“Christianity Ruined My Life”: Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain Talks Moving On From The Past & Setting Fire To The Rule Book On Album 8Written by Sam Bauermeister on March 19, 2018
For all fans of post-hardcore, it’s hard to overlook the impact that Underoath had on the genre. With each record they released, their momentum built and they paved the way heavy alternative music is written today. After an eight year hiatus and a reunion world tour under their belt, Underoath are set to release their eighth studio album Erase Me, which sees the Florida lads at their most open and honest yet.
Music Feeds caught up with vocalist Spencer Chamberlain for an absolutely incredible chat where he discussed getting the band back together, fighting addiction and losing faith.
Music Feeds: It’s been close to eight years since Underoath’s last record Disambiguation was released. Since then a lot of has happened to each individual member’s careers and lives. How did it feel to be writing collectively together again?
Spencer Chamberlain: It’s definitely been a minute [laughs]. I think the writing of Erase Me was different to anything we’ve done before. That’s because we didn’t all write together at once until we got into the studio. There’s only four writers in Underoath, which is myself and Aaron as well as our guitarist Tim [McTague] and keyboardist Chris [Dudley].
Most of the writing started with just Aaron and I working together along with Tim and Chris writing as well. From what we had written there, we got into the studio and wrote more songs once we got there.
MF: How did you feel about it compared to writing Lost In The Sound of Separation, your last record with the complete line up?
SC: Every record we’ve done has been a fight, a battle and a bunch of dudes who aren’t happy with the final outcome. It would always lead to all of us liking one song but one member hating it — do you know what I mean? That was kind of the thing each time we recorded.
So this was a lot different because we all worked together and we actually heard each other out and made a record [where] we all love every single song, and they’re all something we’re proud of. Which is crazy because even songs that I wrote alone that I knew for a fact Tim would hate — I’m a pop sort of songwriter (even though it doesn’t seem like that on the outside), I do a lot of songwriting outside of Underoath in the pop space and it’s always where my heart’s sort of been as a kid… melody and song structure is what got me into music as a kid — so Tim would hear these songs that I wrote, [and we usually] fight about everything. [But he] actually would listen to it and be like “let’s work on it and make it something that we all love”, and that was crazy. The same goes for me, in the past some songs that Tim would write I would just say “I’m not doing this anymore, I don’t want to make another Disambiguation” where the songs were good but they just got too weird and no one would want to listen to it more than once, I just didn’t want to do that again. But this time we actually got in the room to work on it and discussed how we could make it something that we were all happy with. It was great man, I couldn’t be happier.
MF: So over the last few years you decided to come together again after a long hiatus to do another world tour. Was it always the plan for you guys to write again or was it like “Hey! We really liked doing that, let’s write some new music”?
SC: It was weird. Some of us were super excited to get back in the studio and write again and some of us weren’t sure if we wanted to still be in the band, and I think it was more of a slow process. Aaron and I started writing some new things before the tour and we weren’t sure if it was going to be a new project or if it was going to be a Sleepwave record with Aaron on drums, which was something that we talked about before we got started. We were even thinking of starting a whole new band with just the two of us, we didn’t know but we just wanted to keep writing straight after our first tour back. So in the meantime, Tim and Chris started writing together over in Tampa and I was writing my own stuff which I wasn’t sure was going to be on the new Sleepwave record or just as a part of a solo project, but we ended up getting together and writing with all four of us when we got to actually start making the record. Out of all the thirty-something songs that we all wrote, we ended up recording thirteen, which were then cut to the eleven that are on Erase Me.
MF: I guess with eight years of hype surrounding Underoath, do you ever feel a sort of pressure in releasing Erase Me?
SC: No way! [laughs]. I don’t really like thinking of it that way. I feel like we have so much other shit to think and worry about, like we’re not worrying about what people might think, what we should or should not be doing.
I just made one rule while we made this record which was: “That’s not Underoath enough” could not be said anymore. We threw away so many good ideas and made so many mistakes in the past because we were overthinking what Underoath actually was. When that happens, you just don’t grow. You affect your whole growth as an artist, as a band and as a human being when you create so many rules on what a band actually is. You shouldn’t set so many guidelines on what you should or shouldn’t say, especially now with social media where every fucking thing you do or say, someone is going to have to say something about it. Now that we’ve moved away from being so restricted from so many guidelines, we’ve become happier and healthier people and learnt how to be just normal human beings. As a result we’ve learnt to accept ourselves and each other within the band.
If we’re doing things the way we used to do it and keep saying “That’s not Underoath enough”, it wouldn’t work. I’m not the same person I was in 2006 when we wrote Define the Great Line, I’m a way different person and in a much better place in my life mentally, spiritually and musically. So I’m not going to write the same as I did when I was at that point in my life. Whether it’s you as a journalist, a football player or a business person, there’s no way you’d be doing things the same as you did twelve years ago. So I find it unfair when people expect that of us and that’s why we just don’t give a shit about it.
