Any major member shift causes some form of apprehension and uncertainty not only for the fans, but to an extent the band too. After vocalist Alex Koehler announced his departure from Chelsea Grin earlier this year to focus on his recovery from alcoholism, the band enlisted Tom Barber of Lorna Shore to fill his shoes.
Already in the middle of recording their fifth full-length record when the vocalist change went ahead, Chelsea Grin faced a rather difficult situation, scrapping the vocal work that Koehler had put down for the album already, piecing together lyrics and structures, and having Tom lay down the vocal work to put it all together.
Though far from the conventional method and certainly not an ideal situation, the Utah heavy hitters produced ‘Eternal Nightmare’, a record that not only pays homage to the roots of their earlier releases, but also steps forward with a new revitalised passion.
Whilst over in Manchester in the UK promoting the record on the road, we sat with drummer Pablo Viveros, guitarist Stephen Rutishauser, and new frontman Tom Barber to talk about the new album, how the member change situation went down, their relationship with Lorna Shore, metal elitism, the “schmegcore” genre, and gelato.
DP!: How has this UK and European tour been treating you so far?
P: It’s been really, really good. We didn’t know what to expect, and it’s the first time that we’ve come over here with the new material and with Tom in the band too. We were hoping for the best, and the shows have definitely exceeded our expectations. Every show has been off the chain. People are loving the new songs and screaming the lyrics. It has been really awesome.
DP! As you’ve said, this is your first time with the new material from your new album, ‘Eternal Nightmare’. How’ve you found that the fans and critics have been taking to it?
S: It seems like the response to it has been really, really positive. It took a lot of people some getting used to at first, and I don’t think that’s necessarily stylistically. We had this album written for a long time, but the member changes are something some people have to acclimate themselves too, but so far the response has been awesome. ‘Eternal Nightmare’ seems to be the record that has done the best for us as far as exposure and general positivity. We felt the best about it too, like emotionally and connectively, than we have in a while.
DP!: As you briefly touched on there, during the creation of ‘Eternal Nightmare’ things changed internally with the band in terms of line-up changes. When you first initially began putting the album together, what was the mindset and the feeling within the band?
S: Yeah, it was an interesting place that we were in. Jake (Harmond, guitarist) had left the band, so then was just the four of us and so there were less minds in on the process, which we felt the band and album needed it because it was a little bit more focused. Not that having Jake in the band was ever anything against that, it just all forced us to really buckle down and try to get it done because there was less contribution, and that worked out. We feel like we’re happy with the product. It was a rocky road, but we got through it.
DP!: How much of the record was written and recorded with those two members, Jake and of course your now ex-vocalist Alex Koehler, with them still a part of Chelsea Grin?
P: We wrote it whilst Alex was still in the band, but anything that he had written- we didn’t use anything that he had written for it at all. Once he had left the studio we had to start from ground zero with all of the vocal work. So, David (Flinn, bassist) wrote around 80-90% of all of the lyrics with our producer Drew (Fulk), and between all of us we kind of pieced them together and arranged them and stuff. Then Tom kind of came in maybe a little less than halfway through that and then he kind had a good amount of input as well, so it was a big joint team effort. It was just weird ’cause we went into the studio with one singer and then we left the studio with a different singer. I think we did a really good job at still delivering a good record, and not a record that kind of sounds jumbled or quickly put together, which is something we could’ve risked doing given the situation. I’m really stoked on how it came out.
DP!: At what point did it become apparent that Alex was going to step away, going into recovery, part from the band permanently, and Tom come into the fold?
P: It all kind of just happened. We didn’t expect any of it to happen. I think it was the fifth day in the studio when we all realised that Alex needed to take some time for himself, and during that process we had the idea that he might not come back. We flew Tom in to do a few songs just to see and just to kind of explore our options because we were afraid that Alex wasn’t going to be coming back to the band. Once we heard Tom on the two tracks that he did, we were like “Okay, that’s actually really sick,” so we ended up having him do the record from there as Alex didn’t end up coming back. So, our plan B became our plan A.
