Busted: Underoath

BustedHalo discusses life in the spotlight with the most high-profile Christian band in the post-hardcore rock scene.

Though self-identified Christian bands have been slowly breaking down the distinctions between the music that appears on the mainstream music charts and the albums that are normally trapped in the Christian music ghetto, the morning of June 20, 2006 marked a watershed moment with the release of Underoath’s Define the Great Line. One week and 98,000 copies later, they occupied the #2 album slot on the Billboard Top 200 chart. If Christian bands were supposed to only sell records to the converted, someone forgot to tell the legion of kids across the country that went to their local music store and plopped down $18 for Underoath’s latest assessment of the contemporary Christian life.

This was Underoath—a metalcore band, after all—not Amy Grant or Creed. They make harsh, abrasive music, with throat-shredding shrieks, scorched earth guitars, and bludgeoning drums—the type of music that is designed for a niche audience that has no overlap with CCM play lists. They’ve never had a Top 20 single, they have no well-scrubbed poster boys whose faces sell records, and they certainly aren’t making records that most moms and dads will enjoy as much as their kids. In fact, it’s likely that most of their following wouldn’t identify themselves as Christians at all.

A sextet out of Ocala, Florida, Underoath has built their fan base like every other band in the growing post-hardcore scene—through endless touring. Though many bands in their position have made a modest living playing specifically for the Christian market, on Christian touring circuits, and playing with the support of other Christian bands, Underoath has earned the respect of their peers and their secular audiences by refusing to take the easy route. Now nine years and five albums in, they’ve never been hotter, playing high profile gigs on the Vans Warped Tour and opening for chart topping acts such as Taking Back Sunday and New Found Glory. And they’ve done it all while writing songs that explicitly address the struggle inherent in living for Christ in the modern world.

Such themes dominate Define the Great Line, a straightforward examination of death, divorce, and the desire to take a stand for something. Offering more questions than answers, it’s an album designed less to offer Christian kids a sense of identity than to challenge their secular peers to think about what they really want out of life, to decide just how they define the line between right and wrong. BustedHalo talked with keyboardist Christopher Dudley about walking that line.

BustedHalo: Do you think that the stigma associated with being a Christian hardcore band is less prevalent now, both from secular and Christian audiences?

Christopher Dudley: I would have thought so, but there are still a lot of people who don’t get it. But I think that most of the people like that, who don’t understand how you can be a Christian band and play the kind of music that we play, are older people who grew up with a certain kind of music and were taught a certain thing from a young age. But I think the kids that are in the scene and that go to shows are constantly seeing bands, and they’re a lot more open-minded than they were five, six years ago. It’s not so much of a big deal for a band to get up on stage and say,

“In the last few years it has been okay for a band to get up on stage and say that they’re Christians. For a long time that was a taboo thing and I don’t really know why.”

“Yeah, we believe in God.” There are so many bands that believe in so many different things. A band will get up on stage and say, “Hey, this song is about being vegetarian” or “This song is about being straight edge.” Bands will use their music to get their message across, but it has been in the last few years that it has been okay for a band to get up on stage and say that they’re Christians. For a long time that was a taboo thing and I don’t really know why. It just was.

People are really cool, but I think it all comes from having respect for people as humans and individuals. We’re not going to get up on stage and talk for an hour about why we believe what we do and why everyone should believe what we do. We’re just like, “This is who we are. This is what we’re about. If you don’t believe it, we’ll still be able to be friends and hang out.”

BH: Would you say that the majority of your audience is made up of Christians at this point?

CD: Definitely not. We go on tour with non-Christian bands, and I can’t pull off the top of my head the last time that we toured with a Christian band. We just tour with normal bands. We’ll go on tour with Thrice or the Used or My Chemical Romance or Killswitch Engage—just bands that are in our scene. The kids that come see us, they know we happen to be a Christian band, but they aren’t there because we are Christians.

BH: You started out in the Christian scene, though, right?

CD: I think the thing was that early on when we were in high school, churches were the only places that would let us play. They were just really cool about a lot of stuff, so we didn’t really have a choice. I think that just through playing more and more shows and being able to play more and more places, we naturally felt that our place wasn’t to be playing for Christian audiences and being Christian entertainment. We felt that God was calling us to play normal places—bars, clubs, and wherever people go —not just in front of Christian kids who were like, “Oh, it’s so cool that they’re Christians and they scream!” It just came through years of touring and being able to play in a bar or club.