INTERVIEW – Beartooth

"This record is really about the riffs, the guitar riffs are number one…"

INTERVIEW – Beartooth

By Adam Rosario

Jun 30, 2021 12:48

Hailing from Ohio, Beartooth have become a force in the scene, with their crushing riffs, skyscraper sized choruses, and intense live shows taking them all across the world. They’ve played many festivals and now have their eyes set on taking the next step up to the arena circuit with the release of the career defining record ‘Below’. Unsurprisingly, Punktastic found front man Caleb Shomo in a positive mood. "Our album comes out in like 3 days or whatever which is pretty insane, it’s outrageously exciting. I’ve been working on some stuff, some acoustic versions, and getting everything ready for the drop, then the tour is coming up. Life is very exciting for me, a lot more exciting than it has been for the last 18 months."

The world is still, of course, in the grips of a global pandemic, which has put the brakes on the music industry in particular – but with the light at the end of the tunnel in view, the industry will start to roll back into motion in the coming weeks and months. COVID-19 has affected everyone and Shomo is no different. “It sucked a lot. For me, it was very difficult to try and be creative while working on the new album and try to be inspired and make a good record. At the end of the day, I tried to make the most of it, as much as I could. In a weird way, I think as bad as it was, some really good things came out of it personally for me, mentally and steps I’ve taken in my own life to get healthier both physically and mentally… But overall it absolutely sucked!”

Shomo is known to be a creative force, working on Beartooth every waking hour of the day. ‘Below’ saw him write every word and note, record every vocal and riff, and mix and master the record. As impressive as that is, however, this isn’t a new thing, as Shomo explains; “I’ve done that on every album so far, I didn’t mix ‘Aggressive’ but we did a reissue that I did mix. Everything else aside from that original ‘Aggressive’ release I’ve written, recorded, mixed and what not. During the writing of all of the records except this one, there’s been at least one co-written song, with some of my friends who are writers. I worked with Nick Raskulinecz (KoRn, Foo Fighters producer) on ‘Disease’, he was another set of ears and worked with me for a few weeks. This is the most I’ve done it myself, no co-writers, no other producers, this is the first time I’ve mastered a record. It was a wild experience, half out of necessity, half out of wanting to push myself. I’m really happy with the record and glad I took the chance”.

Production is something that is quite close to Shomo’s heart and something he wished that he could do more. “I started working for local bands when I was like 15 and I’ve been working on production a lot since then. Unfortunately, with Beartooth being so busy, I never have time to work on other bands’ records which I really miss. Producing is one of my favourite things to do.”

‘Below’ is a record full of rage, focusing its attack on mental illness, with Shomo refusing to suffer in silence, making this is one of the most brutally honest records of the year. While Shomo did everything sonically on the record, it transpires that he did have help with the artwork. “I am not a visually talented person, I can barely write my name legibly! There’s a company that we’ve worked with since ‘Disease’, they’re called TensionDivision. They’re amazing, and basically the way that works is, we have a conversation about what the record is about, and we go really in-depth. They take that and then turn that into what they think should visually represent it. They came up with the character and the motorcycle and all that. They’re great.”

While speaking about the artwork, conversation turned to the band’s previous work, with ‘Aggressive’ and ‘Disease’ also having a mono-colour theme with black. “There’s not so much a theme, but it’s a colour to represent the record, and the emotion behind it. ‘Aggressive’ was a wild album, I was in a really dark place when I was making that record and it was a tough, gruelling process so straight up black and white felt like the way to go. ‘Disease’, I don’t know, the process being very old school, working in a bunch of old studios and doing it the classic rock and roll recording way. For some reason, orange just fit that vibe. This record being very influenced by doom metal, stoner metal and thrash, it made it feel like it had to be the purple record. We wanted to pay homage to the bands who led the way and purple felt like the way”.

‘Below’ features riffs that Metallica would love to be able to write today, some of these songs should be considered as modern metal classics in the future. From ‘Fed Up’ to ‘Hell Of It’ this is the heaviest that Beartooth have sounded, but the closing song on the record, ‘The Last Riff’, is a near five minute instrumental song that doubles as one of the most emotional on the record. “That’s my favourite song on the record, it’s just an instrumental! Personally, it’s the most emotional track on the album, cause I know what was going through my head when I was arranging it, building it and putting it together.”

Before the drop of ‘Below’ Beartooth released four singles, a quarter of the new record. Each gave a different sense of the record to come with ‘Devastation’, pulling out the riffs and being an all out assault on the senses throughout, while ‘The Past Is Dead’ brought one of the biggest choruses of the year to the world. This is all part of the strategy though.

