Underoath are just one of those bands that don’t need to win over the mainstream stations for everyone to know who they are. Their successes aren’t in platinum records or UO branded clothing lines; it’s in their hugely dedicated and passionate fanbase, being on the headline stage for the biggest touring rock festival to exist – Warped – and getting the opportunity to turn down major labels just because you don’t want to do things that way. Unlike so much of the music scene currently, Underoath aren’t about being untouchable, as we discovered.
Just three months ago, when our new resident writer Cathy Reay was asked to interview this phenomenal band, she hadn’t even heard of them. Now they’re one of her favourites.
Documented on this very site is her conversation with Spencer Smith (vocals) and Aaron Gillespie (drums, vocals), the group’s two frontmen, held just before their slot at the Give It A Name festival in London. For all you need to know on one of the biggest acts around right now, look no further. Here’s our mini-guide to everything essentially Underoath…
How long have you all been playing music and what influenced you to start this group?
Spencer: This band started about six or seven years ago, all of us have always had a deep interest in pursuing music – since we were kids.
Aaron: And it’s music, period, that made us start playing in the first place. We were all in high school [when the band started] and didn’t really do much else apart from play this shit, garage type music.
How do you feel that Underoath as a unit differs now compared to a couple of years ago when Spencer wasn’t fronting the group?
Aaron: We didn’t really get along before. There was always this strange vibe going on. Then Spencer joined and everything was just normal, we clicked.
Why did you decide to continue as Underoath instead of starting a new group (based on the fact that Spencer obviously brings a totally different and very present element to the group than Dallas once did)?
Aaron: There were original members, touring members in fact, of the band still in it so I didn’t feel any point in changing the name. We talked about it though.
How did you meet Spencer?
Spencer: I’ve been playing in Florida for six years. I was in a band that toured as well and we all played together. I also lived with Chris before I joined the band; we all lived in the same town and liked the same kind of music, so the elements of our friendship were already kinda there.
There is and always has been (to an extent) a lot of controversy surrounding you and religion, especially as you’re on Tooth and Nail, which is known to host, for the most part, a highly influentially Christian roster – how much of a difference do you think your religion has on your music and its desired effect?
Aaron: Well… yeah, we are Christian but…
Spencer: In a different way. We’re not like your average Christian band. Most of us don’t agree with the American view and handling of Christianity because it’s lost its appeal and meaning. People use the church more for social reasons than religion.
Aaron: If you say the word religion it’s like a man-made term…
Spencer: It turns into a scheduled thing where you have to do everything at a certain time. People that follow that end up really judgemental and that’s not at all what we’re about. We use our music to show that there’s more to it and that you don’t have to be that way to believe in something.
Would you agree that your beliefs are the backbone of your writing?
Spencer: It’s the backbone of our lives, especially in the way that we handle certain things, but it’s not so much the backbone of our lyrics. It’s not like every song is a lesson from the Bible or something. It’s just normal life struggles.
Aaron: However you live, that’s what you’re going to write about. This is how we live and we write around that.
How do people react to that?
Aaron: Fine. People are very gracious.
Spencer: We’re humans so they can relate to what we’re talking about.
Aaron: The bottom line is the whole problem with anything is people acting inhuman and strange and untouchable. We’re trying to be as touchable as possible!
Why the switchover to Tooth and Nail in the first place?
Aaron: It’s pretty much the same thing as being with Solid State, it’s in the same building and the same people work with us. It’s just got a wider distribution.
Spencer: No, no, no… You wanna know what it really was? The reason we went over to Tooth and Nail is because both labels have mailing lists of people their stuff goes out to and Tooth and Nail uses both as opposed to just their own.
‘Define The Great Line’ seems a lot heavier vocally than your previous releases, why the need for that?
Aaron: That wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just progression.
Spencer: It’s just what we’re comfortable with doing now. My input on this record is more me, being more comfortable with myself. This is the longest the band has been without changing members and we’re all comfortable and on the same page. With the last record, even though we were all friends before we only started playing together just before recording it. There were certain times when we were like ‘oh I don’t know if that really fits well…’. With ‘Define The Great Line’ we just decided to go ahead and do what we wanted to do and somehow that fit. Everyone in the band did what they were happy with and most comfortable doing in their own way and it turned out better than anything any of us have ever done.
