AARON GILLESPIE recently released Anthem Song, his solo debut and his first new music since abruptly leaving UNDEROATH last April. The album marks a return to the worship-based rock Gillespie grew up playing, steeped in uplifting, larger-than-life melodies and powerful instrumentation. We caught up with Gillespie (who also fronts THE ALMOST) on a day off from his nationwide praise-and-worship tour, where he filled us in on, among other things, the inspiration behind Anthem Song, his humanitarian trips to Africa and the Caribbean and how his life has changed since leaving Underoath.
How does it feel to finally have this album out?
It’s stressful, man. It’s not something I’m a big fan of. Don’t get me wrong, I love releasing albums, but you have to deal with people over-commercializing it. You have to deal with marketing and projections and blah, blah. I hate that part of it, but that’s a part of the process.
You began your career playing worship music in church. Is it funny to see your life come full circle?
It’s been killer. We’re out on a worship tour now, which is an entirely new model. Kids are super-receptive. We’re doing about 40 dates all over the country, and the audiences have been really diverse. A lot of kids are bringing their parents; it’s a real mixed bag. Like you said, I started out playing worship. I started singing in church and then I started playing drums, and that was even before the Underoath days. I’ve always wanted to make a worship album like this, but I just never found the time until now. It’s a huge blessing, because this all comes at the right time. We just started writing for a new Almost record. We’re at the very end of the Monster Monster album cycle, so we’re able to take a few months right now and just go after this record.
Why release this album under your own name and not with the Almost or another band?
I initially wanted to release it under the Almost name, but the label thought it would be a bad idea. The two projects are really different, and the vibe of this record is really not in line with [the Almost’s sound]. We really want to keep the Almost as a rock band, but I did want to release this as the Almost. The door just got shut on that. With this album, I really wanted to make an honest representation of worship and help people with their vocabulary of worship and do that in a way that would reach the greatest number of people. My main band is obviously the Almost, and I wanted to consolidate things to keep it easier, but [my worship band] are amazing. They’re fantastic musicians and they really love Jesus; it’s been a very unique thing for me. It’s been great.
Who was your target audience when writing this album?
Anybody and everybody. People were created to worship. We all were, and it doesn’t matter what it is. Whatever you love most in your life is what you worship. I think we were created to only worship one, and that’s Jesus, but I want to reach everybody. There are so many different walks of life and walks of faith, and we all worship something, even if you don’t believe in Jesus. That’s an important message I think gets lost sometimes.
On one hand, Anthem Song is very purpose-driven in praising God but also seeks to reconcile the less-desirable traits of ones life and strive to become a better person. What sorts of things did you have to adjust in your own life to make this album?
It’s been a crazy year. Obviously I left Underoath, and I had been called away from that for the past couple years. It got to the point where it was becoming more and more difficult to say yes to. It was my identity for so long; I was in that band since I was 14, and I knew God wanted me to leave, but I just couldn’t say yes. For me, Underoath started out as a ministry, and it turned into something else for me. I knew it was time to leave. I had to make a lot of changes. I think God wants people to be completely available, and I wasn’t available. I was more important, and my life was about record sales and how big the crowd was and what the presale numbers were where our album was charting.
I went to Uganda last year with my wife, and it was crazy. You go to a place like that expecting to make a difference and change things, and you come home completely changed yourself. I went there as an American musician expecting to fix this place, but it fixed me. You see people worshiping openly, and they have nothing. Think about that: they have no reason to worship God; they don’t have money or health or food, but they still worship because that’s what they were created to do. When you actually grasp that as a Christian, I think you truly begin to understand what God has planned for us. A lot of people worship Christianity or the idea that is the church, but we were meant to worship Jesus alone.
You went to Haiti recently where you shot a video for “We Were Made For You.” What was your experience like there?
Haiti is rough, man. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just really sad, seeing the things people actually have to deal with. I don’t know how to explain it; I’m sitting in an expensive hotel right now, talking to you on an iPhone. It’s the easiest life, and we take it all for granted. In Haiti, every day consists of, “How do I even exist today? Where does my food come from? How do I get water? I have five kids, and they’ll die without food. Where will I live?” All these places are sad, but Haiti is the worst. The thing about Haiti is it’s gorgeous, just cruise-ship beautiful, but it’s so mismanaged and a mess. It’s so sad.
This was your first foray into co-writing, and you worked with a lot of well-respected contemporary Christian songwriters. Was co-writing something that had always intrigued you?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve never done it, and I really wanted to do it and get with some likeminded folks. It was awesome. I really loved sitting in a room with people who have the same goals and make music. I am so into songs that are just timeless. I love music you can hop in your car and it makes you want to speed. [Laughs.] It makes you want to be excited or happy or angry. You can still put on [Foo Fighters’] “My Hero” and go, “Why is this so good?” when it came out in like 1997. You can put on U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and it’s still so special. It’s such an important moment that was captured there.
There’s definitely a huge U2 feel to Anthem Song. Was that something you did on purpose?
[Laughs.] Yeah, we ripped off U2 so hard on this record. I felt like it was my only chance. It wouldn’t work on an Almost record because it would just be complete plagiarism. I think with a record like this, it’s OK to do. We ripped them off so bad, but it felt so good.
Let’s just hope you don’t get a phone call from Bono demanding royalties.
I hope I do. I’ll pay him! [Laughs.]
Is there anything you miss about being in Underoath?
Honestly, man? No. I was miserable toward the end. I love what goes on there. They’re great people in a great organization. My time had run out; it was just over for me. They’re still doing great things, and their new record is great. I hear they’re still killing it live. It was just time. They do amazing things, and God uses them in amazing ways. I’m thankful for my time with Underoath, but my body is in less disarray now than back then. [Laughs.]
When you look back on the past year or so—leaving Underoath and making this album—what do you think you learned about yourself?
God is the only one who deserves glory, and as humans we’re called to move out of the way and let God shine through. I can’t be in charge of anything that happens with my life. I think a lot of people look at musicians and say, “Oh man, what you did was so cool.” Everything that goes on in my body—my heart, my kidneys flushing all the junk out of my system—that’s Jesus. I just hope people understand that everything I did and everything we do is because of God. I’m so thankful for that and very blessed. alt