Sometimes, it takes a monumental event in your life before you take stock of it all and make a change. Sometimes you just wake up one morning and that’s it, it’s time for change. For Caleb Shomo, four albums inspired by his mental health and depression, and it was time to change.
This new, more positive outlook on life inspired a more determined direction on their fifth album, The Surface. In our latest Cover Story, we sat down with the frontman to talk about the album, his decision to quit drinking and how he plans to keep on the straight and narrow when the band hit the road in 2024 for a year of extensive touring.
The first album came out 10 years ago now, if I’ve got the dates right. Did you think when you started out doing that, that you would still be here 10 years later talking about your fifth record?
Caleb Shomo: “Absolutely not. No. When I first started it, I was hoping to play like, you know, two, three weeks worth of shows in the year. Low key, just like a side project. Not even a side project, just like a passion project. Something to do for fun every so often. I thought it was going to be pretty mellow and that I was just going to be doing music production for the rest of my life. So, yeah, to be at record five, sitting in my studio in LA, waiting for this thing to come out in like less than two weeks. not what I expected, that’s for sure. But I ain’t mad about it.”
It’s obviously worked out really well for you. When you started out, there was a lot of anger, songs about your depression and your mental health. With the new record, there’s a feeling of determination and positivity about the the songs. What did you want to get out of writing this record?
“I don’t know if there’s anything I’m necessarily trying to get out of it. I think I’m just documenting what I’m going through. That tends to be what happens with Beartooth records. It’s just like every couple of years I make a new one and, uh, I just talk about whatever’s going on in my life.
And this time what’s going on in my life is just very different than what’s been going on in my life for the last, you know, eight years prior of doing Beartooth before this record. I guess, if anything, you could say the point is me trying to manifest and solidify just a healthier way of life for myself, mentally, whatever it may be, you know?”
“I do think in hindsight, it was very important that I changed, but, it was more gradual. It was just like hitting a very low point and living there for a while. It was not like being at rock bottom, but it was just low and depressing.”
You’ve talked about the chapters in your life. The last few years, a lot of people’s mental health has struggled. It’s been quite a difficult time for a lot of people. What was that period of life like for you?
“It’s been an interesting few years. Like most COVID was very dark, pretty brutal. I wrote an album called Below during that period, and that was a very sad record and I think that captured that time very well. The last two years have been really good. I mean, they’ve been very busy, a lot of stress, but it’s all good things, you know? I think that change takes a lot of work and a lot of determination and I’ve been finding that out.
Like a lot, the last two years has just been grinding, trying to keep my head down and just stay in the lane that I know is working for me, which is exercise, eating well, and trying to write music about it. Yeah, it’s been up and down but, as a whole, the last about year and a year and a half to two years have been real good.”
Did you did you reach a crossroads in your life? I think I’d read that you’d said you could follow your current path and not manage your mental health or choose a healthier lifestyle? What was the turning point?
“It was actually pretty slow. It wasn’t as, I think it is for a lot of people in similar places that I am, it is like a really sudden intense, you got to do this now kind of thing. Not to say that it wasn’t dire for me to do it. I do think in hindsight, it was very important that I changed, but, it was more gradual. It was just like hitting a very low point and living there for a while. It was not like being at rock bottom, but it was just low and depressing.
It is just not a way that I wanted to live and I’ve done it many times. I’ve lived there for many years. So, it was kind of slow, like baby steps, you know? Just starting like going to the gym a little bit here and there and then going to the gym a lot and then, eating a little better and then, you know, only drink on the weekends and then just cut out booze altogether and then it was just practice makes perfect, I guess.”
From the very beginning, you’ve had a real special connection between you and the fans and a lot of that is, I think, because they connect to the lyrics and what you’re going through. With this new record, what do you hope they take from it?
“I think it’s just that change takes work, and it starts with you doing it for yourself. There are so many times I’ve wished that a scenario would happen that would like do it for me or that somebody else would help push me or whatever it may be, in many areas of my life, but in general, just to like get my shit together and get my head on track and my life on track. I think that’s kind of the point is me realizing that it takes work manifesting self love and grace.
More than anything at the end of the day, life is just short and it goes really, really fast so you might as well be happy and healthy while you’re doing it, if it’s possible. I figured I’d take a shot at it and that’s kind of what the whole record is trying to say.”
“I think it’s just that change takes work, and it starts with you doing it for yourself. There are so many times I’ve wished that a scenario would happen that would like do it for me or that somebody else would help push me…”
A lot of people go through depression and that kind of thing and they all highlight the importance of having a good support structure around them. You’re in a very brutal, toxic industry, do you have that support structure away from the music industry?
“I got good people. I have amazing parents that are still close and very supportive. My brother is also great. My wife, more than anything, she’s very, very helpful for me in keeping me on the ground and just keeping me together because it’s hard it can be hard to, keep my head on straight doing this job for sure. Good people. Good band. I love my team, managers, booking agents, all that stuff. I’m a very blessed man to say the least.”
In terms of the connection you’ve got with the fans and how they really relate to you, going back to growing up, what bands did that for you?
