ATLAS FALLS: Interview with Brent Smith of Shinedown
By Ben Youngerman, ArtsQuest Marketing Mananger
Multi-platinum band Shinedown, coming to Musikfest on August 4, are reaching into their vault to make available a never-before-heard, brand new song “Atlas Falls,” which will benefit Direct Relief, a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that is currently working to provide personal protective equipment and essential medical items, including protective masks, exam gloves and isolation gowns, to U.S. and international health workers responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The song is available now for download with the purchase of a special T-shirt. 100% of proceeds will go to Direct Relief. PRESS HERE to purchase the T-shirt and download “Atlas Falls.”
We had the opportunity to chat over the phone with Shinedown frontman Brent Smith about the band’s relief efforts, quarantining, the state of live music in a post-Coronavirus world and, of course, Tiger King. Listen or read our exclusive interview below.
Listen to the full interview
Read the full interview
Brent Smith: Hey Ben, how are you sir?
Musikfest: I’m doing well man, thanks. This Ben with Musikfest here in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We hope that you’re holding up alright. How are you doing in quarantine?
Brent: I’m doing good, man. I’m trying to psychologically go on the other side of the whole dynamic of quarantine. I was talking to a good friend of mine yesterday, he’s a medical doctor, and it’s interesting because everybody is in a state of fight or fight right now because of everything going on globally. And the interesting thing about that is that when you’re in fight or flight, there are chemicals released in your brain that give you adrenaline to focus you into the situation. Because if your life is at risk or you’re in the middle of something where you have to make really quick decisions, you go into fight or flight. But once you get past whatever the altercation was, you have this sense of calming that happens, and another chemical is released in your brain to let you know that you’re all good. But we haven’t been able to release that chemical yet, because everybody doesn’t know if we are all good. So I’m trying to just be very productive and not sugarcoat anything and be optimistic, but I’m also trying to educate myself. Five and a half weeks ago, I didn’t know what ‘self-quarantine’ meant. I never heard the term ‘social distancing,’ and I didn’t know what Covid-19 meant. So I just began to educate myself on everything that’s going on. And that is something that I think is valuable for people right now, just to educate themselves. I also didn’t know what a pandemic was, to be honest with you. I did find out that all pandemics do have one thing in common, and that is that they all eventually ended.
Musikfest: We hope that is the case. I think everybody is going through the same kind of stuff you just mentioned. It’s all just kind of sci-fi worthy, right?
Brent: Yeah it is. And I think years ago when you talk about the other pandemics that happened, and when you look at the influenza, a lot of talk now if you look at it is about 1918 and the Spanish Flu and the amount of people that died, and why that was such a horrendous development for the human species and the human race. What’s interesting is that if you look at documented news articles from back in 1918 when that flu started and when that virus reached the soils of the population, it’s like what we’re doing now in regards to social distancing. People that didn’t have masks used a scarf or wore a cloth, or something of that nature, and stayed six feet apart. It’s actually all the same what they were doing in 1918 as to what we’re doing now because it’s a novel virus, which means it’s new and we don’t have immunity to it.
So this self-quarantine and slowing the spread is to give us time and to give our medical professionals and scientists time to create a treatment and a vaccine. I don’t think that people need to think that there will be a vaccine this year, once again I’m not being self defeated by any means whatsoever, but I think the first initial thing is that we need actual treatment that we know can be administered and that does actually work. It’s the same dynamic as the camel flu. It’s not a cure, it’s a treatment to help you get over the hump, if you will, 50% faster if you do contract the flu. In a lot of ways, I think the internet is helpful during these times, but I also think because of the influx of everybody having a platform, and if you’re looking for good news, the news may not be the place you want to go right now, but there is a beacon of hope out there man. We’re all learning from this. We’re all trying to save as many lives as we can and be respectful to all the men, women and children on the planet to get over this. Human beings are resilient, and we’re strong, it’s just gonna take a minute. But we are gonna push forward and we’re gonna get back to living our lives. But I don’t think people should subscribe to the “new normal,” cause I don’t know what normal is. I do think it’s relative to who you are, but obviously this didn’t happen because of a fluke. This happened because first of all, mother nature is undefeated, and second of all, I think this is a bit of a universe thing how we’re gonna handle this. And if you look at the way we were before all of this, there’s a lot of hatred out there man. A lot of mean-spirited people. A lot of violence. And now everybody is dealing with this from all corners of the globe, and I think the universe is trying to tell us, “Yo, are you going to stop being so hateful to each other now? Are you gonna stop being so mean to each other, are you going to stop killing each other maybe and let the other person talk and try to compromise instead of if someone disagrees with you, you pull a gun on them?” You know what I mean? There’s a reason this is happening.
