Unearth's Trevor Phipps: "It's time to shit or get off the pot"

Six albums into their career, there's still no time for laurel resting...

Unearth's new album, Watchers of Rule, is magnificent. Yet when I get on the trans-pacific blower to the band's frontman Trevor Phipps (at least I assume it's a trans pacific line; I rather reprehensibly didn't ask the man where he was when I spoke to him) is guarded in his reaction to the almost universally glowing reviews said platter has received thus far. “I’m very pleased with the reaction, yes. It shows people think about it like we do.”

It’s six albums now that you’ve released. Do you still get goosebumps ahead of those reviews when an album comes out? “I can’t speak for the whole band, they react to things in different ways to me, but it does matter what people say. This is an important album for us, there’s a lot of emotional investment in this, and it’s taken three years to get out. It’s kind of like we need to shit or get off the pot with this one, you know?”

Most of your albums have been evenly spaced out with a couple or three years between them. Do you worry that the kids might have moved on by the time each record comes out? “Not really. If the songs are good, then people will want to listen. And you have to remember, we had a lot of problems getting this record out. We never wanted it to take three years to get the album out. Essentially this is a 2013 album delayed to 2014”.

He’s talking, of course about the departure of bassist John ‘Slo’ Maggard and the bedding in of new drummer Nick Pierce, both events being guaranteed to slam the anchors on the progress of any band, even veterans like Unearth. But that’s in the past now, and surely making up for lost time via the gift of hefty amounts of roadwork is in the offing now? “We leave in a few days for a run of US shows with Crowbar (the Symmetry in Winter Tour, which kicks off on November 30 in Pensacola and also features Black Crown Initiate). Then we get home for a couple of weeks before a couple of dates in Canada. And then we’re in talks about a whole lot of touring – which will hopefully include Australia – in the early to mid-part of 2015”.

Looking forward to working some new material into the set? “I am. I wouldn’t say I ever get sick of any of our songs, but it’s good to get new material out there.” Are there any songs you’d never drop from the set, even if you were a little, shall we say, unenthused about them? “The one song we’ve never dropped from the set, and this is weird because it wasn’t ever a single, or a video, was a track from (2004 album) The Oncoming Storm called This Lying World. There’s something about it that seems to get the fans going, I don’t know… it’s got a lot of peaks and valleys, when we play it it always gets a great reaction so I don’t think we’d ever drop it.” Can you see anything from Watchers of Rule becoming an untouchable live staple in the future? “I think Never Cease has the capacity to be like This Lying World, it has those same peaks and valleys”.

Although you’ve shifted more than half a million albums in the band’s career, it’s never been more true that touring really is the lifeblood of a working band now. Can you ever see a point coming where you do a U2 and simply give an album away for free simply to have some product to get out and promote? “If somebody offered me a  hundred million dollars like they did to U2 I’d do it, yeah! I think metal is different to the mainstream though, and I don’t think people would expect us to do something like that. We’re lucky to be able to do this for a living. Us and bands like Hatebreed and Lamb of God, we’re able to tour for six months of the year. A favourite band of mine is the hardcore band Terror, who are out for maybe nine months every year. It’s not for everyone, and you see some bands hang it up because they don’t want to be in that position. For us it’s a lifestyle choice. We’ve been doing this for thirteen years now and we hope to be able to continue doing it”.

How do you find touring now? Has it changed much since you started with regards to the people in front of you in the pit? Do you know where you are in the world simply by the reaction of the punters? “It’s maybe changed a little. You used to see maybe a slight difference in the way kids danced between Europe and the US… but now with the internet, everybody knows how it’s done. They can watch and see how everyone else dances, or moshes. The one truly different place is Japan. They still have pits, they still enjoy it. But when you finish a song the cheering is very intense; then you start speaking and you could hear a pin drop. That doesn’t happen anywhere else”.

It’s nearly the end of the year, and we’re asking everyone we come across what their favourite album of 2014 has been – I see no reason for this interview to be any different. So in closing, what’s been your musical highlight of 2014? “Can I choose my own album?”. Well, of course you can but I’d like another selection too. “I have trouble remembering which albums came out when.  Did the Killswitch Engage album come out this year? No? Then I’ll go for the Mastodon record. And Whitechapel. That was pretty good”.