Fans know that Shinedown doesn’t make it from the USA over to Finland all that often, so opportunities to see them are few and far between. However, with the recent release of Attention, Attention, Shinedown finally made their way back across the sea to the Nordics and graced The Circus with a show on December 1st, 2018.
I was pretty new to Shinedown as a band – I recognized “Second Chance” from way back when, largely due to the lyrical reference to Halley’s Comet that always stood out to me. For a non-metal band though, I recently found out that they write really catchy hard rock music with rather profound lyrics that are easy to relate to if you’ve ever been through… well, pretty much anything. After doing a little bit of research, I was actually really excited that we were given the opportunity to do an interview with vocalist/lyricist Brent Smith, because he didn’t come across as media-shy at all, and has been through a lot in his 40 years. I had more questions than I knew I would have time to ask.
We arrived at The Circus before the band had even arrived, during the warm-up bands’ sound check. It was loud and raucous and full of Americans, which, if you’ve been around the Finns before a show, you’ll know is a totally different atmosphere. The band arrived and all popped in to say hello to us before the reps and managers divided them up for their respective interviews and/or backstage prep. Smith was the last to arrive but immediately proved to be as open and friendly as past interviews have shown him to be. More than that, he was very self-aware and considerate of the people around him. It was very easy to sit down and delve into life and music with him. So, here is what we talked about!
Read the review from their gig in Helsinki HERE!
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way so we can get into the good stuff. Tell us a bit about the concept behind Attention, Attention, if you don’t mind.
Brent: It’s not a traditional concept record, it’s what we call a ‘story album.’ When you have an album, of course, everybody has their favorite songs, singles, and things like that. But the way that we developed this record is that it is meant to be listened to from the beginning to the middle to the finale. It doesn’t really ‘end.’ The journey just continues, because of the way that it’s designed.
We want the listener to put themselves inside of the room. The individual in the story, everything that happens to them, takes place inside of this room. It’s mentally, physically, and psychologically quite a journey, but the premise of the album is an example of the human spirit. A lot of times, people are afraid of failure and they will pigeonhole themselves into a corner sometimes and not go after things that might seem a bit grander than their everyday life.
Ultimately, we look at it like this: you’re going to need to fail in life. If you think that you can’t achieve something before you even attempt to try it, then you’ve lost. You need the failures to teach you what to do next time. We don’t think that people are going to be defined by their failures. We feel like you will be defined by the fact that you refused to give up. That’s a lot of what the album represents.
That ties very nicely into my next question – do you think that people should stop referring to success as succeed-or-fail, but rather, succeed-or-give-up?
Brent: Right. I do, to a point. I do also feel like every individual is different. That’s what makes us unique. It’s interesting to talk to people after an event has happened in their life, where they have never experienced ‘fight or flight.’ Not everybody has experienced a moment in their life where that actually happened. For people who don’t know what that is, it’s when you’re put in a situation where you have to become ‘superhuman’ in a way. That’s that ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that happens, and all of a sudden, I think it’s experience.
We’ve met more teenagers and more… I don’t want to be disrespectful and call them ‘kids’ and stuff like that, because the younger generation is having to grow up faster than when I was a kid. So for me, I see that the younger generation really, from 10 years old to 18, they get a lot thrown at them. A lot more than I did when I was a kid. It’s the fact that everybody has an opinion and they want to tell you what that opinion is from the social side of things. Especially with the internet. So it can conflict, these teenagers’ mindsets about themselves, about their surroundings, about the situations that they’re in… I think it’s also important that… it’s okay to second-guess yourself, but still go ahead and take that leap of faith. That’s what I would tell you to do. You’re never going to know unless you try.
Regarding creative endeavors, but even just in general, do you think that insecurity stems from feeling like you’re not good enough…
Brent: You may not be good enough at the time.
Do you think that people should learn to be okay with their insecurities? To learn to be okay with themselves, as they are, flaws and scars and all?
Brent: The first thing, at least in my experience is, you’re going to have to be okay with yourself first. With me, I can only go off of my experiences, and there are a lot of people that ask me about certain situations in regard to the comment that you’re making. Is it okay for me to be all right with the fact that I might not be good at A, B, C, and D, but E, F, and G I’m pretty okay with. You know what I mean?
