Leaving off their tour supporting Attention Attention, Shinedown planned to visually document the 14 tracks of their sixth album. Shelving the film to 2021, Attention Attention (Gravitas Ventures) chronicles the tour and the message behind the songs.
Directed by Bill Yukich (Beyoncé, Metallica), who also worked on the band’s previous videos for tracks “Get Up,” “Devil,” “Monsters,” and “The Human Radio,” Attention Attention (film) transforms the 14 songs of the album into something more cinematic with guest appearances by actress Melora Walters (Magnolia, Big Love, PEN15) and Francesca Eastwood (Twin Peaks, Fargo), daughter of Clint Eastwood, presenting the album and songs addressing the human struggles around mental health issues.
Throughout the entire COVID pandemic, the band, frontman Brent Smith, along with guitarist Zach Myers, bassist Eric Bass, and drummer Barry Kerch, continued to keep busy, raising nearly $400,000 by releasing merchandise and a single from the Atlas Falls vault, donating proceeds to Direct Relief, which provided medical resources for frontline workers and patients impacted by the pandemic.
Now working on their seventh album Shinedown 7, out in 2022, Smith chatted with American Songwriter about 20 years since Shinedown’s 2003 debut Leave a Whisper, and how Attention Attention, which debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200, became a more visual “story album.”
American Songwriter: What led to the release of Attention Attention film now and how did Bill Yukich help you visualize each track?
Brent Smith: In the early days of the writing process, we didn’t necessarily set out to develop a concept record. It became that during the writing, and then ultimately during the recording. When we knew that the album was a story, it became a story album. A lot of times when you get the first treatment at the beginning of a record cycle, and you’re starting with your first single off that album, you get inundated with a lot of different treatments from a lot of different directors. When we met Bill Yukich for the first single “Devil,” one of the things that stuck out about him was the fact that his was really thorough, and the way that he showed us images and his treatment, it was very detailed. Immediately, you can tell that he was a visionary. And he also worked with a lot of different artists, one particular being Beyoncé for the album Lemonade. We did “Devil” and then “The Human Radio,” and as we were looking at the next single “Get Up,” and work simultaneously on “Monsters,” we said, “let’s do it all.” We positioned ourselves with a two-week window during the tour, because we were touring constantly for Attention Attention, and carved out time in LA with this remarkable cast and this incredible crew, and Bill. We shot the nine remaining songs in 11 days. When we were finishing the record in the studio, we knew that we were going to show everything visually. We developed this story and we didn’t want to release just a couple of the single videos. We needed to do the whole thing.
AS: Musically, theatrically, what was important to capture in the film?
BS: I think that everybody had an idea from when they saw the videos as the singles were being released because people were starting to see the same actors in different videos, and this story that was kind of deconstructed at the time. The record is about all of humanity. Inside of Attention, Attention, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re younger or older, and the color of your skin—that’s irrelevant. Your religion, that’s your business. That’s up to you. It’s what makes you an individual, and who you are. So it was a story of all of these different people that find each other in the finale of everything in the film, but you watch all these individual lives go through a lot. It’s a roller coaster, psychologically, but mentally, physically, and spiritually, it’s about a lot of different people.
AS: What is the deeper message around the 14 tracks of Attention Attention, and ultimately the film?
BS: The consensus of the album is we don’t want people to be afraid of failure in life, because failure is what allows you to know what to do next. But if you never make the leap into things that you think maybe you’re not capable of doing, even if you fail, that doesn’t lay out your life at that point in time. Just because you didn’t get it the first time doesn’t mean you don’t need to try again, and again, and again. I always tell don’t have a “Plan B” in life. Whatever you really want to be, whatever you want for yourself, and whatever you want for your existence, that’s what you should go after. I don’t think that people need to be afraid of their failures. They need to embrace it. Your legacy isn’t going to be about your failures. Your legacy is going to be about the fact that you refuse to give up. So it’s just a storyline. It’s very colorful. It’s very broad. It’s a very fast story because it’s about a lot of different people but it’s people coming together. We just wanted an interesting way of expressing humanity, and I think we accomplished that.
AS: So much happens in a few years and while these songs aren’t too old, the film does give them this visual rebirth in a way. Why does Attention Attention still resonate with you now?
