Interview: Underoath’s Chris Dudley Talks About The Challenges, Freedom, And Honesty Of ‘Voyeurist’
Back in 2004, Underoath rose to fame with the release of their fourth album They’re Only Chasing Safety. Nearly 20 years later, it’s still their most beloved release by fans and critics alike. They easily could’ve coasted on that record for the next ten years. Instead, they evolved and changed choosing to take risks and challenges themselves rather than play it safe. They continue to play by their own rules on their ninth album Voyeurist.
Pushing the boundaries in terms of its sound, the band also took the challenge of producing it themselves. Though Chris Dudley admits it was hard work, he believes it was well worth it. And looking at the high praise it’s gotten across the board, it was a risk that paid off. Not only does the album continue expanding Underoath’s sound, the keyboardist also says it’s an album that fully captures who Underoath is.
Before embarking on their headline tour, Dudley spoke with GENRE IS DEAD! about the making of Voyeurist, the surprises that came with producing the record, and how the band continues looking forward.
GENRE IS DEAD!: Voyeurist is finally out! Congratulations! And congrats on the major response it’s gotten. It’s getting lots of great feedback from critics and fans alike. What’s it like to have it out there and see it get so much love and positivity?
Chris Dudley: Thanks for all the kind words! It’s crazy! It was especially odd for this record because it was so long from the time the record was done until it actually came out. We always have that point in time between when it’s done and when it comes out where the record is our thing. We can listen to it. We’ll let our friends hear it, whatever. It’s kind of this insular circle. Then usually a couple of months later it’s out. So, that time we have it to ourselves is really small, whereas this time it was about a year. We were done recording the album in March of last year, so it’s an especially satisfying exhale to have it out and for people to hear it in full and be able to get their responses.
We don’t write anything for a response. We’re never thinking what do people want to hear? It’s always just whatever we’re stoked on at the time. So, the fact that what we’re stoked on right now is also getting a ridiculously good reaction is just icing on the cake. It’s crazy! You never know what people are gonna think about what you’re doing. The fact that people like this album is great. That’s always an added bonus considering we’re gonna be touring with this thing and gonna be playing the songs on stage every night.
GID: Writing for yourselves is key. It’s really important you keep doing things you guys want to do, especially for a band that’s been going as long as you guys have. It helps keep things exciting and genuine.
CD: Yeah! I think that’s key for people who want to come back and hear what we want to do. Because if we did four other versions of They’re Only Chasing Safety people would be like alright we get it and I don’t think that would be very interesting. There is an element of people coming back record after record whether they’ve been with us the whole time or they’re new fans or they’re peeking in from the last record like hey what are they doing now? I think that’s a good thing. Also, the only way we could be doing this for this long is by constantly trying to do something new or exciting for us because the moment we’re trying to consciously write something, that would probably be the end of it. At that point, we’re no longer doing this because we love it and we’re doing something that makes us happy. We’re doing it to try and sell records, which is not us.
GID: Voyeurist is significant for various reasons like being your first in four years and having a different recording process, but one of the biggest things was how you all self-produced the record. Can you tell me what that process was like? Was there anything that surprised you during that process?
CD: The process in general was a bit daunting because we had never self-produced a record of ours before. Different members of the band write with a bunch of different people. [Drummer] Aaron [Gillespie] writes with a bunch of different people. I do film scoring and [guitarist] Tim [McTague] records bands. We’ve all done this sort of thing for other people, but taking an Underoath record and being completely in charge has really never happened. We’ve always gone with a producer. At first, when we made that decision it was a little scary but also exciting. I remember I was on the phone with Tim, and I literally said, “wow we’re doing this huh?” And he’s like “yup” and I was like “all right let’s go!”
Obviously, it’s a lot more work on our end because we didn’t have a producer pulling all that weight. It was us from beginning to end. We had our friend JJ Revell, who does our front-of-house, engineer the record, and then we had our friend Chad Howat mix it. But yeah, it was a lot more work for us. I said the other day it was 500% more work but 1000% worth it because when I listen back to it, I think this is us. This is who we are. I can really look at this record and say if you listen to this record and you like it, you like us. And if you don’t then you don’t and that’s fine. It’s nice to be able to put our name on it and be like this is who are. Hope you dig it.
