August 7, 2013 Interview- Brent Smith of Shinedown
Shinedown have distinguished themselves as a powerful force in modern rock-n-roll. With their extensive list of chart topping rock songs, extensive touring, and having sold more than 6 million albums worldwide. Weathering a windy road of personal struggles their music conveys the utter most sincerity. Within those struggles vocalist/songwriter Brent Smith and his fellow bandmates have found clarity and resolution. Each night the band takes the stage they open their audience up into their personal lives through their music.
Four records deep into their career the band has headlined numerous tours and rock festivals. This August the band will embark on their second headlining appearance on Carnival Of Madness. Recently we sat down with Brent Smith for a personal look at the driving passion behind Shinedown, this year’s Carnival Of Madness, living a dream, and much more.
CrypticRock.com- Shinedown has gone on a long interesting journey over the past 13 years. The band has released 4 records since 2003, toured extensively, headlined many major rock festivals, and achieved massive success within the hard rock genre and the mainstream. With all that said how do you feel about where Shinedown is 10 years after your debut album Leave A Whisper?
Brent Smith- I would have to say where we are now we are definitely way stronger than we were 10 years ago. We’re never a band that’s going to be complacent, we are never a band that is going to rest on our laurels. I think we are a band that always kept our eyes open and our mouths shut and we really have learned a lot over the years. We’ve had some amazing teachers. The fact is that unless you really know what you are talking about in the music and touring industry you don’t need to open your mouth until you know exactly what you want to convey.
We have 4 records that we’ve released, we are getting ready to release our 19th single as a band. I know we’ve had 10 consecutive # 1 singles on rock radio. We’re always going to want to outdo what we’ve already done. We enjoy the fact that we are a band that is constantly evolving. We’re always trying make sure that it’s always interesting for the public. We never have been one of those bands that people will be able to put their thumb on us, we like to keep people guessing.
CrypticRock.com- Yes and you do keep in interesting from album to album. Each album has their own unique qualities. Amaryllis was released last year and has achieved massive success. The album further dimensions the bands progression with string instruments, horns, choirs, etc. What was the writing process like for this album?
Brent Smith- The writing process was everything was pulled out of thin air. We toured on the Sound of Madness and did 31 months on the road and 447 shows. We virtually didn’t write anything except for 2 songs. We wrote “Diamond Eyes for” Sylvester Stallone for the movie The Expendables and did a song for the Alice In Wonderland movie called “Looking Glass” on a cd of songs inspired by the film. When we went into the writing for Amaryllis we really didn’t have anything at all. All the songs were really stream of consciousness. It was the first time that we worked together, myself and Barry with Eric Bass and Zach Myers, collectively on an album.
I have to say we just didn’t put any limits on things, we knew we wanted to make a very epic sounding record. The record had to be very visual, it had to be epic, it had to be very theatrical. We always listen to songs after we write them because we’re known for before going in to make the actual record our demos really sound like records to begin with. So when we demo them a lot of times the demos sound like a done record. When we were going in to actually do the album once the songs were written we would always listen to the playback with our eyes closed a lot. We were always just envisioning almost like a mini movie for each song. They had to have a lot of peaks and valleys, they had to be very colorful, and it had to be a roller coaster ride of emotions.
As far as the writing process was concerned some songs started off with one line in a verse that I had, maybe a melody that I would hum that day, the guys had piano parts or guitar parts, maybe a loop was running in pro tools or what have you. It was a very stressful record to make because we were really pushing each other. It was also a massive amount of enlightenment for each other. We learned a lot about who we all are as a band on Amaryllis. I think that is why the record sounds so powerful and why it’s so strong. We didn’t put any rules or regulations on each other.
Emotionally we just let ourselves soar, we put it in the record. We have always said the same thing to a lot of people that we write songs because it’s cheaper than therapy. We’ve never really been a band that has held anything in. We’re always going to put ourselves out there because we can only write about what we know, what we’ve been through, situations that we’ve encountered, the people we’ve met, the places we’ve been to and continue to go to over the years. As we present ourselves to the world we’re very truthful when it comes to song writing and how we present ourselves to the public.
