“I was in a bad place. The booze, my lifestyle, this woman I’d been with since I was 16. I’ve never been that broken”: how Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix pulled himself back from the abyss

Papa Roach with Jacoby Shaddix holding a Molotov cocktail
(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

Papa Roach are one of nu metal’s great survivors, bouncing back from the brink personally and professionally more than once. But by the time of 2012’s The Connection album, frontman Jacoby Shaddix was in dire straits – and as he told Metal Hammer in this interview from the time, it was music that saved him.

It was a couple of months after Papa Roach started work on their new album that Jacoby Shaddix decided to kill himself. The singer, whose soul-baring confessionals helped push his band to the front of the nu metal pack more than a decade ago, had decided that enough was enough. His addiction to alcohol, which he had battled on and off for much of the last 10 years, had got the better of him. His fraught relationship with his wife, which had inspired more than one self-lacerating song over the course of his career, wasn’t so much on the ropes as flat out on the canvas with stars spinning round its head. He was, by his own admission, in “full self-destruct mode.” The future wasn’t looking bright, and the way he saw it, there was only one way out.

“I went to Sausalito to hang myself,” he says. “I was seriously going to finish it. I was in a fucking bad place, man. The booze, my lifestyle, this woman I’d been with since I was 16... I’ve never been that fucking broken.”

Sitting in an anonymous hotel room, he wondered what he had left to live for. And then at the last minute, a light came on and he stepped back from the metaphorical ledge. It was the thought of his kids, and the impact it would have on them, that stopped him from becoming just the latest troubled rock star to meet a tragically premature end.

“When you consider having that last conversation with your family on the phone...” he trails off, then picks it up again. “I guess I was just scared. Suicide, that’s just the most selfish act. So I decided that I had to endure this pain that I was going through. And I fucking wrote a song instead.”

That song, Before I Die, is one of the key moments on Papa Roach’s seventh album, The Connection. ‘I’ve been a wretched soul from my heart down to my toes,’ sings Jacoby, with the sort of candour that prompts admiration and embarrassment in equal measure. ‘From the valley of the dead, I’m hearing every word you said.’ 

The song was a turning point in more than one sense. Today, perching on a sofa in the rooftop bar of one of London’s swankier hotels, he looks tanned and healthy. His boxer’s physique is matched by the sort of non-stop patter that Mohammed Ali would be proud of. It’s all a far cry from the suicidal mess of a few months ago.

“I was a space cadet,” he says now. “I came to a point where I went, ‘I’m losing myself. I’ve got to put this bottle down, got to put this shit aside. I gotta refocus my life, because I love this band, and I believe it’s worth fighting for’.”

Papa Roach in white clothes and make up in 2013

Papa Roach in 2012: (from left) Tobin Esperance, Jerry Horton, Jacoby Shaddix, Tony Palermo (Image credit: Press)

Ever since Papa Roach emerged from nu metal’s Class Of 2001, they’ve had a lot to fight for. Their breakthrough album, Infest, took them from nought to 60 in seconds. They were the unruly brats of the scene, black-clad dynamos with Shaddix – or Coby Dick as he called himself back then – the yapping, rapping (motor)mouthpiece. But their success came at the expense of respect. All the material rewards from three million-plus sales of Infest couldn’t paper over the fact that they were perceived by detractors as musical lightweights at best and bandwagon jumpers at worst. On the ladder of credibility, they were a couple of rungs above Crazy Town and several below Korn or System Of A Down.

“We made our decision early on, which was to make music more for our fans than for critical acclaim,” says bequiffed guitarist Jerry Horton, a calming presence next to the mini-whirlwind of energy that is his singer. “We built this world where Jacoby expresses himself through the music, and almost uses it as therapy. And in turn, that helps other people get through their lives. That’s ultimately the rewarding part of what we do.”

If their music is a form of DIY therapy, then The Connection is a marathon session on the psychiatrist’s couch. Like every Papa Roach album, it’s a vehicle for Jacoby Shaddix to reach deep into his own troubled soul.

It started off well enough. The plan was to record it in the band’s home studio in their adopted hometown of Sacramento. It was, according to bassist Tobin Esperance, a chance to escape both the distractions and costs of past recording sessions.

“We had a routine,” he says. “We got up in the morning, we went to the gym, we made a conscious effort to be healthy.”

Trouble was, not everyone got the memo. While his bandmates were easing into a collective comfort zone, Jacoby Shaddix was eyeball-deep in his own personal hell.

