Beartooth: Facing Fair Weather
For an album written in the span of a month, Aggressive is surprisingly massive. It’s not only an evolution of the catchy, cathartic intensity we were introduced to on 2014’s Disgusting – frontman Caleb Shomo has completely reinvented his artistry to deliver an album that hits hard and fast with meteorite riffs and cola-cold choruses. With the LP finally out in the wild (and hype building fervidly for his return Down Under this August), we caught up with Shomo to get the lowdown on how it all came to be.
Just listening to the album, it definitely lives up to its name of Aggressive. Where does that come from? What exactly is Caleb Shomo so aggressive about on album #2?
The best way I could put it is that the first record was very bad, and self-deprecating. I’ve kind of come through that, so this record is a bit more of looking back on what got me to the point where I would even write a record that’s so depressed and anxious, and kind of messed up. It’s a lot of reflection, and it’s a lot of me also just being very pissed off about current situations in the world. Also, at the same time, it’s very much so aggressively pursuing happiness and pursuing having a hopeful attitude – which is something I haven’t really had too much of.
As heavy as the record is, there still seems to be a prevalent aura of positivity on a fair few of these songs. How do you strike that balance between the ire and prosperity?
It honestly comes pretty naturally: with writing Beartooth albums, I write alone in my basement – usually in the dead of winter – so there’s probably going to be a bit of a depressive aspect to it. But just where I am in my life is a bit more hopeful, so I think that comes out in the songs naturally. Again, the biggest thing that changed is a bit more of the hopeful aspect; the first album was so dark, and singing those songs every night, obviously, you get a bit numb to it after a while. After doing that hundreds and hundreds of times, it just became second nature. So when I really think about those lyrics, I’m like, “Man, those were extremely dark” – I just wanted to push through that, so I think that really gives it a little bit of a different taste.
So you self-produced this record, as you have with all of your releases since the last Attack Attack! record. How did Aggressive push you as a producer in ways that other albums haven’t?
I was definitely a lot more hard on myself. I bought a lot more gear. I just wanted everything to be as tight and dialed in as physically possible, so I definitely did a lot more guitar takes; a lot more drum takes. Vocals, I definitely did in a similar manner, where I just wanted it to be that raw vibe. Most of the time it’s the first take, but within the first three, I find the take for that verse or chorus or whatever. Other than that, I mean, it was pretty standard procedure, I just wanted it to be a lot more dialed in.
Producing your own music, is it just easier not having to try and get another professional on your wavelength, or is it just a situation where only you can bring your ideas to life in the way that you envision them?
I think it’s – and specifically to Beartooth – it’s definitely a comfort thing. These songs are so personal to me that, in general, I have very few people that work on them. On the first record, John Feldmann was the only other producer on it at all. He came back for Aggressive, and then David Bendeth and I worked on one song together – he knocked it out of the park, but I just feel a lot more comfortable in my space when writing these heavier songs.
“It’s very much so aggressively pursuing happiness and pursuing having a hopeful attitude – which is something I haven’t really had too much of.”
How does your approach to producing your own music differ from your approach to producing for other artists?
It’s really not too much different. The main job of a producer or co-writer is, when you hire them, you trust their vision and you trust their ears. Beartooth songs: I just try to get them to the point where I really love the songs, and I just want to listen to them on my own over and over and over. I think the main variable is that obviously, working with another band, it’s not my songs – I’m just there to try and give a little bit of direction, and at the end of the day, with both sides of it, I want them to be songs that I’m absolutely in love with. But with Beartooth, there’s no limit. There’s no other person’s part I have to worry about them keeping. There’s no vocal melody that anybody is attached to. I just try and write the best song that, for me, really resonates.
The last time we spoke, you made reference to Beartooth kind of being like your solo project. Was that still the case on Aggressive, or did the other members have much of a creative input on this one?
It was the same as the first record. I mean, with Beartooth in general, it’s always that way. It’s just kind of me in my basement alone, getting that vibe and getting that energy – but I mean, that’s really only the primary part of it. Obviously, as a band, everybody else is extremely involved in other things that I’m not involved in at all. It really balances out, but for songwriting specifically, that’s my wheelhouse and what I try to do.
This is the last album to feature Brandon Mullins on drums, but I saw that you supposedly did a lot of the percussion yourself. Did Brandon leave during the recording process, or did you just go back and clean up after he’d already left?
With all Beartooth records, I actually record all the instruments myself – I have from the beginning. I record all the drum takes, all the guitar takes, all the bass takes and all the vocals. Him leaving, it was a bit of a different situation – it wasn’t like a mid-recording thing where everybody had a breakdown. It was just that we were kind of going our own separate ways, “no hard feelings” and he’s doing his own thing now. But when it came to recording, I’d do all of the drums anyway.
So for the past month you’ve been playing with Connor Dennis behind the kit, what’s it been like touring with him?
He’s been amazing, man! He really gets the vibe. Having someone like Brandon for so long -somebody we were very comfortable with – it’s kind of scary switching paces. Connor has been absolutely amazing, and I think he’s brought some really amazing elements to our live show. He brings a very intense energy, and I mean, he’s a young dude – he’s 19 years old, so he kind of bringing that wild, aggressive nature. We’re really happy with him.
Speaking of touring, it was announced just a couple of weeks back that you will be coming Down Under this August with Pierce The Veil. Obviously you’ve been here a couple of times before, but is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing on this run?
Just the fact that we get to tour with such close friends… Silverstein are some of our best friends in the world when it comes to bands, and we’ve toured with Pierce The Veil before: we did Warped Tour together, and in my old band, I toured with them as well. They’re just some of our best friends. We are extremely excited to be able to share such an experience with them.
It’s been a while since we had an update; are there any plans in the future to keep things rolling with the Class project?
As of right now things are so busy with Beartooth that I honestly haven’t really thought about it. If I get more time and things slow down a bit, I’ll definitely dive into it. I do miss the electronic side of making music, but as of right now I’m pretty fulfilled with Beartooth. Things are very busy, so… It could be a minute.
Pierce The Veil / Silverstein / Beartooth / Storm The Sky
Tue Aug 16th – Eatons Hill, Brisbane (AA)
Wed Aug 17th – Big Top @ Luna Park, Sydney (AA)
Thu Aug 18th – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (AA)
Sat Aug 20th – 170 Russell, Melbourne (U18)
Sun Aug 21st – 170 Russell, Melbourne (18+)
Tue Aug 23rd – Astor Theatre, Perth (AA)