Written by Dustin Schumacher & Mike Mazzarone
Shinedown is one of hard rock’s most popular and beloved groups of the last two decades. With hits like ‘Diamond Eyes’ and ‘I Dare You’ the group has gone on to sell more than 10 million records. The band is currently in the middle of support of their latest album, ‘Planet Zero’ which has proven to be extremely successful as the album topped the all-genre Billboard Top Album Sales chart, a first for the band.
In an exclusive interview with Alternative Nation, frontman Brent Smith went in depth about the group’s latest album which hit shelves and was released on July 1st of this year. The lead singer would discuss the recording process of the album, his favorite song on the LP, and politics in music among others. In addition, Smith would also touch on meeting late Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. Alternative Nation transcribed the following exchange with the full audio below.
AN: “So looking back at your career, which has been an amazing one, can you tell us about what it was like coming up and where you are at now? Does anything feel different? Does anything feel the same?”
Brent Smith: “I think more than anything, the beauty of the industry that I’m in, is that it’s constantly evolving. It’s a business, which is why they call it ‘the music business. I think you have to understand that you are always learning, allow yourself to be educated, and let people teach you different things. [For example] This can be from the audience’s perspective because we are a touring band. That has always been the focus from 2003 when the band released its debut album to the present day.
We have one boss in this band and it just happens to be everybody in the audience. So that has always been a huge priority, the touring aspect of what we do. In addition, it is trying to not write the same song over and over again and trying to not make the same record twice. However, the industry has evolved and social media has been a huge part of that. Yet, I often tell people who describe this new world with all these new interactions and applications, etc, I often tell people, you’re in control of the device but the device does not need to be in control of you.
One thing that I find interesting is that people will still give that comment about the internet: “the internet is undefeated”. Well, no, I think mother nature is undefeated, I think she’s proven that.”
AN: “So are there times where you shut off your device to ‘get back to the real world? Tons of bands go through this with hate comments, etc. How do you deal with comments such as that on social media?”
Brent Smith: “You know, I’ve got to be honest about something and say I don’t look at comments that often. Even when I post, a lot of times I won’t go back and look at it. I’ll leave them on but I’m not fixated on it. A lot of times I’ll post and move on. It goes back to what I said a moment ago, ‘remember you are in control of the device’. If you need to take a break from it, then it’s up to you to take a break from it. You do have a responsibility as your individual to give yourself some mental peace of mind when it’s necessary. Your physical health is important but so is your mental health.
Being in a band that’s been talking about mental health in its songs for the past twenty years I understand when everybody is put on a platform and when everybody has an opinion, you can get sucked into this world ”what does everybody think of me’ and ‘what if I say the wrong thing’? Well, you can’t break it down like that. Being in the United States and I think it’s something that everyone needs to value is that you have freedom of expression, you have freedom of speech, whether you disagree with that person or not. The beauty of it is I don’t believe in censorship. However, that’s a tall order sometimes in a new world when everything is on display.
Yet, once again, you have to remember you don’t have to be on those apps if you don’t want to be. I don’t have anything against Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat but I don’t let any of those applications run me, I run them the way I see fit.”
AN: “Would you say that’s the objective with the new record, Planet Zero? Would you say that’s what you are teasing at a little bit regarding the ‘new culture of music?”
Brent Smith: “You know, it’s interesting because the culture keeps evolving. The thing about Planet Zero is this. as a record and as it’s presented to the public, I remember arriving in Charleston, South Carolina with our bass player who has produced the last two Shinedown albums. Very rarely does an artist get to do something with the audience together for the very first time. That’s what Planet Zero was. The dynamic was that when I arrived in Charleston and started to write, this was June of 2020, he looked at me and said, ‘it looks like we are on planet zero’.
Everything was just out of control because everyone was just put inside and then all you had to experience was what was going on on the television, iPad, computer, or phone. With us, we never really went inside. We were meticulous in the beginning about what was going on but we were educating ourselves at the same time. We were here to be respectful of everyone regardless. You have to educate yourself and you also can’t lose your common sense. A virus and a pandemic all have one thing in common with each other, They all ended.
The other dynamic is that the coronavirus is not the first virus in human history and it certainly won’t be the last. You just can’t shut off from the outside world. I know in the beginning that it needed to be done because we were figuring things out. Yet, it polarized everybody, made people deviant, and made people abusive toward each other. In the same breath though, it needed to come out. Everybody needed to have a platform to talk to each other because everybody on the planet was still dealing with this all at the same time.
