While the thought of now-fast-approaching warm festival beer and some bands puts us in our happy place, it's not so easy to erase the scars of a year and a half that's put us through our paces both physically and mentally. With their tours cancelled and house arrest all but a worldwide sentence, our beloved bands became humans in our eyes once more. For Beartooth's Caleb Shomo, he found himself battling back from a brink he's been at on more than one occasion, which collided with the creation of their fourth album, 'Below'.
"Either I'm feeling really positive and creative and working hard, or I'm just sitting on the couch for a month and nothing matters. It's been a grind to get going," admits Caleb, the exhaustion evident in his every word.
'Below' is an album born out of the pandemic. Written, recorded and produced entirely by Caleb himself at home in his basement, it's a product of a year's worth of isolation; an experience that has been both a blessing in disguise as much as it's been a curse out in the open.
"Going through the process honestly was really difficult. I missed co-writing and I missed having other people around, and it was really tough to find inspiration and be excited about something," he explains, honest as ever about his own experiences. "Once I got further into it, I realised in a way it was almost a blessing in disguise purely for the sake of writing the album. Obviously, in another sense, this lockdown and pandemic has been fucking terrible. But purely for me as a writer, it forced me into a place where I had to trust myself again and really rely on my instincts to make an album."
Armed with nothing but a home studio and the war inside his head, Caleb has crafted the next chapter of Beartooth as their heaviest, albeit their most accessible, too. Blending bludgeoning breakdowns with stadium-sized choruses, 'Below' isn't a million miles away from the blueprint they began with on 2014's 'Disgusting'.
"For me, it's turned into a more familiar Beartooth record, but a record that's never been heard before from us. It gives me the same excitement that I had when I wrote the first album; that pure creative explosion with no limits," he says, his exhausted expression masking the pride his words speak. "There was nobody else involved, there were no other minds or brains or people trying to push me to write more radio-friendly songs, or to write this or that, or try this or that. It was just, do whatever you want, which was exactly how that first album went. I just wanted to make this fun."
Despite their best efforts, 'Below' is anything but predictable. It's an album overspilling with absolute bangers, placing metalcore on a collision course with the anthemic choruses of modern-day pop-punk a la A Day To Remember and the angsty riff attacks of hardcore punk. With the music written mostly on tour months before the pandemic - "the music I think is a lot more hopeful and written with a live show in mind" - the themes of 'Below' are a world apart, diving into the depths of Caleb's mental state as the pandemic took place, becoming a journal of a plague year more than an album.
"There's really no hope or positivity on this record; it's very dark and morbid," deadpans Caleb, amused at any shock or surprise fans may find at 'Below''s dark underbelly. With his heart on his sleeve, he's bared his scars for all to see, so fans can feel a little less alone in all the chaos. "I hope they realise that I'm trying to talk about the things that I felt, and that I assume tonnes of other people felt during this pandemic and lockdown, that they don't really wanna talk about. The really dark sides of our minds that were exposed because of all this isolation.
"Hopefully, it's more of a way for people to understand you weren't alone and you're not crazy because you were thinking all of this outrageously dark stuff. It was just a very unique and unfortunate time, and hopefully, people can feel it that way."
To combat his own experiences of loneliness during lockdown, Caleb kept associating his feelings with what he believed others may be undergoing to ground himself. It's these moments that make their way into the fabric of 'Below'. It paints a disturbingly dark, albeit starkly realistic, portrait of how quickly our mental states can slip into decay. On 'No Return', Caleb bursts through his breaking point as he finds the bottom of the rabbit hole, singing: "When I disappear, no one will care about a single word I've ever put in the air." For Caleb, and for Beartooth, it's a watershed moment.
"It's this phase of feeling like I'm so far down the rabbit hole I don't know if I'm going to be able to pull myself out of it mentally. A lot of people got to that point where they just weren't sure how to come back and get back to normal life and a normal mental state," he admits, his words riddled with melancholy. "A lot of people are going to be like, 'what is he talking about? That's so insane and dark', but the whole point is that's how far of a low point I got to mentally. My mind was just running rampant with all these outlandish feelings, and I wrote that lyric, and I was like, this is crazy, but it's what I was feeling."
Beartooth are no strangers to saying things as they see it, and Caleb is no stranger to managing and maintaining his mental health. Having dealt with clinical depression since middle school, the vocalist has struggled with eating disorders, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. Whether by accident or by design, these battles from within have found themselves written into Beartooth's back catalogue, and mental health has become a backbone of what the band is all about. With great power, though, comes great responsibility, and it's something that lays heavy on Caleb's heart.
"The only role that I would ever want to play is just being honest about things to people. I'm not any sort of expert, I'm not any sort of role model; I'm just a guy who struggles like everybody else. The project where I talk about that bluntly happened to be the project that got really big," he surmises, putting his stance on mental health as a musician down in part to his band's success. "I never really planned on that being the reason I do what I do. I do it just because I love music and I love rocking out. The whole point of this from the beginning was to express myself and the way I feel, so the only thing I can hope is that if people are getting things from this, they understand that this is only a tool for them to help themselves even more.
"I'm honoured when they say my lyrics helped them through something or helped them work something out, that's incredible, but it's about the growth for that person; it doesn't have to do with me. I'm not the reason they got better or the reason they got help; I was just a guy who said something that maybe made them think, 'I could do better with this in my own life'."
It's a double-edged sword that Beartooth as a band dangles over eternally. On the one hand, they strive for mental health to make headways in our world, but on the other, they're not looking to be responsible for its revolution. "It's more of a give-the-power-to-the-people situation on the terms of mental health, but I am in no way trying to be a face for mental health, that's not my intent. I just want to rock out and be honest about what I'm honest about."
Whether he's the face of mental health in the music world, or simply a man sharing his woes; Caleb, and by extension Beartooth, believe we're making progress as a community. It's this sense of progress that pushes positivity his way for the first time in a long time. Along with the chance of touring the world again, it's this outlook that fuels the fire for the era of 'Below.'
"There have been so many people lost to mental health, whether it be suicide or overdose or whatever it is. It's one of those situations where you can't ignore it, and it's made people have to understand it a little bit more. For me right now, it's in a really good spot," enthuses Caleb. "There's always more things people can do, whether it's helping other people or being accepting of differences.
"Ultimately, I think we're at a really good place with mental health - people are talking about things. A lot of the stigmas with stuff like therapy and general wellbeing are kind of being torn down, which is really good. I'm just hoping it continues to move in that positive direction."
Taken from the July issue of Upset. Beartooth's album 'Below' is out 25th June.
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