3 Doors Down are back and ready to bring something fresh to their fans with their latest album, Us and the Night. Since the recording of their last full length album, the band has added guitarist Chet Roberts and bassist Justin Biltonen during a period that included a greatest hits collection and an extensive acoustic tour. We recently had a chance to speak with 3 Doors Down frontman Brad Arnold and he discussed the creative process for the Us and the Night disc, the contributions of Roberts and Biltonen and also hit on a few key tracks from the album. Arnold also talks about his time on the road and discusses the positive efforts of The Better Life Foundation. Check out the chat below.
Before writing and recording, did you have an idea of the direction you wanted to go in for the new album?
Nope. [laughs] Man you know what, we made some changes with the band. We added a couple guys in there. And it was very, very welcome. And I think that they brought a lot to the table and they brought some new flavors in there. I feel like ever since last year at Christmas to be completely honest with you, it kind of felt like we’re getting into a little bit of a rut and this record is not that rut. It’s a fun record. We had so much fun writing it. We didn’t push it. We didn’t hurry it. We almost kind of stepped back into being a baby band. In a good way, you know?
We just went back in there like we wanted to write songs and we were hungry to write some music. And that’s why we all started doing this, so we can write songs. And these feelings and this and that. And we went back in there and re-approached this whole thing like that. And Justin [Biltonen] and Chet [Roberts] being in there, there is also some new sounds and some new dynamics to the band and it was just fun. The whole way around it was an exciting process and like I said, it took us a little while, but we weren’t in a hurry. We were having fun and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
You mentioned having Justin and Chet in the band. It’s been a nice couple of years for you guys. You didn’t have to put them right into the fire necessarily with the creative process. Can you talk about what it meant to have that period?
Yeah. You know what, they would probably be really thankful for that. If they had known they wouldn’t have even get casted into the furnace. But Chet was actually our guitar tech before he was our guitar player. And when Matt left we were like, “Guess what, you’re not the guitar tech anymore, you are the guitar player.” And he’s like, “Okay.” And Chet was, he played with us a couple of times before, a few acoustic things that we needed him to do with us and so we knew he could do it. Chet’s a great guy. He’s one of those guys you can hand him any instrument that he’s never even seen before and come back in an hour and he’ll write you a song on it. He’s just a real talented dude like that. And it’s great to have him and we knew he’d be that guy.
And Justin has been a friend of this band before he was a bass player and when it came time to have a bass player, we tried out three guys and Justin was … he just felt like he was a part of the family already. He’s like my brother on tour. You know everybody’s got their tour buddy and that’s my tour buddy. And first, the guys musically, they are just really talented and they brought up different things that we didn’t think about. It was a really, really fun writing process. Maybe in times past there is no certain formula for coming up with a song. You know, in times past, sometimes I would write lyrics first and sometimes the music would come first, but this one I pretty much, except for one or two songs, they wrote music and then I wrote words to it.
They just came up with some really good music. It was fun and it was fresh and it’s nice to approach it. And it’s challenging, you know? Because it was a little different than the kind of what I settled into. But it was really fun to write to it — the things that they wrote and they done a great job on it.
Let’s get into the music. “In the Dark” is what you’re looking at as the lead single. It’s got a great edge to it. It’s got some swagger in your delivery. Talk about where that came in the process and how it came about?
Well you know what? To go back and in a way to say that Chet is really creative he’ll come up with a bunch of stuff. He has been playing on his GarageBand on his iPad. And he’d been there on the last tour and he had this little thing and I walked to him one day and said what’s that? And he said here’s something I’ve been playing with on my GarageBand on my iPad. I said, “Man, I promise you, that, dude, that can be a hit song.” And we just messed around with and I wrote words that, and the only thing that I could come up with was that the hardest part about writing lyrics is just starting.
You know, when you start, you can kind of get them. And I just heard his hook and in my head and “I told you it in the dark” and I came in and played it for Jen, my wife, one night and I got him to email it to me and she’s like, “Oh yeah baby, you gotta write that.” [laughs] And she is just a shy country girl, she’s like, “Oh yeah baby, you gotta write that.” So I thought that, “Hell I gotta write it.” And it just turned out really, it turned out good. And we went in the studio with it and they put the sound with it and everything and it just kind of went and it turned out to be one of those songs. We’ve never written a song like that, and it was fun.
Another fun song is “Living in Your Hell.” It’s got that great beat. I can just envision the fans clapping along to that song. When you’re thinking about putting music together does the live aspect factor in?
Absolutely it does. And maybe not when you’re initially writing it. At the very first when you’re writing it, but not too far into that process you’re like, “Alright now, do people want to hear this live?” Because we’ve been doing this long enough now that you do honestly think about that. You kind of, it doesn’t matter what we like to sing, or what we like to play. It matters what the fans want to hear. And so we got to where we really do think about it. Well, I like the song, but does anybody else like the song?
So we really do start thinking about these things. And I think that this record has a lot of songs on there that and I think you kind of write what you long to play live. Like it’s almost like we were an acoustic tour when we came on that acoustic tour, we wrote some of those heavier songs on this record. Because you know what I mean, it’s like you’re playing slow songs and you want to play something heavy. And I think some of the heavier songs on this record came right after that acoustic tour. And that makes you long to play live.
