There are few things that go together better than tattoos and metal. Aaron Gillespie and Spencer Chamberlain from metalcore outfit Underoath attest to this. Ever since the two got their first tattoos within days of each other, they’ve been filling their bodies with art at breakneck speed. While the two bandmates share a passion for tattoos, they both have their own aesthetic ideas toward the art.
After a long couple of months in lockdown, Underoath has reunited in their native Florida to put together a series of three streaming concerts. In between shows, Gillespie and Chamberlain spoke with Inked about how good it feels to be playing together again, their first tattoo experiences and why getting a kneecap tattoo on tour is a pretty dumb idea.
Inked: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about the streaming shows that you’ve been playing?
Aaron Gillespie: We’ve been doing live streams every Friday. We started last Friday playing “Lost in the Sound of Separation,” followed by “Define the Great Line” and “They’re Only Chasing Safety.” It’s quite an undertaking. It’s a full production livestream, not a single camera and us in a room playing some songs. It's like eight or nine camera angles, we built a custom stage, an octagon. It’s a thing, man. We played our first show the other night and it was, I would say, probably the most nerve-racking show of our career to me personally. I think because for the first time ever we're playing to no audience. We know people buy tickets and are watching live, but to us, it’s just us. It seems like we’re super under the microscope.
Spencer Chamberlain: It's a mixture between a music video and playing live. You’re actually playing, but then you feel like you’re alone on an island. So it's like a music video in that way where you're just getting into it the best you can. And then you realize that the adrenaline is there, but completely different than when you walk on stage in front of a ton of people. People might be saying it sucks, I have no idea! We found out after the fact that people loved it, and we’re super stoked now.
Let’s talk about those tattoos. What was the first one that each of you got?
Gillespie: What year was it? Like, probably 2005. It was in a dressing room in St. Louis while on tour with The Used. I had been threatening to get a tattoo but I was so scared. I'm like, I can't do it, man. I can't do it. Then he took me aside and tattooed me. That was my first tattoo.
Chamberlain: My first tattoo was a Radiohead tattoo. Me and Aaron made the jump around the same time.
Gillespie: You wouldn’t get tattooed on tour. You were scared of it getting dirty.
Chamberlain: Yeah, well I’m jumping into the crowd every night. I got it after being home for about 24 hours.
Do your first tattoos still exist?
Gillespie: I just got a red outline of a tattoo, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I’ve covered mine. I had parts of it redone so now I have the whole thing. Then the next one, I got a portrait, we were getting tattoos done by Mike Parsons, who’s a really great tattooer. But I don’t get realism done any more.
Why don’t you do realism any more?
Gillespie: I got really into traditional tattoos and the culture and all that stuff around when I turned 30. I’m pretty covered now, everything but my butt cheeks, my right foot and my face, which I’ll never do. When I started getting really tattooed—on my throat, my stomach, I’ve got a big Sailor Jerry back piece—I didn’t want any color. Or, if I did get color I wanted it to be traditional. All the realism stuff started to feel really out of place. I got a portrait or two when I was younger, but as I got older I wanted eagles and daggers and sacred hearts. That stuff. The realism started to feel really out of place, so I’ve started to blast over some of them the last couple of years.
Chamberlain: I have zero color. Not one color tattoo. All black, white, grey. Which I’m happy about, this is what I wanted when I first started being tattooed. I grew up with my mom who was a painter and she used lots of color. That was her job, her whole life was art. When I first started getting into art, it was always just black ink. I was like, “I’m different from my mom, bleh!” I wanted everything to be black. When I first started going to tattoo artists I’d show them something and they’d be like, “I can’t do that. Everything will blow out. That’s going to look like shit in two years.” So, I’d be like, well, let’s do something similar. And I’ve stuck with that. I’ve even started to draw my own tattoos and have a buddy tattoo on me. It’s something that I’ve always been into.
Gillespie: Good for you, you don’t have any shitty portrait tattoos that you don’t want any more. Do you want a medal, or a cupcake or something?
Chamberlain: Yeah man, will you bring me a cupcake when you come over tonight?
Gillespie: I have color, but I didn’t get color tattoos for like eight years. My whole torso is black-and-grey, buttcheek to head, one big black-and-grey piece. In the last couple of years, I started getting color tattoos. It’s a funny story. One of my very favorite tattooers is this guy named Rich Lajoie who works at Barber’s Electric in Cincinnati. So I go there and Rich is drawing up this horseshoe thing that says “Bad Luck,” a very traditional design, and he’s like, “I’m doing it in color.” I’m like, “I don’t get color.” And he did it, and I love this guy’s work, and it’s my most complimented on tattoo. So I started getting some color tattoos—a rose on my neck, a giant Sailor Jerry dragon on my back. I started getting color tattoos but it took me a minute, and Rich is the guy responsible for that.
Has Rich done other tattoos for you?
Gillespie: Last summer we were on tour with Korn and Alice in Chains and I got my kneecap tattooed by him. That’s was a stupid idea.
Yeah, that sounds like a horrible idea to do while you’re on tour. That is not the time to get your kneecap tattooed, my friend.
Gillespie: I told you, Rich is my favorite. He lives in Cincinnati and who the hell goes to Cincinnati? We don’t even tour in Cincinnati… so we were there and I wanted him to do my kneecap. So he did it and the tattoo looks incredible. But it was awful. It swelled up like a fucking cantaloupe. I got into color because of him.
Spencer, tell me a bit about that palm tattoo of yours.
Chamberlain: We were recording our last album, “Erase Me,” just outside of D.C., and our booking agent had a lot of connections in the old hardcore scene. He told us about this place that was the first legal tattoo shop in D.C. called Jinx Proof, and the owner (Tim Corun) is the guy that he set us up with. This was one of those guys who was super intimidating, this guy was the real deal. He’s the kind of guy that you go in and say, “I want this,” and he draws it the way he wants it and that’s what you’re getting. We got tattooed by him four or five times when we were there, and it’s some of the coolest shit that I have.
He tattooed the inside of my hand and he warned me several times. He said, “People don’t know how to do palm tattoos, that’s why they always fall out and look like shit. I’m the only guy in the shop that’s allowed to do it, but I’m going to warn you, it’s going to be the worst pain you've ever felt in your life. Do you want to do it?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” “I’m going to warn you again, do you want to do this?” He warned me three times and sure enough, it came out beautifully and it hasn’t faded. It’s perfect. It’s dark, it looks like it was done yesterday.
But was it the worst pain of your life?
Chamberlain: It was the most painful shit. It hurt for a week afterwards. It was pretty brutal. It peeled off, like a tattoo does, but the skin around it was like it had been cut. The skin peeled back, it was fucking disgusting, I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like flayed meat. Hit hurt like a motherfucker too. That was brutal.
We’ll end on the one question that I always end up asking people in bands—what’s it like to meet people who have tattoos inspired by Underoath?
Chamberlain: It’s pretty fucking surreal. It’s pretty wild that someone else would get words that we wrote put permanently on their body. The whole thing about writing music is that you are speaking about shit that you’ve gone through, and your hope is that by being brutally honest and opening up about things you don’t even talk to your best friends about, the goal is that hopefully it helps someone else who goes through shit like that. To see that it does affect people, to have someone connect so much with the words that you wrote down is pretty insane.
Gillespie: I remember the exact moment when people were first screaming the words back to us. That’s why you don’t do it for the money, you don’t do it to be famous. To see those words yelled back at you, then to see those words tattooed into someone’s skin, you know you made it.
Find out more about what Underoath are up to and learn how you can watch their streaming concert on 7/24 by clicking here.