This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on L.A. Symphony, covering the years 2000-2004.
Each year when summer arrives, there is a specific rotation of music that takes over my stereo. You know the sound, because it’s likely the same for you. There’s music that just sounds like summer. It’s a season unlike any other in that regard. And for me, there’s no other album that better captures everything I want to feel in summertime than They’re Only Chasing Safety by Underoath. Because in the summer of 2004 when the album was released, I found my favorite band.
I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to write this article. Each of my past Eras of Influence features have effortlessly tumbled straight out of my mind and onto the screen through a fury of fluid keystrokes. But I’ve literally held off for months in writing about how Underoath defined this period of my life. They’re my all-time favorite band. I’ve seen them 10 times in concert. I’ve written so exhaustively about them through the years, that it’s difficult to know what else to say.
So I’m going to write, but I’m also going to link to a lot of other things I’ve written. Because they’re applicable to the story of how this band was so formative during this stretch of my life that every “era” still to come in the years I have remaining will be measured against it.
I spent the summer of 2004 living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working for a nonprofit organization with nine other people who were all sharing a house together. One weekend in June, I drove back to my college town to visit some friends – namely Mitch. While in college, I lived with Mitch and his brother Nick who were also in a band with their older brother Travis. It was through these three brothers that I discovered most of the music that defined my college years and beyond. If they were listening to it, chances were high that it was cool.
That June weekend, I was excited to tell Mitch how much I had been enjoying a new band I had discovered called Emery. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mitch had another band for me. “If you like Emery, you’re going to love this.” He booted up the computer, navigated to the Tooth and Nail Records website, and began playing a grainy, low quality music video for a song called “Reinventing Your Exit”. It’s well documented how much Underoath took the scene by storm that fateful summer of 2004, and I imagine that some of you had a very similar experience. If you were sharing one album with your friends that year, it was They’re Only Chasing Safety.
Further reading: Reflecting On Underoath – They’re Only Chasing Safety
Although that album opened the screamo floodgates and I gobbled up every lookalike that came in the wake of Safety, no one quite had the “It” factor like Underoath. I spent the next summer in Tulsa again, crammed into a house with 14 people this time, several of whom had also discovered Underoath. It was spreading. And even though we were diving into other new bands like Hawthorne Heights, Chiodos, and From First to Last, we always defaulted back to Underoath.
But what made Underoath not just a cool band that came into my life one summer, like so many other cool bands have over the years, is what happened in the summer of 2006. Once again, I was in Tulsa, and on Tuesday, June 20, I woke up early and drove to Wal-Mart where I kindly asked an employee to open boxes of new CDs until they uncovered the special edition version of Define the Great Line. I spent the remainder of the summer listening to it daily. Alone in my room. Driving in the car. Taking a late evening walk. It didn’t matter when, where, or how many times I played it. Because every time I listened, I heard something new.
With Define the Great Line, Underoath made the bold and now legendary decision to completely abandon the sound that had made them a sensation. Instead of crafting another melodic and instantly catchy collection of songs, they made an album. An album without choruses, full of experimentation, designed to be listened to in full, from front to back. And it was heavy as hell.
On paper, it should have swiftly ended the band’s run of dominance, but instead, it only made them bigger. And that can only happen when a band is simply operating on a different level of talent and vision than any of their counterparts. During this stretch, Underoath was more than just a band in the scene. They were the band by which every one of their peers was measured.
Further reading: Reflecting On Underoath – Define the Great Line
During these years, Underoath was a topic of conversation for me to a point where I’m sure it actually caused annoyance. I couldn’t stop talking about them. There has never been another point in time in which I was as obsessed with a band or artist. When Underoath abruptly dropped off Warped Tour in the summer of 2006, I felt like my own circle of friends may be in danger of breaking up. When drummer Aaron Gillespie left the band in 2010, I cried.
Aaron, Spencer, Tim, Chris, Grant, and James felt like people I actually knew (even though I didn’t). And not in some creepy way, but in a “I love this music so much, I want to understand what’s inspiring the people who are making it” kind of way. I attended their shows any time the band came within striking distance. I owned more Underoath t-shirts than was reasonable. I bought every magazine on which they graced the cover. And every new band I discovered, I heard with a different set of ears because Underoath truly changed the way I listened to and understood music.
Further reading: Underoath 20 January 2013 – Chicago
After those early summers, it was obvious that Underoath was a band that was meant to shapeshift. Each new album was going to sound different and tread new ground, and it was exciting to ponder what would come next. Underoath defines this era of my life because of the way they sounded, but more importantly, they are my favorite band because of what they had to say.
From 2004 to 2010, which included the release of Underoath’s four best albums, a lot happened in my life. I finished college and left my days of youth behind me, entering the cold adult world. I became cemented in my Christian faith and went off to seminary to study further before abandoning the faith completely. I got married. I got divorced. I moved halfway across the country to a new city where I knew no one, but ended up meeting some of my closest friends. Through therapy, I came to understand that I struggled with depression and I began trying to climb out of that dark hole.
That’s a lot of life for any one band to provide the soundtrack, but somehow, Underoath pulled it off. Spencer Chamberlain’s own inner demons were battled consistently throughout the band’s catalogue. They openly and honestly wrestled with the complicated nature of faith and belief. Their constant shifts in sound were a perfect fit for the many city, apartment, and job changes I experienced. And I’m forever grateful for what they created, because it’s hard to imagine surviving the chaos of those years of my life without their music.
Further Reading: Reinventing Their Exit: Reflections on the Music of Underoath
The year 2010 brought Underoath’s Disambiguation, an album that closed a chapter for the band and preceded their breakup. That final note somehow perfectly bookended a period of my life, as everything would change in 2011. A new relationship. A new city. A new community of friends. A new start. By the time I found my footing, Underoath would return with the perfect album for new beginnings. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
I’m excited to explore the next two eras of my life that bring us to the present day, because each of them holds important moments of progress for me, both as a person and as a consumer of art. But at this point, I feel fairly confident that no new band or artist will ever hold the level of captivation Underoath has held in my life. And that’s okay. Pretty much all of us have that one band that changed everything. The one band that we can go back to again and again and again without ever tiring. Our favorite band.
As I write this, the summer of 2021 has arrived. And I can’t wait to spin They’re Only Chasing Safety. I know exactly how it will make me feel. And it’s a very good feeling.
Second Tier: Saosin, Paramore, Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, Kanye West
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.