Before the band’s show in Lawrence, Kansas, staffer Tim Dodderidge caught up with Sleepwave frontman Spencer Chamberlain. Chamberlain, the former vocalist for metalcore pioneers Underoath, and the rest of his new band members have been cooking up something different. The 90’s rock-inspired group put out their first full-length in September and is finally going on big tours — this one in particular in support of longtime friends in The Devil Wears Prada. In this interview, Chamberlain discusses the process of building up his new artistic endeavor in terms of writing, touring, and garnering exposure, while also answering to some of the rumors about a possible Underoath reunion.
MEB: So beginning in Underoath and touring with The Devil Wears Prada a fair amount in the past, what’s it like going out with them now in a new band in a new context?
Spencer Chamberlain: It’s cool, man, because Underoath took Prada out in ‘08 and we did Warped Tour together… twice, maybe? I know at least once. So it’s old friends. It’s a lot of the same crew, most of the same band members. So it’s really good to just be around familiar faces. Being a new band is tough as it is and going on tour with a bunch of people you don’t know, playing for crowds who don’t know the band is always tough. But when you’re on the road with a bunch of people you don’t know, too, that’s even harder. So it’s great when you at least have some friends around.
With Sleepwave, there’s the obvious difference of playing a different style of music from metalcore, but the energy and intensity is still super high. I mean, you’re touring with metal bands now, so how would you say those things affect the kind of crowds you’re playing to?
I mean, it all depends. This crowd has been better for us because I think they’re a bit older. Playing non-breakdown music for kids who just want to hear breakdowns is tough. But this crowd has been way more receptive because they’re a little bit older. I think some of the younger kids just want to hear what they want to hear, but Prada has fans that are over the age of 15, so it goes over a lot better (laughs).
After Underoath broke up, did you feel a need or almost like a calling to start a new project?
I assume you wouldn’t have started it if you didn’t feel the timing was right…
Yeah, timing is a bitch always. I think I got screwed with the timing of Sleepwave. But yeah, I will always write music. I will never stop writing music. It’s just something I’ve always done since I was a little kid. I’ve been playing music since I was in elementary school. I’ve been writing songs since I was probably in elementary school. So it’s something I’ll just never not do. I have so many other songs written that no one will probably ever hear. Yeah, it was definitely the next step for me, like, “Okay, now that these dudes are quitting, I’m going to make something different”. And I wanted it to be different than what everyone else was doing, because that’s what Underoath did in the beginning. We were so different than everyone. And now it seems like that kind of music has become mainstream and become normal. So I decided to do something completely different.
Would you say playing in Sleepwave is a better or more natural outlet for you? In the Tired Violence documentary you talked about how the Christian crowds were sometimes being kind of annoying.
Yeah, it’s great. We haven’t really found our crowd yet. We don’t really know where we fit in. We’re just taking every tour that we can get on. So I think ask me that question in a year and I’ll have a better answer for you. But yeah, I mean, we’re having a blast, so…
That’s awesome. So as far as doing something new, it seems like you’re also playing a lot to your 90’s influences, like Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana…
Yeah, I mean that’s definitely a lot of the stuff I grew up on. I feel like you can hear a lot of the influences, but I don’t feel like we sound like a 90’s band. I feel like it still sounds modern, but yeah, my influences are there for sure.
But at the same time, you make it your own by bringing your own vibe and personality to it. What do you think of the current state of rock music, and how do you hope to carry it on?
It’s scary, because what they call “rock” now is basically like “country folk”, “alt”, whatever…
…Mumford and Sons (laughs).
Yeah, that kind of…and I’m not shit talking them by any means, but that’s not rock and roll to me. And the only rock bands we have left are bands that have been around for a really long time. There aren’t really very many new rock bands. But I don’t know, hopefully that changes over the next couple years, because I’ve always listened to rock my entire life. I don’t want it to go away (laughs).
You get to show off your singing voice a lot on the new album [Broken Compass]. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do more, especially with taking over cleans on the last Underoath full-length?
