This article was originally published in June 2021.
Caleb Shomo is living in his new album.
While on a video call with Revolver to discuss Beartooth's fourth record, Below, the multi-instrumentalist mastermind is seated in his Columbus, Ohio, basement studio where he's written every Beartooth record to date. The room is pitch-black aside from some dark purple mood lights, a small candle and the glow of his computer screen, and with Shomo's head mid-frame, he looks oddly similar to the revved-up grim reaper at the center of Below's smoke-purple album art.
Like all Beartooth records, Below is a documentation of where Shomo was physically and mentally during the era he wrote it. For this one, he was holed up in that very house, and its title is a succinct encapsulation of the deep-seeded subject matter that explodes out of him throughout the record.
"I think that's what this album is about: everything inside," Shomo says. "Everything down below what you [can] see."
To outsiders, that "below" region of his psyche is most of what we know about the guy. Despite how achingly raw and personal Beartooth's music has been since the first EP in 2013, Shomo has never been particularly revealing about his day-to-day life in interviews or on social media. He's in a massively popular metal band that tours the world year-round in non-pandemic times, but he's by no means what we think of as a traditional rock star: extroverted, reckless and apt to stir up drama.
Therefore, although fans have been able to relate to Shomo through his intense musical outbursts and frank lyricism about his own struggles with mental health, he's rarely taken the opportunity to elaborate on his private life outside of what we hear on his records. From his childhood and family upbringing, to his tumultuous time in crabcore miscreants Attack Attack! and the early years of Beartooth, this is Caleb Shomo's life story.
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
I was born probably about a 15-minute drive from where I live now. I've lived in a town called Westerville since I was 10 years old. I'm 28 now, so 18 years.
WHAT ARE YOUR PARENTS LIKE?
Well, growing up, my dad was a pastor of a church and my mom has been a nurse since straight out of college. But yeah, her side of the family are all in the medical field. Her dad was a surgeon, her mom was a nurse, she's a nurse, her sister was a nurse, her brother is a surgeon. They're all nurses and doctors.
DID GROWING UP THE SON OF A PASTOR HAVE A HEAVY INFLUENCE ON YOUR DAY-TO-DAY?
I would go to church on Sundays, but other than that, no. I mean, very normal, average suburban upbringing. My parents worked super hard. We didn't have tons of money, but we got by just fine. So, my dad's father was a pastor, and he kind of started a church. Either he started a church or took over a church that his dad pastored. I can't remember exactly, but it was just a very small little church, and kind of him and a lot of his good friends, and that was what his life was, up until I was about maybe 12 or 13 when he stopped being a pastor.
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH RELIGION THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE, FROM THE TIME YOU WERE A KID TO NOW?
I don't know if I want to get super deep into it, but overall, it was one of those things that I was definitely raised in. It had its ups and downs. I saw a lot of positives, and I saw a lot of the toll it took on people I really care about. ... It's definitely not exactly the forefront of my life these days, but it's something that I will always understand and have respect for as being something I was raised in.
But hey, if you want to do that and you feel like it makes you a better person, more power to you. I absolutely am never going to shame anybody from any religion on the entire planet. As long as you're being a good person, helping people move society forward, being friendly and loving, then do whatever you want to do. That's kind of my view.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES?
My earliest memory that I have is me — and this isn't a lie, I know this sounds like I'm scripting this because of my job — but literally, it was me laying next to a little boombox that had a tape player and a little CD thing on the top. I remember just laying there and playing some tape and just rewinding it, and then listening again and just rewinding it, and just laying there and listening to this tape over and over. I spent a lot of time just laying next to the little boombox, just jamming tracks.
WAS MUSIC A BIG PART OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD GROWING UP?
Before I can even remember, music's been ... it just feels like it's in my blood or something. Which I think it is. My mom's side and my dad's side of the family, they're both incredibly musically talented. My dad's dad, he was kind of like a pastor, but he was a really big kind of gospel singer in his niche world. And then on my mom's side, they all are really good piano players. My uncle played in bands in the Seventies, rock bands and stuff.
I WOULD ASSUME YOU STARTED GETTING INTO MORE NINETIES, 2000S MUSIC IN HIGH SCHOOL OR MIDDLE SCHOOL?
I kind of went from "AC/DC is God" to Rise Records, you know what I mean? That was kind of my transition. I've been playing something since I was probably about four. I started taking piano lessons really, really young, and then when I was, like, 10 or 11, I quit and honestly learned guitar, bass and drums all at the same time. I got an electric guitar and my brother got a drum set that our buddy loaned us. And then the next year, my parents were like, "Oh, this is something he actually is going to stick with and not just put down after a month," and they got me a bass for Christmas.
