An Interview With Trevor Phipps of Unearth

An Interview With Trevor Phipps of Unearth

I saw you guys in 2005 at Sounds of the Underground tour… How would you say you guys have progressed musically since then?

I think our sound has progressed further with the guitars, especially. There are more solos on this record than any record before that, more guitar harmonies. I think we’re just getting to be better song writers in general. So, I think each record, we’re fine tuning our strongest elements.

You just released Darkness in the Light… How do you feel you connected to it compared to your previous ones?

It was actually easier to write this time around because we fired our drummer before we started writing. Well, we started writing with him, that’s when we figured out that we couldn’t work with him anymore. He played in a (inaudible); great drummer, great rock drummer. We wanted to go a bit more extreme in this record. So it’s actually a much more focused effort. It’s only four of us writing this time instead of a fifth person.

We had a drum program called… I forget what it’s called, it’s Hell– Drumkit from Hell. But Ken’s [Susi] the engineer, he does all the programming, the drums. So, all of that focused effort, the four of us, when we sent the actually demo tracks to Justin Foley from Killswitch [Engage] and had these fake drums on it, he would put his own drum tracks over it for demos. So, it was just a much more focused effort. And then he came up with tracks for the record, for real.

I noticed it was a little more melodic, too.

Yeah, there was a lot more, a lot more elements with guitars, and we added Ken’s clean vocals in again on a few songs. And that hasn’t been on a record of ours since 2004. So, it’s been a little white. But, a big song for us, is a song called Endless, that was on that record; that’s a staple in our set, that’s a fan favorite, that’s why we went back to it to try and get a few songs– not a main direction in the band, but we’re more of a heavier band. But that just adds to the band’s sound, you know? It’s cool to kind of use different things here and there.

 

How do you feel your fans have connected to your newer work?

I think great because the show, they seem to know all of the songs, and just by checking out our Twitter feed, our Facebook, and everything. It seems like people are loving the record. People are saying it’s our best one yet. Not sure if that’s true, but I think it’s awesome. If fans always think like it’s the best one when we first do it because you’re so invested in it; but I think time will tell. But, it’s cool to hear the fans actually say that, that definitely means a lot to us.

 

Which one do you think is your best one?



Right now, I think this one is. But I said that after our last record too… So, I think probably our best record until this one, was The Oncoming Storm. I like all our records, of course. But right now I’m so invested in this one, I think it is our best. I hope that it is our best and it keeps the band going for a long time.

How would you describe the musical journey you’ve taken throughout the years from when you first began until now?

I think just growing as a player. If you compare our first demo, our first EP I guess, we sound like a much different band. A much more mature band. It’s cool to grow with the band. We were all kind of kids back then. We’re now grown ass men, you know what I mean? (laughs) So, it’s cool to kind of learn your craft, fine tune it, and with all the experience we’ve had over the years, we started thirteen years ago, but we’ve been touring full-time for ten years, and have met a lot of great people, have been around the world, and it’s really cool. It’s a great experience. And we’re all very happy to have this job, it’s the coolest thing.

Some of the artists I’ve interviewed don’t want to give out the meanings to their songs as they don’t want them to ruin it for the fans and want them to interpret it in their own ways… How do you feel about that?

That’s exactly how I feel about it. I’ll have a song out, it’ll mean one thing to me, but I’ll try to write it abstractly enough where someone can relate to it in their own thing. Just like you said, I’ve done that before; there was a big fan of ours that thought one song meant something else and I told the person what it was about and they’re like, “Oh, I thought it meant this…” And I was just like, “Ugh.. I think I just bummed him out..” So, it’ll mean something to me, but if they can relate to it in their own way, that’s what’s important.

How do you feel Unearth’s music has made an impression on your fans lives?

I would hope positive… I mean there’s the song– on this record, there’s some more downer songs, but there’s always kind of that uplifting lyric in there, just trying to get people to realize that if you are feeling down, or if there’s things getting at you, then you just have to fight through it, you know what I mean? There’s always a way out sometime, you know what I mean? Even if the lyrics don’t always say that, there are songs; there’s a song called Overcome that’s about staying strong and getting through the bullshit in life, you know what I mean?

Our lyrics, there’s this song we have, Sanctity Of Brothers, that’s about a friend of mine who passed too early. When a song’s that person, you can actually talk about the lyrics because people can relate to that. So, I’ve had a bunch of people come to me saying that that’s their favorite song because something similar has happened to them.

