Papa Roach: "We're shaking some sh*t up"

Papa Roach (left to right): Tobin Esperance, Jacoby Shaddix, Jerry Horton, Tony Palermo
Papa Roach (left to right): Tobin Esperance, Jacoby Shaddix, Jerry Horton, Tony Palermo

We are one question into our interview with Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix, and we’ve already stumped him – no small feat considering that the man has given thousands of interviews in a journey now entering its third decade. The question? Simply, “Where do you see yourself in your career right now?”

“Oh man,” he begins, before a long pause…

Since dropping their self-produced 1997 debut, Old Friends From Young Years, Papa Roach have emerged as far more than ageing relics from the oft-maligned rap-rock and nu metal movements of the 90s. The Californian quartet have not only survived that decade, but they have utterly thrived in its wake, consistently putting out new music, cultivating an expansive fanbase and touring the planet multiple times over. They’ve also sold millions of albums, notched up Grammy nominations, and 2015’s F.E.A.R. deafeningly reaffirmed the band’s commitment to alchemising rock, hardcore and rap into a sound both radio-friendly and still raw as hell. We’d expect the frontman to take some of these accomplishments into account when fixing his current position. But we’d be wrong.

“I always feel like I’m at the bottom of a giant, massive hill,” he finally says with a sense of real frustration. “I guess it’s a perspective thing. Like, I always feel like we’ve got something to prove, you know what I mean? Whether we’re making a record or playing a live show, I always feel like we’re not there yet. It’s an interesting place to be.”

Rapper, rocker, husband and father, the frontman oozes an easy, bro-style charisma, often punctuating his sentences with “know what I mean?”, in a sharp, compact drawl that sounds like he’s channelling his inner Elvis. Jacoby’s own path to superstardom, however, has been anything but easy. There have been the inevitable band lineup changes, the fickle winds of musical trends and his well- publicised battles with drugs and alcohol, which he finally overcame in 2012. Five years into sobriety, he speaks with a deep sense of introspection.

“When I get home off the road and I get a chance to take a breath and reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done,” he says, “then it starts to set in, like, ‘Oh shit… this is real.’ But I feel like every record we put out is another shot to make a massive impact. That’s what we’re trying to do with this new record. We’re shaking some shit up!”

He’s referring to Crooked Teeth, Papa Roach’s forthcoming ninth studio campaign, produced by young guns Colin Brittain (5 Seconds of Summer, Avicii) and Nick Furlong, aka RAS (All Time Low, Steve Aoki), and featuring guest spots from rapper MGK and ethereal chanteuse Skylar Grey. Recorded in early-to-mid 2016, Crooked Teeth doesn’t veer into a new stylistic direction so much as it pulls a sharp left, peeling out in a screeching trail of smoking asphalt and burnt rubber. It sees the band dive headlong back into old-school hip hop, bolstered by vibrant textures of electronica, bludgeoning metal riffs, dark atmospherics and an audacious mainstream appeal.

“We wanted to experiment with our music, our sound and basically what we were doing. RAS and Colin came up to work with us and we did this track called My Medication. When we finished that track, we were like, ‘Yes!’ Creative momentum was just exploding.”

Papa Roach: “more than a rock band”

Papa Roach: “more than a rock band”

Whereas F.E.A.R. and its recent predecessors tipped heavily to the rock side of the Papa Roach rap- rock scale, Crooked Teeth sees the band joyfully returning to their early days with their rappiest music in over a decade. According to the singer, the directional shift was long overdue.

“We didn’t want to make another active rock record. This shit was getting boring to me, to be honest. We’re more than a rock band. We love punk, we love metal, we love hip hop, we love electronica. Let’s just try to spread it out in all directions. Bro, I’m 40, man – fuck it! Let’s try something bold, man!”

Crooked Teeth suffers no lack of eyebrow-singeing riffs and arena-sized choruses, particularly on bangers like Break The Fall and My Medication. Lyrically, Jacoby continues to draw from weighty, introspective themes like death, isolation and regret.

“I look at the opportunity to create Papa Roach music as a way to tether myself to humanity, and I wanted to write a record that really spoke to the core of people’s hurt, frustration and pain,” he explains. “I also wanted to be able to celebrate that brokenness, though. The album cover is this kid with this really raw, gnarly grill, and he’s just hanging it out there with no shame. We are who we are and we’ve got to embrace our brokenness, and that’s what that says to me. It’s about coming to terms with some of this shit that I’m singing about, but it’s also about dancing around in the fire a little bit. It’s a healthy way to process this shit because I can self-destruct. This is my healthiest way to be destructive.”

