» Brent Smith - Shinedown
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Interview conducted March 9 2018
Interview published May 10 2018

"The great thing about being an artist is you can decide how you want the world to perceive you."

Shinedown's new making Attention Attention was out on May 4th and frontman Brent Smith stopped by the city of Stockholm in March in order to get some promotional work done for the record.

Tobbe: If you look at the new record, would you even dare to go as far as to say it's Shinedown completed?

Brent: Wow! I've never heard that before, ever. That's a bold question. Like, no BS, that might be one of the best questions I've ever gotten. But an answer to the question: No. We just don't believe in a top. That's kind of why we are the way we are. One of the things from the record, making side of what we do, because we had so many amazing teachers in the studio and, you know, along our journey to where we are now, is we've been exposed to people that have always told us "No matter what. Don't ever stop learning! Don't ever stop researching! Don't ever stop studying and being yourself and being creative!".

You know, the dynamic of Attention Attention, which is the new album, was a lot of the fact that we had come into a place in our career where we were ready to make a record like this. A lot of it had to do with the audience too and big part of why the record sounds the way that it does is: we got an opportunity to open up for Iron Maiden. We spent 44 days with them at the beginning of 2017 and we did a lot of meet & greets, that they allowed us to do with our fans, and the people that were at the show they all had kind of the same…

There was one specific question, which was… You know, they said "We love your catalogue. We really do appreciate all the records. 'Cause they don't sound the same. You never made the same record twice. But we know you're in the middle of making a new record and we do have a request." and all of us were always like "Absolutely. What is it?". - "Can you make it heavier?". We didn't take that as offensive. We actually, like, really, really listened to them, because at the end of the day that platform, that we are allowed to stand on, in multiple parts of the world, is because of the audience. So you need to be able to understand and listen to the people that love your music, because they're the reason you're there in the first place.

I've always said we only have one boss; it just happens to be everybody in the audience. So that was kind of an homage, with the first single [Devil], to let the audience know that we heard them, because with all that being said, you know, you asked if we can make it heavier, so it's about to get heavy.

Tobbe: It takes a lot of confidence to admit what you just said, I would say.

Brent: There were other dynamics with this too. I wouldn't say that it's Shinedown completed, because if anything I would say that maybe when we didn't think there was another layer, all of a sudden we found another side of us. And the interesting thing about that was that from all of the people that we had been, you know, learning from, we came to a realization between the 4 of us, that we decided that we were gonna produce this album on our own. And a lot of that was knowing that Eric Bass [Bass player] was the one to do it. And he was ready to do it.

And not only did he produce the record, but he mixed it. And there's a reason why the record doesn't sound like anyone else; it's because it wasn't ran through a factory. A lot of times, same bands, same formats, same mixer, same studio, same plugins, same drum sampling. You know, you can spend all this work in these studios to get these amazing drum sounds and you take it to certain people and they just sample it with the same kick and snare that they've been using for 10 years. So that's a lot of the beauty of Mr. Bass.

I mean, he knows all the technicalities of everything and, like, why things do what they do and why certain frequencies do what and why compressions do what and where the gates are on this and how you mic a room and all that technical side. He knows that, but he doesn't mix and he doesn't produce like that. He has to produce and mix from when the music comes out of the speaker; how it hits him right here. [Points to his chest.] He does it all by emotion. And the dynamic that it's a story record. You know, what we call a story album. You know, it was very, very specific, because it wasn't a quintessential, traditional idea like "Let's write 100 songs. These are the 10 best of that. Let's put it together. Build a package. Present it to the world. This is the best that we have from the last year of our lives.".

That's another thing too, making this record, we didn't take the year to just do the record; we went and toured with Maiden, we toured the whole month of July, we did a couple of multiple fly in shows and we did a couple of festivals. It was very cathartic because it actually gave us perspective when we got back to the record. You know, you kind of go away from it for a minute, come back, things look a little and sound a little clearer. You know "Okay. Wait a minute! I got this. This makes sense now.", 'cause you're not in there beating a dead horse sometimes.

And the other dynamic of that too, with Eric, coming to think of it really, it was a pretty easy record to make because everybody had the same focus and everybody knew what we were doing. Eric was never in the studio, apprehensive of anything. He was never like "I don't know; what are you thinking? I'm not sure about this. Maybe we shouldn't even do this song right now. I don't even know if this song's any good.". There was zero of that going on. It was 100 percent. Every single day it was a joy to make this record, even though the subject matter is so, you know, no pun intended, but heavy.

