Brent Smith and Zach Myers, singer and guitar player of Shinedown are releasing two volumes of acoustic covers and original songs. Smith & Myers talked about their views on society and eclectic musical choices.
For the acoustic session record you asked fans to post requests for the songs they would like you to cover. How did you select the songs for these new records?
Zach Myers (guitar): We had some ideas of what the fans wanted us to cover and then came the idea of original songs. We started writing one song per day. We came every single with a blank sheet and finished the day with a song. It’s the most creative work I’ve in had in such a short time span. We wanted to please the fans by picking some of the songs they requested. But we also wanted to make our own songs and we wanted to pick some songs that we’ve always wanted to cover. We never really wanted to cover songs. We wanted to make it our own thing and I think that’s what we did. In terms of tracklisting I think the pairing in two volumes works. The songs work well together.
On “Volume 1” there is the well-known song “Rockin’ In A Free World”. This particular song takes a different vibe with this context. How did you feel when you covered it?
Brent Smith (vocals): That was the point of doing it in a first place. Zach likes the idea of not covering a song but reimaging a song, which is a good way of presenting it. If you’re going to do a song and basically do a carbon copy of it that could sometimes fall flat. We want to take songs that we could really turn in our head to present them to the audience in a different way. “Rockin’ In A Free World” is a perfect example of that. In my personal opinion, the second verse of that song is the most profound statement in not only rock n’roll music but in all mainstream music. The song is 31 years old classic punk rock energy. But if you bring it down just to a piano and a vocal you realized the impact of those words and you realize the impact of the story. That was the endgame of it. Presenting the song in a way the listener found out that the lyrics were quite profound and meaningful.
It’s also very interesting that you chose to reimagine songs like “Better Now” from Post Malone or “Bad Guy” from Billie Eilish. They both are cross genre artists and the songs are very recent. It was quite unexpected to hear your versions of it!
Brent: I love Post Malone for various reasons. He is not a rapper; he is verse in different styles of music. He plays various instruments and has an awesome voice. Same thing with Billie Eilish. I kinda knew about her since 2013. I told Zach I wanted to cover both songs and he was like: “OK, but how does it gonna work?”. He had to trust me, which he did, and I think that what came of it is a totally new way of presenting the songs. “Better Now” is really one of my favorite songs of 2019 and 2020 still. I thought that it would knock people back too.
With “Better Now” you’ve found a very groovy and catchy way to sing it. It feels like you added some kind of summer breeze.
Brent: Thank you. I appreciate it. The fact is that we picked very very great songs. It’s easy to make them sound good because they are already great.
You picked various styles of songs to cover like “Rebel Yell” from Billy Idol or “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis. But you also produce original songs. With “Bad At Love” you offer us a song that feels very personal and something that you would never have done with Shinedown. How does it feel to explore uncharted territories?
Zach: Lyrically I don’t think we would have gone there with Shinedown. It’s a song about Brent and the fact that he is very good at so many things but bat at relationships. I’ve known him for 17 years; he’s been in two relationships for that time and he’s never been unfaithful. I just think that sometimes relationships end because somebody cheated and sometimes it’s just that people are bad at it. And in this song, what we’re trying to say is that it’s OK if you’re good at it. Sometimes it’s OK not to have a partner, sometimes people just don’t want to be in a relationship. It’s a fun and romantic way to sing the song and it ended up being one of my favorite original songs.
Brent: The relationship I’ve had with the women I truly loved and still love till this day. I’m still friend with them and I’m very fortunate. One of them is the mother of my only son. I’ve always said that I was born with a gypsy heart, which means that I can pick up a moo now and then, but I always take care of my family. Songs like “Bad At Love” are very personal. It is married to another song called “Sensible Minds”. There is this kind of loneliness in these songs that I wouldn’t have presented with Shinedown. The project allows me and Zach different ways to write songs together and interpret the world.
On the first volume you went quite political, especially with the first single “Not Mad Enough”. Could you explain why the death of George Floyd impacted you as well as other bands so much?
Brent: It’s a song about right and wrong. In a lot of ways, I wish that the song hadn’t been written because I wish that George Floyd was still alive and that he was with his family. The night I watched the news and the events unfold is the night when the lyrics came to me. Almost in a flood. When I presented it to Zach and the producer, I asked them if we should do it and they agree we should. There’s an overwhelming feeling around this song. When you see the word “not mad enough” you might get an idea of what it’s all about. People think that it would sound aggressive, that the lyrics will have a lot of venom in them. That’s not what the song is about. The song is about understanding that if you keep yelling at each other you’re not going anywhere. Just like me, when people start yelling at me, I stop listening to them.
The reality of the song is to calm people down to establish that there are things right now that are not good. We’re not blind to that. We need to have people with different views being able to express their views to build constructive compromise. Then we can create actions together that will actually save our future. You have to be fundamentally willing to compromise with each other to move forward.
How do you explain the impact George Floyd on the American society? Why this particular event unfolds such vivid reactions?
Brent: You have to understand that in America you have the American history that is taught in school. It is fundamentally outdated. I grew up in the late 70’s. My father was the only white teacher in a predominantly in afro American district. He encouraged me to be colorblind as I grew up. My dad focused on teaching me about the person, the human being. It shouldn’t make a difference what color of skin you have. It should matter who you are inside. A lot of people struggle with that. Lots of people want to believe that we are over the inequality struggle, but we’re not. The younger generation is trying to understand why we are going backwards when we need to go forward. George Floyd is one cased among many cases. You can’t push it under the rugs. You need to discuss it to move forward. With that you put everyone in a pandemic. You put everyone in an unknowing situation and suddenly you start binding where the hostility will start to grow from. In America it’s supposed to be all about the United States and people have the power. When the people are able to unify and respect each other that’s when you see real change. That’s when people start healing each other and get stronger. It’s not gonna happen overnight.
Do you think that real change is possible? With the coming elections.
Brent: Do I believe that we can be better? That we can rise above together? Absolutely. I believe in people. I believe in unity and I believe that we will move forward. Each single day when people respect and listen to each other is a day when we grow stronger.
With “The Weight Of It All” you tackle another bleak subject with immigration. Could you share some thoughts about the song?
Zach: It’s not a political song, it’s also about right and wrong. Children are taking away from their family. It’s something that shouldn’t happen. There are other ways around it. We chose to talk about it because we don’t see others doing it. I think we found an elegant way of saying it without point a finger. We put the information out there and people can take what they want from it. It came out very organically.
Brent: The question that is being asked in this song is: “Is this the best we can do?”. I’m looking at myself as a man in the mirror. This song is about immigration, and in the chorus, I sing: “build a bridge, build a wall, build them big, build them small, it’s everyone and no one at all. Out of sight, out of mind, playing God all the time, buried in the weight of it all”. It’s a lot to unpack when talking about immigration. Fleeing one country because of war or because you don’t wanna see your child dead before he’s ten years old. How can we change that? Again, you can’t yell at each other, you need to find a way to reach a balance.
Finally, as our website is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life guys?
Zach: My kids rock my life. They especially rocked my life at 2AM when they woke me up! My kids for sure and my being in a band.
Brent: My twelve years old who, in the past six months, has developed what we call an opinion with an attitude. He still rocks my life but he’s also shaking it and making it more difficult, causing me to hyperventilate. (laughs) Being able to wake up everyday is rocking my life.