So when you’re making a record, we try to have this idea, we call it the ‘crystal ball method’. Which is, let’s just write like it’s three years from now. No one is going to want to remember this nor are they going to want to talk about it. However, the fact of the matter was there were so many things going on daily that we had to write about because it was what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, the album is very ferocious but the record has a trendemous amount of triumph in it as well. Ultimately, the album is about the human condition and we don’t want people to lose their empathy toward each other. Yet also, when it comes to being human, I believe as human beings we’re inherently good. However, we are also very complicated creatures. ”
AN: “Absolutely, and it’s huge that you said that about the pandemic and everything. At that time, we were a collective, conscious. We all felt the same thing being on lockdown. Whether you agreed or not, everybody felt locked in. Everybody was feeling the same thing.”
Brent Smith: “One-hundred percent and there are still people that are still trying to come out of it and you have to be respectful to them. Just the other day, I was at the airport and there aren’t any more mask mandates. Still, you see people at the airport and I’m on the road two-hundred and eighty days of the year so I’m at the airport all the time. I see people being rude to people wearing masks, not to their face but like ‘why are they wearing a mask’? I’m like ‘ yo man, that’s their choice. they aren’t bothering you. If they want to wear a mask let them wear a mask.’ You don’t have to wear it but you shouldn’t have to make fun of them because they continue to want to wear one.”
AN: “Right, that brings up a good point too Brent. When you guys first came out you weren’t a ‘political band’. You weren’t a group like Rage Against The Machine, for example. Did you feel called upon to talk about what you’re talking about in Planet Zero?”
Brent Smith: “We felt called upon to be honest, at least from our perspective. I am against censorship, one-hundred percent. The thing about that is, I can disagree with you but that doesn’t mean I want to start a fight with you. I want to know what you think. I might learn something from you, you might learn something from me. Now granted, at the end of the day, I believe in a moral compass and if you have common sense you should know what’s right and what’s wrong. Yet, inside of just how we look at the world and how we are seeing things, we were compelled to write about what we were seeing and it just became very necessary.
The subject matter wasn’t the ‘safest’ pool to dive into but then we had to look at it from the aspect of, ‘I didn’t feel like making stuff up today.’ Let’s talk about who we are, talk about who we are seeing and talk about, ultimately, how we move forward together. Now some of that, you’re going to have to show all sides whether it’s beautiful, ugly, broken, or needs to be put back together. The dynamic of the album when it was in its infancy and at its core is ‘how can we move forward together.”
AN: “Absolutely. You know what I love about Shinedown is just the honesty of everything. You’re carrying on the ethos of someone like Scott Weiland. I know you and Zach [Myers] paid a pretty emotional tribute to the late Stone Temple Pilots frontman after his passing. Do you have any memories of that performance and the legacy of Scott?”
Brent Smith: “People want to talk about how you don’t want to meet your heroes and be careful if you get the opportunity because nine times out of ten they’ll disappoint you. I got the chance to meet him when he was clean, sober, and in the best shape of his life. It was during the Velvet Revolver days, early on. Dude, he couldn’t have been nicer. When he was himself when he was him. Scott was such a performer too.
I met him in catering and he came in and I remember he was like super, super thin, and this compact dude. I remember going up to him and saying: “Scott I normally never do this and I know you’re probably annoyed by this but man can I get a picture with you?” He looked at me and said: “Are you kidding me? Absolutely.” He didn’t know me from Adam either. This was around 2006, around our second album.
I also really loved the switch that would go off because the person he was just hanging around wasn’t the person he was on stage. Some people have also said that about me as far as if they know me well. Like, the person I am off-stage is not the person I am on-stage, and they’re right. I don’t like the term ‘rock star’ I think it’s kind of silly. It’s a term that is used a lot but for me, yes I am a performer and if I’m a ‘rock star’ I’m only that for the time that I’m on stage. Nobody paid for the Brent Smith that you would see at the grocery store, I’m there to play a show. That’s something that I noticed about Scott and something that I got to see firsthand where Scott was very, well, in the latter years it wasn’t pretty, but I choose to remember him when he was healthy, strong, and just a charismatic, sweet guy offstage yet completely the opposite onstage.”
AN: “Interestingly, you brought up being two different characters. Like yourself, I’m one way outside of music and one way inside of music. Now, I always viewed it that musicians are a lot like professional wrestlers. Like a character, that’s your character. Getting into that, you guys have had a lot of music with WWE. What was that like? Are you a big wrestling fan? Can you discuss getting a placement with WWE?”