Musikfest: Yeah, I think everyone can get behind that message, certainly. So besides doing your research, you’re obviously well-read on everything here, what’s keeping you busy?
Brent: A lot of what we’re doing with Direct Relief is the biggest thing right now. You know, going back to like I said, about five and a half weeks ago I began educating myself on everything and learning what was going on, and that took me down quite a rabbit hole online just trying to get as much information as possible, and that‘s when I found out who Direct Relief is, and finding out what an extraordinary organization they are, and the fact that they have been around since 1948. I was astonished by that. And just looking at everything that they are and what they are and what they represent. This has been something that they’ve been doing since 1948. Their whole mission is to get the medical community, the men, the women and the scientific community the resources that they need on the ground so that they are able to save as many lives as possible during any kind of crisis because they are dealing with poverty, natural disasters, a pandemic, which is what we’re all in right now, and this organization is just remarkable. They’re not political, they’re not biased, no matter what race, color, creed or religion, they’re about people. And that was one of the biggest things for me learning who they were and why the band Shinedown and everybody at Atlantic Records and everybody at In De Goot Entertainment, our management company, wanted to help them, and why we wanted to partner with them. We reached out to them, and they said that they would be happy to work with us on this.
During that whole process, a song came to mind, and it was unique too, because this song is “Atlas Falls,” and why it exists now is to bring awareness to who Direct Relief is and why they’re so important. But the song was written 8 years ago during the writing process for an album called Amaryllis, which is our fourth record, and for whatever reasons, the song didn’t make the record. That’s not because it was a bad song, but at the time we wrote a lot of songs while we were making a record, and because a song doesn’t make the album doesn’t mean that it was a bad song, but for whatever reason, it didn’t belong on that album. I always had a kinship for the song. I felt like it was going to see the light of day eventually. I didn’t realize it was going to be in this capacity, but you know, somebody asked me the other day, “Did you change anything about the song, did you go back in and rewrite lyrics or did you do a remix of it?” And I said, “No, it was the same song today that it was 8 years ago.” It’s a song of optimism and hope, and it’s very poignant to what’s going on right now. So the idea was to create a shirt reflecting “Atlas Falls” the song and what it represents. Ultimately, Atlas was the god of endurance, and if you look at mythology, Atlas picked a fight with the Titans and he lost, so Zeus says, “Well, you lost, so I’m gonna put the sphere on your shoulders. The sphere represented the world. So the question in the song was, if Atlas was to fall, who would take care of him? Who would help him? And it’s us. We have to help him. And it’s very relative to what we’re doing here with Direct Relief.
So we created a link with Direct Relief’s permission. Aside from the $5 it takes to make the shirt, the shirt is $50 and we know that’s expensive, but all of those proceeds go directly to Direct Relief. We’ve hit the $200,000 mark as of a couple of days ago, and it’s climbing because the fan base and the people who are becoming aware of who Direct Relief is and what “Atlas Falls” is have been very supportive. You buy the shirt, and you get the song as a download. The thing about that is that right now the song is not being used on DSPs, so the only place you can get it is if you’re hearing the song on your local radio station, because they’re supporting it and also playing it because they’re trying to get people to understand why the song exists because of Direct Relief. So far, it’s been a pretty extraordinary campaign, but we’re gonna continue it to bring awareness to who Direct Relief is and to help us all to get back to living our lives and be smarter about what we need to do in the future about these types of situations.
Musikfest: Congrats on the success so far, and we look forward to pushing that message too and helping to spread the word about it. I know that personally I’ve been listening to more music than ever these days. How do you think music can help in times like these?
