December 6, 2018 Interview – Tom Barber of Chelsea Grin
Few bands tour as relentlessly as Salt Lake City, Utah’s own Chelsea Grin. Formed in 2007, the band has truly personified what it means to be road dogs. Touring the world non-stop, while releasing five stellar studio albums – from their 2010 debut Desolation of Eden to 2018’s killer Eternal Nightmare – the band has built a name for themselves with their brutally heavy sound and incendiary live shows.
In early 2018, news of the amicable departure of longtime Vocalist Alex Koehler, along with Guitarists Dan Jones and Jake Harmond, left many fans to wonder what the future would hold for Chelsea Grin – now composed of Guitarist Stephen Rutishauser, Bassist David Flinn, and Drummer Pablo Viveros. Enter former Lorna Shore Vocalist Tom Barber, who, unbeknownst to fans, had already been in the studio with the band, working on the recording of Eternal Nightmare, and shooting a video for first single, “Dead Rose.” Delivering all of this news in one gigantic, earth-shattering bang, Chelsea Grin used 2018 to usher in a brand-new chapter in their already impressive career.
Recently, while out supporting Whitechapel, Vocalist Barber , a self-proclaimed ‘firecracker,’ took the time to sit down to talk about his first year with Chelsea Grin, Eternal Nightmare, touring and the final cross-country Vans Warped Tour, the future, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – When you joined Chelsea Grin, you had already been a touring and recording musician for nearly a decade. What knowledge did you take with you from Lorna Shore into Chelsea Grin?
Tom Barber – I have to say just being the whipping boy. (Laughs) You have to be ready to work hard! I think anything that was ever gained when I was in that band was very, very, very small footsteps forward because we were limited a lot of the time; you know, given that opening slot for numerous tours – which I was always grateful for – but we were always the opening band. We never really had the opportunity to not have to bust our ass, which isn’t a problem because that’s what this scene is about – it’s about busting your ass! From the knowledge I’ve definitely gained being in a small-time touring act, I have definitely learned to work hard.
Now that I’m with a bigger band, I feel that I’m learning a lot more about the industry. I’m learning a lot more about what makes a good song, what makes good lyrics, what makes a good frontman, what makes a band have longevity, things like that. A lot of things that I feel, the secrets that should have been acquired at a younger age – but I’m doing this, I’m happy to be here, and I feel lucky!
Cryptic Rock – Your previous experiences brought you to here, which is the most important thing – and it’s coming up on one year that you’ve been with Chelsea Grin. What was your initial reaction to hearing the offer to join the band?
Tom Barber – It was very crazy, honestly! I knew the band from when I was a kid – they were a stepping stone for me with music. They weren’t a giant band for me, but I think “Lifeless” was the first song I heard from these guys, and I was like, “Holy fuck!” It opened my eyes to more of the Deathcore kind of the genre. I listened to Black Dahlia, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, all those bands. If you want to push it further back, Soundgarden or Ozzy, or whatever – whatever you want to put. When I heard that shit, I was like, “This is quite possibly one of the heaviest things I’ve heard in my life.” It pushed me to look into this genre a lot more, so these guys have always been a staple of anything that I have learned from this music.
Cryptic Rock – What has the past year been like for you?
Tom Barber – Absolutely breathtaking, absolutely astounding. Absolutely mind-numbing from the amount of time I’ve been on the road. It’s been such a mixture of emotions, and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and be able to play to bigger crowds. It’s just such a crazy feeling, it’s something I won’t be getting over for quite some time.
Cryptic Rock – Well, you guys absolutely killed it at Warped Tour this past summer. When you went in to record Eternal Nightmare, you had literally just joined the band. In fact, fans didn’t even know that you were in the band yet, did they?
Tom Barber – No, not at all. It was the way the band wanted to handle it, they wanted all of the information to be put out there at the same time. When they announced Alex was leaving, they also announced me, and we also had a music video. [We] also announced the record we were putting out. It was like a big bang, you know?
Cryptic Rock – When you went into the studio with the band, was there any nervousness or hesitation on your part, in general, but also in regards to the fans accepting you?
Tom Barber – Oh yeah! I had anxiety for months! I had kids messaging me when the news was dropped, I had kids messaging me telling me to kill myself – some mean shit! Then you realize they would never say that to my face, you know, they’re kids. It’s something they grew with and they don’t like seeing things change like that. No one likes seeing change and it’s always hard to see somebody step-down from something you’ve grown to love over a ten-year time period. The idea was just show ‘em with the music, not with the words. Hopefully we’ve been doing that.
Cryptic Rock – It’s definitely working! Eternal Nightmare is phenomenal and it was released in July. What has the reaction to the record been over the past four months?
Tom Barber – It’s been amazing! Everyone’s been loving it and I feel very blessed, I feel very happy.
Cryptic Rock – That kind of leads us to the fact that you spent the entire summer on the final cross-country run of the Vans Warped Tour promoting the album. Do you have any favorite memories?
Tom Barber – Playing Salt Lake City, because that’s their stomping ground, and for their fans to be so open to me, I was so happy!
Cryptic Rock – Okay, so, you are currently out with Whitechapel, Oceano, and Slaughter To Prevail. How is that going?
Tom Barber – It’s absolutely tremendous! We’re all having such a good time – all the bands out here are killing it.
