“Being Happy Takes F*cking Hard Work!” Beartooth Interviewed

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From the ferocious metalcore of old, it’s safe to say that Beartooth’s journey has come a long way. The Ohio five-piece, fronted by the inimitable Caleb Shomo played their largest headline show to date this year, conquering London’s Wembley Arena. Other than hinting at new material through ‘Riptide’, it was a celebration of the band’s discography to date: four albums of deeply emotional, hard-hitting metalcore and rock that carves a lens into the struggles and hardships of Shomo’s life experiences.

Anthemic from the off, as the pyro blazes through Wembley, you can’t help but feel songs like ‘Disease’ and ‘In Between’ were born to be in an arena. Mixing chunky riffage with glorious cleans has defined the quintessential Beartooth sound, still staying true to their hardcore-leaning roots. Therefore, it’s safe to say that their forthcoming fifth album ‘The Surface’ is set to be a curveball, reimagining Beartooth’s manifestation through an empowering dose of unfiltered melody and even balladry at times.

A far cry from the sound they once pioneered, Shomo admits it’s the “scariest” album he’s ever released, speaking to Clash as he stops by in London for a few days. We’re situated in the Red Bull Records offices on a baking hot afternoon amidst the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden, as Shomo tells us about what’s planned for his “pit stop” in London – a pun he didn’t even intend to slip in. 

Collaborating for the first time with HARDY on ‘The Better Me’ and breaking up the godspeed of the ‘Sunshine’ verse with an acoustic chorus, the results are stunning as Beartooth venture into this new territory. Shomo spoke to Clash about the emotions and mindset that drove the record, and the healthy place the band finds itself in.

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How was the European festival run you’ve just finished?

It always throws curveballs. It’s very interesting, ‘cause there’s so many different types and scales [of festivals]. Every layout, what you’re eating that day – there are so many variables. We’ve just played Pukkelpop, we played a couple more pop and indie festivals. They were some of the most fun shows, which was interesting ‘cause you’d think to most people, we’re just a metal band. By the end of the set, they’re loving it…trying to have a good energy translates. That’s what I’ve noticed.

The last time you were in London was the Wembley Arena show… are you coming back for a tour soon?

My wife’s from Hackney, we’re in the neighbourhood a decent bit. I’ve been coming here pretty regularly for probably 12 years now. To be fair, most of the time you end up in Camden ‘cause that’s where all the venues are.

We had a meeting in my dressing room at Wembley! With our booking agent, manager – the whole team was there. You gotta book those places so far out in advance. That’s one thing about the music business that I think is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes you are so focused on what’s next that you forget about what’s happening now. We’re sitting at Wembley Arena, about to play the biggest headline show of our lives, and we’re having a meeting about however long down the road! That’s the nature of the beast.

Do you find it challenging to live in the moment – in Beartooth and away from the band?

To be completely candid with you, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve been trying to figure out how to handle these days. The catch 22 is that Beartooth is – kind of – my life. The subject matter is exactly what I’m going through, it’s me talking about me emotionally. It is the majority of my time, what my career is, it is my project – synonymous with my name and my person. That’s where I’ve been figuring out how to weigh things out. Accept[ing] that, but also be okay with living my own life sometime.

Do the rest of the band share the same sentiment?

The band right now is the best it’s ever been. Home is becoming this whole new animal for all of us. We’re not just kids where nothing fucking matters and we just go out and tear it up. To be able to go through [growing up] together was crucial.

The unspoken way we all process the music has grown into a ferocious animal, and it’s really cool. But the one thing we share is our hunger to be the best version of ourselves possible. We’re not aligned on just trying to headline the biggest stadium – that’s how you lose it all. When you’re so focused on the future and an achievement bringing you happiness, you miss the ride. During the ride, we are going to be the best we can possibly be. That is our version of living in the present.

‘The Surface’ is finally out now, yet we heard the first single ‘Riptide’ well over a year ago…

Beartooth flows very hand in hand with my own personal life. I didn’t really realise when I was writing [‘Riptide’] – the words were just falling out – but that was me manifesting what this record is. I thought it was incredibly important to be the first song to come out. It needed to live its own life, because if we just dropped [‘The Surface’] without the context, it wouldn’t make any sense.

This record is a story from December 2021 to early April 2023. From the first song to the last, it was literally down to the wire. It was very important to give people a warning and let it marinate – hey, this is going to be different. This isn’t the record you’re expecting to hear.

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Did it take time to get comfortable with releasing such a different record?

It was having the confidence to do it. This is the scariest record, for me, that I might ever put out in my entire life. There are four records and an EP with very similar general themes: severe depression, anxiety and trying to understand what the fuck is going on, how to express it at all. Beartooth is my safe space to express what I’m feeling, with no filter at all and I’ll always keep it that way. But this new record – it’s a completely different story.

This is a story about work and discipline. It took so much time for me to figure out that it takes all these little steps to get to where I am now, and it’s the same with the record. I went on this crazy journey of manic highs to complete dead space, dealing with some really difficult situations in my life, to then just manifesting who I’m going to fucking be. That’s wild, that’s really the flow of it. That doesn’t happen in a month in the studio. That’s how much of a time capsule it was.

How did you go about translating this into the sound of the record? 

With all the other Beartooth records I’d do music first, lyrics second, three or four back and forths and call it a day. With this one, the music was secondary. The subject matter is so new that to me, the discovery of what that’s gonna sound like, musically, is wild. To me, it is very much a classic Beartooth record at the core. Obviously there’s a lot of twists and turns that are very important to the record. I wouldn’t be doing justice to the emotion of a song if I didn’t push it.

What makes ‘The Surface’ so separate from your previous four albums?

It absolutely is [removed from it]. But that’s life, it’s part of growing and I think it was very important to put a very distinct line in the sand. Don’t fall back into old ways and habits, ‘cause you’ve done that a million times and it leads right back to a miserable Beartooth record that you’re gonna have to sing for two years.

Being happy takes hard fucking work. In the past, to be happy was a moment, an emotion, something I would curate through my achievements or whatever it may be. Now, being happy is like waking up and feeling a little more consistent mentally than I was the day before. What defines me is the work I put in to be able to control that, learning how to make peace with it. That to me is self-love, loving every part of you, the good and the bad…at the end of the day I’m proud to be me. That’s what I hope people take from this record,I want it to be empowering. I’m okay with myself, all the different parts of me.

You close the record with ‘I Was Alive’ – is that somewhat of a mission statement for the record?

That’s interesting, ‘cause I usually leave people with something that’s really fucking sad. It’s cool that ‘I Was Alive’ ended up being the closer, there’s a long story to tell and there’s a lot of different parts. But really, at the end of the day, life’s fucking short – and what are you gonna do about it? I’ve lived many years just letting it fly by, hitting fast forward and not caring about what it did to my mental and physical health. It’s wild what happens when you get back in the driving seat.

No one else controls us. They can guide us, but we sleep in the bed we made. And there’s one bed we’re gonna be sleeping in for a real long time and I wanna be really content with that. That’s one of the things for me that’s so beautiful about happiness; happiness is very specific to the person. It’s taking the risk to say you’re going to do it and manifest it.

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‘The Surface’ is out now.

Words: Rishi Shah
Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine