Brent Smith On Shinedown’s Biggest Radio Hits
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Shinedown have never been darlings of the music press, but that doesn’t matter much to them — or their fans. The band has had 16 singles top the rock radio charts, including their latest, “Atlas Falls,” and they show no signs of slowing down. We spoke to frontman Brent Smith about a handful of the band’s biggest songs.
Shinedown has become one of the most enduring rock bands of this era: you’ve had radio hits from your debut album in 2003 through today, and you’ve been at Atlantic Records this entire time.
We’ve become one of the longest standing artists on Atlantic Records. And so it’s funny because when we were launching [2018’s] Attention, Attention, the label had an event for us and [Atlantic COO] Julie Greenwald gets up and says, “The guy that I’m about to bring up here. the only other men that I’ve had a longer relationship with is my husband and also Jay Z [Greenwald is a former Def Jam executive].” The Shinedown record that we’re working on right now is our seventh album with Atlantic. And once this is turned in, I’ll actually have one more [album with her] than Jay Z. So I will be the longest artist relationship she’s had. Which is crazy.
So, let’s talk about your latest #1 single, “Atlas Falls.” It seems to continue a long lyrical theme in your songs, about not backing down to adversity and about transcending your situation.
“Atlas Falls” was actually written during the Amaryllis writing sessions for that record [from 2012], which was our fourth album. That song is now coming to the light of day because of COVID-19. Five months ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were all thrust into a new world. And for me personally, I was trying to figure out a way to put optimism out into the world and also to help the medical and the scientific community during this time of crisis, because they were the ones that were battling — and are still battling — this virus. I came across an organization called Direct Relief. And Direct Relief is very essential and very important to “Atlas Falls,” because it was the song that I thought of when I came across finding out who Direct Relief is. They are a charity organization. They’re the calvary. Their main goal is to make sure that the men and women in the medical community, scientific community during times of crisis, whether it be poverty, a natural disaster or a pandemic, that they give these men and women the tools they need to save as many lives as possible. So once we had finally contacted them and we found our liaison, a gentleman by the name of Samir, I gave him the idea of I had a song that I wanted to attach to a T-shirt.
The song was “Atlas Falls,” and we wanted to give one hundred percent of the proceeds to Direct Relief and aiding them during this pandemic. We are closing in on almost four hundred thousand dollars raised since March of this year. So I have to preface “Atlas” with that because it’s very important why the song came out in the first place.
I just saw the fear in people’s eyes and I wanted to put something out into the world. The band — myself and Zach [Myers] and Barry [Kerch] and Eric [Bass]. We wanted to show optimism. We wanted to show encouragement, confidence, and we wanted to put something out there that was a beacon of the human spirit. And I always loved the song when we were writing for the album Amaryllis. We write a lot of songs for records. This was a song that didn’t make the album, not because it wasn’t good song. It’s just that the time I guess it just didn’t necessarily belong on that particular record. I felt like the song would see the light of day, eventually. I didn’t realize it was gonna be to this magnitude. But the song is about overcoming obstacles. It is about having confidence in yourself and just refusing to kneel. You know, we’ve often said that a lot of Shinedown music is about the yin and the yang. It’s why we named the band Shinedown in the first place. Sometimes you shine. Sometimes you’re down. It’s the yin and the yang. Everything that’s good has a little bit of bad and everything it’s bad, has a little bit of good, it’s balance.
“Fly From The Inside” was your first single and it was the leadoff song from Shinedown’s debut, Leave A Whisper. It has a lyrical theme about not letting people tell you that you won’t succeed at your dreams – I am guessing that some of this could have been inspired by your first experience with getting signed and then dropped, before starting Shinedown?
Yeah, the signing and then the dropping and then the resigning was very unique. I was signed to Atlantic Records over two decades ago with another band. I was dropped by Atlantic Records and then I was called back by the A&R guy, a gentleman by the name of Steve Robertson at Atlantic Records who is still Shinedown’s A & R rep to this day. He called me back about two weeks after dropping the band that I was in, and he said, “I want to resign you to a different deal. It’s a development deal.” And the idea was to give me the tools that I needed in regards to just writing with as many songwriters as possible. I just wasn’t around the type of individuals that could help me hone [my skills]. So I signed the deal.
