» Buz McGrath - Unearth
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Interview conducted April 21 2023
Interview published July 29 2023

American metalcore unit Unearth visited Stockholm for a show and Metal Covenant hooked up with guitarist and original member Buz McGrath to talk about the band's new album The Wretched; The Ruinous.

Tobbe: Let's start with your new record, The Wretched; The Ruinous, which comes out May 5th. What does this record add to the entire catalog of yours?

Buz: I mean, any Unearth fan will recognize it immediately as Unearth stuff. I think it's just a bit more melodic. There's a variety of different songs, I think. You got some kind of melodeath vibes, some song sounds like power metal and there's, like, a straight up hardcore song on it. So yeah, the variety of songs I think is notable.

Tobbe: If you would listen to the first record, The Stings Of Conscience, and compare it to this record, like, 22 years later, what would you see?

Buz: There's a charm to it 'cause we didn't know what we were doing back then and the songwriting is just kind of all over the place. Like, it just goes from part to part to part without any concern for a song structure, whereas we've kind of grown as songwriters, and musically it makes more sense now.

But that was fun times back then, because nobody was really doing that type of sound, so anytime we did anything it was new. And then once people started catching on, and more bands started doing that style, it became more difficult to be original.

Tobbe: What did you try to incorporate in this record to make it something special, even if every record is special in itself?

Buz: I mean, Trevor (Phipps) did some stuff with his voice that he hasn't done ever, which I think makes a few of the songs stand out, where he uses different styles. That's something we haven't usually done in the past.

Song-wise we had a lot of material for some reason. It was just happening. We had probably almost 20 songs and we had to cut a bunch of them. I don't know what happened. We had a bunch of material. I mean, there was Covid and people weren't really playing shows, so we had a lot of time at home, and that definitely could have contributed to the large amount of material that we had.

Tobbe: And those songs that didn't make it to the record. Do you keep them?

Buz: Yeah, they're somewhere. I mean, this happens with every record and they're somewhere, but they don't get used, you know. There's songs where I'm like, "I love this song a lot.", but it's just something about it. And there's songs that I was voting for, that I wanted on there, that eventually got cut because, you know, you get outvoted, and that's how it works.

Tobbe: What has been your strongest inspiration for this record?

Buz: Musically, I always love The Haunted and In Flames. I wear those influences on my sleeve. You can definitely hear some of that Swedish metal in my songwriting. And then we just like to throw in big mosh riffs and just big parts. A lot of 3/4 time. Like, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. That's something that I haven't used a lot in my songwriting.

I just like the way it feels and a couple of choruses on the record have that feel. It's hard to write in that time without sounding like a pirate jig, so I kind of have to be careful with that.

Tobbe: Besides the bands you mentioned as inspiration or influences, do you still kind of have the same sources of influence as you had when you were younger?

Buz: The influences change over time in life. There's also newer bands that I get into at the time, that I'm listening to a lot, so whether I know it or not, some of that stuff is bleeding in to my writing.

But there's also, like, the core like In Flames, Metallica, Obituary, Terror, Crowbar, for instance. These are all kind of the core influences. And then as I find new bands along the way, that I listen to a lot, they get stuck in there, and then when you write a riff it comes out and you don't really know it does.

Tobbe: Do you usually have some grand plan when you start working on a record?

Buz: Not really. Some ideas get thrown around, like, "We would like to do maybe a song in this style or that style.", but it's usually just sitting down with a guitar and just start writing. For me, I got to get all the bad ideas out first. You just got to keep yourself in the seed and just keep getting all those dumb ideas out.

I'll spend one day and have a whole song that's trash, and I'll throw it away, and then I maybe just have one little kernel at the end that turns out being something else. So you just got to stay in the seed. The music will come to you if you just sit there long enough.

Tobbe: When you're composing, do you sometimes find yourself doing the same thing over and over again?

Buz: Yeah, it's hard not to repeat yourself. There will even be times where I'm like, "I know I've heard this somewhere before." and it'll be something that I wrote, like, eight years ago that's on a record. I always got to riff check. If you are suspicious at all of any part or idea, you always got to riff check it.