BS: Even when I was explaining the album in the earlier days, I told people that this doesn’t have an ending. The story and the album, and now the movie, when you watch it all together, it has a prelude, and then it has a beginning and a middle and a finale but it doesn’t really end. You move forward. I think the reason why it still resonates with people is because we’re talking about things that people deal with on a daily basis, all the time. We’ve never been a band that shied away from talking about heavy subject matter, especially in regards to mental health. We’ve been doing that our entire career. And when I look at the changing landscape of how people interact now, versus 10 years ago, the one thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re all emotional creatures. And I’ve often said to people, I write songs, and I’m blessed that I’m able to do that. And I’m blessed to be able to do it with my brothers, Barry and Eric, and Zach. I write songs because it’s cheaper than therapy. We don’t hold on to our angst. We don’t hold on to our grief. We don’t hold on to our attitude or anger or any of those elements in the band. Ultimately, we’re in a marriage, but we’re still a band 20 years later that loves to be around each other. We still ride the same bus. We’re still in the same hotels and the same dressing rooms.
AS: As a songwriter you’re also telling a story on this album. What is it that threads these 14 songs together?
BS: It is relevant because the scenarios and the situations that we’re describing are things that happen in people’s lives at different stages in their lives, but it’s about growth. That’s the beauty of being a musician, and a storyteller. We feel really blessed that we’re able to do it and that we’ve always been able to convey it into song.
AS: As a writer, do you feel like songs still come to you in the same way?
BS: I’ve always said I’m not a scientist. I’m a songwriter. Scientists are about discovery, and we try to create. That’s the difference. We have to pull things out of thin air sometimes, but that’s the beauty of it. You’re taking a situation where you may have nothing to work with, and you’re making something out of it. And hopefully, we’re doing something that’s a positive influence on society, which is what we try to do.
AS: It’s now 20 years into the band and nearly two decades since your first album. How do you look back on nearly two decades later with Shinedown?
BS: It humbles me every single day. I have a lot of gratitude. I have a lot to be grateful for, and I’m motivated by it. I don’t believe in a top. We always look at it like an individual. You’re staring at a mountain that is just enormous, and you’re at ground zero, and you’re saying to yourself, “there’s absolutely no way I can get to the top of this thing myself.” You may not be able to get it to the top of it by yourself, but if you do it together, I don’t think there’s any mountain that you can’t master. And once you all are at the top of that mountain together, you can take a moment and breathe in the air, look around at each other, give each other a high five and a hug, but then go find a bigger mountain. Are we respectful of the 20 years? Absolutely. We appreciate it, but we don’t think about it, because in this band, we only have one boss. It’s everybody in the audience, and we take that very seriously. Ultimately, they have given us a platform to be ourselves, and we want them to be themselves too, and there is a beautiful relationship inside of that. So as the band grows, the audience grows. We don’t ever take it for granted that we are allowed to not make the same record over and over again and not write the same song over again. I think a lot of our audience understands, whether they’ve been there from the beginning or they just kind of finding out who we are, that we try not to repeat ourselves because that’s not evolving. And we want to evolve.
AS: What kind of stories do you want to tell now?
BS: That’s the beauty of it. It’s always different every time. Every record and every time we’re in a session with each other, it changes. The beautiful thing about that is there’s no handbook to being a songwriter. You’re creating something out of nothing. Don’t get me wrong, we do write about personal experiences, and we may be reflecting on something that happened to us or somebody that we knew and we’re kind of using that as a muse, but we also write from a very real place. That’s the beauty of life, too. Every single day, you’re on this planet, it’s a gift, and you’re not promised tomorrow. So you have to take advantage of those moments, and that creativity, and when the spark is there, you have to make sure that it doesn’t dim. You have to make sure that it catches fire. The four of us are good at being patient with each other. There are times when you get what we call a “gift.” And a gift is when a song writes itself, literally out of nowhere—25-30 minutes, and it just happens. And then you think back to it. And it’s one of those songs. “Second Chance” [The Sound of Madness, 2007] was like that. “45” [Leave a Whisper, 2003] was like that. Then other times we have to hash it out. We’ve had songs where it’s taken two weeks to finish, and those have also gone on to be big songs in our catalog.
AS: There’s obviously so much more to tell in the Shinedown story. What’s next for the band?
BS: We’re in the midst of getting ready for next year because Shinedown 7 is going to be released in 2022. We will be releasing the first single off of Shinedown 7, and that will be the 28th single that we have released as a band in 20 years. That does not fall on deaf ears with us. That’s also something where that’s where the gratitude comes back in. If you’re tired of it, or you don’t have the ambition anymore, or you just need a break, you should stop, and you should regroup. We don’t have any plans of stopping, because we’re doing it together. It’s not just one person that’s involved in this. It’s a family.
Photo: Sanjay Parikh