Shinedown fans have been waiting a little longer than they expected for the new album to show itself. Planet Zero was originally supposed to be released in late April but because of some production details, it was pushed back to the mid-summer, which excitedly, was this past Friday, July 1st. The title track serving as the first single whetted the appetite of fans back in January, eliciting cravings for what was to come. Exposing itself to be twenty tracks, ranging from twenty-two seconds to full-blown four-minute rockers, the album breathes with reality.
If there is anything to be said about Shinedown, it’s that their music never slacks when it comes to the honesty of human emotions and what those feelings lead to physically. Repercussions both good and harmful become a day-to-day journey to fix or coast along on the cloud of happiness or tears. Even the covers they have chosen to retranslate hum with original vibrations. Kids gravitate to their music like proverbial moths to a bright flame while the older adults nod their heads in the familiarity with symbolism. The band has no age limit, has no time date stickered to their foreheads. They continue to follow the pulse of the times and lock into the thoughts and visions of the world around them.
And Planet Zero has the bull by the horns.
Their single, “Daylight,” which lands fifteen songs in, highlights the hope of friendship and loved ones: “It’s amazing what the hard times can reveal; Like who shows up, who walks away and who’s for real.” Hindsight can be 20/20 and you can finally see the ones that were there in the dark when you couldn’t see what was in front of you. But “America Burning” snarks out “Is this Apocalypse Now? Who let the animals out? Hip hip hooray, say something shocking; Who doesn’t love a parade with gasoline and grenades?” While “Clueless & Dramatic” cries out “Another day in the life of the clueless and dramatic; Yeah, they keep changing the rules; When the screens never stop and the fear’s automatic; What do you do?” And fist pumps in “Dead Don’t Die” – “The dead don’t die; The heart still beats; Head held high; I haunt these streets; Life’s killed me a hundred thousand times; You can try; You can try, But the dead don’t die; Knock me down; Six feet deep; One more round; No reprieve.”
This could very well be Shinedown’s best album to date.
“I think the music we write somehow resonates with people,” guitarist Zach Myers said. “I think they connect to it and they get something from it that we get from writing it.” As singer Brent Smith reiterated in our interview below, “We have to write about what we know, what we’re going through, and our surroundings. I think that if you ask anybody to describe Shinedown in one word, they would tell you that word would be honest.”
Whether you buy a Shinedown album to immerse yourself in the songs or attend a concert to connect with others who feel the same way, the band is the gravity that holds everything together. They put on a show like nobody’s business and tunes like “Unity, “Bully,” “45,” “If You Only Knew,” “Monsters” – and even their heartfelt rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” – will always find their way to a soul in need of them.
I spoke with Smith, who is currently out on tour with his Shinedown bandmates, about Planet Zero, the human race, and the song Myers surprised him with on the new album.
So I guess this big new album answers the question of what you had been doing during the pandemic.
Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the pandemic, specifically, you know, this record. It’s something that we all had to take an initiative with and really look at each other – myself and Eric and Zach and Barry – and say, well, okay, we could have the crystal ball method and try to write from an aspect of three years later, because no one is going to want to talk about this, they’re not going to want to relive this. But when I arrived in South Carolina on June 1st of 2020, it was just very evident that that wasn’t going to be the case. It was like, we have to write about what we know, what we’re going through, and our surroundings. I think that if you ask anybody to describe Shinedown in one word, they would tell you that word would be honest.
We didn’t set out to make a conceptual piece again like Attention Attention, but the interesting thing is we probably made more of a conceptual record this time than we did on Attention. A friend of mine once told me, “You’ll get your whole life to make your first record and if that record is successful, you’re going to get about six months to do your next one.” And that’s exactly what happened to us. But that is a trajectory over time. When I look back over those other six albums, what makes Planet Zero different is that we wrote this record in real time because we were going through everything right along with the world at the same time. So there were just a tremendous amount of obstacles that not only our world but our society was going through and still is going through. I mean, I’ve often told people, listen, people say that the internet is undefeated and it’s not the truth; Mother Nature is undefeated. I think that a lot of people were finding the harsh reality of that and it’s a lot to unpack but we definitely unpacked it (laughs).
