Shinedown are one of the biggest rock bands in America. They are currently over in the UK as special guests to Iron Maiden on their Book of Souls tour. Opening for Iron Maiden is no easy task for anyone, so how are the band handling it? Well, I went to Sheffield to pose the question to Guitarist Zach Myers ahead of their show at Sheffield Arena. Over the course of a half an hour chat, we discussed that, writing a new album, their constant need to keep things fresh. the effects of social media on the rockstar mystique, and of course Llama farming….
So, the obligatory opening question. How has the tour been going?
Zach Myers: It’s been really good man. It’s funny because you do this tour…and we’ve opened for all like the tough bands. We’ve opened for Metallica, Kiss and Slayer, I mean the fact that we opened for Slayer is ridiculous because we’re not a heavy band.(Iron) Maiden is the toughest band to open for because of the legion of fans is so dedicated. It’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen, they just show up and take over a city. It’s been fun though, every night’s been a win. No ones turned their back on us or flipped us off, so it’s been really good, we’re excited.
As you said, with some of the acts you’ve opened for and especially with Iron Maiden fans being as they are. Does it make it more challenging for you to put your setlist together?
Zach: I don’t know if it made it more challenging to put the setlist together. It makes you more aware of what you are going to do onstage I think. I feel like if you show any fear they are going to eat you. We don’t do that, we go out there with our heart on sleeves and be ourselves and we win them over every night. Europe was hard, but then when we got to the UK it’s been great. The fans over here are so great always.
You guys always do really well over here. Whether it’s at Download Festival or on your own tours. Have you had a number of your own fans coming out to these shows?
Zach: Way more so when we got to the UK than with Europe. It’s weird we can do 1500 to 3000 in Europe on our own depending on the market, Then we can do 3500 to 5000 over here which is nice, but definitely, more Shinedown shirts showing up since we got to the UK. We opened up for Kiss in Canada and 80 percent of those people have Kiss shirts on, and if they don’t it’s because they are physically dressed as Kiss. Whereas here everybody has an Iron Maiden shirt, it’s like a legion, which I think is cool. You don’t see that at other shows like I’ll walk around during the day out in the town centre and there are Iron Maiden shirts everywhere.
It must be incredibly gratifying for you as a band when people say that they hadn’t heard of you guys or perhaps that they weren’t fans but seeing you live changed that opinion and turned them into fans?
Zach: I remember seeing some of the first things coming out on this tour when they first announced it, like people saying the fans were going to destroy us and I got nervous about it, I don’t think the rest of the band did, but I did. I talked to other friends who had opened for Maiden and they were like ‘You are literally just something between then and their favourite band’ but like I said Europe was tough, but once we got to the end of the show I feel like we won them, and now in the UK, we will start a song and people will cheer because they know the song, so that’s cool. But it’s very gratifying to go out there and feel like you have to win a crowd, it’s very humbling. We do very well in the states and we play places like this in the states on our own, but feeling like you have to win something brings you back to the beginning in a way, it feels really good when you do win them, you feel very accomplished when you walk offstage.
I feel comfortable enough to tell you this, but before Threat to Survival came out I wasn’t a fan of you guys. I had heard a couple of songs here and there, but it just wasn’t my thing. But hearing that album turned me around.
Zach: I really appreciate that. See, to me that is a testament to this band and the fact that we change every album. There are so many bands that stick to the same fluidity of a record, especially in America. They go well if it ain’t broke, we ain’t going to fix it.
