If there any positive take aways from the last year and half of the pandemic era, it could be argued that the pause of the world did force just about everyone to take stock of their lives and reevaluate their priorities. As people figured out how to pivot, adjust, and make the most of a universally bad situation, artists were in the an especially unique position. Shouldered with not only their own personal evolution, their craft had to cut through the white noise of a world that was preoccupied with a once-in-a-lifetime shift in normalcy.
For veteran practitioners of heavy Underoath, the halt the ongoing hustle of releasing albums and incessant touring certinaly wasn't planned, but it has thus far seemed to pan out. As the individual members all figured out how best to navigate the new reality with the rest of the world, the time away from their routine afforded a new sense of clarity that seemed to reinvigorate the band.
In an effort to get back to the business of performing music live, the band fully immersed themselves in what would become an ambitious creative endeavor in their Observatory livestream series. The expansive, cinematic production would see the outfit relive the emotional charge of three of their most enduring albums with a dedicated performance of each in their entirety - They're Only Chasing Safety, Define the Great Line, and Lost In the Sounds of Separation.
It was that artistic reconnection, preceded by a forced stretch of revaluation that ultimately compelled Underoath find yet another creative plateau. As the band revisited instances of brilliance from their back catalog for the livestreams, a kind of rekindling began to spark and brought the band back to where it all started - hard at work in the studio with nothing more than their own expectations as the baseline criteria.
Taking stock of what was most important to them as artists, Underoath found themselves making music for, themselves. Less concerned about the added weight of expectation that comes with being at band at their level, the regrouping in the studio was anchored by a sense of clarity that allowed the band to really pour themselves into their craft - a sorely needed respite given the turmoil and uncertainty of the time.
Underoath's first release of new music in some three years in "Damn Excuses" was triumph for a myriad of reasons. There just aren't many things that last more than two decades, let alone get better with age, yet the outfit has asserted themselves as the exception to that rule. Embracing the angst and frustration of one of history's most tumultuous eras, Underoath were able to step back, see the bigger picture, and redirect their focus in a way that not only saw them emerge stronger, but maintain their creative integrity in the process.
Underoath's guitarist Tim McTague discussed how the band's resilience and artistic resolve has resulted in Underoath finding a new stride after more than two years in the game.
The pandemic either made it impossible for people to focus enough to write or opened the floodgates. How did it play out for Underoath?
McTague - For us, I think it was a mixture of everything. We were frustrated and stuck at home like everyone else. We were scared for a few months due to not knowing how deadly this thing was, and then once we felt comfortable traveling and being in a closed space together we just got to work. “Damn Excuses” came out as an almost full idea in one day. We took some time away from it and when we went to track it, we really dug in on the production and structure element. We put in a ton of work, but I think the pandemic, our live streams and then us all connecting creatively made the work easier and more fluid. There are songs and records that are painful to make, and this song was exhausting because we threw everything we had at it, but wasn’t painful at all. It was all natural and then it was just putting in the time to get the extra 15% that matters.
The Observatory livestream was a big step for the band. How did that effort in particular bleed into the songwriting that led to “Damn Excuses”?
McTague - I think our livestreams reconnected wires for us in a lot of ways. Being locked up with quarantine, then playing three of our records that we and a ton of other people love and seeing how meaningful it was to everyone really impacted us. We had this thought of “We used to just write our records all ourselves and just go into a studio and make it sound good….that’s what Underoath is. Let’s just be us moving forward.” That headspace was so cool to be in, and not be thinking about radio, sales, nothing…just let’s write stuff that makes us go “SHEEEESH”. If it doesn’t make you feel, delete it and start over.
The livestreaming platform might have started as a pivot during the pandemic but it seems like it could become a part of the release cycle for bands moving forward - the same way a single or a music video do. Do you feel like Underoath will keep at livestreaming even as the world slowly gets back to normal?
McTague - Honestly, from the first one Randy our manager, Joel Cook from Tension Division and I were talking about Observatory being mobile. There are so many big moments on tours, especially when you are doing a headliner in your own country that the whole world misses. We’ll never be able to afford to put on the show we do in LA in Brazil or Spain for instance. My sights are set on identifying really special venues and moments on tours and allowing the whole world to be on stage with us. Obviously that’s easier said than done, and may not ever work, but yeah…Observatory is a new venture in my head, not just a stop gap until touring kicks off.
Was there any rust at all given this is the first bit of new music since Erase Me in 2018?
McTague - No, honestly the complete opposite. Aaron and I have this weird musical connection. He can sit behind a kit and yell through a talk back and play a beat with no music and just say something like “I want to build like this…and then we go into this heater of a part that just goesss and then….blah blah.” and before we know it we are building a song from nothing, and sometimes even off a dry drum beat. We all connected really well in the studio, and before I can even get my guitar ideas out, Chris is in his headphones ripping away on midi and he’ll just turn and say “what about something like this over that?”, hand you the headphones and it’s just done. Then we get really granular and judge every little stop, patch, sound and move which is more on the production side than writing. It felt very seamless.
The track embraces a real sense of volatility - it’s aggressive and never takes its foot off the gas. There is a sense of catharsis that seems very apparent. Was this a therapeutic experience given the track was written during such a turbulent time?
McTague - I think so? Musically for sure. We just wanted a song that sounded as dark and angry as the world felt and it just came out like that. Lyrically there is a lot more depth with Aaron and Spencer of course, but I would say when we heard it back through the speakers we were relieved to know that in 6 months or so, we’ll be slipping discs and bruising ourselves together on stage to this song, and that release will be much needed and can’t come soon enough.
“Damn Excuses” showcases the band self-producing and recording. How does that kind of autonomy affect the final product? Is the working environment less restrictive or is there more pressure now that it’s all you?
McTague - I think depending on your headspace it’s both. Some days you feel the pressure and the “do we have blind spots and just can’t see it?” And on a good day it’s “We’re all capable of doing stuff on our own, if anything gets passed all of our filters it can’t not be at least really good.” Most of the time we had the latter. We have worked with 5 producers over our career and really just hit a spot of recognizing how our creativity works and what our actual capabilities are. We can see what they see, and we will make better decisions than they will, because they aren’t in our heads. No side bar texts from label reps, or radio or anything. Nobody heard a thing until it was done. We had our touring front of house engineer, JJ Revell, in the studio with us as well so there was a professional that also knows us better than ourselves most times and that was all we needed. In my head, this is how we make everything moving forward.
“Damn Excuses” is being compared to the band’s earlier direction given it’s aggressive tone. Do you agree with that or do you feel like that dismisses the band’s evolution?
McTague - I can agree with that from the outside. I think this song sounds like what would have, and maybe should have come after LITSOS if we didn’t have member changes and so on. Our last two records were super complicated in varying degrees. We were on a track and then had to adapt with what was new, missing and changing in front of us. With this song and what we are working on moving forward, it in a way feels like we are “back” to some indescribable awareness of who we are, where we come from and what we want to be, and in turn have the experiences of everything that has happened over the last decade to reinforce the progress and growth and become better at what we do.
With the release of the single, should fans be excited about more material on the way?
McTague - If I’m a fan, I would be pissed if all I got was one song, and I hate pissing people off. I’m a lover not a fighter.
"Damn Excuses" from Underoath is currently available to steam/download via preferred DSP - HERE