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

Brent Smith headshot
(Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

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

A ferocious marriage of raw, heavy chops and dystopian atmosphere (much of it stemming from the wrath of social media), it’s an aural sucker punch that befits the stadium-straddling, Chuck Norris-rivalling manner of their shows. Powerhouse singer Brent Smith takes stock of the past two years.

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Prior to the pandemic you lived in hotels, didn’t you? 

I live in hotels pretty much exclusively. I had a house in California from 2011 to 2016 – I think I lived in it for seven months. The priority of my life is my son. He’s fourteen and lives in Florida. But my mother always said I was born with a gypsy heart. I don’t own anything apart from the two suitcases I travel with. 

The awards and those kinds of things are in my parents’ basement. I have a pretty substantial guitar collection there, too. 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’s the prize guitar in your collection? 

I have one of Adam Jones’s from Tool. It’s the Les Paul with the grey and white, with the swirl. It’s a gorgeous guitar. Then there’s a small-body Gibson acoustic, it actually might be from the late forties, early fifties. I got it in New York City nineteen years ago, and it was nicknamed ‘The Ghost’ because it doesn’t matter if you restring it with pristine strings, it sounds exactly the same. It’s very Roy Orbison. It emotes, it cries. 

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

It’s been an education. My first day of lockdown, I got up and typed in: ‘What is a coronavirus?’ That took me on a journey. I started at ten a.m., I didn’t really come up for air until four a.m. 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 single aspect of it. Everyone said that the internet was undefeated. That’s not true. Mother Nature is undefeated. We occupy this planet with a lot of different life forms and we should be respecting all of that. 

Did you do anything for fun? It’s difficult to picture you baking banana bread. 

Every day, at the beginning, I was trying to do something online to expose something personal in my life. I told everybody I was gonna bake a German chocolate cake, cos it’s my favourite cake and I never did it, so I have to make good on that eventually. But no, I was researching the whole time. A friend of mine was like: “How long do you think this is gonna go?” I said: “Full duration? Five years.” 

Do you still think that?

Yes, we’re still in the middle of it. There’s a lot of people that have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] from this shit. I have friends of mine that aren’t the same anymore because of this, and it’s heart-breaking.

Would Planet Zero have happened without the pandemic? 

Absolutely not, we would have never written anything like this. But that’s part of the journey. Everything happens for a reason. The last six records we’ve written, that’s from life experience, situations, scenarios. The difference between those and this record is that this was a record that was written in real time, along with everybody else that was going through this. 

On the song Sure Is Fun you sing ‘the aliens are coming and we’re staring at the sun’. Do you think there’s life on other planets? 

Oh, one thousand percent. I don’t think this is the only universe. With Sure Is Fun I remember in America the Pentagon put out: “Yes, there is such a thing as actual UFOs”, and nobody 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 came from. I don’t think that we’re ‘it’, I don’t think we’re alone. 

Shinedown opened for Iron Maiden in Belfast this year. That band must inspire you

We did forty-four shows with Iron Maiden in 2017. We know those guys and girls really well, and that was one of the most inspiring tours we did. Any time we can play with the boys in Iron Maiden is a good day. We learned so much from them. 

How does it feel going on stage, in front of all those people? 

I’m terrified. I’m so nervous I’m close to the point of getting sick. There is this thing that washes over me right before I walk on stage that is every single fear I have in my life – all of them, like a gang of ’em, they all get in front of me. But it lets me know I’m alive. It lets me know that it still means everything to me. Normally I settle in after the [first] chorus. What happens then, for the entire two hours, is me negotiating with my fears. 

You mentioned your son. He’s really into basketball isn’t he? 

Very much so. I think it’s more from his mother, cos she’s a tomboy. Me and her have a very good relationship – she’s married to another man – and we’ve known each other for half of our lives. But [my son] plays basketball at school. I think he’s got real potential. I have told him, though: “Listen, if you really wanna be a professional, you gotta be sleeping with that basketball, you need to have it with you at all times. If you really mean it, that’s a twenty-four/seven gig.” 

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

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

Planet Zero is out on July 1 via Atlantic Records.

Polly Glass
Features Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is features editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine (opens in new tab) and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.