Tobbe: About heavy. Has Shinedown sometimes been too heavy for the mainstream audience and too light for the heavy metal audience and thereby kind of ended up in a no man's land in a way?

Brent: Not no man's land, but definitely in a league of their own. It's interesting to hear the feedback too, from other countries outside of the United States, because there is a different element involved in the way that people will listen to this band. A lot of people have said that, talking about us, "With the exception of Tool you're one of the most mysterious bands and you're kind of a conundrum in a way, because we don't ever know what you're gonna do from record to record.". That's the fun part, you know. We just can't make the same record twice.

I will say this, and it's on purpose: We've been with Atlantic and Warner for 20 years and I've never seen more focus from so many different departments and with the band. Everybody from management to the label to promotion to everybody involved. I've never seen this kind of excitement for a launch, you know. And that's a good feeling, because actually, from the mysterious side, quote-unquote, we were actually not looking at this record in any way of it being mysterious. We want the whole world to hear it. So it's gonna be unique to see what happens.

Tobbe: To what extent do you have to work back and forth on your vocal lines or the vocal melodies in the songs before you get it right?

Brent: It depends. I can tell you this: The way that I work best as the lyricist and the main lead, from the vocal side of things, is: even our heaviest songs in the catalogue, a lot of that is born from either a piano or acoustic, because the very first thing that I'm looking for is the melody and I'm looking for how I'm gonna mold certain parts and where things are gonna go and the fact that I'm pretty fearless when it comes to stacking my voice and how I do certain things and why I harmonize in certain ways and why I choose what I choose.

I've got to get the melody down, so I need to really hear the simplest form of what the song can be first. Once the melody is arrived at, then we can start stacking the song, and then, when once it starts to build musically, that's when the lyrics start to happen. So it kind of works like that. In regards to how I decide what stays and what doesn't, the best way that I work is: right away. So once it's written, lyrics are done, [Snaps his fingers] straight to the mic. So not like "Na, I'll get it tomorrow.". Unless I'm tired, like I've been working all day on, like, trying to find the range and lyrics and everything and I've been in the studio for, like, 9 hours; I'm not gonna start vocals then. But first thing in the morning. In the studio, usually around 1 o'clock in the afternoon is when I'm ready to go. But I got to do it fresh, you know what I mean?

And a lot of times, you know, what you're hearing vocally on the record, that was that day. This record, there were only a couple of things that I went back to, because I had the luxury of time to sit with certain things and I was able to go "You know what? I know how to make this better.". Like the last minute, like "Hang on a second. I got to do this real quick.", you know. So I had a little bit of a luxury this time to sit with it and see if I needed to take away or add something real quick.

Tobbe: How do you personally look at the band's progress from Leave A Whisper up until now, besides it's a little bit more modern today?

Brent: I have to be 100 percent open with you about that. That was on purpose. We specifically did not want anything on this record to sound vintage. Nothing. We wanted it to sound like now. And the other thing too: Where I say we wanted nothing to sound vintage and we wanted it to sound like now, we also didn't want it to go over people's head and sound like we were trying to start a spaceship up. [Laughs] You know, like some things some people would do. Which is fine. You know, that's the beauty of music and the beauty of being creative, that there are no rules, but once again, that goes back to the focus. Everybody knew what the goal was and Eric knew how to get it.

Tobbe: So it's definitely important to not repeat the old material then, even though that old material is what you've actually built your career on?

Brent: Yeah, absolutely. But that's also a snapshot in time, where we were at that moment. You know, records in our repertoire, everybody loves each one kind of differently. You know, a lot of people talk about [The] Sound Of Madness. Here, lately, a lot of people have actually been talking about Threat [To Survival], which I thought was very interesting, 'cause in the beginning a lot of people did not know what to think about that album, which was kind of what we set out to do, because we knew when we were making it that it was not, you know, like the last one.

But what I say to that is "I love the fact that you love those records. That's amazing. Those records are forever in time and you can visit them anytime you like. But for us, there's already a Sound Of Madness. Why would I make Sound Of Madness part 2? There's just no reason for it.".