What do you think is more prominent in these songs: anger, frustration, disillusionment, or hope?
It’s all of that. You know, this is an album that is a case study, if you will, in human existence and as human beings how we can inspire each other, how we can create; but how we can also be disillusioned, how we can destroy, how we can be selfish; and how we can also be triumphant, how we can be confident, how we can understand that hey, guess what, it’s not just us on this planet. We are here with a lot of different organisms and creatures and we’re part of the same space. When I look at this record and I think about what we talked about, I don’t think it’s something you can do an analysis on in a thirty-minute interview. But that’s why we wrote the record in the first place, is because we know that people will talk about it and that was the entire initiative of the record, was to begin multiple conversations in the hopes and the understanding of I know the last two and a half years have been very difficult but how do you move forward and what are the things you’re going to do as an individual to not only help your fellow man, woman, and child but also how are you going to find real respect for this planet that you inhabit. So it’s a lot to unpack as I said. I’m going to keep going back to that but it’s a very psychological record.
I don’t necessarily know if I would determine a term of endearment that this was a labor of love but what it was was completely unapologetic. And why I say that is I think more than anything we live in a society now where information is at our fingertips and I tell people this all the time – the internet can be used as an incredible tool and a learning tool and something that can better you as an individual; it can also be used to completely destroy everything around you. The reality of that is you also have to remember, especially with the younger generation – and I’m very bold when I say this – remember that you are in charge of your smartphone, remember that you can decide what you look at and what you don’t look at, and what you want to learn and what you believe is a false narrative or what you believe is the truth. But when you have speculation and you have all these elements that are going on, it makes it difficult to navigate sometimes.
So when I think about the record from the beginning to the middle to the finale of what the album is trying to present to the public, it had to be honest. So yes, there is frustration, and yes, there is anger involved in this, there is confusion involved in this, there is an unwillingness to believe certain people because they’ve proven time and time again that they are not telling you the truth, and you have to make a decision there.
One of the aspects of this record is that not just in America and the representatives of the citizens of the USA but the citizens of the planet need to understand, like in your country, in your demographic, remember that these representatives should just be there to do that – to represent you. They’re not gods. They don’t get to decide, and they shouldn’t get to decide, whether you live or you die or what you can say and what you cannot say. I never stayed inside during the pandemic. I didn’t. I went out. In the real world, people were not trying to destroy each other. People were not trying to break each other down. They were trying to help one another. I still believe in the human spirit and I still believe in humanity. And that’s in this record too. Believe me, there is a lot of frustration and on the record and angst but there is also a lot of triumphs and there is a lot of strength and there is a lot of confidence as well.
So where do you see the human race failing the most?
I don’t necessarily see that it’s failing. What I see is that people are easily influenced more now than ever. Like, when I grew up, I didn’t have the internet, because I’m Generation X, so if I needed to learn something, I had to go to the library or I had to go and actually talk to people or I had to ask questions. I had to hunt for it, you know what I mean. Now, it’s so accessible. The technology of what you can do on TikTok or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter, it’s instantaneous. That’s where I think that people need to remember you’re an individual and you’re also responsible for yourself, and in some cases, you’re responsible for other people around you. Me, for example, my priority is my fourteen-year-old son and his seven-year-old brother. That’s my priority, to make sure I’m giving them as much of an education as I possibly can give them, to be available for them, and for them to understand that knowledge is not only power but it’s necessary to navigate things.
So if there is anything I think can be worked out better, it’s that parents really, really need to have an understanding of what their children are looking at, what they’re consuming, so that you can have constructive conversations with your kids as to what is actually going on. And don’t get me wrong, I learn a lot from my son. My son teaches me a lot of things but we have an open dialogue with one another because these young men and women are our future. I can’t stand it when I see people that are in my age group, or even older, and they maybe don’t say it out loud but they’re thinking, “Well, I don’t care, I’m not going to be around so whatever they do to the Earth, I’m going to enjoy my time while I’m here and peace out when it’s my time.” I’m like, that’s a horrible way to think! That’s the most irresponsible thing that you could do! You want to leave this Earth better than you found it.
But I actually don’t think that human beings are failing each other right now at all. I think that you might be given a false narrative in regards to certain social media outlets and what have you but once again, if you go out into the real world it’s one of the reasons why I still have hope in humanity.
