In a recent article, AP writer Matt Crane said it best when he summed up Underoath's absence from the scene with this: "Their final album, Ø (Disambiguation), an experimental masterpiece, would prove to be too inaccessible for most. The band broke up shortly after. Somehow, nothing seems right without them."
Underoath transcended genres from album to album, captivating not only ears, but hearts, as well. When their last note rang out into the night in St. Petersburg, Florida, on January 26, 2013, an undeniable void formed within heavy music—a vacant area that will potentially never be filled. Despite their unwavering humbleness and self-effacing attitudes, Underoath were truly a one-of-a-kind band that made an unparalleled impact on our scene. They’re an influence that won't soon be forgotten.
Thanks to a recent crowdfunding campaign, the band will finally be releasing their farewell DVD, Tired Violence, on May 1, after a two-year wait. Lead guitarist Tim McTague spent a lengthy amount of time talking with Tyler Sharp about the events leading up to the band’s breakup, the nightmare of completing Tired Violence and the future of Underoath’s legacy. By the end of this interview, it’s quite clear to see that even after more than two years of being away from the band, McTague still burns with the same undying passion that was evident every time he picked up a guitar in Underoath.
Before you dive into our chat with Tim, watch an exclusive clip from Underoath’s ‘Tired Violence.’ The band are doing a screening of the film and Q&A in Tampa on April 30. Details here.
Take us back to the summer of 2012. Where was the mindset of the band at? Where were you personally?
For me, 2012 was a weird year. We just got burned out, really. We were touring too much–seven, eight, nine months a year, hitting cities all the time. We were playing every festival we got an offer on to generate enough income for seven to 12 people having to live on the road all year and have lives at home. It just got to the point where we felt really weird. We weren’t super-excited, y’know? It just kinda came down to doing a slow year. Like, what does Underoath look like at a slow year? Without an album, without going through all the rigmarole, without playing Warped Tour and grueling things like that all the time. We tried to do a lot of festivals or larger one-offs that financially make a little bit more sense, and while we all knew they weren’t going to generate a lot of money through the year, we could sustain some sort of moderate schedule and income in between larger years. It just came to the point where certain dudes didn’t like that idea, and I think we all saw ourselves dwindling; our passion was fading in different ways. Underoath has meant so much to us and so many people over 12-plus years, and now we’re just gonna tear it down to this half-ass, tour-when-we-want-to sort of idea and just maintain? And we were like, “No, we shouldn’t do that at all. We either do it or we don’t.” At that time, Chris [Dudley, keyboardist] had kids, I had kids, James [Smith, rhythm guitar] had kids and he had actually left the band. He just couldn’t do the schedule anymore. So we were having fill-ins; we had Tom [Keeley] from Thursday and a couple different people who were actively looking for options, but it just got to the point where it was weird. Like, that isn’t what Underoath is. If we can’t do Underoath right, then let’s not do it, y’know? I personally liked the idea of writing a record every two years, supporting that record with one tour and getting everything right, but it became very evident that other dudes [in the band] just couldn’t do that. We tried all of these ideas, and none of them ever ended up fitting. I remember me, Spencer [Chamberlain, vocalist] and Grant [Brandell, bassist] were grabbing a beer at a bar inside of an airport and I was just like, “Dude, I’m so over this. I can’t do this anymore.”
When Underoath started, you all stood behind a likeminded belief system. By the end, however, Christianity didn’t seem to be the centerfold anymore. What changed?
For us, it was always music first. Our biggest goal was to just be the nicest people we can, leave a mark and just make sure the music is as good as humanly possible. The biggest problem with “Christian music”—if that even exists—is that it’s all about the message; it’s all about how many times I can say Jesus because I have your attention for three minutes, and no one cares about how good the art is. For me, that’s a slap in the face to a Creator—if you think there is one—to be creating things in His name and the creation sucks. For [Underoath], the most Christian thing we could do in music, aside from being vocal about what we believe, was to be the best band we could be. Not turn heads because we were the weird Christian kids, but try to turn heads because we were doing something that wasn’t being done. I don’t think we were the best band to ever be in hardcore, I don’t think we were the weirdest or the coolest or most avant-garde band, but I think that was always part of our goal. When Aaron [Gillespie, drums] was in the band, it was always marketable enough to where more people could get into it, but then on the other side you had me, Spencer and Chris who were kinda pushing the musical envelope.
The farewell tour, which focused around the eastern part of the country, wasn’t nearly as long as long as some had hoped. Why do those dates instead of elsewhere?
We literally had 10 business days off. I think Chris cashed in his two-week vacation for it. It just became pretty evident that we weren’t going to be a full-time band months before we actually announced the tour, so we all started moving on to other things. By the time we ended up getting around to the tour, Chris already had a really good job. He was like, “I can’t leave my long-term job for a short-term gain of doing a big tour.” We all wanted to; we couldn’t just break up. We had to do everything we could, but what we could [do] might not be what everyone wants—and that comes out in the film. You hear Spencer kinda upset at us: “Why are we only doing 12 shows? We should be doing a full tour. We should give everyone the opportunity to see us, if they want to, because they’re the only reason we’ve been able to make it 12 years.” And I totally agree, but it just wasn’t the situation we were in. When you only have two weeks, you can’t take three days off just to drive and play a badass L.A. show. So, we took two days off total [during the tour], and played shows every other night. We didn’t break up because we hated each other or because we hated playing music. We broke up because we literally didn’t have the capacity and the schedule to do stuff.
