There are those who will tell you that post-grunge rock, the brand of heavy, monolithic rock 'n' roll that dominated the radio waves in the late '90s and early '00s, is dead. There are those who will tell you that no one cares about that kind of music anymore, and that bands like Shinedown and Five Finger Death Punch have had their day. Shinedown's bassist, fortuitously named Eric Bass, has some thoughts on that.
"That's the same media who also told you that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election," the Charleston native says. "Anyone who says rock 'n' roll is dead needs to check their pulse, because you don't sell out arenas with a genre that's going away."
And indeed, Shinedown's current joint tour has been selling out arenas all over the country, despite the seemingly unlikely mix of Five Finger's brutally blunt alt-metal and Shinedown's more straightforward meat-and-potatoes rock. "It works really well," Bass says. "It's been a really fun tour. We've had some amazing shows, and there have been nights where we've packed 15,000 people into arenas."
So why the disparity between "cool" and "popular?" Bass thinks he knows. "You have the Hollywood view of everything and the New York view of everything," he says. "The tastemakers are going to tell you what they think is cool. Their friends told them this or that band was awesome, and there are going to be some great bands that come out of that, don't get me wrong, but usually, the tastemakers driving the opinions forget about the rest of the country. I stand up on that stage every night and I'm so grateful for what I have — the ability to perform to a crowd that loves what I do. And then you read magazines or on the Internet about how rock is dead. These people need to get out more. Maybe it's dead in Brooklyn, but it's not dead everywhere else."
Despite the general critical disdain that bands like Shinedown seem to inspire, the band has been remarkably successful over their 15-year existence. Their five albums have sold a combined 10 million copies worldwide, and they've landed a series of punishingly heavy singles on a variety of charts, including "Burning Bright," "Save Me," and, most notably, "Second Chance," which hit the Hot 100 Top 10 and propelled their fourth album, The Sound of Madness, to double-platinum status.
"Our music speaks to people," Bass says. "Believe me, I listen to a ton of rap and a ton of Top 40 and a ton of indie rock; I listen to everything. But all these kids that are listening to Nicki Minaj are going to get their hearts broken one day, and they're going to get pissed off. And Top 40 music isn't going to cover it for them. Rock music speaks for everybody. It's got real substance. And there's a giant demographic out there that loves rock 'n' roll music and is not going away, ever."
But even as album sales in general have declined, Shinedown has managed to maintain a strong fan base, generating serious demand on the road. Perhaps one of the reasons is that, as monolithic as modern-rock can sound on the radio, the band's albums show a clear evolution, from the grungy guitars and Alice In Chains-style vocals of their 2003 debut, Leave a Whisper, to the more twisted, progressive song structures of Us and Them to the revved-up aggression of Amaryllis.
"I just get in there and do what I do with my bandmates," Bass says. "One thing I love about our band is that we don't put ourselves in a box when it comes to creating music. There are some bands that will say, 'This is our sound, this is who we are, this is what we do. We can't go over this line or through that door because it's not us.' We don't have that. We're going to explore the musical landscape as much as we can. And when [singer] Brent Smith puts his voice on it and we lay down our tracks, it becomes Shinedown."
In fact, the band has been preparing the follow-up to last year's Threat to Survival while on tour, and Bass says that they've only got one rule when it comes to songwriting: No boundaries. "That's become something that's major for us when we're writing; the idea of 'Let's see how far we can push this thing,'" he says. "That's what's changed most over the last decade. We have a collective attitude of 'What can we try next?' I'm writing songs for the next album, and if it sounds too normal for us, I'll shy away from it. I try to push things and create something fresh and new. That's why each record sounds different from the one before or after it. We want to have growth."