Songs about suicide and substance abuse may be old hat in the hard rock genre, but Shinedown frontman Brent Smith doesn't write music with an Alice in Chains lyric sheet in one hand and a Staind songbook in the other. For him, pain and self-destruction are universal subjects that can't be ignored.
"It's really important that people realize there is a real world out there no matter what they want to think," he said. "If they want to hide in a fairy tale that's fine, but it will come crashing down on you if you don't understand that life is not perfect and neither is anyone else."
"45," Shinedown's second single from their album Leave a Whisper, is rife with pain. The track is slower and softer than their first radio single, "Fly From the Inside" (see "Shinedown Finally Unzip Their 'Fly,' Leave Listeners Whispering"), starting with an undistorted guitar arpeggio and yearning vocals, then building into a dramatic chorus composed of a crashing beat and sustained power chords. The subject matter, however, is far more sobering, as revealed by the chorus: "I'm staring down the barrel of a .45."
"It's the most personal song on the record," Smith revealed. "It's about an individual who has come to the end of his rope and is trying to decide whether or not they want to continue living."
Smith admits the song was written from personal experience, but says he wasn't the one holding the gun. Other than that, he leaves it to the listener to guess what happened to the tortured subject. And even though the track addresses a serious subject, the singer doesn't view it as a desperate suicide song.
"When I wrote that song I wanted people to understand that it's about hope," Smith said. "I think in a lot of ways, I reach the end of my rope every day, and somehow I regain strength within myself through music and through the people that are surrounding me to go on because I know I'm loved and I know I'm cared for. Even though it can get really, really bad, it's not worth destroying yourself and the people around you because you want to give up."
There have been plenty of times over the last 10 years that Smith wanted to give up. His hard upbringing included drug and alcohol use and a damaging family environment. Instead of whining about the past, however, he confronts it in his music and proves that through perseverance people can overcome almost anything.
"I've seen a lot of crazy things," he said. "One of my friends who was another musician took his own life, and everyone was completely stunned because no one saw it coming. And I've had friends who have had drug overdoses. But that's how you grow up sometimes. I've also had friends who have gone through divorce and addictions and then figured out they didn't want to live their life that way and they rose above it and just went on with their lives."
It's a position Smith often finds himself in. Even though his band has been successful, he still gets depressed and frustrated on a regular basis about the music industry, relationships and his own personal flaws. Strangely, one thing that doesn’t bum him out is being compared to bands like Alice in Chains, Staind and Puddle of Mudd.
"I don't see why anyone would think that would bug me because we're all in the same genre of music," he explained. "If you're going to compare me to bands that have sold a lot of records and have a lot fans, then thank you. I consider that a compliment."
Shinedown are on tour with 3 Doors Down and Seether through November 29 in Tupelo, Mississippi.