March 10, 2023 Interview – Barry Kerch of Shinedown
When it seems like everything is splitting at the seams, thank goodness we can find a safe haven within music. It is a release of emotion, offers a beacon of hope, and most of all, a vehicle for us to connect with one another. That in mind, for over two decades now Shinedown has been a band which has always tried to focus on the human spirit. With this, they have reminded us how much stronger we are when we are united, but they also have not been afraid to speak the truth when we are divided.
Striking a chord in an intense fashion back in 2018 with the smoke signal warnings of ATTENTION ATTENTION, in 2022, they returned with one of the best albums to date, Planet Zero. A record which does not mince words about the current state of the world, Planet Zero is one that engages, enlightens, and inevitably sticks with you. Proud of the work, and everything else they have accomplished over the years, original Drummer Barry Kerch recently sat down for an intimate conversation talking about the progression of Shinedown, the ideas behind Planet Zero, touring, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Shinedown has been going strong for over twenty years. You have been there since the start behind the kit. You have seen the progression, success, and all the trials and tribulations. Briefly tell us, what has your time been like in Shinedown?
Barry Kerch – I still pinch myself to be honest. It’s funny to think it’s been twenty years; it doesn’t feel like it. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions; we’ve had our ups and downs like a marriage and those things happen. I’m still one of the luckiest men in the world to be able to say I get to do what I love for a living, plus be surrounded by people that I love as well.
For me, I’m not one to really look back and go, “That was a really great time.” I’m always looking forward to what’s next. When I look back on my career, I’m just very proud. We were lucky enough to receive some gold and platinum records, so I have all these plaques. I had them all stacked in a closet in my house. About 1-2 years ago my brother came over one day and said, “Why don’t you hang those things?” I said, “eh, it’s kind of embarrassing.” He said, “Man, that’s your life’s work, you need to be proud of it.” Now that I did hang them I kind of have a different look at our career thus far.
Cryptic Rock – It is incredible to see the progression of Shinedown. You had 2003’s Leave a Whisper, 2005’s Us and Them, and so on and so on. Shinedown seems to be a band who stays true to themselves album to album.
Barry Kerch – Absolutely. We’ve been lucky enough that the label allows us to do that. They have never come out and said, “Hey, this is the new cool sound guys… you need to try this.” They let us be the musicians and artists that we want. Also, you are never going to tell Brent Smith no, ever. (Laughs) You will never tell him to do something that he doesn’t want to do. He is a very strong willed individual in a good way and he has a good vision. You are also never going to change his voice; it is so him. It’s like other great Rock singers who have come and gone… you just know when it is Brent Smith when he opens his mouth and starts singing, or even talking.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. As mentioned, you have been with Shinedown since the start. The band had sustained some lineup changes, and this long standing lineup seems to have gelled together so well. Seeing the albums you have produced and witnessing you live, Shinedown seems like one big family.
Barry Kerch – That’s absolutely true. We still get along. We still all ride on the same bus, we eat dinners together, hang out, workout together, etc. We still laugh, still enjoy each other, still get into fights like brothers, and that happens, but it is very far and few in between; like in a marriage, you don’t want to go to bed angry.
Of course, it is unfortunate and you don’t want to go through lineup changes. That time period with Shinedown was tough. Everyone was going through their things, and we wouldn’t be here without Jasin Todd and Brad Stewart, we just wouldn’t. But things changed and those were all internal shitty times, honestly. Getting the lineup that we have now with Eric (Bass) and Zach (Myers) is exactly what Shinedown needs to be. It truly is the band, all the records since then are the band; 2008’s The Sound of Madness on. There are a lot of different talents in those guys, and maybe it changed the band a little bit, but again, Brent’s voice never changes. I think it changed us for the better, we’ve been more successful since this time period. Of course, you want to be successful in your career, but it’s not about that. It’s a lot more fun when you get on stage and you enjoy playing music with each other.
Cryptic Rock – You can see that in the live performances. So, ATTENTION ATTENTION hit in 2018. It was a perfectly timed record which was a warning about the path we were heading as a society. Which leads us to 2022’s Planet Zero, where it feels like we’ve reached the point of new return. That said, ATTENTION ATTENTION seemed like a warning, and now it feels like it is too late with the feeling of Planet Zero. Is that accurate?