Consequently are you more proud of it?
Spencer: Yes. If that’s not the case you’re doing something wrong!
Relay the steps of what it’s like writing/singing together (recording and generally)…
Spencer: We wrote the record as a band. I write the lyrics for me and Aaron writes them for himself and sometimes we switch or whatever. Although we’re all really tight, Aaron and I have always been really, really close and it’s just really easy for us to work together.
Aaron: I’ve always sung although I have no idea why! We put so many vocals in the songs that there’s no way for one person to have the breath to do it. Tim sings a little bit but no-one else has any lyrical savvy!
What (newfound) success do you hope/feel that your new album will achieve?
Aaron: I don’t feel that our last record failed in any way. If it does as good as that one I’ll be happy. I’m really comfortable with where we are at this stage although I’d like to do way better in Europe, especially England. If we could be the way we are in the States worldwide that’d be amazing. We get asked that a lot but we don’t really care. We were comfortable two years ago playing that and we’re more comfortable now and if it’s only this [indicates with hands] many kids that appreciate it then whatever. It’s something we’re happy with.
Spencer: I think we finally got to the point where we’re happy.
Aaron: On past records we’re always spotting the mistakes but with this one we know our playing ability and experience and unity made the best record we could’ve done. I know we’ll get better but as of now there’s not one thing I’d change on it.
How do you feel about it leaking so prematurely?
Aaron: It sucks.
Spencer: Radiohead leaked earlier. It happens. We know who did it…
Aaron: Yeah we went to his house with baseball bats and ransacked his place. Brass knuckles, tear gas…we took care of it.
Do you view obtaining music over the internet a bad thing now that that’s happened to you?
Spencer: I viewed it as a bad thing before that.
Aaron: To be honest, once a record is already released then it’s fine. You can’t do anything about it then. Some kid was supposed to pick our stuff up and he took it while the other guy wasn’t paying attention, when it wasn’t even dubbed or anything, and put it on the internet. It’s like stealing a painting that’s not done yet and then putting it everywhere and everyone looking at it. If we wanted that kid to hear it, we would’ve let him – but it wasn’t done.
Spencer: One of the greatest paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa, was shown when it was half-done. That’s how I look at it. People are so excited all over the world to get a hold of it. I can’t spend my every day obsessing over how it was released. At first it sucked but we’re over it now.
I’ve heard that it irritates you to be classified as part of the hardcore scene – any truth to that statement?
Aaron: You get classified as being everything you can ever imagine. People say really weird things about our band but we don’t pay attention, it doesn’t matter. You can call us a country band and it doesn’t change what we are. If that’s the way someone hears it then alright.
How do you hear it?
Spencer: Us. Underoath. It’s the music we write. We look ourselves in a room, write music and that’s what happens. I think it’s really weird that some people say “dude wanna write a hardcore song?” and then try and do that.
Tell me about filming your latest two music videos in Sweden.
Spencer: We just got back the day before yesterday. It was the best experience we’ve ever had in Europe.
Aaron: Nice people, wonderfully polite and they really cared about what they do. We noticed that everywhere – the guy in McDonalds is passionate about his work!
Spencer: They love their country, each other and Americans. We went snowmobiling.
Aaron: Everyone we worked with I don’t ever want to lose touch with. It was a great experience. The actual videos, the finished products, are the best stuff we’ve ever done.
Tell me more about the video concepts.
Spencer: They’re shot inside. The people we did them with built like 5 or 6 60ft set like Hollywood. There were actors and actresses. It was crazy and really cool.
Aaron: You’ll see!
What’s your pre-gig ritual?
Spencer: Stretch, pee and pray.
Aaron: We’re the most immature band on this tour, we run around screaming and pushing each other.
Underoath’s new album ‘Define The Great Line’ is out now on Tooth and Nail.