Interview by Holly Aker.
If hardcore had royalty, Underoath would be king. The band, which has been around for over a decade, has been nominated for two Grammys, put out seven full-length albums and been an influence for every hardcore band that’s out there.
Although Underoath looks and sounds almost nothing like nothing it did when the band started in 1997, the Florida sextet is at the top of their game. Underoath released their seventh album, Disambiguation, last November, and it is the band’s darkest yet most powerful album yet. Currently the band is playing sold out show after sold out show across North America with support from Thursday, Animals As Leaders and A Skylit Drive.
Before the band’s show at Emo’s, we sat down with Underoath guitarist, James Smith, to find out how he feels about reviews, why Underoath decided on Matt Goldman (Norma Jean, As Cities Burn, The Chariot) and Jeremy Griffith (Norma Jean, Saosin) to produce Disambiguation, and what it’s like being in a Christian metal band today.
How did this tour with Thursday come together? It’s an interesting contrast of emo and metalcore.
James Smith: We’ve been friends with them for a few years now and always wanted to do a full on American tour together with them, and the opportunity just presented itself. Timing all worked out, and away we go.
Let’s talk about the new record and some of the behind the scenes stuff. Why did you guys decide go with Matt Goldman, who you’ve worked with before, and Jeremy Griffith to produce Disambiguation?
Smith: With Matt, he’s always kind of felt like the unofficial seventh member as far as the creative and recording process goes I think. We just have a lot of respect for him, always value his opinions and takes on things. He’s real easy to work with, so he was kind of a no-brainer. And his studio’s also in Atlanta, which isn’t too far home. Makes things kind of easy, and it keeps the temperature warm too, which is nice. Then Jeremy we had known from touring over the years. He used to play in a band called Moments In Grace, and just the opportunity was there for him to team up and be apart of it. And yeah, it all just kind of worked out.
How did you settle on the title Disambiguation for the new record?
Smith: We had tossed around the idea of a self-titled record, and then upon looking up that symbol, the Underoath symbol, we found some different definitions, one of them being disambiguation. We thought, “Yeah that’s kind of cool.” It was kind of representative of the time too for the band. It was a pretty easy, universal pick. There wasn’t much fight to it once a couple of dudes came out with it.
Was the writing process for Disambiguation different than the writing process for previous albums? How?
Smith: Yeah, definitely. Daniel [Davison] was apart of this record. Aaron had left the band. We were without drummer and just kind of asked Daniel to come down and jam and see if it’d even be cool if he played with us. From that moment it kind of just started clicking, and we just started rolling into new songs, and within a month and a half we had a record and were ready to record and just jumped into the studio. It seemed kind of fast, but it never really felt too rushed, which was cool.
What would you call the overall theme of Disambiguation, or is there any underlying theme to the album?
Smith: Maybe lyrically, but I wouldn’t know. There’s no common, talked about theme. We’ve always kind of left that open up to the listener and however they perceive or view it, and what they take from it is cool with us. We don’t like to tell you what you’re supposed to think. We like you to figure it out and think what you want to think.
How do you feel about Disambiguation compared to all the other albums you guys have put out?
Smith: I love it. I think it’s the most accurate representation of the time of the band. We were able to do some heavier things and more experimental things, and we’re kind of all over the place. We felt we had a freedom to completely roam creatively with trying any and everything. So that was very fulfilling. Then just the musicianship in general I felt improved greatly, and it’s always fun to be playing something that kind of challenges you at times too.
Tell me a little about the album artwork for Disambiguation. Who is the artist?
Smith: Jordan Butcher, he works for the Tooth & Nail art department, or did at the time, and it was all his concept, based on some ideas of water themes and just kind of letting it be open ended and dark and after him hearing the record as well, getting kind of a feel for art and also reading the lyrics. He kind of came up with the whole thing, and we all liked it.
What’s your favorite song off Disambiguation?
Smith: “A Divine Eradication.” It’s just brutal and really fun to play. I don’t think the sound of that song is anything Underoath has done before. I think it’s all fresh and new, but still really cool. I’m stoked on that song. It’s fun to play.
Seeing as Underoath is such an established band, how much of an impact do reviews have on you? Do you read reviews?
Smith: Personally, I don’t really care to be quite honest. I always hope that people like it, but if someone just totally knocks us, it’s just whatever. I have no reason to be disappointed or upset by anything we’ve done, so as long as I’m happy, no one I don’t think could bring me down.
After this tour, you have about a month and a half off before you start a European tour. What will you be doing with that time?
Smith: I’ll be at home with my wife and my daughter and my dog, and just taking it easy. Staying in one place.
Is being an openly Christian band in the metal world still a big deal one way or the other for people? Or for you guys?
Smith: Yeah, for some of us, it’s still very much an important part of our lives, and some of the other dudes are kind of in weird spots, not that they discredit anything or anything like that, just in different places. For me personally, yeah, it’s still a pretty important part of my life.
What about compared to other metal bands?
Smith: Like weird between us? I don’t think so. Personally I don’t view it as a contradiction at all. If metal was only supposed to be socially or politically a certain idea, I wouldn’t be able to figure that out. I think it’s just a musical style, personally.
What are your plans for 2011 after Europe?
Smith: I think we go to Australia fairly quickly after we get home from Europe and hit Japan and maybe some other Pacific Rim areas. Then hopefully doing a tour here in the states again later in the summer. That’s about all we kind of foresee. Nothing really confirmed, just kind of what’s being talked about.