Jacksonville, Florida, has enjoyed a long and stirring rock and roll tradition. From the time the seminal guitar crunch of Lynyrd Skynyrd first put this vibrant city on the rock and roll map, J-ville has played an integral role in the on-going evolution of contemporary music. Now a young Jacksonville-based hard rock band named Shinedown appears ready, willing, and more-than-able to add another exciting chapter to their home town's noble rock history book. As proven throughout their debut album, "LEAVE A WHISPER," vocalist Brent Smith, guitarist Jasin Todd, bassist Brad Stewart, and drummer Barry Kerch have fully absorbed influences ranging from the classic sounds of Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin to the soulful stirrings of Otis Redding to the likes of Staind and Tool - and have filtered them all through their own unique musical perspectives. The resulting musical brew is a true feast for the senses, blending bold, strident guitar power, blues-driven vocal fury, and cutting-edge metallic mayhem into a swirling cauldron of bubbling rock reactants. This is heavy music that stands head and shoulders above today's field of cookie-cutter rock practitioners.
Such songs as the powerful first single, "Fly From The Inside," the emotive "No More Love," and the overwhelming "Burning Bright" show that in the 24 year-old Smith, Shinedown sports one of the most talented singers and unconventional songwriters currently operating within a hard rock context.
Shinedown delivers their musical goods with passion, power and a perception that belies their limited time in the spotlight. "I've wanted to do this all my life," says Smith. "Making music and being in a successful band is all I ever wanted to do, but it's never been easy. Music was never a big deal in my family. My parents just didn't understand what it was really all about. They were encouraging... to a point. But I always dreamed of being given the chance to stand up in front of people and try to move them with my music. I'm incredibly thankful every day that I've now been given that chance."
Formed in early 2001 by these fast-found friends - after Smith left his previous band on the eve of landing a recording deal - it hasn't taken long for Shinedown to begin making their mark. First and foremost, there are the songs. Each one stands as a mini-drama unto itself, a full-fledged slice of rock and roll brilliance where the band's varying influences and tastes all magnificently battle with one another for prominence. "We don't like to do anything in a typical way," Smith says with a grin. "To our way of thinking, each song should be different - as far away from a formula as you can possibly get. We pride ourselves in taking some things you might think you know, and then twisting them around. We're not trying to necessarily be different - it's just the way we are. That keeps it interesting for us, and interesting for the fans as well."
Once the members of Shinedown began to fully appreciate one another's talents and fully hit their musical stride, it didn't take long for the labels to take notice. It was early in 2002 that Atlantic sealed the deal, giving the band the opportunity to turn their rock and roll dreams into reality. Shinedown soon found themselves in a Los Angeles recording studio with producer Bob Marlette (known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Saliva, and Black Sabbath), laying down the tracks that would eventually form the core of "LEAVE A WHISPER."
From first note to last, this is a disc that shows a band in control of the full spectrum of rock and roll ingredients. Heavy without being overbearing, insightful without sounding preachy, the music created by Shinedown is designed to send those proverbial shivers racing up and down your spine. While their approach on such tunes as "45" and "Better Version" can seem rather dark and bleak, there's always a positive thread running through the music, leaving the listener with the unmistakable feeling that this has been a musical sojourn well worth taking.
"There were so many things that we wanted to try on this album," Smith said. "We approached it in as cool and calm a manner as we could, but there's no denying that a lot of the time we were like kids in a candy store. That's how excited we were. I think a lot of that energy found its way into the music, which was our intent from the very beginning. We want each song to carry the listener on a journey, and we want to make sure the ride is as interesting as possible. The best way I can describe it is to say that this band is a celebration of being alive. We all have our problems, but if you're honest with yourself, you can draw from that darkness and turn it into something great."
Shinedown Have Taken A Shine To Being On The Road
Group won't stop touring until it hits the two-year mark. Some bands write songs about life on the road, others compose entire albums about their travels. After almost two years of nonstop touring, hard-rockers Shinedown are talking like their next disc will be focused on the pavement itself.
