It’s 7.33pm at The Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri, on the night Bring Me The Horizon’s American Nightmare Tour is in town. Beartooth, who are opening proceedings, have just come offstage and are decompressing and analysing their set in the relative quiet before second support act Underoath take to the stage.
“Well, that fucking sucked,” announces frontman Caleb Shomo to the rest of the band in a booming, bellowing voice. “I think we should break up.”
His bandmates – guitarists Taylor Lumley and Kamron Bradbury, bassist Oshie Bichar, and long-standing-but-not-quite-official-enough-to-be-in- band-photographs- yet drummer Connor Denis – all agree. And they all start laughing. That’s because – of course – they’re joking. It is true, however, that Caleb isn’t entirely content.
“I think we actually, honestly, performed really well,” he explains a few minutes later from Underoath’s empty dressing room, as the loud rumble of the Floridians’ set downstairs reverberates off every wall upstairs. “I felt like I had a lot of energy and was really lively, but it was an in-your-head thing. I got a little something in my throat on the first line of the first song. I don’t think a ton of people noticed or cared, but I just felt like my voice wasn’t as good as it can be. And that’s frustrating, because it’s a 30-minute set. We’ve only got seven songs, so we’ve got to nail every one.” He pauses for a second. “But I’m also just really, really hard on myself.”
That’s something of an understatement. To call Caleb a perfectionist doesn’t even begin to describe the 24-year-old’s dedication to this thing that has ruled his life since 2012. During soundcheck, he wanders around the venue to gauge how good things sound in different parts of the room, adjusting levels accordingly on the band’s own monitoring rig. That’s not something many other bands – if any – ever do, and it definitely adds to Caleb’s personal workload, but for him that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
“I would be way more stressed had I not known that it was going to be good,” he smiles, “so I would much rather be there for the soundcheck. I am very hands-on on this tour.”
That, he explains, is nothing new.
“Even before we had this, I went out and mixed front of house,” he says. “I would literally go out during soundcheck, mix the band and have someone yell into the mic for me. Then I’d mix that and tell the front of house guy not to touch anything and I’d go up and play. Because this is our job. This is what we do.”
Regardless of the reservations brought on by his impossibly high standards, tonight’s set is phenomenal. It’s a strange venue, a former movie theatre- turned-gig space that has balconies upstairs and stadium-style barriers downstairs, resulting in an incredibly small floor/pit area in front of the stage. Not that Beartooth or the audience seem to care. Although a good number of the crowd at the front are clearly there for the headliners – the number of raining umbrella t-shirts is ridiculous – for the 30 minutes the Ohio band are onstage, they give it their all. Because of Bring Me The Horizon’s immense (and visually stunning) stage set-up, not to mention Underoath’s drumkit, there’s not all that much room for the five-piece to do their thing, but they make every inch of what they’ve got their own. Having already done his vocal warm-ups, Caleb psychs himself up with some physical exercises in the wings as AC/DC’s Back In Black – chosen by the band and downloaded by their front- of-house engineer just minutes before – blasts over the PA, before charging onstage like his life depends on it while the crowd chants the band’s name.
“ARE YOU FUCKING READY FOR A ROCK’N’ROLL SHOW?” screams Caleb, as the band launch into Aggressive, the title track of last year’s second album. They tear through three more songs from that record (Sick Of Me, Fair Weather Friend and Hated) and three from 2012’s debut Disgusting (Body Bag, The Lines and In Between), spitting each one out with a venom that shakes the venue to its foundations. Compared with the lighthearted scenes in the dressing room over the previous four or so hours, where members were either playing Nintendo Switch, dissecting and singing along to Attila’s Public Apology – tongues firmly in their cheeks, of course – eating pizza or lethargically looking at their phones, this burst of high-octane, hyper energy makes it clear that the band haven’t just been waiting for this very moment, but they pretty much live for it.
“In reality,” explains Caleb post-gig, “I’m not a very confident dude. Right before I walk out, everything changes. When our TM tells us, ‘OK, two minutes’, I start ramping up, and when we walk out I’m like, ‘I’m going to rip this venue to the fucking ground.’ When I get onstage I’ve been called ‘The Dictator’ by some people that we’ve toured with, because I scream so much at people. But that’s not me, it’s just when I get taken over by the music. I just try and not stop it, I try and let it go as far as it will go. It’s pure adrenaline.”