To quote Adventure Time, “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”
Brent: That’s one way to put it. If you try out for the basketball team at your high school and you’re doing it because it’s something brand new and you’ve never done it before, and then you don’t make the team and you start really doubting yourself, but in the same breath, you didn’t practice before you went to try out for the team. That’s what I mean, where it becomes something where, I suck at this and I knew I was going to suck at it, so why did I do it? Well, did you practice?
That’s the other thing. Whatever it is, some things in life, if you don’t do it on a daily basis, you’re not going to get better at it. You can’t go into every situation and just think that you’re going to be great at it, and if you’re not, beat yourself up at it. You have to have enough integrity to understand that you’ve got to start asking yourself what you want out of your life. I’m not saying this to not care about the people around you or those scenarios that you’re in front of sometimes.
Over the years I’ve found that you’re usually the first person that you will see in the morning, when you wake up and go to the restroom, you’re going to see yourself in the mirror. This isn’t vanity, it’s looking at the person in the mirror and being okay with that person, but having the insight to say, if you’re not okay with it, change it. Don’t bitch about it, change it.
Speaking of being okay with oneself, my day job is in a CrossFit gym and I’ve been listening to the new Shinedown album there. The music has a lot of good energy for fitness. Especially with a CrossFit gym, you need music that’s upbeat…
Brent: There’s also a lot of attitude on the Attention, Attention album specifically.
You’ve had your battle with weight and other things. How did you end up dealing with it, and what songs by Shinedown would you recommend people to put on their workout playlists?
Brent: That’s a great question, actually. About 5 years ago… it really happened in 2011, I had gotten off the album, The Sound of Madness, we had gotten off that touring cycle and that touring cycle was 37 months and over 447 shows. I weighed about 220 lbs [approximately 100 kg] and, like I was saying a moment ago, I had been getting up, looking at the guy in the mirror, and finally one day, I was just like, “You know what? This isn’t going to work.”
I had to tell myself, once again, tomorrow when I go to the gym for the very first time, I’m not going to instantaneously be in good shape. It took me a year before I was really happy with where I had gotten… but I lost 70 lbs [approx. 32 kg]. I also had to re-learn how to eat, how to exercise, all those kinds of things.
With the album and really the overview of the record, looking at it from a motivational standpoint, because it has so many peaks and valleys, it’s probably a really good record to work out to in general, because it paces itself a certain way.
I notice so many different things that happened to me once I got healthy again, but honestly, I have to tell you this. I had a really close friend, the young lady I had been dating for 6 years at the time… because I was still drinking at the time, in 2011, she told me, “Listen man, I understand where you’re at, I know it’s difficult, I know you don’t like the way you look, I know you don’t like the way you feel, but I’m going to tell you something about yourself.” This person confronted me the morning after I had totally been on a really bad bender. She said, “You are way more dangerous when you are sober.” For whatever reason, when she said that to me, I was like, “Wha-” and she said, “No, let me finish. When you are clear-headed and focused, and you are sober, that guy, that guy is when you are the most dangerous. It’s time for you to get your head out of your ass and get back in the game.” I remember when she said that to me, that helped me out. Every day since then, remembering when she told me that. Not in the way, like, ‘look at me, I’m Billy Badass’ or something like that. She just made a point to me. “The other guy, everybody hates him. They can’t stand that guy, because that guy is trying to kill you. You’re not one of those people that can have a drink and be cool. You’re one of the people that, if you’re at a bar, you will burn the bar down.” When she told me that, just those few little words, ‘when you’re sober, you are way more dangerous’… So with workouts and everything else, that still stays in my mind when I’m doing things.
I also change everything up too, from a physical standpoint. I do a lot of circuit training. I’m not a long-distance runner. I get so bored by the third mile. So I have to constantly change things up.
One song on the album really stood out to me, “special.” There are many reasons, like how it is the only song in all lower case letters, and the brutal honesty of the lyrics, saying you’re not special, but no one else is either.
Brent: It’s also the sibling to “GET UP” on the album. It’s funny, when I said that for the first time at the beginning of the year, I said that “GET UP” and “special” are siblings. People said, “That’s an interesting way to put it.” Well yeah, “GET UP” happens in the story and on the album first, and then the next song is “special.” If you notice, “GET UP” makes a ‘cameo’ at the end of “special”, so you still leave “special” at the end with the thoughts from “GET UP.”