Brent: You know what man, I think that music is air for a lot of people. I think that it’s blood for a lot of us. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Frederich Nietzsche, and he said that without music, life would be a mistake. And I tend to agree with that. Look, I’ve watched music and songs cure so many ailments over the years. It’s interesting because why music and why songs are so important to people is that whenever those songs were created, whether they’re new, whether they’re old, or what have you, they always have a life of their own, and they can always kind of position themselves when you need them at the right moment. If you write a book, and you give it to somebody and say, “Hey, I wrote this book check it out,” when that person reads the book, the story doesn’t change. If someone makes a movie, and they go, “Check it out. I made a film, let’s watch it,” you watch the movie, but the movie doesn’t change. That’s the movie, that’s the story. The incredible thing about music is that it can be whatever you need it to be at that time. And I watch music take some of the biggest men in the world–you know, toughest guys you’ve ever seen–and they’re just on their last leg, or they’re just having a tough go at it, and you know, the right song comes on at the exact moment that they needed it to, and all of a sudden, they’re right back in the game. It can give them this immense amount of confidence. I’ve watched music take a young lady who kind of lost touch with who she was, or I guess I should say, fell out of love with herself, and wonder what the world had to offer her, and then the right song came on at the moment that she needed it, and all of a sudden, she felt not only back in love with herself, but back in love with the world. I know these are kind of a little otherworldly comments and what have you. I mean, I’m a songwriter to be honest with you, because it’s cheaper than therapy. For me, it’s air. It’s in my blood, and I think it’s in a lot of people’s blood too. It’s just an extraordinary art form that can evolve. You know, a song can become something new each and every time you hear it, and I think that’s why it’s so important because it gives people hope
Musikfest: I have a lot of friends who go to a ton of shows and are super huge fans of you guys. They look forward to the live shows, and obviously that’s not happening right now. Your spring tour was postponed. What are you looking forward to most when you do hopefully get back on the road, hopefully as soon as the summer at Musikfest?
Brent: I think that what I want everybody to understand and what I’m looking forward to the most is that we did not lose touch with each other and the camaraderie is still very real and probably stronger than ever. I know right now, people are nervous and they’re scared, and they have every right to be. But live music and just live events are what bonds us all because human beings are as interesting, and we’re very complex. We love to watch other human beings rise to the occasion. You know what I mean? And to give us inspiration and to entertain us. That’s what we do in Shinedown. Writing the music is one thing, and we’ve always said that there’s two machines in Shinedown; one is the studio and the creative side of what we do, and then the other side is the live aspect, which is another creative side, but it’s two totally different machines. And the reality is that I know that there’s going to be some people that when you think about the term “mass gatherings,” and how the media has at times, pushed it on people to distort the future of what going to a concert will be like, or going to a sporting event, or going anywhere that there’s a lot of people. You can’t allow the virus to win. You have to understand that this is a very stressful time for a lot of people right now. I have to say this also, I have friends that have gotten Covid-19. I’m very, very thankful that they have recovered. But I also have friends that have had family members or people that they knew who had it, and unfortunately, some of those people did not make it. And that is something that is extremely difficult to navigate, but the reality is that people need each other because that’s why we’re here, and I would want the audience to know from us that we literally are–I don’t wanna say that we are caged animals right now and use that analogy, but we’re pretty much caged animals in this moment. All I can tell you is that I think some people have said in light of all this, concerts will forever be changed. No one’s going to go to them anymore, or they’re not going to be able to do these big shows, and I have to be totally honest with you, I don’t believe that. I just don’t believe it. I’m going to tell you why. Because if that’s the case, you’re letting the disease win. You’re letting the unknown win. You can’t live your life like that, you just can’t. You can’t just give up in that respect.
Herd immunity is a term that was not brought up four and a half weeks ago, but it’s something that I was reading about four and a half weeks ago. Ultimately, what will have to happen for everybody, is everyone’s gonna have to get an immunity to this, whether it’s from getting it and recovering from it, or whether it’s from getting it and using a treatment, and there will eventually be a vaccine. There will be. But it ain’t gonna be overnight. So with that being said, I think you would be shocked right now knowing, especially in the rock community, but just in music in general, most people that have been asked if tomorrow you could go to a concert, would you go? And pretty much I think 90% of people would say, “I would run to the concert. Like at full, full speed.” Because you can’t live in your house forever, you know what I mean? That’s not an existence. That’s not life. And you have to be able to push through it, and you don’t have to do it alone. That’s why we’re all here to support each other. Once again, I don’t take anything away from the community that is dealing with this, because there have been a lot of people that have gotten sick and have not recovered, but there are a lot of people who have gotten sick and who have recovered. And you cannot allow it to win, and we want our audience to know we are not afraid of you. We want you to come and be with us, because we want to be with you. There’s always going to be obstacles in life, but we love our fanbase, whether they’ve been there from the beginning or whether they’re just finding out who we are. And a lot of people are finding out who we are through this quarantine, which is an interesting side to this. As a band that loves what we do and truly loves our audience, we want them to know that we cannot wait. We literally cannot wait to play for you, and that is going to happen, and we are going to get through this.
