15 Years Ago: Shinedown Embrace the Perfect Storm on Career-Defining ‘The Sound of Madness’ Album
In the early 2000s, Shinedown emerged as one of rock’s bright young stars, delivering the platinum-selling debut Leave a Whisper and the gold-selling follow-up Us and Them. While it looked like a solid career with radio success lied ahead, things seemed less than guaranteed for the band considering what was happening behind the scenes heading into the creation of their third release, The Sound of Madness.
Being pushed initially for a quick turnaround of their third album by their label, singer Brent Smith balked at working under time constraints, feeling less than happy with the experience during their sophomore set, Us and Them. The label relented, granting Smith the time he wanted as the band started in on The Sound of Madness in early 2007. It turns out the time was needed as Shinedown were undergoing some significant internal changes. The touring life had taken its toll. Bassist Brad Stewart had become dissatisfied, while Smith and guitarist Jasin Todd had substance abuse issues coming to the forefront. Smith learned he was going to become a father and made the decision to kick his drug habit. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Shinedown made the decision to move on from Todd. A public announcement came in April 2008 shortly after the guitarist was arrested in Jacksonville on charges of disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer, though the decision to part with Todd had come prior to the public statement.
So, as writing began for the new album, Smith and drummer Barry Kerch remained the two holdovers. In our chat with Kerch about the 10th anniversary of the album, the drummer recalled, "To be honest, I was holding on for dear life. I think we all were ... at that time we were honestly falling apart. Brad had been let go. Jasin actually came to the studio to record The Sound of Madness with us, but then his problems overtook his ability to do the record as well, so it was Brent and I looking at each other, like, 'OK, we have a singer and a drummer, how are we going to do this?'"
He continued, "At the same time, Brent was about to have his son and he was going through his things with drugs and alcohol, so it was a very difficult time, but I think what was holding us together is that we knew we were sitting on something very special."
Smith, dealing with a lot of change in his life, channeled some of his experiences into what is arguably his most personal recordings to date. “I broke down a lot of walls on this record and a lot of barriers and was a lot more blunt on this album,” stated Smith in a 2008 interview with Always Acoustic. “[I] was able to discuss not only my personal issues, but the things that were going on around me and be very up front about it. I’ve been known in the past as being an individual that kind of paints pictures with his words.” The singer went on to add, “We want to go and push ourselves as far as we possibly can in order for not only us to feel as if we’re doing what we need to do as artists, but that the people need to hear the growth in the band and hopefully they hear that.”
Kerch told us, "You could feel it. There was a vibe. For me, even before I was in the band when it was just called the Brent Smith Project and I was auditioning, I was attracted to hearing the demos with Brent's voice and you could always hear the conviction in his voice. When I heard the demos for what became The Sound of Madness, I thought, 'Oh my god. There's that guy, that voice I fell in love with.' And there was this angst and just something I heard in his voice where I went, 'Oh, there's that guy again.' It just makes my skin crawl with happiness to know that he's emoting the way that he was emoting on that album."
Shinedown, "Sound of Madness"
For the album, the band paired up with producer Rob Cavallo, who up to that point had been best known for his work with Goo Goo Dolls and Green Day. With The Sound of Madness being more of Smith’s personal journey, the producer helped Brent bring his conviction to the forefront. Kerch recalls, "Two things that Rob is really good at is guitars and vocals. He's able to get on record the emotion of a voice and great guitars. That doesn't make drums and bass secondary by any means, but that's what sticks out." He added, "Rob Cavallo has a sound, and when he's there, he has this sound and it's exactly what we needed. We needed someone who was going to take the Shinedown of Leave a Whisper and Us and Them, which was kind of disjointed or just young, and he was able to take us to the next level."
As for the band, Smith and Kerch remained, but the rest of the disc was recorded with the help of Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and session guitarists Tim Pierce, Dave Bassett, Bobby Huff and Dale Oliver all lending a hand, while the acclaimed string arranger David Campbell and keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac also chipped in. "We were just thinking about how are we going to make this record," says Kerch, explaining that the touring lineup came together later. "Those guys killed it in the studio, but it came after the record was done that we [finalized the group]."
Coming out of the sessions, Smith was beaming about what had been created. “I think that finally for the first time in my life I opened up a door that I was afraid to open up lyrically about the way I felt about a lot of things and I think people identify with it,” said the singer to Always Acoustic. “I dreamed about being a musician, a performer, a songwriter, a singer my whole life and I still wake up every single day and look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, ‘This can all be gone tomorrow,’ so I give all the glory to the fans and the people who support it.”
