Chocolate cake

Brent Smith Interview: Iron Maiden, chocolate cake and being terrified on stage

It takes more than a pandemic to stop Shinedown. When studio time became problematic, they built their own. Located on the property of bassist/producer/mixer Eric Bass on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Big Animal Studios spawned the band’s seventh album, Planet Zero.

A ferocious marriage of raw, heavy chops and dystopian atmosphere (resulting in large part from social media ire), it’s an aural punch befitting the way straddling the stadium and rivaling Chuck Norris from their shows. Powerhouse singer Brent Smith takes stock of the past two years.


Before the pandemic, you lived in hotels, right?

I live almost exclusively in hotels. I had a home in California from 2011 to 2016 – I think I lived there for seven months. The priority of my life is my son. He is fourteen years old and lives in Florida. But my mother always said I was born with a gypsy heart. I have nothing except the two suitcases I travel with.

Awards and that sort of thing are in my parents’ basement. I also have a fairly substantial collection of guitars. It has humidifiers that keep the temperature controlled. They built it for my guitars because they live in the mountains of Tennessee so the temperature fluctuates.

What is the award-winning guitar in your collection?

I have one from Adam Jones from Tool. It’s the Les Paul with the gray and the white, with the swirl. It’s a wonderful guitar. Then there’s a small body Gibson acoustic, it could actually be from the late 40’s, early 50’s. I had it in New York nineteen years ago, and it’s been nicknamed “The Ghost” because no matter if you restrict it with pristine strings, it sounds exactly the same. It’s very Roy Orbison. It moves, it cries.

How have the past two years been for you on a personal level?

It was an education. My first day in lockdown, I got up and typed, ‘What is coronavirus?’ It made me travel. I started at ten in the morning, I didn’t really take to the air until four in the morning. You learn that this is not the first pandemic in human history, it probably won’t be the last.

I’m not a doctor, I didn’t go to college, but I can tell you how the human body works because I’ve studied every aspect of it. Everyone said the internet was unbeaten. It’s not true. Mother Nature is undefeated. We occupy this planet with many different life forms and we should respect all of that.

Did you do anything for fun? It’s hard to imagine you making banana bread.

Every day in the beginning I tried to do something online to expose something personal in my life. I told everyone I was going to make a German chocolate cake, because it’s my favorite cake and I’ve never made it, so I have to work it out eventually. But no, I was researching all the time. A friend of mine said to me, “How long do you think this will last?” I said, “All the time? Five years.”

Do you still think that?

Yes, we are still in the middle of it. There are many people who have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] of this shit. I have friends of mine who aren’t the same because of this, and it’s heartbreaking.

Would Planet Zero have happened without the pandemic?

Absolutely not, we would never have written anything like this. But that’s part of the journey. Everything happens for a reason. The last six recordings we wrote come from life experiences, situations, scenarios. The difference between those and this recording is that it was a recording that was written in real time, with all the others going through that.

on the song Of course it’s fun you sing “the aliens are coming and we’re looking at the sun”. Do you think there is life on other planets?

Oh, a thousand percent. I don’t think that’s the only universe. With Of course it’s fun I remember in America the Pentagon went, “Yes, real UFOs do exist,” and no one cared because we were in the middle of a pandemic, and in the same breath there was this crazy eclipse. So that’s where that line comes from. I don’t think we are “it”, I don’t think we are alone.

Shinedown opened for Iron Maiden in Belfast this year. This band should inspire you.

We did forty-four shows with Iron Maiden in 2017. We know these guys and gals very well, and it was one of the most inspiring tours we’ve done. Anytime we can play with the boys in Iron Maiden, it’s a good day. We learned so much from them.

How does it feel to go on stage, in front of all these people?

I am terrified. I’m so nervous I’m about to get sick. There’s this thing that comes over me just before I go on stage, which is all the fears that I have in my life – all of them, like a bunch of them, they all get in front of me. But it lets me know that I’m alive. It lets me know that it still means everything to me. Normally, I move in after the [first] Chorus. What happens next, for the whole two hours, is me dealing with my fears.

You mentioned your son. He really likes basketball, doesn’t he?

Absolutely. I think it comes more from his mother, because he’s a tomboy. She and I have a very good relationship – she is married to another man – and we have known each other for half our lives. But [my son] play basketball at school. I think he has real potential. I told him, though, “Look, if you really want to be a pro, you have to sleep with that basketball, you have to have it with you at all times.” If you really mean it, it’s a 24/7 gig.

You are a fan of the Muppets. Who would you rather do a scene with, Cookie Monster or Miss Piggy?

One hundred percent Miss Piggy. If I could do it with Cookie Monster and Miss Piggy, that would be the best! But Fozzie is my favorite. Because he’s awesome, you can’t help but love Fozzie.

Planet Zero is out July 1 via Atlantic Records..

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