And then three years later, we created Shinedown. And so “Fly From The Inside” was the very first single. I think that it’s very fitting that it was because the main line in the song is, “I found a way to steal the sun from the sky. Long live that day that I decided to fly from the inside.” And people have asked me, like, “What does that mean?” And “flying from the inside” just means you just believe you can accomplish anything. You believe you can fly, you believe you can steal the sun from the sky. It is just this song of pure determination.
But that was a huge moment for me. I still look on that song very, very fondly.
Was that the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
It was the first major label record that I was on that I heard on the radio. When I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I grew up, we actually had a pretty solid rock scene, there was independent radio, pirate radio, if you will. College radio. So a lot of alternative music was in my area as I was growing up, and I was in a lot of local bands and on certain radio stations, they’d have “locals night” either on Saturday or Sunday nights. I’ve heard myself on the radio and the bands that I was in locally, but the first time I nationally heard myself was “Fly From The Inside.” I was in Jacksonville, I was on the interstate and it was the last song of Chad Chumley Planet Radio [show] in Jacksonville, Florida, Needless to say, I was massively excited when I heard it for the first time.
“Devour” from Sound Of Madness was another #1. I remember hearing that it was about President George W. Bush. Is that true, and if so, were you hesitant to go there knowing that it might offend some fans?
It was 2008 when the record was released and when the song came out. At the time, George W. Bush [was President]… You know, now that I look back on it, I know I’m older and I can really look at the angst of where I was at. You learn as you get older what was actually going on at the time. My biggest thing was: I wanted to see our troops get out of areas that I didn’t feel like we needed to be in anymore. And I felt like the president at the time was holding that up.
I was kind of explaining it from a soldier’s point of view, of the frustration of continuing to being in an area that we didn’t belong in anymore. And so it’s more frustrating than anything. Not to mention we do a lot with the military, all four branches. We do it because we love these men and women and “Devour” was kind of an anthem for them.
That was also when Shinedown really started to get songs licensed to video games and sports events.
That was kind of the initial beginning stages of our relationship with ESPN. All of a sudden we just started getting a lot more opportunities with our music. But to be totally honest with you, the record, The Sound Of Madness, was a big leap forward from Leave a Whisper and Us And Them.
This is where Rob Cavallo came in as producer. This is when I met Dave Basset, who is a huge part of the songwriting process for Shinedown, still to this day. He’s kind of a fifth member of the band in the studio. And, yeah, a lot of things started to change on that record. And it was just a better record.
So at that point, your music is being played in places other than rock radio. Have you ever been in a situation where you’re at a restaurant, party or even a store, where your music is being played, and you notice someone digging your song… but they have no idea that you’re the guy who wrote it and sang it?
Yeah, it’s always fun, too. I always seem to hear it in grocery stores. It’s always “Second Chance” or it’s “If You Only Knew.” I’ve heard “The Crow And The Butterfly” before in grocery stores. I’ve heard “How Did You Love.” Recently I was… where was I? I think I was in a Wal-Mart and they were actually playing the entire Attention Attention record. And this was in the middle of the afternoon, like 3:00. I thought that was interesting. But yeah, I always keep a low profile when I walk around.
We have a thing in our band where we don’t walk around in our everyday lives gig-ready, meaning that we’re not wearing what we wear when we go on stage. Sometimes you’ll catch people in the industry and they’re kind of gig-ready everywhere that they go. I want to be comfortable in my day to day life, if you know what I mean. So I’m always wearing T-shirts and shorts, you know, hanging out with tennis shoes to always keep a low profile.
But yeah, I hear our songs. I see people digging them. They’ve got no idea that the person next to them is one of the people that wrote those songs. It’s fun. I always get a kick out of it.
“Bully” has become an anthem – talk about what inspired that. What has it been like to see high school marching bands cover it?
It got played by a bunch of marching bands. They just kind of picked up on that song. But the inspiration of that song was… this was released in 2012. And this was in the the the early phase of, like, when the Internet was crossing over from like message boards on websites into these new apps like Twitter. MySpace was starting to kind of fade out. Facebook was coming into the fold. So there was just a lot of videos, all of a sudden, of kids getting bullied. And I remember the media kind of said that bullying was an epidemic not only in America, but globally, because of the rise of social media. The thing about “Bully” for us was that we looked at it as: it’s not an epidemic. Bullying has been going on since the dawn of man and woman.
