Interview: Underoath’s Chris Dudley Talks About The Challenges, Freedom, And Honesty Of ‘Voyeurist’

GID: Let’s get back to the album. What I really like about Voyeurist is how it has that gritty, aggressive sound fans love, yet it’s not a rehash of what you guys have done before. There are new elements like pop melodies and ethereal, ambient soundscapes, that furthers the band’s evolution. What influences you guys to try out different sounds and such?

CD: It’s literally just the stuff we listen to that we like. There are six of us who listen to six vastly different styles of music. And the heavy music we all listen to almost none. Tim and I will listen to some heavy bands but for the most part, I would say 80 % of the music we listen to is not heavy music. So it’s really fun for us to bring elements of all this stuff we like whether it’s hip hop or pop or film score or progressive stuff. There are times when the needle goes really far one way or the other. Sometimes that stuff doesn’t end up making the record.

We had a song we were working on for this record that we couldn’t figure out how to finish, but it was very hip-hop-influenced. It was dark and gritty but was undoubtedly a very groove-oriented song. We might be able to figure it out sometime down the road. Right now, we’re prepping for the tour and me and Aaron are working on song interludes. One of the things we’re working on right now straight up sounds like ‘90s Prodigy. And then Aaron is very big on country singer/songwriter type of stuff, so a lot of that influence comes into what he writes. So, it’s literally just that we all listen to so many different types of music and we want to bring elements of those things we love into what we do. It’s all about finding how to do it in a way that works and doesn’t feel forced.

GID: You guys hit it on this album. There’s a great balance between the two. And it’s cool to hear about how you’re taking some of that influence and working it into set interludes for the tour.

CD: It’s a lot of work! It’s usually me, Tim, and Aaron going back and forth trying to figure out what we could do. There’s nothing more we hate during a live set than silence, particularly during an Underoath live set. Other bands can do whatever and it works for them, but for us, we don’t want to have a point in time where it’s just quiet. We always want to have something going on. A lot of times what we’ll do is have these electronic interludes where I’ll basically write interludes for the entire set, but I want to have some more stuff going between me and Aaron or me and Tim and the rest of the band. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully, it’s one of those things that when people leave the show, they’re like that was rad! That stuff adds up to make a memorable show or that’s the idea anyway.

GID: Another thing I love about the record is the flow. Nothing feels out of place. There are no odd left turns or tracks that you to skip. The songs stand well enough on their own but are best heard as a complete record, which feels rare in the streaming age where singles are king. What was the thought process behind the structure of the album?

CD: For the most part it was looked at song by song. We had different songs we knew were working and a lot of it was figuring out how they could work together. We probably spent way too much time trying to figure out the order of songs. Trying to figure out if there’s going to be interludes and what they’re gonna be to try and bridge this vibe to that vibe. It’s not a concept album in that we have to write a song that sounds a certain way because we have to transition out of it. It’s more so looking at the songs we had and figuring out how they best work together. If there’s stuff that needs to be written to make them work together, then we do that. There are times we’ll look at a batch of songs we’re working on and think these are all really cool, but here’s a vibe we don’t have. It’d be nice if we had a really heavy banger. Or there’re three ambient songs in a row let’s switch it up there. We don’t want to have a record that’s ten tracks of all the same song.

Usually, around the halfway point of working on a record, we take a step back and look at all the songs to see if we’re missing anything. Is there something we could do to round this out? We did some of that on this record. I’m also a very big fan of how this record flows probably more so than any other record we’ve done because we introduced some of these slower, experimental, ambient progressive rock-type songs earlier in the record. We’ve always done stuff like that in the past, but usually, the first five songs are bangers and then the last half of the record gets more experimental. I like that “I’m Pretty Sure I’m Out of Luck and I Have No Friends” is the third track because that’s normally a song we would’ve put as seven or eight, but we wanted people to be able to listen to the first five songs and get a real idea of what this album is gonna sound like. You don’t have to listen to the last half of the record to get any flavor that’s not in the first half of the record.

GID: This is a very cathartic record. It feels like it’s fueled by built-up ugly, negative feelings, which I think everyone can relate to. And it’s easy to relate the album’s themes to what’s been going on with COVID over the past few years even if it’s not a COVID record. What was the general feeling you guys had when you started working on the album?

CD: It’s interesting because so many of the lyrical themes on the album aren’t necessarily reflective of what we were feeling as a group. It was more so reflecting where [vocalist] Spencer [Chamberlin] and Aaron were personally while those lyrics were being written. The vibe when we got together was – there was a lot of pent-up anxiousness in regard to everything that was 2020 and early 2021. We were supposed to record the album at the beginning of 2020, so we were all sitting at home for a little over a year wanting to do this record. When we finally got together it felt like we were rubbing our hands together saying all right let’s do this!

Aaron and Spencer were going through their own stuff, and that’s part of what has always made Underoath Underoath. We all write the music and the lyrics are very personal because if we were writing them as a group, it would be general. Whether or not any of us are in the same boat as Spencer or Aaron the vulnerability they have in those lyrics is what makes them powerful and what has always made them powerful.

GID: Speaking of powerful, there’s closing track “Pneumonia,” which a lot of people have mentioned and rightly so. It’s such a powerful, haunting, yet beautiful song written by Tim about the death of his father. The thing about that song is you can hear the emotional weight in the lyrics and the music, especially with that breakdown at the end. It’s unlike anything you’ve guys have done before and it is such a great moment on the album.

CD: When we were in the studio doing that one, we felt that in the music before we knew what the lyrical content was going to be. As we were feeling what the music was doing, we were like man this is heavy but not like breakdown heavy. It had an emotional weight to it. As you know Tim was dealing with stuff with his dad and I lost my stepdad quite a few years back. So, when Tim lost his dad, I knew what he was going through. That’s the first song we’ve done where somebody other than Aaron and Spencer had lyrical input and that was their call. They were like we think Tim should write some lyrics for this to see what comes out of it. It’s gonna be an interesting one to play live because of how harsh it is. It looks like it’s gonna be on the setlist for this tour. I was talking to Tim the other day and he was like I don’t know what that’s gonna be like. That might be really cool or it might be a lot.

I like that we’re able to have a song, even if it’s just one song, with weight like that. Being able to be a part of something that feels like that makes me very happy because that’s the type of music that speaks to me the most. The type that I ache when I listen to it. That’s my favorite kind of music no matter what it is. Whether it’s pop music or soundtrack music or heavy music. I want something I can feel.

GID: I agree and that was another reason I was really drawn to the song. I lost my stepfather in 2020 and some of those lyrics really resonated with me on a different level.

CD: What I like about the lyrics on that as well is the line “every bloodline has its own start.” Tim’s dad passed away, my stepdad passed away but it’s like I’m the dad in my house and Tim is the dad in his house. We’re all dads so it’s like, we’re all going to lose people we love but at the same time that’s not the end of anything. That’s just part of the process. The bloodline continues. I’m gonna pass on and Tim’s gonna pass on and it’s just gonna keep going. It’s cliche but it’s a part of life.

GID: To bring up another adage that’s cliche, yet true, life goes on.

CD: Yeah, for sure.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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