Feb 13, 2023
By Emma Berry
Photography by Sanjay Parikh
It’s fast approaching mid-February and 2023 is in full unapologetic swing; the evenings are getting lighter, the veiled predictions of another ‘Beast from The East’ snowstorm are proving false here in the UK…so far…and THIS is going to be THE biggest year for live music in our post-pandemic world! According to who? Well, according to none other than Brent Smith; enigmatic frontman of Shinedown with whom I had the pleasure of recently interviewing.
With another recent single release, “Dead Don’t Die” from their acclaimed 2022 album Planet Zero under their belts, Brent and the band are on the cusp of what is promising to be yet another incredible year for the Florida four piece. They are no stranger to success, of course, with a career spanning almost twenty years, glittering with seven albums worth of multi-platinum success and an unbroken record of ‘Most No.1s ever in the 40 year history of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs Chart.’ I was lucky enough to review the Nottingham leg of their five-date Planet Zero UK Tour last November, a visually stunning evening showcasing their incredible catalogue of hits and, perhaps more importantly, their ability to connect with their ever-growing fanbase: Shinedown Nation, through their songs and passion for the human condition.
So, am I nervous about interviewing the man behind one of the most recognised voices in rock? Of course, as I rummage through my lists of questions before the Zoom-link video clicks in.
In (virtual) person, Brent is as charming and vivacious as his stage personality suggests; open and friendly, he bounds on to the screen, fresh from another interview, ready to answer anything with a smile; never a stranger to social media and the human connectivity that it can provide, he is an active voice for positive change, with an infectious outlook on life! It seems we have lots to talk about. How is the band finding 2023 so far – seems like a good place to start.
It’s going to be a busy year for the band, who are about to go out on tour in April in the US with fellow Billboard chart-toppers Three Days Grace, supported by From Ashes To New. “I’m excited that we get to use our set again,” says Brent, talking about the graphic set used for Shinedown’s recent headline UK tour. It helped to bring the futuristic, dystopian sound of Planet Zero to life, complete with the unnerving vocals of Cyren who provides robotic-style interludes between tracks on the album. Mostly it seems that Shinedown are ready to kill it with their live shows again and it’s a bonus that they get to hang out with their good friends on tour too. I ask if there are any plans to bring the tour across to the UK. “There are no plans as of YET,” Brent replies, which is answer enough for us to hope that they might be back on our shores sooner rather than later.
It’s no secret that Shinedown are all about cultivating positivity and good mental health; “Sometimes I’m in a room where I don’t belong, And the house is on fire and there’s no alarm,” Brent talks through the lyrics of next single, “A Symptom of Being Human.” “The house is your mind…” So for a band that advocates keeping your mental health in check, how does the gruelling schedule of touring impact on them as individuals? “We’re at a place in our career where, if I’m being completely honest with you…we could have separate buses, we could fly separate planes and have separate dressing rooms,” Brent replies. “But that just really sounds…awful. We just really love each other, we genuinely care about each other. Over the years, we have learnt that the most important thing is communication.” It’s an answer that doesn’t surprise me at all, that the way that the band, and their crew, take care of each other and mentally and physically ensure that they are in shape, keeps them grounded. It’s a ‘marriage’ of minds, as Brent describes it, that spills over into Shinedown’s live performances. If you have seen Shinedown live, you will know that their onstage energy is unrivalled, as is the genuine bond that unfolds between each member, there has never been a sense of ego, but of intuition and respect. Each has their role, their place and it is clear that Shinedown would cease to be without each and every one of them.
Above all, despite the longevity of their career, Brent is excited yet always humble, when it comes to talking about the band’s success; “Don’t ever believe that you’ve arrived,” he says, “there’s always a bigger mountain.” And what about the audience? I ask this, having been to shows in the past, where Shinedown were the support, to witness scores of fans turn up for their set and their set alone; leaving abruptly as the four-piece exit the stage. Shinedown are loved and appreciated on every level. And it is clear from our conversation that the love and appreciation is reciprocated, as Brent quotes his guitarist bandmate Zach Myers, “Don’t make it about the painter, make it about the painting.” Brent shows an acute awareness of his own anxieties when he is performing, “You never know who is in the audience.” He’s right, as he interjects his usual ‘icebreaker’ at live shows, asking Shinedown first-timers to raise their hands. “80% of people will usually raise their hands wherever we go.” But he will always go that one step further, inviting the audience to look to their left and right, shaking hands with people they have never met before, “Tell them it’s nice to see them at the show,” he tells me; proof that the audience and the importance of human connectivity is really at the heart of Shinedown, particularly reflected in the lyrics of their latest album Planet Zero; it’s a meaningful portrayal of vital human connection in a world that feels very against its inhabitants at times. The title track suggests a dystopian future, warning of the loss of humanity, if we lose each other.
So how does Brent think the landscape of live music has changed, in the wake of that ‘blip’ in humanity, also known as COVID-19? Are those moments of connectivity, to which we have already spent so much time discussing even more important now that we are getting back to some form of ‘normal’? “Absolutely,” Brent agrees, and he’s quick to mention the importance of moving forward, past the uncertainties of the last three years, as we navigate a post-virus world. His positivity is infectious, he was one singer who worked all the way through the height of COVID-19 with his side project with Zach, Smith and Myers; a double album that took them on a tour of parking lots and drive-ins, to keep the momentum going and inspire Shinedown to get back out on the road, perhaps earlier than other bands.
“Dead Don’t Die” was a rousing, stomping anthem about the resilience of the human spirit, complete with a video that relayed its message through imagery, akin to that of an action film, “Almost an homage to John Wick,” says Brent, who cannot speak highly enough of the beautiful architecture that London in particular has to offer. The first Shinedown video to be shot outside of the US, it’s a visual partnership with director Lewis Cater, shot at the historical location The Crossness Pumping Station in London, with slick symbolism and cinematography, mirrors the message with perfection.
“A Symptom of Being Human” is the next single, out imminently complete with a second video by Cater, which shows a completely different side and style to its predecessor. A beautiful, melodic tale of forgiving ourselves and accepting each other for all our triumphs and failures. Brent believes this to be the most important song off the new album, as well as one of the first penned by the band; “We’re all a work in progress”, he muses, about how we navigate our relationships with each other, particularly in the – often ferocious – network of social media. We get to talking about Generation Z, as Brent confesses to being inspired by conversations he has with his own son; his belief in Gen Z’s ability to see each other as “translucent, as an individual.” Devices and negativity aside, he believes that we can learn a lot from younger people, moving away from the aesthetic, to what is really important. “It gives me hope,” he says, typically as I have learnt from this interview, always thinking about the future and preserving our humanity.
And with that, Brent is about to head off to the studio with Eric Bass (Shinedown’s bassist, pianist and producer of Planet Zero), to record new music. I leave him with a future Oasis cover request (as they do such an incredible cover of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” on tour) and I’m already excited to welcome the band back to the UK soon, even if it’s not YET. It’s been an insightful conversation, proving that Shinedown are not just a band that plays culturally relevant music, they are a movement in themselves for the greater good, for seeing the best in each other and, most importantly, to not give up on humanity, even when it seems so increasingly bleak out there. “It gives me hope”, echoes with me a lot as I head to work the next day (teaching – of course). Much like the song suggests, Hope isn’t a four-letter word; it’s music, in the form of Brent Smith and Shinedown. And it is medicine for us all, as we navigate our own symptoms of being simply human.