AC’/DC for example…
Zach: Yeah, but that’s different. That’s a legendary band who can make a rock & roll song with three chords, the same three chords…but they are probably the greatest rock & roll band in the world. There are other bands in modern rock who aren’t legendary who are doing it too. For us, I feel like when we came out with Threat to Survival I feel like two things, fans thought we tried to write a record that was different which is not true, and I feel like they felt like we didn’t realise we were colouring outside the lines. We do realise that especially now almost two years removed from it, we totally realise that were colouring outside the lines. We never sit down and say well we’re gonna write a song like State of my Head which is almost a hip-hop song or more pop or alternative, what alternative is now, you know Imagine Dragons, things like that. We never do that, we sit down the same way we wrote Sound of Madness, the way we wrote Devour or the way the band wrote Fly from the Inside. It all starts the same way, we don’t go ‘Ok, we’re gonna write a pop song today’ we write what we feel and maybe some influences get in there. The truth is, none of us listens to straight up rock music, we have so many different influences that we listen to that kind of all make their way to the surface when it’s time to write, we kind of cut off music when start to write to try and just block everything out.
As you said you never want to write the same record twice. So do you ever go back and listen to the previous record before you start writing a new one, to see where you may have gone wrong or to see what you can do differently to avoid repeating yourself?
Zach: Not for the aforementioned reasons, but I listen to our band all the time. It’s one of those things if I’m on an aeroplane I’ll be like I wanna listen to the record, it’s 6 months after the record came out and I haven’t listened to it in a while and I wanna listen to it and see what we did. I’m a big sports fan, so it’s almost like watching film of your last game. I think I do it way in the preliminary stages, I don’t think I do it while we start writing, maybe about a year before we even start thinking about writing, I’ll be thinking ‘Ok, what do I want this next thing to be’ Like you said you became a fan on this record and a lot of people didn’t like this record. A lot of our old school fans didn’t like it, but in the meantime, we gained a lot of new fans in the process, like yourself who really like this record, because it is different, it’s not the record we did before or the time before that. You know we want to challenge ourselves and you want people to grow with you and that’s kind of what you do. There’s these bands that are perfectly fine sitting exactly where they are. They know where the money is, and they know they are going to get the same people, and the same clubs over and over and over again, and they know they can go back to the same club 6 times on a record cycle and their record sounds the same, the formula is exactly the same. There’s no point in that for us, there’s no satisfaction in it for us either, I would rather put out a record that was honest and me and sell half the records, honestly that’s just where I am because as an artist and musician I have to move and I have to grow, I can’t sit in the same spot.
Looking at it from the other side. Do you think with the culture of music being the way it is today, with Illegal downloading, streaming and people preferring to buy singles over albums. Do you think that forces some bands to not want to change their formula, and rock the boat because that is where the money is for them?
Zach: That’s a great question. I had never thought about that being the reason before. But I could see where that would probably scare people off. For us, we built this thing on radio, we weren’t MTV darlings, we weren’t on the cover of Rolling Stone. Radio is something that has been there and to me will always be there in one form or another, whether it be internet or satellite. Where we built this on radio, and we are also a physical band 70 percent of the sales of our last album were physical.
Zach: Which is insane. They weren’t downloads, people want to get our record and hold it in their hands. That means a lot to me because I’m still that guy, I still want to get a record. I don’t even have Pandora, I don’t have Spotify or Apple Music. I go and buy albums if I hear one song that I like I don’t buy the song I go and buy the entire album. If it sucks, it sucks and a lot of times it does, I hear the song and I go and buy the record and listen to the record and I’ll be disappointed but I bought the record. In the digital age, there’s not much nostalgia hanging around, this day and age doesn’t make room for what will be nostalgia in the future, so for me if I can buy an album and hold it in my hand it brings me back to being 12 or 13 and having those records that I really really loved. I think we all have that feeling of those records that you hold and you remember the first time you listened to it, that’s the feeling that I have that I like a lot.
Switching direction slightly. How far along are you guys with a new record. Have you started writing it yet?