We work with Will Putney on this record and the last one, so he's good in that department and he says, "It just sounds like this...". Or, if you're looking to do a particular type of riff and you can get it close to, like, a Kreator riff that I wanted. Like, I like the way it moves, so I try to, not steal it, but get close enough that I don't get caught.

Tobbe: So it's not overimportant that you try to bring out something unique in your music.

Buz: I mean, that comes along the way. I'll have a song that I just love the way the song moves, and I'll write a similar type of part to get it going, but anytime I try to directly be influenced by a song I always get stuck. I get started and then I don't know where to go. Usually I write it a little bit faster. You know, it's easier. But I always fall into the trap of, "Man, I love this song. I wish I could write a song like this." and then I start to do it and I get stuck.

Tobbe: I see some lineup changes in the band, both actual bandmembers as well as live musicians. Tell me about those changes.

Buz: Yeah. Founding member, Ken Susi, he played guitar, left about a year or so ago. He had a different idea of what direction he wanted the band to go in than the rest of us. We're still good friends. I talk to him all the time. And Nick Pierce, our drummer for probably, like, 10 years quit a couple of years ago. He's one of our longest running drummers.

So we got our old drummer Mike Justain back. He played on The Oncoming Storm and In The Eyes Of Fire. So, two of our more popular records. People love him for that. And our good friend Peter Layman on guitar. He's from Portland, Oregon. He played in a band called Apiary. Great guitar player, great songwriter, so, happy to have him onboard.

Tobbe: And 2023 marks 25 years as a band for Unearth. How about that! Tell me a little bit about your inner thoughts about this quarter of a century.

Buz: It's crazy. Yeah, we started in '98. I would have never thought, you know. It's hard for bands who do what we do. Like, with this style it's hard to just last five years. And we're here 'cause there's still people who wanna hear us, and still wanna see us, so we see no real reason to stop.

Tobbe: This is your 8th full-length record. How do you evolve as a person over all these records made?

Buz: I don't know. Maybe it has shaped me as a person. Into the person that I am, you know. But as a musician I just try to get better at songwriting and just music in general, like understanding music better.

Tobbe: Genres are often hard to define. Many people categorize Unearth as metalcore. Where do you see yourself in this maze of bands?

Buz: I would say that's an accurate descriptor. I think we lean a bit more to thrash, but I mean, that's what metalcore is. It's base is punk rock and thrash metal. It's such a wide spectrum of metalcore. You could have the clean chorus and cool haircut kids on one end. We're somewhere in the middle, I think. When somebody who's not really into heavy music says like, "Oh, you're in a band. What type of band is it?", I just say it's heavy metal. It's the easiest one to categorize.

Tobbe: Are there any plans to celebrate a specific record, like 20 years for The Oncoming Storm next year, or something like that?

Buz: Maybe. We did a 10-year anniversary of The Oncoming Storm. It would have been in 2014, I guess. But there's no real specific plans to do, like, a 25th anniversary or anything like that. Could be cool, but nothing planned for now.

Tobbe: I took a look at your setlist and I saw that you guys play a lot of songs still from your second and third album, and the most of the songs are from 2008 and earlier. Are you turning out to be some kind of nostalgia act already now?

Buz: I would say that that's a component of it. Those records were important to people and they wanna hear those songs, so we heavy up the setlist with those. And since Mike is back, and he played on those, it kind of makes sense for us to lean heavier into those song selections.

Tobbe: There were six records represented in that setlist, and from those six you always play the first song off each of the records, so do you always try to open every album with, like, the best song, to your knowledge?

Buz: Yeah. Usually we front-load it with the songs that we feel are the strongest, and yeah, it just so happens that those songs show up in the setlist; the openers. We got some mid-album tracks in there, but trying to come up with a setlist and get everyone psyched about it can be difficult. With this lineup, that we got now, it's very easy, but in the past we'd always argue. It can be a headache, but we're cruising now.

Tobbe: And there are two albums which you don't play one single song from. Is that a little bit sad in a way?

Buz: We had Never Cease off Watchers Of Rule in the set. We were playing it, but we weren't really feeling it, so we kind of pushed it aside. And the record Darkness In The Light; I don't think we're playing anything off that currently. But probably by the end of the year we get to practice some of those tunes and get them in hopefully.

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