Tobbe: When you write a song, is there a way to look for that instant hit material or do you try to make songs that will reach a person after listening to it a couple of times?

Brent: I will never write a song because I think it's going to make me famous. So what I mean by that is I can't write from a place that I know nothing about. So I have to write from what I know, the people that I know, the people that I've met, the places that I've been to, the situations that I've been in. It has to be authentic. It has to be honest with me. If, you know, there is a movie coming out… Because we get submissions for those types of things all the time, where people from, you know, Hollywood and other parts of the world…

Like, if there's a movie being made or there's a movie already done, but they need, like, a title track or they need something for the film they'll give us the plot of what the film is and they'll ask us to write a song around that. Now, that's different, because you're looking at a principle story that's already in place and you're writing to it. So that's different. But when it comes to the band, the band has to write from a very authentic place.

As far as, like, the melodies and the mainstream side of things, I'll be straight up with you: I like hooks. Like, I like stuff that makes me wanna sing. I have a rule too. I don't have a lot of rules, but I have one, and it's a one that just works for me. It doesn't apply to anybody else but me. If I'm writing a song, and even if I don't get all the lyrics done, but I've got the melody exactly the way that I want, and I don't go right to recording it… Of course I use my recorder when I'm sitting there and going over stuff… But if I go to the hotel that night and do my normal, you know, wind down before I go to sleep, then go to sleep, wake up in the morning, I don't go to the phone and listen to it again.

Here's my rule: If I can't remember it when I wake up, then I start over, with something else. I go right to where it was and I actually just delete it. Because if I couldn't remember it the next day, then it's not memorable.

Tobbe: Maybe not for you personally, but it becomes harder and harder for musicians to make a living out of their music and how do you look at that aspect?

Brent: I think you have to look at the whole picture too. I can only speak for us. It's about the painting; it's not about the painter. So there's a lot of different variables. The dynamic of this album is that in and of itself it's an album and in a day and age right now where there's so many articles about how the CD is going to be gone soon, practically is, and that there is no more love for album… I think that is completely false. Because if there is no more love for the album, then why do I see the generation now of kids between 10 and 18 years old just finding out about what a vinyl is? And now a resurgence of cassettes of all things.

What I'm getting at is: The artist that talk about the streaming services and how they complain about: "It's piracy. They don't treat the artist correctly. They are disgusting when it comes to publishing; they give the writers nothing. These kids just don't know what they're doing; they're stealing from the artist."… Okay. You can not blame someone that was born 10 years ago; that's 10 years old now. You know why? Because when they were born, as they exited the womb, they were signing up for their smartphone. They don't know any different. Streaming is a part of their life. They didn't grow up with CD stores. They didn't grow up with that. It's not their fault.

So you have to take an initiative to understand that you can either complain or you can adapt and figure out what you need to do now. And what I'm seeing more, with certain people, is that they're finding out about the experience of holding on to something and something actually being tangible. And they can open it up and it's like "You got to be kidding me! The lyrics are here. There's a picture. Who are these people? They recorded it in this studio, this was the producer, that's the engineer. Who are all these people in the record company?". It's an experience. You take the record out and put it on. Same thing with the CD too. It's like watching a child eat chocolate cake for the first time.

You know, there are ways of looking at things. And here's the other side of that: Whether it's rock or you're a band or you're a solo artist, if it's pop, urban, rap, folk, triple-A, country, you have to find your lane, you know what I mean? You have to find what works. Of course everybody says "I don't wanna find the lane. I want all the lanes.". Well, hang on. That's great, but start with one, you know what I mean? The great thing about being an artist is you can decide how you want the world to perceive you. You actually have control of that, I believe. So, it's all in how you look at it.

Tobbe: Do you think that rock music will always be attractive to kids of coming generations too?

Brent: I'll say this: Nothing is ever gonna take the place of drums, bass, guitar, bad-ass vocals and a killer song. It'll never happen. Nothing will ever replace that. So I guess my answer to that is yes. There's a reason why there's a song called "Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" and "rock and roll will never die.".

You know, that's the other thing too… I watch, and I love seeing it, man, like: when you get together with your buddies, and you mix it up between females and males, and guys and girls working together on stuff, and the first time a kid picks up two sticks and hits a drum and all of a sudden they're whole body lights up, you know what I mean? Or a kid picks up a bass, because it's probably the instrument that's the most overlooked, but yet is the most important. You know, the foundation of the rhythm, with the drums.