Zach: Yeah, we probably have 12 songs done. But to go back to that same thing we were talking about how bands go back to the same formula. Most bands go in and write and 12 songs and that’s the record You are very confident in yourself, you think you can just write the first 12 songs and that’s it, you like what you do I guess (laughs) for us I think we have 4 great songs, we have 6 that are good and we have 5 that don’t even have a chance to make the record. But that’s the way we do it, and I think we are getting better as writers. because Sound of Madness I want to say there were close to 40 or 50 demos that I still have, Amaryllis was 28 and Threat to Survival was 18 to 20 so we’re getting close, soon maybe we’ll be able to write 12 songs and say ‘Hey, here’s the record’ (laughs) You see a lot of people that write two singles and two really good songs and go ‘Alright we got the singles’ if you keep track of our band, we wanna go 6 deep on every record. We started that with the Sound of Madness, we had 6 singles on one album which is insane. Threat to Survival was 5 or 6. We could probably put out these first 12 songs and the record would still do fine, but I wanna write a 12 single record every time.
As you say you know the record could do fine, but you know in your hearts you could have done better.
Zach: We could do better. People always ask me why we take so much time in between records and that’s why. I could easily go in and we could record these 12 songs that we have now and we could put out an album. 3 of them I think could be singles, and be great but I have no interest in doing that. As a fan of music, I’m still more of a fan of music than I am a musician. I love Music to me it’s my heart and soul. As a music fan, I’m not going to put out a shit record that only has 3 good songs on it just to put out a record. It’s not because I want these people to wait longer or any other reason. You’re paying for this. In this day and age paying for a record and going to a concert is not the easiest thing, these people spend their hard earned money and we all come from lower to middle-class families, our mothers and our fathers all had jobs and worked their asses off. So I’m not going to put out a record for someone to spend their hard earned money on if I don’t think it’s the best thing it can be.
When writing, do you guys write on the road or will you be taking time off after this tour to finish off the writing for the record?
Zach: We’ve never really written on the road until now. We have always been of two brains, we’ve always been of the brain that there’s touring and when you’re done touring for that record then you start writing and that’s how we’ve done it until Threat to Survival. This record we’re writing, we’re recording and playing shows in the middle which we’ve never done before. This time we’ve written 12 songs, on the last record we didn’t write one song until we finished the record cycle. Eric our bass player is kind of the patriarch of the writing process because he’s an amazing producer and engineer so he writes a lot on the road, so on this last arena tour we did in U.S he was trying to do a song a day, so 3 of the songs that we have that are already done is stuff that he started in dressing rooms on the road.
Do you find it easy to write on the road or do you need to be in a space that is strictly for writing?
Zach: I don’t. I can write anywhere. The person we had to break out of the comfort zone the most was Brent. When we are on tour, he focuses on the tour and that is all he focuses on. So to write when we are out here is very hard for him, I still don’t think he really writes while we are out here, He will wait until we are on a break, the fact that we are even writing like I said, we are still on the Threat to Survival cycle until November of this year.
When do you think we will hear the album. Will it be next year?
Zach: I think you’ll see a record early to mid next year. I think that we already so deep into it, that the ideas are already there.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about is social media. I follow you on Twitter and you are very active on Twitter engaging with fans. Do you think social media has become a good tool for bands nowadays where they can get information directly from bands or do you have to disassociate yourself from it every now and then?
Zach: I struggle with the concept of it. What I mean by that is when we were kids I was in my head several times a day probably thinking I wonder what Jimmy Page is doing right now and in my head, I can think of anything, you know Worshipping Satan, Throwing fish at naked women, drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels and doing massive amounts of Cocaine and nowadays you think I wonder what Jimmy Page is doing right now and it’s like ‘Ohe, he’s at Starbucks and they spelled his name wrong’ he just posted a picture of it Instagram. I struggle with that, the reason why is because I miss the mystery in rock & roll. I’m as guilty as anyone else because I’m on there, that’s another reason I love the Avenged (Sevenfold) guys, because we’re friends with the Avenged guys, I love that band because they don’t do anything on social media, they have the Avenged one but none of the members really have one. I know Brian (aka Synyster Gates) has one but he never really uses it, he has like 5 pictures up.I miss the mystery in it, I miss that. Now there is so much access all the time, another downside to that is that people think that they are closer to you than they are.