Musikfest: We love it. Last question here. You mentioned being stuck in a cage, so I have to ask you, have you watched Tiger King yet, on Netflix?
Brent: You’re the first person, oddly enough, that has asked me about this!
Musikfest: I can’t believe that! But okay, go ahead.
Brent: No man, I think it’s rad. I was wondering, what is he gonna ask me about this?
Ben: I thought it was the cliche question, so I’m glad I’m not.
Brent: So let’s have a little fun here. I’m gonna be very bold with you about this. I watched the first episode, and I watched to see how many episodes there were, and what I did was, I basically watched the first episode, and then I watched the last episode, because I was like, “I pretty much know where this is going.” And oddly enough, I saw the Tik Toks of the Carole Baskin thing that I’m seeing recently, and I was like, “What do you mean?” because I didn’t watch the middle episodes because that’s where I was like, ‘I kinda know where this is going.’ So I watched the first and the last episodes. Unfortunately, I think they give Florida a bad name, because Florida seems to be the butt of some people’s jokes for quite some time. My son lives in Florida. Even though I was born and raised in Knoxville Tennessee, I formed the band in Jacksonville, Florida. The estate is actually 2001, and Florida is a wonderful place. But like anywhere, there’s characters there too.
I think that in some ways, the story is all in the editing. There are so many shows on Netflix, and there are so many shows on Amazon Prime and Hulu and streaming services galore, and I think that it’s the same thing when you’re directing a movie or when you’re directing a film. Our last album is called ATTENTION, ATTENTION. It’s a conceptual piece, and later, probably next year (it may be this year, we don’t necessarily know because of quarantine), we made an entire film of ATTENTION, ATTENTION. It’s actually something that our fan base has been waiting on for quite some time, but we’re in the middle of editing it right now. And you can be a great director. You can get great scenes, you can have landscapes and know how to work the camera, but if you don’t know how to tell a story, then it doesn’t really matter. So I’ve always said that editors are the unsung heroes, but in the case of this particular story, I think it was a lot of embellishment of the editing, “How ridiculous can we make this.” And obviously they’re getting a bit of backlash on it now from the people that were involved in it, because they did not come to them and say that it was going to be like this. They actually are saying that when the actual filmmakers were doing it, they were like, “this is going to have so much substance and it’s going to be taken so seriously,” and obviously that’s not the way they did it. So I don’t know if you’re really in the real story through Netflix. I’m not bashing Netflix as a streaming service, but I am saying that the people who were involved in recording all of it knew what they were doing. Does that make sense? I think the entire time they were like, “this is going to be ridiculous by the time we’re done with it.” And I think if you were to edit it differently, first of all, I don’t think Netflix would’ve picked it up, and second of all, if you had done it differently, it might have told a completely different story, you know what I mean? So I would tell people, a good laugh is always a good laugh, but when you’re talking about people’s lives, it’s not funny, you know? If you’re laughing at the demise of someone, maybe they didn’t do all of their research, if you know what I mean? So I would have to say that I watched the first episode and was kind of like, I know where they’re going with this, and then I watched the last episode, and I was 100% right where they were going with it.
Musikfest: For sure. Well if you have the time, 2-6, completely bananas episodes of television. Definitely some characters in there. But Brent, we really appreciate you taking the time, all the best with “Atlas Falls” and all the work you’re doing with Direct Relief. Any last messages for your fans?
Brent: I just want to let them know to be safe, to listen to the guidelines, to understand that at a certain point of time, you’re going to have to make a decision for yourself, how long you want to be quarantined as well. The quarantine will be lifted at a certain point in time. Just educate yourself. Know what you’re up against. Be responsible, not only in your country, but in your state and your city, and look at the guidelines, and be a positive member of society, and help each other out, and be respectful to one another. But as far as the music is concerned and live shows are concerned, when we can return to playing live for people, you better believe it’s going to be the biggest show you’ve ever seen in your life.
Musikfest: That’s what they love to hear, I’m sure. We look forward to seeing you in August at Musikfest, here in Bethlehem!
Brent: Alright, my man. Thank you again so much for taking the time out of your day. I know you’re a busy man, but I appreciate you doing the interview with me. So thanks very much.
Musikfest: You too, thank you. Best of luck and stay safe!