Back in late 2010, Underoath released their much anticipated ‘Ø (Disambiguation)‘ album via Roadrunner Records to much applause from critics and the band’s fanbase, with many touting it by far the band’s best work to date. Recently Deborah Konopnicki spoke with guitarist Tim McTague about the album, the much publicised departure of drummer Aaron Gillespie and the band’s plans for 2011. Click below to expand this post and have a read of the interview.
Tim! How are you going, mate?
Good! How are you?
Great, thanks. I appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with us today.
Yeah, no problem at all!
How’s your tour going at the moment?
Yeah, we’re in Chicago right now. The tour has been great! The shows have been good, the cities have been good. The tour couldn’t be going – at this point – any better than we had expected.
Before we get stuck into it, I just wanted to praise you on your brand new album “Disambiguation” that came out down here in Australia not too long ago. It’s one of the most exciting Underoath CD’s to come out in a long time. How are you feeling now that the record has been released?
Oh, man. We’re so excited about it. We definitely really believe in the record and the direction that we went in and we really feel strongly about the direction that the band has chosen. It’s just an exciting time for everyone.
It seemed that there were a few trials and tribulations leading up to the release of the record; a few things that you had to overcome. Did you feel like there was anything that you needed to prove with this record? Perhaps certain expectations that you wanted to thwart?
No. I think that there naturally was – the expectation and the pressure – but you rise above that. We’ve always done that. Pretty much since “They’re Only Chasing Safety” came out in the states, there has been this pressure to out-do and out-sell, out-write and out-exceed. We’ve kind of just turned a blind eye to that whole thing and just focused on really just wanting to write the best music and create the best album and create the best pieces of art and work that we can. Then we worry about trying to spread or market or sell it as far as we possibly can later. I think that it’s a really damaging and un-authentic thing to do; to go into the studio and be writing a song for radio or writing a song for this or that. For us, we really just want to tap into different facets of writing music. We kind of followed suite with this record more than anything. It was kind of like a clean slate. We had a new drummer and everyone was kind of up in the air as far as media and fans as far as what to expect so we didn’t really have any kind of pressure. If anything, we felt that people were expecting us to fail anyway so all that we could do was just go for it and do the best that we could. If anything we were trying to prove people wrong rather than cater to anybody.
Is that lack of expectation then a little bit exciting for you when coming out with a new record or do you kind of turn it around and put a bit of pressure on yourselves to create something?
Yeah. We definitely put pressure on ourselves to one-up ourselves individually. I don’t know that we necessarily let that carry over into record sales and things of that nature but creatively and artistically we’re constantly like that and working. We want to be bigger and better with our progression and have more belief than the previous record. For us internally between he six of us, we’ve always had a very proactive pushy mentality, but it starts and ends with the six of us.
It’s been fairly publicized that Aaron left the band a while back now leaving you with big shoes to fill, as any band would with such a unique dynamic. Do you feel that you are now a different group altogether, or just a different version of that entity?
I think that with Aaron leaving I don’t think that we’re a completely different band as much as that there is an element in that band that is different. The five members aside from Daniel have been in the band for seven, almost eight years now. I’m going on ten years. The people that have been creating the main driving force behind the band definitely have not changed. I think that people get caught up with all of the member changes that we’ve had, but most of those member changes happened prior to the year 2001. I think the people that constantly try to sit on the idea that “Oh, you’ve constantly had so many different changes” or ‘Oh, Aaron was the last original member of the band!” and all this stuff – he technically was, based on the local band that started in 1998. Basically the record that most people know Underoath by which is “They’re Only Chasing Safety” pretty much encompassed Chris and I and everyone else in the lineup today. Personally and as well as a part of the public, I think that it’s just a member change and not a complete changing of the band’s identity for sure.
Just touching on the topic for one last time, as you said, there are a lot of people saying things like “Aaron was the last original member of the band etc”, but as someone who has followed you guys for quite some time it gets a little bit frustrating to hear these things when guys like Chris have been in the band for 11 years and as you mentioned you have been in the band for ten years which is a lot longer than most bands last. Do you find comments like that frustrating?
It does and it doesn’t. For me, I look at Underoath as a entity and a collective; not as a specific group or person. I guess it’s the same way that you look at like a sports team or something like that. Sometimes players come and go. Sometimes key players come and go. The entity and the unit is always striving for the same goals and the same purposes. I think that is very true with Underoath. We’re definitely not the normal cliché like, four best friends from six years old in middle school and then high school, fast-forward 25 years later and we’re all still jamming together. We’ve definitely had a much more in-depth and complicated ride but I think that the face of Underoath – the band name, the meaning and the idea and the vision has always remained the same regardless of how many changes we’ve had. For us it has always absolutely been that we feel very confident and comfortable saying, “Yeah, we’re still the same band but we have a new drummer”. That’s it.