They think that you owe them something
Zach: Yeah and you don’t. You owe them your craft and everything you have to put into music, but after that, to me, everything to me should be a bonus. It’s cool when fans ask about your kids and stuff like that, but they can take it too far. Now the upside, instant information. I can’t imagine in the 70s you put out a record and it;s gotta go into a magazine, that takes a week or two to put out and print. I can say we have a record coming out tomorrow, today and it’s out there. You have the side where people like me can get a little overly opinionated. It’s a real for something like me who is opinionated and doesn’t have a filter and doesn’t really believe in this whole bullshit politically correct world that we’re living in. I live by a couple of rules, if you are not being a racist, which is unacceptable to me, that is probably one of the things I’m most against in the world, and if you’re not being a massive asshole to a specific person then say whatever the fuck you want. It’s not your business that someone else gets offended by something that you say. Like when people say ‘Why don’t you make a heavier record’ and I’m like ‘Why don’t you mind your own fucking business’ but I’ve gotta reign that stuff in. There’s a great quote that my bass player Eric told me. I’m a big sneaker guy and somebody asked one time why Michael Jordon wouldn’t support a certain candidate in something and he said ‘Republicans buy just as many shoes as Democrats’ and I was like ‘That’s true’ because you’ve got guys out there that will get up on that high horse on Twitter and start tweeting about the President or whatever it is they are going to tweet about and you have just alienated so many of your fans and a lot of people go ‘Well I don’t care, if that’s what they think then I don’t want them to be my fans’ well you’re a fucking idiot then. Your craft is for people to love, but that the same time you’ve gotta say that’s their opinion. I support that fact just as much as I support the fact that shouldn’t put yourself too much out there. But I’m of the ilk that someone’s opinion shouldn’t make you not like their music, you can not like them but you can still like their music. There’s plenty of artists out there, their political opinion I don’t care about but I love their records, I’m not gonna stop listening to their records.
You have to separate the art and the artist
Zach: Exactly. You couldn’t have quoted it any better than that.
I think also being in the position you are in, you have to be careful, Because all it would take is for a fan to take something the wrong way, screenshot it and then you see a headline on Blabbermouth ‘Shinedown Guitarist called me blah blah blah…’
Zach: ‘Shinedown guitarist says European audiences are smarter than American audiences’ probably one of the best headlines I ever read. (Laughs) I try not to do interviews as much as I can. We were over here and we were in the arena on one of the first nights of this tour and I walked passed the room where I did that interview. That was not even what I said and he wouldn’t release the audio which really pissed me off, because if you heard the audio that’s not what I said. Me and Chris Jericho talked about this on his podcast. I love Blabbermouth, I check it every day, but the comments…I don’t even read them anymore, if you’re in there shitting on Ozzy or Metallica then you are gonna destroy me, so I don’t even bother anymore (laughs) but I still read Blabbermouth daily.
So now that we have the heavy topics out the way. I’m going to ask you some more fun random questions.
So, the First question. Is it true you run a family owned Llama farm?
Zach: No that is not true.
I read that somewhere and felt compelled to ask about it,
Zach: I don’t like doing interviews. This one has been great actually because you haven’t asked the same shit, you know the stuff you can look up. We do so many interviews and it is literally someone reading the answers on a Wikipedia page and then re-asking the question they just read the answer to. I’m such a big fan of journalism, I love Charlie Rose, people like James Lipton who does Inside the Actor’s Studio, people who do interviews and it’s such a great interview. You’ve asked so many great questions here, but I just don’t like doing interviews so for me I joked one time about owning an emu farm, and then a fan put it in the Wikipedia and then management called me and said ‘This isn’t true right?’ and I said ‘No, it’s not but leave it.Don’t take it down’ I didn’t know that people could just put whatever they want. So that’s how come I’ll be doing an interview and some cool, zany morning DJ will be like ‘ This is kind of crazy…do you own a Llama farm?’
Second question. How is the management side of things going for you at the moment?