Well yeah, I mean, I was singing in bands before I was screaming in bands. It’s hard for people to understand because most people know me from Underoath and that’s it. But I was playing music and playing shows and traveling in bands for my whole life doing music. So Underoath being a metal band and it stuck and you just do that, because you’re finally making it, that’s not the only side of me. I’ve always sang. I’ve always played guitar. I’ve always played piano. I’ve always played bass. I’ve always played drums. I’m not the best drummer, but…(laughs). I’ve been a musician my whole life. My grandmother still teaches me. Well, maybe not anymore, but she did [teach] since she was probably my age now. So yeah, it’s like, singing is something I’ve always done, and I’ve always done it in Underoath as well. It’s just a lot of times you can’t tell who’s who. Sometimes I’d sing stuff and Aaron would want to sing it, and I’d be like, “Whatever. Whatever makes the most sense. It doesn’t matter”. We were a team.
In Underoath you tended to write about some heavy topics and your past, but now that you’re in a different place making different music, there still seems to be a lot of angst and there’s some cussing on the record and stuff like that. Where does that come from?
I mean, just everyday life. I write about what’s real. I write about stuff that I go through. A lot of it was the breakup of Underoath was really hard on me. That was a hard two years of my life. That was something I wasn’t prepared for, and I didn’t know how it was going to affect my life, but it affected it a lot. I was angry at times at those guys for quitting, and I was angry at myself for not making the best out of the situation when I was there. There’s a lot of things you wish you got a second chance at, to where you’re like, “Man, if I could go back, I would enjoy this more or go see these places I was in or try to meet more people”. And now I have that opportunity, which is great, but there was a lot of anger around writing this record.
Then in writing the record, did you feel, like, liberated or joyful?
Yeah, I mean…
How do you feel now that it’s out?
I feel great about it. The only thing I would change about the record is I really wanted to make it a little bit more dirty. I’m the kind of guy that likes to record with the guitar in the room with the amp so every time I stop it’s feeding back and hitting the guitar against stuff. And that wasn’t it this way. So I played all the guitar sitting down in the control room. Next record I want to add a little more dirt to it. When you see it live, you’ll see what it’s like, I love the record and I’m very proud of it, but there’s that. If you ever saw Underoath, it’s like…
Yeah, the raw live element of it…
Chasing Safety is just so polished and I can’t even listen to it. And live, it was so cool, because we had that raw and a little bit more dirty feel to the sound. And that’s what we always used to talk about, like “That record didn’t sound like us”. It was too clean, and we were a dirty band.
I just think that’s so interesting because whenever my friends and I talk about Underoath we’re like, “Oh, Underoath is They’re Only Chasing Safety”. So it’s interesting seeing from the other side.
So the album has only been out for a little over six months now. What songs are getting the best feedback and how are fans reacting to it?
This is really, like, our first real tour in America with the record out. Kids really seem to like “The Wolf”, “Inner Body Revolt”. People really love “Hold Up My Head”, which is one of my favorites. And we play all those live on this tour. It’s going well. A lot of people coming to these shows don’t really know who we are. So it’s good that we’re winning people over.
Have the past six months then been strengthening? A lot of groups would call that period a “whirlwind”. Like, what do you think?
Yeah, it was terrible (laughs). We didn’t do anything. The label wanted to release it when they wanted to release it. We didn’t have any tours. We couldn’t get on tour. We did some stuff in Europe, we did two weeks in America, and then we did two weeks in Australia, and now we’re starting to tour full-time. So I feel like we need to, like, revisit the record I guess (laughs). Because it’s like, we put it out and then we couldn’t do anything. That was tough. But now we’re booked until September, and then we’re looking to book further out. Hopefully we’ll be busy all year and get a good solid year of touring in there.
So there’s been a lot of rumors recently about a possible Underoath reunion. What circumstances do you think would need to align in order for something like that to actually happen?
The reason why a lot of rumors are coming is because next year is the 10th anniversary of Define The Great Line, which was our biggest record. I mean, I even talked to them about doing a 10-year Chasing Safety show. No one wanted to do it. It was too soon, too close to the breakup. Yeah, I mean, I’ve talked about it. We all talk about it. We talk all the time. But it’s not realistic, like Aaron plays drums in Paramore, I do this, Tim owns a merch company, Chris has a full-time job. It’s really if the stars aligned. No one is against doing it. I’m still out here doing this. I would take a break for a month to do a full U.S. tour. I think for me, it would have to be a full tour, because…
Well, the, like, 12 or 13 date final tour was kind of…well, you didn’t come to K.C.
