Dave Grohl changed gears from a hard-hitting drummer to a charismatic front man like a NASCAR driver coming out of a turn; pedal to the floor, wheels spinning. He hasn’t looked in the rear view since. Underoath drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie hopes his newest project, The Almost, follows the same track.
“He’s it for me. I see myself very much compared to that,” says Gillespie, a teen idol-like crush present in his voice. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be as talented as that guy, but I really look up to him.”
Like Grohl, Gillespie is comfortable behind a mike. After all, Gillespie has been supplying one half of the vocals for Underoath since the Florida band’s birth. His voice is soft and cuddly next to Spencer Chamberlain’s (the other half) steel wool screaming. Transitioning to front man was a no-brainer.
“I’ve always sang in Underoath, so I’m used to addressing the crowd and having a microphone. But as a drummer in Underoath, I was the boss in terms of how things run. I’m kind of driving the truck,” says Gillespie. “In The Almost, even though I’m the front man, I’m not driving the truck. It’s hard for me to not drive the thing.”
The Almost doesn’t mean Underoath is done. Despite publicized turmoil in the past, Underoath’s spirits are high. Underoath has been riding a wave of success following 2004’s smash album They’re Only Chasing Safety. The band’s most recent album, Define The Great Line, is following the same ascent. It was just sheer boredom that spawned Gillespie’s new project.
“There is always this three or four week lull when I’ll track drums for Underoath before it comes time to sing. I usually just sit on my butt in some hotel and play video games,” says Gillespie. “This year I decided I was going to stay healthy, and I wrote a bunch of songs.”
There is no animosity about Gillespie’s new band, but you probably won’t see champagne corks popping off or balloons dropping from the ceiling on the Underoath tour bus. “I haven’t really sat down and showcased it for them. Our keyboard player has it on his iPod and he tells me he likes it. I don’t think they’re going to give it up to me and tell me it’s great. I don’t think they’ll let me get that far, but they’re supportive,” Gillespie laughs.
Once again emulating Grohl’s early Foo Fighters days, Gillespie played every instrument on The Almost’s debut, Southern Weather. But now that it’s time to hit the road and showcase the songs, Gillespie has to watch a new drummer assume the throne while he’s front and center. And letting go has taken some getting used to.
“I have this child prodigy for a drummer. He’s like a demon. He just has insane feel. When he’s my age, he’s going to ruin everyone’s life. He’s 17 and he gets it,” says Gillespie, whose wife introduced him to Kenny Bozich. “At first I would get on the drum kit and show him what I was trying to do, but I’ve totally stepped back. I want him to make it his own.”
Moving out from behind the kit has its rewards, especially if you’re used to playing for Underoath. The screamo, Christian metal-core band is known for energetic live performances that sometimes leave Gillespie battered like an onion ring. With The Almost, the potential for injury is less likely, but being a front man can be just as risky.
“Playing drums in Underoath kind of takes it out of me. My knuckles are always swollen from playing the drums. I’m such a physical player,” says Gillespie. “Playing in The Almost is less strenuous. Then again, I kind of have an, ‘I’ll do anything’ mindset when I’m singing, so it’s dangerous in that sense too.”
While six minds battling it out in a studio can turn into a rugby scrum, Gillespie has found working alone to be a different kind of challenge. “The pros are that you don’t have to explain anything to anyone; you kind of know what you’re after. There’s no kick drum patterns to explain to the bass player because you just do it all,” says Gillespie. “The pros to working in a group are that you have six different brains turmoil-ing together, which creates a real struggled vibe on our Underoath records. At the same time you get breaks when you’re in the recording studio, and when you’re alone you don’t get any breaks. You just track forever.”
Gillespie made it clear that The Almost will not hinder his work with Underoath. His expectations are real and his take on success is much more meaningful. “Underoath is still so busy. We’re still constantly touring. I’m really fulfilled by that gig. And I feel great about it,” says Gillespie. “I don’t really know what to expect [with The Almost]. I feel really blessed and grateful. I don’t think success is measured by how many records you sell or how many people come to your shows. I think success should be measured by if you’re true to yourself or not, if you’re making an honest product.”
If anything, The Almost has invigorated Gillespie, fueling a desire to bring more passion to his Underoath duties. The longing to play the drums, like an addict looking for a fix, grabs hold of him whenever he’s on the road with The Almost. Coming home to Underoath tames the beast. “I think this will affect Underoath positively because it creates a hunger in me to play the drums,” reveals Gillespie. “When I go on tour with The Almost I don’t play the drums, and I get home and I can’t wait to seriously play the drums. It creates a hunger in me in both areas that I think is quite healthy.”
The instrumentation on Southern Weather is clearly lighter than his work with Underoath and really taps into Gillespie’s spiritual side. Gillespie practically sounds like he’s praying through music on tracks such as “Dirty And Left Out” and “Amazing, Because It Is.” But while spirituality is a big part of what makes Gillespie tick, he keeps his mind and heart open for his listeners.
“The title Southern Weather touches on me growing up in the South and me trying to be truthful to what I’m doing,” he says. “I just want people to know what I’m about and what I believe, but at the same time feel welcome no matter who they are as a person. I don’t want anyone to think that my spiritual beliefs have any kind of skew on their listenabilty to my music or my availability to them. Faith is everything to me.”