Zach: I don’t really do it as much anymore. It was one of those things where I did it to help out a friend of mine, then I kind of needed to incorporate it because it became a thing where I was actually fielding calls and I had people helping me out. I don’t do it as much anymore, but I did garner a lot more respect for my manager. Being in Shinedown and trying to do that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You have to be on the phone and I hate talking on the phone. I felt for my manager because he’s gotta talk to me and the other guys every day. I’m on the phone with my artists and I’m like ‘This is so annoying (laughs) all you people do is bitch’ which is probably what I did. But I kind of backed off of it for the most part.
If somebody was putting together a time capsule on Shinedown for future generations to discover. What 3 songs would you put in it to represent Shinedown the best?
Zach: I would have Cut the Cord. Second Chance and probably Sound of Madness. Maybe with a backup of Amyrillis. Because to me, that’s such a powerful song lyrically. So those would be my 3 for someone to lock away and find some day.
What is the craziest rumour you have ever heard about yourself?
Zach: I was engaged to Olivia Wilde and she is Brent’s Cousin. None of this is true. So Brent’s cousin is Olivia Wilde. Not True. I was engaged to Olivia Wilde and that is how me and Brent met and that is how I got in the band. Also not true. That was the craziest one I’ve ever heard. But then there was one where I was dating that girl from That 70′ Show, the one that isn’t Mila Kunis.
Zach: Yeah Laura Prepon, who I’ve never met. I’ve met Olivia Wilde, so I can see where you can get at least 0.1% chance of that. I’ve never even met Laura Preon though so I don’t know how that one got started. Those of the two craziest ones, there are some other weird ones, but they are the furthest fetched.
If you could swap bodies Freaky Friday style with any other member of the band for one day. Who would it be and why?
Zach: Eric because is in such good shape. He’s the oldest member of the band, but he’s got like 15 abs, so he’s in the best shape of all of us. But also Barry because he’s ripped up to, so if I was Barry I could just punch anyone in the face, he’s the last guy I would want to be punched in the face by and he also hits things for a living. So either Eric or Barry.
Hypothetically if someone said to you tomorrow Shinedown has to end. How would you like to be remembered as a band?
Zach: Kind of back to what we said earlier. AS a band that sounds like Shinedown first, which is great. That is one of the coolest things is that I’ve never heard anyone say our band sounds like anyone else. I would like to be remembered as a band who did it their own way and we didn’t rehash any records, a band that never went back. Honest to, I feel like we have always been honest to our fan and we always appreciated our fans. We always sign after shows and try to do as many meet & greets as possible. That’s kind of where I’d like the legend to lie.
If you weren’t in Shinedown what would you be doing?
Zach: I’d probably be a cook of some sort. I enjoy cooking, or a teacher I’d like to teach kids.
Or a cooking teacher?
Zach: I would probably need some cooking lessons first, I’m good at cooking but there’s a lot I don’t know. Our drummer Barry is an amazing cook. For Instance, I can cook anything you would want dinner wise, I can cook most of it without looking at a recipe, but I couldn’t bake a cake to save my life. I don’t know about baking at all, so I would probably need a few cooking lessons about dome baking.
What’s your favourite thing to cook?
Zach: I love to grill seafood. So I make this really good steak and sauce at home and I do garlic lobster.
And in closing do you have a message for the Shinedown fans out there?
Zach: Thanks for listening and we hope to never let you down. Like Threat to Survival, we hope each record is new and exciting. I believe an album is a picture of who that artist is at that time and I think we have done very well to draw that picture of ourselves and I don’t think we have ever faked it. You hear our record and you can literally hear that this is where these guys were at that time and I hope that continues and that is something that we never break from because it is the most honest way to be.
Thank you very much Zach.
Zach: Thanks man!
Shinedown are on tour with Iron Maiden across the UK for most of the rest of May. A review of Shinedown’s show with Iron Maiden in Sheffield is available to read here. For any remaining tickets please visit Ticketmaster or the other usual online ticket providers. Shinedown’s current album Threat To Survival is out now on Atlantic Records – grab a copy from Amazon now.