Certain songs, you have to be abstract with how you explain it, other songs you should probably give more meaning to.

What has happened in your lifetime that has made the biggest impact on you to inspire you to write the way you do?

I think… My father, he’s big into rock ‘n roll, his style is records on vinyl, so I grew up in a household where he’d just play rock all day. He’d have work, he’d come home, put on his records. I just lived with rock ‘n roll as a kid.

How do you feel your music gives your fans an escape?

I would hope so. I mean, I think that’s the best thing about music, is that you can escape and get outside of reality for a minute, and lose yourselves in songs. That’s why people love music. If people can get that from us, that’s a great thing.

Why do you think makes your connection with your fans so strong, especially when on stage?

I think that they see that we’re up there having fun, giving everything we have into it. We try to incorporate the crowd into it as well, so that– they’re there to have fun, and we are too. So I think that it’s really important for a band to try to get the crowd into the live show, you know? That’s the reason why we’re here. You have to make them feel good about– it actually makes us feel better about it too. So, if you connect with them the whole time; make eye contact, get down in the barricade, have them sing with you, it’s like, it’s the best feeling in the world when they’re giving that feedback, that positive feedback to you.

Every musician in general has those distinct qualities within their music… What is it about Unearth’s music that makes it so distinct?

I think it is our connection with the crowd. That’s really important to me. I think other bands go for it, but I think that we take it a step further. Especially with our guitar players, they just run around like mad men, and they’re always down in the crowd, they’re riding the crowd, they’re in the barricade, jumping off amps ten feet in the air; they’re putting on a show, and they’re having a lot of fun. I’m always down there with the crowd too. And I think that’s what sets us apart, is just our energy. Fans put energy forward, but I think we just take that further.

When you guys are in the studio, like with your live stage presence, the raw energy that you guys have, do you guys try to incorporate that feeling into your studio releases?

Yeah. And that’s hard. I think with our last record in march, we really didn’t tap into that as much as with this record, for some reason. But before that, In The Eyes Of Fire [2006], that was all live. We tracked almost every track live; there were no second chances. Just a dirtier record to try to capture that live energy. But this one, I paid extra attention to just making sure it was like a live show. My headphones, when I have them on, I turn it up to like concert level. So, my ears are ringing by the end of the night. I need to feel that energy of a show. And I use a hand-held mic. I don’t sit with a screen in front of my face with a hand held. I even get in show gear, put in a sleeveless shirt and some cargo shorts and just really get into it like a live gig. So I have to get mentally prepared for it, you know what I mean? I have the whiskey like I do before I go on, not too much, just a few to get the voice going. But yeah, I treat it exactly like a live show.

You’re a really laid back person right now, but when you go on stage, you’re constantly moving, kind of transforming into another person… How do you go from how you are now into that crazy persona on stage?

It’s my outlet, I guess… If I didn’t have this, maybe I’d have something else, maybe I’d be a body builder, or I’d do something… But I have that energy in me and it comes out on stage… I don’t need to do it all the time, so when I’m off stage, I can just chill and relax, and be cool. Plus, whiskey helps too! It gets the demons going, you know? It’s the brown liquor that really– I think it’s why bands drink whiskey a lot, because it really gets you fired up. That’s not the only reason, it’s just my outlet, but yeah, that helps; that definitely helps.

How do you translate your emotion and passion that you have for into your music?

For me, personally, I think, I have to write lyrics that I care about. So, I can’t write about wizards and dragons, you know what I mean? Which, that might be for some bands… For me, it’s always something that gets me fired up. So, personal stuff, experiences, sometimes politics, current events. If I feel passion for something, I’ll write about it. That helps me perform that. There’s certain songs; one about my friend, sometimes it gets emotional on stage for me, so I’ll dig down, I’ll start to think about friendship and everything. That’s what happens, the lyrics are the reason why I can get deep emotion out.

When you’re writing, how do you translate your thoughts into the melody of a song, between the guitars, the drums, bass, etcetera or do you have any part in that?

The guitars are always Buz [McGrath] and Ken’s [Susi],they always write the riffs. That’s what comes first in our music. The riffs come first and each album cycle we’re touring, I’ll have a notebook, or I’ll just send myself an e-mail when I have a lyrical idea. I’ll write it down and when it’s time to write, I’ll get a song in front of me, then that’s where I get the concept, because like a certain song might make me think of that lyric right there, like, “Ok, this song will be about this.” Because that’s what I’m feeling. I can’t explain why that happens, but whatever the mood of the song is, I can pick from the lyrical sheets that I have, and that’s how I translate that.

