Shinedown brings Threat to Survival to GSR
The heavy guitars and driving rhythms of hard rock don’t always lend themselves to the most optimistic lyrics. Often, popular bands with a metal influence go to the darker side as a rule.
That’s not always the case with Shinedown, though. The band is known for songs that may cover heavy subjects such as family strife, love in decline or bullying, but the lyrics are more about triumph over darkness than embracing it. It’s something founding member and drummer Barry Kerch said was built in from the beginnings of the group.
“It’s evident even in our name: something up, something down,” Kerch said in an interview last week from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s been a recurring thing for us, writing about overcoming adversity within yourself.”
Shinedown returns to Reno with a March 4 show at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, with fans likely cheering those anthems of triumph that have made the group a popular live draw and a favorite on modern rock radio. At the same time, its newest material does suggest a shift into darker territory at times. Kerch said singer Brent Smith — the other founding member of the group — definitely wrote more introspective lyrics for last year’s “Threat to Survival.”
“Like most singers, he’s a tortured soul and puts himself through hell,” Kerch said of Smith. “For this record it’s stories that we’ve either lived through or seen ourselves. Nothing’s made up. This one is Brent being very blunt about himself. It’s hard to listen to sometimes, I think, because you go into that dark of a place. But I think that the fans can relate because it’s honest.”
The relatability of Shinedown’s music has manifested itself in some great conversations with fans over the years, Kerch said. “When we released ‘45’ (second single, in 2003), that was really the first one where people would come up to us and say that helped save their lives or change their lives. We even heard from a lot of troops and military during the height of the Iraq war. We’re appreciative that a song means that much.
“I pinch myself sometimes: I’m just in a simple rock band, and for someone to say that we changed their lives, it’s very humbling to know you can have that effect on people just with a bunch of songs,” he said.
Shinedown started building a devoted fanbase from the get-go. Its official biography states the group started with Smith and Kerch in Jacksonville in 2001. After a couple of years of toil in Southern clubs, the group was signed to major label Atlantic Records, where it remains to this day. Current guitarist Zach Myers joined the band in 2005, while bass player Eric Bass has been with the group since 2008.
At first, Shinedown was more popular in louder rock circles. Its first two albums — debut “Leave a Whisper” in 2003 and follow-up “Us and Them” in 2005 — did feature some radio hits, including “45,” “Save Me,” “I Dare You” and a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”’
The band’s commercial breakthrough was its third album, the platinum “Sound of Madness,” in 2008. Hit song “Second Chance” reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, as the mid-tempo tune also topped charts in modern rock as well as adult contemporary. Another Top 40 hit from the album, “If You Only Knew,” sold a half-million copies.
A gold record also was in the cards for Shinedown with its four album, “Amaryllis,” in 2012. Radio hits from the record include “Bully,” “Unity” and “I’ll Follow You.” To date, its latest album has spawned two more radio hits — “Cut the Cord” and “State of My Head” — and reached No. 6 on the Billboard albums chart.
“Threat to Survival” also marks some new musical territory. While some of it is as loud as ever, other songs such as “State” and “Oblivion” have influences from modern pop. Kerch agreed “Threat” goes farther between the two poles of heavy and light than ever before.
“We try to spread out wings and do something different each time,” he said. “Doing the same thing gets kind of boring, even though we know some fans would want us to do the same record each time. We want to grow as musicians, and whatever influences us at the time makes its way into the record.”
Kerch added making the album also was the most fun he’s had in 15-plus years of studio work.
“Musically, I feel a bit more like myself as a drummer. I felt the groove and played in a more natural way. And, it’s more polished. There’s more synth and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s definitely a progression for us, with a lot looser vibe and more danceable even at times. It’s my favorite of ours so far.”
That looseness also may be a result of a change in process for Shinedown. Kerch said the band often went at a quicker pace in a single studio for its album — “go, go, go all the time,” as he described it — but that was not the case for “Threat.”
“We’re really, really hard on ourselves,” he said. “It’s a pressure cooker in the studio. We tend to break each other down. It’s almost like a therapy session (laughs). But what made it nicer this time is that we had multiple producers and studios. So, I might be with Eric (Bass, who also produces the band) doing drums in one studio while Zak is in another doing guitars. It allowed us to be musicians and breathe a little bit.”
That breathing room has allowed Shinedown to reach one stat that is particularly remarkable: it has 19 songs in a row that have reached the Top 10 in rock radio over their career. Kerch said while the band has done a ton of free radio gigs and in-studio interviews, the band’s songs also are built for radio play.
“With the honesty in the lyrics and with the song structure, you can listen to our songs and immediately relate to them,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s a science or that we are trying to be cookie-cutter. It’s just a mindset of what I like to listen to. I want it to make me feel something.
“I think we have a special vibe. You know, all Southern boys have got groove and heart when they play. And, we definitely play from the heart.”
Catch them at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino Friday, March 4! Get your tickets here.