MUSIC INTERVIEW: Beartooth
Photo Credit: Johann Ramos
One of the biggest bands to come out of the 2010s, Beartooth, will unleash their astounding fourth record ‘Below’, which is as powerful lyrically as it is musically, into the world on 25th June 2021. We were lucky enough to pick the brains of the man behind Beartooth who single-handedly wrote, produced and mixed every aspect of the new record. In this interview with Caleb Shomo, we spoke about the heavy new record, his excitement to play live again, mental health, and his newfound love of cooking.
When you were making this record, was it a conscious effort to make it your heaviest record yet, or did it kind of just happen naturally when you were writing the record?
Erm, you know, kind of a bit of both. Going into it I was telling myself, let’s make this something special, let’s make sure this is a real heavy record. I feel like it would be very easy for us as a band with the success we’ve had in various areas, whether it be radio or tour or whatever, it would’ve been easy for us to just go more commercial and try put out more of a radio-friendly record. I wanted to make something heavier and made for the live show, and in my experience, people love the heavier stuff live and I have more fun playing the heavier stuff live, so let’s do it and let’s see what happens, and then once it got started it just kept going further and further. When that idea was actually in place – to see it actually play out, yeah, it really just wrote itself in many ways and went to a really heavy place.
Yeah, we’re glad you did as well, because we absolutely love this record and we especially love when you guys are at your heaviest. From a lyrical standpoint, is there any songs on the album that you’re particularly proud of?
Erm, I don’t know, that’s a good question. I mean I think lyrically this whole record was a blur. I’m going to be completely honest with you, all the lyrics were written during the lockdown and were written about what I was going through emotionally at the time, and it was very difficult. It was a very intense thing to go down with, but I can’t really think of anything specifically, but as a whole, I’m just glad I got to get a lot of stuff on my chest.
Personally, our favourite song from a lyrical standpoint is Skin so kudos on that one. Going from lyrics to completely no lyrics in the song The Last Riff – its just brutal, we absolutely love it. When you are writing a song like that, how does it come into fruition in the studio, as it’s essentially a four-minute breakdown?
Yeah, I don’t know, I just wanted to end it differently. Usually with Beartooth traditionally, the last song is a very vocal-driven, emotional – kind of takes things down a notch moment, but that didn’t feel right at all for this record. I didn’t feel like letting up on the gas made sense, I felt like it should end with the pedal on the floor, like really be giving it all I had at the end, and it was just really fun to write. It was a lot of experimenting and it was just messing with different guitars and different sounds, and layering different things and not really trying to play anything perfect. Just trying to get the emotion across through the playing and honestly its my favourite song on the record, I’m really really happy that’s the way the record closes.
Yeah, completely agree – do you ever anticipate playing that song in its full entirety live?
You know, it’s something we’ve already been kind of struggling with internally because we obviously want to play it live more than anything – because the song is nearly five minutes long of just playing really slow riffs so like, it might not be the most entertaining thing in the world to watch. But I don’t know, we’ll figure out a way. I can’t see us not playing it at all, maybe we just play half of it, who knows – we’ll figure it out, but I sure hope we can play it live.
You could maybe figure out some sort of medley or something like that?
We recently saw an interview where you said you’ve got into your cooking. So, we know this might be a tricky question, but if Below was a Caleb Shomo dish – what dish would it be and why?
Haha, it would probably be Chicken Parm. Chicken Parm is hot and fast and it’s all about timing and making sure every element is nailed and everything is ready to be put together all in this one moment, and for me, this whole record is about the pace and the timing of everything, like how each song leads into the next one. The whole record is written for the stage so yeah – Chicken Parm is the one that comes to mind!
Yeah, we were going to say something steak-related or something like that.
Yeah, that was the other thing I had in mind, like that or a really tough steak to cook or something – anything that’s about quick, high stress and timing – that’s the way!
Good answer! If you’d hadn’t listened to the album, or any Beartooth song, you may look at the album cover and think on first impression that it’s a deathcore cover or something super dark. Is there any particular story behind the album cover? How did that come to fruition?
