two songs stuck out and we really took them to a different level and worked with what Spencer and Johnny created to make them a part of the new album.

How did you decide to work with producer Matt Squire?
This was a tough one, we always worked with Matt Goldman, pretty much since 2004. When we got back together I think the one thing that we kept saying to each other was everything we’ve done and all of the comfort zones that we had, had to stop now. We ended up switching up producers, writing styles, studio experiences and really had to understand what it was to be Underoath in 2017. We met with a handful of mega rock producers, but we felt like their styles were too radio friendly and not necessarily pro art.

We had one conversation with Squire, that I missed actually, and then I had a follow-up conversation with him and from the first second I talked to him I realized he was different and although he had worked on massive records he puts art and what the band wants in front of sales and royalties and publishing. It seems like a very left field choice looking in from the outside, but if you are on the inside and you spent the two months with us in the studio you would realize how obvious and how necessary Matt Squire and our engineer and co-producer Eric Taft were.

What is his producing style, and how was the experience?
Squire is a complete hands-off psycho. I mean that in the best way, he lets you finish your thought and never interjects and in the two months we spent with him not once did he talk about radio, focus tracks, and how to take our business as if we are selling used cars to the next level. He spent the most time talking to each of us on cigarette breaks, or five-minute breathers between takes, to really understand what each of us wanted out of this project and who each of us are as individuals. I don’t think we ever would’ve gotten that from anyone else and to this day I have had zero regrets about working with him.

How do you and James divide guitar parts?
James is one of the most solid rhythm players I know. I don’t think that he is hyper creative and I think he would back me up on that, but where I tend to be very loose, almost a bit chaotic at times, he is 100 percent consistent and I think we have a really interesting and harmonious relationship as guitar players. I know for a fact he is going to play the main parts of the song the same way day one of a tour and day 200 of the tour. And if you were asking him the same question, he might say that he knows for a fact that every night is a tossup on how and what I will play based on how I’m feeling. I think that you really can’t have a great live band with a bunch of circus animals and you also can’t have a great live band with a bunch of straightforward players, I think I am the monkey and James is a doctor and we will work together like that for the rest of our lives.

How has your sound evolved since Disambiguation?
I don’t even think I can call that an evolution. After taking that much time off it’s a completely different person and a completely different animal. When you multiply those factors times six, there’s nothing that is the same and everyone has gone on their own path and has created their own vision and version of what they are and what they think Underoath is. I think the biggest task of this new project was trying to figure out how we all fit to where everyone feels fully authentic to themselves but also fully coherent. I think in the end some people will love certain songs and have to warm up to others because this is the first album that has been a full representation of everyone in the band and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How did you come to sign with Fearless Records?
When word got out that we were open to doing a new record we got a lot of calls, but the same process that we deployed on picking a producer worked here as well. After countless meetings, Fearless seemed to be the only label that understood who we actually are and wanted to play the game they wanted to play but with us being the referee. That’s really hard to find this day and age and we are beyond happy and proud to be on Fearless and Concord Music Group.

The music industry has changed a lot in the eight years since your last album. What are your goals and expectations for Erase Me?
I have always had the same answer this question, and a lot of people think that I am lying, but I have no expectations. I don’t want to figure out a creative way to get people that don’t really like our music to start listening to it. I also don’t want to create an egotistical barrier between our music and anyone that might like it. My goal is to make sure everyone in the human race hears the album and has a chance to sit with it for at least one to two spins and then make their own decision.

If we end up selling 10 million albums I would love that, if we end up selling 75,000 albums and everyone that is coming to the shows are diehard fans I also consider that a beautiful gift and would love that as well. I think Fearless is giving us that shot. They are putting more effort and resources into this project than we have ever had, and I think in the long run if it doesn’t connect with the mass people that’s OK.

