Very few things force someone to grow up the way success does, but there was no way to predict how things would unfold for Underoath in the years following the release of its 2004 album They’re Only Chasing Safety. The 10-track effort was the band’s fourth after forming in Tampa seven years prior, and it was Underoath’s first without founding singer Dallas Taylor, who left the band in 2003. Safety was certified gold after moving more than half a million copies (this was the pre-streaming era, kids), and it earned Underoath a nomination for Rock Album of the Year at the 36th Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, which recognizes the achievements of Christian musicians.
The album’s success was amplified on a 2006 follow-up, Define the Great Line, that debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It thrust the hard-rock band into the international spotlight, and a video for lead single “Writing On The Walls” earned a 2007 Grammy nomination. It was a time of massive growth for one of the Bay area’s biggest exports, but members of the band could only watch as their own personal maturation was restricted by the rigors of world tours and recording schedules.
“I think being in a band you kind of grow up super fast, but at the same time your growth is stunted because you don’t really experience a whole lot of real life,” Spencer Chamberlain told CL.
Three more records followed Great Line, but Underoath announced a breakup in October 2012 and played its final show at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg three months later. Chamberlain has been candid in explaining the split and the time that passed before Underoath’s eventual return to the same stage two years later. He was just as candid in our conversation, which happened in the days leading up to the kickoff of the band’s fall tour, which culminates in a massive hometown show at the Yuengling Center on December 14.
He said the band didn’t even realize it, but it was being overworked. Members had no time to breathe as different phases of life — depression, breakups, families — happened while fans looked on, expecting the band to live up to every expectation.
“We just didn’t have time to be humans. It gets exhausting,” Chamberlain said. He stayed productive during the hiatus by starting a new band, Sleepwave, but depression and his addiction to drugs began to worsen during Underoath’s hiatus. Chamberlain has since recovered and spends part of nearly every day at the gym, which has helped him fall in love with waking up feeling good and getting a good night’s sleep. Working out, he said, gives him that same feeling he was left searching for when Underoath came off the road.
“That high you get from the crowd and playing aggressive music, there is nothing that can replicate that, and that’s what drugs would be because I was bored,” Chamberlain said. “I didn’t have kids. I didn’t know. It was always filling time between the next Underoath thing.”
The current Underoath thing is a new album, Erase Me, released this April, a full eight years after the band’s 2010 LP, Ø (Disambiguation). The band remains heavy on the record, but Erase Me adopts new sounds and a new approach to lyrics, too. Chamberlain points out that the band never once wrote a song specifically about being Christian; fans and critics, however, were quick to point out that the new album pretty much abandoned any inkling of devotion to, or absolute belief in, the faith (a non-issue at that point since most “Christian” fans had already jumped ship after learning of Chamberlain’s battle with drugs).
The move away from the label, however, has probably been the best thing the band could’ve ever done for itself.
“[When we broke up] Underoath was very unhealthy. I look back, and I’m like, ‘Jeez, that was fucking awful,’” Chamberlain explained. Members hated each other. Relationships were unhealthy, unloving and far from what being “Christian” is supposed to be. The tension drove them apart as a family, which was what the band was meant to be anyway.
“Once we lifted that title, it was like, ‘Oh, God finally, everyone can talk.’ Our bass player was like, ‘Dude, I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in anything.’ Other people were like, ‘I still believe,’ and other people are saying ‘You know, I’m like in the middle. I don’t really know,’” he said.
What’s followed has been an embrace of each other and a jolt of creativity. Erase Me is Chamberlain’s favorite Underoath record to date, and he hopes to feel the same about its follow-up, which is going to sound however Chamberlain and his bandmates want it to — there are no more rules regarding what Underoath is.
“People should be able to be whatever makes them happy, what makes them feel like a better person and that they are bettering their lives. If that’s being a Buddhist, being a Muslim, being an atheist, being Scientologist — it doesn’t matter to me,” Chamberlain said. “If someone is doing good, and is happy, and they’re not asking my opinion on what they should be doing — I’m not gonna tell them what they should be doing.”
It’s rare for a band to re-emerge from a breakup and kickstart another, more fruitful, phase of its career, and Underoath could very well buck that trend. The music will always get examined underneath a microscope, but Chamberlain and his bandmates know how to better navigate the maze — and take care of themselves — these days.
“Everyone in Underoath is way happier and way healthier than we have ever been. We get along better and enjoy life a lot more than we ever have,” he said. “That’s all that people should care about.”
Underoath w/Anberlin/Dance Gavin Dance/Crown The Empire/The Plot In You. Fri., Dec. 14. 7 p.m. $26-$31. Yuengling Center, 12499 USF Bull Run Dr., Tampa. yuenglingcenter.com