“My motto for this record is: ‘No fear.'”
Walking into a room with Beartooth frontman Caleb Shomo was a nerve-wracking experience. Not only because he’s the head of a band who have sold out Wembley Arena, amassed more than 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and become one of the biggest-selling bands in the genre – but also because he speaks for countless people.
Since the band’s debut 2014 record, Disgusting, Caleb has spoken authentically for people suffering from serious mental health issues. Not a fleeting bad year, or a tough day, but a lifelong battle against one of the hardest fights anyone can go through. He speaks for me, and countless other people – and has done across the past four Beartooth albums.
So then, it was a pleasant surprise to meet Caleb on a warm afternoon in London and see him beaming, ear-to-ear. Of course, we were talking about Beartooth’s new album – The Surface – which he exclusively told Express.co.uk, has become somewhat of a line in the sand against his mental health issues. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be candid about what issues he’s been forced to deal with.
“There was a time where I felt my death would be at my own hand,” he admitted, before gushing about how The Surface is a record of hope for him. An album of affirmations and positivity. He kept using the word “manifestation” as some sort of mantra; speaking into existence his own healing. Believe it or not, it’s worked for him.
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Caleb explained: “Really, the whole [of Beartooth] from EP one to now, the thing that I kind of predetermined was this is going to be its own kind of chapter, which is the story of my 20s.”
Now 30-years-old and sober, Caleb explained how Beartooth, overall, represents “depression, anxiety” and the journey he carved for himself. But the end result, The Surface, surprised him. While on a meandering path to (hopefully) recovery, he said: “The way The Surface finished it ended up so much cooler than I could have imagined. I imagined it was going to be one last hurrah, this first section of records to talk about it and to express dealing with it. And, hopefully, have some new opinions or new angles – but I didn’t think, really, much was going to change.”
Still, bringing this new angle to his fans was tough for Caleb. Beartooth’s countless listeners have been using the band’s music as a place of solace and understanding for a long time. So, to bring them an album (literally) filled with Sunshine and happiness… it’s no doubt going to be jarring for some people. “This is absolutely the scariest record for me to put out,” Caleb confessed. “That I’ve ever made. Being the guy who talks about the sad stuff… you kind of end up getting pigeonholed.”
This unexpected switch began with the release of Riptide, the first single from The Surface. Instead of lyrics delving into the penumbra of Caleb’s psyche, it instead acted as a beam of light firing through the darkness. “I’m done explaining my pain,” he screams on the headbanger. “This is way too much / I wanna feel euphoria, give me the rush / ‘Cause it’s the last time that I romanticise / The riptide that’s trying to drown me.”
“Riptide was a bold statement to the world: Things are about to be different,” Caleb went on. “It’s manifesting. This could be the thing that could be hard for people to understand about this record – if they followed along, they’ll probably get it – but Beartooth is me. The separation is almost completely gone now. It’s me talking as candidly as possible about what I’m going through on an emotional level.”
This isn’t just a PR line, either. Caleb practises what he preaches. And, as a result, when I brought up the lyrics of one of The Surface’s most heart-wrenching songs, Look The Other Way, he slowly opened up about wrestling with an eating disorder.
“That song is very specifically about a few months period of my life,” he sighed. “It was one of the big catalysts towards me quitting drinking. I have dealt with body image [issues] and I have always hated how I looked, and it is something I’ve dealt with for a very long time. And it reared its head again in the form of bulimia. Pretty aggressively for quite some time.”
He said the experience “taught him so much” and – again – how manifesting his own recovery was an important step on his road to becoming an improved version of himself. He went on: “That song specifically is about when I woke up in the middle of the night and felt so much physical pain. I felt so much shame when I was in the middle of that, it was so embarrassing, like, this is so taboo! I’m the frontman of a band, I’m supposed to be this put-together dude and whatever it may be.
“It was very embarrassing and I just remember in the middle of the night it was just this weird thing that I blurted out. I shook my wife, Fleur, and told her [about the eating disorder].”
She assured him everything was going to be fine, he recalled. (“We’re going to get through it, it’s just something you’re going through, it doesn’t change you.”) And this experience further proved to him how important it was for him to expel whatever was digging away at him inside. “It was so powerful in my life, and me understanding how crucial it is to talk – whether it’s to a therapist; the world through song; or just a voice note. Or just writing it down. Talking things into existence. Because I wanted so badly to quit doing it. For so long. And I tried with every ounce of my being to stop doing it. The moment I spoke it out it had no control over me anymore. And, I know it can be a harder battle for others, but it was so empowering.”
Looking at the finished version of Look The Other Way is tough for Caleb, now. “It was an incredibly hard song for me to listen to, it’s a very emotional thing,” he said. “With that motto of ‘no fear’ I would’ve been doing myself a disservice … at this point, I’m not ashamed of anything.”
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Caleb hastened to add that The Surface would not be complete without the track. Speaking about the record as a whole, Caleb went on: “Now that it’s over and I see what it’s turned into I am so proud of it and it’s really cool. And this is the end of that first chapter of records.”
Caleb kept making vague allusions to this being some sort of ending for Beartooth – is it over now The Surface is out? “No, it’s not,” he assured me. “But it is very much the end of a very specific chapter of my life.”
He added: “I don’t know what this means for the future. I love Beartooth, and I still will be doing it, it is my favourite thing to do, and I love performing.”
With a knowing smile, he said: “I’m very excited to see what chapter two looks like.”
Beartooth – The Surface is out Friday. Buy it here.
If you need eating disorder support, visit BeatEatingDisorders.org.uk
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