INTERVIEW: Tom Barber (CHELSEA GRIN)
There's certainly a lot to grin about for Utah behemoths Chelsea Grin; sitting pretty off the back of releasing their fifth studio album 'Eternal Nightmare' late last year, and poised ready to hit our shores in June for a co-headline tour with fellow American heavies Born of Osiris, you'd never guess the brutal lengths it took for this bellowing quartet to even reach this stage.
Amongst other challenges, Chelsea Grin sat faced with replacing their longtime lead vocalist at the eleventh hour of recording their latest release in 2018, ultimately navigating extreme professional turmoil to bring 'Eternal Nightmare' to life. But the stress and chaos paid has off in heavy spades, with the group embracing fresh territory on their latest venture, while still retaining their earlier blasting tendencies that built such a sturdy and dedicated following since their inception over a decade ago.
With the turbulent times now seeming well and truly behind them, the future looks ballistically bright for the Chelsea Grin gents and their legion of adoring fans, and Aussie fans will get the tantalising chance to catch this whole new lineup in action when they head down under next month. But before they jump on the road alongside Born of Osiris and a bunch of killer local bands, Tiana grabbed brand new frontman Tom Barber to chat bonding through chaos, actual nightmares and his thoughts on the whole deathcore label. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Tom! How are you?
TOM BARBER: I am wonderful, miss, how are you doing today?
TIANA: I am very well! I am calling you from slightly cold Sydney in Australia, where abouts are you right now?
TOM: I am in San Francisco, California today.
TIANA: Amazing! Thank you so much for chatting today, I am so excited that Chelsea Grin are heading out here to Australia, obviously been a pretty eventful time over the last year and a bit. But not only did we get gifted with the fifth Chelsea Grin album 'Eternal Nightmare' along the way, we're also getting you guys hitting our shores next month alongside Born of Osiris. How keen are you to jump on that long plane ride and get out here to Australia?
TOM: Oh, geez. I don't know how I'm gonna fucking do it! But I know it's gonna be totally worth it to be there again. I'd dreamed about going to Australia for most of my life, but now I'm going to Australia to play music, so that's even crazier!
TIANA: Everyone is pretty pumped to have you guys out here! You have answered the prayers of many, many heavy fans. But what can we expect from a night with Chelsea Grin, are there any secrets hidden up your sleeves for these shows that you can reveal?
TOM: I know we're gonna have a dope light package, so the lights are gonna be frigging awesome! We spent a lot of money on this tour for lights, and it's been such a frigging crazy experience, it's such a game changer when you play in a live setting with lights. It adds a whole other aspect to the show, it's just absolutely wild!
CHELSEA GRIN ONSTAGE IN SPOKANE//pic by Caleb Arnaud
TIANA: And it's a huge highlight, us Aussie fans getting to see this latest album in action...and the album was obviously not without it's challenges. There was clearly some pretty significant personnel changes in the lineup, and no doubt a pretty challenging time for the band. But you guys have played some of these songs live already this year, from an insider's perspective what's the reaction been like for 'Eternal Nightmare' so far?
TOM: I feel like it's been very positive, we're having a goddamn blast playing it and it's been so much fun! People have been having a good time with us! And we're just excited to put out and write new music and see what everybody says about that. Because - this whole process with 'Eternal Nightmare' was...it was the least bit organic. They had to find a vocalist towards the end of recording, when they had two weeks left in the studio, I went and I recorded with them. So putting that into perspective, it was super stressful! Really, really stressful. Everything was done out of, like - fucking on the wire, it was pretty intense. So, the next time around with writing, hopefully it's not so crazy!
TIANA: Yes, and as you said, you literally came into this whole thing at the eleventh hour. Not a dream set-up necessarily, but do you feel like it was a really good bonding experience for you guys? The next time round is probably gonna be a piece of cake compared to this, but did it bring you guys together in the craziness?
TOM: It definitely did, everybody through stress...there was a lot of camaraderie. And definitely good things came out of the frustration. So yeah, we definitely did bond over the whole experience. But it was definitely a bit stressful!
TIANA: And coming into the band, you're obviously no stranger to playing shows in your previous band incarnations prior to Chelsea Grin. How have the latest shows been for you personally, do you feel welcomed with this new lineup and feel like a well-oiled machine jumping up onstage with all the guys?
TOM: Yeah, honestly we've been practicing a crapload doing all this stuff. And playing live, people just see that we're doing what we came to do: just playing music and having a good time! And hopefully it resonates to the live set, cos we're all just existing there to have a good time. Music is fun! Everybody just sees that we're having fun and they join in on us!
TIANA: On the topic of live shows, as I said you're no stranger to the stage, you've played all over the place over the years. Looking back over that history, is there one particularly live moment that stands out for you, whether it's been good, bad or other?
TOM: I'd say I have more good moments, like there was a moment when we were in Germany, I think it was Wiesbaden. And, it was such a massive crowd, and there was just one kid in the crowd who was just crossing his arms and just not having it. Like - literally dead centre, FRONT ROW. And he was just kinda looking at me, just like straight distaste. But by the end of the fucking show, he was having a good time. So it's like...you can't let that shit bother you because if they're feeling some type of way - let them feel that type of way, just let them see through your live show and your existence what you have to bring. And if they fuck with it, they fuck with it, you know?
TIANA: Yeah, and you got him in the end too! Good on you!
TOM: Hell yeah! It was honestly pretty funny when I think back on it, cos he was so salty.