"A lot of [our fans] are like, 'What are you going to write about on the next one?' " singer Brent Smith said. "And I'm like, 'White lines going down the road, probably! Lots of trees ...' "
Smith's somewhat unhinged answer is understandable when you consider how much time the band has spent trekking in support of its 2003 debut album, Leave a Whisper. Shinedown have been touring for more 20 months, and they don't plan to stop until they hit the two-year mark.
Despite the exhaustion that naturally follows so much time on a tour bus, Shinedown remain wide-eyed and excited about performing every night.
"We're lucky to do it," said drummer Barry Kerch. "When you get on that stage [everything else] goes away. Every night's a different thing, and whether it's a great show or a not-so-great show, you're still lucky."
That optimism is hard-won for Shinedown, whose frontman has struggled with drugs, alcohol and a rough upbringing (see "Shinedown Can't Ignore Pain — And Don't Think Anyone Should").
"Sometimes you have to pull yourself out of a really dark place," said Smith. "You don't have anyone to blame but yourself if you don't."
Since forming in 2001, Shinedown — which also includes guitarist Jasin Todd and bassist Brad Stewart — have worked to pull themselves up from obscurity, and on this trek the band had the good fortune of touring with 3 Doors Down and Seether, and playing more than a dozen shows with Van Halen.
"We've done so many festivals that we've basically played with any band that's been out in the last five years," Smith said. "We've played with so many different bands that we've really been able to make a lot of friends."
More importantly, Shinedown have expanded their fanbase, and as they've returned to cities throughout their lengthy tour, the band has seen its crowds steadily grow.
"You'll hit a city four and five times over the course of 20 months," said Kerch, "and you see 100 people, 200 people, and then the place is sold out. And you're like, 'Wow, we accomplished something. People are listening in this city.' "
It's the small-town crowds, though, that they enjoy playing for the most.
"They don't get it as much," said Stewart. "They're hungry for it, so the whole town shows up and they just get everything they can possibly get out of the show. A lot of people in bigger cities are jaded and they're kind of standing there waiting like, 'Show me something.' "
After so much time away from the recording studio, the band is starting to think it might be time to show fans something else — like a sophomore album.
"When you think about it," said Smith, "there are some hardcore fans that have been there since day one that have been waiting on a new record for a long time. ...We've been trying so hard to get this record to the masses and the public, and it's not a greedy thing. We just want people to know about the band. But you do have to think about those 250-300,000 [albums] that you first sold, and those people have been waiting a long time. And you definitely don't want to disappoint them."
Shinedown Get A Leg Up From Lynyrd Skynyrd Connection
Guitarist is marrying Ronnie Van Zant's daughter this fall.
Many music lovers have considered Lynyrd Skynyrd a guiding light through tough times, a friend with open arms when there's no place else to turn for comfort. Shinedown think of the Southern rock legends as more like family. In fact, if Ronnie Van Zant were alive today, Shinedown guitarist Jasin Todd's 3-year-old daughter would call him Gramps.
The rocker is engaged to Van Zant's daughter, Melody, and the two will marry in October. That explains why Skynyrd helped Todd and singer Brent Smith find musicians when they were working on the demos for their debut album, which was recorded at Made in the Shade, a studio owned by Ronnie's widow, Judy Van Zant. Smith even stayed in Judy's guest house during the recording of what became Shinedown's Leave a Whisper.
Now that Shinedown are making a roar at rock radio with their single "45," the group hopes to pay tribute to the Van Zant family by releasing the Skynyrd song "Simple Man" as the next single. "It's my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song," Smith said. "From the first moment I heard it, I thought it would be good to do as a rendition. I felt like we do the song justice, and it represents us as a band and what we're about."
Shinedown played the song for the first time early this year at Judy Van Zant's Freebird Cafe as a nod to the owner for all the help they'd received. It sounded so good that they played it live on the air at WAAF-FM in Boston about a month later. Soon after, the song wound up on the Net, where it's been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, according to Smith. "We felt the rest of the country might want to hear it," he said, "so me and Jason went to a studio in Orlando and recorded it acoustic."
