With a winning mix of sludgy old-school thrash and extreme metal, Massachusetts quartet Unearth stood at the forefront of taste-making hardcore at the earlier part of the decade. Credit the band's epic machine-gun breakdowns, lead vocalist Trevor Phipps' guttural growls, and a back-breaking touring schedule for its continued prominence. Slots in heavy-metal gatherings like the Rockstar Mayhem Festival and Ozzfest have only cemented the band's reputation as one of the most reliably punishing and moshable acts in the scene.
After a three-year recording hiatus, the band returned this past July with its fifth studio album, Darkness in the Light. The album revives Unearth's brawniest guitar riffs and most cathartic verses. The band's colorful guitarist, Buz McGrath, was kind enough to take a few minutes from his busy tour schedule to speak with County Grind regarding the new disc, Phipps' vocal regimen, and what it's like growing old in the heavy metal scene.
New Times: So how is the tour coming along? It just started a couple of days ago, right?
Buz McGrath: We just played the first two shows in Canada, and right now, we are in sunny Hartford, Connecticut, birthplace of the shiv or shank.
You are not too far from your hometown of Winthrop, Massachusetts, then. Must be a homecoming of sorts?
Yes, we are about two hours from my house. My daughter and wife are actually coming down and joining me for three dates of the tour.
How old is your daughter?
Three and a half.
Wow, so what's it like taking a three-and-half-year-old on tour with a metalcore band?
I don't know -- this is our first time doing it. You know what's going to happen? Most of the tour is going to be mellow, no extreme raging going on, and I bet for the the next three days, it's going to be insane raging partying going down.
I see that it is sponsored by Jägermeister. Does that mean there is copious amounts of Jägermeister available in the green room?
Absolutely! We got a shipment of it today, matter of fact, so a lot of people are going to be getting sauced up on that tonight.
How does it feel to be co-headlining your own tour versus the mammoth festivals you played this summer?
I prefer the festivals versus headlining, to be honest. So much easier when people are in the festival mentality. They probably took the day off work and are just ready to party. On a club tour like this one, a lot of times they rage too, but the problem is if nobody shows up, it's your fault. If nobody shows up to a festival, you can be like... "Oops, it wasn't me."
So you are saying there is a little more pressure to produce when you do your own show?
Yeah, I suppose, but this tour will bring out a lot of the dedicated Unearth fans. At a festival, you just play the bangers. Shows like these allow us to play the deep cuts.
In festivals like Ozzfest, you've had to play in the middle of the day. Your songs seem better-suited for nighttime -- what is that experience like?
I think we are a visually active band onstage, kind of like a circus of buffoonery mixed in with metal posturing. We try to bring the party. That vibe translates day or night. In the daytime, you could probably see it better. At the club show, with our sweet light rig, it just looks more professional, I guess.
How about moshing, festival versus club shows?
No denying that people get bananas at the pits in festivals, but at club shows fans are closer, piling onto the stage and stage-diving. We love it.
Which songs from your catalog are the best for moshing?
"Endless" is a classic, and so is "Great Dividers." From the new record, "Eyes of Black" and "Watch It Burn" are real mosh-a-thons.
How about slow dancing? Let's just say a situation arises when it's just you and a special lady friend. What Unearth track do you think would set the mood best?
"Letting Go" is our most ballad-like song, you might say, if you could even call it that. If you heard it, you might think it sounds like Crowbar or In Flames.
Has working the heavy-metal festival circuit afforded you with the ability to hang with some of your idols?
Yeah, when you see people like that, it is really cool because your whole life you have built them up to be these superdudes. At Ozzfest, I saw Ozzy once walking down the hall; he gave me a head nod, and I yelled at him: "Wuz up, dog!"
It took three years to put out your new album, Darkness Into the Light. Did you guys spend your time carefully crafting the record, or where you simply too busy to record due to your hectic tour schedule?
We toured for 18 months on the previous record and then took about six months to write Darkness Into the Light and then another six months passed before it came out. It was an arduous process.
The press release on the new record states, "The band has delivered their most honest, powerful, and compelling statement to date." Would you agree?
Honest, what does that even mean? What a silly word! Those press releases are such bullshit. It's fucking Unearth, man. There are mosh parts, shred guitar, blazing drums, and a guy screaming over it. The end. I'm a big fan of the record, though. We are psyched about it.
How does Trevor do the screaming day in and out for 11 years? Does he suck down tons of lozenges every day? Is he mute the rest of the time when he is not singing?
He takes a couple of shots of whiskey and it really does something to his vocals chords and just goes on stage and cranks it. Then afterwards, he gets drunk and screams some more. Seriously, though, he does it right. He did take some lessons and learned how to control his breathing and sing from the right places.
Going back now to the start of the career, your band has deep local ties to our area being that you were first signed by South Florida-based Eulogy Records. Tell us about that.
We put out of first demo tape -- hopefully that doesn't date us too much -- and it was picked up by a label called Endless Fight; then Eulogy got a hold of it and pressed it on CD and also put out our first full length. They were a nice little springboard for us.
You guys must have traveled down here often to set everything up.
John Wylie, the label founder, booked us our first string of shows along the East Coast. Our first tour was down to Fort Lauderdale and back. We have been to Fort Lauderdale a ton of times.
Considering you have been together since 1998 and have put out five albums so far, do you see yourselves transitioning from a burgeoning band into elder statesmen in the scene?
When you are getting there -- you know, getting old -- you are really on the inside looking out. You say to yourself, "Nah, we are still young, cool, and hip." But now we are like a mainstay, a "trusted source for heavy metal music," if you will, and we are cool with it.
The Jägermeister Presents Tour With Unearth and Chimaira. 6 p.m. Friday, November 25, at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $17.50 in advance, $20 at the door. Click here.
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