GID: What led to the decision to self-produce the record?
CD: It was a multi-step thing because we had initially planned on going back with Matt Squire, who we worked with on Erase Me but as we got into discussions with him regarding what the recording process was gonna look like, what his role was gonna be, we realized we were not seeing eye to eye on what he would be doing on the record. We were also looking at what we would pay a producer versus what we could do with that money if it was in our hands and how we could make much better use of that money in the recording process. If we do this record ourselves and want to work for a month and then step away for a month, we have that ability to do that. Once we got the idea of us doing the record, it was just an intriguing thing to try and tackle. It’s a challenge we had never given ourselves. It was a lot of things coming together but I’m happy it came together the way it did.
GID: It may have been more work for you guys, but also sounds like it was a freeing process.
CD: For sure! And that’s no slight on Matt Squire or any of the other producers we were [considering] for this record. He’s awesome and the other guys we were looking at are awesome. It’s just one of those things where [self-producing] felt right. When we worked with Matt before that felt right. When we worked with Matt Golden and [Killswitch Engage’s] Adam Dutkiewicz on previous records, that felt right at the time. The thing on this record that felt right was us going it alone. I’m super stoked we did.
GID: For this album, most of the recording involved you guys writing and jamming out in the same space as opposed to sending clips and files via computer. That takes on greater significance in light of being separated from everyone due to the pandemic. What was the experience of writing together like? Did it help you to connect with the other guys on a different level?
CD: Yeah! Going back to the producer thing, the fact that there wasn’t a producer there was a big thing we had to deal with. In the past, the producer has always kind of played the role of a referee as well as a musical input. So, we were dealing with that and also the fact that we were able to get together after being apart for so long. I think there was some pent-up excitement there. There’s something that happens when we get into a room that will not happen if we are sending files back and forth. I think we’re starting to find the balance that works for us.
I remember when we first got together right before we started recording. The six of us got in a room and we had all these demos we had worked on. We were picking them apart and everyone was talking and going back and forth. It was a more fluid thing than going “hey I’m gonna send you this file with this guitar part and then you send me this file with that drum part.” It was more like everyone talking over everyone else excitedly. It was exciting overall and a little bit odd as well because we had spent the previous year trying to stay away from people. For us to be sitting in this little room together for weeks on end, we had to get used to that.
GID: Isn’t it surprising how much the pandemic has conditioned us to be a bit uncomfortable or weary around people now? Even after you’re told it’s okay to see people again, it’s still a bit weird.
CD: There’s that weird thing where if you’re seeing someone you haven’t seen since COVID, there’s that unspoken “hey how comfortable are we together? How comfortable are you with me being close to you or hugging you?” So, there has been a weird social reintegration process that’s been happening. For Christmas, we got our kids passes to Disney. We’ve had Disney passes in the past and we’d go all the time. It was no big deal, but it’s different now. When we were there recently, my wife was like this is overwhelming. There are so many people and they’re so close to you. It’s a thing we’re having to intentionally remember it’s okay. We’re okay! Different levels of that sort of thing. It’s a very common sentiment and the fact that everyone is aware everyone else is dealing with it in their own way is comforting as well.
GID: It is weird doing anything around people, like going to shows post lockdown. I went to a show last year and while it was a great experience, it was still a bit strange being surrounded by everyone in such a tight space. You can’t help to think is this okay? Should I be here? I imagine that’s gotta be something on your mind as you prepare for this tour.
CD: It goes back to what I was saying before when you see your friends again after lockdown, you have that social reintegration period. I think there’s a similar thing with everything we do with people. Like going to the movies or going to a concert where there’s a little bit of feeling it out. For me it’s comforting knowing concerts in the US during 2021 haven’t been super spreader events. That would’ve been a totally different thing for us. It seems people are mostly fine as long as the majority are vaccinated so for us that’s comforting. We would never want to go out on tour if we felt like we were putting a lot of people in danger. We would not do it. I think we’re at a point now where it’s still a little weird because we haven’t done it in so long, but we’re in a good spot.