Latest release: Darkness in the Light (Metal Blade/Riot!)
“Van Halen for sure,” says Unearth guitarist Buz McGrath, when asked what he’s looking forward to the most about their upcoming tour here. “That’s pretty hilarious. I tell my friends at home like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re on tour doing this, and then we’re going to tour with Van Halen in Australia.’ I don’t mention the thirty other bands on the bill to them!”
He is quite looking forward to bringing his band here for Soundwave Revolution in September, which will give Australian audiences a chance to check out some of the new album Darkness in the Light in the live arena. It will also give Unearth a chance to soak up some atmosphere themselves.
“I love doing those festivals tours,” McGrath says. “There’s so many people you know and you just get to check out rad bands all day and you’re always running into good friends. That’s one of the cool things for me. And to be in Australia is a trip in itself.”
While Unearth are no strangers to the festival circuit, this is the first summer they’ve been part of it since their Ozzfest appearance in 2006. This year, they’re touring on the Mayhem Festival Tour with an array of big names that include Disturbed, Godsmack, Megadeth, In Flames and Suicide Silence.
“People are just excited to be there because they probably took the day off work and they’re just ready to rage,” says McGrath, before turning to the subject of their new album, which has already been getting some solid reviews.
“It’s been amazing. It’s making me a little nervous, it’s been so good. People are really going out of their way to say this record is the best you guys have done in a long time. Especially on our Facebook page, and Twitter, there’s just been a flood of praise for it!”
The level of praise and excitement being generated on social media gets McGrath thinking about what the reaction would have been like to the previous album, had Facebook and Twitter existed then to the degree it does now. He definitely sees the role of social networking as having a positive impact.
“I think it’s a good thing and it maybe even offsets the loss of album sales which have been lost to illegal downloading,” he says. “You’re going to have some people get the album for free, but you’re also going to have the word get out a lot easier through social networking. We have a lot of other friends in bands on Twitter and they re-tweet it so word just gets spread around like wildfire. So I think it’s definitely a positive thing and it does offset it a little from the people who are gonna get it for free.”
Regardless of what some people may still believe about illegal file-sharing, it is having a negative effect, especially on bands like Unearth who are on small independent labels like Metal Blade.
“It gets to the point where you used to have a budget from a label to make a record and that just kind of goes down and down because record sales are lower across the board, for every band on the label. The label is the first one to hurt; they’re impacted by it, they’re hurt by it and it kind of trickles down to us,” McGrath explains. “It may come to the point where we’re making records on a little tiny budget. Same with making videos. We didn’t make a video for this record yet, just because the budget that the label’s gonna give us, which is so small we couldn’t really get a video out of it. Or something that would showcase how we felt about that particular song. So that kind of impacted us directly right there. Not that I think videos are that important anymore — which I guess is a whole other topic in itself, but I think it’s still a cool thing to have.”
Not that such musings have tempered his enthusiasm toward Darkness in the Light. Unearth’s fifth album, it was released on July 5 and, as mentioned, has already received strong praise from the metal community.
“It’s a very exciting time when you’re about to put out a record and you get to do all the interviews. People are geniunely excited about the record, so it’s a lot of fun. It’s like a baby being born. You hope it doesn’t come out retarded,” he says with a laugh. “Just the level of excitement in Unearth and at Metal Blade Records and everyone involved with us is something we haven’t felt for a long time. You get excited about your records, but this one feels a little different, so that’s cool.”
When it came time to start work on the new release, Buz McGrath points out that the first thing they did was look back at what they’d done in the past to see how they could improve on it.
“The initial approach was that you kind of look back at your previous record and maybe pick apart what you didn’t like about it,” he says. “Whenever a band puts out a new record, in every interview it’s ‘This is our best material to date. It’s perfection… better than all our other records…’ Every band thinks that when their new record is coming out. But as the years pass and you look back and say, ‘OK, it was a good record, but maybe next time I’d do this differently.’ So we look back at that and maybe work from there.”
It also required a different approach to both writing and recording, due to Unearth no longer having a drummer after the departure of Derek Kerswill. Instead of a complete band recording, Darkness in the Light was constructed in a rather piecemeal fashion. As McGrath explains, it all came together with a little help from Killswitch Engage’s Justin Foley.
“We didn’t have a drummer at the time — we fired our old drummer — so it was just me and Ken (Susi). I’d go to Ken’s house, throw riffs at him and we’d program drums to it and just constructed the songs that way. Then we had Justin Foley from Killswitch come in and record the drums. So we gave him all the demo stuff and he learned it and put his own stink on it, and we told him that we’re guitar players not drummers so we weren’t going to have great drum parts! So he said he’d take care of it and he put his own flavour on it, and the end product was amazing. He recorded the drums to the scratch guitar tracks, and then we got the real drums back and put the real guitars down. So we were never in the same room playing this. That’s how we grew up writing music: you’d get together at the jam space and you smash out riffs all day. Which is cool, but it’s also taxing. So these new songs really never got played together in the same room until a few weeks ago when we got together to rehearse. It was a different way to do it for us.”
The songs weren’t even played as a complete band until the time came to tour them.
“When we went in to rehearse, it was like I was filling in for another band or something,” McGrath says.
With album sales shrinking, touring is what keeps Unearth above water. So it’s important that they give the crowds something to check out and keep coming back to.
“We give some energy, the crowd gets it and gives it back and it just kind of explodes into an orgy of metal on stage!”
Expect to find a few of the new songs in their live set, which they will no doubt be fine-tuning on their US and European festival run before landing on our shores.
“We’ve got almost the whole album rehearsed, but we like to rotate the songs in and out everyday and see which songs work the best to get the best crowd reaction. Especially at a festival […], you kind of want immediate gratification where you just play the bangers and go bananas.”
Like many bands, Unearth faces fluctuating fortunes. They may no longer be flavour of the month among some people, but they are still out on the road working hard, touring and recording despite the changing face of the industry and the fickle nature of fans.
“I mean, there was a time where we were selling a ton of merch when we were the hip cool band to be wearing their shirt,” the guitarist says. “Fortunately we’re still here. We’re not super rad haircut dudes. We still have a fanbase and we’re really appreciative of that. A lot of bands have that peak of success and then they just fizzle out, but we’re still here doing it and we’re still getting a considerable amount of money from merch. We’re in the ticket and t-shirt industry. We’re not so concerned with the record sales anymore, just because of the state of the business, but to be able to go out and buy a ticket and a t-shirt, that’s how we sustain ourselves.”
As for other bands who may one day find themselves riding the crest of a wave, Buz McGrath has some advice.
“Once you get a bit of that, you know, people start recognising you and your band gets a little bit popular, you just gotta take it in your stride and keep a level head and not let it run away with you. Sometimes when you want something done right you gotta do it yourself and not rely on other people getting it done for you.”