DP!: Were any other potential vocalists under consideration, or was it just Tom that you had your eyes set on should Alex not have returned?
S: I mean, yeah, we definitely spent some time wracking our brains going through people, and I think- well, Tom was always someone that was on our mind from that point. It just always gets weird when someone is in a band already, and we didn’t want to step on any toes or anything.
P: Tom was just a good choice because we already knew him, we had already toured with him multiple times, and he had actually already performed with us, so we’ve heard him in our band before. It just kind of seemed like the obvious choice, but, like Stephen said, it gets tricky when someone is already in another band and you don’t want to take someone away from what they’re already doing.
S: We just thought it be worth it to at least put our feelers out there on that option. We’re thankful that Tom came over, and at first it was just to help us out and get some stuff recorded.
DP!: In regards to you Tom, how did it feel when you were officially offered to join Chelsea Grin permanently? What was your mindset at that time?
T: I was excited. It’s definitely something way bigger than what I was already doing, and I already liked the guys too. I was very excited. I couldn’t be too ecstatic at the time, because when I got the offer I was on tour and I was around my band, so, though I was ecstatic in my head, on the outside it was kind of like “…yay”. Very quiet and subdued.
DP!: So, how did it go in terms of telling the other guys in Lorna Shore about the offer that you’ll be leaving and joining Chelsea Grin?
T: I mean, I’ve known them for quite some time, and I didn’t really beat around the bush with it. I just kind of told each of them individually, and they were just like “Well, alright.” There weren’t really any angry words given from either side. It was just “Okay, alright, I understand.” That was that. Obviously they’re still doing their thing, and they’re still putting out good music. They’ve got a new vocalist. They’re great, and they’re still doing what they’ve got to do. They’re a good band.
DP!: You’re all still on good terms with one another?
T: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
S: I’d say that our whole band are on good terms with the Lorna Shore guys still.
DP!: Initially when Tom was announced as Alex’s replacement, and obviously with a new vocalist people are generally a little apprehensive, it seemed like to begin with their was a mixed reaction that warmed up exponentially as more music came out and when the album dropped. How did find the acceptance from your fanbase?
P: I saw it as mostly positive. There are definitely some die-hard fans that have been with the band since the beginning, and I knew that those people were pretty pissed. It also really helped that we announced the vocalist change and dropped a new song at the same time. I saw a lot of comments that were like “I wanted to hate this, but I don’t. It’s awesome,” or “It makes me sad that Alex has gone, but this song is awesome so I’m stoked.” I think a lot of our fans were confused ’cause they just wanted to be mad, but they couldn’t.
S: I think also that really what it all came down to was Alex’s health. That’s the priority. No matter what people think about what you’re doing, that’s a priority. Some people thought that there was more of a conspiracy to it than that, and it was a long and pain staking process, but it all came down to Alex’s health really, and some people did respond to that and understand that.
P: They had seen that we had dropped a tour before that too, because of Alex’s health, and so I think that leading up to his departure did help people to see that it was an issue and that it wasn’t a whole conspiracy kind of thing.
S: Yeah. There were some mixed reviews, but I’d so very much more so positive. Our process and our goal right now is to obviously gain more fans, but we want to also show our current fans that we’re still doing it, still playing our old songs too, still doing our best to keep going and carry it all on, and it’s going well so far.
DP!: Of course there’s some elitism in the metal community, and you could say that those who want everything as it was when it began would be a form of that. Do you think that’s true, and do you think that there is evident amounts of elitism within the metal world?
T: I feel like there is a lot of elitism, but at the same time it’s like when there’s- you know, it’s a the proof is in the pudding kind of thing. People will have no choice but to enjoy something, even if it is to them sort of a hard pill to swallow at first. There’s a lot of bands that get new vocalists and they kind of take a weird turn, and then things kind of go south. I feel like in this case people were a lot more accepting of it and kind of going with it, and it just seems like a lot of people are enjoying it, which, you know, all of us were super, super nervous to whatever people would say because these guys have been around for like ten fucking years now. It turned out pretty good, even with this community being very fucking picky and very hard headed sometimes.
