UTG INTERVIEW: Sleepwave’s Spencer Chamberlain Talks ‘Broken Compass’

As I was patiently sitting outside the venue, waiting to meet up with Spencer, I watched his tall figure move from fan to fan, talking with them, taking pictures, shaking hands — you name it.

In the past year or so, it’s been easy to tell that Chamberlain has seen better days. But now, it’s different. There’s a sense of release and relief. The night is over, and the dawn is approaching.

UTG was honored to have a chance to sit down in the van with the former Underoath vocalist and talk about Sleepwave’s current tour, their new record and life in general.

The show was absolutely killer. I’ve seen Underoath about 10 times, and it was awesome to see the energy still there. I didn’t know what to expect.

Spencer Chamberlain: Most people don’t.

I believe that. You guys played a couple of intimate shows beforehand, and now it’s the second show with Nothing More right?

SC: Yeah, we did a show two days ago with Nothing More, then a show by ourselves. Tonight’s with Nothing More and the rest of the tour is with them, except for like five shows by ourselves.

How is it touring with them so far?

SC: They are so nice. Those dudes are really legit. I’ve met them all except for the drummer. They’re so nice, so respectful. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun touring with them. They’re doing well on the radio right now. Their album came out in August and it’s buzzing real hard. They’re a different style than Sleepwave, but I feel like everyone is a different style than Sleepwave, so it’s kind of hard to find someone to tour with. So we kind of just tour with whoever we want, do our own thing. It’s kind of fun.

So I’ve read the Alternative Press interview and seen the video, and you were talking about influences like Sigur Ros. What other influences did you have when it came to writing?

SC: Most of it was me going back to the stuff that I still love. You know, you go through phases- maybe there’s two or three years where Converge is your favorite band, then this band is your favorite band, then this band is. There’s always these bands that you go back to, and for some people maybe it is Converge. But for me, I always went back to thinking, “Why do I still love Nine Inch Nails? Why do I still love Alice in Chains? Why do I still love Nirvana, Deftones, Foo Fighters, ummm, Radiohead, Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Doors?” stuff that stuck with me literally my entire life. You go through fads and different styles, I feel like, as you’re growing up. I was kind of going back and pulling up from what I grew up on, like what I thought was missing from rock music. I knew I didn’t want to do a metal band because after doing Underoath for so long I felt like, “Why would I go through that and do that again? I’m a musician and an artist.” Whatever that means, not to sound like a cocky son-of-a-bitch, but you know. I’ve been playing piano and guitar since I was in like elementary school; there’s a lot more to me than just metal. But when I first started writing, it was more like Radiohead, there’s a lot of piano on this record, but it was way more chill with some acoustic guitars. There was electric guitar, too, but I was like, “No, you know, to me, half of it is playing live, and I like rock’n’roll.” So I scrapped that, and started over; kind of gave myself no boundaries. I just knew what I didn’t want it to sound like. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do breakdowns. I didn’t want to do double bass or chuggy riffs. I didn’t want to do that kind of riffing thing, you know? I wrote a lot of music with Underoath guitar-wise, and I was kind of sick of doing a song that was a math equation that never got back to square one; it just goes.

So I wanted to make some really intelligent songwriting. I think it’s harder to write a song that’s more than a bunch of riffs. It’s easy to make a bunch of riffs sound cool and put some bad-ass lyrics over it. It’s way easier than it is to write a song with chord progressions and not make the song cheesy. I think it’s way harder. To me it was a challenge, and it was something I was really willing to take on. It was something I was pushing for with Underoath on the last couple of records but it didn’t really stick. So it was kind of where I went [with Sleepwave].

Do you think there was a behind the scenes battle on songwriting with Underoath?

SC: Dude, we always butted heads. Every record we made we fought through most of it. It was hard. It’s hard to get six dudes on the same page that have equal say in everything whether they write or not, cause a lot of those guys didn’t write. Only half of us wrote. But their opinion was equal. They could come into a room halfway through tracking a song and go, “I don’t like that chorus. I don’t like it. Don’t do it. I’m not having that on my record.” Even though they didn’t do anything. That was really tough. Underoath was a tough writing process. Very hard to agree when recording. Except for the last two songs we recorded for the anthology. We finally were like, “You know what, everyone do their thing. You do your thing, you do your thing and you do your thing. And then we would work on the song together. I love those two songs.

