Beartooth On Going From A ‘Hyper Personal Outlet’ To Influencing Positive Change: ‘That’s The Coolest Outcome’

13 October 2023 | 3:12 pm | Mary Varvaris

Beartooth ringleader Caleb Shomo discusses having control over his depression and anxiety, going sober, and how country and metal music overlap on new album 'The Surface'.


Beartooth (Credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

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When you listen to The Surface, the new album by Columbus, Ohio-based alt-metal outfit Beartooth, you hear a zippy 38-minute album packed with music that’s confident and intelligent, different from everything that’s come before in terms of the band’s catalogue, and far more positive messaging from singer and ringleader Caleb Shomo.

The Surface marks a significant first for Beartooth – their first album to feature a guest vocalist – country music sensation HARDY, no less; and their first since touring Australia in a co-headline tour with Pierce The Veil in late July.

Described as an “intensely personal and powerful journey” for Shomo, The Surface demonstrates a more optimistic outlook after sharing many demons with fans over the years.

“Beartooth's entire discography has been snapshots of my inner monologue and emotional state over the years with a recurring theme: depression and self-loathing,” Shomo explained. “It's been tough to understand why I've felt the way I do for so long. During the pandemic, I was faced with two distinct paths in life.

“One — I continue doing nothing to manage the realities of my mental health and continue down a path of self-destruction, ultimately ending in my demise. Two — choose to do the work needed to maintain a healthier relationship with myself, no matter how difficult or painful.”

This album, and by extension, this interview, track the beginnings of a new life Shomo has fought hard to create for himself. The Surface is about finding self-love, perhaps for the first time. It goes beyond self-help parodies and further than a few appointments in therapy: it’s Shomo’s mission to be the happiest he can be.

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While the songs take on a more optimistic light, there are still dark passages and thrillingly heavy moments amongst some of the catchiest choruses Beartooth have ever written.

After the 2021 Beartooth album The Below, Shomo vowed never to create something so gruesome and self-deprecating again. He felt the big change in a new song, Riptide.

Describing it as “the moment” he knew The Surface would be different, Shomo reveals that a week before writing Riptide, he quit drinking and had a “really big revelation” about the priorities in his life.

“I'd already been trying to find out how to achieve a more stable mental relationship with myself and with my body and with so many things,” he says.

“In a weird way, quitting drinking was almost the last piece of that puzzle, and it really kicked me into overdrive. When I started writing Riptide, I was just like, ‘This is it. This is what the new record is. This is the first song on the new album.’ Let's just keep chasing this.”

The Surface was born from “Life experiences and what's currently happening in my life is always what I write about, and what I pull from when I'm making records,” Shomo shares, looking glamorous in pre-gig garb.

“The record captures about a year in my life, maybe a little over a year – I guess about a year and a half from December 2022 to about April 2023. It’s me trying to tell the story of a really big shift that I've made in my life with some lifestyle choices and really in the pursuit of mental health and happiness.”

Nowhere is that shift more evident than in Shomo’s openness with himself and his bandmates. He now has the tools to deal with longstanding depression, anxiety and anxiety attacks. He explains, “I think [this album] is gonna be one of the most important records ever made in my life because even to me, I think it is me trying to manifest and make a statement that I don't want to be that person anymore.

“Things like depression and anxiety are always going to be a part of my life. I mean, literally, for example, at our show two nights ago, I was having an anxiety attack about 40 minutes before we went on stage,” he admits. That experience was “really, really difficult”, but there’s a palpable difference: “Now I feel like I've got so many more tools to be able to handle that.”

In the past, Shomo would have been spiralling, “and it would have been really bad, but I was able to use a lot of the things that I've worked on myself mentally and physically and whatever it may be, to be able to look at that situation for the reality it was and then move through it, and we were able to play the show.

“To me, that feels like progress. How I deal with depression and anxiety – I feel like it's changed, and [so has] my viewpoint on it. And instead of it being this all-consuming thing in my life, it is a part of my life, but I now have control over it, instead of it having control over me.”

The new album also marked a difference in storytelling for Shomo. “A lot of the time, for most Beartooth records, I would write the music and let that dictate what the emotion of the song was instead of just exploring my own emotions and letting that come out,” he says.

“At least lyrically, with this being more of a lyric-forward record, instead of a music-forward record, at least in the writing process, it made for a big shift.”