DP!: I’d imagine that the nerves were especially strong with you Tom as you were the brand new member of the band. At what point did you feel like you were accepted by the Chelsea Grin fanbase? Was it when the first song ‘Dead Rose’ dropped? When the album came out? Your first show?
T: I think it was when we were a couple of days into the Vans Warped Tour over the summer. A lot of people were kind of watching videos and really wanted to get a chance to check it out, because there’s a lot of people that couldn’t go to Warped Tour.
S: If you look at some videos from the first shows of Warped Tour, they have so many views because it’s kids just trying to like see what’s going on, and it worked out. That’s when Tom sort of gained the peoples’ trust.
T: Yeah, ’cause anybody can sound good recorded, you know? You can use all of those bells and whistles and shit, and so people can be swayed by anything. With these guys, again, they’ve been around for so long now, people are like “Alright, fuck it, we’re going to see who we’re going to see.”
DP!: ‘Eternal Nightmare’ sounds a lot like you’ve harked back to the root sounds of the band. Was that a conscious decision?
S: We wanted to say some homage to everything. No matter which way you go, people always say something like “You’ve lost your roots,” or people so often tend to say “I wish this sounded like the old shit. I miss the old shit.” So, yeah, we wanted to pay homage to it, for sure, at least wherever we could without losing sight of what we wanted to do currently as well. We want to look back but we don’t want to regress, we want to progress and find a good mixture. It’s not perfect at all, but we’re figuring it out and finding out the process for the next record.
DP!: Speaking of the next record, and of course it’s early days, but has there been any talks on how you may want the next one to sound like or how you may approach it?
P: We haven’t even really thought about it all that much. We just all know that we’re all really excited to fully write a record with Tom. That’s going to be fun. I think because of everything that happened, a lot of the process of making the record really took a toll on us that, now that it’s out and we’re playing it, we’re kind of not even thinking about the next one, but I think with Tom now in the band you can definitely just expect it to be another really pissed off, heavy, and fast record.
S: Metal… core. Death… core.
P: Post death pre black blackened death jam post melodic pre core.
S: Don’t add djent in there. We’re gonna make a mistake with that.
P: Schmeg core.
S: Yeah, schmeg core. At the end of the day, it’s all just schmeg core. That’s what we call it.
P: It’s gonna be post pre metal probably.
T: The new term is schmeg core.
DP!: You’re going to be the pioneers of that genre?
P: Oh yeah.
T: Let it be known.
P: We can call our fans the schmeglings. Just like Slipknot call their fans maggots.
S: Or schmegladons.
P: At one point I think people were trying to get the term grinners, and I was like “ughhh.”
DP!: Was that like a fan thing, or was that something you were trying to get going as a band?
P: I don’t know. I don’t know where it came from.
S: I don’t think I was here for that one.
P: I’m just really glad that it didn’t stick, or calling them the Chelseas, though I do like that better than grinners.
DP!: I’m not too sure how it would sit if Tom came out and shouted “How are all of my grinners doing tonight?”
P: He usually calls them “mother fuckers,” and we’re happy with that. It’s pretty universal. We were one of the first bands to introduce the term “father fuckers” too. Us and Amity I think, and Deez Nuts too.
DP!: You’ve put out two videos so far from the album, one for ‘Dead Rose’ and the other for ‘Hostage’. How did those shoots go? They look pretty intense.
P: ‘Dead Rose’ was a piece of cake. We actually shot both of those videos on the same day.
S: Yeah, we shot them back-to-back. We finished shooting for ‘Dead Rose’, and then we put on different outfits and went right outside to do ‘Hostage’.
P: We were in LA and thought that the weather was going to be nice, but it ended up being really cold by the time we started shooting ‘Hostage’. That’s full on rain and full on water.
S: We had rain machines blasting us for four straight hours.
