July 24, 2015 Interview – Neil Sanderson of Three Days Grace
Over the past fifteen years one of the leaders in Hard Rock has been the Canadian band Three Days Grace. Officially going under the name Three Days Grace since 1997, the band spent years honing their sound, and in 2003 made an epic impression on the world with their self-titled debut record via Jive Records. Yielding three chart topping singles, it was only the beginning for the band which follow with the double platinum selling album One-x in 2006, who has since toured internationally, and pumped out successful record after record. Following the release of their 2012 album Transit to Venus, Three Days Grace hit an unexpected bump in the road when co-founding vocalist Adam Goniter departed from the band. Catching all by surprise, especially fans, Three Days Grace proved to be a cohesive unit which immediately dusted themselves off and brought in My Darkest Days vocalist, Matt Walst. Now in 2015 with Walst on vocals, the band release their acclaimed new album Human. Take a closer look into the years gone by of Three Days Grace within a personal interview with original drummer Neil Sanderson talking the new record, touring, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – The idea of Three Days Grace began over two decades ago when you were formerly known as Groundswell. When Three Days Grace released its self-titled debut album in 2003, it really took the Hard Rock world by storm, and the band has since become one of the genre’s elite. Looking back now, how redeeming was it to see all that hard work in the early years pay off?
Neil Sanderson – It is something that we have never taken for granted and we never will. Basically, you have your whole life to build up a body of work, and for us, early on, we started writing about just real life experiences, things that we were going through. We used music as a form of therapy. That has never really changed, we always kind of stuck with that. I think that connection between the artist and the fan, when you can put into words what other people are thinking and they can see their own lives in your songs, because you are writing about things that everybody goes through, that became a really powerful connection for us. We realize that is larger than life, so we have always stuck with staying true to ourselves and writing about our real personal lives, but in such a way that is relatable to people that listen to it. It is amazing that someone can come up and say, “Hey, this song means so much to me because I felt like I was the only person going through this, but when I heard your song I realized I wasn’t.” Those, in the beginning, when we started getting that, it was such a powerful thing that really made us want to continue on and write music in that way. Looking back over a decade later, we have still kind of stuck to that, and I think that has been one of the major essences of the band, is really making that connection with the listener.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, agreed 100%. The lyrical connection is definitely essential, and Three Days Grace has done that. Most people look at a band like Three Days Grace and think that success happens overnight, but really that is not the case. The band has worked hard for a very long time to reach the point you did over a decade ago. With that said, do you have a different perspective on everything, over all, now after all these years and what you have accomplished?
Neil Sanderson – Yes, absolutely, it takes a lot of hard work. I think a lot of people get fooled today especially. Maybe it is because of so many reality singing shows and things like that can make you think that things can happen overnight. I think you really need to build it from the ground up and really build a solid fan base that trusts you. By that I mean trusting that everything that comes from this band is real. When we get up on stage, we do not rely on a lot of bells and whistles. We would rather be rough around the edges and be a real band. When we write and record songs, we try not to polish it to much and over think it; we dive deep into our own personal experiences and emotions. I think people are looking for something real, now more than ever, and are super sensitive to what is contrived and what is not. Looking back over the years, just the notion that we have stuck to our guns as far as demonstrating that we are a real band, in so many ways, I think that has been the key.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is definitely important. The fans do relate to that 100%. Now, back in 2012, following the release of Transit To Venus, obviously we all know that Adam departed from Three Days Grace, which left a lot of fans surprised. One can imagine that you have probably field this question time and time again, but was his departure something the band was prepared for, and how difficult was it to move forward?
Neil Sanderson – Yes, it was in 2012 that this happened, and no, we were not prepared. It came as a shock and we had no idea it was happening. We took it in our stride and, basically, we run pretty deep as far as a team and a family; deeper than one person, per se. As far as the creative part of it, we have always been a very collaborative band. We all right the lyrics, melodies, and music together, so there was no question that we would not forge on. It kind of happened quickly, but Matt, who is our bass player Brad’s younger brother, was around and we have always loved being creative with him.
Matt had already co-written with Three Days Grace on the first album and Transit to Venus. He had grown up beside us; he was that kid in the corner who was jamming when we were teenagers, taking it all in. He was kind of pestering us I guess (laughs). It came about pretty quickly, but we came up to Matt and said, “Hey, we have this tour with Shinedown that was already booked.” It was on sale and five weeks out when we got the news, so it came abruptly and shocked us. We just said, “Let’s do this,” and Matt came out. As soon as we started rehearsing and played that first show, we felt that there was definitely this new energy born. It felt right on stage and the crowd had really reacted positively to it. We kind of forged ahead on that tour.
We had written with Matt before, so we were on the bus trying to write songs, we are always writing songs, and we ended up writing “Painkiller.” We really loved the sound, the vibe, and the overall feeling of that song. We went into the studio right away, recorded “Painkiller,” and loved it, so we put it on the radio just because we wrote it on tour, we had a new sound, and we wanted people to hear what it sounded like. We put it out and then the song goes number one in the US. We felt, “Oh wow, this is pretty surreal to have this shoot straight to the top of the chart.” That really reassured things for us being out on the road. Having the fans embracing it and having this song successful on the radio really kind of pushed us forward. It also set the tone for the rest of the record. We started writing songs that were heavy and aggressive like “Painkiller” with a really dark, emotional, brooding message.
CrypticRock.com – Right, as you had mentioned, the fans had about two years to embrace Matt prior to Human, because he had toured with the band for two years. Matt had attained success with My Darkest Days, so he had experience aside from working with you guys in the past. With that said, what was the writing and recording process like for Human?
