Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Brent Smith Of Shinedown

When it was time to follow up Shinedown’s previous album, Threat to Survival (2015), frontman and main lyricist, Brent Smith, went on a mission to craft the band’s most personal body of work to date.

Tackling relevant topics in today’s world including mental health, the negative effects of social media, and conquering fear, ATTENTION ATTENTION chronicles an individual’s journey in battling their demons — a story that has been connecting with fans all over the world. The band’s latest single, GET UP, has been resonating with listeners since its release, garnering more than 20 million total streams to date.

Prioritizing honesty and authenticity in their music, Shinedown’s newest album illustrates part of why they are one of the most successful rock groups in the last two decades. CelebMix had the chance to speak with Brent Smith about some of the life experiences that came with making ATTENTION ATTENTION their most important album yet.

ATTENTION ATTENTION Album Artwork

With ATTENTION ATTENTION being your most personal record to date, can you take me through what starting this album was like for you? 

I think that the big focus with the music on this particular record has a lot to do with the way we recorded the album and the fact that it was probably the most personal album that we’ve done to date. The only other album that has this much strength would probably have been The Sound Of Madness (2008). The reality was, with this album, Eric Bass, the bass player in Shinedown, is he’s way more than just a bass player, because not only did he produce the record, but he was the main engineer on the album, one of the main songwriters along with myself— and he also mixed the album. This entire year has been, I don’t want to say that it’s been a rebirth of the band, but the architecture of the album and the way that we presented the album was different. We had complete control and we had complete confidence from our record label, Atlantic Records, because we started talking to them way early, and I told them at the beginning of 2017, “I’ve got a vision for this next record, I just need you to give me no time limit and trust me on this,” and them being the two amazing people that they are, said, “absolutely, just as you’re progressing, let us know when we can help you and when you think that the album is going to come out.” There was a lot of work, and a lot of planning that went into this album, but to be honest with you, with this being the first year with the record out, we’re just getting started. 

You describe “GET UP” as the turning point of the album, how did it guide you into what the album was going to be?

Well, one thing about the fans, if you’ve known who Shinedown is for a while now, you know that the one thing you are always going to receive from us is honesty. No matter what it is, no matter where we are in our lives. We write songs about the things that we know, the people that we’ve met, the places that we’ve been to, the situations that we’ve been in, it’s all a factor of living life and understanding where we’re coming from. It’s all built around experience. We’ve been very fortunate that the public has always allowed us to be ourselves. They’ve given us a platform, but they know that we’re not going to b.s. them because when it comes to this band, we write what we know. If we’re being retained to do something for a film, or a sporting event, or even a television show, there’s already a format laid out in those situations, then we’ll write to that but when it comes to Shinedown, as a whole, when we’re making an album, it’s where we are at that point in time in our lives. And honestly, it goes back to what I said a moment ago, this is a very upfront record for us. 

A lot of it started with the song “GET UP,” because I wrote “GET UP” about Eric and it was interesting because at the beginning stages of the writing process for the album, which was right around January of 2017, we started going through different riffs and different ideas and kind of looking at the heavier material and some of the stuff was a bit more uptempo, and to be quite honest with you, it was boring. I didn’t really like it. I thought it was kind of stock, it didn’t really have any integrity to it, it just kind of sounded like stuff I’d already heard before. So, me and Eric were kind of at a crossroad and Eric said, “I have a piece of piano music that I haven’t shown you.” And I asked him to show it to me and when he did, it’s what became “GET UP.” The first initial time that he played it for me, I remember listening to it, a couple hours had gone by and I said “make me a demo of it real fast and I’ll take it with me to the hotel.” So he did, and I’m normally pretty quick with lyrics because I’m the main lyricist in the band so within 24 or 48 hours I should have something. I didn’t go back to the studio for 11 days. When I did finally arrive to the studio, I had the song completely written, we cut the vocals, he put it together, I asked him, “How long do you need to have a demo ready?” And he said to come in the next day around 3 in the afternoon, so tomorrow came and he called and said “I got it done, come on in.” So I came into the studio and he played it for me, and then he played it again. I remember the second time I turned around and looked at him, and I said, “you know what this is about, right?” And he said “yeah, it’s about me.”

And my heart fell on the ground for a moment because I thought that I had just crossed a very severe line in our friendship. I didn’t get hysterical about it but I definitely was nervous so I said “you know what Eric, I’m sorry. Let’s just move on to something else, we’ll just act like we never even put this together.” And he was like “Brent, calm down man. I love it, I think it’s amazing. I think it’s exactly what it needs to be. But if we’re going to do this then we’re going to have to be extremely honest and very upfront.” Because the reality is, that Eric deals with something called clinical depression and this isn’t something where he gets a case of the Mondays every once in a while, this is something that he deals with on a daily basis and for the better part of 10 years, myself and Zach and Barry have watched him go through this. The reality of what “GET UP” did, not only for the album, but for us as a band, and being able to put something out into the public that was so genuine and so authentic, had a lot to do with the inspiration, which was Eric for me lyrically. 

