Beartooth frontman Caleb Shomo opens up on the creative process behind the band’s new album ‘The Surface’, out now via Red Bull Records.
With a new, positive outlook on life, Shomo tells us how he combined his love of pop songwriting and hooks with the heavy sounds that made his name.
Plus, we have teamed up with the band to bring you this exclusive ‘The Surface’ t-shirt design.
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Read Beartooth, ‘The Surface’ | The Album Story below
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“Regardless of how it was received, this record was going to be what it was gonna be. But it was very affirming. It was one of these universal affirmations of ‘Hey, you’re doing the right thing and you’re on your correct path. Just keep going.'”
The Caleb Shomo you knew of the past is long gone. The creative mind behind Beartooth has faced his demons and come out the other side renewed as is displayed in the sunny, positive vibes of new album ‘The Surface’. Mixing together his love of pop songwriting with the heavy hooks and screams that made his name, Shomo explores his journey to recovery and his newfound outlook on life, ready to open up a new chapter in his musical journey. He guides us through the writing process and challenges behind the creation of Beartooth’s fifth LP, revealing how everything you have ever heard from the band has all been leading up to this point.
“It is a balancing act” says Caleb of the mix of pop influences and heavier sounds on the album. “It was incredibly important to me to represent where I’m at, in my life, and in my musical journey, and leaning into the pop side of my writing was very, very important. I’ve always been a pop writer, and that’s always been super crucial to what I do. That’s why the choruses are what they are, and always have been very influenced by pop. But yeah, for this record, my motto for the whole thing was just no fear. I really wanted to serve every song in the best way possible.”
“There are still a lot of very important emotions that can only be, I guess, put across with heavier stuff” he continues. “It’s a much more positive album but it really is about that transition into the new mindset. I feel like tracks one, two and three are a taste of pretty classic Beartooth. And then from there, you get that huge shift into the middle section of the album.”
In addition to the wider range of sounds at play, there is also a newly realized sense of fun to ‘The Surface’, with adlibbed moments on mic and, on single ‘Might Love Myself’, the kind of melismatic vocal run usually reserved for pop divas.
“I was listening to a lot of Ariana Grande when I wrote that song” says Caleb. “She was without a doubt the biggest influence on that song at least from a musical standpoint. If you’ve listened to Ariana, she’s got a fucking unbelievable voice and she uses it. And I don’t know, I just was kind of getting lost in the take. Just going into a vocal session from a place of real confidence and empowerment, mentally, I think led for those moments to be able to happen. It represents the song. It is me trying to capture that moment that I realised I’m understanding what self love means. I kind of wrote that song really in that moment and it was a really special thing to be able to capture.”
Fans received their first taste of this latest Beartooth era via the single ‘Riptide’, released back in summer 2022. Now a well-established live favourite, Caleb always saw it as being the perfect gateway into this current era.
“I knew that song was the start of the new record. It was the first song I wrote after I had been in my new headspace. It was the first song I wrote after I quit drinking and made a lot of very big changes in my own life. And that was the clear indication of what the record was going to be, putting that line in the sand. I thought it was crucial to put that song out first to give people a way to kind of say, ‘hey, get ready for something completely new’.”
The overwhelmingly positive reception to the single is what gave Shomo the confidence to move forward, pushing further into this new, positive direction he wished to pursue.
“(Releasing it) was the scariest thing I’ve done in my musical career short of releasing the first record. Being the guy who writes all the sad stuff for so long and everybody just knowing me as that, I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen when I kind of revealed to the world like, ‘Hey, I’m actually trying to get healthier and figure out what it means to live a happier life and my art is going to follow that.’ Beartooth is me and I am Beartooth. So there’s going to be a new sound.”
In many ways, Beartooth’s recording process is something of a one-man operation, with Caleb setting up a mobile recording studio backstage whenever he is on the road. But that doesn’t mean that this process isn’t still a collaborative one.
“My second set of ears is Oshie Bichar (bassist). If you look in the album credits, it says additional production. When you’re doing it completely by yourself, it does eventually turn into white noise. Because I’m wearing so many different hats. I’m looking at the song from the perspective of the lyricist, the guitar player, the bass player, the drummer, the engineer, the producer, all of that. It is tough sometimes to be able to just step away and really look at something as a first time listener.”
Scene staple Drew Fulk, also known as WZRD BLD, co-writes with Caleb occasionally and is credited on ‘What Are You Waiting For’ and ‘I Was Alive’.
But the collaboration that will grab the attention of most fans is ‘The Better Me’ which sees Beartooth work with country artist Hardy on the band’s first ever feature.
“Beartooth is a very, very personal thing” explains Caleb. “It’s not for anybody else. So I’m not going to just throw somebody on it for the sake of it. But I wrote the song and I thought this could be the one that I do something special with and get a feature on.”
