Endorsed by Iron Maiden. Live review and interview with Shinedown vocalist Brent Smith

Steve Harris was man of his word and a couple months later, we were in Russia. We got the offer to do the Maiden Tour in 2017....

Words & Pictures: Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media

If people had been smart and thought ahead, arriving early expecting long queues after recent events in Manchester or whether the thought of seeing Shinedown had inspired them to make the effort, the end result was that The O2 was looking decidedly full by the time Brent, Barry, Zach and Eric took to the stage.

Invited by Steve Harris to join them on tour after he’d seen them play at Download last year, it’s an endorsement that Shinedown were never going to waste. A 50 minute set time made sure the hits and the killer live tracks were deployed. Hitting the ground running with ‘Devour’ Brent Smith prowled the stage looking ready to pounce on anyone wishing to mess with him. Knowing that a Maiden crowd is there for one band and one band only, the Floridians had to push everything to win over what is typically an unforgiving crowd. Shinedown still have some way to go in the UK, even relegating themselves on the Carnival of Madness bill allowing the bigger selling Black Stone Cherry to headline. In the US, the roles are reversed as Shinedown are by far the bigger act. 

Using every trick in the book to engage the audience, Brent got the audience on their feet and out of the seats, encouraging people to turn to their neighbours and introduce themselves during ‘Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)’. This included a handshake from the man himself as I stood in the pit taking the pictures attached to this article. 

Classic ‘Second Chance’, by far my favourite track and the one that convinced me the band were one to watch in the future is aired and gets the crowd singing before ‘Cut The Cord’ from current album ‘Threat to Survival’ generates another round of chants.

The now customary parting of the crowd to allow Brent’s walk through the middle of the floor ensured Shinedown’s set was one of the more memorable ones that has opened up an Iron Maiden show.

The tour has been a huge success for Shinedown. Opening in front of some 420,000 people over the course of the tour with Iron Maiden, that delivered 18 arena shows in different cities. Thanks to a chance meeting with Steve Harris at Download Festival last year, where the Maiden bassist watched the band from the side of the stage during their set, the wheel were then set in motion to have them come on the Book of Souls tour. Fate and chance always have helping hands in the background and in Shinedown’s case this helping hand comes from one John Jackson. 

Sitting in a side room in the bowels of The O2 Arena in London, Brent told us how fate came to their aid;

Brent: Maryjo Spillane, who is our tour manager, she came and started working with us and she’d been with Lady Gaga for three years during the whole Fame record. She got off the road. She worked with a lot of bands. She’s been in the industry for a long time, but worked with Slayer for like a decade, and worked with Megadeth and countless other bands.

She’s doing the Gaga tour, she got off of it, and looking around saying; “I just want a band. I need a band.” And Lo and Behold our management called her and she picked up the phone. She didn’t know who we were, but she started working with us. She quite frankly asked me about two months later near the end of the run, “What do you do internationally?” And I was telling her what was going on and this and that.Cleared nonplussed her response was “Oh, okay.” She started to do research, and the feedback was, “This is pathetic, who’s your agent?” Now we don’t need to get into that, but she said, “Have you heard of a guy named John Jackson?” Now she’s worked with John for a long time. I’d never heard of him. And John, he’s not got to take you on unless he believes he can do something special with you. When we both decided to work with each other one of the first things he did was he got us on more newer European festivals than we’ve ever played before back in June and July of last year. So we came to Europe last year and played a bunch of new festivals but we had one UK show and it was Download, and we got to play the main stage for the first time. Although we’d played Download before. We’d never played the main stage. He [John] was arriving with Steve Harris.

John didn’t say anything. Steve Harris just kind of heard us playing. We’d just gone on. Steve Harris actually came up to the stage with John and saw our last five songs and said, “These guys are good.” And so long and the short of it, we got down with our set. John’s yelling for me as I’m running because I really have to go to the bathroom. And I remember I had to take a piss so bad, and he was waving and he’s like, “Come here.” And I was like, “Hey!” And he was like, “You’re always sweating when I see you.” And I’m like, “I know. I’m working man.” He replies, “This is Steve Harris. He wanted to say Hi.” So a sweaty handshake and “Oh, Hi. How are you doing?”

