Before doors opened, there was a real expectancy in the air. Queues were forming in The Anvil, clusters of black band tops were in every eye-shot. The jukebox was playing some appropriately mood-setting tracks from The Architects and Suicide Silence, and you knew this was going to be a hell of a show.
I then came downstairs into the performance area and greeted by a bespectacled Caleb Shomo. What happened next was too surreal to verbalise. Next minute, I’m knee-to-knee, face-to-face in pretty-much a large closet with Shomo. If there was ever a DIY interview, it was here, surrounded by shelves of various tools and boxes. But that tells a tale in itself, through this thick beard and a thicker American accent, this guy oozes with modesty. Through the thin walls, you could hear the anticipation of a crowd awaiting Dead Harts to arrive on stage.
And so the conversation starts…
Hi Caleb, thanks for making the time to do this, really appreciate that!
So, let’s get the formalities out the way: who are you and what do you do?
I’m Caleb and I sing in Beartooth.
As simple as that!
Yeah that’s me!
That’s good, I want to get straight into the big stuff! Beartooth are making a lot of noise – not just with their instruments. Obviously, last year you did The Warped Tour, this year you did Kerrang Tour, you’re at Slam Dunk next week and Download festival next month. Yet, you’re sat here in a venue with a hundred and fifty capacity tops. Have you got the right place?
Dude, we love playing shows like this! We like it to be very intimate and just want everybody to really feel what we feel up there and what better way to do that then pretty much playing where everybody is on the stage, you know! It’s gunna be sick, I’m really excited.
Me too! A band on your Slam Dunk stage this year recently played here in Bournemouth: Bury Tomorrow.
So, you’ve been set a very sweaty bar tonight to top. What are your expectations ahead of the show tonight?
[laughs] Pffft… Oh man, I just really hope for madness. That’s all I really want is for people to enjoy themselves and just to get really wild and sweaty.
I can almost promise that. So what’s that change of pace like? In between playing such big stages and then coming down to grassroot venues like this.
Dude, I mean it is two different worlds, you know? You have big festivals where you’re playing in front of thousands and thousands of people and it’s a very wild feeling. But then you do something like this and it just feels good. I don’t know how to describe it… It just feels right. When you hang out with all these people, everybody right up in your face, no separation, no barricade, it’s awesome. I just love it.
What’s the scene like back home in Ohio? Do you get to go back often?
Our first ever show was at home, it was in like a seventy-cap room, or something! It was wild, it was super crazy and then after that, I mean we’ve played there a few times, but dude, growing up there going to shows, the local scene was really strong. I remember going to local shows that every time there would be a local band, you know? And, three-four hundred people would show up! And then I remember there were local shows in Taylor’s old band played at Newport musical – which is like 1200 capacity and it sold out and that’s just local shows. I’m obviously not too familiar with the Columbus local scene these days but hopefully it’s still kicking.
You’re a long way from home obviously. Is it weird to know that people know your lyrics, they relate to you, from the other side of the globe?
Yeah, it’s pretty surreal! You never think growing up when you’re writing songs in your bedroom that anybody’s gunna care about it. But it’s pretty cool that people dig it anywhere in the world and it’s definitely a wild feeling, but especially going overseas, it’s pretty shocking.
So how is England treating you?
It’s great, I love England – my wife is from here and she grew up in the East end of London. It almost feels like home in a way. We do spend a lot of time over here, and I spend even more time over here than just the band and it’s great, really good vibe.
What’s your weirdest English experience?
Weirdest English experience… I mean when you just see [laughing] that stereotypical super-old British Lady walking around with her… [still laughing] big hat on and the thickest accent on!
Is there any major difference between British and American fans?
I feel like British fans can be a lot louder, like signing along a lot louder. In England and Europe, that is one thing I have noticed, but at the same time, in The States people can get really loud as well. I think I’ve always said this that it’s city-to-city, not country-to-country. At least between the U.K. and The States, obviously other countries are totally different but yeah, it depends where you are. Sometimes you’re in a place where people sing more, they don’t move around as much, sometimes you just get mosh-madness and don’t have time to sing because they’re moving so much.
I like that! We spoke about your compatriots, The Color Morale earlier. What can we expect from them?
