February 28, 2018 Interview – Neil Sanderson of Three Days Grace Talks Outsider
“Yes, it has been a long journey, but we consider this whole experience to be a journey,” says Neil Sanderson, co-founder and drummer of Three Days Grace. How true it is, and what journey is complete without a few peaks and valleys? A Hard Rock band who has enjoyed massive success with platinum-selling albums, chart-topping singles, and regular international touring, Canada’s Three Days Grace do not let a little adversity get in their way. Faced with the challenge of replacing original Vocalist Adam Gontier, following his exit from the band in 2013, Three Days Grace did not shrivel up and die, they put the pedal to the metal looking toward the future.
A cohesive unit with Sanderson behind the kit, Brad Walst on bass, Barry Stock on guitar, and Matt Walst on vocals, they made a big impression on fans with their 2015 album Human, but now look to up the dose with 2018’s Outsider. Recently, we caught up with Sanderson to talk the last few years of Three Days Grace, the solidification of their lineup, the concept behind Outsider, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Last we spoke, in 2015, Three Days Grace had released Human a few months prior and the band was on the road in support of the new material. Now, three years later, you are set to return with a new album. What have the last three years been like for the band?
Neil Sanderson – It’s been a whirlwind. We have been fortunate enough to have a lot of opportunities open up overseas for us; we have been going to places we have never been before and finding we have a ton of fans over there. We have been to Russia 3 times and, since 2015, we have been there twice. We really toured heavy on Human. It is crazy, it has been over 5 years Matt has been in the band.
We basically stayed on the road right until we started writing this record. I think that was good in a lot of ways, I think it really solidified Matt for us. Coming into this record, it gave all of us, and Matt in particular, a level of confidence and ownership having toured so excessively. When we came in to write and record Outsider, it felt a little different than the last record because of having the years of touring experience. The fact that we are playing some of the biggest shows we have ever played, the fans are certainly on this journey with us, which is really cool.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like things are going very well for the band. As we spoke of previously, it was a bit of shock when Adam departed from the group. You are now nearly 6 years removed and Matt has done a great job taking over as lead vocalist. This far down the road, how have you found the long-term reaction been to Matt leading the band on vocals?
Neil Sanderson – It has been really overwhelmingly positive. When it first kind of all went down, we started writing pretty much right away with Matt while we were on a co-headlining tour with Shinedown. We wrote the song “Painkiller,” which we would end up putting out way far in advance to our last record. To our surprise, that song shot to number 1 on Rock radio. So I think that set the tone for the new sound and forged into place this was the direction we were going, people were very supportive of it.
I think long-term, people are as excited as we are to be a part of the new stuff, and for us to play it live is super exciting. To look back, yes, it has been a long journey but we consider this whole experience to be a journey. Being in a band, there are a lot of different chapters and turns along the way. That’s how we consider this whole trip to be, and it is great to see everybody is on board with us.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very positive thing. Well, as we know, Matt has always been a part of the Three Days Grace family and he did a great job on Human. Now, with Outsider, the band take things to the next level together. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Neil Sanderson – The writing process remained the same pretty much that we have always done. It’s very collaborative and everyone brings their bag of ideas into the room – we all play guitar, we all write lyrics. It’s always remained the same, there’s no rules, anyone can come in with a guitar riff, a lyrical idea, a title, or even if something that’s pissing them off in the world around them – a lot of that turns into songs starting on acoustic guitars.
We just came off a big tour in Russia and Eastern Europe. We were pretty burnt out from the road, being in so many metropolis, airports, and such. We really needed to decompress and we didn’t want to go to downtown Toronto everyday in rush hour to write this record. As soon as we got home, I have a property that is out in the middle of nowhere with a cabin on it; we went out there and spent a bunch of time. I think it was really important for us to simmer down and hang out as friends first before we got creative. Sometimes when you spend so much time with guys on a bus, the last thing you want to do, when you get a break, is sit with those guys. (Laughs)
We had to just bro-out. We hung out – road 4-wheelers, had fires, and hung out in the middle of nowhere. That is where we found ourselves creative this time around.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a relaxing way to get things going. Human had a very somber tone but Outsider comes across more upbeat. Is that a reflection of the band’s mindset right now?