Steve told John, “These guys would be really good for the UK tour in. What do you think?” John agreed saying, “I actually just picked them up. I actually just started working with them.” And it’s interesting to hear it from John too, with Maiden, he was talking about Steve Harris, and he said, “You know what? Steve Harris is the same guy today that he was in 1979 when I booked them on their very first club run for 50 cities.” I was amazed, “You’ve been with them that long?” He’s like, “Yeah.” And so that in and of itself was pretty remarkable. But Steve Harris was man of his word and a couple months later, we were in Russia. We got the offer to do the Maiden Tour in 2017.

And we took it. [Who wouldn’t???] And that’s why we’re here.

MGM: You headline your own Arena tours in the States and when you do the Carnival of Madness Tour here, you switch and Black Stone Cherry close the show.

Brent: Well, because Black Stone just has more notoriety over here than we do when we did it in 2016. And we were like, “Of course, they should headline.” They’re bigger.

MGM: But back home the arena shows are your thing. You typically finish the night, don’t you?

Brent: We do. Next year, we have been on Atlantic Records for 20 years in February. And now it’s just with Max Lousada, yesterday, just talking about the global side of this band and everything moving forward, and being connected with Atlantic in the UK at Warner. My goal with John is that he asked me something. “What do you want more than anything right now?” My response; “Between 2018 and 2020, I want to do at least 50 countries.”

And I want to start breaking ground but I really want to break ground in the UK and the markets that we’ve had, these opportunities, and really get to it. And essentially working even closer with the record label, even closer with management to really bring it to the people. So that they don’t have to hunt for it. You know what I mean? And really be focused about how we put towards together and how we lay them out. This was for us when we got it, we knew exactly what the opportunity was but they had been so…I can’t say it enough, and it’s not lip service. They have been so wonderful to us. Their crew, the band themselves. But I think there’s also a respect because from the very first show–First of all, they gave us 50 minutes. That’s nine songs. There’s not three other bands on this builds. It’s just us and them. And they had to have thought about that a little bit because I wonder, would they bring anybody? It’s Maiden. It’s arguably the band that is–they are forefathers of heavy metal. Some people would say Sabbath. From being out here with them, hands down it’s Maiden. I mean, because I’ve never seen a community of people that absolutely love one another and have a connection through the band but their fan basis it’s extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s really freaking beautiful to watch. This camaraderie of children, men, women, from all walks of life, they belong to something that’s special to them, and with Eddie the head, literally being the symbol for heavy metal. But I think Steve also saw something in us, even though he didn’t know who we were. He was like, “They’re not going to come over here and phone this in. They’re going to come over here and give it hell.”

Which is exactly what we do. We take every show very seriously and every tour seriously, but we take this very seriously. So that night, those nights on set, 50 minutes that they have bestowed upon us and given us the opportunity to be in front of, that’s nothing. I thought three songs in, four songs in, maybe the rooms will be half full. It’s completely full from the downbeat of the first song, from this first show in Antwerp to hopefully tonight [The O2 show on May 27th].

MGM: What would the goal be when you come back as a headliner in terms of venues?

Brent: John’s goal is for us to be doing arenas by September of next year, hopefully. But that’s on us. That’s on the label and management and all of us working together and really giving the world something extremely special, new and fresh from this band. Because we want to do that. We’re never going to be band that makes the same record twice. It’s just not going to happen. And believe me, man, we’re rock and roll to the bone. We really are. But we love melody and we love music overall.

I’ll give you an example, like the State of my Head. When that was released in the United States, there was a concern just because of how different it was because it was very urban and very pop. The whole song was built off of a drum loop that we had. I said, “Just trust me. Just put it out.” It became 2016’s most played song on all rock radio formats. And that’s just one aspect of it. The hardest of the hardest, Guys and Girls, when we played that, and that’s just one example of a song, it gets into you, man. It makes you freaking want to dance.

