Beartooth: At home with Caleb

Beartooth 2016
Home Tooths (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

“Nobody cares about the fact I’m in a band,” says Caleb Shomo from his house, which is located in a cul-de-sac in a typically American suburb of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a world away from the 23-year-old’s other life as the brainchild behind – and frontman of – Beartooth. Because here, where he lives with his wife and dog, things are pretty much exactly as they always were.

“It’s a 15-minute drive to my parents’ house where I grew up,” Caleb explains. “I have the same friends I’ve always had, and the thing that’s nice is it’s like nothing’s changed at all. We all just hang out. It’s always been the same for the last however long we’ve known each other. It’s great to have a home and a place where none of that really matters.”

Of course, as much as Caleb is comfortable with the idea of suburban anonymity – he’s been in this house for about a year and a half – it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening to Beartooth at the moment. Formed while still in Attack Attack!, the project became Caleb’s main preoccupation after he left that band because of his struggles with depression. It was that which inspired the majority of Beartooth’s 2014 debut album, Disgusting. Recorded in the basement of his previous house and written and played entirely by Caleb himself, its combination of visceral aggression, self-loathing and brutal honesty soon found Beartooth a loyal fanbase, one that helped that record hit Number 48 on America’s Billboard 200 chart. As the album, and two years of touring it, increased their name recognition, big opportunities began to present themselves, and last October, the band – currently completed by lead guitarist Taylor Lumley, rhythm guitarist Kamron Bradbury, bassist Oshie Bichar and touring drummer Connor Denis – supported Slipknot on a string of US arena dates.

“That was extremely surreal,” remembers Caleb. “We’re playing giant arenas every day and there’s all these green rooms and we’re in a bus, so to come back home here and sit down on the couch and just watch TV, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, did that really just happen?’ It’s pretty nuts.”

Caleb's neighbours must love him...

Caleb's neighbours must love him... (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

With the impending release of second album, Aggressive, Beartooth look set to capitalise on that momentum, both in terms of their success and Caleb’s own personal circumstances. For while this record, as its name suggests, is an explosive tour de force of bitter rage and wrath, Caleb is now in a much better place emotionally than he has been for a while. It’s just that with this new set of songs, he is looking back at the times when he wasn’t.

“Disgusting was really self-deprecating and sad,” he explains, “and I was in a really bad place when I wrote it. This record picks up after two years of touring where everything has been amazing and I’ve really figured out a whole lot about life and about being happy. And I really do feel happy and I feel a little more mentally stable, to say the least. The reason it’s called Aggressive is because the one scar that the whole last six years has left is that I’m really, really pissed off that I wasted so much of my life being depressed and being anxious, and letting those things kind of define my day to day. So this album is way more angry. Whereas the first album was sad, this album is violently pissed off.”

Indeed, its 12 songs burn with anger, Caleb unleashing a torrent of vitriol, most of which he freely admits is directed at himself. To some extent, Aggressive is almost a meta-album – a record about writing the record that came before it.

“A lot of it is self-reflection,” he admits. “A lot of this album really talks about what got me to the point mentally where I was writing an album like Disgusting – my childhood and some of the events that happened there and some of the people I ran into and a lot of experiences that made me really depressed, which has now turned into anger. It’s a lot of reflection, but the one thing about this is that although it is reflecting on my past, it’s also about moving forwards. I’m not at home lying awake at night anymore because I’m depressed. I’m not dwelling on all these things in such a negative way.”

That much is true. Although Aggressive is as incendiary as its title suggests, it burns with a constructive, rather than (self-) destructive, rage. Although the abject hopelessness and nihilism that permeated the songs of Disgusting is still in full force, they exist in past tense here, and are paralleled, beneath the hostile noise, with a sense of hope and positivity. Caleb might declare on However You Want It Said that he has issues, but there is now some light at the end of the tunnel.