CrypticRock.com- Absolutely, and that definitely shows through on the music because it’s very sincere. That always makes for great music when it’s always sincere and from the heart of the artist. You can hear the emotion and passion pouring through on every record. Now you guys are headlining the Carnival Of Madness again this year like you did its inaugural year in 2010. How excited are you to be back on this tour and what is in store for this year’s Carnival?
Brent Smith- First of all, the Carnival Of Madness is actually going to be a carnival for the first time. We’re actually bringing 6 circus performers, very elite characters that are going to be traveling with us on the Carnival Of Madness. You are going to see different individuals on stilts, there is going to be a lot of different costumes, there’s going to be fire breathers, and all kinds of cool clowns. We didn’t do this thing where we were going to bring 20 different people, we got these very specific performing artists.
The only way I can describe them is that they have a lot of different characteristics and a lot of different traits. They’re very unique. They are going to be a huge part of making the carnival an actual carnival. As far as if we are excited, I am over the moon about it man. Carnival of Madness this year is a reinvention of the tour as well as the brand name Carnival of Madness. I feel like the first year was very successful and we had a great line-up. I think the years after, I feel like they’ve fallen short a little bit. I feel like I don’t know if the thought process was completely honed on some of them, but then again I wasn’t on them. The tour was created by Bill Mcgathy our manager, who is just a brilliant mind. He is one of the last true pioneers when it comes to rock and roll and being the end all be all as far as rock n roll is concerned as a manager and as my friend. He is just the man. We’ve talked a lot about that this year.
This is year we are going to have We As Human, Skillet, In This Moment, Papa Roach and Sevendust is doing the first three shows. The production that we are bringing this year is going to be the largest attempted. There is a lot of thought that went into it, the way the production is set up, the way the tour is laid out for the audience. It’s more of an experience than anything this year for Carnival of Madness. We just didn’t want to do one on those things where we have three stages and multiple bands and make it confusing and a long day. We just wanted to put the cream of the crop down the middle on the main stage. We wanted to make it one of those things where also throughout the day that no one in the audience was going to be bored. That’s where bringing in the performers to make it a real carnival was a big part of what we were going to do this year.
We wanted it to be fun for the family and the kids because we know there is going to be a lot of kids. Carnival of Madness is probably going to be a lot of the kid’s first show that they have ever gone to. We wanted parents to be cool with letting their kids come, we want the entire family to want to be able to come to the show too. It’s still rock n roll and it’s going to be controlled chaos and fun. It’s going to be something where we feel like entire families can be able to bring all their family members and it’s still going to be an event that is going to be something they’ve never experienced before and they’re going to have an amazing time.
CrypticRock.com- It sounds like it’s going to be a great festival and also sounds like you are separating yourself from the plethora of all the other rock festivals going on right now which that’s really cool. I imagine you are also very excited because you have really gotten yourself into shape recently. Tell me what drove you to decide to make a change in your lifestyle to get in great physical shape?
Brent Smith- Honestly my band, my son, and my girlfriend had a lot to do with it. I’m very lucky that I have an amazing family around me. During the making of Amaryllis I just really let myself go man. I am about 5’8 and I weighed about 222 lbs back in 2011. I’m still 5’8, I didn’t grow (laughs), but I weigh about 160 lbs now so I lost a little over 60 lbs. It was a very interesting day.
One morning I had a really rough night at the studio, and I had been doing things I really shouldn’t have been doing, just drinking too heavily and ended up passing out. My girlfriend found me in the morning really sloppy and not in good shape and she picked me up and cleaned me up. I don’t necessarily know why this day was any different than any other day, but she looked at me said I’m going to tell you something and I really want you to pay attention to me. I said ok. She said, “you are a lot more dangerous when you are clear headed, focused and when you have yourself together.
