Interview: Brent Smith Explains the Experience of ‘ATTENTION ATTENTION’

Ahead of Fargodome appearance, Shinedown frontman talks latest album’s journey

JIMMY FONTAINE | Photo Courtesy
(Left to Right) Zach Myers, Eric Bass, Brent Smith and Barry Kerch.

Shinedown’s Brent Smith doesn’t skirt around the heavy topics behind the tracklist of the band’s latest album, “ATTENTION ATTENTION.”

“Why it has, I guess you’d say from a psychological standpoint, such a heavy weight is because we’ve been through a lot of heavy situations. For whatever reason, from the moment I entered the earth, I was always able to write it down and then project it,” Smith mused about the emotion of the album. “It all comes from a very honest place because we are talking from experience and life lessons.”

While the album is supposed to tell a story, Smith said it is far from The Who’s “Tommy” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

Instead, Smith explained that the entire album takes place in one room. “At the beginning of the album, you hear what we call ‘the machine heartbeat.’ It kind of sounds like an oil refinery in the background, and that is what you hear as ‘ENTRANCE’ starts. You hear a knock on the door, the latch open and the person walks in. They exhale, and immediately ‘DEVIL’ starts.”

Smith continued, “The album starts with this person being dropped into the worst situation possible. You take a journey with this individual, and you see all of the bruising and the cuts, the struggle and the defiance, the emotional breakdown and the revelation.” Shinedown said they want listeners to be able to identify with the journey of the person in the room.

Because the album is a journey, Smith explained it is best when listened to in sequence. “It is meant to be listened to from the beginning, to the middle, to the end. You’ll have your favorite songs, but if you want the experience of it, you need to listen to it from the beginning to the finale.”

The song that proved the precedent for the rest of the album is also the most personal. The band’s latest single, “GET UP” is a song written by Smith about his best friend and Shinedown’s bassist and “ATTENTION ATTENTION” producer, Eric Bass.

“Eric deals with something called clinical depression. Sometimes people will say they have a ‘case of the Mondays.’ He’s not that. He has a daily fight with his own mind. He doesn’t have to like it, but he has to respect it.” Smith added that despite how easy it is for others to see how talented Bass is, he second guesses himself.

The song’s piano was written by Bass, who in addition to the bass, can play over 10 instruments. After the band finished their 44-day run with Iron Maiden, Bass recorded a demo of the piano track for Smith to workshop lyrically.

After Smith recorded the vocals, Bass mastered the track, and the two of them listened to it in the studio together. “I said, ‘I think it sounds great, but do you know what it’s about?’ Eric looked at me and said, ‘Yeah. It’s about me.'” Smith added, “I thought I had crossed a line in our friendship, to be honest with you. I was very nervous at that moment.”

Smith initially tried to backpedal and put the song off to the side, but Bass wouldn’t have it. “He said, ‘No, man. It’s exactly what it needs to be.'”

The track immediately following “GET UP” on the album is “special.” “‘GET UP’ and ‘special’ are siblings. ‘special’ is that moment in the album where the person in the chair is looking in the mirror and realizing that ‘the world doesn’t own you anything,'” Smith said. “The reason why I say, ‘Stop waiting on your 15 minutes of fame because you’re not special’ is because none of us are special in that way. Nobody owes anybody anything. If you want something, you have to go and get it. You can’t wait on somebody to hand it to you.”

Smith continued, “Here’s the thing: if it was handed to you, I don’t think it would be worth very much. If you didn’t work for it, there’d be no reason to respect it.”

Experience Shinedown for yourself when they play the Fargodome March 12.

Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): On Shinedown’s social media, you often 
refer to your fans as family. At this point in your career, where you are playing to festival and stadium crowds, how do you establish that 
close personal relationship with that many people at once?

Brent Smith (BS): Well look, we’ve played for five people before, and we’ve played for 500,000 people before. We don’t play any one of those shows differently. They both get the same energy. They both get the same attitude. They both get the same mission statement.

We have a tradition in the band after the second song. I say, ‘If this is your first time seeing Shinedown, raise your hand,’ and still to this day 80 percent of the audience, no matter where we are in the world, still raise their hand. That’s the most prideful moment for me because it shows me that each and every day this band is continuing to grow.

