Don’t tell rock band 3 Doors Down you can’t go home again.
Formed in Escatawpa, Mississippi, the resilient fivesome has blazed a trail as the quintessential rock band, attaining massive mainstream success but somehow never losing that small town identity that has branded them rock’s truest underdogs. They’ve reigned as a genuine force of nature, boasting rock n’ roll’s most earnest work ethic – ‘The thoroughly modern American band’ - crows Billboard, one part swagger/one part tireless road warriors, brandishing an arsenal of battle-tested radio gems like their breakthrough anthem, “Kryptonite.” Unleashed at the beginning of the decade, the song seemed to capture the band’s heroic climb and steadfast refusal to be pigeonholed as just another rock band.
Now, on the cusp of releasing their first self-titled album (their fourth studio album and what some have appraised as ‘their most definitive,’) the group weighs in on what it took to refresh their innate sense of ‘place’ and deliver what just might be their masterwork - a blistering, both-barrels approach etched in the grain of brand new hits like the wistful wakeup call of “It’s Not My Time,” the contemplative “Pages,” and the stem-winding lure of “Train,” among others.
“What it took, was for us to take some real time off, go home, and then gather again as the band we know how to be,” says lead singer/songwriter Brad Arnold. “It was so appropriate to self-title the album, because after taking what amounted to almost a year-long break, we were hungry for each other’s company. A song like ‘It’s Not My Time,’ kind of sets the stage for what we’ve been through. I’ve known Matt and Todd and Chris since grade school. With a foundation like that, we were secure enough to take the time necessary, to make us want it.” Adds newest member, drummer Greg Upchurch, who joined the band after the recording of the 2005 release, Seventeen Days (this self-titled album is the first 3DD album on which he appears) “This truly is our defining moment as musicians. The writing, the recording, the level of collaboration was truly an all-around band effort. This CD is living proof of how good this band can be.”
And that’s saying something. Because when you tally the notches accrued during 3 Doors Down’s decade-plus ascension (the original group formed in ’95) you realize they’ve earned a wall-full of accolades that are also firmly cemented into rock’s record books: 13 million albums sold, 3 multi-platinum albums (their first album, 2000’s The Better Life sold an astounding 6 million copies, with their 2002 follow-up, Away From The Sun selling 4 million) six #1 hits, multiple Billboard and other awards, and a relentless road itinerary that saw them hit 32 countries in a six year roll-up with ‘nary a break in between. You don’t rack up that kind of ‘hall-of-fame’ mileage without putting a fair share of dents in the armor.
“Prior to making our new album, the average stretch we would have off would be a couple weeks here, four-five weeks there,” says bass player Todd Harrell. “We needed to get home and get our roots back under us.” The band also miraculously found time to add kindle to their homegrown The Better Life Foundation, which has raised more than 2 million dollars for local children’s charities since its inception in 2003. Most recently the group held their fourth annual Foundation concert at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in Biloxi, Ms (and has annually donated a portion of concert ticket sales to the charity organization). The band also became a key local force in providing aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Rhythm guitarist Chris Henderson’s own house was partially damaged by the hurricane. Everyone they knew, friends and family, were affected by the tragedy. “Everything seemed to be churning around that time,” continues Todd. “We knew it was important to get back to a normal life. It was time to overcome. Time to try and relax. Do some fishing. Get with family. We were doing 200 plus shows a year, stopping only to get the next record out.”
In fact, their most recent album, the acclaimed Seventeen Days, (their first album to debut #1 on Billboard’s Top Albums chart) was mistakenly believed to have been named for the quick burst of songwriting sessions for the CD, when in actuality, it marked the paltry amount of days-off between coming off the road from the Away From The Sun tour, and going into the studio for preproduction on Seventeen Days.
“We’re not a band that just goes through the motions,” says Chris. “We go at everything hard. What I’m most proud of about the new album is we left ourselves a way out. Everybody hit the proverbial brick wall. Everybody fell down and everybody got back up, then we all went back in the room and, what was great, was we found all these different paths to go down.”