And then there's the guitar, man. Probably the greatest invention of any century I know, because it has so many capabilities. I hate the whole, like with guitars, like: "There's only 12 notes.". That's such a moronic thinking pattern, because there's 12 notes, but it's on how you play them. You know what? There's different tunings and there's different inflections on everything and there's different pedals and sound effects and all kinds of dynamics. Why I say that too is that, you know, when I see a younger generation pick these things up and start to do it together and they're in that room with each other for the first time, it's invigorating, you know.

I have watched music… I've seen it cure cancer, like: music and songs is the only thing that I know of that can instantaneously create an emotion. It can take someone that is completely devastated and just broken and all of a sudden… And this comes back to the instant gratification; this is the good part about that: Someone that is at the end of the rope, and getting ready to make a very bad decision, and they reach for the phone and they find the song that they know they need, and they put it on, and it brings them back.

Tobbe: In what ways do you guys try to gain more fans in Europe nowadays? Instead of the States, 'cause you already have the States, so to speak.

Brent: Well, you know, here's the thing: We play a lot of amphitheaters in the States. A lot of arenas. We're headlining 7 major festivals this summer before we come back to Europe in June. Because all of June is the U.K. and European festivals. But, there's always another arena to go to, man, and there's always a bigger place to play, just like there's always a bigger mountain to climb. I've never played a stadium in the United States …and I'm ready to go!

So, you know, there's dynamics like that. There's a lot of planning going into the campaign for this record, from a global standpoint, in regards to all of Europe, Scandinavia, the further regions of Russia, the dynamic of South Africa, that we've never been to, South America, which we went to for the very first time in 2016, Japan, which we went to for the very first time in 2015, then there's New Zealand, Australia, there's India, there's China. All of these places are being talked about. You know, we didn't do Canada at all on the last record. Didn't play it one time. So we'll do two shows in Deadwood, South Dakota, then the first 9 shows we're gonna play of this year is in Canada.

You got to make the effort to get back, you know what I mean? It's a big world; there's a lot to do, but you have to keep going back and you have to keep listening to your audience. And they're patient; they know, I think. We wanna play for whoever wants to hear us, you know. It's just: it takes time, it does, and you just have to be methodical and you have to look at the schedule, because the other side of it too: We have 6 albums now… You know, Devil is technically the 23rd single that we've released as a band and you have to look at the mental health of the band, when you tour the way that we tour.

Everybody has, you know, families. Zach [Myers, guitar] is getting ready to be a father the second time. Barry's [Kerch, drums] little girl, Stella, is growing up into just an incredibly… just amazing child; actually growing into a woman, you know. 'Cause, you know, his daughter is, like, two grades ahead of her age. And then my son. I mean, he's my number one priority. I know what I do; I'm gone a lot. Thank God for FaceTime and that kind of stuff.

But my son and me are completely, you know, we're fine. I'm so proud of the fact that he's such a great student and that he doesn't mind to spend the extra hour, two hours, on homework just to make sure he understands what he's doing. And he's one hell of a basketball player; at least turning into. It's like: all he wants to talk about is school and basketball. So, you know, I find that fantastic on every level. But yeah, man. We'll get there, you know, every country. We wanna make it a big deal every time we're there, you know what I mean? 'Cause it's a big deal to us that we are there and we wanna make sure that we take care of the audience.

Tobbe: You mentioned your kid and stuff. Still, when you're at home you can spend more time than the average parent can with their children. So sometimes you lose and sometimes you win.

Brent: Yeah. For me, I look at all of our growth as human beings and just where we come from and where we are now. Like, me and my son's mother are fantastic friends, and it wasn't always like that. 'Cause we were never married, but my son was planned, you know. I think in a lot of ways he saved both of our lives, because he gave us such a purpose. It was just… I will never be able to… It is impossible… It is impossi… I don't even know how to explain the moment I saw him; what happened to my body. I instantaneously realized that it was no longer about me anymore and my son gives me more drive than I've ever had.

It's so adorable too, because, like, I just played with Zach, we did an acoustic run together in December, and we played Orlando, where he's based out of, in Florida. He came with his half-brother, 'cause Ashley, that's his mother's name, she's married to a wonderful man, and me and him have a great relationship, we're a beautiful blended family, you know. And they all came for the very first time. It was Ashley, her husband Eric, my son Lyric, and Ashley and Eric's son Lennon, who's my stepson too, you know.

