While they may not be selling millions of albums as they did early in their career, Papa Roach are thriving on the road. Frontman Jacoby Shaddix says that in Europe and South America the band has been playing some of the biggest shows of its career, including the Altavoz Festival in Colombia last November, performing with co-headliners The Adicts in front of 50,000 passionate fans.
“It was a fucking night to be remembered,” attests Shaddix. “We had some great moments early on [in our career] and we’ve had some struggle mixed in, but at this point we’re back at that place where we’re now doing the smaller arenas again. This deep into a career, we’re looking at the front row and it’s young faces. We show up to town and there’s people camping out in front of the venue. That’s a good sign for a solid future for Papa Roach, you know? And streaming has opened us up to a newer, broader, younger fan base – 30 percent of our fans are 25 years and younger. That’s cool.”
The raucous quartet – Shaddix, bassist Tobin Esperance, guitarist Jerry Horton, and drummer Tony Palermo – is gearing up for the month-long first leg of their North American arena tour with Shinedown and Asking Alexandria, which kicks off Feb. 20 in Estero, Florida. Now mostly in their forties, the P-Roach rockers still deliver an energetic show to rival groups half their age. And their last album Crooked Teeth rejuvenated their commercial prospects via songs such as “Help” and “Born For Greatness,” with the latter topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart and serving as the theme for WWE Payback and Raw. Released Friday (Jan. 18) via Eleven Seven Music, their tenth and newest album Who Do You Trust? continues in the same eclectic vein.
Like its solid predecessor, Who Do You Trust? ambitiously spans a wide range of sounds and styles, from the more modern sounding P-Roach of “The Ending” to the short punk attack of “I Suffer Well!!!” to the poppy “Elevate,” which invokes Imagine Dragons with its chorus and percussive stomp. “Not The Only One” starts off with a bouncing acoustic vibe, includes heavier rap breakdowns, then ends with a burst of aggression.
“The style evolution on this album in particular is as mature as it is adolescent,” says Shaddix. “The punk is more punk, the pop is more pop, the hip-hop is more hip-hop, so we really pushed the extremes on this album out in different directions. That’s what makes this record exciting and special for me.”
“Those elements have always been a part of us – the melodic elements or the punk rock/hardcore influences,” explains Esperance. “Those have always been ingredients to Papa Roach since the very beginning. We started out as a very kind funky, tribal [group]. Our favorite bands were Red Hot Chili Peppers, early Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and stuff like that. At the same time, we were big on Fugazi, Bad Religion, Bad Brains. It’s weird how it still carries on with us to this day, that no filter [approach], being a pretty authentic melting pot of sounds.”
If their approach to their last two albums seem similar, it’s because Papa Roach actually went back into the studio before even the mid-2017 release of Crooked Teeth when their tour with Of Mice And Men was canceled due to a health concern in that band. They decided to make judicious use of the unexpected free time. Some songs from those sessions survived and others emerged last summer. “We thought we were going to make a record with these weird interludes, kind of like how old Beastie Boys records were done, like how Check Your Head was,” reveals Esperance. Later, “We just decided to just finish it and get the record done.”
Esperance says it has been a lot of fun working with their latest producers, with sessions rich with laughter and “drinking way too much coffee. Whereas in the past, you get with these older producers who’ve made tons of hit records and are stuck in their ways. They try to pull you into the same formula and the same sound of every other band that they do. That just rubbed us the wrong way. We wanted fresh, new blood, people who really got where we came from.”
While the bassist has been the dominant musical contributor throughout the band’s career, there has been increased collaboration from other members throughout the last decade, and the process has become more organic with less pre-planning before writing sessions. The producing team of Nicholas Furlong and Colin Cunningham, who came onboard for 2017’s Crooked Teeth, returned for Who Do You Trust?, and were again involved in the songwriting process.
Whereas an album like 2006’s Paramour Sessions involved greater preparation, the band now comes into the studio with little planned. For the most part, they create an idea and just with run it. “We really loved the fact that it forced us to not overthink or evaluate or compare every little thing that we did and just get it done,” says the laid-back Esperance. “Now it’s really picked up the pace. It’s just a healthier way to write. It’s more efficient.”
A lot of electronic elements have permeated the P-Roach studio sounds since 2012’s The Connection, and Esperance notes that “all the trickery and sound design gives what we do a modern approach.” They like the yin and yang of playing off a punk tune against a pop song, and he likes to stay open to possibilities and experimentation in the studio. “That’s what’s cool about making music and making records – you’re allowed to do that.”
Many of the lyrical themes on the new album follow familiar P-Roach territory, with Shaddix ruminating on topics like frayed relationships, struggling with pain and despair, and staying motivated against daunting circumstances. But as in recent years, rays of positivity have shone through the darkness as on fresh tracks like “Come Around” and “Top of The World,” while the new “I Suffer Well” is certainly a tongue-in-cheek take on their approach. (In videos and onstage, Shaddix radiates a self-aware sense of humor.) A recurrent theme on the new album is trust. The title track deals with the issue in terms of authority, while “The Ending” takes it to a familial level.