“Dead Don’t Die” is a powerful track. Tell us what is really happening in that song.
If I can tell you what is really happening in that song, I would have to talk about our illustrious guitar player Mr. Zach Myers because he wrote that song and brought it to me and Eric and Barry. What’s interesting about that song too is he kept it kind of in his back pocket while we were recording the album, and obviously we were writing songs together at that time and what have you. This was something he had kind of done on his own, like early in the writing phase of what became Planet Zero. But I think we were probably like twenty-five songs in and he had overheard me in the studio. I was like, “We’re missing the kind of mid-tempo stomp.” That’s what we call it, the mid-tempo stomp, because we’re really, really focusing on how this record sequence was and how it plays out and how it moves. So the long and short of it, he goes, “Well, I might have something.” And he played it for us on his iPhone and me and Eric looked at each other and Barry and were like, “When were you going to tell us you had this!” (laughs) And he goes, “I just did. I just showed it to you.” (laughs)
But he didn’t have a bridge at the time, so I and Eric put a bridge together. There were a couple of lyrical things that I changed but not much. Later I said, “Where did this come from?” Cause the lyrics are very bold. And he said to me, looking at me, “I wrote it about you.” It was very interesting when he said that because I knew what he was talking about. Obviously, I have a past that is rooted in substance abuse and it’s something that I’m not shy to talk about because of my addictions and things of that nature, we’re all human, we all have things we go through, and that’s been a huge part of my life that has been difficult to overcome at times. But I’m in a place now where I’m probably the strongest I’ve ever been and part of that is because I have people like Zach and I have people like Barry and Eric and they don’t judge me, they’re there to support me. But he just explained to me that most of the song was inspired by mine and his friendship and what he’d seen me go through, which by the way I would never have been able to go through if it hadn’t been for Zach being there to support me and be there for me. Same with Barry and same with Eric. But basically that song, and me not knowing it, he said it was inspired by me.
And that friendship kind of goes into “Daylight.”
Yeah, “Daylight” was a song that myself and Zach and Eric and the quote/unquote fifth member of the band Dave Bassett, who has been a songwriting partner of the bands since The Sound Of Madness album cycle – like we met Dave during the writing sessions of what became The Sound Of Madness and Dave has been with us ever since – that song was very important because that song is about the angels that are watching over you and the people that are still here on Earth as well that make sure that you see the daylight, that make sure you see tomorrow. I think that that song personally for me is one of the most emotional songs that we’ve ever put together. The song also doesn’t lay out like a traditional format of a song, it grows in a very unique way. That one, in particular, I remember Zach when we finished it and we were listening back to the demo of it, I remember Zach kind of looking at everybody in the room and he was like, “I hope everybody remembers exactly where we were when this was created because I think we might have written something that is going to be really important.” And now we’re going to find out if he’s right.
To you, what is the most poignant line or lyric on this album?
Oh my gosh, you have like the hardest questions (laughs). I appreciate that you’re asking me things that are bold. Wow. That’s a tough one. I think that if I had to break it down, that would be difficult for me to try and think of just one particular lyric on the record that is bolder than the other; or this is my absolute favorite and it’s above everything. I can’t necessarily answer the question in that regard but what I can do is I think that “A Symptom Of Being Human” is a very poignant song on the album and what it is referring to and what it is about is so important. In that chorus, we’re unpacking a lot in that chorus. So I would have to say with that song in particular, the lyric that says “Sometimes I’m in a room where I don’t belong and the house is on fire and there’s no alarm and the walls are melting too, how ‘bout you.” The house represents your mind, your thoughts, and what’s going on, and sometimes in modern-day what we’re all dealing with on a daily basis and how we’re trying to navigate this place, sometimes, you know, up top we just kind of question what’s going on up there and sometimes it takes a lot out of you. And “Symptom” is about understanding that, hey, it’s not just you, it’s all of us; it happens, things aren’t always going to be perfect all the time; but you’re not alone, we all feel like this from time to time; that’s why it’s called being human. So I would say that lyric hit me really, really hard. That song hits me really, really hard. Every single time I hear that song it does something to me still.