It was so funny though, because they came early in the day, we got to hang out, and it's time to perform, and I'm down there, and there's an opera box and they're all in backstage. So, we got about 45 minutes into it and Zach kind of takes over on some stuff and gives me a second to kind of, you know, take a minute. I run upstairs and as soon as I walk upstairs I look to the left, the opera box in backstage, and my son is completely sprawled out on the couch, snoring. And Ashley comes through the door of the opera box and I was like "How long did he last?" and she was like "2 songs.".

But then, it's so funny, 'cause you go over to the opera box and Lennon is, like, enamored by everything. But I love the fact that my son is just kind of like "I don't care, dad.". [Laughs] "Take me to go to see the Cavs [Cleveland Cavaliers, basketball team] play. I wanna watch for LeBron James. He's all about that, you know what I mean? So, that's the beauty of it all. You know, he keeps me in check.

Tobbe: I can feel your excitement in the room, over this new record, and is it actually possible to be as excited as you once were for a record?

Brent: Oh, oh. This is a whole new level of excitement. That's great too, man. It's like: you know, dude, I'm not jaded, you know what I mean? I still love doing it. It's like being in the 3rd grade forever. I love it. I'm still a kid at art, you know. Music, you know, it humbles me. And this record is such a definition. I've been asked, like "Explain it. Can you explain it in a simple form?" and yeah, it's a record about not being afraid to fail.

It's a record about looking at every aspect of your life and not being so judgmental and not just walking out the door because "I'm probably not gonna make it. I'm probably gonna lose. I'm not gonna be good at it.". So what? Try! Because I don't think you're gonna be defined by your failures; you're gonna be defined by the fact that you didn't quit. And eventually you will win; I just know it, I just believe it. And that's really what the dynamic of this record is about. It's about not being afraid to fail. You know, it'll make you stronger. I promise.

Tobbe: Can you ever envision the band's future in any way and look forward in a longer perspective or do you live here and now and, like, it's this album only and what happens in the future isn't so important right now?

Brent: I totally live in the moment. Yeah, I have to live in the moment, because if I don't live in the moment then I'm never gonna be able to appreciate it, you know what I mean? It took me a long time to be able to pat myself on the back, and I don't spend a lot of time when it happens, but I learned, just of experience, how to tell myself "I did a good job!", you know, and "I'm proud of myself." and that's healthy.

We have this incredible gift of being alive right now and I think sometimes people get really, really introverted when they don't wanna think about… You know, they don't even wanna talk about the idea of, like "One day it'll be time to move on. To go somewhere else.". But don't be afraid of that and if you do dwell on it I'm gonna tell you something: It's going to happen, so stop wasting time, and go out there and just like the end of the Attention Attention record, you know "It's my day to be brilliant".

Tobbe: My final question: Like 14-15 years ago, were you surprised of your success back then or did you have a huge self-confidence and you "knew" that you had the songs that were gonna take you somewhere?

Brent: You know what? It's interesting. That's a very unique question. What I came to realize after the first two records is you get your whole life to do your first album and then you'll get 6 months to do your second one, and that's what happened. And the idea of that was: I didn't have a lot of time to stop and think during that time, because I had so many people telling me that it wasn't gonna work, like out of the gate.

And some of the people, in, like, my own record label… Most of those people don't work for the label anymore, and I don't wish anything bad on them, by no means, but it was like: I was in a rage of, like, "I'll show you!", you know what I mean? And that can be healthy, because that kind of negativity can actually fuel a positive fire. So those two records were about the hustle, because I was so offended by the fact that a lot of people… Hey man, look: I was a kid that thought I was gonna be on Rolling Stone magazine, and that I was gonna be played on MTV, and we're gonna have all this stuff, it's gonna be rad… And I got a big slap in the face of reality, which is "No. You're gonna have to fucking earn it.". [Laughs]

But in retrospect, that made it all more worth it, because I wouldn't trade that for the world. Like, I would so much rather work for it, because it's so much sweeter when you succeed. But also, with where I am now, I still have that same drive as when I was 24 years old, you know what I mean? I got a little bit more wisdom now.

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