The thing about “Bully” was we weren’t necessarily saying that it was okay to let the bully continue abusing you or telling you to try to ignore the bully, because sometimes you’re just not going to be able to do that. And yes, a lot of times the bully is the one that’s being bullied the most. But the reality is: that song is about, “Listen, if you are coming into my personal space and you are mentally or physically attacking me, then I’m going to attack you back.” You have to stand up for yourself. So that song was about not turning the other cheek. It was about standing up for yourself and not allowing people to run over you.
And to this day, I think that song holds a lot of weight with people because it is defiant. We want people to know that they’re necessary and that they’re worth a lot and this world needs them. It’s an important song because it’s a song — yet again — where we want the listener to have as much confidence as possible in themselves.
“Second Chance” – another #1 – is probably your most well-known song. What did you write that one about?
That song was about a moment in time with my mother and my father. What I do today is what I always wanted to do. I always wanted to sing. I always want to be a songwriter. I always wanted to be a performer. So growing up in my town, it was just looked at as something that was just completely unattainable like it wasn’t realistic. I just never really listened to anyone when they discouraged me. Not that my parents discouraged me. But, you know, growing up, wanting to be a singer, wanting to be a performer and a songwriter, I got a lot of strange looks. I guess people thought to themselves, “There’s no way,” or “Good luck with that.” But I always had this passion. It’s a part of who I am. A good friend of mine once told me that you don’t pick the music, the music picks you. And I really do believe that.
But, like I said, I was signed to Atlantic Records out of Tennessee with a different band in the very beginning. I was dropped and then I was resigned to a development deal. And that’s what took me on the journey to essentially form and create Shinedown.
I was a difficult child to raise and I got in a lot of trouble in my hometown. And let’s just put it this way: I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, but I remember my mother looking at me at the kitchen table because I literally was leaving home, the second I was resigned. I was off, I was on a plane literally the next day.
I’ll never forget it either, it was two days after 9/11 when I got on the plane to go to Los Angeles for the first time. My mother looked at me and said, “I can’t try to tell you that I understand this life that you want for yourself. I can’t try to understand that you really do feel like you can accomplish this.” And she wasn’t being discouraging. It’s just that… I wasn’t the average kid in our family. If that makes any sense. I just wasn’t like everybody else.
But my mom said, “If you stay here, you’re never going to be fulfilled. And we know that. And we want you to go, but we want you to win.” I’ll never forget the fact that she said that to me. “Go out and win. Whatever it is you’re looking for, whatever it is you’re searching for.”
I talk about having a “Plan B,” and about the fact that you don’t need to have one. Don’t have a “Plan B.” Whatever your “A plan” is, do that.
And I remember my mom saying, “Good luck. I’m gonna love you no matter what. But: win.” My father echoed that and really my goodbye wasn’t “goodbye.” This was my second chance.
[When I got the development deal from Atlantic], I didn’t know what that meant. But what it meant was: it was going to take me on a journey and I’m still on that journey and I’m very grateful for it. So that’s where the song comes in and that’s what the song’s about, that goodbye, when you leave the nest or when where you grew up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You have to go out into the world. It’s a big, beautiful, beautiful, bold world. Go out and live it.
I imagine you’ve gotten some pretty moving feedback from fans about what the song means to them. Does any single story from a fan stand out to you?
There was a young man in 2010, who was probably twenty-two years old. And I remember he found me backstage and he said that the album, The Sound of Madness, top to bottom, meant a great deal to him.
But he prefaced it by saying that, basically, he hadn’t spoken to his mother in over two years. They had a falling out with each other. But when The Sound Of Madness album came out, he found her and knocked on the door. She answered the door. They hadn’t seen each other in two years. He said, “All I want you to do is get in the car with me right now and go for a drive. I don’t want you to say anything. I just want you to listen.” And so she did. She gets in the car and he plays the entire Sound Of Madness record to her because he felt that that that album had a lot to do with where he was at and what he wanted to tell his mother, that the songs related so much to what was going on in both of their lives.
But when it got to “Second Chance,” that was the moment. But they didn’t speak to each other. He just drove her around to listen to the record. But she was obviously very touched when that song came on and they listened to the entire recording, said he drove her back home and they just held onto each other for like 30 minutes and they were able to start their relationship over again. As you know, a mother and a son kind of hit the “reset” button. And the album was one of those things that helped them be able to do that. “Second Chance” was a big part of… whatever had happened in their relationship, they were able to let it go and move on and start over again, as a mother and son. I always thought that was an amazing story.