Neil Sanderson – Yea, I think it is. Three Days Grace, we always use music as a form of therapy. There are a lot of things from really dark, personal struggles in the music but there is also social commentary. Then a song like “Mountain,” which is the first release, does have more of a positive turn on it. “Mountain” is basically waking up to your own reality and realizing you have no choice but to face your consequences of your own life for better or worse. For some people, that is striving to reach the top, for other people, it is having the courage to get out of bed, face their life, and put one foot in front of the other.
When you listen to “Mountain,” there is that element of hope that feels motivating to get up and face the world; that is something everybody struggles with. We are all guilty of just not wanting to get out of bed. There is just so much sensory overload today, so many opinions, and influences out there – sometimes it’s daunting to have to face all that shit. I think this record does touch on that as well.
The outsider kind of representing wanting to look at all the absurdity, influences, and crazy things in your life that can drag you down, or worse, and wanting to observe it from a distance, to get arm’s length away from all the mayhem. That’s what Outsider is, I think. It is not feeling you want to be part of the craziness of what you believe, what you do, what you think, who you support, etc. I think we have gotten a little overloaded on that over the last year, it really formed the theme of the album.
CrypticRock.com – There is no question, that theme is evident in the lyrics. You are right: it is a sensory overload. In many ways, it really boils down to social media; social media, in many ways, is toxic right now. It seems chaotic and social media is right at the forefront of it.
Neil Sanderson – Yeah, listen, this record was really written about technology and social media, but that is obviously a huge way we communicate or think that we communicate. We do live in a time where everybody has access to everyone’s opinion and you have your opportunity to display your opinion all over the place.
We also live in a time where so many people are also very easily offended, want to be offended, or just are offended. It’s weird when you have access to everyone’s opinion, and you have access to broadcast your own but it’s very sensitive out there. It’s almost an oxymoron that we live in that time: you can say it, but you have to watch how you say it. It’s a weird time to navigate.
I think this record kind of touches how to stay sane in that crazy world around you where there is shit going on everywhere. How do you navigate those waters without going insane?
CrypticRock.com – That is right on the money. Hence the title of the record, Outsider. In many ways, a lot of people are starting to disconnect a little – stepping back, becoming a little more private about their lives. Maybe that is a good thing.
Neil Sanderson – Yeah. In some ways but the other thing is there are a lot ways people try to attempt that escape. I’m guilty of it too! It is self-medicating; people self-medicate to escape that a little bit, be reclusive. There are a million different ways of doing it. I think it is a good and bad thing when you feel the need to run away from your reality around you, and all the good and bad that comes with it. I guess the key is how to do that without becoming crazy or destroying all your relationships around you. I don’t know if we really have the answers for that yet, but we do talk about it our music.
CrypticRock.com – The music does help. The band has always collaborated with the songwriting process. This far into the game, do you find often you can predict each other’s movements before you make it?
Neil Sanderson – It’s funny you say that, there is a bit of that which takes place. We are kind of a writing team and everybody has different roles. I can be that guy that spits out the most ridiculous ideas one after the other, sometimes I am good at rapid-firing ideas. Some of the other guys, they are not necessarily spitting out ideas but they know when it’s right. For me, I need the guys in a role where they can tell me if the path I’m on is good or not. We are lucky to have a group of guys who trust each other enough, check their egos at the door if someone comes in and says, “Hey man, I hate your idea.” I have worked long enough with them to know just because they don’t like my idea, doesn’t mean they don’t like me. (Laughs)
That is actually a tough thing for collaboration because it’s art and it is coming from the heart, it’s very personal. It’s hard to be objective and not take offense when people don’t like your idea. That’s half the battle, where we can ‘check the ego at the door’ and the most important person in the room is the song. Until everybody really believes in the song, it’s emotionally grabbing them and speaking what we are trying to get across, it’s a work in progress. That’s how we have always operated.
CrypticRock.com – It is good that you have the honesty with one another and that chemistry. It is also good you have the ability to put the music before personal ego.
Neil Sanderson – Yeah, we are making music for ourselves but we are making music for other people. We are making music for people who can listen to what we are talking about, which is generally an emotional, real life feeling and relate it back to their own lives. There is something about the boundaries that need to be concise to be able to deliver that message.
Sometimes it’s very easy to write something so complex that only you understand, because you wrote it. (Laughs) It’s reciprocally really difficult to write something that is straight from the heart but clear enough that people will listen to it and understand what you’re trying to say. It’s more difficult to make something that is engaging and compelling for a lot of people than something that is self-indulgent.
CrypticRock.com – That is true. That is something when people knock Pop music. If you can write a song that millions of people can universally relate to, that is special.
Neil Sanderson – Yeah. Pop music, what does it stand for? It stands for popular music. (Laughs) The music is popular: that means it is compelling to a lot of people, that is an art form in itself. Sure, some people aren’t into mainstream Pop, that’s the beautiful thing about music. That’s the reason why there’s so many genres, it’s an open playing field and it’s up to you to develop tastes. There’s no wrong answers in music, that’s why it’s the most beautiful thing.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly! You have some select shows coming up in the spring including Rock on the Range. Can we expect some more tour dates announced?
Neil Sanderson – Oh yeah! Being on the road is our passion. We have not announced yet, but we have a lot of stuff coming up which is in-the-works. We are just figuring out the scheduling. Once we get up and running, we are going to be touring for 2 years just like we do on most albums. We are gearing up, we are all getting in fighting shape because summer is coming and when you’re playing outside where it’s 105 degrees and humid, if you didn’t hit the treadmill you are in for a rude awakening behind the drums. (Laughs)
We are prepping for the big shows. Rock on the Range is going to be awesome! Tool is my absolute favorite band of all-time and they are playing this year! A Perfect Circle is playing too. Just to share the stage with bands like that is pretty awesome. You still wake up and pinch yourself to be able to do what we get to do all over the world – share the music and have a good time doing it.
CrypticRock.com – It should be a great time and it will be exciting to see more dates announced. Being a touring band like Three Days Grace, you have to keep in some sort of physical and mental shape. Life on the road is exhausting. How do you keep yourselves in shape while on the road?
Neil Sanderson – I think you either figure it out or you don’t. You can be extremely unhealthy on the road or you can try and maintain some sort of order. When we first started, we didn’t care about sleeping, we didn’t care about what we ate, we just wanted to drink beers and rock out. After a while of that, you kind of realize your body isn’t going to sustain if not fed good, sleeping and eating well. Sometimes it’s really hard to eat properly on the road too. A couple of guys have skateboards out on the road, a couple of us are into biking, then we have a mini-gym we set up backstage everyday. The one thing is you have lots of spare time on the road, so if you are committed to not sleeping all day and try to do something, we do have the time and ability to do it.
I love getting out; I am a bit of a tourist during the day too. I try and get out and see some stuff and not be a weirdo in a hotel room sleeping all day. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a good balance. It is good to have that and obviously it comes from years of experience.
Neil Sanderson – It is all about balance. I guess, for some people, being out on the road, it’s a constant party. That is just how some bands roll, but I think I would be dead if I rolled like that at this point. (Laughs)
It is a really good physical workout up on stage, you want to be at your best and perform. Even with our crew guys, they are all really professional. We like to put the show first and be out there for the right reasons.
CrypticRock.com – It shows in the live performance. Last question. Last we spoke, you mentioned you are a fan of Horror films. Has there been any new Horror films you saw since we last spoke that you enjoyed?
Neil Sanderson – I guess it’s more of a Thriller, but We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). It’s kind of a trippy movie.