That was one of the harder songs to get out, because I had the chorus before I had anything else, and the very first thing that I said to the guys was, “Stop waiting on your 15 minutes of fame / I’m not trying to rain on your parade.” When those words came out, they were like, “Okay, umm, where are you going with this?” and I said, “I’m going right to the heart of the matter.” It is a song about how you’re not special and neither am I.
That might be one of the most important lessons. All the people throughout time who did ‘succeed’, they’re not special either.
Brent: It’s a song that encompasses what I consider to be genuine humanity. I don’t want people to lose that on a daily basis. I can give you an example. I have a 10-year-old song who’s going to be 11 this month. The thing that me and him have that is so unique in this day and age, and – no pun intended – special is that I can have a conversation to my son, face-to-face. If anything, he doesn’t really want to Facetime with me. He doesn’t really want to be on the phone and text with me. Of course we do that when I’m on the road, because I’m on the road a lot, but he engages with me the most when we are in front of one another. I see society kind of lose that art of conversation, face-to-face, and that’s what I don’t want people to lose.
That’s why that song, in particular, holds a lot of weight on the album. Granted, it’s my opinion. But in the bridge of that song, “We all live to love / we all fall apart / we’d all go to war / for the faint of heart / instead we’re condescending / there are no happy endings / I won’t hold my breath / I won’t cast a doubt / I’d never sell you out / but I’ll give you one last chance to own it / because you’re not a god or a poet.” The reason why that’s so honest is because I’m letting everybody understand that we all are good at a lot of different things and we all suck at a lot of different things. But we’re also all here on this planet together. I don’t want people to lose their empathy towards each other. I’m not saying you’ve got to coddle people. If anything, I’m telling you to kick them in the ass and make them understand that… I have problems just like you do.
Do you believe that social media interferes with the development of empathy on some level?
Brent: It’s a very serious topic. I feel like the younger generation, it does get in the way. What’s happening is, you’re not allowing the younger male/female to have a childhood. What’s happening, and I see parents – not all parents – plastering kids that don’t have a say at 5 years old all over Instagram. You’ve not given [the kids] the luxury of having an opinion, because they’re not an adult yet. So I do think that it does get in the way.
In the same breath, if parents are putting their children on social media because they’re proud of them and that’s all… okay. But still, you’re not allowing them to have a childhood. And this is a way longer conversation and way deeper conversation, but in the same breath, this is about something where less talk in some situations and more action… really think about what you’re doing as an individual and your surroundings and the people you’re affecting and the livelihood that you’re presenting to the world. Everybody’s going to have a different opinion on it. My opinion is that if you’re going to allow a child to be a part of social media, then arm them with knowledge. Don’t just throw them to the wolves.
Now to steer back into some lighter subjects since we’re running out of time. You did a collaboration with Apocalyptica a few years ago, “Not Strong Enough.” Since they’re a local band, tell us how you ended up in that song, and what it means to you, if anything?
Brent: Diane Warren wrote the song and I was asked to sing it… Apocalyptica’s management called my management, and the gentleman in the band, they specifically wanted me to sing on that particular song. I had enough time because I was actually in Las Angeles at the time that they were doing it, because they did the record with Howard Benson, so the studio was about 45 minutes from where we were at. I picked an afternoon to go over there and cut the song in 3 hours.
I think that they wanted it to have this kind of Shakespearean -almost Romanticism in it. I think it’s really just a song about an individual that doesn’t know how to move on from a relationship, which can also be really dangerous and toxic. From my perspective, that’s what I get when I hear the song. That was a very unique time in my career, because I’m a songwriter, and I’m known to not do anybody else’s stuff. Aside from the “Simple Man” cover [Lynyrd Skynyrd], but that happened on such a unique platform.
My last question then is that if you could pass a song or message out into the world, what song would it be? What would the message you want to pass on be?
Brent: One hundred percent, at least right now, “GET UP.” It says so much to so many people. I wrote the song about Eric and this album is one of the most personal records that we’ve ever done. Eric also is the producer and mixer of Attention, Attention, and the engineer. So we did this whole record in-house for the very first time. That song is about – like you said earlier – being okay with who you are and also understanding that there’s always going to be darkness. I’ve always told people, “Look, you’re going to have to fall into a hole in life to figure out how to get out of it.” But I think “GET UP” says a lot to a lot of different people.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Have a great show!
Brent: You’re very welcome.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist