The Undertaking! – “Pick a Hardcore/Metalcore Band From 2003 – 2008 and We’re Probably Inspired By That”

If your tshirt collection includes Every Time I Die, Glassjaw and Maylene & The Sons of the Disaster, San Diego’s The Undertaking! have something for you.

Their new album and Solid State Records debut Funeral Psalms (out April 30th) is teeming with the kind of raucous energy and frenetic vocal delivery you’d expect from a band that namechecks Converge and Zakk Wylde in equal measures.

We caught up with singer Austin Visser as well as guitarists Keith Butsko and Johnny Mercuri to talk about the new record, their rad hometown music scene, and the salty tone you get from using a fish taco as an overdrive.


The Undertaking! - No Friends (Official Music Video)

How did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Did you guys end up spending more time on the record than you might otherwise have?

Austin Visser – We handled COVID as well as we could! With no shows on the docket, we switched to writing, demo’ing, recording and networking! To be honest, we move pretty quickly with our song writing process, so I’m not sure we spent more time on the songs specifically, but we had free time to write MORE songs.

Were you guys at all slow to put out a record right now that you can’t immediately tour behind?

AV – Absolutely! BUT in our case, we’re such a new band that it’ll work out. It allows listeners to get to know our music so when we play shows they can participate! I imagine if we were a more established full-time touring band, we might have held off a little longer.

How did you get hooked up with Joey Bradford? How was it working with him?

AV – we reached out to Joey in 2019 about mastering a couple of our DIY singles. That started a rad working relationship. Joey is a freakin music industry guru, so chill, so easy to work with. Things progressed as we got in touch with Solid State Records and then it was a natural decision for us to record our album with him at the Vibeatorium in Vista, CA.

Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?

AV – we knew we wanted the album to be energetic, visceral and pretty chaotic. Our production sound isn’t polished or overly clean so we knew we wanted to capture the live music approach to this album.

Keith Butsko – We could try all we’d like to target a specific sound from any reference, but at the end of the day, it’s going to come out sounding like TU! due to our playing styles. I could literally plug into Johnny’s rig & it won’t sound anything like what you hear him play & vice versa. I think that’s what makes our combined guitar voicing fun.

That being said, I find myself gravitating towards Zakk Wylde’s sound on No Rest for the Wicked. I think that’s the epitome of “cool” when it comes to complementing riffs of our southern mid-heavy metal sound.

Johnny Mercuri – It’s probably cliché, but overall we wanted to capture our live sound and feel on this album. We shot for somewhere in between Long Live (The Chariot) and Low Teens (Every Time I Die). Kind of that messy, almost underproduced, sound with punchy energy.

So guitars! What did you guys use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?

KB – I used my ‘03 Gibson Les Paul Standard. That thing comes in weighing just under 75lbs & resonates for 2 hours if the conditions are right. But seriously, I love the beefy sound it has. I don’t get to play it live due to how much we run around/it’s weight, so I take advantage of it when recording.

JM – Guitar-wise we used a Gibson Les Paul, LTD Viper, Fender P Bass, and there may be a riff or two with an Ernie Ball Stingray in there. For amps, we went with STL plugins that modeled Soldano, Orange, and Marshall sounds. We used a Pitchfork octave pedal in a few choice sections, but other than that you’re hearing gritty driven amps.

The Undertaking - Oh, Negative

Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?

KB – I run my guitar through a California burrito into a 1987 Marshall JCM 800 (2210). I only use the dirty channel’s gain, no pedals other than the beefy tone the Cali-b provides. I once tried out a fish taco in lieu of a California burrito. It was disappointing. Tone was salty.

JM – Nah. I wish I was, truly, but with everything that’s on the market these days it seems an overwhelming (and expensive) task.

I’m the type who’ll do a ton of research on the front end, buy something that fits my needs, and operate within its parameters to make it work for my sound. I don’t swap my setup out much.

That said I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Line 6’s Helix line. I use their HX Effects for work and it’s incredibly responsive and versatile.

Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?

KB: Nope. I’ll make anything work.

JM – I really love my Orange Rockerverb MKIII. It can go from buttery cleans to an almost hairy fuzz. That thing is powerful.

A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?

KB – Personally, I’d rather plug into my JCM 800, but I’m not against simplicity & efficiency when playing live. Like I mentioned, I’ll make anything work.

JM – It’s fantastic. I think you’re missing out on a whole word of ingenuity and possible creative inspiration if you turn your nose up at today’s musical tools.

For someone who’s just discovering your band and wants to hear more music that sounds like you, what bands would you suggest they start with?

AV – The Chariot, Underaoth, Norma Jean, Dillenger Escape Plan – pick a hardcore/metalcore band from 2003 – 2008 and we’re probably inspired by that.

Any good bands in San Diego people should be aware of? Any local bands that you feel never got the national attention they deserved?

AV – great question! Always support your local scene! That’s what keeps music alive. We have a rad scene in San Diego – Doc Hammer, Braggers, Ready Set Survive, Nights Like Thieves, Blackcast. We could go on and on. We have some rad venues as well, like Soma and Brick by Brick

If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?

AV – Oh man, each song on Funeral Psalms has a few amazing riffs. I’d suggest just picking one and jam along. The key to enjoying a TU! Song is that you have to be standing up and jumping around while you play it!

What’s up next for the band? Any new material in the works? Any post-rona plans?

AV – Funeral Psalms comes out on April 30. You can pre-order that at https://www.solidstaterecords.com/ – Post-rona is still undetermined but we’re kicking some tires on what shows will look like. We’d love to take our show on the road a bit and get out in front of some new fans!

Brian Kelleher

I'm the main guy at KillerGuitarRigs.com and I want to tell you all about guitars. I've been playing music since 1986 when my older brother taught me to play "Gigantic" by The Pixies on a bass with two strings. Since then, I've owned dozens of instruments from guitars to e-drums, and spent more time than I'd like to admit sitting in vans waiting for venues to open across Europe and the US.

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