We’ve become a different band.
MF: Totally, and at the end of the day, you’re in a band because you enjoy playing and writing music. Feeling like you’re forced to create something a certain way just takes your connection away from it, you know?
SC: Exactly, and we just said when we learn to let that go, that’s when we can be a band again. If we can’t be ourselves both personally and musically then we just can’t be a band. As a result of that, we’re happy for the first time in a very, very long time.
MF: That being said, on Erase Me as a whole, lyrically it’s you all being as honest as I think you’ve ever been. It regularly assesses where you were as a person in the past and the struggle of moving on from that. Was there ever a moment where it was hard to be that open to yourself when you were writing down the lyrics?
SC: No, not at all. I’m very lucky that as someone who battled with addiction for so long in my life that I have a platform where I can talk about it and express it all. As someone who loves music outside of playing it, I became so attached to how it has the potential to create a sort of dialogue. Just as I was battling addiction, musicians I love went through the same thing and their music really connected with me from a lyrical perspective. Being in Underoath, I feel it’s my duty to return that to at least one human or millions of them as long as it does what music does to me. The only way I can do that is by being completely honest.
Erase Me definitely has it all in there. It’s a very brutal reflection. I went through a very long process of the band breaking up being the worst couple years of my life to getting my life back together, and for the first time in twelve years I’m free of hard drugs in my life. It’s been an incredible journey for me to have music there for me both as a human being and a songwriter.
MF: When you released the first single off this new record ‘On My Teeth’, you guys got some shit from the Christian community for saying ‘Fuck’ in the song. Underoath did start as a Christian band but obviously you’ve evolved and developed over time, changing that perspective. Do you ever get self-conscious about making Underoath as inclusive as possible?
SC: I don’t think it’s that important. We’ve been very public about not being a Christian band and people being in different places since like 2009. If people didn’t want to hear that or pay attention to that, it’s not my fault. Our label were the ones who decided to release ‘On My Teeth’ as the first single to be released from the record, doing that definitely did stir the pot. That’s how music works though, you need to stir the pot and test people, otherwise you make something that everyone just feels safe with, and safe is never good.
That wasn’t even thought about when I wrote the lyric “I’m not your fucking prey” in the song. That part was just me discussing my emotions and being honest. I think its important the way I said it because I said it in a way that I felt was important. “I’m not your fucking prey”, you know? It’s like, I’m not going to be your fucking victim. That part was so important to the song in itself because it directly spoke about what it all means to me.
With all the things going on in the world , like ‘On My Teeth’ was released and two weeks before, a bunch of kids were shot in a school and a giant movement towards gun control began and people are going to be upset over a word that a band said? There’s so much other stuff to be concerned about but people love to bitch about small things and that’s kind of what the internet actually is. I feel like every time you post something on the internet, someone will just hate it. You never hear about people loving a specific thing on Twitter when it comes to the media and everything online. You’ll only hear about something when someone really hates it. Hate is just very loud.
Say your favourite band is Deftones, I’m using this example because they’re one of my favourite bands [laughs]. They release a new song that you absolutely fucking love, how often do I make the effort to go to their Instagram page and leave a comment saying “I love this song!”? You don’t do that. Does that mean you don’t love Deftones? Hell no, you don’t need to. All you need to know is that you’re happy with the song, you don’t need to write a comment to validate that. But it’s when people hate something and they’re unhappy when people start opening their mouth and that’s unfortunate.
Thankfully 95% of the reaction from On My Teeth has been all love about the song. Sure there’s people that hate that we said “Fuck” but those are the people that have been mad at me since 2005. I’m not trying to steer people down the wrong road and tell you to go worship Satan. I’m not saying I hate Christians and I hate Christianity by saying that word. My journey and my role in playing in a Christian band, I held a huge burden and I got burnt really bad and was treated awfully. I’m not saying religion is wrong for everyone, but for me it was wrong. It ruined my life, turned me into a drug addict and people were awful to me the whole time. I never felt more alone in my life than when I was Christian. So if that’s my burden and I got to show people something positive and be burnt by it and then have to not do it anymore, that’s fine. In no way am I waving the flag saying “Fuck Christianity”, I’m trying to love everybody whether they be Atheist, Christian, Muslim, etc. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or trans, I just don’t care at all, just as long as you’re a good person. I just love good people and I don’t care what you believe in. That’s why I really wanted to get rid of the title of being a ‘Christian Band’ because that’s such a stupid category to put yourself in. We never sang about it in the first place, so what’s the point? You can come to our concerts and believe in whatever you want. We just want to make music that everyone can listen to without feeling restricted.
Underoath’s new album ‘Erase Me’ will drop on Friday, 6th April via Fearless Records