Interview with Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach: Straight From the Heart

Papa Roach are the true underdogs of the modern hard rock scene. Despite the fact that they initially made their fortunes with nü-metal, they have grown into a melodic rock beast that is way better than what they started out as and is better than what many critics or fickle, trendy listeners might think. After exploding into mainstream success with the triple-platinum Infest back in 2000, the powerhouse quartet have been on a wild ride on the rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster, experiencing highs and lows that are reflected in their distinctly catchy and intensely personal music. The group recently parted ways with Geffen Records and are now on the indie Eleven Seven label, home to Mötley Crüe, Buckcherry and Drowning Pool, and frontman Jacoby Shaddix sounds elated at that prospect for their latest release, Time For Annihilation…On The Record And On The Road, a collection of five new songs and nine live tracks that offers a good cross-section of their evolving career.

“We’re definitely stoked to be on an independent label now because they pay attention to us,” Shaddix says on the phone from London, where he’s in the midst of a whirlwind press tour. “If you look at the roster that we were on at Interscope/Geffen: Queens Of The Stone Age left, Nine Inch Nails left, Marilyn Manson left, Papa Roach left, Weezer just left. All the rock bands on the label realized it wasn’t working and they had to go. The label was concentrating on 50 Cent, Eminem and Lady Gaga. No disrespect to them—they’re great artists and sell shitpiles of records—but rock is a different beast, it’s a different animal. We’ve got to be around people who believe in what we do and not just put our name in a marketing plan for a pop group because you can’t market rock the same way you do pop.”

The Northern California group has undergone a strong metamorphosis over the last few years. The nü-metal flavor of their first two Geffen releases was replaced by a more melodic sound on their third album, Getting Away With Murder, which went platinum on the strength of the ballad “Scars,” a song rife with relationship pain that went deeper than a typically vapid power ballad. Some might have considered that album a commercialization in contrast to what had come before, but frankly, the group sounded better and more mature. Their last two albums have not reached gold status in the States, but that seems to have kept them hungry. They have stuck to their hard-hitting, angst-ridden music, and that has kept legions of fans in America, Europe and beyond loyal to them. Shaddix wears his lyrical honesty—over the years he’s grappled with everything from temptation to addiction to psychic trauma—as a badge of honor.

Being a father for the last eight years has also been an eye-opening experience for the rambunctious vocalist, and he says that it has taught him to treat himself well. “I don’t have to treat myself like shit all the time or look in the mirror and go, ‘I fucking hate you. I fucking hate you.‘” he reveals. “That’s the most freeing aspect. It sounds cliché, but learning how to love yourself is huge for somebody like me. This music has been the story of my life. If you listen back through the records, the good times, the hard times and the ugly are all there.”
Although the grind of touring and promotion can been tough for Shaddix when it pulls him away from his wife and two young sons for long periods of time, being able to return to visit them recharges his batteries. His wife recently visited him for three weeks in Europe while the kids were with their grandparents, and he says that Skype is an effective tool for them to stay in touch when he cannot be there. “Skype is awesome. I can hang out with them while they’re eating dinner and shoot the shit with them, which is great.”

Despite his familial bliss, Shaddix still grapples with personal demons. The highlight of the new material on Time For Annihilation… is “The Enemy,” a song that contains this telling lyric: “It’s not the TV screen/It’s not my family/I’d still be damaged even if I grew up perfectly.” Unlike the whining of younger bands, Shaddix owns up to his own actions and the fact that his biggest nemesis is himself. “That’s the kicker,” he confesses. “That’s the thing that I finally realized in my search for the fucking madman that’s been chasing me. I just realized that it’s myself. It’s a hard realization to take, that all of these people that you resented and all these things that you hate about the world is all a reflection of yourself. It’s a little bit of a hard pill to swallow. It’s also cool to realize that I am the deviant and have to take responsibility for myself and just be a little more mindful of how I treat myself first and foremost. If I treat myself better, then everything else is going to work out.”

Another personal song in the new batch is “No Matter What.” It reflects what Shaddix says is his sense of commitment for the long haul. “I say that in my statement with the tattoos all over my body, I say that in my relationship with my wife, I say that in my relationship to my band. I would take a bullet for my wife or my family or my band. That song is just about that and how maybe sometimes people around me doubt me, but my intentions are always good.” Other good intentions also surface at the end of the new album in the form of the singer’s 30-second PSA for WhyHunger, an organization that the band supports which is trying to combat hunger around the world. He understands the concept well as he experienced a period of homelessness as a child.

Shaddix has always been the group’s main lyricist and bassist Tobin Esperance its chief riff merchant. When asked to pinpoint why he and Esperance have clicked so well writing P-Roach tunage throughout their 16-year association, the singer emphatically declares, “Because we are nothing alike. I’m super outgoing, he’s an introvert. I am very emotionally expressive, and he’s very quiet and holds everything inside. We’ve talked about this—when it truly comes down to it, he expresses his emotions through sounds. He doesn’t talk about his shit. We possess qualities that the other one doesn’t have. We truly make a songwriter. Without each other we couldn’t do this. We love each other, but sometimes we can’t stand each other. That’s because we’re brothers. I think it’s a good thing to have a little bit of chaos between us because if everything was okay and we agreed on everything it wouldn’t be as exciting.”

The craziness of their debut may be behind them, but Papa Roach keep moving forward, and Shaddix says they have been landing good tours—their headlining trek across the US with Skillet, Trapt and My Darkest Days starts this month, and Taste Of Chaos follows in Europe with Disturbed, Buckcherry and Hailstorm—because they have proven themselves in terms of songwriting and performing. Not only have they settled into the groove of recording and touring, but they are comfortable with the course they have taken.

“Our first record was the one where we blew up and sold crazy shitpiles of records,” recalls Shaddix. “The first couple of years we were riding high on the hog, but ever since then we’re a working band. We go on tour, play shows and support ourselves. That’s where 90 percent of bands make their living. It’s fortunate that we are able to do that. I learned this from David Bowie: To become a better artist I had to become a better businessman. He said he was getting fucked by people around him, and he was broke. Then he spent his time trying to figure out why he was broke and not focused on his art. Whereas if you get everything in line and it’s all working properly, you can actually focus on what you’re supposed to be focus on, and that’s the music, the creative [end] and your contact with your fanbase. It’s really important for the band to maintain the reality behind us because it’s about the music and the connection.”

Papa Roach’s Time For Annihilation…On The Record And On The Road is available now on Eleven Seven Music. The band hits the House Of Blues in Atlantic City on Oct. 6. More info at