When you are clear headed and focused you can surprise everyone. What you are doing to yourself is not only unfair to me but to your band , your little boy, and to your fans and public. It’s time for you to get your head out of your ass and get back in the game”. When she told me I think a huge light bulb went off in my head and she was right. From that day forward I cleaned up my diet, I cleaned up the way I looked at everything. I got into working out, got really healthy through the help of a trainer, and this program called Insanity that we still do out on the road when we’re touring. A lot of it had to do with her, Theresa was a part of really helping me change the way that I looked at things. I have to give props to my girlfriend man because she really helped me understand that I’m way more dangerous when I’m healthy.
CrypticRock.com- Yes and sometimes it takes someone you love to tell you the truth. It really sticks to you, you make the change, and that’s a good thing.
Brent Smith- Yea and the other thing too as I started getting in better shape and seeing myself, my voice got a lot stronger, my healthy got a lot stronger, my wind capacity, my lungs got cleared out, and it really changed a lot of things. I could wear really cool outfits that I couldn’t wear before. Nobody wants to see the front man of their favorite band with his gut hanging over his belt, you know what I mean (laughs). Once I started to lose my belly fat and could get into a size 32 I was like oh wow this is cool. I started noticing that I could wear more stuff on stage, or if anything I could start wearing less stuff on stage, because I wasn’t embarrassed by the way I looked.
CrypticRock.com- It’s not only physical it’s mental. It helps you keep an even balance.
Brent Smith- Yes and people ask me about the alcohol and I don’t ever walk around and say I’m sober. It’s not something I necessarily offer up. I just tell people I didn’t drink today and I don’t plan on drinking tomorrow. I just take it one day at a time but I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since November 6th of 2011.
CrypticRock.com- Good for you man, that’s a very positive thing. Now you always have been very sincere with your fans about your personal struggles. You have conquered these demons and moved forward. How rewarding is it to have weathered the storm and not to just be left standing, but at the top of the mountain?
Brent Smith- I have to be honest with you man, I think my humility plays a lot of that. I’m a very humble guy and I’m not just saying that, I really am. I’m very lucky to do what I love for a living. I never wanted to do anything else except for what I’m doing right now pretty much since I was born. I take it very seriously and I have a lot of respect for it. I have always said this about the audience and that is we only have one boss and it is everyone in the audience. People aren’t stupid, you have to be honest with them and you have to be real with them, otherwise they’re not going to believe you. They are not even going to give you the time of day because they have lives to lead. I think people need encouragement.
I think honestly for me, I have to talk about it sometimes, all the things I have seen and been through over the years. I also have to take it one day at a time and know that I am human. I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to fall short sometimes. Even though I always want to win I may not succeed at everything, but I have to try as hard as I possibly can and always maintain that I’m never going to be the guy that says what if. You know what I mean? What if I had done this? What if I tried harder? I’m always going for everything with every single ounce of my mind, body and soul and do the best I possibly can. I think a lot of it is that I have a lot of amazing people around me. I have a wonderful family in business and in my personal life.
I don’t think the band would be standing if it wasn’t for Eric, Zach, and Barry. These 3 guys and then myself being the 4th that make Shinedown, there is a reason we found one another. That is why the band is as strong now than it ever has been because we were meant to be in a band together. I think that is a big part of why the band continues to get better. I think you have to be humble. It definitely helps me on a daily basis that I am a man with wants, desires, and needs. Just like any man, but I am also a man that a lot of people depend on. I have to stay focused and clear headed, that it’s not necessarily about the painter, it’s about the painting.
CrypticRock.com- Right and you have always had that human aspect on stage that I think has helped connect fans with you and the music of Shinedown more. Now you have a very soulful singing voice with a very powerful delivery. What are some you’re vocal and musical influences?
