Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain: Labeling Music by Lifestyle or Religion ‘Cheapens the Whole Value’ of It
Underoath frontman Spencer Chamberlain was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed the band dropping the "Christian band" label and the impact that has had when performing old songs live. He discussed how he and the rest of the band have changed over the last eight years before dropping the new record, Erase Me.
It's been eight years since the last Underoath album. How did the course of your life over those years affect the music on the new album?
I think a lot. It's hard to not grow or change over the span of a year, let alone eight. You would hope someone would make some progress in their life over the span of eight years. [laughs] I can honestly say everyone in the band has definitely come a long way as people, musicians, and writers. We really apply all those things to the music. Everything you learn, especially as a lyric writer, all the stuff that I experience and go through, I'm applying that to songs. I just learned a lot, I've been playing music my whole life and every year I try to outdo myself. Eight years is a long time.
It seems to be a product of maturity through a difficult period of growth. What's the hardest thing about letting personal things about yourself reflected in the music?
I think that's just something as a writer. That's your role, to be a singer, you can be as honest as possible. If you're not, what are you really doing? What's the point? That comes with the job, I guess. Expressing things that might be hard to talk about and for me, most of the songs I write are things that I might not be able to talk about with my friends but I'm very lucky. It's a therapeutic thing for me. I get to have that release. I get to have the power of song and singing about it and playing it live every night.
I'm lucky. I feel like everyone has their demons and their struggles and things they don't want to talk about and I've been blessed enough to be in a band that has an audience. If I'm not being honest and sharing my story then I don't deserve to be up there. That's kind of how I feel about it. It's stuff that I don't want my dad or my mom to read but its stuff that I need to say and people need to hear and I think people can benefit from. That's just part of my job. It's the "burden" that you bear being a singer in a band.
Underoath always presented itself as a Christian band. Musically and personally how has disassociating yourself from that label changed you?
I think that was part of the reason the band broke up. If people aren't familiar with that story: we broke up in January of 2013 and didn't get back together until 2016. So there were some years we were completely away from each other and not talking or playing music.
In 2009 or 2010 we decided we did not want to be a Christian band anymore. People were growing up and in different ways and experiencing life differently and I think that's part of being a human. Not telling someone else what to believe in and not telling someone else that they have to be like you. I think that was a really hard thing for us as six individuals to understand when we were kids. We started this thing as kids. It just became really difficult. You're juggling six different personalities, and now you're gonna put some rules on top of it? It doesn't really make any sense.
To me, it was never the driving force of the band. I never wrote about it. I was writing about my life and my struggles. At a certain point, we did all believe the same things and that just started to change and I feel that's okay. Really disassociating ourselves with that made it possible for the band to reunite and play together because yeah: it's just not fair to expect everyone to believe the same things we do. I don't think that's fair to the listener either. We're not a worship band, we're not singing about it, why put religion on top of it or in front of it? You just made a universal language not universal anymore.
I think when you say metal or hardcore or punk rock, you're already telling the listener something before you're doing it. Bands should just be bands, yeah they'll always be genres, but let's not attach straight edge, Satanist, or Christian or whatever to it. I think that cheapens the whole value of what music is and what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be for everyone If you like it, you like it. It shouldn't be for a certain group of people.
Aaron Gillespie was a part of the band reforming three years ago and Erase Me began with the two of you writing together. What makes you such compatible collaborators?
We've been best friends since we were like 17 years old. Even when we parted ways with him in the band, it was a year where I didn't talk to him and then we were best friends again. He's like a brother to me. We just have this chemistry. Even though I don't play guitar live, with the writing process I do a lot. I'll pick up a guitar, I'll get behind a drum set — we don't even have to talk. We write melodies, lyrics together all the time. We just have this natural click thing and I just think that's just from growing up together and understanding each other. It's like, I don’t know, writing with your best friend. Like riding a bike. When we got back together, me and him writing just - it was just so natural. It was nothing that has to be forced there.
You seem to be in a different place now, spiritually and emotionally. How does performing older songs from different times in your life make you feel?
Honestly, when you're playing older songs - we've been playing those on every tour. So when people say, how does it feel to play a song from a record from 2004? It doesn't really seem like that to us because we've been playing some of those songs on every tour since we wrote them. That's how you do it with every record. It's more of a thing I see people in the crowd and it's more of a moment like that. You're not really thinking about it. It's like muscle memory. Those older songs, you're not really diving into them emotionally as much as you would a new song when you're performing because you just wrote it and you're really connected to that point in your life when the older ones, it's just muscle memory and you're seeing it happen and obviously they're crowd favorites. It's never weird to go back and sing about these things. To me, it's always yeah, I own everything I said because I've always written honest lyrics. That's just normal for me.
Let's talk about your upcoming tour plans.
We've got a full two years of touring coming up here. A lot of festivals in there, a lot of headline shows as well. We're taking out a band called Dance Gavin Dance. It'll be a wild time. We'll be playing songs off of every record we've ever had. So, it should be a blast for everyone. No matter which style of Underoath is your favorite - you will hear it live.
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