Making sure that it wasn’t all gone tomorrow was the next step, with Smith and Kerch having to make sure they had a band to support the new music. Upon Todd’s release, Silvertide’s Nick Perri, whom they knew from touring, stepped in as lead guitarist. Zach Myers, who had previously filled in for the band, would become their rhythm guitarist and eventually switch over to lead shortly into support of the disc when Perri exited the group. And Eric Bass, who the band had met in a studio, was the choice for bassist.
Kerch recalls, "Zach had filled in when Jasin and Brad were having babies and he did a great job, and he was level-headed and he's a great player, so he would be a great fit for a guitarist. That was a no-brainer. And during the writing process for Sound of Madness, we had gone to Charleston, South Carolina to Eric's studio because Eric was a producer before this and we went to his studio to do some writing. We went there and kind of hit it off and things were falling apart with us and it turned into a nightmare and Eric was initially like, 'I don't want to be any part of this. These guys are insane.' But fast forward to the record being done, we begged, 'Please come down and try out for us,' and he did come down and try out and it worked out perfectly. Now we're ten years later and we couldn't be happier. It truly is a band of brothers."
With the band set, Shinedown released The Sound of Madness on June 24, 2008 through Atlantic Records and saw solid early returns as their hard-hitting single “Devour” arrived at rock radio, gradually climbing to No. 1 on the mainstream rock chart. The song was bolstered by a wealth of placement opportunities like inclusion in video games (EA Sports Madden NFL 09, Rock Band), television (WWE Night of Champions, Real World/Road Rules Challenge) and film (The Final Destination).
"Devour" came out of the gate with a clear point of view. Smith recalled visits to Middle East in the past and speaking with the soldiers, coming out of the experience with something personal. “It was such a mind opening experience because I was watching a lot of news before I went over there as to what media was giving us over here,” said Smith, who said he was affected by the stories of the men and women putting their lives on the line and spending time away from loved ones. “The fact was when I got home this song came to me out of pure frustration as to why there is no answer to bring these men and women home,” said the vocalist. “At the end of the day it’s about survival. I do not feel in any way, shape or form that these soldiers should be submitted to this when half the time they don’t really know why they are still there. There’s never an answer and that’s where the song came from.”
While “Devour” added to their growing list of hard-edged hits, what came next was a more intimate breakthrough that catapulted Shinedown to new heights as a band – the single “Second Chance.” Smith penned the track about his decision in his youth to leave his family and head elsewhere to pursue his dreams of becoming a rock star and the hope that it might break down the barriers of communication that had built up over the years. “I felt that was by far the hardest song I had to write on the record,” says Smith of the soul-baring track. “It was about the subject matter, about the song and what I had to do in order to break down the walls around me to discuss what my childhood was like and my upbringing and where that song really came from. To have it finally be heard by the people was a big deal to me.” As Smith and the rest of the band soon learned, the song was one of the most relatable pieces of music he could have ever written. Shinedown even opened up the lines of communication with the fans, welcoming them to write and share their “Second Chance” stories as well. “We want to know their day that they woke up and decided that they wanted something better for themselves and got the guts and the will to do that,” said Smith.
Kerch says, "I think because that song touched on an emotion that everyone somewhere feels, it's really what created such a special moment with any and all of the fans of Shinedown. It's a song where Brent lyrically just captured lightning in a bottle. Those are real lyrics and when you're able to emote to that level the way that he can, anyone can relate to that."
Not only did “Second Chance” hit No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but it crossed over to the Hot 100 chart hitting No. 7, reached the top of several other charts and became a triple-platinum selling single. It remains the band’s biggest hit, connecting with so many people over the years.
Shinedown, "Second Chance"
With two massive tracks to open the promotion of the new album, it became apparent that The Sound of Madness had legs. The band continued to dig into the disc for singles. The title track, written from the viewpoint of watching a loved one’s self destruction and trying to offer support, followed its predecessors to the top of the Mainstream Rock Charts.
The love song “If You Only Knew,” penned for the mother of Smith’s child, also captured the hearts of listeners climbing to No. 2 at Mainstream Rock radio. “I’ve never really had the words for such a song,” said Smith in a 2008 interview, “But the words to the song they just came to me in a flood. It’s just from the bottom of my heart the way that I feel about her and the way that I feel about my son.”