Did Daniel get to have much input in this album or did Aaron write some of the drum parts before he left?
Absolutely. Daniel wrote all of the drum parts. There was a couple of songs that he came into that we had demoed our prior that kind of helped shape the vision of the drum parts. Aside from two of three of them, Daniel wrote all of the drums himself and was responsible for every single drum hit that you hear being played. He even helped structure some of the songs guitar-wise and structure wise. He definitely contributed more than a normal drummer.
How was the dynamic coming into the band? Was it that he went straight into the studio with you to record or was there some time beforehand?
Yeah, he came down to Florida in April and we went into the studio the last week in May. So, he was down with us for about six or seven weeks before he came into the studio with us. He came down and was like “Hey, this is sweet! You guys are friends so lets just jam and see what happens”. It kind of ended up coming to ahead where we ended up in a situation where he came down and two or three days later, we were all looking at each other and said “Yeah… lets do this!” It was just perfect. We’d been long time friends so we assumed that it could work. The fact that we considered jamming with him in the first place, we unanimously felt like this was going in the correct direction and we were making more progress than we aimed to make. It felt like we were making the right move. We went in thinking “Cool! Let’s try and write this record together”. Less then a few weeks after that we had half the record written and creativity just kept on pouring out. Then we went into the studio, went right onto the tour and now we’re here!
The other notable change in the line-up is that Spencer is now doing all of the vocal work as opposed to having it split with Aaron. I found it a bit surprising on this record that there was actually more singing than I was anticipating! How have you found Spencer taking over the clean vocal duties?
For us it was just the natural progression. Spencer was the singer. He could sing but he was just the screamer. Aaron kind of just wanted to do all of the singing vocals but we all knew that Spencer was capable. Spencer really shined on this one! He took that job upon himself and there were some easy times and there were some hard times. He did the best job that anybody could have done and it came out on the record really well. We kind of went in knowing that he was going to do that and it came out that way if not better.
Was there ever any discussion about bringing in someone else to share the vocal duties with Spencer?
No, there wasn’t anything. None of us could really sing very well and it was a thing where Spencer was the obvious choice and that’s it for sure.
Focusing on the record for a moment, upon the first few listens it comes across as a very intense record that has some great atmospheric moments. It’s quite melodic but it’s also a very heavy record. I don’t want to hash on it too much, but it seems that the new band dynamic helped to create this new ‘moody’ sound.
Yeah! I mean, I think that we knew that we were going to naturally progress towards a new style or a new vain of style that we’ve only touched upon previous. So, in that sense we knew that it was naturally going to happen. In terms of picking which songs were going to be heavy and what was going to be soft or ambient or atmospheric; that definitely wasn’t the case. We kind of let the record write itself and embrace creatively whenever it came and we kind of went from there. That’s just how it came out! Some of the songs are still in the very, very melodic stage and some of the songs are very, very, very aggressive. I think that that kind of dynamic is something that we’re really going to bring out though the new few records. It’s kind of just something that we all embrace; that atmospheric and the jarring/destruction type of feeling. We don’t try and force one more that the other.
Do you think there are any songs on the album that best embody that relationship?
Yeah! I think that “Illuminator” is one of my favorites that does that. I think that “Paper Lung” and “Driftwood” are others that do it as well. “In Completion” too. I think that those are my favorites. I think that “Driftwood and “A Divine Eradication” are my favorites on the record right now but they tend to fluctuate.
How are you finding the fan reaction? It seems like the general vibe so far is that this album is the best of your career and I would have to agree.
It’s been good! We’re on a tour now where we’re not necessarily in our element with people that listen to our band, so for us it’s definitely a thing where we see a lot of kids come up to us at shows. The record is still pretty new, so we really haven’t seen how it’s affecting the people and the mass-public but so far the reaction has been really good and really positive.
How have the new tracks been going down live? Have people been responding to those?
Yea, it’s been great. We’ve been playing a couple in “Divine Eradication” and “Illuminator” and “In Division”. They’ve all had relatively good reactions so far.
Are there any talks happening about when you might be able to get back down here to tour for the album?
No. We don’t have plans specifically but we all have plans in terms of the next time that we have the opportunity to go down there, we definitely want to go down there. Hopefully 2011 is the plan. Worst case when that happens, we’ll kind of branch down and get there in 2012.
What are you hoping that your fans in particular can take away from this record? Was there a specific message attached? Obviously you guys have got your beliefs and your themes that you like to deal with from record to record but what’s special about this one?
I just hope that people connect with the songs and the ideas. I think that people will hopefully be inspired to listen to less generic music and hopefully get pushed in a more artistic and abstract direction. I hope that they just like it!
Underoath released their latest album ‘Disambiguation’ via Roadrunner Records on November 5th, 2010