Shinedown shoots for perfection

Photo by JOHN STEVENS AND JONATHAN LIPKINGShinedown
Photo by JOHN STEVENS AND JONATHAN LIPKINGShinedown

Last week, Barry Kerch, co-founder of Shinedown, the popular rock band from Jacksonville, Fla., was working on his day off.

Technically, Shinedown was on a 10-day break from touring, but Kerch was doing a string of phone interviews from Jacksonville. His fellow Shinedown charter member, singer Brent Smith, was on the job in New York, also doing interviews as well as meeting with the band’s record label.

From the beginning, Smith and Kerch worked hard to make Shinedown happen.

“Yeah, I live, breathe, eat everything music,” Smith told The Advocate in 2003, the year Atlantic Records released the band’s major-label debut, Leave A Whisper.

“I don’t know how else to live,” he added. “I’d rather be dirt poor and living on the streets but still be a musician. I don’t want that to happen, but that’s how dedicated I am.”

Leave A Whisper eventually sold a million copies, but only after lots of going the extra mile on the band’s part.

“We worked that album for three years,” Kerch, the band’s drummer, said last week.

At the beginning of Shinedown, Kerch remembered, “we were shooting for the moon but we had no expectations. You don’t know what to expect. And every day something is thrown at you that changes the whole game. The record business, come on. The past 11 years it’s changed more than it has in the past 100 years. Trying to keep up with that has been a daunting task.”

That means the work never stops.

“We just put our nose to the grindstone,” Kerch said. “We said, ‘No matter what it takes, that’s what we’re gonna do.’ And, really, this band was built on interviews and radio.

“We never said no. We knocked door to door at every radio station in every market, every newspaper, every local magazine, every national magazine and said, ‘Yes, what can we help you with?’ ”

The timing of Shinedown’s arrival on the national scene poised another challenge for the Southern-bred band, Kerch added.

“At that time, the Killers and that kind of sound was coming out, with that European, English kind of tone to it. We weren’t that band. So we just did the radio and the interviews. We were honest with ourselves and honest with our fans.”

Shinedown’s bumps along the road included the departure of guitarist Jasin Todd and bassist Brad Stewart.

“That was a rough time,” Kerch said. “But at this point these guys (guitarist Zach Myers and bassist Eric Bass) have been here longer than the originals. It’s the best it’s ever been, much more comfortable and easier now than it was then. I have nothing but respect for Jasin and Brad, but I don’t think Shinedown would not have survived without making changes.”

Following Todd and Stewart’s exit, Smith and Kerch worked with studio musicians to make Shinedown’s third album, 2008’s million-selling The Sound of Madness.

“It was a stressful time,” Kerch recalled. “That’s why we called it The Sound of Madness. There was a lot of craziness going on.”

The band’s latest album, Amaryllis, released last year, is the first Shinedown album featuring Bass and Myers. A year in the making, the musically ambitious, world-class production features a 30-piece orchestra in six of its songs.

“The songs needed it,” Kerch said of the orchestrations. “It was not cheap, but you have to do what’s best for the song. We go for perfection and try to capture exactly what we want. Each album is a very good picture of where we were at that time.”

Shinedown’s ambition remains undimmed.

“We want to play more places for bigger and bigger crowds. We’re putting on a show, but not that kind of show. We’re not faking it. We’re up there because we love playing these songs and we believe in these songs and we believe in this band.”