So, we worked with this company called Tension Division who we worked with on the Disease album, and that was the first time we worked with them and they really nailed it. Basically, the way we work and the way they work is we will both have a long conversation talking about what the songs mean to me, what the album means to me, the headspace I’m in. They take this conversation and try and translate it into one picture that becomes our album cover, and they’ve absolutely nailed it. With everything that’s been going on with how difficult of a time it was and how brutal the pandemic was, and the fact that this record was really put together during that, it was a really tough record to put together. It was very emotional, it was very dark, and we didn’t wanna shy away from that and made this really dark old school related [inaudible animal sound] metal cover and it just made sense. I couldn’t be happier with it.
It’s an awesome cover. Were there any older or newer bands that were really inspiring you when you were making the record, or was it just all you and there were no bands that were influencing you?
Yeah, there’s always various things I’m listening to that change from year to year and album to album – number one that’s a constant is AC/DC, that’s like my favourite band. I’m pretty widely outspoken about that, but I was listening to a lot of thrash, a lot of 80s stuff, a lot of early Metallica, like their earlier thrash stuff, Slayer, also you know, at the same time listening to a lot of doom, like old stoner bands like Sabbath, like Sleep and High On Fire – yeah, there was a lot of different stuff but yeah, I’d say mostly thrash and doom metals were the ones that mostly influenced this record a lot.
So, you’ve talked about this album and the next album being kind of the end of an era of Beartooth of you in your 20s. What do you anticipate the next era of the band to be? We’ve seen bands like Korn go from nu-metal to dubstep, and that’s obviously a big leap – could you see Beartooth going to a completely different sound?
I don’t know, I would probably venture to say no. I think there will obviously be sonic change and sonic progression, but for me this sound I found with this album I think will be really prominent for us for a while. What I’m hoping is that this band continues to push hopefully to go heavier and just more fun. I want this thing to be more about the live show and about I don’t know, being able to go wild and being able to have a good time and let your energy and yeah… it is wild that after I decided this era of my 20s is going to be what it is, to be coming towards the end of that, obviously Below is just about to come out and we’ve got that whole cycle to come. Then there’s the whole other record after that but even then, time flies, and a lot can change in a few years, but assuming at the core of it, it’s going to be two guitars, bass and drums and vocals – that’s what Beartooth really is. I don’t see that changing but beyond that I really have no idea. I’m sure we’ll be going in a lot of different directions and I always want to be pushing it and changing things, but as long as it’s fun to listen to and fun to be played live then that’s always number one.
Awesome, so speaking of live shows, is there any particular track from this record that you think is going to go off live?
Oh boy, I mean we’ve been playing and we’ve been practising a lot of the new stuff, I think Hell Of It is going to be really fun live, I think Below is going to be really fun live, Devastation is going to be really fun live. Pretty much every one of these songs was written for the live show, so hopefully all of them go over pretty well. I mean I would be shocked if we weren’t opening with Below, I think I kind of wrote that song to open a live show, so I’m really excited for that to be what we come out of the gate with and see what people feel about it.
Yeah that would be very sick. We know you did your drive-in shows a couple of months ago, but when you do that first live show, where you’ve got loads of fans which will be different – what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you think it will be like you’re teenagers starting up again, or the moment you come onto stage, it will be like muscle memory – what do you anticipate the feeling to be like?
As much as we prepare and as much as we practice and try and simulate the feelings, it’s never the same. Once you get up there and feel that shot of adrenaline, it’ll be so much crazier than anything we’ve anticipated. I know that for a fact, just out of experience like for example, I try and practice all the time and I’ve got my microphone back there and I shut the lights off and crank the music up in here and I’m jumping around and singing to prepare for that show but it doesn’t matter… as soon as the show starts, none of that matters, it’s just carnage, you gotta just hold on and hope for the best!
Is it almost like an alter ego takes over?
Absolutely, for me, specifically, in general life, I’m not a go-getter, outspoken like high energy kind of person, but the moment I get on stage and there’s that volume, the air moving and everyone being packed in this room, it really brings out a whole new side of me. I think that most people that play in a band understand that feeling, it just opens up another gear you didn’t know you had.