Cryptic Rock – The Whitechapel tour finishes up in mid-December, and then clearly you will go home and sleep for 6 months.
Tom Barber – Yeah, I’m going to sleep for a couple months!
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) What’s after that? Are you guys already thinking about a new record or will there be more touring next year?
Tom Barber – We’re definitely planning to do some stuff that we have that’s not finalized, but soon we’re going to have some stuff we can put out there.
Cryptic Rock – Looking to the future, what do you want to hear/see on the next Chelsea Grin disc? Is there anything you would like to pursue or experiment with musically in the future?
Tom Barber – I just hope to do heavier stuff. I hope we play bigger shows. I hope we go places that I’ve never been – I know these guys have been all over the planet. I want to go to Israel, I want to go to Hawaii, I want to go to Mexico; I want to go to all these crazy places and play music for everybody. I think the coolest thing about being alive is the ability to go and explore. I feel the biggest travesty of most people’s lives is that they stay in their hometown, and they don’t go and see how beautiful the world is and how amazing other cultures are. I’m so, so, so lucky to be able to be with a job and with a group of people who I can search the planet and go through and experience all this crazy shit. It’s so exciting!
We could talk so deep about crazy shit, but I don’t want to talk about the government. (Laughs) We could talk for hours about that! A lot of people, they’re pushed aside because they watch TV, they watch the news, they see that the world is going through this and that, when really, the world is going through some shit, but I’ll tell you what – you’re going to enjoy yourself going outside the country and experiencing new things, rather than sitting in front of your TV and thinking the world is in flames around you.
I’m so proud to be American! I’m so proud of my parents working hard, allowing me to be in this country and having the opportunity to grow up here, but I went outside the country and I saw how other countries live and I’m like, “Goddamn, is America behind!”
Cryptic Rock – Ironically, many people outside the U.S. feel the very same way about their countries. Anyhow, let’s get to a few random questions just for fun. If you could do a split EP with a band outside your genre, where you cover several of each other’s tracks, what band would you choose?
Tom Barber – That is one of the hardest questions! Can I bring somebody back from the dead? If so, Mac Miller.
Cryptic Rock – So, you would rap?
Tom Barber – I rap on the side already. I’m releasing a recording in January or February, but yes, I would love to do that. Or Justin Timberlake, because he’s hot – you know this!
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Justin Timberlake is immensely talented.
Tom Barber – I think he’s immensely everything.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) What’s the funniest reaction that you’ve ever witnessed to one of your songs?
Tom Barber – (Laughs) I’ll tell you what, I was getting a pedicure and a manicure – yes, I was getting a pedicure and a manicure. I was in this, I think it was a Thai place. They were like, “Oh, what do you do? We see you have tattoos – you don’t look like a normal person.” Obviously, there’s a little bit of that language barrier, but I know they were trying to be as nice as they could with what they were asking. I said, “Yeah, I play in a Metal band” and I showed them a song.
You should have fucking seen, these people, they started freaking out! They were like, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” And these were grown Asian women. You can imagine them being like, “Uh, what the fuck is this?” Instead, they were like, “Can we have a picture?” They gave me a discount on my nails. I was like, “Yo, this shit is wild!” By the end of the thing, they were giving me hugs, telling me about their daughters. I was like, “I’m sorry, you know I love you guys, but I gotta go!” (Laughs) It was crazy! I think I was just so vocal, they were willing to talk to me about things. I’m a firecracker: I’ll make friends with a brick; I love everybody. I just want everybody to be happy and feel comfortable, so I’m always a real talkative guy.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a great way to be, especially for the band’s sake. Do you have a favorite album of 2018?
Tom Barber – The new Mac Miller record that just came out. I’ve been listening to it every day, front to back, and it’s incredible – I absolutely love it. There’s a band from my, technically, ‘woods’ called The Illusionist. They’re from the Philly area and they just dropped a record, they’re up-and-coming. I’ll repeat that one more time just in case I slurred my speech, they’re called The Illusionist. There’s another band from around there called Kaonashi, they’re also from Philly and they’re up-and-coming. They’re absolutely tremendous, I highly recommend checking them out. Both different types of music, also. Really, I’ve been listening to the underdogs, I’ve been listening to a lot of Hip-Hop. I listen to a lot of everything, really, but it’s been a Hip-Hop year for me, for sure.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a good thing, though – to listen to everything. Okay, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Are you a fan of either genre and, if so, do you have any favorite Horror/Sci-Fi films?
Tom Barber – Yes! Actually, I was watching Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) the other day with my good friend in Oceano, Matt – he plays drums. We were watching that, and, this isn’t really a Horror movie at all, but we watched Goodfellas (1990) the day before; we had that shit on repeat all day.
For Horror movies, I would say for me, this year, as disappointing as the end of the movie was, I have to say I liked Hereditary. The ending’s a little bit of a letdown, but I’ll tell you what – the movie’s pretty goddamn good! There were a couple of moments where I literally almost bit the tip of my tongue off. There’s a lot of moments in that movie that happen where you’re like, “I’ve gotta get out of here, this shit ain’t right!” It’s not scary, it’s like the things that happen to the people. There’s no, “Oh no, I hope they don’t kill the old guy” or “I hope they don’t kill the kid” – everybody is a victim in that movie. You need to see it!