It’s been said that music is the last true voice of the human spirit. For Spencer Chamberlain, vocalist of defunct metalcore monoliths Underoath, it is the only voice he has ever had, the only way he can make sense of the world. When Underoath announced they were calling it quits in 2012, the decision robbed him of much more than the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to. It robbed him of his sense of self, and his reason for being.
Chamberlain fell victim to idle hands, understandable for a man who once declared “rock is what saved my life”. He spiraled out of control in a vicious fashion, very nearly losing all he’d worked for the past decade to obtain. Then, just as he was on the brink of self-destruction, music reached out and saved his life for a second time, and this time his saviour’s name was Sleepwave.
Formed in 2013, Sleepwave consists of Chamberlain and long-time friend Stephen Bowman. It’s a decidedly different beast to Underoath, melding elements of rock, grunge, post-hardcore and electronica, more reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones or Saosin than the ferocious metalcore Underoath were famous for.
Sleepwave’s debut album, Broken Compass, released via Epitaph in September, has been well received by critics and fans alike, and the band has been touring relentlessly since its release, inspiring impassioned responses from audiences around the world.
Now, it’s Australia’s turn to experience Sleepwave. They will tour Australia, in all their distorted glory, for the very first time as part of Soundwave Festival. Music Feeds recently caught up with a rather refreshed sounding Chamberlain to discuss his path to salvation.
Watch: Sleepwave – Through The Looking Glass
Music Feeds: You’ve just been announced as an addition to the Soundwave lineup. Are you looking forward to being on the festival with Sleepwave, after your last appearance with Underoath?
Spencer Chamberlain: Yeah, man. I mean, honestly, Soundwave I have done twice before with Underoath, and it was two of my favourite tours I’ve ever done. So being added to the lineup for 2015 is something I am definitely stoked on. I am excited to be able to take a new band on Soundwave, as it is one of my favourite tours and, besides the drummer that is playing with me now, it’s the rest of the band’s first time on the festival.
I made sure that when I picked the live band, I wanted to make sure it was all some of my favourite people in the world, and they’re all great players and most of them have never been to Australia, so I am really excited. Not only for the tour and the shows and the club shows, but also about taking them around Australia and showing them a good time is going to be just as important to me as the rest of it.
I just think it’s really cool that I get to give people I love the experience of seeing Australia and touring Australia, and I’m really looking forward to it.
MF: That’s fantastic to hear. I imagine it’ll be a different experience to being on the festival with Underoath. Musically, Sleepwave have more of an alternative rock sound than Underoath, with more traditional song structures and more of a focus on melody. Is that something you deliberately focused on, or did it develop organically?
SC: I think, for me, it was important to follow a different process, because Underoath was a very democratic band and I was always on the guitar side of the writing. Myself and Tim always worked together so well, but it was always about the riff, and I listen to so many different bands and I realised that most of those bands that I truly connected with were based on traditional songwriting. So what’s natural for me when I am not in a democratic situation of being, “Oh I don’t want to do that,” or, “We don’t want to do this”, it’s natural for me to follow a more traditional songwriting structure.
I knew when I started writing for Sleepwave, I wanted it to be energetic and aggressive and heavy but not in the same way that an Underoath-style band is heavy, because I’ve already done that for 10 years. I wanted to go back to the things that I loved about bands like the Deftones and Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Alice in Chains, because that’s the stuff that was natural to me — to write a song that was based upon a melody and a chord progression, [rather] than just a collection of riffs. There are riffs on the record, definitely, but they’re based around the vocal melody and the words I am singing, rather than just the riff.
MF: You recorded Broken Compass with David Bendith, who is notoriously fastidious in his approach, and really focused on getting an organic performance out of the acts he works with. He has a particular aversion to Pro Tools and auto-tuning. How did that differentiate from recording with Underoath and do you think it made you a better musician?
SC: Absolutely. It made me a way better musician. I have been playing guitar my entire life. Since first-grade I’ve been playing guitar and I’ve never played as well as I did in the recording for this record. I mean, he pushed me to the limit. That’s also true as far as the vocals go, as well.
He doesn’t use auto-tune and other tools that most modern day producers use and I think that’s really cool. He would have me tracking the same parts for hours and he’d really push me to unlock and evoke the emotions that were behind what I wrote, and focus upon what I was really saying with each part. If that emotion wasn’t there in the first instance, he’d try and pull it out of me, and if that made me angry or whatever it was, he made sure it was there by the end of the sessions.
He doesn’t tell you he’s doing that either. He just kind of pushes you to the limit and you don’t realise what he is doing to you until the song is finished and he gives you a hug. At that point you’re feeling like you want to punch him in the face. But then when you listen back to the record you realise he did it for the benefit of the record, because you truly feel the honesty and the emotion, and a lot more clearly than on a record that is full of a lot of auto-tune.
As a result, the record flows more naturally and organically and the songs sound truer and he really pushes for and covets that with his production. I respect that and I thank him for that, because it makes you a better musician and it makes for a better record. I truly believe that, especially in our case with Broken Compass.
