Jacksonville, Florida's alternative hard rockers Shinedown have a love/hate relationship with their record label.
On the one hand, the company that recently released the group's debut album, Leave a Whisper, has caused the band more pain and frustration than a dozen bee stings. On the flip side, the label inspired the band to create the single "Fly on the Inside," which is getting strong airplay around the country.
The track begins with four bars of a riff that's half-acoustic and half-electric and ends with singer Brent Smith groaning, "The weight of the world on my shoulders." Then the song shifts into a propulsive rocker with Alice in Chains-style vocal harmonies and an arrangement reminiscent of Creed. Had Shinedown's A&R rep not been harassing the musicians to write something that would sound good on radio, the song would never have existed.
"I was at a very, very pressured point when I wrote that song," Smith said. "And that's where the line 'I found a way to steal the sun from the sky/ Long live that day that I decided to fly from the inside' came from. Basically what I'm saying is to not give up. If you have a goal or a dream and it just seems unreachable, that's when you have to go inside of yourself and pull it out."
Here's where the drawbacks of being a product of AOL/Time Warner come in. Shinedown's glossy, commercial hard rock seems kind of dated because many of the songs on Leave a Whisper were written almost three years ago. Between then and now, the group had to play label politics rewriting, tweaking, waiting, talking and waiting some more for the moment of reckoning. The headaches, temper tantrums and battles of will that preceded the album's release contributed significantly to its title.
"Sometimes in your life you work your ass off trying to get ahead and all these things get in the way," Smith said. "We were trying to write songs as vigorously as we could and put them together as honestly and emotionally as we could. And the draining effect of that was enormous. We just had to fight through it and use it as inspiration. The name Leave a Whisper came from that because after you've fought and screamed and argued, when the dust settles, you just leave a whisper and let the music speak for itself."
Two years before he started Shinedown, Smith had a major-label deal with another band he was fronting. But internal tensions and record-company complications caused him to bail on that venture and start Shinedown. He found his bandmates — guitarist Jasin Todd, bassist Brad Stewart and drummer Barry Kerch — banging around the Jacksonville scene and brought them into the fold. The band chose its name from an ordinary incident that took place at Stewart's home.
"Brad has a picture in his house, and it fits so perfectly on this wicked wall of his," Smith said. "One day I was looking at it, and I was like, 'Brad, man. You know what dude? If you had a light that was on top of the picture and it shined down on it, it would look wicked.' And the next day, we were going through band names, and Brad came in and said, 'What about shining down?' That couldn't have been a more perfect name for this band because that's what the music is about. Sometimes you shine and sometimes you're down."