Barry Kerch – Unfortunately, yea, you hit the nail on the head. It’s not like we want to be all doom and gloom, there are positive moments in there and overcoming moments in all our records. I think that is an underlying theme of Shinedown; overcoming adversity in many different ways whether it is addiction, or whatever.
Every single record is a snapshot of what we lived through between the last record and the new record. They are true stories of what the hell is going on. When we went to start writing Planet Zero it was, holy shit we are in the middle of a pandemic, everybody hates each other, there are riots, the world is falling apart in front of our faces, and social media is just exasperating this. Social media is the worst thing on the planet for a lot of reasons, but also one of the best tools. Not to take away from the Prince record Sign o’ the Times (1987), but it’s a sign of the times. That’s what we write about and what we’ve always written about, it is the true stories that we see. I hope it’s not doom and gloom. I hope we can turn this ship around, start loving each other, and not try to cancel each other at the smallest infarction because your feelings might be a little hurt. Everyone’s feelings get hurt, get over yourself, you’re not that special. Nobody is that special, that is why we wrote a song about it. (Laughs) It’s about getting along with each other and loving each other even if you have differences. I think that’s the biggest takeaway we hope people get.
Cryptic Rock – Most recently. Planet Zero has that balance of that hope, but also begging the listener to open their eyes to the trajectory of society. You open the album with the hard hitting “No Sleep Tonight.” Then you have other powerful songs like “America Burning.” On the other end of the spectrum, you have the emotionally thoughtful, and hopeful “A Symptom of Being Human.” It is really a nice balance.
Barry Kerch – Thank you. It’s intentional and the flow of the record is intentional as well. It took a lot of time to decide the order and the songs we were going to pick for the record. It’s all very intentional. You have to reflect the truth without choosing a side. We’re not a political band, we don’t want to be a political band, we will leave that to the Rage Against the Machines of the world, that’s their thing. We are a band that tells the truths as we see them and our reality as we see it. At the moment this divisiveness is just becoming overwhelming and almost stupid, for the lack of a better word. We have to come together and stop going, “I hate you because you’re this, or I hate you because you’re that.” How about saying, “I don’t like that opinion, but how about we get together?”
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and that is beyond political, it is just about humanity. There is a famous poem by Martin Niemöller which ends in, “Then they came for the Jews, And I did not speak out, Because I was not a Jew, Then they came for me, And there was no one left to speak out for me.” There is a lot of power in that. No one lives in a glass house, everyone has their crosses to bare… we need to come together.
Barry Kerch – Yes, we are all flawed individuals. The human condition is flawed. When you try to cancel people, you are just showing how truly weak you really are. It’s amazing to me that someone would go back to research something someone may have done twenty years ago, when they were a completely different person, and maybe dumb and young… and cancel them for it now? Why? Why waste your breath on that when you could be doing so many more great things for the world?
Cryptic Rock – Very good point. You have released some music videos associated with Planet Zero. For ATTTENTION ATTENTION you actually strung together a long music video for each song. Is that an idea for this new album?
Barry Kerch – I don’t think so because ATTTENTION ATTENTION was such a concept record. There was a story that went from beginning to end with that album, we felt we needed to make that movie to tell that story with Bill Yukich’s vision of it (the producer/director of those videos).
I never say never, but I don’t think we will do it again for two reasons. One, each song is just a snapshot with Planet Zero, so to make it a cohesive film would be weird, I think. Two, we’ve already done that… so what are we going to do next? If we do that every time fans will think, “Oh great, here’s another Shinedown movie.” We’ve got to push ourselves in different directions.
Cryptic Rock – It makes sense. The film associated with ATTENTION ATTENTION was a really cool concept and came out well.
Barry Kerch – It was a lot of fun and a blast to make. I’m very bright behind the camera, believe it or not, and I’m not an actor, nor do I aspire to be one. To be put in some of those uncomfortable scenes and having to somewhat act and wear the make-up… I don’t understand how people wear fake eyelashes, it is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve put in my life. But putting in some of those uncomfortable situations ended up being a lot of fun.