You mentioned something about Underoath being a walk in the park versus writing for Sleepwave in the AP interview. What did you mean?

SC: Maybe I was talking about the studio; maybe I was talking about writing. I feel like writing for Sleepwave for me was way more natural. It was easier, I churned out 30-some songs for this record. And I worked really hard on them and had to narrow them down to 11. I think it’s easier and more natural to write a song. You read a definition of a song, it’s got a structure. There’s a verse, a chorus, a bridge, you know. For me it’s easier. Recording for Underoath was a walk in the park versus recording for Sleepwave. We worked with David Bendith. And he’s more old-fashioned, more old school. He doesn’t even use Pro Tools. He’s not a fan of editing much, auto-tune, vocal-line, etc. We were there for like two months, and the record is real. I would sing something a hundred times pitch perfect and he just knew when my emotion was right with the words I was singing and when I was perfectly on key. Like he captured that stuff. Like he’s a great engineer but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what guitar or head you use, or which drum set, or what EQ you might mix it with. At the end of the day, you can’t pull out these tricks. Like these younger bands use a lot of shortcuts; you can’t recreate how it’s performed with any program. Even the stuff that’s really fake, melodyned and auto-tuned. If you hear someone actually sing it, the same voice and the same tune- like if the same person sang it perfectly it would sound completely different. So he was very hard on us. It was literally the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. But it’s the most proud of anything I’ve ever been in my life. As much as I hated him while I was there, I love him. As soon as we finished, I was like “Thank you.” I mean, I’ve been playing music since I was in elementary school, and this was the first time I’ve gotten better at something in a long time.

Is it because you were there for every aspect of it?

SC: Yeah, like I was playing guitar and he was beating me up. I was like, “I’ve been playing guitar since the first grade. Yeah, you’re twice my age. I’m not as good as you. When I’m your age I’ll be as good.” But he knew we had it in us, which was awesome. He believed in Steven and I, and he pulled it out of us. I think if you can handle working with someone like that, you can make some really beautiful things happen.

With the differences between Underoath and Sleepwave, and the obvious expectations, how has the reaction from fans been thus far?

SC: Everyone who knows what I’m doing, for the most part, has been very supportive. I figured it would be more of a backlash than it has been. You know, there’s some screaming on the record but not a lot. There are still some Underoath fans that are totally oblivious. Our waitress today was an Underoath fan and had me sign something. She was like, “What are you doing here?” I’m like, “Well, I’m playing.” And she was like “Underoath?” and I said, “No, Sleepwave.” And she had never even heard of it.

I feel like when the record comes out things will change. Everyone that has supported us so far has been 100% in, they love what we’re up to. It’s something new, something fresh. It’s not me trying to relive my past or regurgitate something I’ve already done a million times. I think people appreciate me being true to myself, you know?

I knew when you had announced Sleepwave, and I kind of stayed in the dark unintentionally. Now, I’ve started realizing stuff and watching your social media, and you’ve been energetic about the release and asking for retweets and such. There’s a huge part of the fanbase that is noticing, and it’s starting to grow really, really fast.

SC: To me, social media has always been kind of weird. I’ve never understood these bands that make a Twitter contest or selfie contest. It kind of rubs me the wrong way. But at the same time, I’ve been stubborn long enough. I mean, I didn’t have a Twitter in Underoath until near the end. It really actually hurt me when I was shopping, because people were looking at my Twitter, and were like, “Well, you only have this many followers.” “Underoath accomplished a lot.” “Well, your Twitter doesn’t say so.” Well we weren’t ever those kind of guys that were taking pictures every day, we barely used it when we had it. Now it’s biting me in the ass. But I’m trying. I’m not above anything, it’s just never been my thing. I know people enjoy it. I was always a fan, like growing up listening to Tool, I had no idea what they looked like. And they weren’t in the music videos. No magazines, they weren’t allowed to take pictures for a long time, and I thought that was so cool. And Trent Reznor, you don’t know what his kids are eating for breakfast. I didn’t even know he had kids until I saw his wife put something up one time when I was just bored looking around on the internet. You would have never known that.