Brent Smith- You talk about the soul aspect of things. I fell in love with artists like Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Al Green, Sam Cooke, and Percy Sledge from the moment I heard them. Definitely the soul sound and rhythm and blues is a big part of my singing voice. It’s what has really inspired me over the years and continues to inspire me. On the rock side of things I remember being 14 years old and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I could sing Appetite for Destruction note for note. I think Axl Rose helped me out a lot with the high notes. I was heavily influenced by grunge and a lot of the bands from the early and late 90’s like Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. They held a very strong platform in the material as far as song structure was concerned when I was growing up. I’m pretty diverse, I like a lot of different kinds of pop music. I always branch out and try and listen to a lot of different styles of music. I think for me the reason I am influenced the way that I am is because I do listen to a lot of different styles of music and genres but it’s never going to stray too far from drums, bass, guitar, bad ass vocals, and a killer song. That’s the beautiful of rock n roll, it really isn’t a genre of music, it’s a way of life. I think that is what keeps me alive.
CrypticRock.com- You are right, it’s all rock n roll. You mentioned before that the music is like therapy to you. Lyrically you put it all out on the table. You said your inspiration lyrically comes from life, how hard is it for you to get that stuff out into the open?
Brent Smith- It really depends on the day. Sometimes the songs come to me really fast lyrically and sometimes I have to work at it for a couple of days to really kind of convey what I am trying to say in the song. I used to be really into writing in riddles and metaphors but on Amaryllis I feel like I was really straight forward on that record, more so than the previous 3. It depends on the day and exactly what I am trying to convey. A lot of times the simpler it’s said the better.
On the new record Amaryllis I consider the song “I’ll Follow you” a gift. As soon as Eric played me the piano part the words just flew out of me. That song was written in about 30 minutes. It really just depends on the day, sometimes the words will come easy. Sometimes it can be a subject that I don’t necessarily want to discuss. I have to kind of fight myself a little bit, but once I let it go, that’s the best part. Once I’ve written it down, let it go, there’s a lot of freedom of expression there and I always feel better once I get the thought complete.
CrypticRock.com- You can tell in the music it’s an excellent release. Not just for you, but for the fans. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Brent Smith- Oh my gosh man, am I fan? I hate getting the shit scared out of me, I’m not going to lie (laughs). I am a fan of The Exorcist because if I put it on this day it still will scare me out of my mind. I still love the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. I still think that is one of the scariest films ever put out.
Zach Myers is a huge horror fanatic and loves horror film. He has kind of a thing with Michael Myers. He has two of the original masks that they used in the first film, he’s a huge horror film buff. For me I’d say the original A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Exorcist are my two.
CrypticRock.com- Yea and I get what you are saying about The Exorcist because it left a lasting impression on me as a kid too. It’s scary, it’s good.
Brent Smith- It is man, I think it’s scary because it can happen. There have been documented cases of it, I think that is what makes it scary. I think the reason why the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is so scary is because everyone had a boogeyman growing up. I think Wes Craven really encompassed that with Freddy Krueger. If there were ever a boogeyman that was the ultimate boogeyman.
Catch Shinedown on Carnival Of Madness. Tour dates are as follow:
08/11 Asbury, Park, NJ – Convention Hall (no Papa Roach) *
08/13 Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica (no Papa Roach) *
08/14 Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for the Performing Arts (no Papa Roach) *
08/16 Canandaigua, NY – Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center
08/17 Cincinnati, OH – PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center
08/18 Bloomington, IL – US Cellular Coliseum
08/20 Burgettstown, PA – First Niagara Pavilion
08/21 Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live
08/23 Tinley Park, IL – First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
08/25 Cedar Rapids, IA – U.S. Cellular Center
08/27 Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
08/28 Big Flats, NY – Tags
08/30 Charlotte, NC – Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
08/31 Virginia Beach, VA – Farm Bureau Live
09/01 Raleigh, NC – The Red Hat Amphitheater
09/06 Allegan, MI – Allegan County Fair
09/07 Maryland Heights, MO – Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
09/10 Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre
09/12 Spokane, WA – Discovery Park
09/14 Sacramento, CA – Discovery Park
09/15 Las Vegas, NV – The Joint
09/18 Seattle, WA – Washington State Fair
* With Sevendust