The next thing I do is I say, ‘Before we go any further, I want everyone to look to the left. All right, now look to the right. The person that is standing next to you right now, you may never have met them until tonight’s show. That’s all going to change now. Turn to your neighbor. I want to see you shaking hands and high five-ing and telling everyone how nice it is to see them at the show.’

For like 20, 30 seconds you see it — the mass of people that don’t know each other really. They’re high five-ing and hugging each other and shaking hands saying, ‘What’s up, man?’

It breaks the ice. All of a sudden, it lets them know that it’s OK to have fun together and be in the moment.

For me, that dynamic is very important because all of a sudden, you’ve made it OK to not feel embarrassed to jump up and down and sing at the top of your lungs. We’ve made it OK for you to have the best time of your life.

I’m also known for splitting the crowd. I’ve been doing it since ‘The Sound of Madness’ album. I’ll take a crowd of 100,000 and I’ll split them down the middle — one to the left, one to the right. I’ll jump inside, and I will walk that line that I’ve parted. I don’t even need any security because they (the audience) understands that they are the boss.

None of this stuff is happening without them, and a lot of artists forget that. The only reason you’re on that stage is because of the people in front of you. They are the people that decide whether you stay or whether you go, and with that you give them the ownership because they do own the show.

At the end of the day, I’ve always said, we have one boss. It just happens to be everyone in the audience.

LEB: We’ve made it to the random questions at the end. They won’t deal with the album. They’re just fun palate cleansers.

BS: Shoot. Bring it on.

LEB: If you were stuck on a desert island with only one album for the 
rest of your life, what would you want it to be?

BS: ‘Superunknown’ – Soundgarden.

LEB: What is a band you find yourself listening to right now?

BS: You know what, I know they’re like the biggest thing in the world right now, but I was a little late to the party I guess you’d say. I am late to the party on a lovely band that is fronted by an extraordinary individual named Brendon Urie, which is Panic! at the Disco. It’s not a guilty pleasure. That’s just what I’m rockin’ right now.

That record is just super crazy and fun to listen to. ‘High Hopes’ is just one of the coolest 3-minute songs ever written. So, that’s been my go-to right now.

LEB: If you could choose three headliners (past or present) for a festival you’d want to attend, who would you choose?

BS: Three I want to see? I would want to see Otis Redding, and I would want to see Madonna, and I want to see – what would the third one be? That’s a hard question, actually.

You know what? And it’s not because I’m a crazy big fan, but that’s probably one of the reasons I’d want to see it, so I could see what all the big deal and all the fuss is about. No disrespect to this band because as far as songwriting and the history of pop, you know — I would want to see Otis Redding first, then Madonna and then The Beatles with all four original members. That’s what I want.

LEB: Do you have a go-to fast food while you are on the road touring?

BS: Well, Zach Myers, our illustrious guitar player, he’s the fast food junkie. I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t eaten fast food in a long time.

If we’re at a truck stop or something with the convoy, it always seems like Wendy’s is the No. 1 that people run into just for like a regular Wendy’s cheeseburger single.

When it comes on the bus, between the fries and the burger, it’s like the first initial smell of it makes your mouth kind of water. You’re like, ‘Oh, that smells so good,” but then you eat it (laughs), and about 10 minutes later you’re like, ‘Why did I do that? That was such a bad decision.’ (laughs) You know what I mean. Not to mention everyone’s on the bus.

We have a rule, too. If it’s Wendy’s, everyone gets on the bus. You have to eat the Wendy’s, and there has to be a 15-minute hang time because if you get it and everybody gets on the bus and you start going and you’re in the middle of nowhere, and then all of a sudden it hits your gut, you know what I mean? You’re screwed.

And low and behold, every time, it never fails. Like, ‘No I’m good. I’m good,’ and it’s like almost at 15 minutes and we’re like, ‘We’re not at 15 minutes yet.’ ‘No, no, no. I think we’re fine. Let’s go.’ And at 15 minutes, they’re like ‘Oh, ew, um I gotta go.’ They run off the bus and back into the bathroom.

It’s hysterical. We call it the Wendy’s Single Gut Bomb.

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