They also recorded acoustic versions of "45" and "Burning Bright," which may be released along with "Simple Man" later this year. If "Simple Man" is not released as the band's next single, the album track "Burning Bright" likely will be, a record company spokesperson said. "That's a song about triumph in the darkest moments of your life," Smith explained. "It's just about shining and understanding who you are, and accepting you're not perfect but you have to be yourself. It's just about shining through and making sure you believe in yourself."
The theme of hanging on in the face of adversity is a recurring one for Shinedown, and it echoes throughout the video for "45." The clip was shot last month in Los Angeles by Glenn Bennett (Seether, Trapt) for a mere $50,000.
In the video, Smith sulks in existential pain, then his girlfriend enters and tries to ease his sorrow by being affectionate. He rejects her advances and the couple start fighting. Then she throws a fit, flings a vase at his head and storms out. Throughout the clip, Smith gazes at a closed gun box. The ominous tone is heightened by the chorus "Staring down the barrel of a .45." Even so, Smith insists, the song is one of hope.
"By no means does it glorify suicide," he explained. "That's where the significance of the box comes in. I wanted people to understand that the box is never opened. I might have lost the girl, but at the end of it all I'm still there. Basically I wanted to show the struggle between someone contemplating [ending] their life and staying on earth, and how that struggle can absolutely turn people's lives upside-down."
Shinedown Can't Ignore Pain — And Don't Think Anyone Should
Band releases second single, '45.' Songs about suicide and substance abuse may be old hat in the hard rock genre, but Shinedown frontman Brent Smith doesn't write music with an Alice in Chains lyric sheet in one hand and a Staind songbook in the other. For him, pain and self-destruction are universal subjects that can't be ignored.
"I've had friends who have had drug overdoses. But that's how you grow up sometimes." — Shinedown's Brent Smith self-destruction are universal subjects that can't be ignored.
"It's really important that people realize there is a real world out there no matter what they want to think," he said. "If they want to hide in a fairy tale that's fine, but it will come crashing down on you if you don't understand that life is not perfect and neither is anyone else."
"45," Shinedown's second single from their album Leave a Whisper, is rife with pain. The track is slower and softer than their first radio single, "Fly From the Inside" (see "Shinedown Finally Unzip Their 'Fly,' Leave Listeners Whispering"), starting with an undistorted guitar arpeggio and yearning vocals, then building into a dramatic chorus composed of a crashing beat and sustained power chords. The subject matter, however, is far more sobering, as revealed by the chorus: "I'm staring down the barrel of a .45."
"It's the most personal song on the record," Smith revealed. "It's about an individual who has come to the end of his rope and is trying to decide whether or not they want to continue living."
Smith admits the song was written from personal experience, but says he wasn't the one holding the gun. Other than that, he leaves it to the listener to guess what happened to the tortured subject. And even though the track addresses a serious subject, the singer doesn't view it as a desperate suicide song.
"When I wrote that song I wanted people to understand that it's about hope," Smith said. "I think in a lot of ways, I reach the end of my rope every day, and somehow I regain strength within myself through music and through the people that are surrounding me to go on because I know I'm loved and I know I'm cared for. Even though it can get really, really bad, it's not worth destroying yourself and the people around you because you want to give up."
There have been plenty of times over the last 10 years that Smith wanted to give up. His hard upbringing included drug and alcohol use and a damaging family environment. Instead of whining about the past, however, he confronts it in his music and proves that through perseverance people can overcome almost anything.
"I've seen a lot of crazy things," he said. "One of my friends who was another musician took his own life, and everyone was completely stunned because no one saw it coming. And I've had friends who have had drug overdoses. But that's how you grow up sometimes. I've also had friends who have gone through divorce and addictions and then figured out they didn't want to live their life that way and they rose above it and just went on with their lives."
It's a position Smith often finds himself in. Even though his band has been successful, he still gets depressed and frustrated on a regular basis about the music industry, relationships and his own personal flaws. Strangely, one thing that doesn’t bum him out is being compared to bands like Alice in Chains, Staind and Puddle of Mudd.
"I don't see why anyone would think that would bug me because we're all in the same genre of music," he explained. "If you're going to compare me to bands that have sold a lot of records and have a lot fans, then thank you. I consider that a compliment."
Shinedown are on tour with 3 Doors Down and Seether through November 29 in Tupelo, Mississippi.