Shinedown's Brent Smith: "Rock'n'roll was the Devil in my household"

Brent Smith of Shinedown
(Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

Brent Smith is mid-conversation when a figure appears behind him on the Zoom screen. It’s his grandmother. It turns out the Shinedown frontman is in a room in her house in Knoxville, Tennessee, the city where he grew up. “Any time I have 48 hours free, I’ll come and see her and my parents,” he says. “I’m the son with his laundry bag turning up at the door: ‘Surprise, I’m coming in!’” 

Family is a big deal to the singer, as becomes clear when he lays out what he’s learned from his 44 years on the planet.

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I knew what I wanted to do when I was two

“It sounds weird, but I knew I wanted to sing from when I was really, really young, even though I didn’t really know what singing or performing was. I just loved the idea that I could do something with my voice, and I wanted to feed myself with as much knowledge as I could about all different kinds of sound.”

Liking metal and rock when you grow up in a religious family is tough

“I was brought up in a very religious household, and my mom and dad didn’t understand what was going on. Rock’n’roll was the Devil. I got a friend of mine to get their older brother to get me Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction, and I’d sneak into the closet at night with headphones to listen to it. I must have bought …And Justice For All by Metallica on cassette 11 times. They’d find it and throw it away; I’d buy it again. Then they’d find it and throw it away, and I’d buy it again.”

I was a wayward kid

“I was a rebel, and I did get in trouble with the law a lot. Never maliciously, to the point where I was hurting anyone or doing anything bad in that regard. But, y’know, alcohol, drugs, the wrong people in the wrong places at the wrong time… I’m lucky to be alive, if I’m being totally honest with you. But my parents never abandoned me, even when I was messing up and being difficult.”

My mom and dad never stood in my way 

“I remember sitting at the table and my dad going, ‘We don’t understand what you want to do with your life, but we know how passionate you are about it, and if you stay here in this city, you are going to die here in this city. Whatever it is you want, go after it.’ That’s why my parents are badass. They’re truly the biggest fans of the band now.”

Don’t ever slap away a helping hand

“If you want to do something or be something, and you really want to achieve it, don’t slap away anyone who tries to help you. If somebody says, ‘You’re not ready, but if you’ll let me help you, I will!’ Take that hand.” 


(Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

The universe will put you on the RIGHT Path

“And it will help you gravitate towards the people you need to gravitate towards. But you have to listen to it. And it may be a struggle, it may hurt, but that’s part of the journey. If you didn’t work for it, then of course it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Failure makes you stronger

“Your legacy isn’t built by your success, it’s built by the fact that you refuse to give up. My very first band, Dreve, were signed to Atlantic Records, and I was dropped about a year into demoing with them, but it didn’t feel like failure, it just made me determined. Even then it took three or four years of hard work to get Shinedown off the ground - planes, trains, automobiles, sharing hotel rooms, getting in front of anyone I could get in front of.”

If tough decisions need making, make them

“Before [third album] The Sound Of Madness, we knew we needed to make some really hard decisions and change a couple of members. That’s when we got Zach [Myers, guitarist] and Eric [Bass, bassist] in. It wasn’t easy to make those changes, and a lot of people were like, ‘This band is over, this band is done.’ We could have failed, but that’s what made this band what it is today.”

I never drank or did drugs to have a good time

“I drank and did drugs to fall down. A very close friend of mine, who is still a close friend, watched me do that a lot back in the day. This lady saw me at my worst. She found me passed out on the floor in the kitchen. 

"She saw me, picked me up and sobered me up enough to talk to me. She said, ‘You have all these people around you that love you, but this other guy inside of you, he’s trying to kill you. Every time you let him out, his goal is not to have fun, it is to see if he can end your existence.’”

I’m way more dangerous when I’m sober

“That same young lady said something that profoundly changed the way I looked at addiction. She looked at me and said, ‘When you’re sober and clear-headed and you have all your wits about you, that’s when you’re the most dangerous.’ 

"And a lightbulb went off above my head. The way she said it, I knew exactly what she meant. And she said another thing to me, which was, ‘Get your head out of your ass and get back in the game.’ It’s still the best piece of advice anyone has given me.”

I don’t get overawed by famous people, but there are exceptions

“We were rehearsing in Nashville in 2007 and we could hear this band next to us playing these kind of bluegrass versions of Led Zeppelin songs. I went, ‘That sounds interesting.’ Then one afternoon I went to the restroom, and I turned round and [Zeppelin singer] Robert Plant was using the stall next to me. 

"What do you do in that scenario? So I got done with my business and ran out. Zach was outside, so I said [excited voice], ‘Robert Plant is in the bathroom!’ And then Robert comes out and Zach did not skip a beat. He flipped his phone and went, ‘Hey Robert, can we have a picture with you?’ And he looked at both us and went, ‘Sure, mate.’ That would not have happened if I’d interrupted him mid-flow.”

I cringe a little bit at the word ‘fame’

“I’m not a celebrity. I’m famous for two hours a night, which is when I’m up onstage. People ask me, ‘What is success? What does success mean to you?’ Success is knowing that what this band does matters to all of those people in the audience. They’re the ones who decide whether you’re successful or not.”

I want to empower people

“I know what it feels like to be told, ‘You’re not going to make it, you’re not capable of doing that.’ People are so much stronger than they give themselves credit for. The world can be a tricky place to navigate, you’ve just got to believe in yourself.”

Collecting things is for other people

“I’m a true minimalist, to a tee. I have two bags that are mine, and that’s it. I don’t even own a home. I live in hotels. If I collect anything, it’s airline and hotel points.”

I wouldn’t change anything about myself

“That sounds like a conceited awful bastard thing to say. But we’re all on our own journey. If I changed anything about myself, I wouldn’t know what the journey was meant to be.” 

I don’t know what happens after we die

“I love Keanu Reeves’ answer. [TV host] Stephen Colbert asked him, ‘What do you think happens after we die?’ And Keanu goes, ‘I know that the ones that love us will miss us.’ Which is a very Keanu Reeves answer.”

I can imagine doing this when I’m 70

“Or 75 or 80 or 105. As long as I have air in my lungs and I’m capable of doing it, I’ll do it.”

Human beings are complicated

“That’s an understatement. I choose to see the good in people at all times. I already know where the evil stems from, I know what it looks like. I do believe we want to help one another, we want to see each other flourish, we want to see each other survive. But we also have to realise we need to stop being so selfish as well. We all occupy this planet together – we need to figure out a way to work with one another.” 

Happiness is being with my family

“Just being able to take care of them and make sure they’re all good. It’s that simple.” 

Planet Zero is out July 1 via Atlantic. Shinedown play Download Festival on Saturday June 11

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.