Balancing The Madness: An Interview With Shinedown

Balancing The Madness: An Interview With Shinedown

—by , August 3, 2016

08-03 Buzz - Shinedown 1 (Photo by Darren Doane)

As far as hard rock bands go, Shinedown has reached a status few contemporary rock bands will achieve. While navigating their way through commercial success, they’ve managed to maintain the same raw, edgy spirit which manifested into the first incarnation of the band in 2001. Though there have been a couple of changes in members over the years—Brad Stewart [bassist 2001 to 2006] and Jasin Todd [guitar 2001 to 2007]—the Florida-born band has succeeded at balancing this musical tight rope consistently for over a decade. With overlapping hits on Mainstream and Alternative Rock charts, Shinedown has accomplished the skillful feat of occupying prime spots of capricious radio real estate and are now a steady fixture. Currently touring on the Carnival of Madness bill with Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry and Whiskey Myers this summer, the affable Southern boys have a following that has grown exponentially since their debut album, Leave a Whisper, in 2003. Proving their ability to adapt to the ever-changing musical landscape by remaining relevant, producing visceral songs and delivering dominating performances, Shinedown’s evocative hits pack arenas.

The quartet of rockers responsible for multi-platinum albums and tours grossing in the millions includes the strong presence and vocals of frontman Brent Smith. Shinedown also features founding member Barry Kerch on drums anchoring the hard-driving rock and roll foundation. Eric Bass provides rhythmic bass lines which are a necessary component in a band with such a large sound, and Zach Myers colors each tune with his own Memphis blues-inspired style of skillful guitar riffs. The result is melodic tension which builds to a blast of well-controlled angst and energy. The largeness of their sound does not diminish the quality, rather, it provides an opportunity for the audience to connect on many levels as the crowd becomes enthralled and articulates the lyrics to most songs. This exchange of energy is what keeps them coming back and perpetuates the raw form of the music.

Eager audiences show up to sing along with the insightful lyrics and intense, guitar-driven melodies that are signature to the band’s sound. They passionately embrace the powerful hard rock anthems Shinedown songs morph into live. One of those tunes fans enjoy singing in unison is the first single “Cut the Cord” released from their latest and fifth studio album, Threat to Survival. The lyrics urge us to give up that which holds us back, according to recent interviews with the band. Therefore, it may be safe to assume the grateful attitude and call to empower others to achieve their dreams stems from the band members’ own personal experiences. During any given Shinedown show, Smith will offer up life advice with a positive, encouraging tone. The band plays and speaks how they feel without holding much back. Since approaching socio-political lyrics on their third studio album, Sound of Madness, Shinedown hasn’t shied away from issues that affect our daily lives. The song “Bully” from the 2012 album Amaryllis is timely and urgent, almost resembling an adrenalized hard rock PSA. It is addressed to those who do harm by bullying and warns of the inevitable karma that will ensue. The heavy song is a crowd favorite and highlights the cohesiveness of the music and, if anything, that Shinedown is a band not afraid of depths.

Zach Myers joined Shinedown in 2005 as a touring rhythm guitarist and then became a permanent member of the band in 2008. The Memphis native and guitar prodigy is constantly looking to satisfy every facet of his musical curiosities. He finds ways to explore his varied musical interests with side projects such as one that began with Chris Allen and was joined by former Saving Abel drummer Michael McManus, The Fairwell. While the supergroup took a backseat to the demands of their other musical obligations, Myers continued to seek an outlet for his singer-songwriter musical stylings. Allen, Mack, Myers, Moore [Chris Allen, Zack Mack, Zach Myers and Justin Moore] emerged and released a folksy album, Just South of Moonlight, in 2015. Since then, he’s toured extensively with Shinedown, become a father and somehow found a way to make it all work.

Taking some time out of the Shinedown’s busy summer schedule with Carnival, Myers spoke with me on having a record deal before most of us could drive, where he finds balance in his musical career, and new fatherhood as a rockstar dad.

Here we catch up right after an important band meeting that had pushed the interview back a bit.

I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me today. I know you guys are busy on tour…

Sorry I had to push it back. We had a band meeting…We get along really well, like probably more than any band that I’ve ever seen, but we have these meetings like once maybe every two years where we get it all out, like get everything you wanted to get out, like full-on cry sessions almost (laughs). That’s what we were in the middle of doing, so I apologize for that.

Completely understandable, no problem. So you had a baby recently, congrats!

Thank you very much. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. My baby is out here with me right now. What’s crazy is my son, Oliver, sleeps so much…he’s the best little boy in the world. He’ll go to bed at, like, 11 o’clock, and he’ll sleep until, like, 10 o’clock in the morning. He’s pretty amazing. I’m very calm and mild tempered, and my wife is the same, so I think he kinda got it from us. Our house isn’t loud, we don’t have people over a lot. So he’s just so chilled out all the time.

Did Brent give you any advice on fatherhood?

Brent and Barry both had good advice as fathers. They’re both dads. They had a lot of good advice. I think the best advice is to just enjoy it. Granted, I don’t think you need that as advice. You’ve just got to enjoy it. But we’re gone a lot. We’re on the road, and we’re lucky enough to have afforded ourselves this luxury of being able to have our families out a lot of the time. This summer, I’ll have my own bus where it will just be me, my wife, and my kids. So it’s nice to have that, but when he’s not out I definitely miss him. FaceTime is a lifesaver.

