It’s been a rough year for Jacoby Shaddix. While Papa Roach were creating their latest album, The Connection, the singer was separated from Kelly, his wife of 14 years, due to his recurring alcoholism. While he did not want to address his inner turmoil through music, the band’s producer, James Michael, urged him to purge his emotional guts, and the resultant lyrics were not only therapeutic, but paint a vivid portrait of a relationship and a person falling apart.
“I went through hell making this record, man,” Shaddix confessed to The Aquarian while driving back from a doctor visit. “I like to hit the self-destruct button. I’m professional at destroying myself, and I’ve got a sordid history with substance abuse. I was just going down that path real hard again, and it came to the point, that fork in the road where I was either going to lose my mind or going to pull my shit together and do the right thing.”
There seems to have been a physical price for his emotional volatility, a cumulative effect of years of recording and touring, recording and touring. And screaming and shouting his ass off. The aforementioned visit was a check-up after having surgery for a node on his vocal cords (which postponed the group’s U.S. touring until early 2013). It’s a malady that affects many screaming rock singers as they get older, but Shaddix reported that he is in good shape.
“He put the scope down there to take a look at it, and it’s healing really good. I just can’t talk as loud as I’m used to. I can’t get too excited, but this is amazing compared to the first 10 days of not being able to talk at all. I was about ready to lose my mind.” An earlier call with Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows put Shaddix at ease since his friend had had the same surgery and bounced back. “It’s good to hear a lot of hard rock singers that have been through what I’m going through have come out all good because it’s slightly terrifying.”
The singer needs to let rip. It’s his M.O., as on the new Papa platter. Offering a collision of aggression and euphony that spans the diverse influences of their career from metal to punk to pop, The Connection is rife with pain and turmoil, hope and despair as Shaddix confronts conflicting emotions. For example, in “Give Me Back My Life,” he talks about feeling like he cannot breathe, then on “Breathe You In,” he apologizes for emotionally suffocating his partner. “This record is a snapshot of me at my most desperate,” declared Shaddix. “As I was writing this record, we were split, so there was a lot of pain and anger and frustration. As the dust settles in my life, I realize that I’m the orchestrator of all this chaos. I’m the one at fault. I’m the fucking problem. When you go through that stuff, sometimes it’s hard to own your own shit, to step up to the plate and own it. I just had to because I wanted to do the right thing.”
Looking back at the aural document of his personal anguish—especially in the subsequent reconciliation with his wife with whom he has two young sons—gives the new P-Roach album a special power for Shaddix. Many of the songs take him right back to the emotions he was feeling when he wrote the lyrics. They make him feel grateful to be where he is at now in his life just a few months later.
“I was able to make this record, express myself and get my family back together and get my respect from my band,” noted Shaddix. “At the eleventh hour I pulled it off. I don’t know, man, this is a repeating cycle in my life. I don’t know how many more times I can do this to myself.”
Shaddix and his wife have been going through therapy and counseling to “work on our relationship and learn to accept each other again.” Listening to the album has given her insight into how he was feeling. They now have a running joke that their split was premeditated on his part to have material for the album, even though that is clearly not true.
“With the people that I love and are so close to me in my life, I want to do what’s right by them, and that’s essentially what ‘Before I Die’ is about. I want to live for you. I want to do the right things for you. It sounds all sappy and love story, but hey, at the end of the day all we have is our relationships. Whether they’re good or bad, that’s what you’ve got. When we’re listening to the songs, it’s definitely real and raw, but she loves the record, to be honest.”
Even though The Connection is full of primal rage, it also offers moments of hope, such as on the second track, “Still Swingin’.” As Shaddix said, that song is the light at the end of the tunnel for the band, which has thrived and survived throughout the tumultuousness that has besieged the music business and their career. For the singer, that tune felt like it was the right way to start the album because no matter how dark things get, “I just can’t give up on myself and the people around me. When you break me down to the most raw elements of myself, that’s my character. I do care. Sometimes I try to kid myself and say fuck the world, and then I just realize that that’s just really not me. But sometimes when that bottle gets a hold of me it makes me another person.”
Keeping the singer grounded are Shaddix’s two sons, 10-year-old Makaile and eight-year-old Jagger, whom he says are the best things to ever happen to him. Fortunately for them, his drinking has happened while he has been out on the road or when he has holed himself up in the group’s studio. But Shaddix says he is on a whole other path now and is focused on taking care of his mental and spiritual health.
“In Asian cultures they say, Body Mind Spirit,” he noted. “I really adhere myself to that and try to take care of all three of those things. Am I the most fit guy in the world? No, but I take care of myself and eat right. Am I the most ill spiritual guy? I try. I’m not afraid to say that I’m a man of God straight up. I have a relationship with God that is totally personal and totally unique to my life, and it’s mine. I can’t sit here and try to deny that either.”
Despite the chaos in Shaddix’s life this year, things are looking up. His voice is healing. The band—Shaddix, bassist/principal composer Tobin Esperance, guitarist Jerry Horton and drummer Tony Palermo—go to Russia in November and then tour Europe and the UK with Stone Sour. They are working on two videos, for the songs “Before I Die” and “Leader Of The Broken Hearts” (both of which have very ’80s synth sounds in them).
“I’m really excited that we’re working with Ezio Lucido, who’s this up-and-coming director,” beamed Shaddix. “It’s so cool to work with somebody who’s almost more passionate about my band than I am. I’m excited to work with somebody who wants to prove himself so badly, and he’s such a visionary. We’re going to come up with some really cool stuff. We’re working with some of the guys from the team that created the visuals for Avatar and Transformers. They’re coming on board for ‘Leader Of The Broken Hearts,’ which we have this concept for and will be able to achieve with them. We’re going have a big look on this video. It’s going to be awesome.”
All of this creative energy is certainly productive for Shaddix, who admits he does not know what path he would have gone down had he not found music. “I feel sorry for people who can’t express themselves,” he mused. “That’s terrible. I give props to people who have been able to chase their dreams, whatever they may be, and make themselves and do it their own way and not always have to jump into the system. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that are made for jumping into it and doing the nine-to-five and it works for them. But to see people break out of that is fucking rad and inspiring.”
Papa Roach’s new album, The Connection, is available Oct. 2 through Eleven Seven Music. For more information, go to paparoach.com.