HOW WAS YOUR SCHOOLING EXPERIENCE AS A KID? WERE YOU STUDIOUS AND WELL-BEHAVED OR A TROUBLEMAKER?
No, definitely not a troublemaker. I was very quiet, very to myself, very shy and reserved in a lot of aspects. I didn't have a long school experience, you know? Freshman year was my last year at school. In elementary school, I definitely wasn't great at writing and history, but I really got math and science. When I was in third grade, I got moved into a more advanced program that was in a completely different school with only about 30 other students.
And then in middle school, I was in a lot of really advanced placement classes with math. Math was kind of my thing. But that fell off so swiftly, because I fell so in love with music that I couldn't focus on anything else. All I ever wanted to do was practice and jam with other people. And then in high school I met a guy named Johnny Franck who was in a band called Attack Attack! We ended up hanging out all the time, jamming together, and then during freshman year we got signed. That was it, and then I've just been on tour and stuff.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS FEEL ABOUT YOU KIND OF SHIFTING INTO MUSIC WHEN YOU WERE THAT AGE?
They were incredibly supportive. Growing up, I was in the peak of the ADD craze. I was patient zero. I had such a hard time focusing on something that I didn't care about. Very detrimentally, almost. But if I cared about it, you could not stop me from spending every waking moment enthralled in whatever it was. Music was always that, through my whole life. When I really started playing, I think [my parents] realized that it was really special to me. They didn't have to push me at all.
IN YOUR MUSIC YOU'RE VERY OPEN ABOUT YOUR STRUGGLES WITH MENTAL HEALTH. WHEN DID THOSE CHALLENGES BEGIN?
I really started noticing that around 10 or 11 years old. It's something my family has dealt with on both sides. That's when I started noticing, "Oh, everybody doesn't just feel like this all the time."
HOW DID YOUR MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS FIRST PRESENT THEMSELVES?
I was just generally depressed. Incredibly self-deprecating for no reason, an outrageous lack of confidence, unexplained bouts of sadness and lethargy. But in all of this, an incredibly uplifting and positive environment, you know? Really good family, amazing parents, great friends. That was when I was like, "Oh, something's off."
WERE YOU DIAGNOSED WITH SOMETHING?
No. I was really good at bottling it up and being quiet about it, because I saw that after other family members were diagnosed and treated medically, I was just like, "I don't know. Maybe I should just stay quiet and try to ride out the storm." Being that young and being such a creative, over-driven person, my brain just functioned to create music. That's all I cared about, and seeing the creative stint that some of the medicines would have on people, I was like, "Do I want to just get leveled out?"
THAT'S SUCH A TOUGH THING TO NAVIGATE AS A KID.
Well, now I do see a therapist, which is incredibly helpful. I've found a situation that really helps me, and I think it's been really healthy for me. I do that and I really try to focus on exercise, diet, things like that.
DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE SUCH A STRONG CONNECTION BETWEEN MUSIC AND MENTAL HEALTH?
Absolutely, 100 percent. I just felt like music understood me, not that I understood music, you know what I mean? It was one of those things where me and music are just a part of each other, and emotionally, it just made so much sense. Whether it was me just writing chord progressions, feeling like I was releasing emotion, or whatever it was. Listening to songs and the lyrics really hitting me, or just the instrumentation making me well up with emotion. Music has always been an incredibly emotional experience for me.
ATTACK ATTACK! TOOK OFF SO QUICKLY. WHAT DID IT FEEL LIKE TO JUST SHOOT OUT ON TOUR AND SIGN TO THIS COOL LABEL AS A 14-YEAR-OLD?
I mean, it was almost just a blur. At least in the beginning, nobody cared about getting big, and nobody cared about success. We were just stoked that we got to go on tour and that we got to play. We just wanted to play shows, and we just fucked around all the time. We were all idiots. We were kids, you know? We'd all be in the van, literally shooting bottle rockets at each other on the highway in a closed van. Just stupid shit.
EVENTUALLY, YOU BECAME THE FACE OF ATTACK ATTACK! AND WERE THERE FOR ITS FINAL ITERATIONS BEFORE THE BAND BROKE UP. THAT FINAL RECORD, THIS MEANS WAR, WAS OBVIOUSLY A PRECURSOR TO BEARTOOTH, SO DID YOU FEEL YOUR OWN CREATIVITY BUILDING TO SOMETHING BIGGER OR DIFFERENT THAN ATTACK ATTACK!?
That was the first record that I recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, front to back. Did the whole thing and had a real heavy hand. Obviously, at the end of that cycle, I was just over it. I was like, "I'm done. This isn't for me anymore." I was going to be done touring fully, honestly. I'd already produced a few records for other bands, I had built a studio in my house and I was like, "I'm just going to be a producer now."
YOU WERE JUST TIRED OF BEING ON THE ROAD ALL THE TIME?