P: It’s not real rain, but it’s also not CGI or anything. We’re actually getting really wet, and, oh my god. I have never been so cold in my life.
T: It was freezing.
S: I was in like a denim jacket, and it was soaked through. I was completely soaked through by the end of the first take, and then when you’d move it would just make you that much colder. So you just stand there until the next take in a huge puddle that’s almost up to your shin.
P: We were so fucking miserable, but the video turned out so sick that we couldn’t be upset. Even when we were there on location and we were just watching the playback on the camera we were like “Oh my god, that looks so sick.”
S: It made it worth it, and we want to make an effort on this record too and to make more intense music videos and it was kind of a milestone to see us there with that video and those rain machines.
T: We were there until 3:00am, and it was freezing.
S: We started at 2:00pm and it went on until about 3:00am, so it was like a thirteen hour shoot. It was cool, though. We went out to this huge production warehouse, with all of these old props in it.
P: It was a good day. It was really fun.
T: Honestly, you could fit planes in those rooms they were so big. They were huge.
P: Yeah, ‘Dead Rose’ was done in a big warehouse and then we went outside into the alley beside it for ‘Hostage’. We went on and we were done by 3:00am, and then I had to be at the airport by 5:00am so I just had a bit of a terrible time there, but it was totally worth it. The videos both turned out super sick.
DP!: Are any other videos coming out for more tracks on the album?
S: We’ve got some ideas for some that we want to do. There will definitely be more, but it’s just timing it in with our tours.
P: We’ve been talking about doing them for two songs in particular. It’s just that we’re obviously on tour right now, and when we go back I think we’re only home for about two weeks, and then we go back out again on our US tour with Whitechapel for six weeks, then it’s Christmas. So, we’re just trying to figure out the timeline so we can do it.
DP!: Obviously, other than your touring schedule as you’ve mentioned, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
S: That’s about it for the year basically. We’ve got a few things that we’d like to do next year, and a few things that we’re working on, but right now we’re pretty open after the Whitechapel run. We’ve got plans though.
P: They’re nothing quite set in stone just yet, we just know that we want to do a couple of international things, and we will be bringing the ‘Eternal Nightmare’ tour to the States with a little bit of a different support, but, like I said, there’s nothing in stone yet. But yeah, we’ve just started a new record cycle so you’ll just see us grinding for the next couple of years.
DP!: What about personal Christmas plans? What are you getting up to in your downtime over the holidays?
T: I’ve still got to write up my letter to Santa Clause.
P: My list!
S: I’m going to Texas. My sister gave birth to a gorgeous baby angel boy.
T: What’s his name?
S: His name is Thomas.
P: Named after our boy Tom.
S: Yeah, so I get to go and meet him, so that’s cool. I can’t wait. I’ll be the cool uncle.
P: A funcle.
S: Funcle. Funcle Stephen.
T: His fun uncle Stephen.
P: I’m just going to be sitting at home, and enjoying life at home while I can with my girlfriend. Maybe Thomas will be living in Salt Lake by then, and maybe I’ll hang out with him.
P: We’re trying to get him to move but he doesn’t want to.
T: Nah, I do. I’ll move in January, but for Christmas I just want to chill with my parents and my family at home, and then I’ll move to Salt Lake City after that.
P: Tom’s dad is awesome.
T: Yeah, he’s the man. He’s got a gelato company in New York and doing big things.
S: Yeah, we love Tom’s dad, and the gelato.
DP!: Any final words?
P: Check out our new record, ‘Eternal Nightmare’.
S: Yeah, absolutely. All of that.
P: Also follow Tom on Twitter.
DP!: And what’s the name of your dad’s gelato company so people can follow that?
T: Pop’s Gelato!
P: Yeah! Check out Pop’s Gelato! He’s gonna have to pay us for some ad space.
DP!: Get him to sponsor one of your tours. He can do that, right?
T: Yeah. Pop’s Gelato, baby!
The band’s fifth studio album, ‘Eternal Nightmare’, is out now through Rise Records.
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.