Cryptic Rock – And it is a lot of fun to watch. You mentioned that ATTTENTION ATTENTION was more of a concept record. Planet Zero also has a concept to it as well and you also have their segues in between tracks with the robotic voice. There is certainly a George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four vibe to it all. Was that in the back of your mind when you guys were making this record?
Barry Kerch – Absolutely, how could it not be? (Laughs) Nineteen Eighty-Four reflects this current situation so well, how could it not be in the back of your mind?
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Enough said. With Planet Zero out now for a while, what has the overall reaction been like? One can imagine it has become a breath of fresh air for many people, because it is suffocating what is happening.
Barry Kerch – It really is, it is pitting us against each other, and it’s really hard to find that silver lining at some points. I was home over the Christmas break, and I stayed over social media and away from the news. I needed a break… it was wearing me out. It felt really good to be honest; I was able to focus on myself, family, and those types of things.
The reception to Planet Zero has been great. Again, I’m not one to look at what people are saying about a record. I’m the type of personality, I see one bad comment, and it ruins my day. There are also those bad comments too. I tend not to look at what people say. However, the people who come up to me say, “I really love the record, it has helped me in this way, or, I didn’t really know anything about you guys until this album.”
When we were recording the video for “Symptom of being Human” there were some extras in it, who weren’t necessarily Rock fans, but really fell into that song. It’s those kinds of things when you can reach someone who doesn’t necessarily listen to your genre of music… that’s what I like to hear.
Cryptic Rock – That’s what is great about Shinedown. You touch so many different people in different walks of life who also might necessarily be Rock fans.
Barry Kerch – We try to. We never put a limit on ourselves that something is not heavy enough and we can’t put it out there. We say – Is it a good song?, Does it fit with the record?, then let’s put it out there. If it does something, then it’s cool.
Cryptic Rock – That is the right outlook, it is about good music and the emotion it creates. Let’s touch on the tour coming up with Three Days Grace and From Ashes to New. How excited are you for this run?
Barry Kerch – I’m very excited because I’m friends with both bands. It’s always nice when you get on the road with bands that you like, that are successful, and you get along with. There is not going to be internal drama that way. Obviously, I want them to try to blow us off the stage every night, because they are doing the same job we’re doing. That is what makes the show that much better and gives that much more energy into the audience. I want every band to put on the best show they can. Then I’m going to go on and try to destroy them… that’s what I do. It’s that friendly competition that makes a great show.
It’s been neck and neck with us and Three Days Grace for many years for who has the most # 1 singles; so there are a lot of songs to choose from. Yes, From Ashes to New are a relatively newer band, but they have a whole energy to themselves. I’m looking forward to this tour!
Cryptic Rock – It should be a great tour. Last question. What are some of your musical influences and what inspired you to want to become a drummer?
Barry Kerch – First and foremost, my grandmother who got me my first snare drum. My grandmother’s brother was a Jazz drummer. I never met him, but she said I reminded her of him. I would beat on the pots and pans, she gave me the first drum, and that’s where I started.
When it comes to music, I’m a child of the ‘80s; an ‘80s metalhead kind of kid. There was Iron Maiden, Billy Idol, then I branched out to The Police. Then I had some good teachers who got me into Jazz stuff. Then I liked Tesla, Van Halen, and all the great ones. From there I kept branching out. Then when the Grunge thing hit, I was able to experience that. I was able to be mad that Nirvana killed my favorite bands, but then have Soundgarden and Alice in Chains come out, and then go – okay, I can live with this. (Laughs) All of those are great influences, and they all have great drummers.
The band and I have talked about it before. I think there are two different types of people who listen to music. Some people listen to melody and lyrics, and some listen to rhythm and feel… I’m that guy. There are songs of Shinedown’s that I couldn’t tell you all the lyrics too; I just don’t feel lyrics the same way. I feel things, like James Brown’s drummer. I feel the rhythm. Even in the Techno Dance music area, some of those beats and rhythms get me hyped. I take all of those influences and try to dissect them. But Iron Maiden is definitely my number one.