Another song I wanted to ask about, and let me preface this. I spoke to you way back when “Kryptonite” was breaking big and you just seemed like a guy who was happy to be there and not phased by all that was going on around you. I’m listening to the song “Believe It” on this album, a song about change. There’s a line in there, “If it’s alright with you, can I just stay the same?” Can you talk about how you as a person have changed since those early days and what about you is still the same about the guy who was out there when you were first breaking?
Man, you know what, I like that you talk about that because I like that song. In a way it kind of reminds me of “Living on a Prayer.” It reminds me of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” because it’s like, it’s just about a dream and following rock and roll and that you can’t make it and a lot of people believe in you also. And it’s just about having a dream and going out there and chasing it.
And as far as the changing part, I think that it’s directed by how your fans expect you to change. But you don’t have to. I mean, I’ve grown up. Well my wife my disputes that, but I’ve tried to do that. I always want to be the same dude. It’s a blessing from God that we get to play in this band and nothing really pisses me off more than when someone becomes a “celebrity,” and they all of a sudden have this dynamic view of the world that no one else can see. Dude, you’re a guy that plays in a band.
That’s what that line is saying, simply put, everybody has the right to change but I didn’t say that I would. I’m happy being me. I want to be better, I want to be better today than I was yesterday, but everybody does I hope. It’s about following your dreams but not getting a big head about it.
I saw a photo where you’re talking about when you get to feed the horses and cleaning out the stalls being your favorite time of the day. I get it. I love the solitude of work and getting a chance to think. When you’re doing that, is it all about that experience? Or is a fertile time for thinking about music as well?
A lot of times it is. I stand out there, I live outside of town — Nashville. This past March, I bought a farm out here for Jen to have her horses and me to have some land to hunt on and four-ride, stuff like that. It’s 66 acres, the front 25 is Jen’s and the back 30 is mine. Front half pastures, back half is woods. Whether it’s in the barn or sitting in a deer stand, I like the time to just sit there and be quiet, talk with God. It’s not like you’re sitting there praying, but sitting there buried in my mind, talking with God.
It’s a very valuable thing. I think that, I’m incredibly thankful to have that and to be able to do that within my life and I think a lot of people would find themselves more if they took those chances to get in a quiet place and just absolutely be yourself, your thoughts and think about what’s going on in your life, you know? I really need it.
Also, I saw a mention about a summer tour, a few festival dates that are out there already. Your thoughts on getting out there with the current lineup that you have?
It’s absolutely great. For a while, you get in that rut and you get tired of each other. Then we’re getting to a point in this band where we were all riding different busses because we were fed up and maybe a little full of ourselves, thinking that’s what we needed. We saw other bands do it, this and that. Now we all ride in the same bus and we all have fun on there. We don’t party every night, we sit there and talk every night. We have fun. I love the lineup in this band. It could not be better. Life is not a straight line, it’s got its twists and turns. I guess if it was a straight line, it’d be boring. The twists, turns, curves, ups and downs that brought us where we are – I’m incredibly happy exactly where we are, right now.
What is your favorite thing about touring life and what it gives you?
As a whole, over the years is the fact that people start out as “fans,” but just how many of those people have become our real friends and how many people I’ve met from all over the world. I might not talk to them all the time, or text with them all the time, but I sit there and talk to people. I would have never met them without doing this. They really are my friends and that’s my most thankful thing about it.
The Better Life Foundation puts on a concert every year. Can you talk about how you’ve seen that grow over the years?
The Better Life Foundation is probably my proudest achievement that I’ve done. We were one of the catalysts for that. Mark Smith and his wife Teresa, they put in a lot of work for that. They all put in way more work into that than I do. I’m proud to be a part of it, because that really is … I’ve seen some good stuff come out of that foundation and things that we fund.
We have that concert every year, and that’s pretty much our primary fundraiser for that foundation and we keep the money throughout the year. We see something that we feel like is really worthy of contributing to, we contribute to it. We’re really careful about it, too. We don’t throw that money away, because this is a dollar in dollar out foundation. We don’t waste it. We’re very careful not to do that. I just have seen a lot of good, so much good, come out of that thing. I’m just proud to be a part of it. It’s a bright spot in anything we’ve done.
I look forward to continue to watch it grow. This year we were in Cherokee, N.C. at another casino over there. Sister property of The Horseshoe where we had it last few years, very thankful for those guys. It blows me back to see what it does. I’m just proud to be a part of it.
Anything on the horizon that you want to promote?
Right before I got on the phone with you I was talking to my tour manager. We were shooting the bull, I was telling him how excited I am about this record. I just cannot wait to have people hear it, I hope they like it man. I really hope they like it. I’ve listened to it a bunch, [laughs]. I just hope everybody else likes it. Looking forward to people’s reaction, I hope they’re all good.
I dig the new album. I have to admit, it does feel like a fresh change you’ve made.
Thank you so much, man.
3 Doors Down’s ‘Us and the Night’ album is due March 11. Keep up with their touring schedule here.
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