TIANA: And front row too! That's pretty ballsy. It's quite a bold move to be there, dead centre, arms crossed!
TOM: Straight up!! Straight up, and there were so many people who I guarantee would've loved to be where he was standing. And he chose to make his stand into a statement. But, obviously, you acknowledge that and you just do what you gotta do. You can feel any way you want because, unlike the internet - your opinion can affect people, you know what I mean? So I'm not gonna let that really bring me down, if he's feeling down. I just wanna have fun and he ended up having fun towards the end of it.
HOSTAGE (CHELSEA GRIN)
TIANA: Everybody wins! I love it! And I'm kind of interested with you guys, especially from someone who has played in a few other bands as well...when it comes to Chelsea Grin, the band has in the past self-identified as "deathcore", and I've also read in the past the guys being quite vocal about not caving in to the so-called stigma that surrounds that label. But from your perspective, what are your thoughts on this whole genre/labelling thing, do you feel like it's still something that's relevant, and are you guys still happy to sit as proud deathcore poster children with this new lineup?
TOM: I just feel like music is always changing. No matter what, there's always going to be people making new music and calling it whatever the hell they wanna call it to make a genre out of it, or subjugate it, or whatever the hell it is. Ultimately, it's all heavy metal to me. It's all the same shit, different perspective. And people can say their band sounds like "this", or they do "that". But ultimately it's heavy metal and it's all great, it's all good shit!
TIANA: Thank god, you're someone else who has the same thinking that I do around some of that stuff. But it's not a popular opinion sometimes!
TOM: Yeah, and that's what happens with the internet! Everybody puts their two cents in there, and their two cents is usually: "why they're right, and you're wrong". And that's what takes away from the music. Why the fuck does it have to be about what's right and what's wrong to enjoy something?! And if someone else enjoys it, does that mean you have to voice your opinion like it's gonna change their opinion on how they feel about the band? It should be: let people live, let them fucking do what they gotta do, let them enjoy the music!
TIANA: I think that's applicable to so many things, I think we all need to live more like that generally. So we can start this revolution, somehow. And considering you are so associated with a band who hurls out some especially heavy sounds, what sort of music did you actually grow up listening to? Was there a gateway band or artist that led you on this path to this world of extreme metal fusion?
TOM: Really just more of my local scene, there were bands that were really fucking heavy, and there were bands that weren't so heavy. And the stuff that I attracted myself to was the really heavy stuff. There was a band called An Aborted Memory from when I was growing up, and that shit was some of the heaviest fucking music I've ever heard in my life as a kid. So I was like: "daaaaaayum!". And that kind of pushed me to do it.
TOM BARBER ONSTAGE WITH CHELSEA GRIN//pic Tom Barber Instagram
TIANA: Nowadays are you still listening to that kind of stuff, or do you find yourself branching out a bit more with what you listen to?
TOM: I listen to more rap than anything, and a lot more hip hop than anything. I like some stuff that's on the radio, but that's probably about 8% of what I listen to. There's so much other shit that I listen to, even if country's on I won't care too much about it. I'm not a big fan of a lot of electronic music, but I love Crystal Castles. I've got a bunch of different tastes in music!
TIANA: It's a good way to be, keeps it nice and balanced! Now, to slowly wrap things up...you're obviously about to journey a very long way from home to play in Australia. Do you have a "must have" essential item to take with you on the road to get you through these tours?
TOM: Music. Headphones! Headphones. That is the definite fallback to when you don't wanna hear anybody's shit - you just put music on.
TIANA: That's funny actually, I actually just got off the phone with Joe from Born of Osiris, and he said exactly the same thing, so I feel like you guys are gonna get along very, very well on this leg of the tour.
TOM: Oh yeah, I'm excited, it's gonna be a good time!
TIANA: Well in honour of Chelsea Grin's latest album 'Eternal Nightmare' - what is the last nightmare you actually remember having that had you waking up in a cold sweat and absolutely panicking? Have you had a recent one lately? Is it coming on this plane trip to Australia?
TOM: The last one I had, and it's like a reoccurring one I have really...and it's that the police are at my house and they know I have somebody buried under my house. And I know that they know that it's there. And they're like "we know it's here, we're testing the soil and there's certain types of bugs in the soil". It's crazy, it's like a fucked up feeling! And I know where the body is under my house, and it's a really crazy fucking feeling. And then I wake up, and I'm always waking up like "holy shit!!" and I wanna go check the basement!
TIANA: I'm intrigued by that, sometimes when I get a little drunk, I think I get really good at analysing dreams. So I'm gonna have to have a few beers and think about this one.
TOM: Yeah, please do! It's definitely a wild dream!
TIANA: My latest nightmare was that I was on the road and I was tour managing a band, and we were late to everything! So I feel like that is a great pitch for me to be your tour manager for these upcoming Aussie shows, huh?
TOM: Well, maybe we'll have to figure something out!
TIANA: I would vote no. Based on that dream, don't trust me. But we are so excited to have you guys come out here, the album is absolutely phenomenal, and I hope that us Australians give you the welcome that you are so deserving of! Thank you for chatting, and can't wait to see Chelsea Grin onstage in June!
TOM: Of course, I'm so happy to give you my time and I hope I get to see you soon!
TIANA: Thanks Tom, enjoy the rest of your day!
TOM: Thank you, miss, you too!
CHELSEA GRIN WILL BE HITTING OUR SHORES ALONGSIDE BORN OF OSIRIS IN JUNE, COURTESY OF DESTROY ALL LINES.
BY TIANA SPETER