Pulling Teeth: Inside The Mind Of Beartooth's Caleb Shomo

Unless you’ve been chewed up and spat out by the Simon Cowell Shattered Dream Factory, real music generally comes from within. Words you sing to your fans come from past experiences, from people you know and from your heart. They bleed onto the page and into the ears of those who heed your call. That’s music. That’s what we as music fans desire above all else – no-bullshit, powerful music to connect with on more levels than ‘Oh, I like this bit.’

Caleb Shomo is only 21 but this kid from Columbus, Ohio has already lived the high life in the music biz. Formerly the frontman of Attack Attack!, he has since started a wholly personal project rooted in his own life and his own emotions – both good and bad. “I have two switches,” Caleb admits. “I’m either shut off or all coming out at once, and Beartooth is my way of letting it all out and not caring about what people think.” And when your lyrics are as honest and brutal as you’ll find on Beartooth’s debut Disgusting, other people’s reactions are the last thing on your mind.

Throughout the record Caleb sings and screams his life history into a microphone for the world to hear. Stories of addiction, emotional and mental illness and all kinds of abuse are given a full airing as Caleb bears his soul throughout the 43-minute runtime. Despite the choruses being bigger and harder than André The Giant’s dad, there’s something more delicate and fragile beneath the surface… something that only comes out during album closer Sick And Disgusting.

“Recently I tried to revisit it and only got through about halfway and I decided I didn’t want to go through it again,” says Caleb, and it’s easy to see why. Recorded in one take, he walks into the studio and thrashes out the demons inside, leaving him physically crying into the mic in the most honest, cathartic release we’ve heard in years. None of this faux-emotion ‘Waaah, girls don’t like me’ bollocks: this song hits you and hits you hard. “It’s not something you put on to show your friends. Most people I’ve talked to that have heard it have listened to it once and that was it,” he continues. But with the album featuring lyrics including ‘Dad I don’t wanna be sick and disgusting’ screamed repeatedly with tears streaming down his face, how did his family feel about Caleb’s brutal honesty?

“I talked to my dad about it, which was awkward. The record wasn’t out yet but I sent a copy to him and I forewarned him: ‘Listen, there’s gonna be a song on here that’ll be really weird for you to listen to.’ We talked about it and he is totally cool and supportive.” And it’s that support, that lifeline of a caring family, that really helped Caleb out of the darkest parts of his life. At school he was “your classic awkward fat kid” and “never had a shot with any woman ever – it was a weird experience that brought on a lot of emotional and mental problems.”

These problems in Caleb’s life soon manifested themselves as something dark, something despondent. You only have to listen to one song on Disgusting to know that, for a time, he was his own worst enemy and this record was his escape route.

“A lot of Disgusting is me in the phase of moving past my self-destructive phase. It was towards the end of being in my old band and, after moving on from that, being able to write about something other than being self-destructive is a great feeling.”

And now the LP is in the public domain, Caleb is in a much better place.

“For the most part I’d say I’ve pulled through a lot and come out a better person. The reality is, though, that I’m depressed and anxious and I have all this other clinical stuff going on – it’s something I’ll always be dealing with. That’s always going to come out in my writing but I’ve been able to move forward writing stuff.”

Having heard his stories and his lyrics it’s easy to forget that Caleb is only 21. Yet the band is his own and it is his vision, which could be the reason why the band’s official bio compares him to Nine Inch Nails legend Trent Reznor.

“I aspire to be compared to him but I don’t know if I would actually say it myself,” gushes Caleb. “He’s completely changed a lot of electronic and industrial music – he’s an icon.”

Which is where the juxtaposition lies; while Trent pushed the boundaries of industrial metal, Beartooth are bringing music to its base, to bring the rawness back with just guitars, bass, drums and vocals. And it’s that DIY punk ethic that shines through when you see the quintet throwing themselves around onstage – another facet to the band that Caleb puts everything into.

“If I don’t feel like I’m gonna puke at the end of the show then I didn’t go hard enough,” he laughs. “The whole point of going to a Beartooth show is to get involved and be a part of the show. Everyone there is supposed to be more involved than we are. It’s weird to have people singing along because the songs are for the most part so personal, but it’s very cool. My whole thing of why I want people to sing is that they’re involved and they’re doing it for themselves. I want people to have this awesome experience and to really let go and be free.”

And like everyone else at a gig, all we want is that experience. To relate, to sing, to feel everything and everyone around you as one. And Beartooth’s fans connect with Caleb’s tales of growing up, anguish and physical abuse – most notably in the controversial, heartfelt song Beaten In Lips.

“I didn’t try to write that as an anthem,” he reveals. “I’m just spewing my thoughts on child abuse. It’s something I’ve never been through but I wrote about it because of all these people at shows that I’ve talked to that deal with it, and how mind-shattering it is. It makes me want to keep going in a lot of ways, that my struggles can help someone else. If the negative parts of my life that I put on a record can help people, then that’s a real honour.”

Disgusting is out now via Red Bull

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.