Unearth have been slogging it out on the metal scene for 15 years now and have proven themselves to be real stayers, helping to remind folks that seven-string guitars can be used for more than just open-string chugging and showing that you can combine the punishing groove of Pantera with the melodic sense of Sweden’s Gothenberg sound, all filtered through an aggressive metalcore lens. New album Watchers of Rule is a consistently brutal chunk of metal by anyone’s standards. But this far into Unearth’s career, it’s almost exhilarating to hear them continuing to release vital albums full of songs that are destined to live on in the setlist. We caught up with guitarist Buz McGrath right after the album’s release.
Let’s start with the guitar stuff. What did you use on this album?
We used a Rhodes amp. I don’t know what it is. And I think we used one of Ken’s old custom Ibanez RGs that won the shoot-out. Usually what happens is, we go through a stack of about 15 guitars and we record the same piece of music, the same riff, with each guitar, and you go through and listen to which guitar is sounding the best with what you’ve got, and that one won. It was between that one and, Ken had a custom three-pickup Ibanez Iceman with EMGs in it. That thing weighed a f**king tonne but it sounded sick. But the other one just beat it out by a little bit. We recorded with a Kemper via DI, and then [producer] Mark Lewis took it back to his studio and re-amped it through various amps, which I wasn’t a part of the process for. He would send me mixes with different amps and I’d say ‘this one sounds good.’ So I never even saw the amp. It’s a real weird way of doing it but it worked out good.
Are you using Kempers live or are you a real- amp guy for the stage?
I just switched over to Kemper. I wanted to hate it so bad but it’s awesome. Ken had one and we were onstage one day getting set up for soundcheck and I was like ‘Dude, that sounds f**king sick. I’m going to get one. If I get one will you give me all of your profiles and everything? Can you load it up and get it working for me?’ So I ordered it, took it to his house, played it and it was great. I mean, we used a real amp on the record just because under that microscope you can kind of tell a little bit, at least for my ears, so we used a real amp for that. But for live, doing what we do, you’d never know. It sounds better because we’re going out of the Kemper into the PA and just running a cab onstage for monitoring and it sounds amazing.
Are you still rocking your ESP signature guitars?
Yeah! The ESP BUZ7, which is a great guitar. I love it. I’m trying to get them to do a redo of it with a twist, maybe change some of the features. Mainly just the paint, do something different with it. I’ve got a couple of customs too. I’ve got a nice custom that’s in the style of the BUZ7 but it’s got a flame top, like a vintage violin finish with a maple fretboard, and then I’ve got a Silverburst Horizon Custom that’s pretty rad, and I’ve got another custom on the way. The Horizon FR7 is one that I kinda keep around.
So how do you guys write songs? I saw some dudes on Twitter saying it’s amazing how you’ve managed to avoid the ‘djent trap.’
No, I would love to have some of that in there; I just don’t think we know how to do it! Some of that stuff is cool. Some of those grooves I really like, and I think we probably even had a couple of parts that might have been like that but didn’t really jive with what we were doing. Basically I would sit at home, record some riffs, email them to our drummer and he would send them back with three different beats, and I’d start piling up riffs and making songs out of them. There were some full song ideas that would just come and there were others that would just go into the bag of riffs. It was a cool way to do it. It beats sitting in a jam room slogging it out with a drummer trying to show them this complicated chugging riff that he then has to figure out how to do with his feet while everybody waits. That’s not to say getting into the jam room was bad because there’s a lot of spontaneity when you do that.
But it’s way healthier to get in the zone and work it out on your own. I’ve got a spare room in my home where I keep my guitars and I just use GarageBand. I use this old Zoom GTU effects pedal and I don’t even know how to change the tones any more: I just plug in and it sounds awesome.
Will we be seeing Unearth in Australia any time soon?
Yeah I’m hoping so, we’re just waiting for someone to call us up and say ‘C’mon down!’