To me that’s so much more noble. I like the distance. Not that you should distance yourself from your fans, but I just think it blows you up more when kids see all this stuff, and there’s 50,000 likes on a picture of you kicking a soccer ball. Kids start to put you on a pedestal that you’re not really on. It’s crazy, and to me it doesn’t make sense, but I know that’s the way of the future, so you kind of just have to go with it.

So, I don’t know any of the song titles, but what is your favorite song on the record to play live?

SC: It’s so hard [to choose], because that record means so much to me. You’ve seen it in the other interviews, I basically went through it all. In the period of Underoath announcing the breakup there was nine months we had off between when they told me they were done and we had the farewell tour which was two weeks long. Then there was like a year and a half almost until Sleepwave’s first song came out. So there was like a year before I recorded all this. And I’m the kind of guy that I’ll write the lyrics and melodies, and I’ll get in the vocal booth and think, “I haven’t recorded this song yet, it can be whatever it wants to be. I could change it right now, because today I’m feeling this.” And then if I record the way I’m feeling today, it’s going to be more honest, and you’re going to hear it in my performance. Not something I went through six months ago and it’s going to be a little phoned in.

The emotions I went through are all on that record, and it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I love them all. I don’t know. Maybe…there’s a song we played tonight, the second to last song. It’s more chill; a song called “Hold Up My Head.” It’s one of my favorites, because it’s got such a different vibe. It has like a Peter Gabriel vibe, which sounds crazy, but to me, it’s cinematic. But when you think of Peter Gabriel, you think of the ’80s, but I’m talking like what he does that people don’t listen to unless you’re a fan. Real cinematic, out-there stuff. I was pulling from a specific song when I just want to go to this spot where the record hasn’t hit yet. Right in the middle.

The second song you guys played. What was that one called?

SC: That song is called “The Wolf.”

That was crazy good.

SC: Yeah, I remember writing that song. It basically stayed the same from the day I wrote it. I wrote a joke melody for the chorus. And I didn’t want to write lyrics for it for awhile until we demoed it. And then when we were in the studio, the melody I thought that was kind of funny, I ended up singing it for real with some lyrics that I was passionate about, and it was 70 million times better than the idea I thought was cool before. So it was awesome that it went back really to the original idea that I had. Your gut instinct is usually right. You can repaint a painting 700 times. You can put grass, trees, mountains, then add some birds and add some flowers and clouds and people. At what point did you make it worse? Maybe it could have been better with just that tree. Sometimes when you write a song like that and it goes back to the original gut instinct, I think that’s really cool.

What inspired the album title ‘Broken Compass’?

SC: It’s actually the title of the last song on the record. It encompasses- [laughs] no pun intended- but it sums up the whole record to me. I felt like after Underoath- the rug was kind of pulled out from under me with Underoath; kind of caught off guard. We were always on the verge of breaking up but I never thought it was going to happen for real. And when that happened, I was like, “Yesterday, I was in Underoath but today I’m just…” I didn’t really have any direction, other than the music I was working on and believing in myself. But going through the anger and depression, and not having any self-esteem, and the drinking- whatever you’re going through- drugs, whatever darkness. It was hard, I lost my house and all sorts of stuff. No matter how much I believed in myself, I had to do it. I had to come out on top and have some sort of positive outlook on life. No matter how good the songs were, I was never going to get out of that hole. I didn’t have an easy direction, no matter how much I put into these songs, I had to be better. I had to fix me. I had to get rid of the anger and get past the depression and move on to being a more positive person; get out of the shit.

It was easy to see the one-eighty. It looked like you were bumming pretty hard in some of those interviews.

SC: We’re about to release an Underoath documentary, if it comes out. But that nine months beforehand, I was drinking a lot. And I looked like shit. I was like fifteen pounds heavier. It was awful. It was all in not dealing with your emotions and trying to mask them with distractions.

Think the record is kind of a release then?

SC: Absolutely. When it comes out, I’ll probably feel better than I do now.

What’s after this tour, and into 2015?

SC: Just more touring. Just like Underoath did. We’re going to go hard. This isn’t a part-time thing. It’s full-time. It takes some time to get on tours when you’re a new band. No matter where you’ve been. You get a lot of offers, but the money isn’t enough to get gas from city to city. The label wants us on this tour, ’cause its label support. We don’t make a dollar. It’s hard. But you’ve gotta believe in yourself.

Interview written and conducted by Corey From — (follow him on Twitter)

Corey From
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