For a guy who has frequently addressed depression in both his music and his private life, Caleb Shomo sounds positively chipper. At this moment, Shomo is in Germany for Summer Breeze Open Air, which is just one stop on the band’s European tour. Beartooth—Shomo, guitarists Kamron Bradbury and Zach Huston, bassist Oshie Bichar and drummer Connor Denis—have just debuted some of the new material from the latest Beartooth LP, Disease, live, and Shomo couldn’t be more pumped. “It was really fuckin’ fun,” he says, “and I can’t wait to do it again, every set.”
But at the same time, playing these catchy, mostly major-key tunes fill Shomo with insecurity and fear. That’s because Disease sees him exposing himself more than he ever has on previous records. “If I make a good Beartooth record, there’s gonna be shit in there that I wish people didn’t know,” he explains. “If it’s a good record, I have to say ‘fuck it’ and do it anyway.”
This juggling act between positive and negative emotions manifests on Disease as a clever juxtaposition between heavy, even crushing lyrics and triumphant, uplifting sounds. “As dark as the lyrics are,” Shomo persists, “it really makes me happy to get them off my chest. It feels like a weight’s been lifted.” Shomo insists the musical contrast wasn’t intentional, but rather a natural outcome of the writing process. But it also inadvertently does the added job of addressing an awkward problem he’s been having in his daily life.
“People think I’m just like the saddest fuckin’ dude in the world sometimes,” he says of his many encounters with strangers and fans. “I’m fine, guys. I’m all good. I’m just getting some shit off my chest.” True, the Beartooth frontman might not be the happiest person in the world, but with each record he gets closer to something equally important: acceptance.
“I think I just know a bit more about myself [now],” he continues. “I guess making this record and diving into all these crazy, deep parts of my life, what I’ve come to terms with is that depression or having a bad day or being anxious are things that, for me, are just not gonna go away. But that’s fine. That doesn’t mean I’m a weak person. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It just means I have my own things to deal with, and I’m OK with that now.” All of his sentiments—both in conversation and on the new record—are concentrated in one very simple lyric on the album: “Guess I’m just human after all” (“Afterall”).
As part of an effort to embrace that mantra, Shomo concludes Disease with a song called “Clever,” which blatantly tears down the artist’s fourth wall. It’s the most honest song on the record, but by the same token, it was also the most difficult to write.
“The whole point of [“Clever”] is I’ve used a lot of metaphors, and people just don’t understand the shit that I’m talking about,” he says bluntly. “They just interpret it all these different ways, and they take it too literally. I just wrote a song where I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just gonna get straight to the point and talk about exactly what’s going on.’ And that’s what makes it so hard to get through.”
The takeaway, then, is that the major theme of Disease really isn’t depression or anger as people who are familiar with Beartooth would be predisposed to thinking—it’s transparency. Above all, Disease offers a newfound sense of clarity and an unfiltered look at one of the scene’s most admired contemporary artists.
Shomo ended up challenging himself in more ways than one during this record cycle. Not only did he opt for a much more direct writing style, but he took himself out of his comfort zone for the recording process. “I just felt like it was time to do something new,” he says. “I love making records in my basement, but I think it was just time to get a new perspective and try and push myself a little bit.”
He abandoned familiarity for Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked with Grammy-winning executive producer Nick Raskulinecz (Halestorm, Foo Fighters). In doing so, Shomo also deserted his usual method of programming instruments, which makes for what he believes to be a more raw and real sound. Still, he made sure he had a hand in mixing and producing the record.
“I produced it myself in the studio,” he says of the experience. “[Nick and I] just kind of worked together more on the front end and the back end. I will say one thing: [What] he definitely brought to the table was expanding my mind on tones and sounds. He really pushed the limits of what you’d normally expect for a rock record.”
One listen to Disease will reveal Raskulinecz’s influence, and the difference will be immediately apparent. No Beartooth record prior to this one has had such a broad musical range. “I think he really, really made this thing what it is,” Shomo adds. “He’s an absolute monster producer.”
Another heavyweight rock producer, Drew Fulk (Motionless In White, Bullet For My Valentine, Escape The Fate), also helped with the composition of some of the songs on the album. With an all-star team on deck, it would seem as if Disease was destined to be an instant hit.
While there are plenty of sonic elements that make Disease a thrill ride, the finished product is not simply a result of great producing or even great songwriting (though these things are obviously of huge importance). Along with Shomo’s dedication to being as earnest as possible comes a severe dedication to growing as a person. How the new record will feed the evolution of the band is yet to be seen, but it’s obvious that while Disease is still clearly a Beartooth record, there is an energy that is drastically different from anything Shomo has written before. It’s a fire not fueled solely by frustration, but revelation.
Of course, the self-doubt found in Beartooth’s discography hasn’t disappeared, and the sadness has not entirely dissipated—but that’s the point. In the opening song “Greatness Or Death,” Shomo shouts, “I’m beginning to think I can’t outrun these demons/But you know what they say/Sickness is in season.” Sure, an overdose of negativity is not healthy, and no one ever wants to feel down, but the reality is no one is happy 100 percent of the time. Knowing how to interact with and manage depression is more fruitful than trying to outmaneuver it. So from here on out, let it be known that Mr. Shomo does not want or need your pity. He’s not infected—he’s just human.