By Courtney Grimes
Metal rockers Shinedown have been lighting up stages across the nation for over a year now in support of their debut album, Leave a Whisper on Atlantic Records. Beginning with “Fly From the Inside” and moving through “Better Version” and “All I Ever Wanted,” the band’s mixture of hard rock and blues-driven guitar, heavy, straightforward bass lines, and angry lyrics makes for one powerful mixture of sound.
Hailing from Jacksonville, FL, the four-man group – lead singer Brent Smith, guitarist Jasin Todd, bassist Brad Stewart and drummer Barry Kerch – is currently touring with rock gods Van Halen. A few days before headlining Gibson A Go Go at the legendary Whisky in Hollywood (Aug. 24), Brent Smith and Jasin Todd talked with Gibson.com about good luck charms, backstage must-haves and what the Van Halen guys are really like.
CG: Brent, when did you first begin singing and writing songs?
BS: I probably started writing around 14. I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was about two. I feel lucky how some people search their whole life and never really know what they want to do, but I knew exactly what I wanted from a young age. I have always been a very emotional person even at a young age. I would hear people sing when I was a kid, and I started when I was ten years old, focusing on notes and learning how to sing certain things. That was when my mind started getting into music and stuff. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I heard Otis Redding and he changed my life. I learned a lot about the blues, Etta James and Billie Holiday, Al Green, Sam Cook and Billy Preston. I was really influenced by that, and I started writing my own stuff. If I heard a singer and they were hitting a note, I would practice for hours and hours until I could hit that note. I would stretch until I could do it, too. I think some of this was God-given talent, but I worked my whole life to be able to do it. I have a seven-octave range counting my falsetto. But I worked really hard for that. It’s just like honing any craft, you know?
CG: What was the hardest song to put together on Leave a Whisper?
BS: “Burning Bright.” It wasn’t that it was hard, what happened was that we had demoed it before. We went to record the record, we did it again. When we got it done, we got into the studio, and it was the first day for the vocals. I sang the whole song, and when I was done I thought, “There is something wrong with this!” But I went ahead and finished the song. When we listened to the demo, it was five beats slower than what we had done, so all the vibe on the chorus was gone. It was all very choppy and pointed now. So I had to virtually sing it three times. That was probably the song that gave me the most trouble. It wasn’t the song’s fault. It’s just that everybody has the attitude that studio time is “money, money, money, time, time, time.” I was like, “Dude, this is my life. Let me listen to this thing real quick.” But we got it fixed and there’s actually two mixes on the record and it’s all good now.
CG: What is your favorite song that is not your own?
BS: “Loveman” by Otis Redding. I would say that song, definitely.
CG: Tell me how you met the rest of the guys.
BS: What actually happened was that I was signed to Atlantic with another band. Atlantic dropped the other band and offered me a development deal, and allowed me to find my own band, which led me to Jacksonville, FL. I auditioned a lot of people and found the guys there. I worked with a lot of songwriters before I even got to Jacksonville. I had four years and 300 songs written before I got to these guys. It didn’t happen overnight. But these guys were the best, I thought.
CG: Jasin, when did you begin playing guitar and why did you want to learn?
JT: I think I started playing when my mom bought me a pawn shop guitar when I was 11. We grew up listening to music like The Allman Brothers and Zeppelin and AC/DC, so music was always in the house. I just picked it up and never really put it down. I had dreams of playing big shows and luckily we’re getting to do it now. Now it’s all about the Les Pauls. That’s why it’s such a big deal when Gibson gave me this endorsement. It’s all about Jimmy Page for me!
CG: What was your first guitar teacher like?
JT: I think I only had one teacher. I grew up in a small town outside of Jacksonville. It was a longhaired, stoner guy. He showed me a couple of chords and I just took it from there. I kind of figured it all out on my own. You know, you have your band when you’re in eighth grand and then you go through all the high school bands and stuff. I loved Jimmy Page, and Zakk Wylde and Duane Allman.
CG: Jasin, what Gibsons do you play on tour?
JT: I have a ton of them. I just got a Firebird, I call it my “Firestarter.” I play a Les Paul Standard, a Les Paul Classic and I have two or three SGs as well. I have one with soapbar pickups with a totally different sound. I probably have, like, 10 Gibsons. It’s the only guitar that sounds right. I need to get an old Standard and a Flying V and I’ll be set. That Firebird was a great purchase and it’s just great. I’ll play the Les Paul Standard and shake it up with the SG in the studio. I’ve been playing it live and it sounds great, plus it’s so Allen Collins from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I even wear the strap like he did!
CG: Which Gibsons are you planning to use on stage at Gibson A Go-Go in LA?
JT: I’ll be using the Signature Les Paul Standard, which I call “Brown Sugar,” and the SG and the Firebird. I’ll be taking those three with me, and I have backups for each one. I have this other Les Paul from the Custom Shop. There were only five of them made, a Les Paul Standard Custom Shop guitar, it’s a red wine color. It’s got a totally different sound.
Shinedown at Gibson A Go Go: Brad with Tobias bass, Barry on Slingerlands,
Brent, Jasin with Les Paul
CG: You have a bunch of great nicknames for your guitars. Did you have any really funny nicknames while you were growing up?
JT: They called me “Weasel.” I have no idea why. I guess I was all over the place. I was always getting into stuff.
CG: You guys have been on the road for a really long time. How is that going?
BS: Our album’s been out for a year and we’ve been touring and headlining for 15 months. The fact that we’ve been able to tour for as long as we have, and the fact it’s shown no sign of slowing down is amazing.
CG: What’s it like to be on tour with Van Halen?
BS: It’s like having a fairy tale every day. Eddie comes out and hangs out with us every day. It’s odd. Eddie and Wolfie were at the show a couple nights ago. They have a tent area where the stage is set up. For us, I mean, it was just amazing because they asked us to do it. Alex was the one who picked the band. It’s pretty crazy. It’s an honor, very much a blessing. We’re very sincere about that. They’re the absolute most genuine guys. They’re really not at all what you would expect. They know who they are, and what they’ve done. Edward Van Halen invented a guitar sound, for crying out loud, and reinvented how to play the guitar. You can’t get too starstruck because they don’t look at themselves like that. I mean, he wakes up in the morning and has to go to the bathroom like everybody else. He has to put his pants on like everybody else. There’s a really spiritual connection between musicians, I think. But the Van Halen guys are just the nicest guys in the world, and they gave us amazing opportunities.
JT: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. When you’re a kid listening to people like Eddie, then somebody tells you you’re going to go out on tour with them, it’s just overwhelming. It’s kind of hard to get used to, when you’re out there with a guitar icon. It’s a mind trip you know?
CG: What do you absolutely have to have backstage?
BS: Water, tons of water. It’s nice to have a cooler full of beer and a bottle of wine. And space is always nice. Oh, and a bathroom is always helpful.
JT: Wine and beer. And my little guy that I bring along with me, he’s played every show. He’s always sitting on my cabinets. Every show that my band has done, he’s been there. It’s kind of like a good luck charm.