Things have definitely changed in the world of Metal in the last few years. When I first picked up the pen and joined the crusade, Metal was still in a seemingly Dark Age. While Fred Durst was pretending to be an ebonically-enhanced “rock star” and Jonathan Davis was lamenting his troubled childhood, real music was fermenting slowly and steadily, unknowingly anticipating its rebirth. This next generation of Metal warriors was disenfranchised by the mainstream, but their teeth were cut on the brilliance that lay beneath the surface of force-fed media hype. At The Gates, Emperor, and other amazing European bands were slowly trickling into the play lists of younger fans and budding musicians. Couple said bands with a Hardcore scene that was always a constant, a refuge for kids that wanted their music unrelenting and real, and it’s clear to see the origins and justification for the connectivity they exhibit to all fans of Heavy music. It is an exciting time indeed for Unearth as they are in the midst of a sell-out tour with Atreyu, Norma Jean, and Scars of Tomorrow. Lead singer, Trevor Phipps was gracious enough to take some time before their appearance at Chicago’s House of Blues to chat with me about the band, the tour, and all things Metal. Enjoy!
KNAC.COM: How is the tour going so far?
PHIPPS: Amazing! Every night is pretty much at capacity or sold out so it’s definitely been an awesome tour.
KNAC.COM: I’m in North Carolina, and I hate I missed you guys at Ziggy’s.
PHIPPS: That show was killer. It was one of the highlights of the tour, actually. The kids were just going off that night. We all had a great time.
KNAC.COM: I heard you guys are gearing up for a pretty big summer tour, The Sounds of the Underground.
PHIPPS: Yeah, man. That’s going to be awesome. It’s pretty much going to be like the second stage of Ozzfest traveling around. Just hanging out with our friends playing shows everyday is going to be killer.
KNAC.COM: How did that come about?
PHIPPS: Managers and booking agents had a killer idea and they all came together and asked the bands they represent if they would be into it. Everyone was like, “Hell yeah!” They put it together, and it looks like it’s going to work out great.
KNAC.COM: I checked out Soundsoftheunderground.com and it looks like it’s going to be the good alternative to a corporate Ozzfest.
PHIPPS: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s a ton of great bands on this tour. There’s diversity and it should be a great, great tour.
KNAC.COM: You guys have been on the road constantly since The Oncoming Storm came out, right?
PHIPPS: Yeah, the tour started before the record even came out when we did the tour with Hatebreed and Damageplan. After that, we did the Ozzfest, did a headlining tour and we went to Europe. Now we’re back on this tour, and we don’t really stop except for a couple of weeks and then go to Japan and Australia. We’ll come home for a couple weeks and then go back to Europe. When we come back, then we’ll do the big summer tour.
KNAC.COM: Have you been to Japan before?
PHIPPS: No, never before. That’s something that we’ve always been looking forward to do.
KNAC.COM: I’ve always wondered how they would react to really heavy music over there.
PHIPPS: I guess they kill for it. I hope they go berserk. They love this style of music over there.
KNAC.COM: That’s a lot to look forward to.
KNAC.COM: How did you like doing Ozzfest?
PHIPPS: It was amazing, just like this summer tour’s going to be. You’re just hanging out with your friends everyday. You just have barbecues all day long, drink all day, and just have a good time.
KNAC.COM: I know you guys have been touring a lot, but have you had the time to work on any new stuff?
PHIPPS: We haven’t really had the time to write many songs. We have a bunch of ideas that we’ll have to piece together when we’re home from the tour, but we haven’t really had the time to sit down. The record’s only been out for 9 months so it’s not time to write or record just yet. I guess we’ll have a new record out sometime in 2006.
KNAC.COM: What did you guys do differently production-wise for The Oncoming Storm?
PHIPPS: We really stuck with the same thing, but we just had more time. We had time to make sure everything was as tight as it could be and sounded as good as it could. I think that’s all it took was just some extra time.