“A lot of them. Underoath was a big one for sure. I mean, they really changed a lot for me. The Devil Wears Prada was another one that changed my life. I don’t think I’d be doing this without them paving the way. AC/DC. There’s so many rock bands just perfect for turning up really loud and just like rocking out. The list goes on but, you know, just like anybody, I turned to music to help me all the time. It’s very important.”
Is that still the case now? Do you still put on a record to lose yourself into or is it hard being in that industry 24/7 to go and put a record on?
“I still listen to music all the time. I love music. I can’t even explain it. It’s beyond love. Music is what I do. My whole everything is music but I think there’s a difference between listening to music for me and then making music or working on music in a professional setting. I listen to music all the time. Tons of different stuff.
I listen to a lot of really soft rock. Like Doobie Brothers and stuff like that. Even just having like soft music in the background when I’m cooking or running, you name it, I’m probably listening to music.”
I’d like to talk about your choice to give up alcohol. Was there a trigger moment for that or did it just kind of manifest over time?
“Honestly, it was over time. I had a really dark period during COVID, I’m sure like a lot of people did with booze where I was just hitting it way too hard. It was not doing anything for me. It was only taking away, which was not good. That’s kind of where I left it. Even my last night of drinking, honestly, it was really enjoyable.
It was me and my wife went to a really nice dinner in London. We went to a nice restaurant, started with a glass of champagne and some cocktails, went to the bar afterwards and had a couple of drinks and went to bed. It was just like, I can’t even explain it. I just woke up in the night and was like, today’s the day. Like you had your run, dude, it’s time. Let’s chase some new stuff.
At first it was definitely weird. I just told my wife, told my family, told the band. I didn’t know what it meant, if it was forever, for a year, forever, but I just needed to step away from this for a while. I very quickly realized, after I did stop, how much it’s benefiting my life and that there’s just no place in my life for alcohol anymore. You know? I had my fun. I’ve partied enough in my twenties for a lifetime. I’m good.”
In terms of your own writing then, what was it like writing in a different mindset?
“It’s definitely different. It’s really hard to explain. If I feel like writing, you can definitely just sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song today.“ That is possible. I mean, people do it for a living all the time and that’s how Nashville exists. You know what I mean? It’s just songwriting.
These people are machines. I am capable of that, but that’s not when I make the best stuff. I’ve found that not drinking has made it a bit more intense. It’s like when the waves hit, they hit so hard and I like it. You get crazy locked in, like crazy, crazy hyper focus.
I have like severe ADD. It’s definitely one of the ways that my brain works on those things. I found that, with boozing, there would be a sweet spot where I would mellow out and it would take the edge off for a second. I would get in a good lane and be able to work but then, very quickly, it would just go too far and then I wouldn’t be able to focus. I’d just go make fucking chicken fingers and go to bed. It’s definitely different. Like the waves are super intense, but, they’re great and I definitely prefer it that way. I think I’m a lot more productive even though it is like hot and cold. When I’m hot, I’m fucking blazing.”
Earlier you described Below as quite a dark record, quite a sad record. There’s a lot of positivity in the new chapter in your life. Where do you see it going?
“I honestly don’t know where it’s going. That’s something that I’ve kind of accepted and I’m totally cool with. I have aspirations and I have things I would love to do. The one thing I do know is where my life is not going and that is back to that. That is more important. In life right now, I’m in a period of rest. I’ve been just so go, go, go really since the pandemic lifted. I haven’t really stopped and I actually have a little bit of time off.
I’m trying to take that to reset a little bit mentally, physically, just the whole nine yards because I know it’s going to get really intense next year and I’m very excited. We’re already doing more than I ever could have imagined. We just announced a tour headlining Ally Pally and, you know, two nights in Victoria Warehouse and two nights, I don’t know, two nights somewhere else. It’s a very big tour. It’s way bigger than anything I can really grasp. I’m just along for the ride. I was happy with getting out of basement shows, let alone doing what we’re doing now. I’m just going to keep pushing and see what happens.”
You’ve talked about next year being quite intense. How are you going to approach these tours? Are you going to approach them differently?
“2023 was a very good test drive of learning how to handle serious touring again, in this new mental state. I got a lot of good like things figured out for me. Certain things that work, certain things I really need to focus on. I got to focus on my diet. I got to focus on getting sleep, recovering… The show is only getting more and more strenuous but I prefer it that way. I like when I’m up there, it’s just like the lights turn off and I just want to be on 110%.
Other than that just focus up. Don’t get lost. It’s easy to fall out of routine and just exist on the road and just try to survive. I definitely have learned how to really thrive on the road. It takes extra work, but it’s very, very worth it. I feel like if I could get through this year of touring, I can get through anything.”
Just to wrap up that, have you got any message for fans about the more positive, happier Beartooth?
“Go listen to it for yourself. See what you think. Stream it, buy it, get a record, whatever you want to do. Every little bit helps and if you don’t, that’s totally okay as well. If you are interested, I think this is a really interesting place to start if you don’t know Beartooth. You get to come in at a really cool time.
If you want to go back through the other stuff, you might be very confused or you might get it. I don’t know? Just listen to the new jams, see what you think. Other than that just remember, life’s short, do whatever you got to do to be happy, simple as that.”
Beartooth released The Surface on October 13th. You can pick up a copy and keep up with all their news and latest tour dates over at their Official Website.