Well, we screwed over so many people because those guys didn’t want to play more than 12 shows. That was another thing I was really angry about, because I’m the one out here now talking to the people who are pissed, like “You guys didn’t come here!” And I felt terrible because Underoath had such good fans, dedicated. So for me, I would take off from Sleepwave for a month for a full tour, and it would have to be a full tour because I can’t stomach the fact of playing a show in St. Pete or just New York or just L.A. or whatever and everyone being like, “Well, we missed the farewell and we missed the one reunion show or 10-year anniversary”. I wouldn’t call it a “reunion”. I don’t think the band would ever get back together and write music, but I could definitely see us playing some shows. I’m always open to it. And for me, if we do a 10-year of Define The Great Line, it would have to be everyone that was on that record. That’s the only way I would do it, I think.
For right now, though, could you see a tour with Sleepwave, The Almost, Carrollhood, and maybe even Aaron’s worship project opening? I mean, I’m being a bit silly (laughs).
I called Aaron about, “I know The Almost isn’t touring, but you guys should tour and take us with you” (laughs). We talked about doing that earlier this year and I don’t know, I guess The Almost isn’t really touring, so…
Well, they put on a great show. I assume you’re still pretty active with Aaron and the other members, talking to them?
Yeah, I talk to Chris at least once a week. I talk to Aaron once a month, if not more. We still have a group text with me, Tim, Grant, and Chris, the people who still live in Florida. We talk all the time.
As Sleepwave starts to tour more now and rise in popularity, where do you hope to go? I would think the recognition for you of being in Underoath is probably a big thing and people are drawn to that, but I would kind of worry people might try to compare career arcs or something like that.
I’m not really too worried about it. As an artist, you want to share your art with as many people as possible, and with that comes being a big band and fame and money and all the stuff that kind of ruin the thrill ride of it. All that makes it difficult, but I honestly just want — and I get feelings from songs that I hope people get from my songs — and I want everyone to feel those feelings, and that means going as far as you can go and taking it as far as you can. I’ll hopefully take Sleepwave places Underoath never went. We do have an ability to do something different because we aren’t a metal band. When you’re playing metal or hardcore or whatever you want to call it, you do limit your message and you do limit your reach. There are people out there hurting that don’t want to hear screaming. They don’t get it, and that’s fine. That’s why there are different styles of music. And I’m doing something different this time, and I’m hoping I can reach people who never heard Underoath and never got to feel like they’re not alone, that there’s hope. That’s really the goal of Sleepwave, taking it as far, if not further, than Underoath went.
But we’re in a different playing field now. Right now we’re touring with metal bands, but that’s not the goal. We’re very thankful to be here, but obviously this is not a perfect fit for us. We’re just trying to get in front of as many audiences as we can. At the beginning of Underoath we toured with Coheed and Cambria. That didn’t make any sense. We toured with a lot of weird bands because that’s how you’re going to win over new fans and show people there are different styles of music. Like, you go see a Brand New show. I see you’re wearing the shirt….
Yeah, I did see them two weeks ago (laughs).
Like, the opening band, if they’re doing something completely different than Brand New, you’re either going to hate it or you’re going to be turned on to it and be like, “Oh, I’ve never heard that before!” That happened to me. One of my best friends is the singer of Taking Back Sunday, Adam [Lazzara], and he happened to be playing — this was years ago when I was home for Christmas — a home-sponsored show, and the band that played right before them was Cage The Elephant. And I had only heard that one single on the radio and I didn’t like it. Then I saw them live and I was like, “Wow, this was really cool, something I probably wouldn’t have checked out”, I didn’t end up buying it. I didn’t end up getting it. And then I went to another show they were playing and they just blew me away, and I bought every CD they had and bought a t-shirt, and the next time they came through, I bought tickets. That’s how it works.
You’ve got to get in front of different types of people of different genres. We were just on the radio circuit with Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah. We don’t fit there either, but there’s people there standing there, and they’re going to listen to what I’m going to say and how I’m going to sing and how we’re going to play our instruments. Some of them, I’m sure they’re going to hate, but others are like, “Whoa! A band I’ve never heard. I like it”. That’s the whole point of being a support act. Us and Secrets flip-flop second and third every night on this tour, and we’re both out here to play for The Devil Wears Prada’s fans because they’ve asked us to be here and now you have the opportunity to turn them on to your band. That’s the point of bands touring together.
Cool, that’s all I have, unless you have any parting thoughts for your fans or anything.
Oh…just come check us out live. You’ll be pleased, I think.