What was it that began your passion for metal or music in general?

Well, with my dad, it’s the rock ‘n roll, and then my best friend, when I was a kid, his brother was a few years older than us, he was in junior high school, I was in 3rd grade, and he loved metal, and he played Iron Maiden for us one day, and I was like, “What the fuck is this?! This is awesome!” And then he just kept playing his records, MetallicaExodusHelloween, it was like, “Man, this is awesome stuff!” So then, that caused me to get into metal. And my first favorite band was Anthrax, and just went on from there. I just kept finding more and more heavy, heavy bands, and it just kind of progressed. So it’s all his fault.

What is the most meaningful, or special thing about heavy metal for you?

It’s a community, you know what I mean? It’s not like pop; pop is for everybody. Well, there’s people that like metal, it’s all like a friendship. It’s like everyone’s cool. We played Wacken Festival in Germany a couple years ago, and it’s only metal, it’s a big festival, only metal bands, there’s not even hard rock bands, it’s all metal bands. And just the sense of the family you had there was unreal. There was 80,000 people that all love metal and I was like, “This is the coolest thing ever!” Everyone’s dressed in cool clothes, it’s not a pop show, you know? So, I would say that, the family atmosphere.

Why is it so special to you though?

I was lucky enough to find it and open minded enough to get into it. I think a lot of people that are close minded are scared of it or something, I have no idea why. It’s like “C’mon.” I don’t know. I just love being a part of it. I’m glad I found it as a kid. And definitely the gateway was rock from my dad, and just found a few friends. It’s the coolest thing.

Some artists have described to me that they feel an “on fire” feeling while performing… What do you feel when you step on stage?

It’s adrenaline for sure. Like, you’re up there and you feel like a different person. Especially when the crowd is reacting very positively, you feel indestructible sometimes. You’re not, but you feel it. It is like the best feeling in the world when the crowd is great and you can feel like you’re performing well, you get the chills, you get the fire, it’s great.

With your newest release, Darkness in the Light, what did you want most to come out of this new album?

I hope it takes our career to that next level. Our goal is to be around as long as Slayer has. And they’re still killing it, 30 years of being an amazing thrash metal band. That’s our goal, is to follow in their footsteps. I mean, it would be great to get as big as Slayer, they’re a massive band. I think our ultimate goal is to hopefully get as big as Pantera was. That band got that big, they got to “pop” level by staying heavy and stayed true to their fans and to their sound. I think that’s the main goal for all of us as a band. Some of the bands change their sound as they get bigger, that’s good for them, but if you stay true to your sound, and the fans appreciate that, and the band grows, and that’s the ultimate goal.

What do you believe is the most special part about your new album?

That’s a good question… I think we all came together and really just, as I said before, a focused effort. I think that the band had an extra fire this time around, and it was refreshing, it was cool to get that. We’ve seen a bunch of bands come and go over the years. This is our tenth year touring, like I said, and we’ve seen a lot of bands– friends are not– they just disappear because I’m not sure if they lose that fire, fans turn their backs on them, they don’t make the right record, so you have to be on your toes all the time, I think that this band was on our toes on this record (laughs) for sure. We were just extra fired up and I think that’s the most special part about this record, that we all came together.

You mentioned that you want to be on that Pantera level, how do you want to grow to be on that level?

Get better at my crafts, the guys are always playing guitar, I think Buz [McGrath] is out there playing guitar right now, just trying to get better. I take vocal lessons every once in a while, trying to improve my voice, have more range, more dynamic to it. This record, I think is my best performance in this record, and I just want to keep getting better with every record. I think that if you do that, improve on your song writing and your actual craft, then that will help. We have to focus on songwriting, that is the main thing, you know? You can be the best player in the world, but you can’t write a song, then people wont listen.

How do you make your music more dynamic as you’re writing and recording?

Just have to stay inspired and listen to a lot of different kinds of music… Just stay inspired, I guess. That will keep your influences fresh, you know what I mean? So you have to be influenced to be able to write.

Those are all of my questions unless you’d like to say anything else?

I’ll end by saying thanks to all of our fans because like I said, a bunch of bands come and go, and the bands that stick around the longest, they’re the ones that have the best fans, and this is our tenth year touring, so we’re still going strong and still building. And that’s due to the fans, thank you very much.

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