Yeah, I can kind of relate to that, me and my friends have a garage band, and we’ve never played a show to anyone in our life, but when we’re all playing, something does take over.
When gigs come back it will be awesome, but coming back to the record… for Beartooth it’s always been you doing the majority of the work, but it seems like pretty much anything related to Below has got your name on it. So what was the thinking behind that – was it because you found it easier to do all the production, mixing, and instruments by yourself, or was there another reason?
Yeah, a lot of it was natural. A lot of it was like, I just wanted to trust myself and I really feel like I have been working really hard with getting better as a mix engineer, getting better at editing and getting better at producing – everything that goes into making a record. I feel as if I’ve practised a lot and getting really into mastering, I’ve been really getting into that, so I was just like you know, it just felt kind of unnecessary to bring in a load of other people. To get the sound I wanted I felt as if I could pull it off, then obviously the lockdown happens and I was kind of forced into that anyway and I love to mix our records, but I don’t think I could feel comfortable to give the task of mixing the record to someone else and not being able to be there, and not being able to experience it. I’m just so used to my setup and used to what I’m hearing down here, that is just something I felt really important for me to do and it was just something fun for me. I love using all of those chops, I love producing, mixing, mastering and performing, and when the opportunity came about and at this point everyone’s happy with you doing everything I just ran with it. I couldn’t be happier with the choice.
Beartooth are a band that have always been very open with mental health issues and the last 12 months have been tough, with people being locked inside and just left with their own thoughts. So for anyone that is reading this interview, would there be any tips you would be comfortable with giving out that have helped you over the last 12 months?
Yeah, trust me, I’ve been down to the depths of it. This whole lockdown pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go and it forced me to deal with a lot of the things going on with my life. I think some of the basic realities I have found are you get out of it what you put into it, and to me, that’s work. I think there are a lot of practical things that go on in your mind when you start exercising regularly, when your eating well, that are really good for your mental space and finding ways to stay creative, trying to push yourself even though most of the time it feels like most of the time you don’t want to do fucking anything, which has been the majority of lockdown for me. It’s just about work and things, you have to look inside and think about what’s going on and think about what you want to change, think about practically how you can do that. For me, I’d been struggling a lot emotionally so one of the things I did was starting to see a therapist once a week and that was super helpful. It was something that was possible to do over the computer, I didn’t have to go out or do things like that, I’ve been going to the gym as much as I can and trying to exercise a lot because for me, I personally feel way better mentally after I’ve had that exercise. I’ve used my body and created those endorphins and that’s just another basic thing. Then with the creativity, it’s about doing things that are creative that you love, if it’s just pushing you to a place where you’re not enjoying it, you’re not having fun at all, and it’s something you hate doing and have to do, then most the time, you don’t have to do it. If it’s your creative time, then focus on something that makes you happy and simply brings you joy in your life. Those were the kinds of things I used to push through the lockdown and the quarantine, those practical decisions you have to make work. That’s what makes me feel better, working towards those things.
Beartooth’s new album Below is due for release on 25th June 2021 via Red Bull Records, available to pre-order HERE.
See Beartooth live, with support from Motionless In White and Stray From The Path, at one of the following dates:
Fri 4th – VIENNA, AT – Gasometer
Sun 6th – ZURICH, CH – Volkhaus
Tue 8th – MUNICH, DE – Zenith
Wed 9th – STUTTGART, DE – Porsche Arena
Fri 11th – HAMBURG, DE – Sporthalle Hamburg
Sat 12th – COLOGNE, DE – Palladium
Mon 14th – TILBURG, NL – 013
Tue 15th – BRUSSELS, BE – Ancienne Belguique
Fri 18th – BIRMINGHAM, UK – O2 Academy
Sat 19th – MANCHESTER, UK – O2 Victoria Warehouse
Sun 20th – LONDON, UK – O2 Academy Brixton
Tue 22nd – PARIS, FR – Le Cabaret Sauvage
Wed 23rd – FRANKFURT, DE – Jahrhunderthalle
Fri 25th – BERLIN, DE – Columbiahalle
Sat 26th – LEIPZIG, DE – Hause Auensee