On Hardy, he continues “we became friends just through some mutual friends in the scene – he’s a big golfer, I’m a big golfer. I have definitely some roots from my family in country music, but not pop country, you know, like bluegrass and stuff that influenced ‘The Blackbird Session’ EP that we did. That is really an homage to my family and my gospel roots and the Kentucky, southern sound that is very prevalent in my family. That being said, Hardy, is also kind of cut from a similar cloth. He’s a rock kid who loves heavy metal. He’s just an absolute sweetheart of a person.”
“Beartooth songs have always come from the exact same place, every single one. They come from the thing that is most prevalent in my emotional state right now that I’m feeling. At the core, that’s what their truth is and that’s where I write from. I try to write from the same place that I wrote the first record from, and the first EP when originally I had planned on nobody ever hearing this other than people very close to me and it just being a personal passion project. The subject matter is just different because I am in a completely different place in my life. And I hope that is what people understand about it.”
The opening title track repeats the phrase ‘I’m not dead yet’, hammering home this new lease on life to the listener from the outset. Single ‘Sunshine’ meanwhile welcomes a bright light into the room, a metaphor and theme that Caleb felt summed up a lot of his own struggles.
“That song is obviously written around me, it’s written around my seasonal depression, it’s written around living in Columbus. Knowing that there is something I can do to change it, move, get out of somewhere with brutal winters that affect me so negatively. But it’s scary and it’s hard to be stuck in that and realise that you have to do something that is going to be painful, and it’s going to be difficult, but it is going to be worth it in the long run, if you just believe in it, and you trust it, and you go with it.”
“Even the first song in the record is incredibly transitional” he continues. “A lot of the songs are really about me quitting drinking and chasing a whole new way to approach mental things. The verses are about me still being in those deep depths, being stuck in my ways and just beating my head against the wall doing the same thing over and over and over. And then the chorus is about what it felt like to be on this manic high of when my chemicals were reconfiguring themselves for that first few months without alcohol. It was a very bizarre feeling, but it was really cool.”
Now that he has had time to reflect on this personal change, have the lyrics taken on any new meanings from the other side of sobriety?
“It’s more just wild to look back on. I’m just very proud of myself, I’m really happy that it happened. I’ve had so many people ask me, you know, what would you say to yourself 10 years ago? When I was making ‘Below’, I literally thought that was forever. That there was no way out. I was destined to be making this same record every two years forever. I was destined to just probably die at my own hand, and never be able to wrap my head around all of the negative things in my life, emotionally, that influenced me. So when I look at the lyrics, it’s this disbelief that it’s real and it happened. I’m just proud of myself, that these lyrics are manifesting an entirely new chapter of my life in my 30s that I’m going into, and putting to bed a very important, but a very painful, chapter of my life, which was my 20s. This could possibly be the most important record I ever make in my life.”
THE TITLE & ARTWORK
“I knew that the album was going to be called ‘The Surface’ since before ‘Disease’. I knew that it was going to be ‘Disease Below The Surface’, and then that was going to be done. But I didn’t really know what it was going to mean. It represents breaking through something.”
In terms of the artwork, colour palettes continue to play an important role in defining an era of Beartooth. On ‘The Surface’, Caleb once again worked with Tension Division, a Columbus based company also known for their work with Twenty One Pilots and with whom he has been collaborating since ‘Disease’.
“I embody whatever colour we’re going through, it’s incredibly empowering. It really does change the mood. The pink is, I think, the most important and the biggest departure we’ve ever done colour-wise. I wanted something really light. I call it California Sunset – that was what the real start of the pink was, when I was out in California for the first time writing songs for ‘The Surface’. That really dusty, bright pink. I want that to be the forefront. It’s something unexpected, probably, that people wouldn’t think that we’d be going with. But it just represents exactly what this record is, which is a big shift to a whole new area of my life.”
“I have no clue what the next Beartooth record is going to be” Caleb admits. “I have no clue what this next chapter is going to be. None whatsoever. But what I have learned is that usually, I write a record about exactly what I’m going through at that moment, and my emotional state and trying to capture that through song, which is my most efficient way of speaking, and communicating anything. What that turns into, I have no idea. But I know what it’s not going to be. And what it’s not going to be is what I’ve done in the past. That first chapter is done. I’ve closed that book.”
“So much of being a musician is planning. If I look on a calendar, I know where I’m going to be for 70% of my time for the next two years. At this venue at this date, I will be on stage at this time with this band. It’s so easy to get lost in that. It’s so easy as a musician to just get lost in time. All I really hope is that I am present throughout this cycle, and through whatever other cycles I’ve got, because life is very short. It’s so easy to let it just completely fly right by, especially in this music scene.”
“What I care about is just being able to actually enjoy what’s in front of me at this current moment in time, in the present, and just be here for now.”
‘The Surface’ is out now via Red Bull Records.