Unearth’s blend of thrash and hardcore has helped the band go global
By Alex Distefano
With a reputation for ripping it up onstage for both metal and hardcore crowds, Unearth has evolved from an underground metalcore band, to become one of heavy music’s biggest, hardest-working acts. Formed in Boston in 1998 by singer Trevor Phipps, Unearth isn’t concerned with labels, but instead takes a panoramic approach, creating a solid blend of thrash riffing, hardcore breakdowns and melody. The group is a perfect fit for fans of Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Hatebreed or Slayer—all bands Unearth has shared the stage with at one time or another.
Darkness in the Light, the band’s fifth full-length album, comes out this month, and offers listeners a shredding opus of undiluted heaviosity. The band hopes to keep the attention of its hardcore fans, as well as reach out to those who consider classic metal (bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden) a noteworthy vein. Phipps recently took time to tell CULTURE about Unearth’s plans to tour and its role in this year’s Rockstar Mayhem festival, which will stop at San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheater July 9.
Tell us all about your headlining appearance this year on the Jägermeister stage of Rockstar Mayhem tour. What bands are you most excited about seeing or hanging out with?
We’re very excited to be headlining the Jäger stage, we love Jäger! Unearth is a big drinking-type metal band, so we’re looking to party this summer for sure! We’re friends with some of the other bands as well; festivals like this are always a big party to play. At the San Bernardino show, Testament is [playing] and they are an all-time favorite of ours. We are all huge thrash metal fans. We’re honored to share the stage with legends like that. This summer is going to be a very fun run for us. On some of the off dates, we’ll be doing smaller shows with Suicide Silence and All Shall Perish, which I look forward to because the energy is much more intense and each band will be playing longer than 30-minute sets.
Tell us how it’s been going with your current fill-in drummer, Justin Foley from Killswitch Engage. Will he become part of Unearth permanently?
Our drummer situation has been sort of a revolving door-type thing in the band for a while now. We love working with Justin—he’s an awesome drummer and friend—but he’ll eventually want to go back to Killswitch at some point in the future. He’ll be with us for the entire tour, then when we go to Europe in September. Then when we go to Australia, we have a guy named Nick Pierce, who played with The Faceless. It’ll be his tryout and we’ll see how it goes from there.
Give us your personal reflections on your new studio album, Darkness in Light.
We’ve got the best press for it so far, and it really makes us feel good to know that so far people like it. Fans have been loving it so far . . . Also, personally, I’m a fan of the new album; I love it. The songs are great and the entire band thinks it’s solid; our best, heaviest record yet. On the Mayhem tour we have 30 minutes a day to play, and we’ll give fans two new live songs, maybe three. We have to play songs from our entire catalogue and have a rotating setlist to please all of our fans. But, at the smaller shows, we might play older songs and a few more new ones for people to check out. But the album rocks.
Unearth has a reputation for being one of the hardest-working bands in metal. What are some of the challenges of life on tour? How do you maintain your energy levels?
You have to stay in somewhat decent shape to play shows like this, in my opinion. You can’t eat too much junk food, and [you’ve] got to keep the cardio [up] by working out, lifting weights. It can be extremely difficult at times, and being away from family and loved ones is tough, but technology has made it better. We have downtime sometimes on tour, but luckily with cell phones, email and Skype, lots of times now we can talk to our families at home.
Do you guys party on the road? How do you feel about marijuana, both its use and the politics?
We can’t speak for everyone, but honestly we’re not too much of a pot-smoking band. A few of our past members have been; we’re more of a drinking band. But we’re against [the] criminalization of it. We know some bands that have gotten in trouble in the past [due to marijuana possession].
What are your plans for the end of 2011 and 2012?
The Mayhem festival ends in August in Florida. Then shortly after that, we head out to Europe for a string of dates and some festivals, and then after that we’re on our way to Australia to play some huge festivals. After that, we are currently booking some Pacific Rim countries to play, and we want to go to Japan; stuff is still being confirmed as we speak. In the fall, we will headline or support for a bigger band in the U.S and Canada. For the next year and a half, we plan to be on the road almost nonstop.
In today’s turbulent times, have you ever worried about your safety while traveling the world touring?
We’ve been lucky so far on all of our tours, but the only times we’ve been concerned with our safety was a few shows that we played in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in certain parts of Mexico. The promoters told us not to go out after dark onto the streets—that’s always kinda iffy. They warned us of lots of crime and said kidnappings were possible, but it was totally fine. Sometimes the venues we play aren’t always in the best areas. We just have to be smart. Each country has safe areas, [but] that kind of stuff could happen here in the U.S. as well.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
For its latest album, Unearth worked with producer Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage—who also happens to be a friend of the band. So what’s that like? String-shredder Trevor Phipps explains: “He knows us as friends, he knows our strengths and weaknesses as a band in the studio . . . And he’s kind of like an added member of the band. With 10 years recording with him, we have a level of comfort with him. We love Killswitch Engage.” ’Nuff said.