KNAC.COM: Is everything working out good with Metal Blade?
PHIPPS: Yeah, it’s just a great label to be on. It’s one of the biggest independent labels for this style of music out there. That’s one of the reasons we chose to go with them because they just have a lot of credibility. They treat us very well.
KNAC.COM: How did the deal with Metal Blade come about?
PHIPPS: They saw us play at South By Southwest, which is a music festival that happens every year [in Austin, TX]. We played a show there, and then they saw us two weeks later in Hollywood at the Whisky. They took us out to eat and asked if we wanted to join. It’s just a great place to be.
KNAC.COM: What are your feelings regarding Metal Core? Is it something you embrace? Do you find it limiting?
PHIPPS: I’m kind of on the fence about it. It’s hard to be classified as one thing, one style of music. It’s a very exact term to what this style of music is. It is Metal with the Hardcore roots and Hardcore ethics to it, but I would like to think we’re all just Metal bands that are playing real music. All these bands that play Metal Core are bands that grew up listening to At The Gates or even Earth Crisis, who were more of a Metal band anyway.
KNAC.COM: Its crazy how big of a comeback Metal, in general, has made over the last few years.
PHIPPS: Yeah, I think Metal went underground in the mid ‘90s because it just got too big for its own good. A lot of crap was coming out. It just kind of built up in the underground. It’s cool that the press and MTV are paying attention to it again. As long as these bands keep writing good music then it will be fine and we can see the new Panteras, Testaments, Megadeths, and Metallicas. I’m excited to see it and excited to be a part of it.
KNAC.COM: Where do you see all this going? Do you have an idea what the next turn is going to be for Unearth, or are you just playing it by ear?
PHIPPS: As far as our style, I think we’re just going to keep on doing what we do. I think for the next record, we’re going to try to go a bit darker. This record was a pretty dark record, but I think the next record will be darker. I think this record was our best to date by far, but we’ll get darker on the next one.
KNAC.COM: By darker, do you mean in the lyrics or just the overall feel?
PHIPPS: The overall feel. Bands like Crowbar, stuff that’s just really, really hard…
KNAC.COM: Have you heard the new Crowbar?
PHIPPS: It’s fucking great, dude. We’re all psyched that they’re back and kicking ass. That would be a band to tour with. That’s a goal to tour with those dudes one day. Awesome band.
KNAC.COM: I interviewed your bassist for another publication when you guys were recording The Oncoming Storm and he said you were listening to the last Down record all the time.
PHIPPS: Oh yeah! That’s another great band. We love that Southern Fried Metal stuff. It’s like Black Sabbath, but heavier.
KNAC.COM: I know you’ve probably heard this a lot lately, but it’s hard to drop the subject. Having toured with Damageplan, do you have any special memories of Dime that you’d like to share?
PHIPPS: Everyday was a special memory with Dime. The first day we met him, he was like our best friend, just the nicest guy on the planet. I remember we were in Vegas at the casino one time when we were touring together. He was like, “Are you feeling lucky?” I’m like, “Hell yeah!” He shook my hand and had a hundred dollar bill in it. He would always play games and party with us. We’d play this dollar game where he’d play riffs on guitar. If we got the riff right, he pay us and if we got it wrong, we’d pay him. He was a fun guy and the last person that we would ever think this would happen to. The whole Metal and Rock world will be in eternal loss. It’s a tough thing when a friend is murdered and also it was someone who you looked up to so much. I think everyone that’s involved in Metal and Rock looked up to him. It makes it so much harder to get over. It’s something you think of everyday.
KNAC.COM: I think it would be a travesty if we did get over it.
PHIPPS: Yeah, I don’t think we ever will. It wasn’t fair to Rock, it wasn’t fair to him, and it wasn’t fair to us, the fans. He loved life more than anyone I’ve ever known. He woke up everyday just to have fun and live life. To think this could ever happen almost feels like a 3 month-long nightmare still. I can’t fathom this would happen.