After we wrote “GET UP,” that was the sounding board for the rest of the album because then “DEVIL” came next, and “DARK SIDE”, and “special,” and then “BRILLIANT,” and “MONSTERS,” and “BLACK SOUL,” and so on and so forth because the album is not a traditional concept record, but it is a story. The record is also about the fact that that line that I was so afraid of crossing with him, because it was so personal, he just removed the line. Nothing was off-limits. For the whole album in its entirety, it’s really a record about not being afraid to fail and utilizing your failures as part of how you get better at things and just live life. You’re going to need to fail to know what to do next time. Because you’re not going to be defined by your failures, you’re going to be defined by the fact that you refused to give up. 

So, with the audience, they know how very vocal we are about that and it’s definitely brought a much younger demographic to the fanbase in regards to Shinedown, and rightfully so because the younger generation are under a microscope right now, you know? That little black piece of plastic in your pocket right now. If you want a platform, and you have an opinion, the world is yours. If you’re looking for a negative band wagon and something to complain about, social media will be there for you until social media doesn’t exist anymore. The fact of the matter is, if you’re looking for negativity out there, it’s really easy to find. If you’re looking for positivity and figuring out ways to genuinely build yourself up and be a part of a solution instead of part of the problem, you’re going to have to look a lot harder for that.

Have you had any moments where you’ve been able to see the impact the song has been having on listeners?

I’ll be honest with you, the biggest part of the impact that I see is definitely when we play it live. There’s not a dry eye in the audience when we play that song and the beautiful thing about that is you can see the release with people. It’s like a 50 ton elephant finally getting off of their chest when they hear this song. And that’s exactly what it’s meant to do, that’s what it was written for because it came from a very real place and that’s what I meant earlier about being honest with the fanbase. Especially with this song, we’re noticing a lot more of a younger generation — with teenagers we’ll do seminars sometimes and before showtimes we’ll do stuff with the Grammy committee and MusiCares, the kids are between 11 and 18 years old and want to be in the music industry or want to write music or want to be performers, they will ask me “what’s the number one piece of advice you can give to us?” And I tell them very openly, “don’t write a song because you want to be famous. Write a song because you have something to say.” And that’s ultimately what this song is. We didn’t write it because we wanted to get attention per say and someone might say “but you named your album ATTENTION ATTENTION” And I say, “obviously, that’s the album though.” And that album is a journey that never really ends because ATTENTION ATTENTION has a beginning, a middle, and a finale but it never really stops. It continues on. 

Why do you think that GET UP is an important song for people to hear right now?

The beautiful thing about “GET UP” is it was written because I felt like my friend deals with something on a daily basis that nobody understands and at times, society can look at him and say “just get over it, that’s life.” It’s not that simple, this is a real thing. He’s one of my dearest friends in the world and I have watched him fight this in ways that would just be debilitating to certain people and he has to pull himself out of bed and face the day. It’s not so much about mental health and awareness, it’s about figuring out a way to help people understand their stability because you’re not going to be able to snap your fingers and all of a sudden be happy — it doesn’t work like that. And the biggest thing that you will find with people that deal with depression, the number one thing that they will tell you is that they’re embarrassed and they feel like they’re going to get made fun of if they bring it up. So they keep it in and it builds up and builds up and it’s one of the reasons this year alone the suicide rate in the world as a whole had an increase of almost 46% from last year. 

What we’re trying to do is bring it to the forefront that human beings have a responsibility to not lose our empathy for one another. And understand that you’re going to have to work and fight through things and be strong in times when you don’t feel strong. The reality is that you don’t have to do it by yourself all the time. You should be able to lean on your friends and the people next to you. I just don’t want people to lose their empathy for each other, or their humanity for that matter. It’s a way bigger picture inside of “GET UP” the song and ATTENTION ATTENTION the album. In my opinion, we’re just getting started in regards to this album and this song, because I think that the world has asked for it and I think that the song is necessary. If anything, I feel like my band is a vessel for that message.

How do you measure success for yourselves? You have several platinum selling albums, you’ve broken numerous radio records, and you have a very dedicated fanbase — what else do you still want to accomplish?

Success is interesting for me because my number one priority in life is my 10 year old son who is going to be turning 11 this month. I think how my success is determined is by how much time I can give to my son. I work really really hard because I love what I do. I tour heavily, but so do the other three guys that I’m in the band with and they have families and they have homes and responsibilities. But all of our families understand that this band provides for our families. The ladies in our lives, those women are extraordinary because they really understand it and they get it. For me, I’m one in a band of four and I sold my house, so I don’t own a home and I’m also single because I’m on the road all the time and the guys in the band look to me to have the design for the architecture of the band and the roads we go down and where we need to go next. I think for me, I just want to make sure that I never, ever put anything out that is not 100% how I feel and how I want to be represented or what I think is genuine and authentic because my son is going to see it. 

I keep it very private in the world that he lives in — like teachers at school, people around him, they don’t really know what his dad does because me and his mother, who are really really good friends even though we’re not together anymore, have a respect for each other and she knows that I want him to have a childhood. I want him to have an upbringing that is healthy, not only physically and mentally but where he is not pigeonholed into one particular group because of who his dad is. That’s my success: making sure he has a childhood, making sure he gets everything he needs for himself, but also making sure he understands that he has to work for it. So, my success is bringing up my son and him being a great man when it’s time for him to become one. He grows up faster each and every day that I see him, he gets like an inch taller. He’s so amazing on so many levels so I measure my success by him.

Let us know your thoughts on Shinedown and their new album on Twitter: @CelebMix

Written by Oleva Berard

Pop is my favorite thing. You can find me on most social platforms @Oliveforreal.