3 Doors Down: A Little Night Music
One of the purest and most fundamental aspects of music is its refusal to be bound by formula. Not scientific. Not mathematical. Not logic. There is no recipe for success or process of elimination. It is what it is and cannot be controlled. Even with the case of hit singles you cannot simply recycle or rehash what worked once in the hope it does again.
This is typified in the case of 3 Doors Down who, despite receiving worldwide acclaim with songs like “Kryptonite”, “When I’m Gone” and “Here Without You”, realise there is no such thing as a surefire hit. Past success counts for little when releasing new material, and guitarist Chris Henderson says that as a band, you have to stay focused and be prepared to change things up with every release.
“No, you never really do. It’s weird,” he contemplated when asked if the band knows they have a hit single on their hands when writing. “With ‘Kryptonite’, it was a bit different. When we first wrote it, we didn’t think it was going to be a hit but most people that heard it thought it was. With ‘When I’m Gone’, same thing. We went out and played it in front of people in Puerto Rico the first time we had ever played it – we only wrote it the day of the show – and the crowd loved it, so we had a good idea that it was gonna do okay. But you never really know.”
3 Doors Down burst onto the music scene in 2000 with their debut album The Better Life and lead single “Kryptonite”, and Henderson admits their initial success surprised even the band themselves.
“We definitely didn’t expect the reaction we got,” he says. “Things happened really fast because we got on a local radio station in Mississippi and once that happened things took off from there. It was one of those things where we never had a chance to enjoy it, it was all go and go fast, which we did for the first three years of our career. We never even got the chance to look up.”
“I think music will take a turn back to its roots … I think it’s gonna start going back to rock’n’roll real quick.”
Far from being a one hit wonder, 3 Doors Down maintained their musical output with follow-up albums Away From The Sun (2002) and Seventeen Days (2005), and have released consistently good material with every album. They have had multiple chart topping singles and platinum records, and also received Grammy Awards and American Music Awards along the way. Henderson puts the band’s sustained success down to the fact that they have always stayed true to their music.
Each album has explored new territory while staying loyal to what got them there in the first place, and while upcoming release Us And The Night stands by this principal, Henderson says that the band has also gone back a little to the early days.
“We kind of went back to our roots with this album,” he explains, “back to The Better Life a bit and did some kind of punk type beats and some punk guitar if you will, and just some dirty rock’n’roll but we also kept the 3 Doors Down kind of mid tempos in there in a few places as well as some ballads. We went back and polished the whole thing over so it’s kind of a culmination of all six of our records into one.”
When writing new material, especially after massive worldwide success, it would be easy to get bogged down in expectation – both internal and external – and these sorts of pressures could have a major influence on the finished product. But according to Henderson, there has never been that sort of scrutiny on the band when it comes to writing albums.
“The only goal I think we really had for this new album was to do the best job that we could and we didn’t wanna alienate the fans that we already had, but we also wanted to be able to grab new fans if we could. So we had elements of the old but also tried to bring in new elements to appeal across the board. What that caused us to do was just write differently. Instead of just guitar, bass, drums and vocals, we used some synthetic beats and some different loops that were generated with computer programs – just to try it. It really sparked an intensive debate inside the songwriting and some people liked it and some people didn’t but it just made things different and it opened doors that we never would have opened before.”
For this album, 3 Doors Down also enlisted the help of producer Matt Wallace, who has worked with Maroon 5, Train and Faith No More previously, and Henderson says having someone fresh and relatively unfamiliar to the band helped in the process.
“He brought an open mind which was really good,” the guitarist reflects. “Basically, he wasn’t afraid to try different things. He wasn’t afraid to use guitars and use tones that were readily available. A lot of producers wanna get inside every tone and make everything perfect, but Matt wasn’t about that so much. He just really wanted it to sound good, and that was his thing. If it sounds good, it is good. That was his philosophy, which allowed us as musicians and us as guitar players to kind of control the tone, if you will, and say, ‘I wanna use that amp, I wanna use that guitar’. He worked with us instead of telling us how it was going to be.”
In the modern world of music which allows you to put your tunes almost anywhere by electronic and social media, the roles of record companies and labels are becoming increasingly redundant, but Henderson says that despite the temptation to go it alone, the people behind the scenes are still relevant to the industry and have been the one constant throughout 3 Doors Down’s career.
“It was one of those things where we never had a chance to enjoy it, it was all go and go fast. We never even got the chance to look up.”
“People think you don’t need record labels any more,” he stresses, “but you really do. With the way the infrastructure of music is changing you need someone who can help you change in order to survive. Creatively, our record company has never taken control of us. They have always just let us do it. They have offered suggestions and subtle hints as to what may or may not work but they have never told us that we have to be anything other than what we are which is a beautiful thing.”
While this is the case, the guitarist is also quick to point out that you have to keep your wits about you at all times and be in control of the process rather than a piece of it.
“When we first started talking to Universal Records and Republic Records in particular years ago that was one of the first conversations we had,” he remembers. “We put it out there that we wouldn’t allow them to try and tell us what to do and they said they never would and to just write what we write and see what happens and they have stayed true to that. You just have to make sure you stick to what you want and make it happen.”
While rock will never die, the rise of DJs and electronic music has changed the landscape somewhat over the last decade, and while acknowledging everything has its place in the music cycle, Henderson also believes that live music and live bands will never go away.
“I think music will take a turn back to its roots,” he offers. “Music has always been a kind of circular thing – it always goes around and around and I think it’s gonna start going back to rock’n’roll real quick and back to instruments and people that play and people that enjoy that part of it because that’s what it’s always been about. I think the DJs and the electronic part of it is so prevalent right now and once it gets into the mainstream people get tired of it and it needs to change again, which I think it will. It’s gonna go back to musicians and instruments and bands again very quickly.”
Us And The Night is out now through Spinefarm/Caroline.