“I self-destruct every couple of years,” he says, “and I was in full self-destruct mode when we started writing this record. We’d been on the road for a few years and we hadn’t stopped. I was partying too hard.” 

Booze was his biggest demon (“Lots and lots of it”), but his internal chaos was compounded by the fact that his 15-year marriage to childhood sweetheart Kelly was falling apart. Hence his close call with suicide, and his decision to get his life back on the rails.

“My younger brother came to the studio one night,” says the singer. “He was like, ‘What the fuck happened to you, dude? I used to look up to you. You ain’t the same person anymore.’ That was the wake up call, man. I was waiting for somebody to come to me and say, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Just rattle me up.”

It was the fifth intervention he’s had over the years. On the plus side, his personal struggles gave him a shot of inspiration. Up until that point, he’d been struggling to write lyrics for the new record; now he had a whole new well of experiences to draw from.

“Once I cleaned my shit up, that’s when I became very focused,” he says. “I didn’t want to write about what I was going through, but the producer and my band were like, ‘You’ve got to do that. Every time we make records, you’re always brutally honest about what you’re going through.”

A cynic might say that Papa Roach – and especially Jacoby – don’t just thrive on this sort of drama, but they actively need it to make records.

“I don’t want to say that we need it,” says Tobin, “but it sure seems that way. There was definitely a moment where Jacoby was, like, ‘I don’t know what to fucking write about.’ And as soon as that shit started happening, it was like, ‘Now you do’.”

If Before I Die sums up Jacoby’s recent state of mind, then the opening track on The Connection encapsulates where his band find themselves in 2012. Still Swingin’ is a furious statement of intent. ‘We’ve been here from the start,’ spits Jacoby. ‘We are the ones still swingin’.’

In that respect, the band have got a lot to be proud of. Where many of their original contemporaries have faded into the background, Papa Roach have clung on for dear life. Granted, the record sales pale into insignificance next to the numbers they were shifting back in the day, and they don’t go on the road with two tourbuses and a huge equipment lorry anymore, but the fact that they’re still here is some achievement in itself. “There were definitely times where I could have hung up my hat and gone, ‘I’m done’,” says Jacoby. “But I don’t see that for myself.”


Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix performing live at the 2013 Download festival

Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix onstage at the 2013 Download festival (Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock Magazine/Future via Getty Images)

Jerry Horton pinpoints the end of 2003’s LoveHateTragedy tour as the point where things were starting to head south commercially. The band’s label, Dreamworks, was bought out by the huge Universal conglomerate, and the band were shuffled over to another subsidiary label, Geffen. They knew they were in trouble when their new label president, on being presented with their latest album, Getting Away With Murder, threw the disc away and said, “What am I going to do with this dead band?” 

“We weren’t prepared for it,” says Jerry now. “The end of the Infest cycle, we were on top, and then suddenly TV and radio weren’t playing our records. I look back on the amount of money we wasted and it’s just staggering.”

Are you talking about the giant inflatable baby you took on the LoveHateTragedy tour?

“That was one of the silliest things,” he says, shaking his head ruefully. “That was the £25,000 mistake. We still have it. It’s in a crate in our studio. We were talking about putting it on eBay or selling it to the Hard Rock Café.”

What was it about Papa Roach that made you carry on where most other bands from that era threw in the towel?

“Our threshold of ‘fuck it’ is higher than other bands’,” says Jerry. “We’ve always had a hustler’s spirit. We refuse to give up.”

“Being on top, it doesn’t last forever,” says Tobin. “We got married, we had kids, we made money, we lost money, some members had problems with alcohol and addiction. But I guess we were just stubborn bastards.”

These days, seven albums in, and Papa Roach seem at ease with themselves and their place in the world. As their profile has shrunk, their music has got stronger. And while the operation has been scaled down since the heady days of the early 00s, they’ve manoeuvred themselves into a position where they’re finally the masters of their own destinies. Assuming their singer can stay on the straight and narrow, that is.

“Jacoby is in the best state of mind he’s been in since... well, ever,” says Tobin. “Some of the shit he’s been through meant there have been a lot of wake-up calls. He’s more focused than I’ve ever seen him.”

And what about Jacoby himself? He’s back with his wife; as soon as this round of press is done, they’re heading to Mexico to celebrate their anniversary. But what’s his relationship with booze these days? 

“None,” he says emphatically. “I’m done.”

Will that last?

“Today it will,” he says. “I’m at a point where I’ve gotta let myself enjoy this fucking kick-ass life I’ve got. I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons in my career and my personal life, and I’ve had to learn them the hard way. But at least I’ve learned them.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer issue 236

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.