Brent Smith: “Well I’m a big fan of all the guys and girls with the WWE. I have an immense amount of respect for how much integrity they have for performance art. Not only that but it’s a performance art that’s very, very physical. That’s part of it as well, when we are on stage, it gets very physical as well. However, from day one the WWE has always been supportive. I think literally every event whether it’s been Raw or WrestleMania, [Royal] Rumble or Pay-Per-View, etc. There were so many things that they used our music in and exposed us to a vast audience. We have nothing but respect for that organization and how they’ve supported this band over the years.”
AN: “Yeah, and speaking of fights, non-choreographed that is, earlier this summer you broke up a fight that took place in Ontario by jumping in the crowd. As a band that has been touring for a considerable amount of time, where does that list for you in terms of ‘wild show incidents’?”
Brent Smith: “First of all, let me be honest about something. Under no circumstances would I condone what I did. No one should ever do that or try that. I do have experience with stressful situations or intense situations where you have to think quickly. The thing with that, in particular, is that I saw it happen from the stage and I could see that security was not getting there in time with what was transpiring. It was one of those things where I’m thinking: ‘Am I going to wait up here and potentially have this get worse because I could not see security doing what they needed to do.’ My security immediately saw what I was doing, was right behind me when I split the audience real quick, just into the barricade, went directly to where it was and who the two people were, and got the two separated.
In that scenario, we were able to do. Would I have done that in front of fifty-thousand people? No, probably not because it’s too much. I think twenty-two hundred people were at that particular venue and it was just an instinct. Some people are like: “dude are you out of your mind, what are you doing?’ Here’s the thing about that. I put my trust in my head of security before the entire day no matter what venue or festival we are playing. Also, promoters of those events, because I know a lot of those people from over the years, their staff and what they’ve done, there is a respect there. That respect is in regards to what we do for a living and I depend on the people that we work with – promoters, staff, venues, etc, to [make sure] that as people are coming into the building that they got our back.
This is making sure people are checked out, making sure, making sure they are in there and looking at people, and not letting stuff get through in the building. Things of that nature. So the fact that I would take it upon myself to jump through there is because I saw something between two people that I believed I could remedy quicker because of the situation that I was in.”
AN: “The band is going to be headlining this year’s Louder Than Air festival. A bill that will also feature ‘The Hottest Band in the Land’ KISS. Gene Simmons has always been pretty controversial, with his declarations on the state of rock music. What do you say about that?”
Brent Smith: “I say that he’s Gene Simmons and he has the right to say what he wants and he has an opinion. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that he says and that is the only way that I can answer that question. In 2013 we got the opportunity of a lifetime and opened up for KISS for forty dates and Canada. We had an absolute blast and Doc McGhee the manager, and everyone in the band, including Gene, was super, super cool. So I only have that experience. But when it comes to his opinions, he has the right to his opinions man.”
AN: “Absolutely, so with Shinedown in the music industry and everything geared toward streaming now, what are your opinions on streaming?”
Brent Smith: “I can tell you that our physical sales order was one of the largest placed globally of the year. Also, the physical sales of our first week were [unbelievable]. The interesting aspect of the physical aspect of what we do in comparison to the streaming is obviously the more we stream the better we are appreciative of that.
However, we are an anomaly because we are a physical selling band. In a climate that is very digital when it comes to the consumption of music and what have you, we placed a global order of vinyl that was close to one hundred and eighty thousand units. We damn near sold every single one of them the first week. To the point that there are major re-orders on it.
There is something that we do that people want to hold. We look at the artwork and the experience of that as just as important as each record. The consumption of those services? Look, the more we get streamed the more people know who we are and what we are doing. We wouldn’t have written these songs and recorded them if we didn’t want the world to hear them. So any platform that allows us to present our music to the world, we are very appreciative of.”
AN: “That’s perfect and before we end this, let’s dive back into the new album, Planet Zero. Do you have any favorite tracks on that? Anything on there that hits home for you?”
Brent Smith: “By far, the one song that gets me to this day from those sessions and was put on the record is a song called ‘A Symptom of Being Human’. I still cannot listen to that song without getting teary actually. It just represents so much about who we are as individuals, all the people around me, and how truly humbled and blessed I am to have this support system. However, it’s also about understanding that being a human can be difficult. But it’s part of it, it’s part of the journey, it’s part of our existence together. That is probably my favorite song on the record.”