“I think we tried to be somewhat strategic in kind of preparing people for what was coming with the album in the way we release the songs. Obviously ‘The Past is Dead’ was kind of like the big, more radio friendly, more commercial song. Everything else is way more metal driven. So putting out ‘Devastation’ first was very intentional being like, in my mind, it made sense to all the facets of what this record is. It kind of covers the heavy riffs, it’s got the big driving metal parts, it’s got the chorus, and then we came out with ‘The Past is Dead’. And it’s like, here’s more of a sing-along. And then we put out ‘Hell of It’, which was a reminder that this is going to be a metal record, don’t expect it to just be a bunch of pop singles. And then ‘Fed Up’ honestly, we just put out set up because we played it live at that Drive In show. I don’t know, I just felt like putting out an actual version that you could hear instead of this phone or YouTube audio.”

As the music world starts to open up more and more as the pandemic declines, conversation turns to the upcoming tours that Beartooth will be embarking on. In February 2022, Beartooth will hit the UK for three shows with Stray From The Path and Motionless In White as their opening bands, a tour that will bring together three of the premiere live acts in the world today. Shomo was more than happy to gush with excitement about it. “We’ve honestly been planning on doing this tour for years. It was planned a long time ago and we hadn’t planned for it to be in February, it was meant to be a lot earlier. With everything that happened, we decided to put it to February, just to be positive that we can actually do it. It’s full capacity and we’re bringing out a really big stage show. We just have to make sure that everything is safe before we could do it. We did a co-headliner with Motionless In White in America and became really good friends and just loved touring with them. We asked them about this tour and they were down. Stray From The Path, again, great friends who we have toured with so many times over the years and we love them to death. Honestly, it came together quite easily.”

In many instances, having three bands who are known for their live shows makes the rest of the bill play better, and this upcoming tour has potential to see all three bands being band of the night at any given moment. “I think that we always want to put on the best show, like as a complete show as physically possible. It’s incredibly important for us as a band. It keeps us on our toes, fresh and it keeps every band wanting to play better and play harder. We want to make sure the show is perfect for all the people that are paying money to go to this thing. We understand and really appreciate how much it takes for somebody to buy a ticket, to take time out of their day, evening, week whatever it is that they got to do to get to the show. We want every band to be ripping and putting on a killer set. We’re very intentional about the bands that we pick to tour with, we always want to make sure it is just a face melter of a show. Every band should have a really cool look on the stage, every band should have great sound and that makes it a great show all round. We want to be sure that everybody’s getting their money’s worth.”

The show at Brixton, which closes the UK tour, will be the biggest headline show Beartooth have ever played here. It’s a venue that more than doubles their previous headliner at the Roundhouse and is a venue that Shomo has never played nor even set foot in. For most American bands, Brixton Academy is seen as a real milestone venue for their careers and for Beartooth this is no different. “The real milestones for a band like us in the UK are Brixton, Alexandra Palace and Wembley, that’s as good as it gets right there. The fact we’re able to do Brixton is very intimidating but it’s really exciting. We don’t back down from the challenge and to us, it means that we have more of a possibility of bringing a cooler stage set. We’re gonna bring everything we’ve got for it.”

‘Below’ is set up to take Beartooth to completely new heights as a band and their dreams of Ally Pally and Wembley may not be too far away. Caleb Shomo is a spokesman for a new generation, unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, unafraid to scream his lungs out about his own issues every night on stage, all while writing some of the best songs in the scene today. When talk turns to where ‘Below’ could take them, Shomo calculates his answer… “I don’t even know, I’m not much of a person that has goals in mind. Not in a way that I don’t want to keep pushing and getting better. It’s already nuts that we get to do what we’re doing, the rooms we’re playing already are unbelievable. They’re already past a dream come true. My original goal when we started to get a little bigger and I told this to our booking agent, was to be able to afford to have fire at every show and we’re pretty close to that now. After that, headlining arenas, which we’re doing a couple of in Germany. Brixton is a borderline arena sized venue which is really cool. As long as we continue to grow as a band and be able to play better and bigger shows, and give people their money’s worth. That’s all my goal is, to just continue to get better.”

As the conversation comes to a close, everything that has been written about Caleb Shomo being a gentleman has proven itself to be true. He’s a humble man who is clearly living his dream and striving to improve upon himself everyday, who sees himself as simply having been blessed with a high level of talent that allows him to deal with his own demons and help others in the process. Beartooth’s songs are the soundtrack for a new generation, for people who are unafraid to really show their emotions. ‘Below’ features some of the band’s most personal material which is sure to make them even more beloved by their fanbase, as well as reaching new fans. When asked whether Britain would be seeing fire in February, Shomo laughs and replies, “I would almost say 125% yes. At this point there would have to be a crazy issue if there was no fire”. Beartooth are ready to unleash a whole new era on the world. Brixton looks to be just the next glass ceiling they’ll smash through in their career.