Beartooth’s new album is a curveball. Vocalist and songwriter Caleb Shomo intended for ‘The Surface,’ arriving October 13, to stand out from the rest of the metalcore band’s catalogue. “The main thing I knew I wanted after I finished the previous album ‘Below,’ was I wanted ‘The Surface’ to be the polar opposite in every way, shape and form,” he tells NME. “And I, at least, vowed to myself that ‘Below’ would be the darkest, saddest record I ever make in my life.”
‘The Surface’ shows the frontman embracing positivity. It strikes a much brighter tone right off the bat – with singles titled ‘Sunshine!’ and ‘Might Love Myself’ and a light pink aesthetic. “‘Below’ was this really deep, dark, purple and it was so brutal and sad and gruesome,” Shomo says. “So I was like, ‘Alright, let’s go with this really bright, loud pink.’” It was also inspired by the sunset in Los Angeles, where he worked on the record. “I just want it to be completely different than anything else I’ve done before,” he says.
‘The Surface’ is Beartooth’s fifth record, and also marks a decade of the band’s existence – and wraps up Shomo’s twenties. “Every two years I make a record and they all seem to be pretty wildly different,” he says. “So we’ll see what happens in two years. But as long as I’m happy and I’m present then I’ll be content with whatever I’m doing.”
Shomo spoke to NME at Red Bull Studios in London about embodying an optimistic perspective, expressing his experiences with mental health through songwriting, and his love of pop music.
Your work has always delved into your experiences with mental health and you don’t shy away from talking about the really difficult parts of that. But on this album, you have a more positive outlook. What sparked that shift?
“Honestly, the pandemic. For most people, it was a really intense emotional period in both directions. ‘Below,’ was the period piece of being in the depth of it and it was pretty sad. And I had a really hard time, as I’m sure most of us did…. I hit this point where I just realised, with my life, I had two very distinct paths in front of me. It was: continue on living a very unhealthy, unloving, self-destructive life and who knows how long that lasts – and even if it does last, it’s going to be really painful and unfulfilling and difficult. Or I got to look myself in the eyes and make some very tough choices, but choices that are going to be practical to make my life a little bit better and a little bit happier. Some of those being taking control of my mental health, which is something I’ve always dealt with…. I’ve covered that for four records and an EP now, and it hasn’t all been great.
“Just like for most people, the pandemic, coming out of that, I just felt like I had to do something different and take advantage of the life that I’ve still been given. Because when you get a massive part of that taken away, and for myself, and for the entire music community, the live show was gone. And even putting out records and doing things that we do the same way, it was just completely changed… I was like, ‘Life is short, I wanna make the most of it.’”
Your most recent single is ‘Might Love Myself.’ How did that come together?
“I was listening to a lot of Ariana Grande and it’s all super-empowering. She’s rad. Those songs are crazy good, she’s on another level of songwriting. Self-empowerment is a massive part of [‘The Surface’]. That song was really about the moment that I understood that I was starting to feel self-love for the first time, truly, which is a very overwhelming experience.
“Shout out to Ariana, you’re rad and you’re empowering as hell. I remember listening to one of her records while I was walking to get coffee and I was just really vibing on a groove. And then the whole thing just happened when I got back to my studio, and the lyrics just came and the melody.”
Were there any other pop artists who influenced the album?
“For sure. NSYNC, way up there. NSYNC rules. Britney… the list goes on. One Direction, huge one. I’ve always loved pop. I think that pop writing, when it’s done well, is some of the most impressive stuff to me – I wanted to let that part of me out more. That’s been around since the beginning of Beartooth. I think it’s just because pop has been such a big influence on me and my life for a very long time. So it’s bled out. But with this record, I wanted to just be a bit more fearless in what I was doing and more focused and just let the pop out.”
It’s still a heavy record. There’s moments of real heaviness sitting alongside moments of real lightness, like ‘Sunshine!’. Was there any concern about stitching those together?
“Sunshine!’ was actually the second song I wrote and that song is very specifically about being stuck and wanting to get out of that and knowing, experiencing what that feels like in the middle of this gigantic shift in my life. I wanted the music to capture that. But musically, I thought the only way was to just go completely all out in those moments and how I was feeling. It’s written from two perspectives. I wrote the song in Los Angeles, which is where I live now. But [I was] born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, which has notably horrific winters and I am not a big fan of the winter anymore.
“The verses are supposed to feel like something from Beartooth’s first album, when I was stuck in this cold basement in Columbus, trying to explore my depression and what that feels like, and what that means. And then I wanted the choruses and all that to feel like the brightness of when I landed in California after I decided to move there. And this complete eye-opening experience of, ‘Okay, seasonal depression is something I can kind of control and but it’s going to take a big painful move.’”
The songwriting on the record focuses on how much effort goes into being happy and loving yourself. Did it feel cathartic to write those lyrics?
“Incredibly. It’s always a cathartic experience to write Beartooth records, with whatever kind of viewpoint they’re from. Some, obviously, being more painful than others. Making this record, truly, it’s just something I never thought was going to happen in my life, candidly. I’ve talked about it in other albums, I’ve talked about it pretty openly in interviews, the dark side of what I deal with sometimes, I felt like has always been at the forefront and been the most powerful energy in my life.
“Most of the time, I’d finish a song and be listening to it and I was like, ‘I cannot believe I wrote this.’ Beartooth is the most intimate experience that I have with music. Beartooth and me are one thing. It’s just me talking about exactly what I’m going through, with no filters, at that moment.
“I look at that experience, and it’s going to be probably one of the most important experiences I will ever have, because that really laid the foundation for me deciding that I’m going to put in the effort for the rest of my life to try and live happier and make the most of what I got. There are things that I’m going to deal with forever, which is, depression, anxiety, the things I’ve always talked about. But I do believe there’s a way that I can have those things in my life, but have a better toolkit to deal with them.”