It’s little surprise that playing live is such a visceral experience for Caleb, given how much of himself is in his songs. Writing and recording them has always been pure catharsis, a way for him to deal with his depression, his anxiety and his suicidal thoughts. With Aggressive, he found himself pulling through to the other side. Writing that album helped repair his mental health immensely, and he’s on good form both before, during and after tonight’s gig, not least because his wife Fleur has flown in to see him from their home in Columbus, Ohio. In fact, this run has really lifted his spirits.
“It’s been incredible,” he says. “Every show has been really fucking cool. The Bring Me guys take such good care of the whole tour and the Underoath dudes are just fucking awesome. We’re all just a bunch of fucking idiots. We joke around and have fun. I’d say this might be my favourite tour I’ve ever done, actually.”
But it’s not all been fun and games recently. On New Year’s Eve, Caleb posted on Instagram that “2016 was one of the most stressful years of my life”. He attributes that today to the result of touring so much while also trying to get Aggressive finished, and promises that he’s planning out the next 12 months to be more manageable. But he also admits that on the band’s winter jaunt to Europe at the end of last year, he found himself slipping into the abyss again. That, perhaps, is why it feels a little bit like he tries to put off the formal interview throughout the afternoon. The band are all incredibly friendly and welcoming, but every time their tour manager mentions sitting down to chat, Caleb seems somewhat reluctant, shying away to do something instead. But it could all be stuff he genuinely needed to do, because when he finally does sit down, he lets it all out.
“I haven’t been talking about this to literally anyone,” he admits, “but fuck it, I’ll tell you. It’s been dark. There’s been a lot of shit going on in my own head. When you write a record like Disgusting, you think, ‘OK, I’m starting to get out of the depression and the suicide and all that shit.’ And with Aggressive, the whole record was, ‘That’s not me anymore’ and being so pissed that even happened. I was on top of the world. And then it just came crashing down out of the fucking clouds. I don’t know what happened. It was on our headlining tour when we were in Europe. I truly think – and I’m not bullshitting – that I probably didn’t see more than 48 hours of sunlight in that month. That really fucked me up. I just started going back down a really dark road. Physically and healthwise, I was probably better than I’d ever been, but a whole bunch of crazy shit happened mentally.”
A few months on, and Caleb, thankfully, seems firmly back on track. He laughs, he jokes, he smiles, and he focuses on the positive upshot of that recent relapse – new music. He doesn’t give much away, because there’s not all that much to give away just yet, but he sounds excited about it.
“The reality,” he says, “is that it gave me the concept for the third record. I’m not going to tell you about it yet, but it’s fucking heavy. It’s not as lighthearted as Aggressive was. Content-wise, you’ll need to strap in. I’ve written one song and it’s far and beyond the best Beartooth song ever written. I can say that confidently. But now I have to write 11 more that are better, and I’m fucking terrified. But I’m going to make sure I have a lot of time to do it.”
That time won’t be for a while yet. After this US tour, there are festival appearances at the UK’s own Slam Dunk and Germany’s Rock Am Ring, then a short stint in Australia with The Amity Affliction. They’ll then jump straight onto Warped Tour until it ends in early August. But then, finally, for the first time since Beartooth began, Caleb will have some room to breathe. Hell knows he deserves it.
Aggressive is out now via Red Bull. Beartooth play Slam Dunk, 27-29 May.
Caleb talks us through the band’s rider. Spoiler alert: it’s not very rock’n’roll…
Pack of Double Stuff Oreo biscuits
Caleb: “I have my one Oreo a day after we play. Not every day, but if I’m feeling frisky. I’ll pick one out and have it when we’re done. I’ve been eating vegan for a little while now, and that’s like a little vegan treat.”
Caleb: “It’s literally a little box of shitty ham and cheese and crackers. That’s our merch guy’s. That’s just what he eats, and he’s been with us for a long time, so we try to take care of him. The Lunchables are really the most important thing.”
Caleb: “We played New York City and they brought Michelob Ultra, for some reason. Most people I know who drink this beer are like lifting gym rat bros – it’s only got like two carbs but it’ll fucking get you drunk, so we had this running joke that we need Mich Ultra, and we just made that official change today to carry the joke even further. And today our tour manager found a fucking Michelob Ultra hoody just to set that whole thing in stone. It’s totally fate! I don’t really drink much anymore. I’ll have a few beers after the show [puts on advertising voice] – a nice cold Michelob Ultra will set you right!”