They’re killing it, dude. They’re putting on a really good show, very high energy, very polished. They’re all really good musicians, very tight live band. They’re killer.
We’ve also got our very own, Dead Harts. What can you tell us about them as well?
They’re just a pure, crazy, noisy punk-band. They just go a-hundred-and-ten the entire time, it’s awesome. It’s chaos.
Beartooth come with a real live reputation. Is it safe to say tonight will be all nine circles of hell?
Oh dude, tonight will – if all the stars align and everything works out – be a show that I don’t think anyone in here will forget.
I hope not either! It’s a fan favourite and everyone will want it to be there. Is there any space on the setlist for ‘Body Bag’?
Yeah, we close with it!
What about my personal favourite: ‘Me In My Own Head’?
Not playing that tonight, we’re playing…
[Conferring with Taylor]
What’s our set? Ignorance Is Bliss, no – we’re starting with Relapsing! Then Ignorance Is Bliss, then Dead, then In Between, The Lines, I Have A Problem, and we’re playing Set Me On Fire tonight just because! Then, Beaten In Lips and Body Bag.
I’d push for it as an encore, but you’ve obviously got your minds made up! Tracks like those that you named - ‘Beaten In Lips’, ‘I Have A Problem’, ‘Relapsing’ - Beartooth just straight-up, head-on tackle these really critical issues. You don’t shy away from it and I think that’s refreshing. Why exactly is that? What does that say about the bonds you form with your fans?
Dude, I just talk about stuff that I’m going through and stuff I think about. Like honestly, songs like ‘Beaten In Lips’ isn’t about me, like I was not in a relationship like that with my parents, but so many of these people have talked to at shows have gone through that and that’s why I ended up writing that song.
[He begins pinging a screw that is lodged in a shelf, whilst concentrating on his answer]
But dude, I just wanna be honest, I don’t wanna write stuff that’s superficial and like, has no real backing to it, you know? I wanna write something with a little more substance.
If you listen to ‘Disgusting’, all of the tracks are really identifiable from one to another so what I want to ask is: what is the secret to capturing that signature sound?
Dude, there is zero secret whatsoever. No magic formula, no tricks up my sleeve. I write a song that when it’s done, if I really like it and I’ve listened to it over and over again because I’m so excited about it, then it’s good for a Beartooth record. But, if I write it and I’m like ‘yeah it’s okay’, then it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t go on the record. It has to be: every song needs to be the song. That’s my secret, that’s my way of viewing a record.
We talked about Beartooth holding nothing back. We’ve heard ‘Sick’, we’ve heard ‘Disgusting’ – any chance the next one is called something a little softer around the edges? Maybe ‘Exquisite’?
[Laughs] I have no idea what I’m gunna name the next record. It’s definitely going to be a little less depressing.
As in the message, will it be so much at the forefront again?
I don’t know man, it all depends. I’ve written a few songs and the reality is, I’m just in a way better place than I was. I mean I’m happy and I’m doing well mentally.
Do you think that’s down to the catharsis of your songs you’ve written so far?
I think getting all that out really helped. I couldn’t have got to the place I’m now without getting all that stuff out. I still have things deal with, that I write about, but I think it’s going to have a positive vibe to the next record just because I’m in a way better place.
Have you got your eyes set on a date for the next release?
No idea, no date as yet. We have just started pushing ‘In between’ as a single now and that’s getting a lot of radio play and cool stuff like that, but we didn’t ever really think that would happen! So we’re like ‘well, we don’t wanna sell it short, we’ll ride it out’ and then when everyone’s sick of that, we’ll put out a new record. [laughs] I don’t know man, whenever we’re done with the cycle of this first record we’ll bust out a second.
I’ve got about two-and-a-half minutes left of your hourglass, so I’ll start closing up. What advice and encouragement do you have for young bands starting up?
Play a lot of shows; play as many shows as you can. Sacrifice for your band, if that is what you want to do. You have to spend money, you have to buy gear: you can’t be lazy about it. It doesn’t just happen, I hate these bands that have never put in any effort and ‘boom there you go’ and you’re huge – they’ll all end up as assholes because they’re just given everything. [Laughs] Like, very rarely do you see someone like that and they’ll be a cool dude, you know, and you can really tell those bands really work and play the shows and did it as much as physically possible with their all and everything. You just have to be one of those bands. You don’t get it handed to you on a silver platter: that almost never happens.