Neil Sanderson – It was actually very much a continuation of what we have always done. Like I said, we all write lyrics and melody together. We basically write on acoustic guitar. We all kind of show up with our own ideas, whether it is a lyrical idea, a thought about life, or just a guitar riff. We all just meet in our rehearsal space where we bring our acoustic guitars, sit around, throw ideas around, pick our favorite ideas from wherever they came from, then continue on and shape those ideas as a team. A lot of times with Gavin Brown (producer) as well, he is definitely involved in the creative process. That is how we have always kind of done it, at least in the beginning especially, it was always on acoustic guitars. That was the process and it was really reminiscent of what we started off doing in the beginning. I think that is why the new record has some of the same vibe as the first Three Days Grace album.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, and a lot of the songs certainly have very somber texture to them, very dark, as you mentioned earlier. Obviously that is reflective of the lyric writers yourselves. So, what was your headspace when you were writing these lyrics, was the band overall feeling this somber type of feeling?
Neil Sanderson – Yes, in a number of ways. Partly because it has been a crazy couple of years for us, and we actually lost a couple of friends; one of them was our guitar tech. Just losing people close to you at a young age, and when they are bros, it took its toll on us. That is reflected in the album in a couple of ways. Our general headspace, we kind of dove really deeply into our psyches to write the lyrics for this album. Also, our producer that we used is the same guy that did our first album. Gavin really helps us dig deep into our own mindsets to find those things that on our minds that we are experiencing and help turn them into songs.
CrypticRock.com – You just mentioned you worked with Gavin Brown again. What made you decide to bring him back into the fold to work on this new record?
Neil Sanderson – I think there had just been a bit of a disconnect over the years. We had always wanted to work with him again. After writing “Painkiller,” we really felt as though, you might say, we transitioned, we experimented on a few things, and sonically, we experimented with some instrumentation stuff, which is something we are not afraid to do. For Human we wanted to try and come full circle; try and really make a record that was sort of a continuation of the first album, and to do that, the obvious choice was to bring in Gavin.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, he did a great job as well. It is nice to go back to your roots sometimes.
Neil Sanderson – Yes, absolutely. We had a great time. We spend the vast majority of the time writing and re-writing the songs until they are undeniable. When that happens, you go into the studio and record them, if the songs are there. Gavin came out and joined us on the bus, we were out touring, we would just work on the songs. When we got home, we would go into the studio and record a few songs, and then go back out on tour. It gave us a lot of time to sort of reflect on the recordings that we had made. That is kind of how we did it the first time. We took years to make the first album, and then the subsequent albums were kind of made a little bit quicker in LA. This time, we really wanted to go back and take our time. We basically took eighteen months to make this record, and the quality of the album sort of reflects how long it took us.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, the longer time spans definitely helps with the overall quality from start to finish. Now that fans have had this record out now for a few months and they have seen Matt live, quite extensively, over the past couple of years, what do you think the overall reception of fans to Matt is now after everything that has happened so far?
Neil Sanderson – I think its amazing. I think people have really gravitated towards it. They have realized there is this new energy that is kind of rejuvenating in a way. It is pretty aggressive. He is a little younger than us, he has got a fire in his stomach, and it has been amazing. We have played some of the biggest shows we have ever played, what has really blown us away is the reaction overseas as well. We physically did not do a lot of tours overseas in the past, but in the last couple of years we have been all over the place. We have been to Russia, Brazil, Argentina, we just got back from a big European tour; to go halfway around the world and have people sing all the lyrics to the new stuff in strong accents, it was pretty crazy. It has been wild to see, and this is a new chapter for us. To have it accepted on this scale and have people as excited about the future as we are, it is something we do not take it for granted, we are really thankful to see it.
CrypticRock.com – Obviously, as you said, you have been extensively touring in support of Human. You are going to be touring through the end of 2015, so is it safe to say things have been going very well?
Neil Sanderson – Yes, it has been amazing. I think having “Painkiller,” then releasing “I Am Machine” as we were touring and making the album was really a key thing to show people what the new sound was. They are pretty heavy songs, and I think “I am Machine” is one of the heaviest songs we have ever released. It has been crazy to see and things have been going great. We just got back, we recently played with Metallica in Milan, Italy. It was pretty wild to play in front of that many people, and then go watch side-stage as Metallica plays “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in front of 100,000 Italians. It is moments like that you have to shake your head and wonder if this is actually happening. To be able to wake up and do what we love every day, and do it on this level, it is just wild, its pretty amazing.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds phenomenal. My last question is pertaining to movies because, at CrypticRock.com, we cover Rock and Metal music, but we also cover Horror movies. I am interested, if you are a fan in Horror films, do you have any favorites?
Neil Sanderson – Yes, I like Horror films, but not the shock, blood kind. I like the eerie ones. I like No Country for Old Men (2007), the Rob Zombie stuff, I also M. Night Shyamalan stuff such as The Village (2004); kind of quirky Horror films. I actually really like The Blair Witch Project (1999) too, I thought that was really well done. There have been some impostors films that try and imitate or copy that, but those are my kind. I am not so much into the blood spatter, shock movies. I like weirded out movies for sure. There is a weird movie, I do not think you could call it a Horror film, its more of an abstract Thriller, called Gummo (1997). If anyone has seen that movie, it is pretty whack, if you want to see something weird.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting. Many would prefer something more psychological as you say, something that is a little deeper than blood, gore, and guts.
Neil Sanderson – Absolutely, and at the end of the day, my favorite Horror movie of all time is The Exorcist (1973) because there is just so much down time where nothing really takes place, but it is just very sinister vibe. The way that it is shot is pretty freaky. It was not all about effects and building up the scare, there is more definite evil undertones in that movie.