“The next line on that song after I say ‘I know I have issues’,” he explains, “is ‘It’s something that I’ll work through’. There’s always another sense of the flip of a coin and coming out on the other side. I’ve kind of realised that no matter what happens, this is going to go on, and I can either dwell on it and let it piss me off and make me depressed, or I can lash out about it and get it out of my system and then not worry about it again, just try and move forward.” To some extent, that’s what Beartooth has always been about. Whereas Caleb’s time in Attack Attack! was plagued by his crippling depression, this band has been a fight against that from the very beginning. Ironically, though, while the catharsis of Disgusting was an immediate reaction to what he was going through, it ended up having some adverse longterm consequences. That’s something Caleb made a concerted effort to avoid this time around.

“This band has got me through all those tough times and really helped me get my head on straight,” he says, “but I can’t wait to tour on this album. I just spent two years touring on the most depressing, self-deprecating songsI’ve ever written. And it was really fun, but every day I’m singing these super dark lyrics. And that thought really had a lot to do with this album, and the way I wrote it and the way I wrote the lyrics. When I wrote the first record, I wasn’t thinking at all about the fact I had to play it for two years. I was just thinking about getting that stuff out of my system. So now, knowing that I’m going to have to play these songs for two years, I was like, ‘Fuck it – I really want to write something that I’m going to love singing about every night.’ So I’m really excited that now I get to go onstage feeling like a new person, with this new empowered feeling, that I’m going to be able to get up and sing about overcoming some really deep shit that I’m totally ready to get out of my system.”

Caleb's play pen. We're not jealous. Honest...

Caleb's play pen. We're not jealous. Honest... (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

The lads. Doing laddy stuff. #lads

The lads. Doing laddy stuff. #lads (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

There’s some shit, though, still deeply embedded within Caleb’s psyche. After all, he’s only 23 and, because of his band’s success, he’s being hoisted on a pedestal that’s firmly in the spotlight, rather than behind a generic white picket fence. Caleb never sought out fame or recognition from making music. It was just a by-product of the following that Beartooth developed. And as much as it’s afforded him freedom to pursue his dreams and a nice house in the suburbs, he’s still working out how to deal with, well, being perceived as a somebody worthy of attention and adoration by others. That’s something he addresses on the album’s final song, King Of Anything. A powerful, slow-burning and almost grungy lament, it’s a rare, honest glimpse into the humanity of a rockstar who insists he’s just the same as everybody else.

“One of the biggest questions I get asked,” Caleb says, “is ‘how do you handle other people looking up to you and your music and looking to you for guidance?’ And I have no idea how to handle that. I don’t think I ever will. I’ve never felt like somebody that should be looked up to. My whole life, I’ve always felt like this fucked-up person who doesn’t really know how to handle much. I don’t handle certain situations well and I don’t feel like a role model at all. I’m not at all anybody to worship.”

Much of that, at his own unspoken insistence is because of his age. Because Caleb isn’t ready – at all – to be in the position he’s inadvertently found himself in, yet has had to assume it anyway. As such, he’s caught between arrested adolescence and adulthood, between youthful abandon and grownup responsibility.

“It’s crazy,” he says frankly. “I’m 23 years old now and I’ve been on the road since I was 15. I’m now in my second band, on my second record doing full world tours. But I’m still trying to grasp growing up and trying, with the band, to understand how to be a leader for the people that come to the shows. But what do I even talk about to these people onstage? More and more people keep coming out and I’m trying to grasp how to handle that and to take on that duty in the right way. Because I still want to be an idiot and be wild and mess around and not worry about life, but at the same time now I feel like I have all these crazy responsibilities and it’s this real time where I need to grow up and I’m just trying my best. I don’t know how to do it because I’ve never grown up before.”

That, though, is all consideration for the future. For Caleb right now, it’s all about Aggressive – the fact that it’s done and what it represents, both for him and – whether he likes it or not – his ever-expanding audience.

“This record is about wanting your happiness back and your freedom from these problems so badly that you’re willing to do whatever it takes,” he explains. “You’re willing to press on as hard as you need to. That’s what I hope people get from this album. I guess we’ll see once it comes out and I start talking to people, but hopefully it does more good than harm in people’s lives. When you listen to the record, I want for it to end on a high note. I think it will. I really tried to put my heart and soul into it, and I think the emotion wrapped around this whole thing is very positive. Hopefully it stays that way.”