It wasn't necessarily the road. I loved the road. It became so much more than, "We're just having fun." It became, "How do we succeed, because that's what we need to do?" That wasn't my drive to make music. My drive to make music wasn't, "How do we make more money and become more popular?" My drive to make music was just, "I love to make music, and I almost feel like I have to make music." That's where Beartooth came from. That's what the song "I Have a Problem" was written about.
This tour, Scream It Like You Mean It, in 2012 was the last [Attack Attack!] tour I did. A little bit prior to that, I had been dealing with a lot, and I had been dealing with some eating issues. My weight quickly fluctuated an outrageous amount, and for really unhealthy reasons and in really unhealthy ways. It was to almost feel like I had some sort of control over something. I just started getting fucking hammered all the time and getting super stoned all the time just to kind of check out. I loved performing, but other than that, I was just really sad and really miserable and that was kind of the path I took to deal with that for this tour.
When I wrote ["I Have a Problem"], that was when I decided to quit the band. I wrote that song and recorded it and was listening to it back and was like, "Dude, it's done. It's time to do something you love, and cut this out of your life, because it's not bringing you any joy."
BEARTOOTH'S 2013 EP, SICK, HAS SOME VERY BRUTAL ,INTENSELY PERSONAL SONGS. WAS THAT YOUR WAY OF ADDRESSING THE WORLD ABOUT THESE THINGS THAT YOU'D BEEN PRIVATELY DEALING WITH FOR YEARS PRIOR?
That was all just me writing to myself, those kind of super raw "therapy" sessions or whatever. It was just like, "Clearly something is wrong, and you need to figure it out. Let's just try writing songs completely by yourself in your basement that are never intended for other people to hear, other than maybe your super close friends."
THEN YOU START TOURING AGAIN, 2014'S DISGUSTING COMES OUT AND YOUR BAND BLOWS UP AGAIN. WERE YOU HAPPY WITH THAT TRAJECTORY, OR WERE YOU ALMOST HOPING THAT IT WOULD REMAIN THIS SMALLER PASSION PROJECT?
From day one, with any member who's joined the band, I've been incredibly blunt and black and white about how this band works, because I had such a kind of scarring experience with the way the other band ended. I was like, "Hey, I'm going to run this thing. I'm always going to do the music by myself. I'm not going to screw anybody over or anything. I will always be open with you about everything going on, but this is how the band works. Are you OK with that?"
In that regard, it made me a little more comfortable, because I was like, "If this thing continues or stops or implodes, at least it was my call. I would rather have that pressure and the successes or the complete failures only be because of me and not make this whole chaos of all these other people kind of blaming each other and being like, "It was your fault that this happened." If the records go well, sick. If the records bomb? Whatever, sick. We're just having fun.
AS YOU CONTINUED TO BE A FULL-TIME TOURING UNIT THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE DECADE, DID YOU EVER SLIP BACK INTO SOME OF THOSE HABITS FROM THE END OF ATTACK ATTACK!?
It's always been up and down. There's always struggles — mentally, especially. It's not like it's always a walk in the park. That's another thing with how I chose to do this band. It does create its stresses for me, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Now that it's become what it's become, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to be like, "All right, man, you better show up and do your job. You created this really huge job for yourself where you have so many roles. You're not bowing out now."
But still, I love it. I've learned how to maintain [my mental health] a lot better, and I've learned how to be a lot more open. It hasn't always worked, you know what I mean? There's been tons of struggles and really difficult things that have happened, but that's just part of life, and that's part of being a band, and also being a business, and a passion project.
YOU MET YOUR WIFE SOMETIME IN THIS WHOLE PERIOD, RIGHT?
We met in 2010 on a tour with Attack Attack! We were headlining and she was really good friends with a band called Bury Tomorrow that was on the tour. She came out to Florida to meet them, and that's when we met.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU TWO BEEN MARRIED?
e've been married eight years. I was never a girls-on-the-road kind of dude. It just wasn't really my thing. We met and we were just friends for a really long time, because she lived in England and it wasn't realistic. And then the next time I went over and we toured over there, that was when sparks flew and it was like, "Yeah, this is awesome."
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CONNECTION WITH HER.
She's a really fucking strong person, and a very, very different personality to me in a whole lot of ways that I feel like even me out, and we really help each other stay level in a lot of things. I think the thing that's been so amazing with her being in my life is just her kind of helping me learn how to almost believe in myself and stand up for myself in situations, because I have always been, growing up, incredibly passive.
I think she's just brought a lot of balance into my life in that scenario, and also just having that rock, like people talk about. That word is thrown around so often in marriage, but it's true, and me being out on the road all the time and being so busy, just to kind of have somebody that's always there and that I can always talk to, and I know they know me better than anyone else, it's really great. It's amazing.