Live review: Slam Dunk Festival 2022
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‘Don’t wanna sing another hopeless song…’ admits Caleb Shomo in Beartooth’s colossal, surprise new single Riptide – arguably the first genuinely happy-sounding track of their career. Following last year’s devastating fourth album Below (in which the frontman was ‘dragged deeper into the darkness than ever before’, as our 4/5 review stated), the 29-year-old is clearly in a much, much healthier place right now, having ditched alcohol in favour of putting the work in to his physical and mental well-being.
“Things are really awesome,” he tells Kerrang! from his home today, despite dealing with a spot of gutter-cleaning before our interview. “Life’s pretty cool. We just finished that Europe and UK tour, which was fucking awesome. Life is good – the vibes are good!”
Here, Caleb opens up on all things Riptide, what this means for more new Beartooth music, and the band’s return back across the pond again in 2023…
Riptide sounds pretty positive and uplifting – it’s a little different to the usual dark Beartooth…
“Yeah, it’s a little different to being really fucking sad (laughs).”
What was it like writing a song in this happier mindset?
“It was an incredibly emotional experience, for sure. I think I wrote it about a week into me quitting drinking, which was pretty nuts. It was the first piece of music that I had written without alcohol being involved in… I don’t know, probably 10 years, which was really interesting. There was just like a lot of stuff coming up – a lot of, ‘Wow, there’s other things to talk about.’ To me it is a bit of a sad song in certain parts, because it’s me discovering that I’ve putting myself through a lot that I probably didn’t need to over the years. It was the first time I’m starting to realise there is another way, you know what I mean? I just want to be happier, and I realised there were a lot of things that I could have been doing, that I wasn’t doing; I was putting small bandaids on giant open wounds. I’ve started to make a few choices that I think really helped me: I spent a while with a therapist, and I think that was really helpful for me to start moving forward on some things, and just chasing mental health, physical health, all that stuff. So all of that accumulated into this song. The quitting drinking thing was a pretty big moment for me – that was actually a really big shift. I didn’t know if it was actually going to do anything or not, and a waste of my time, but it was very emotional. And yeah, I’m starting to realise now that there are better ways for me to function, that I think just make me a lot happier. And it’s cool! And that’s where Riptide came from.”
Were you apprehensive about approaching the creative process and trying to write a song while sober?
“It was just different, you know? The energy was a lot different. I don’t even really know how to explain it. When I would sit around with a Scotch just kind of contemplating life, that had a flow and a vibe that came out of it. But this just felt a lot more high-energy – it was like replacing the ‘contemplating, thinking’ kind of thing with just energy, and expression, and just ‘Bleurgh!’ Like, it happened really quick. It was a very intense experience, but I’m cool with it! And then from there I went out to California and wrote for almost a month, just working on stuff for our next album that’s gonna come after the single. And that was my first bigger chunk of time writing without drinking, and I felt like I was a lot sharper. Obviously the booze is only going to affect so much – you’ve got to be creative, and you’ve got to have the drive to write, and to capture that lightning in a bottle. It just feels like there’s a lot more lightning to capture more often – when I’m hot, I’m really, really hot; and when I’m cold, I’m able to kind of peel back and recharge a lot faster.”
How fruitful were those California sessions? Have you written a new album, or just made a really good dent?
“It was a really good dent! I still have a lot to work on, but it showed me the direction that I’m going. I know this sounds incredibly corny, but the records kind of write themselves, in a way, after one or two songs or ideas. I feel like I start to get the vibe, and the record starts to kind of take shape. With Below, to use that as an example, I wrote The Past Is Dead as the first song, and I’d put together a couple of pieces of The Last Riff, and after that it just all made sense. I knew the direction, I knew where it was headed, and I could just go along for the ride. That’s kind of how far I am in the next album’s process. We have Riptide and then I have a good handful of other stuff that is like, ‘Okay, this is what it sounds like.’”
So there’s no stress – you’re just like, ‘Yep, I’ve got this’?
“Yeah, yeah! And it’s been interesting since we’ve been back on tour, too, because with Below I wrote a ton of the music on tour. But with our last couple of tours, I’ve not had it in me to write – I’ve just been exhausted. It’s hard work, and we have a lot to do. But we have a tour coming up with A Day To Remember, which I’m really excited about. And I’m probably going to be a little bit more of a hermit on that one, with my little recording set-up! I’m very excited: I want to hear more of this record, but I gotta write it first (laughs).”
You’re always so good with those massive Beartooth choruses, and Riptide is another example of that. How does a song like that start – is it with the chorus, and then you build it out from there?
