Looking Back

Underøath talk 20 years of They’re Only Chasing Safety

The post-hardcore scene trailblazers reflect on the breakthrough success of their 2004 album ahead of their forthcoming UK shows

In the early 2000’s, pop-punk was all the rage. The likes of New Found Glory and Yellowcard dominated the airwaves as a generation of teens donned their baseball caps and knee-length Dickies shorts; melody had well and truly taken over the alternative scene. But underground, something else was brewing.

With the raw emotion of 90s hardcore paving the way for bands like New Jersey’s Thursday to break onto MTV, down in Florida’s local scene a handful of musicians were longing for something new. Releasing music since 1999, by 2003 Underøath were staring down a radical new chapter. Division was rife following the departure of founding vocalist Dallas Taylor and splitting up was on the cards, but before a final decision was made the five-piece had touring commitments to honour. Local musician Spencer Chamberlain stepped in for their remaining shows, and as they got into the rehearsal room together, things unexpectedly clicked into place. 

“From that first practice, we just started writing music together,” Chamberlain smiles.

“We were all the same age, and I was used to playing in bands with kids older than me. We had no plan or vision; it was just fun. We liked Converge, Botch, and Dillinger Escape Plan, but we also liked Jimmy Eat World and Taking Back Sunday. We just wanted to take those influences and make music that we liked.”

Rocking up to their first shows together feeling remarkably unprepared, the now six-piece realised that their time had been largely spent writing new songs instead of practising the existing music they had planned on playing. Taking it as a sign, they headed into long-time producer James Paul Wisner’s home studio to start making sense of their fresh vision.

Merging the unrefined power of the hardcore scene with an undeniable sense of melody They’re Only Chasing Safety set a new standard for post-hardcore. Chamberlain’s guttural lows and tuneful highs harmonised with drummer Aaron Gillespie’s soulful cleans, and their dual-vocalled approach was unlike anything the genre had heard before. Accessible and melodic yet blisteringly heavy, they had started a revolution, but they sure as hell didn’t know it.

“There was no thought of making it big,” Chamberlain nods. 

“Our scene was still very underground, so there was no idea of mainstream success in our brains. It was a movement, and it was exciting, but we were kids. We were sleeping on the floor and eating Walmart frozen burgers, so making it never seemed like an option.”

Spending their summer zipping from state to state playing in a new city each day as part of the Vans Warped Tour, each afternoon the crowds would double in size. Tearing their vocal cords to shreds in the blazing heat, Underøath began to realise they were onto something. A band of six Florida kids with so little to their names, who had all been living with their parents prior to finding the road, it was unlike anything they had ever dreamed. 

It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door

“I remember playing one of the first shows after the record came out, and we opened with ‘The Blue Note’ instrumental straight into ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’,” the frontman recalls.

“It was in a 300-cap room, and this was before we had in-ear monitors. As soon as we kicked in the crowd were singing so loud that I couldn’t hear myself. I remember turning around to Aaron and going, ‘We made it’. That’s what making it was to me, having people up front singing the words and pointing their fingers at you. I’ll never forget that moment.”

With nothing to lose and nothing to prove, each new show brought a fresh batch of fans hungering for something more from post-hardcore. Tired of the scene settling into stagnation, Underøath were markedly different, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by their peers. Often the subject of mockery for bands with whom they shared stages, they were the outcasts, but once they stepped out in front of a crowd – none of that mattered. 

UNDEROATH "Young and Aspiring" Live at Ace's Basement (Multi Camera) 2004

An album born from one part innocence and two parts hunger, from the throat-shredding opening notes of ‘Young And Aspring’ through to the vulnerable, reflective musings of slow-building closer ‘Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape’, Underøath’s fourth album is a masterpiece of post-hardcore. Breaking all conventions of the genre with electronic flourishes, pop sensibilities, and even featuring a gospel choir on ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’, it opened the door for artists to fearlessly push the boundaries.

“We’ve never fit in anywhere, and that’s hurt us in a lot of ways, but it’s also given us a career for the last 20 years,” Chamberlain shrugs.

“Every tour we’ve done has been bigger than the tour before, and not a lot of bands can say that. We’re so grateful.”

20 years on, They’re Only Chasing Safety has inspired countless artists in the alternative scene to follow their gut. A lesson in the importance of being yourself and trusting what you love, it’s an album of fearlessness, marking a triumphant turning point in Underøath’s history. Breaking them into the mainstream, they’re now celebrating their latest milestone with a huge run of dates playing the record in full, with UK shows swiftly approaching.

“Looking at They’re Only Chasing Safety now is almost like looking at a different human entirely. We’ve changed so much since those days,” the now-41-year-old admits.

“Underøath is a heavy band, but that’s the only perimeter we’ve ever kept on ourselves. We know what we are, so we just follow whatever’s going to make us happy. When we’re writing, I want to see all five of us light up. If your hair’s sitting on end and you’re so excited that you can’t sit still, then you’ve got a song.”

A group of teenagers going against the grain, two decades later Underøath are still defined by their constant evolution. Each new release is a chance to test the limits of the sound they pioneered, but Spencer and his bandmates never expected their band to come this far. As the frontman looks toward the future – he’s feeling positive.

Underoath - Lifeline (Drowning) [Official Visualizer]

“We’ve been working on a new record for the last year,” Chamberlain finishes.

“That makes this tour way more difficult, because we have our best material sitting in our back pocket right now. We’re playing songs that we wrote when we were 18 years old every night, and it’s great that we get to celebrate that with all these people, but they don’t know what’s about to hit them. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about Underøath. This new chapter feels like the start of the next 20 years.”

Underøath start their UK tour on 24 June. Find tickets here

Photo credit: Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images