Dude, other than that, write music that you love, that you really back because if you are playing music that you’re writing for some other reason, like if you just wrote it to get on the radio but don’t like it, or ‘I just wrote this to get us big’ but don’t like playing the songs, you’re still have to go up there every day and play those songs! If you’re up there being miserable, you’re gunna know, you’re gunna hate yourself for it. So write yourself a record that you love, that you can play and love and be proud of. Other than that, just work your ass off.
Can’t really top that. Are there any parting shots before we call this a wrap? Any quick shout-outs to bands we should check out?
I know My Ticket Home are working on a new record, they’re a great band from Ohio. They’re real sick, check out their record that’s out now anyway because it’s one of my favourite records. Who else have put out some new records… Our boys in Silverstein, they’re really cool dudes. There’s so many good records out there. Comeback Kid, sick record. Every Time I Die… Dude, there’s countless. Go out and just get it all!
I think we’ll hit the stop button there. Thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it, enjoy your show!
Dude, thank you so much!
As I come into the main audience area, it is full from back-to-front with bodies waiting for Dead Harts to start their set.
Within seconds of launching into their opening track, vocalist Matthew Baxendale began using the crowd as furniture, climbing all over them and pouring his throat down the microphone. This could no better forecast of the series of events that would unfold this evening.
They had even brought the necessary props for the crowd to literally surf with as a beach board appeared head-high in the audience. Within seconds of its emergence, people were riding the tide of the crowd.
It was a pin-point set: punk bands sound terrible when they’re sloppy and incredible when they’re polished – to use Shomo’s reference. Fortunately, the Sheffield act were by a clear mile on the latter side. Energetic with all kinds of flavours coming to the fore of their sound.
I watched Chicago main-support The Color Morale from a vantage point on the staircase. Gareth Rapp is a wonderful frontman and is almost as vocal in between the songs as he is during them.
At one point he addressed the crowd by saying: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned: I’ve gone through what I have for a reason and that’s to write songs for people to relate to”.
Rapp excels as both a melodic singer and an unclean vocalist. Their set was particularly absent of the body-boarding seen in the previous set, but more crowd members chimed in with the vocal parts when opportunistically handed the microphone.
They are a tireless band taking any chance to will the crowd to pendulum along to their impressive hooks or to persuade some movement. In response, there were the head-nodders in the corner avoiding the human-colosseum in the middle. Rapp took to the arena: “if you see someone not moving, move them” and that work-ethic was maintained right through to their final notes.
It’s strange, having spoken to Shomo, he is entirely devoid of a messiah-complex. Yet, as he passes through the crowd, his presence alone parted it like the red sea.
And then it unfolded. Shomo returned on stage minus his glasses. I was swept aside from the heart to the periphery as soon as ‘Relapsing’ burst into life. I had drastically under-estimated how physical this show would be.
Beartooth bare all the hallmarks of a high-calibre band; from ultra-catchy choruses, pacey verses, hard-hitting content and an over-riding unmistakable sound. What I think sets Beartooth apart from other similarly quality bands though is how each songs breathes its own identity and character, which lots of bands lose marks for.
Add that to their genuine, almost imposing respect for their fanbase, means I think we’ll be talking about Beartooth for a long time. These guys did not make themselves scarce on the night, which I have noticed large bands do when they downsize venue like this - anyone was free to go up and shake their hand.
The set itself was faultless. They mixed it up with the well-known anthemic tracks to which the vocalist was nearly out-vocalised by the crowd, as well older songs from their first E.P. which was almost emblematic of the ‘returning to the roots’ nature of the show.
When the lyrics “one life, one decision” of closing song ‘Body Bag’ resonated, the tide turned to a tsunami – the beach board did not stand a chance. I’m almost surprised people didn’t leave in body bags. Shomo: I guess all the stars did all align, because it was indeed unforgettable.
Beartooth left teeth-marks on everyone in the venue and took chunks out of The Anvil, too.