Interview by: Robert Cavuoto
3 Doors Down have just released their sixth studio CD, Us And The Night on March 11th. The CD rips with raw emotion, powerful guitar riffs, and incredible melodies from the first song, “The Broken” to the last “Fell from the Moon.”
With Chris Henderson and Chet Roberts on guitars, Brad Arnold on vocals, Greg Upchurch on drums and Justin Biltonen on bass; the band has entered a new realm of song writing and providing fans with 13 tremendous new songs that are tight, fast-driven, and neatly tied together.
Brad’s unique voice helps create a diverse and dynamic CD – all sung with a true sense of passion and purpose.
I caught up with guitarist, Chris Henderson, to talk about creating this rocking masterpiece, recording without long time bassist Todd Harrell, and measuring success in a new era of music!
Robert: Your music has always managed to merge rock, pop, and country. Where did the mixture and influences come from?
Chris Henderson: The rock element is obviously from growing up in the 80’s and listening to the bands we heard on the radio. The country is definitely an influence that comes from living in Mississippi. You get country, gospel, and the blues just by default from living there! The pop element comes from learning and living in those environments. When we wrote songs for our first record, “Kryptonite” wasn’t supposed to be a pop song but ended up being a pop smash. Listening to the radio station and those playlist over and over when you are first starting out, you tend to pick up some of those song ideas over the years. Your taste in music changes as you develop as an artist and that’s what kind of happens.
Robert: Do you think that you captured 3 Doors Down signature sound after experiment and perfecting each CD or was it more a happy accident that that you grew into?
Chris Henderson: It’s always a happy accident but at the end of the day when you have a singer like Brad, when he opens his mouth you know it’s us. No way around that as no one else sounds like him. That’s a good thing as a lot of people sound like a lot of people. He doesn’t sound like anyone else and that keeps us from sound like anyone else.
Robert: You have such great guitar phrasing on your songs that allows the melody of the lyrics to breathe and flow. How important is that phrasing to 3 Door Down’s sound?
Chris Henderson: That’s the key to the kingdom for us. We write a lot of music without lyrics. We write the music first, then the bed rhythm and then put the melody on top of it. Over the years we have learned to craft songs that way. It comes natural to us as the more you do it the better you get at it. Less is always more in that regard. You can sit in a studio all day long piling stuff on top of stuff and that’s going to get you nowhere. The song is a journey and people have to see where you are going to take them.
Robert: Two of my favorite songs on Us and the Night are “Still Alive” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” – what can you tell me about them?
Chris Henderson: “I Don’t Wanna Know” was a lyrical idea that Brad had that we kind of demo’ed. The guitar had a kind of Latin thing to it but really didn’t have a Latin feel. It was more of a 70s funky thing. When we were trying to put that song together, our drummer Greg wasn’t in the studio that day, I went into the computer and pulled up a loop with a drum beat that pulled the guitar into a Latin feel. When that happened, instead of getting scared and everybody saying, “This just isn’t us!” we just let it happen and got that Latin feel out of our minds. We felt that the song should tell us what’s going to happen. That’s how “I Don’t Wanna Know” was born.
“Still Alive” was a song that Chet was dicking around with on Garage Band. Just a guitar riff and the middle section was a solo that I had done two or three years ago. We combined the two musically and when Brad heard them combined, he was like “Oh man, I know what this song is about!” And the song basically wrote itself from there. He heard it and then started writing lyrics and it was done.
Robert: Is that how you tend to work when writing, taking a free flowing approach?
Chris Henderson: The songs end up telling you if they suck or not. When you are writing a song; about half to three quarters of the way through, we all kind of all look at each other and someone will go, “That’s enough, we’ve been spinning our wheels too long on this.” We never really scrap the song though; we try to go back to them at some point. Songs are really hard to write. You can’t crank out 50 ideas to get one only to waste 49 ideas. So we will always go back and try redeveloping them.
Robert: How many songs or song ideas did you come up with in order to get the 13 songs on Us and the Night?
Chris Henderson: I think there were about 70 ideas. We combine them and restructured them and moved them around into about 15 songs with about 20 or 25 ideas not making the cut. We then had about 15 songs with 13 making the CD.
Robert: Are you saving those two remaining songs as bonus tracks for a future release?
Chris Henderson: The two songs are in demo form, they will probably get restructured and maybe pieces will get used on the next record, they won’t make it as whole songs.
Robert: In a generation where people are only into singles, what do you do to get them to listen to the full album and do you write for singles?
Chris Henderson: We are an old school band and come from a time when there were records. When people bought and listen to the record as a full body of work, not just the singles. We also understand that is not the environment that we live in now. We have to think of it both ways. We still write for the fans to have the body of work and we also keep in mind that people who are only going to buy the singles. We are ok with it and try our best to put the songs on the record the way we would have back in 1999, as a living breathing entity.
Robert: Was there ever a song in your career that you were confident would be a hit and wasn’t or a song that was a filler song that took off.
Chris Henderson: I thought “Every time You Go” would have done better. It did zero. A lot of people thought it sounded like other material we had written in the past. We started looking at the songs; we figured out that they were right.
At the time of writing for, Time of My Life, we hired some songwriters to come in and assist us, just to see what would happen and how outside people would influence us to write differently. What those guys ended up doing was rewriting all of our old music and brought them to us repackaged. We thought this was brand new and when we start writing to the songs and recording them we realized “Oh no, this sounds like another song we wrote 10 years ago.”
For a song that we thought would be a hit and was, I would have to say “Here Without You.” We were confident that it would be a hit and it was. It wasn’t because we were cocky or we knew what was going on, there was something about that song.
Robert: Todd has been out of the band for a few years, what was it like to get back to recording without him?
Chris Henderson: It was different for sure. I’m not saying it was good or bad. He was in this band for a long time and he is my brother.
Robert: Are you looking forward to performing any particular song off the CD and why?
Chris Henderson: Well if it’s up to Brad, well play all the songs off the new CD [laughing]. He loves playing new music! We’ll probably play four or five off the new CD. Defiantly “Still Alive,” the new single “In the Dark,” “The Broken” and were trying to play “I Don’t Wanna Know” but maybe not at first. “Inside of Me” for sure. It’s going to be a good mixture.
Robert: How quickly did you realize the anthemic impact of “Kryptonite”?
Chris Henderson: I heard it many times while we were recording it and it seemed like the people who were listening to it really like it as well. I knew it was catchy and cool but the first time I heard it was on a CD in my truck. I was like “Wow!” I thought to myself this could be a really huge song and than I thought to myself what the hell do I know about music and how the world works. It was a few years later before final went to radio even by accident. It was like overnight success with people talking about your band everywhere. For 18 months we were pretty famous.
Robert: How do multi-platinum artist like yourself measure success in 2016 with no rock radio, no video channels, and file sharing?
Chris Henderson: By the size of the show that we are playing and the number of people that are come to see us.