The chart-topping “The Crow and the Butterfly” also achieved great success at rock radio. Speaking on Rockline, Smith had stated that the track was inspired by a dream about a mother whose daughter had died about month before her son was born and the difficulty of dealing with loss while trying to move on.
Shinedown, "The Crow and the Butterfly"
And, as had started to become commonplace in the mid-2000s, the band’s label decided to extend the cycle of the album by announcing a reissue with bonus tracks. This allowed for the inclusion of “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” to continue their run of chart-toppers. The track was one of two soundtrack songs that had been written during the course of the album’s nearly three-year run on the charts (The other being “Her Name Is Alice” for the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack). The band had been approached by none other than Sylvester Stallone, looking for a song for his film The Expendables. The one caveat was that it include the chant “boom-lay boom-lay boom,” as Stallone had been inspired by a poem called “The Congo” that had the chant as a section of the poem.
The Sound of Madness spent over 120 weeks on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, peaking at No. 8, but going on to double-platinum sales. It generated four chart-topping Mainstream Rock singles, the first album to do so since The Black Crowes’ The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion disc in 1992. Plus, it also established them as a bonafide headlining touring act.
Though they started out promotion for the album still doing some support shows, they’d share stages over the next couple of years with Disturbed, Staind, Chevelle, Halestorm, Theory of a Deadman, Black Stone Cherry, Red and Papa Roach, building their audience gradually as the touring wore on. Kerch recalls playing in Pharr, Texas on release day to a crowd of around 50 people, being somewhat discouraged by the turnout on what he felt had been their best album. But as he puts it, "It didn't happen instantaneously. We were a new band again. We had to reinvent ourselves with new members and start all over again." After the success of "Devour" and "Second Chance" and making their inaugural run into Europe for the disc, the drummer says he started to notice the crowds being more plentiful. "[That start] gave us the drive though to work really hard and bust it," says the drummer. "But nothing in this band was easy or instantaneous. It's hard work and nose to the grind stuff, but to be honest, I don't think any of us would have it any other way."
With The Sound of Madness, the group found themselves being invited to late night talk shows, finally hitting some of the major European festivals in prime viewing slots and playing to larger venues. "Those moments were all big to us. We were used to slaving it out in clubs and it started to change. It wasn't clubs anymore, it was arenas. It was such a gradual change that it takes looking back now to see how it all turned. I can say that whole record changed our lives," says Kerch.
As the crowds started to build and the album began generating hit after hit, Shinedown then got a special touring opportunity. Like several of their peers, they were able to help launch a branded tour, with the In De Goot organized Carnival of Madness placing them atop the bill. Over the years, when available, they've returned to headline as well, often fronting great packages showcasing some of rock's best talent.
And finishing out their promotion for the album, the band launched the “Anything and Everything” tour, a trek that featured Shinedown participating in Q&A sessions with audiences and delivering acoustic performances. That final leg of dates turned into the live album, Somewhere in the Stratosphere.
Reflecting on what made the album so special, Kerch told us, "I think it's because Brent was able to be so honest in his lyrics and gave so much of himself, more so than even his previous two records, it was just undeniable. And then to have the production and the support from the label and the management, the backing of having a producer of Rob Cavallo's level at the time, all of those things were the perfect storm at the perfect time to put a really special piece of music together. Through all the drama at the time internally, it fueled the fire to say, 'Look, we are either going to disappear right now or we better have made the best thing we've ever made.' There was no in-between and the label wasn't going to let us put out another record, that wasn't happening, so we realized that if we wanted this to be a career, you need to stop f-ing around and do the best we can and we did."
So while Shinedown were at their most unstable point of their career going into the album, by the time promotion was complete they had become true superstars of the genre with an impressive string of hit songs. They graduated from clubs to arenas, headed up a branded tour, were presented with recording opportunities for soundtracks, played an acoustic tour, put together a live album based off the strength of the The Sound of Madness and solidified their lineup for years to come. As the 10 year anniversary arrives, Kerch tells us the band is still determining how they intend to mark the occasion, with the idea of select shows playing The Sound of Madness front-to-back being broached, but they will need to find time in their schedule to rehearse and revisit the material first. "We're still trying to figure it out. Come towards the end of the year it's a possibility for sure," says the drummer.