You’re playing a lot of U.S. festivals this spring and summer. Even though you have been around a long time, is it still important to get in front of crowds that may not know you?
I think if you listen to this new record it almost answers itself. We want to make sure that not only old Underoath fans, but other people that have never heard of the band hear what we are creating. I think that in the long run that’s every band’s wish, no matter how big or how long they have been around. But for us playing in front of new audiences without a record in over 10 years with this lineup is key. And I think there is a whole new audience that we didn’t get the chance to play to when we were not active, and especially since Aaron has not been in the band and as long as we get a chance to offer them a chance to participate, that’s all I really care about.

You’re playing European dates and festivals as well. What is the band’s level of awareness/popularity there compared to North America?
We do really well in the UK and Australia, obvious overseas markets. We aren’t nearly as big in the rest of the world but the good thing is we love traveling and seeing new places through even if it’s a tour that is strictly developing a new territory we take every chance we can, provided it it makes sense to go explore this planet that we live on and play the music that we love.

You’re playing a few dates on the final Warped Tour. What are some of your fondest memories from past Warped Tours you’ve played over the years?
I think the biggest tour memory for me is the first year we ever played it, 2004. Specifically, in Atlanta, we were on a really short side stage and Chasing Safety had just come out. We didn’t really expect much from that tour but by the time we got to Atlanta the crowd was so big they ended up breaking the wooden barrier in front of our stage which was technically there for local bands opening up for radio shows. It wasn’t nearly the biggest show we have ever played at Warped, but that was the first time I realized things were really happening. I still remember the riot on stage and security literally shutting off our amps. And then I was turning them directly back on to continue playing until it literally had to be shut down.

Since the band has reunited, what has changed and what has stayed the same in terms of your personal interactions and relationships with each other?
I think the only thing that is still here from the past is the love that we had been in a band together when we first started. At this point certain dudes have three kids, other dudes are still single and doing their own thing. The biggest change has been the fact that we are now in a spot where we have the ability to accept each other as we are.

In the press materials it says the band has “moved beyond the realm of seemingly impenetrable polemics.” Can you shed some light on that statement?
I don’t write our bios, and I’ve no idea what that means. All I know is that there was a point where we couldn’t stand to be in the same room together, and now we text each other daily outside of the band just to see how each other are doing. We wrote music together for the first time in the most collaborative way, and I’m very, very grateful for that 18 years into being in this band.

It seems the country and world are more divided than ever. Does music have a role in trying to bridge that divide, or is it just commenting or observing on what’s happening?
It absolutely does. Music is really only universal language, I have no idea what a Buddhist or Hindu person deals with on a daily basis, but when I hear their music I can connect with the soul of what they’re trying to get to and I feel directly inspired by them. I think at the end of the day, Middle Eastern music is beautiful, yet I cannot for even one second explain or empathize to the degree that is necessary what it feels like to be in a bombed country.

Music has perpetually been a gateway to the soul that is much easier to interpret and communicate than specific political and theological ideals. In that, I rest that music has connected with people that I personally might not ever associate with, and respectively if they saw me on the street they would never want to associate with me in the culture and the dynamic that we live in, but when music is the first bridge it allows us to connect to other people and other thoughts in a way that dialogue in itself can’t.

Tell us about your other band Carrollhood that released a new EP earlier this year.
Carrollhood is my baby. I am in a band with two of my best friends, Nate Young from Anberlin, who is also my brother in law and best friend and Reed Murray, another one of our mutual best friends. Everything we do is 100 percent exactly what we want to do. We’re not signed, we have no goals or aspirations, and if we want to play a part for five minutes straight with no vocals we do it. I think as a creative you really have to have different tiers of outlets, it’s the only way to really have your whole self known by the world. Carrollhood touches a percent of a percent of what Underoath touches, but that really means a lot to me and it’s necessary for my soul.

Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I am not good at promotions. Buy a vinyl if you are a super fan, it really helps. Stream it to check it out. Come to a show if you want to know what Underoath really is.

(interview published April 5, 2018)

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