While on tour in support of the legendary Iron Maiden, post-grunge hard rockers Shinedown made a point to meet up with fans before the show. While in line at a London show, one particular fan caught vocalist Brent Smith's eye. “He must have been about 15 years old,” Smith recalls. “He had everything under the sun for us to sign – all our albums, a t-shirt, even our posters.
“He wanted to ask a question, so after all the photos were taken I took him aside from the group and said, 'Shoot.' This kid told me how much he loved our albums, but he wanted to know one thing about the new one: 'Can you make it heavier?'”
This interaction ended up inspiring part of ‘Devil’, the lead single from the album in question, Attention Attention. The chorus to the song – a downtuned slice of razor-sharp alt-rock – sees Smith warning listeners, 'It's about to get heavy.' He's not wrong – Attention Attention certainly deals with a much darker side of the band, both in terms of its lyrical approach and its overall sound.
“The idea of something being 'heavy' can be looked at in a lot of different ways,” says Smith. “In terms of music, it can be describing something sonically. It can be heavy from a percussive perspective. It can definitely mean lyrically heavy. The way he was talking about it, though, I understood what he meant. When we got back from that tour, 'Devil' was the first song that we wrote for the album. I think it's kind of a wink to that young man – you wanted it heavy? Here you go.”
Attention Attention, which came out last month, is the sixth studio album from the band. Though many in the mainstream will only know them for their 2008 crossover hit ‘Second Chance’, Shinedown has persevered as one of the most active touring bands in hard rock. They still play to massive crowds across the world long after many of their peers downgraded to small clubs, which Smith succinctly attributes to making music that connects with people.
“We really did want to make this a global record,” he says. “We wanted to connect this album with our fans from all over the world. It's a record about humanity. It's about where we're at right now – not so much from a political standpoint, but from an emotional one. That was one of the biggest things that we were thinking of when we were writing the album.” As for where his own headspace was in the creation of Attention Attention, Smith doesn't flinch for a second in his response. “I was writing from a very personal place,” he says.
“I have to write about what I know – and no-one knows this band like I do. I know me, I know Eric [Bass, bass – yes, really], I know Zach [Myers, guitar] and I know Barry [Kerch, drums]. A lot of this record is about our lives. It's about the people we know and the situations we've been put in. I wanted it to be a story of humanity – when it comes down to it, this album is about the human spirit.” The story that Smith alludes to is one that goes through the entire tracklist of Attention Attention – one individual, alone in a room, facing their demons and leaving a better person.
“It's not a concept record the same way Dark Side of the Moon is, or Operation: Mindcrime or even Tommy,” says Smith. “Those albums have specific characters, specific places – everything has a name. On Attention Attention, the listener has to put themselves inside the room. It's psychological, but also emotional and physical. Your age, your race, your gender, your orientation – none of that matters to this story.
“For us, it's a record about not being afraid to fail,” Smith concludes. “Often, people pigeonhole themselves and paint themselves into a corner. They paralyse themselves. They'll believe that they can't do something because of all the negativity out there. We don't think people should be defined by their failures – they should be defined by the fact they never give up.”
Attention Attention is out now via Atlantic/Warner Music.