Growing up in Memphis, when was it you picked up the guitar?

I picked up the guitar when I was like 13. I got a guitar on my 12th birthday, but I didn’t really play it. I started playing…I was around 13, and then got my record deal when I was 14.

Highly unusual to have a record deal at that age, yes?

I mean, I don’t know how unusual it is…I guess not a lot of people had that happen (laughs). But I will say it was probably the only thing in my life I picked up kinda quick. I wasn’t really good at anything else, so it was something I kind of gravitated to. I did Tae Kwon Do, Karate and stuff as a kid…I played baseball and basketball, but this was the only thing I got kinda good at fast so it definitely felt like a calling.

When did the songwriting take hold for you? Was it difficult to take it seriously at that age?

I had a career doing it, but I definitely wouldn’t have looked at myself as a writer at that time. I think I was more of just this kid who kinda played guitar, because at that time you had all these kids…you had Jonny Lang, you had Kenny Wayne Shepherd, you had all these kids who were doing the same thing as I was doing. I was one of the last kids to come along and do it, so I definitely didn’t look at myself as a songwriter as I do now. I was more of…I would write…but I wasn’t a songwriter. I got into writing, actual writing, much later. Probably around 19 is when I wanted to branch out and start writing songs.

So you are on tour with Carnival of Madness and then you also have your side projects which are more low-key. Do you prefer the smaller venues as opposed to the larger or vice versa?

Yeah, I love both things. I get everything I need from both things. It’s…with Shinedown you get the big show, the big moments, you get the pyro, and then when we get to do the acoustic thing it’s very intimate. It’s me, Justin, Zack and Chris Allen. It’s just very calm. It’s more like coffeehouse style, like 300-500 people, and most of the time we get to do it seated. It’s almost like a storyteller meets Unplugged….that’s exactly what it is. It’s very nice to get to tell stories and sing songs we don’t get to do in a Shinedown set. There are a lot of Shinedown songs that we don’t play live that are some of my favorites that I get to do in that scene.

What are some of your favorites to play live?

With Shinedown, lately, it’s been “I’ll Follow You”…it’s been a lot of fun and some days we put “Amaryllis” into the set list, and it’s been a lot of fun, too.

Now, you’ve been able to balance your side projects with the demands of Shinedown…

Yeah, obviously, Shinedown comes first, and when I do the other thing it counter balances what I do. It’s acoustic, super laid-back and so different from what we do in Shinedown. So, yeah, it just adds this other aspect to my life. I listen to more music like that than I do rock music. I listen to more singer-songwriters. I basically listen to more James Taylor than I do anything else. So stuff like that, to get to do both is a lot of fun for me. It truly is a blessing.

Which guitar players/singer-songwriters do you listen to?

Singer-songwriters…there’s this kid Noah Gundersen who I like a lot, and I think Rob Thomas from Matchbox [20], who is a friend of mine, is probably one of the best songwriters of this generation…same with Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows. Guitar player-wise it’s always been Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, Freddie King, B.B. King…are my top four for sure. I was super into blues as a kid.

Can you recall a specific moment you remember from the road when you looked out and thought, “Wow, this is really cool.”?

We played “Amaryllis” in Russia and that song…you almost feel the holy spirit gets into you sometimes…like, I got so into it because the crowd was so into it. It was one of those things like that. I think there’s times when the crowd can bring out the song in you, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have to be you playing it. You can maybe be tired of playing the song, and the crowd can get you through it or make you have a new appreciation for it.

It’s been said that Lzzy Hale is quite a cook. Has she whipped any tour bus meals for you guys?

(Laughs) I’ve never had a Lzzy Hale meal…I don’t know. Barry is a cook as well, so between the two of them—and I cook a lot at home and Eric cooks a lot at home—we’ll see. We have a chef out here on tour and our own catering company, we’ll have stuff in the kitchen every day so maybe she and Barry can get in there and do like an episode of Chopped or something (laughs).

Can you speak a bit about the recording process of Threat to Survival?

Yeah…it’s the most fun we’ve ever had making a record, and I’m not just saying that…because every time somebody puts out a new record they say, “Oh, it’s our best record.” It really was the most fun we ever had making that record. We all weren’t in the same spot. We had four different producers, so Barry would be in one studio working on a whole different song or set of songs, and then I would be in another studio doing guitars on a whole different set of songs. It was really nice having that because we weren’t all sitting in the same room for six months on top of each other kinda just picking and poking and judging. So, yeah, a lot of it was very nice to do and to have that kind of space away from each other… and then you come in and you hear what Barry did or you hear what Eric did or you hear what Brent did and you go, “Wow, this is really good!” …I wasn’t in here to witness it and kind of micromanage it and pick it apart, so when I come in it’s a done thing. It’s amazing. So it was a lot of fun in that aspect.

 

Shinedown will bring the Carnival of Madness to the Coney Island Amphitheater in Brooklyn, NY on Aug. 7, and the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Aug. 9. For more information, go to shinedown.com, and for more on Zach Myers’ band, Allen, Mack, Myers, Moore, go to zachmyersnation.com.


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