Watch: Sleepwave – Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I (Track Commentary)
MF: The rawness and emotional intensity you discussed really comes through in a very organic and truthful way on Broken Compass. Was that you making a determined effort to push yourself out of your comfort zone or did it manifest naturally because of the circumstances you were in?
SC: Writing this record was an emotional ordeal for me and an organic process, especially when you think about the journey that I went through as I was writing these songs, which were written over a time period that covers the statement being issued by Underoath that they were going to break up, through the farewell tour and then through my life essentially falling apart and hitting rock bottom and then picking myself up again and rebuilding my life.
All of those emotions and all of that lyrical content is coming from the last year and a half of my life and it means that the songs are pretty organic. The angry songs sound angry because I was genuinely angry and the triumphant stuff is triumphant because I was genuinely overcoming something, and it’s all real and that’s something that you can’t take back.
Would I do it all again? Absolutely. Would I be homeless and drain my bank account and literally be a starving musician? Absolutely, because I think that it’s honest and that there is not enough honest music out there at the moment, and I think that this record will come across as honest and really have an impact on people because it’s all true.
MF: How did you manage to stay so engaged and so positive with the project despite the circumstances you were in? Did music save your life for a second time?
SC: It was really just re-establishing a belief in myself. I lost what I had, in terms of physical possessions and status and stature, but what I hadn’t lost was my ability to write music and my passion for music. If I am honest, I have to admit that I had to be reminded of that fact sometimes by friends and family.
And it was hard, and everyone said, “It’s not going to be easy, but you need to push through and do it, because it’s what you love and what you need to be doing,” and that was appreciated but it didn’t necessarily make it any easier. I mean, you can hold someone’s hand while they’re being dragged by the car, but it’s not going to make the pain any less.
But I had agreed to do it, and I knew what I was getting in to. I had this serious drug addiction, and my drug was music and I can’t live without it and I would do anything for it in a rather addictive way. And so I did.
The light at the end of the tunnel was there and I knew that I could get to it so long as I just held on for dear life. And my knuckles are definitely all scraped and white but I am just approaching that light now and I am still alive and I have this record and these touring experiences to show for it.
MF: From what I can gather, it seems your performances with Sleepwave are taking things to another level in terms of emotional intensity. Is performing these songs emotionally difficult for you, or is reliving those emotions on a nightly basis cathartic?
SC: It’s therapy. It’s therapeutic for me. Everything about playing this record live is what makes the process I went through worthwhile, and being able to reproduce that on a stage is very therapeutic for me and that’s exactly what you can expect on Soundwave.
The people who are going to be watching the performances and the live band I am playing with are all people that are there because they believe in the record that I wrote. That means a lot to me, and inspires me to leave nothing behind and really put all of myself into the live performances. I have to say, what we’ve been able to accomplish on stage, in bringing these songs to life, is one of my biggest achievements.
Especially for me, coming from an outfit such as Underoath who were so well known and renowned for being a live band, being able to push myself and find a way to not just match but exceed that performance and that level of intensity, and essentially up the ante and one-up myself overall, was an exciting challenge. That’s what people can expect to see at a show.
MF: Underoath’s music was music as a mathematical equation, or a puzzle that needed to be solved. Your performances, while undoubtedly intense and impressive, at times lost elements of the recorded works. How does performing the music of Sleepwave compare? Do the more traditional song structures and the shorter song lengths provide more avenues for improvisation and experimentation and interaction?
SC: We make sure we play the songs of Sleepwave as they are on the record, without leaving anything behind instrumentally or emotionally. But there is definitely more room to take liberties. [We] make every tour and every performance special by writing musical pieces between the songs and [providing] gaps to jam and to improvise, where I’ll be singing a different vocal melody while playing on the keyboard, and it’s not necessarily something you’ll hear on the record — or a record ever. That freedom is definitely something that I enjoy and embrace and is something we’ll definitely be bringing to Soundwave.
Sleepwave will play their first Australian shows as part of the Soundwave 2015 lineup. Details below.
Watch: Sleepwave – The Wolf
Saturday, 21st February & Sunday, 22nd February 2015
Bonython Park, Adelaide, South Australia
Saturday, 21st February & Sunday, 22nd February 2015
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Victoria
Saturday, 28th February & Sunday, 1st March 2015
Olympic Park, Sydney, New South Wales
Saturday, 28th February & Sunday, 1st March 2015
RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane, Queensland
Animals As Leaders
The Devil Wears Prada
He Is Legend
Killer Be Killed
Lower Than Atlantis
One OK Rock
The Wonder Years
Soundwave 2015 Lineup – Day One
Adelaide – Saturday, 21st February, 2015
Melbourne – Sunday, 22nd February, 2015
Sydney – Saturday, 28th February, 2015
Brisbane – Sunday, 1st March, 2015
Faith No More
Lamb Of God
New Found Glory
Crown The Empire
Icon For Hire
The Color Morale
Soundwave 2015 Lineup – Day Two
Melbourne – Saturday, 21st February, 2015
Adelaide – Sunday, 22nd February, 2015
Brisbane – Saturday, 28th February, 2015
Sydney – Sunday, 1st March, 2015
Fall Out Boy
All Time Low
Of Mice & Men
Escape The Fate
This Wild Life