Whose idea was it to film the farewell tour?
We actually started an Underoath DVD in 2009, which was our first stab at making a tour film, and it failed miserably. We couldn’t get a good edit from the editor, [we] were fighting over how [we] were portrayed, the label hated how they were portrayed and it became more of a Real World scenario rather than a cohesive documentary that made sense to put out. It ended up getting shelved after like six months of work. The label was like, “We’re pulling the plug. It’s done.” Tired Violence initially started with the idea that I had of buying 15 or 20 GoPros, setting them up in different places every night and releasing weird live clips. We got to the documentary [concept] at some point, but selling it or having a vision for a marketing plan wasn’t the initial plan—we just knew we were going to film something.
The company you were working with to produce/release the film dropped it on you in a fragile, uncompleted state and you were forced to resort to a crowdfunding campaign in order to finish it. What exactly happened with that situation?
There was a budget for the film with a certain amount of money set aside and things just started stopping. We didn’t get updates, progress reports, or efficient communication. Finally I reached out to the director who was like, “Yeah, I don’t really know where we are at. I thought you guys were dragging your feet.” Then I ended up talking with the dudes [in Underoath]: “Guys, we gotta get this out.” It was supposed to be a five-to-six week project following the farewell tour and then be out for South By Southwest in 2013. The original idea was to have it finished and out by March 1. Then, all of a sudden, it was June, July, August and I’m just wondering, “What the heck is going on?” So, I called one of the head guys on the project, saying, “At this point, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re not doing what we need you to do. So, I need you to tell me exactly how much money you've spent, where you’ve spent it and for you to be okay with the fact that [the band] are going to start project managing.” Like, we didn’t have any art yet, we didn’t have any packaging yet, we didn’t have anything yet. We were just gonna bring in our friends to get it done and have [the film company] pay them. So, I told him, “Don’t spend anymore money; whatever’s left from the budget, we’re going to spend on what we need to get it done.” He reported what he spent, which was about 20 percent [of the budget]. Then I said, “Okay, so we have X amount left.” And he was like, “Well, sort of. We kinda’ don’t have that money.” I mean, they were never devious or anything, they were just a young film company that had an influx of cash and instead of allotting the budget that they had for our film, they spread it out to start a couple other projects. So I just asked, “If I said I wanna spend $500 on X or Y tomorrow, you don’t have that money?” And they responded, “No. We don’t.” At that point, the project was basically in foreclosure. To put things in perspective, Steven, the director and editor, has only been paid 35 percent of what he should’ve been paid.
How different is the film now than what you originally had in mind?
The idea was that we wanted to make a movie about six dudes changing the path of their lives, not [a movie about] Tim from Underoath and if you don’t know Underoath, then you won’t understand it. We never really deviated from that. Tired Violence is a documentary about a band and you don’t need to know us, you don’t need to know our music, you don’t need to own our records and you don’t need to be a fan [of us] to be a fan of the film. We just wanted it to be agnostically compelling and fun to watch, whether you care about our band, or you’re a Christian or you’re not, or you like metal or you don’t—none of those factors that, in so many people’s eyes, define what Underoath is, apply to the film. You could watch it with your girlfriend and if she likes Dave Matthews [Band], she will probably think, “Oh, that was pretty fun.” Y’know?
Your band Carrollhood, which also features Nate Young of Anberlin and Reed Murray of Say Anything, provided the soundtrack for Tired Violence. Did all three of you have a hand in the writing process?
Yeah, we all submitted a bunch of different songs individually, and then we edited each of them together. Reed probably did 60 or 70 percent of the music, then me and Nate edited some of his tracks, as well as contributed a few of our own. One of the things we realized is [Underoath] were on Tooth & Nail, and then Universal bought Tooth & Nail, so Universal Records owns all of Underoath’s music. We wanted to do the film completely independent, because any time a label—especially a major label—gets in the middle of something, it just turns to crap. We wanted to do it all by ourselves, without anyone telling us what to do or pushing us in one direction or another. So, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t have any Underoath music in it, ‘cause legally we could release a movie with our name on it whenever we want, but the second we put [Underoath] songs in it, it becomes property of the label. So me, Reed and Nate scored it ourselves. And I really like that aspect of the film, because even if you’ve never even heard Underoath’s music, you still don’t know what we sound like. It’s not about the band in that sense; it’s about a band called Underoath that’s made up of these six people who you’re gonna get to know over the next hour.
Is the film a way to ultimately put the Underoath name to rest?
[Long pause.] Man, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think Underoath will ever go to rest. Underoath was a lifestyle for us; it was our lives. I think it will always be alive in all of us and we don’t know what that looks like, per se. But I could totally see things just… being different.
So you wouldn’t be opposed to a reunion in the future?
No! Not at all. I don’t think any of us are necessarily opposed, it’s always just [up to] our schedules. None of us left the band hating it; none of us don’t like each other. If anything, we talk about how we all miss it. I think something like that is 100 percent possible. alt