By Jason Hall
Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie of Underoath recently spent some time in Palm Springs. We were fortunate enough to catch up with them in their suite at Hard Rock Hotel and witness an exclusive acoustic performance. They also were nice enough to open up to us about some topics they’ve never discussed, including the bad times in the studio for Chasing Safety and their substance abuse. Underoath is one of the biggest bands in the country right now. They are often credited with bringing the metalcore genre to the forefront. They formed in Tampa in 1997, but really gained traction around 2003.
Chamberlain’s introduction to music was a surprise for being in what started as a Christian band. “Good music was forced on me by my dad; Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. Then I started getting into my own music like Guns and Roses, and Nirvana. It was a surprise to me to see somebody sing and play guitar. I thought it was so fucking cool. Nirvana changed it all for me. I was lucky enough to have an older brother who liked Nirvana, so I listened to them early on. His death changed my life.”
Gillespie’s introduction to music was equally surprising. “I grew up in a really strict fundamental Christian household. My dad would secretly get drunk every Friday. He would drink cheap beer and listen to his pretty eclectic vinyl collection. The first thing I ever heard was Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds through my dad’s headphones. My uncle by marriage who had divorced my dad’s sister was still in our life for some strange reason. Fucking weird, I’d go to my ex-uncle’s house. He was way into Pearl Jam and Nirvana. My first real memory of Nirvana was Kurt Loder coming on MTV News at my ex-uncle’s house and announced Kurt Cobain had been found dead. We all just sat on the couch for like 10 hours watching MTV News. We weren’t allowed to watch MTV or listen to new music at my house. After that I was obsessed with Nirvana.”
Underoath formed early in Gillespie’s life. “When Underoath started, we were just kids. It was a local band. We played at a homeless shelter in downtown St. Petersburg called The Refuge. Every local band played there and some touring bands too. MXPX came through. Cannibal Corpse, Mortal Enemy. I got thrown in the deep end. I was only 15 years old. It wasn’t really a real band until 2003, but we were on a local indie label.”
Chamberlain was known as the screamer in the band. On the newest record, he changed it up and did most of the singing which was Gillespie’s job usually. Gillespie says, “I think Spencer is a better singer than screamer.” Chamberlain chimes in, “I grew up singing in bands and playing guitar. Every band I’ve ever joined, I get promoted to front man. When I got into heavier metal, I started screaming. I didn’t know at first how to really balance the two. Going back and forth takes years and years of practice. Every year that goes by, I become a better vocalist. Every day, I warm up my vocals. I’ve had the same vocal warmup since 2005.”
Their first big record, Chasing Safety, really challenged Chamberlain and Gillespie vocally. Gillespie reminisces, “The producer, who we’ll leave unnamed, but you can look it up, beat the shit out of Spencer and I. He kept telling us we were terrible and we couldn’t sing on key. I got blisters in my throat. We never lose our voices! Not a lot of people know this about Chasing Safety. Spencer lost his voice too. Neither of us had our voices and we had to leave on tour for a bit, then come back to finish the album.”
Chamberlain goes on to say, “We were kids, and this old dude ripped us apart. It was so brutal” When asked to reflect back on the experience to see if there was any benefit to the producers actions, Chamberlain says, “He did us such a disservice. Aaron and I work really well together. We work way better with somebody who lets us do that.”
Gillespie says the experience “left us super self-conscious about our voice. We’ve never talked about this. For years we had weird rules. We would sleep certain hours… It wasn’t until our 30’s that we finally said ‘Fuck it! Let’s get hammered. It’ll be fine,’ and it was fine, but it took that long. He did not do us a service. He fucked us up!” Sonically, the record wasn’t what they wanted.
In 2010, Gillespie departed the band. “We’re great friends now. We had to burn the whole fucking thing down to make it work. We’ve always been a band of people who had different ideas. In the beginning of a band, that doesn’t work. When we started, we were all teenagers and had similar ideas. As we grew up, we became more independent. You start getting your own ideas of what’s right and wrong. Unfortunately, that causes friction. On a tour in Europe I finally felt I couldn’t do this anymore. I’ve never said this, but I have extreme anxiety and I take medication for that and my blood pressure. On this particular tour, I wasn’t taking any of my blood pressure medication. I was taking a Xanax bar a day and drinking on top of it. I was so fucked up. The only friend I had in the band was Spencer, and he was fucked up too. Spencer was doing like an 8 ball of cocaine a day. My only help in the band was more fucked up than me. I would try to erase the day every day. I couldn’t take it anymore,” confided Gillespie.
Chamberlain goes on to talk about this time and leads us into the breakup. “From 2005 on, there was a separation. Aaron and I were the outsiders. It was like the frat brothers vs. the 2 weird kids. It was like high school on the bus. They found out I got into drugs. They were super religious, and I wasn’t. That was a major problem. We never talked about it. I was kicked out of the band in 2006.”
Gillespie was hurt. “I talked to our manager and told him if Spencer is out, the band was over. The other band members didn’t like that we weren’t like them anymore. It was like walking on eggshells for a while. Spencer found his escape in a bag of cocaine. Spencer returned about a month later. After that, we were really separated until the break up in 2013. I only held on until 2010, and Spencer held on until 2013. In 2015, we started talking again in a series of texts.”
Chamberlain admits fault. “It’s not like we thought, ‘oh, it’s their fault.’ It took Aaron, me, and Tim to do this. Tim was the catalyst of the other side of the coin. I love Tim. Even if he hates you at the time, he loves you and will take a bullet for you. All of us admitted fault. We grew up and realized we need to communicate. That’s why we’re still a band. We went through horrible shit, and learned to communicate. If you don’t communicate, that’s how people die. You need to communicate your problems and addictions. We need to finally speak openly about this so we let kids know that they need to communicate before they OD or commit suicide. Life is hard to navigate. They don’t teach you how to prepare for following your dreams. They teach you, get a job, start a family, and take out a loan. They set you up for that. When somebody decides to chase their dreams, they’re fucked. I want that to be a thing of the past.”
With a Facebook following of over 1.3 million fans, it’s easy to see why it was such an honor to be able to visit with Aaron and Spencer in their suite. They opened up to us about things they’ve never shared. Having both Aaron and Spencer in the same room to interview together is extremely rare and may never have been done. The energy these two guys bounce off each other is intense. They did not touch on any plans on an upcoming album, but Aaron is currently on a solo tour and Underoath will be playing some dates in the spring in the US and touring Europe in the summer.
The Hard Rock brought them out to Palm Springs to take advantage of a program The Hard Rock hotel offers to all its guests. Sound Of Your Stay at Hard Rock Hotel invites you as a guest to check out a guitar from their guitar menu and record if you are so inspired. If you’re a musician, it’s tough not to be inspired while staying there. There will be exclusive acoustic performances available to view on both Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs and Underoath’s social media account. Be sure to follow them!