“For me, trust is the bedrock,” says Shaddix. “The bedrock for healthy relationships, and that’s what I’m fighting towards. Unfortunately, I’ve been the person that’s broken trust in my life at one point or another, so I’ve been on both sides of it. Feeling the pain of being let down, that’s tough stuff. Being the person letting somebody down and hurting somebody, there’s a lot of pain and struggle in that too because when all the dust settles and you see the wreckage you’ve created, for somebody with a conscience like myself, it eventually just eats at you. You’ve got to reframe how you’re living. I’ve been that point a few times in my life, so trust is definitely an issue and something that I’m fighting towards. To be able to trust people and to also be trustworthy.”
Shaddix is coming up on seven years of sobriety next month, which is a big deal for him. “Substance abuse plagued my early years and really pushed me out into a lot of dark spaces,” he recalls. “I just tried to numb myself. After being off the bottle for seven years and not abusing myself, what I’ve found is that I took away this medicine and now I’ve got to deal with life coming at me.
“It’s stressful sometimes,” he adds with nervous laughter.
With the singer now sober, his wife and children are “most definitely” happier. “I don’t think I’d still be a married man or half the father that I am now.”
There were a couple of pivotal events that propelled Shaddix down the road to battling his alcoholism. He recalls that in 2004, he “leveled my wife with a bunch of facts of this terrible life that I was living” and while inebriated had threatened to burn down their house and threatened to hurt myself. “That was the wake-up call for me, then it took me a few years to really get a handle on it.” (In the video for “Scars” filmed that same year, the frontman played a man trying to stop his girlfriend from her excessive drinking…and then she accidentally burned their house down.)
The second big wake-up call came when his much younger brother, who used to idolize his successful sibling, expressed disappointment and embarrassment over his behavior. “I was just leveled, man,” says Shaddix. “I was hurt. Now I get it because I’d just been living this fucked up life and just creating wreckage. My conscience got the best of me. I needed to change. I needed to fix this, man. And that was another point for me – enough’s enough. Here I am, seven years later and having to pick that shit up, by the grace of God.”
While Shaddix found religion in order to save him from himself, he is never preachy or judgmental. He does not generally bring it up because his spiritual life is private and personal to him, and he simply wants freedom and peace to deal with his own issues as others would with theirs. Of course, given the tumultuous nature of social media and the current political landscape, it is sometimes hard to not offend anyone in other ways. Papa Roach do not come off as a political beast, but they humorously trolled Trump’s all-caps tweet threat to Iran last summer with an all-caps tweet quotation of lyrics from “Last Resort.”
To Iranian President Rouhani: LOSING MY SIGHT, LOSING MY MIND, WISH SOMEBODY WOULD TELL ME I’M FINE, NOTHING’S ALRIGHT, NOTHING IS FINE, I’M RUNNING AND IM CRYING. CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES, THIS IS MY LAST RESORT.
— Papa Roach (@paparoach) July 23, 2018
“I’ve got my own political views, but I’m not trying to jam my shit down people’s throat, you know?” muses Shaddix. “But sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes you’re going to offend some people. Not everybody’s going to love your true, authentic self and not everybody’s going to agree with what I’ve got to say or what I gotta do, but that’s all right.”
He adds that a majority of what we do in our lives revolves around relationships – with family, work, creativity, and the world. “I’ve been with [my wife] Kelly for 20-plus years, and I disagree with this woman every day on so much shit,” he admits. “But at the end of the day we can agree to disagree on a bunch of stuff and I can still love through all that. I think that that’s what people need to understand. We can disagree and we’re going to be okay. Right now it just seems like when people disagree it’s so polarizing – ‘If you’re not drinking my Kool-Aid, you’re against me, and we’re going to have to go to war!’ That’s not progress right there. This is going to be painful for a little while, but I think people will figure out how to try to get along.”
Looking back at the band’s extensive catalog, the energetic frontman notices he has sung a lot about pain and its effects on an individual. “I’ve realized that having a victim mentality is not healthy,” he asserts. “I’ve been learning and growing from that, and what I’ve found is that pain is important. Pain is a cornerstone of my life. Pain is something that I need. Pain helps me grow. Pain helps me change. Pain inspires me to get up and try something different. I think that a lot of the time, maybe what was wrong is that I didn’t realize that the pain was actually a gift, the pain was actually necessary. I would have this perspective of like, ‘Why do I feel this way? Why am I going through this?’ Instead of going, ‘What can I learn from this?’ I think that that’s been a really big shift for me in the last few years, going from why to what can I learn? Once that kind of paradigm shift started to happen in my life, I was like, okay, cool, I can handle it. This is temporary, this is going to pass.”
He feels that many people struggle with their relationship with pain. “I did that for a long time, as far as numbing myself with drugs and alcohol,” says Shaddix. “But there’s no freedom in that. There’s no growth in that. So in the society that we live in, people need to wake up and realize that pain is necessary, pain is part of this human experience. If it’s a utopia the whole time, how do you have a perception of what is good and what is beautiful and what is exciting?”
Papa Roach’s fans continue to embrace their odes to angst and pain. They are emotional anthems of exorcism amplified when the band hits the stage. But even as they continue mining the difficulties of life for lyrical fodder, Shaddix, Esperance, and their bandmates remain aware that they have to keep evolving and bring new insight and ideas to the table.
“I don’t want to become a parody of myself,” declares Shaddix. “That’s the end of all creativity, when you become a parody of yourself, and so I’m totally conscious of that. One hundred percent.”