It's been 15 years since Shomo began taking songwriting seriously and a decade running Beartooth, so it’s a bit of a surprise that a Beartooth record features another guest vocalist for the first time. “It’s a really big deal; it’s a big step,” Shomo laughs.

On collaborating with HARDY, he adds, “Me and him became friends over the last year or so. He is one of the most impressive songwriters, and he's just an amazing person. So, the whole story of how that song happened is pretty wild.

“I actually wrote that song, The Better Me, in March of 2022. I knew it was very special, but I just wasn't… it felt like somebody else should be on it. Like, I don't know, I couldn't explain it,” Shomo says. “But I've never thought, ‘Oh, I want to do a feature.’

“But I just had it in the back of my mind for a long time with that song. Honestly, it was all a whirlwind. We became friends, and then I just called him and was like, ‘Look, I got this song that I think you would be awesome on.’ I showed it to him, and he loved it. And the rest was history.

“He recorded it over Zoom – he was in Nashville with his engineer, and he had literally just got done playing a stadium the day before he flew in. And at noon, the next day, he was just cutting his vocals. He's so talented. He’s one of the most kind-hearted people I've ever met. And yeah, he's an amazing singer and writer, and to be able to do this collab is really, really cool. I'm very honoured to do it.”

The Surface is also an album pretty much wholly created and produced by Shomo alongside his bandmates – bassist Oshie Bichar, drummer Connor Denis, lead guitarist Zach Huston and rhythm guitarist Will Deely. He feels comfortable making music independently, although that’s a bit trickier in a band setting.

Shomo doesn’t want to tell anyone what to do, despite the vocalist maintaining that Beartooth is his passion project and personal outlet.

“I love to play drums, and I love to play guitar, and I love to play bass, I love to produce, I love to engineer, I love mixing. I love all these things! But Beartooth is just the one place where I get to really explore all of it, and so the flow has become very linear,” Shomo says.

With bandmates, though, some of that pressure to do it all – despite his passion – is removed from his shoulders. “It's like, ‘No, I'm just making Beartooth. That's it. It just feels like it's all one thing. It makes it a little bit less daunting.”

There are some life-affirming, downright positive songs on The Surface, from the bright Sunshine to the powerful I Was Alive to the wonderful Might Love Myself.

The latter has even come with some responsibility: now, Shomo is someone people can look up to as they fight their demons and come out the other side. “The fact that I could ever do something that could be a vehicle to help people make positive changes in their own life is beyond an honour,” Shomo states.

“It's still something I have an incredibly hard time ever wrapping my head around. But yeah, I mean, it was something that I honestly was afraid of for a very long time – just knowing that other people are going to hear what I'm saying and what I'm doing.

“At the beginning, Beartooth was just this very hyper-personal outlet of, like, alone in a basement. These songs are just going to live on a hard drive, and no one's ever going to hear them.

“Now that it's evolved into something where I still do write from that place – I write for myself, but I feel like I have something a lot better to say now, and a lot more helpful to say for people trying to figure out where to go with their struggles, whether that be mental health or whatever it may be.

“I'm very proud of what I have to say at this point in my life. If it leads to positive change, that's the absolute coolest outcome possible.”

On What’s Killing You, Shomo also provides an outlet for expressing mourning, as the multi-talented artist channelled his grief following the loss of his grandfather.

On the album closer I Was Alive, though – which coincides with What’s Killing You – Shomo revealed another change in perspective, courtesy of his granddad.

Shomo explains, “I Was Alive is the answer to What's Killing You. I Was Alive is about the last conversation I had with him and his perspective on life and how that influenced me. It was incredibly powerful to hear about what he had done [in life]. He will always be one of the best men that I’ve known in my life and somebody that I think a lot of people could learn a lot of things from.

I Was Alive is about me trying to make the statement of, ‘I want to feel the way he felt on the way out,’” Shomo says. “I'm going to do that. At the end of this [life], I will know that I did my best. That's all we can do.

“You know, there are no secrets to life – we get one, and you do whatever you want. What I want to do with it is know that I tried everything that I could, took risks, had fun, made mistakes, and that, at the end of it all, I'll know that I truly lived to the fullest.”

The Surface is out now via Red Bull Records. You can listen to the album below.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-related illness, we implore you to get in contact with Beyondblue or Lifeline:

Beyondblue: 1300 224 636

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call-Back Service: 1300 659 467

Beyondblue and Lifeline both also offer online chat/counsel. Check their respective websites for operational hours and details.