Recharged Shinedown returns for concert
Thursday, February 28, 2019
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Shinedown’s 2015 album was aptly named.
Though generally well-received on rock radio, “Threat to Survival” on the whole was viewed as a misfire by the band’s longtime followers. The writing was solid, but the songs came across as an overproduced collection that didn’t quite ring true.
If the hard-rock heavyweights didn’t get back on track for their next release, their survival would be threatened.
Fortunately, they did.
But first, Shinedown frontman Brent Smith and his bandmates had to narrow their focus and take back control.
Their effort started with songwriting sessions in which Smith and bassist Eric Bass tackled the issues of addiction and depression – the two problems that were dominating their lives, respectively, and affecting their output.
The result was 2018’s “Attention Attention,” an inspired album that saw the band returning to form while breaking new ground.
The songs are personal and unpredictable, and the delivery is dynamic without being overdone.
That’s because the 13 sound producers and mixers who left their fingerprints all over “Threat” were replaced by just one man – Bass.
Shinedown is currently touring the album and will return to Youngstown on Tuesday for a concert at Covelli Centre.
In a recent phone interview, Smith explained the turmoil and turnaround that marked the band’s past five years.
“The last album had a reason to be called ‘Threat to Survival’,” he said. “I had had a rough two years and had to come back to life. I had some troubling personal issues during that cycle. I regrouped with myself, mentally and physically, and made a promise with myself and my band, my brothers, that I would never put them through that again.”
Smith was referring to a battle with drug addiction that gripped him in 2014, after a long creative spell had ended.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he recalled. “I had no purpose, and I relapsed. During that time of recording ‘Survival,’ I was high all the time. The band knew something was going on. I was in bad shape.”
Somehow the album got finished. Then, with the help of his band mates, Smith got clean for the ensuing tour.
“The touring cycle was my recovery,” he said, noting that he has not used drugs since March 1, 2016.
“Threat,” Smith said, bears the chaos that he was going through at the time. It had a lot of energy but lacked continuity and wasn’t as satisfying as fans had come to expect. It might have been a case of too many chefs spoiling the soup.
“The reason it sounds disjointed is I was in a bad place,” said Smith. “I was trying to build songs with powerful meaning. I am the main lyricist, and I was trying to push the envelope, which I think I accomplished, but the music was disjointed. We used five producers and eight sound mixers.”
As the band got started on its next album, Smith vowed that Shinedown would not cede control at any stage of the recording process.
“As we moved into the framework for ‘Attention,’ the first thing I did was say [to my band mates] ‘trust me,’ and they said OK,” said Smith.
“We hadn’t even written a song yet, but decided [bassist Eric] Bass was going to produce it. He was going to make it sound like us. He was the main engineer and producer on it. I spent 179 days in Charleston [S.C.} with him on this. Eric said ‘I’d rather go crazy making this album than watching someone else go crazy trying to make it.’”
The first song that Smith and Bass wrote was “Get Up,” which became the sounding board for the whole album. It carries a message of encouragement to overcome depression.
“It was about Eric,” said Smith. “From there, we dove into song writing and decided to get personal and have no restrictions and be as up-front and honest as possible.”
Smith describes “Attention” as a “story album” – but not a concept album. The video for the opener, “Devil,” lays out the scenario: a man is led into a subterranean room, where he sits down, takes a breath and waits for all hell to break loose, even it it’s just in his mind.
“We want the listener in that room, on the journey,” said Smith. “It’s about self-awareness and not being afraid to deal with the heartbreak ... to not be judgmental with yourself before getting the life that you want.”
The album is a sonic kick in the pants to anyone who feels stuck, or wants more out of life.
“So many people are afraid to fail, and they don’t even attempt what their heart desires,” said Smith, getting into an inspirational zone. “Don’t be afraid to fail. If you fall a thousand times, then get up a thousand times. Don’t go into anything saying ‘if I’m not good at it I won’t continue.’ Just ask yourself, ‘Is this what I really want to do?,’ and then never have a Plan B.”
The band has followed its own advice.
In fact, you might say Shinedown has gone from The Cellar to the penthouse.
In its early years, the band was constantly on the road, and it made multiple visits to Youngstown, where the crowds could be rough.
Smith recalled one of his band’s first forays into the city. It was a raucous night at The Cellar, the long-closed rock club in Struthers.
“There was a really big dude who was in front of the stage heckling the hell out of me,” said Smith. After he had finally heard enough, Smith retaliated with an insult that pushed the heckler over the edge.
“He lunged at me, knocking people out of the way,” Smith recalled. “He was humongous. I flipped the mic around so I was holding on to the butt, thinking I was going to have to duck and then crack him, but the bouncers grabbed him first.”