‘Different’ being the operative word here. Because what 3 Doors Down did after reconnecting with family, and ‘soul searching’, was opt for a new process to the creative part of their relationship. One that emphasized the undeniable strength of the group. The fact that the sum is greater than any individual part. “It is all about getting in that room and hashing it out,” recalls lead guitarist Matt Roberts. “If you look at a song like ‘Train,’ it was one of the first songs we wrote for this album. It’s kind of a building block that exemplifies the spirit of collaboration. Brad came with words and a melody and we hammered it out.” “I remember I had that one in my head at home,” laughs Brad. “I was singing it so much a friend threatened to kill me if I didn’t get it down.” Matt also remembers it as one of the ‘most fun songs to put together. “The best moments of this band have always been about keeping it a fun ride. You need that sense of accomplishment, but you also need to keep the process comfortable.”. Adds Chris: “I think it’s also fair to say we are one of the only ‘southern’ bands who has the balls to put a song like ‘Train’ out there these days.”
The band rented an old farmhouse South of Franklin, Tennessee, where they would not only write songs, but live together, for a while. Says Brad: “The farmhouse was great because it became a wholehearted experience where we just focused on the writing. It was such a close-knit atmosphere, reconnecting us after we had been doing our own thing for a while. It set a cool mood for the entire record, writing out in the country around this fireplace in the basement. Just locking ourselves away and doing it.”
Matt adds that the unique setting soon sparked 26 or 27 song ideas. “But winter turned colder than expected in Tennessee. So we decided to head to a warmer climate.” The band found a ten bedroom mansion in a remote section of Orlando, Florida. They brought in Seventeen Days producer, Johnny K. and turned the house into a recording studio.
The originality of the two locations rejuvenated the band’s approach. They worked hard to capture that sense of camaraderie on the final product. Once they nailed it, they packed up and headed back to Nashville. Talking legendary mixer, Andy Wallace, into abandoning his NY studio, again, (he also mixed Seventeen Days in Nashville), and they began the final process of putting the pieces together.
This album features inspired musicianship as well as some intriguing personal refrains, like on one ‘band favorite,’ “Let Me Be Myself.” “That one touches on the wrongheaded notion of how we often try destructive methods to try and kill our pain,” says Brad. “But I also want the songs to be open to interpretation. More universal. That one is really talking about anything you can get lost in.” And the ballad “Pages”: “I think it has a lot of meaning for the whole band. What we’ve gone through,” says Matt. “Brad is pointing out what’s going on with his personal situation and ours. It was a very meaningful song for us.”
The group also nails their share of (in-yer’-face)-rockers like “Runaway.” “It’s the kind of song you put on only to get somewhere else,” says Todd. “Put it on in your car and drive as fast as you can.” He and several of the guys also touch on the last song of the album, “She Don’t Want The World,” one of the most unique 3 Doors Down offerings yet. “That song has really become one of my favorites. It doesn’t have a big chorus or anything, just Brad telling a story.” Adds Brad: “We even use loops on that one. We were so willing to try different things. I think one of the reasons this is such an important album for us is because every one of us was in a different place prior to any other record we’ve ever made. And I would say a ‘better’ place. But it’s the kind of record that never would have happened if we didn’t get off that merry go round for awhile.”
For Greg (former Puddle Of Mudd drummer, born in Louisiana, raised in Oklahoma), a song like the gutsy “It’s The Only One You’ve Got,” also exemplifies the band’s ‘sixth-sense’ for cooperation. A true democracy – right down the line. “Just the way that it went down. Chris was trying to learn another song and stumbled upon the riff for this song. Brad was like ‘hold on, I’ve got something for that.’ Then someone else would join in. The whole thing happened quickly, and it turned out to be such an inspiring song. This has been the most collaborative experience I’ve ever been involved in. And the most satisfying.”
“We just can’t wait to put this sugar out and get back out on the road,” agrees Brad. “It’s definitely the one where we got our ‘grit back.”