“Actually, yeah, that was from the chorus! The first thing I did in the writing process, that was completely different from what I always do, is I went out to a coffee shop, and I was just sitting there with some headphones on and I found a key on my little piano app. I wrote down the tempo and wrote the chorus, and then came home recorded it. And that’s been the process with the newer stuff. Specifically with Riptide it was like, ‘Start with the chorus and get straight to the goods!’ And then the rest of the song seems to figure itself out after that.”
With you being in a better headspace, were you thinking, ‘Oh, but I still need to chuck some really heavy stuff in there’?
“Yeah, that definitely was a little bit worrying! I mean, just thinking, ‘What am I going to write about now? Everything’s feeling pretty good, so is that going to make for a really boring record?’ But there’s still plenty of stuff that I’m working through, and I think the heavy stuff is going to be there. I mean, whether I’m in a good place or a bad place, I just love heavy metal. I love riffs. All that good stuff is not going anywhere! But with Riptide, I thought it was kind of important for me to make a song that’s almost as polar opposite as it could be from Below, just because that’s where I feel like I’m at in my life, and emotionally right now. When I finished Below, I literally said to myself, ‘I want this to be the darkest subject matter I ever write about. I never want anything to go this far again.’ And so I think Riptide was a bit of a statement to me, and to everybody, of: ‘I’m going through something different right now.’ The whole point of Beartooth and what I’ve said from the beginning is this is music about how I feel and what’s truly going on in my life.”
The first four albums have all been quite thematically similar – do you see Riptide and this next album as the start of a whole new chapter?
“Actually, I think this new record is the last chapter. I’ve actually had this all kind of planned out for years now, but I didn’t know how it was going to end until now, which is cool. The first five albums are my 20s – it started when I was 20, and I’m 29 now, and with the way that things are scheduled, it should be that I’m putting the bow on this album right before I turn 30. I don’t know if it means that I’m going to take a break for a little while after that, or if I’m just going to keep going and immediately put out something new. It’ll all make sense whenever the new album comes out! But yeah, this is definitely the biggest shift, emotionally, for a Beartooth album, but it’s cool that this is the ending to chapter one, you know?”
Have you thought ahead to the fan response? There’s something quite unhealthy where certain people like their bands to be angry or sad…
“I mean, that is incredibly well put (laughs). Yeah, that is real! I have thought about it, but with the Beartooth fanbase that’s really been around for a while – and even those who haven’t – basically anybody who’s gone any further than just listening to the music a little bit will be down for the ride, I think. I can’t really talk about this without giving too much away, but it’s not all just sunshine and roses. This is me dealing with a lot of shit that I have been burying down, just like every Beartooth record. It’s just going a level deeper, and peeling back another layer of that onion, as people say! So I don’t think people need to worry about that. And if it ends up being some super-happy record, then, sorry, but I gotta be happy (laughs). I’m doing pretty well with that in my life at the moment, so I’m gonna keep going down that road.”
Let’s talk about the Riptide music video. There’s a nice bit of synchronised dancing in there…
“Oh my god (laughs), that was fucking terrifying! The video is great; I just think it’s really fun. There’s obviously a lot of symbolism, and what it represents is very serious. But the more important thing is that it’s supposed to be fun, and it’s supposed to be like, ‘Look, is this is who I am. This is what I’m going through at the moment.’ It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and planning, but the dancing… I don’t know, I just wanted to have fucking dancers! Dancing is so fucking cool, and I would love to do it – but I can’t remotely do it! So it was a cool experience, and I had one move in the chorus that I did with the dancers. The director, Dylan, came over to me after a shot, because we’d talked about the idea of me getting in on it a little bit, and he was like, ‘Let’s just fucking do it!’ And my thing is I’ll try anything once. If it looks bad, then we just don’t use it. And so then I talked to the the lead dancer who choreographed the whole thing, and she did her best to teach me what to do. And it was just fucking fun. It was nice to just be like, ‘Hey, let’s put on a whole new wardrobe, and let’s make a fucking pop video!’”
You’ll be back in the UK and Europe again next year – you’ve already alluded to it, but do you think we’ll be getting quite a lot more new music by then?
“I can’t say how much! But Riptide is telling people, ‘Hey, new shit is on the way.’ Obviously I could have waited until everything was done and it was all perfectly planned out, but we just said, ‘Fuck it, let’s put something out.’ Music is a lot more fast paced now, and it’s worth trying that whole thing which we’ve never done before with a single that lives its own life. I think what it means for the tour is that we’re obviously still going to do the show with all of the songs from Below that people want to hear, but then also we’re going to have a more sharp show with some new elements. We can take all the best stuff from the Below tour, and then add to it with this new stuff.”
Riptide is out now. Beartooth will be bringing their Below tour to the UK and Europe in 2023 with Motionless In White and Stray From The Path.
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