So it’s like, that’s what music’s supposed to do, man. It’s supposed to make you feel something.

MGM: Yeah. And move with it.

Brent: Yeah. And move. It was built by design to move you.

MGM: Yeah. And that’s presumably coming from your sort of history and knowledge of what they say, the old soul music as well that used to be. The Atlantic soul side of music as well. 

Brent: Oh my God. Yeah. Otis Redding. Jesus, man, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. I go on and on and on. But I mean a lot from me too is my Dad got me into Otis Redding which got me to Ray Charles that got me to Aretha Franklin, and on these other different dynamics like Percy Sledge and Sam Cooke and Al Green. Al Green got me to Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. I have a love for that style. I have a love for those voices. Somebody asked the other day, they were like, who right now is doing that you’re really liking and I’m like, “You know what? I’m not trying to be a snob, but it’s hard to match those cats.”

It’s just hard to match them, man. Even in 2017, there’s not a lot current. That’s a tough dynamic too.

MGM: You’ll find people that will pay respect to it, but it won’t be the same.

Brent: It’s not the same. Like Billie Holiday, man. Some people don’t get it. Some people are like, “I don’t get it. I’m like, “Well, maybe she’s not for you.” Maybe you might be a little bit better listening to Aretha Franklin. She was a little bit more mainstream. But I’d give you an example, for me was Billie Holiday.

Henry Rollins said it best. He said, “When I put on Billie Holiday, I feel like she’s singing to just me,” and that’s that kind of stuff that’s really special, man. When you hear it come out the speaker and you are transported, man, to somewhere else.

MGM: With that background in music, why did you switch to rock? Because you could’ve pursued that path or is it because your voice naturally lends itself to a band sound?

Brent: There was somebody that I knew back in the day that told me that music…Well, they said, “You don’t pick the music. The music picks you.” And I think from birth, and people always kind of shake their head. What are you talking about from birth? It’s not like you remembered wanting to be what you are today when you were two. And I was like, “Yeah, I did.” I got to remember the moment and everything. And I combined, I listened to a lot of thrash, and a lot of punk rock when I was 13, 14, because I had a friend that was really into The Misfits and he had the Exploited and the Doors and all about punk rock.

And I didn’t know who Sex Pistols were until later. And I got into that aggression. I got into that. And I got into Fugazi and started hearing all of these just like…And the Plasmatics and all that stuff. And then my Dad heard all that stuff and he was like, “Oh my God. What is this?” And I’m like, “I like it.” And he was like, “Okay. Well, alright. Well, listen to this.” And he gave me an anthology tape of Otis Redding and it totally changed my life. And I had that whole soul music, man, and then I kind of went back to Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac and The Doors and kind of figured out about what that was. I spent my junior year in high school reading everything about Jim Morrison. And then that got me to Black Sabbath and got me to Led Zeppelin. So they’re all these power singers, and this conviction. And for me, looking at it, I mean, I was 24 years old until I heard the White album. I didn’t grow up listening to The Beatles. And I’m glad I kind of didn’t because I don’t know if I would have got it until I was in my 20’s, because I kind of researched it more than listen to it.

MGM: And presumably, if you had, you would have potentially missed out on the Motown sort of things because it would have been a different path to be in right now.

Brent: Yeah. So I took all of these styles. I don’t really like calling them genres, but I took all these styles and my brain just kind of put them all together and what the best parts were in my opinion of all these different men and women and all these different styles of music and that’s what you get with me.

With perhaps the most comprehensive, encyclopedic knowledge of music over the decades, its no wonder each Shinedown release tackles something new. The follow up to Threat to Survival, due in 2018 is likely to be a 22 track double concept piece. How the band will approach that and deliver it to the fans remains to be seen. 





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