He needed to look no further than his own family when it came to writing the album’s emotionally jagged title track. “I wrote that song specifically for my father,” Jacoby explains. “There are lyrics there that speak to his experience as a veteran, going to Vietnam and fighting in this war he didn’t believe in, killing people he didn’t want to kill. This is about PTSD and there’s a lot on this record where I was aiming at veterans. I’ve been around people who I’ve gotten to know intimately and I’ve spoken with them about their struggles with PTSD, and so that comes through in that song. ‘Terrified, paralysed, something’s got a hold of me… Wake me up if I sleep, ’cause I’m haunted by my dreams.’ It’s about these nightmares from the insanely tragic shit that they lived through and the pain that they inflicted and the lives that they’ve taken. It’s heavy shit.”

Other tracks conjure a bleak, dystopian future of shattered hopes and economic ruin, such as American Dream and None Of The Above – a song flecked with bright pulses of electronica, perhaps influenced by the videogame-scoring background of RAS, and moody verses that erupt into a chugging, fist-pumping chorus. At the suggestion of his producers, Jacoby dug into his past to write Sunrise Trailer Park, which vividly recounts a near-tragic accident from his youth.

“It’s about back when I lived in Vacaville, just a teenage numbskull, smoking and drinking and popping pills, going to high school and living on my own,” Jacoby explains. “This one night I rolled up to my homie’s and picked him up – his name was Manny – and he was on mushrooms. I just got this truck because I’d totalled my last truck, and I was like, ‘Yo dude, come jump in my ride!’ We went out and I put the pedal to the metal on this thing and I lost control of the truck and it literally flipped six times end over end. I’m not bullshitting you or trying to exaggerate it to make it some grandiose story. We flipped end over end – no seatbelts. I get out of the car and I’m fine. My friend gets out of the car and he’s tripping balls, but he’s fine, too.”

Lyrically, the song diverges from reality, courtesy of a guest turn from rapper MGK. “MGK writes it as if he died in that car wreck,” Jacoby says. “There’s a great line that he drops on the track that’s really on point: ‘I never should’ve let my best friend drive / ’Cause he’s the reason my child will never see me alive.’ Music is about telling stories, man and music can influence culture, so we’re like, ‘Let’s use it in a positive manner. Let’s tell this crazy, interesting, deep story.’ The accident was true, but we both survived in real life. Thank God.”

Their renewed fervour for writing and recording has paid off in ways the band could never have foreseen. This is where things get a little crazy – Papa Roach are already in the studio, recording the follow-up to Crooked Teeth, so they’ll have a second new album ready to go by the end of the year, although there’s no release date yet for the latter. “We hit a rhythm with this squad,” Jacoby explains. “We just made this really cool bond with these producers and it feels like making records back in 1998 in Sacramento. They’re younger blood, and I think it added a fun new dynamic to what we do.”

Stylistically, the as-yet-untitled next album will take off where Crooked Teeth ends. “Dude, we’ve got some jams in this motherfucker that are some next-level, nutty shit. Crooked Teeth ends with None Of The Above. So if you imagine what would be the jump off from a track like that, we start up the next record and this new shit is like… I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s next level.”

With two albums and presumably two world tours looming over the next few years, Jacoby sees the chance to join the likes of Linkin Park and reach a point where he finally feels like he’s made it on a massive scale.

“If I could script the next five years, I’d really love P-Roach to headline all the US festivals. That’s the whole deal. We needed to make a record that would break down some barriers, and we did, so who knows? I’m gunning for the headliner slot in the festivals and arenas, dog!”

At this pace, absolutely nothing seems out of reach.

Crooked Teeth is out May 17 via Eleven Seven

RAS (left) and Colin Brittain (right)

RAS (left) and Colin Brittain (right)

Rap sheet

Meet Crooked Teeth producers RAS and Colin Brittain

Studio wunderkinds RAS and Colin Brittain had high expectations when they seized the opportunity to produce Papa Roach’s ninth studio outing. “I wanted to make a modern classic,” RAS says. “I felt like this was the time period to make something that stood out from all of the other music that’s been coming out. This was the time to fill the void in rock music.”

The duo dove into the 90s sound, devouring everything from Butch Vig’s visionary work with Nirvana to classic albums from rap artists like Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Tupac. “There was something really cool going on in music at that time,” he explains. “There were no fences or borders. Everything was sort of cohabiting.” The first order of business was showcasing what they saw as Jacoby’s underrated mic skills. Colin explains, “Jacoby’s a great singer but people don’t realise that he’s also a really talented MC because he got lumped in with the whole Fred Durst, rap-rock era. People have overlooked his energy, his integrity and his lyrics as a rapper.”

Unleashing that prowess, they channelled Roach’s old school rap-heavy origins and conjured a modern, guitar-powered sound with more bright, shiny hooks than a tackle box. “It was about rebranding the band sonically to bring them into a new realm,” RAS explains. “Even though they’re a legacy act, now they sound like they have a modern twist that gives them the opportunity to release an album that can withstand the test of time.”

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Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.