Q & A with Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down
If you go crazy then Matt Flowers will still call you Superman.
Back in college I had a professor that told me: When you're interviewing someone, interview them in their 'natural' environment: their home, their place of work, or their favorite restaurant. Something about a connection – a window into a life you cannot look through by letter or telephone.
But my interviewee lives in Nashville, Tenn. I'm picturing blue ocean skies, spliced by wave crest clouds, and a sun still warm enough to ease your bones.
Yet Brad Arnold – 3 Doors Down frontman – informs me it's gray slate skies; the air is cool and clammy this week in Nashville. I pull the blinds open, look out the window into Erie's colorless winter sky, and watch branches twitch between gusts. Under a shared ashy canvas and the sound of Brad's cheerful Southern twang I'm positive will slip into McConaughey's, "All right, all right, all right," we begin the interview.
Matthew Flowers: How old were you when "The Better Life" hit national success?
Brad Arnold: Twenty when we got signed, and that was our first record. I think by the time we got that recorded and put it out, I just turned 21. But we'd been writing that record as a local band for several years, you know? They say you got your whole life to write your first record and you got two years to write your second one [He laughs in short little bursts].
MF: Was that strange to leave home, go on tour, and find that kind of success so early?
BA: It really was, man… From being a kid in Escatawpa, Miss. at 4,000 people, to riding on a tour bus and being in a different city every night, it was a lot to take in, man [his voice rising in excitement]. I can really see how it would have been easy to spin out of control… [But] it's the only thing I've ever known… I've been in this band since I was 15 and now I'm 34. I've been in this band longer than I haven't been in this band.
MF: There are Erie bands that sell 100 CDs and they're ecstatic. How did it feel being a young band and knowing that "The Better Life" went six-times Platinum in the United States?
BA: It was amazing. I can remember when we got signed – before we put "The Better Life" out – and we signed to Universal. They said, "Alright guys, now you have to sell [50,000 records]…" We ended up selling 7 million or something like that, and we were like, "What?! We didn't think we'd sell 50,000." [laughs]
MF: From what I read, you guys are touring machines. How many tour dates do you normally play in an average year?
BA: This past year was a little bit less, and we probably only played around 80 shows… In those first years, man, we played – there was a couple of years -- we played almost 300 shows a year. That was a lot, man!
MF: How do you not get burned out, personally, and as a band?
BA: I think you just get out there and do it. You stay so busy you don't really have a chance to burn out.
MF: Have you toured with Daughtry before?
BA: This is going to be the second leg of a tour.
MF: So you knew Chris [Daughtry] before this tour?
BA: I actually met him right after he came off ["American] Idol" and he was writing his first record, and he and I wrote a song together for his first record. We've always stayed in contact since then.
MF: Is it good going on tour with a band you know?
BA: I've been friends with [Chris's] drummer for several years, and you know, they're all just a good bunch of guys. You always tend to have fun with bands you go out with on tour, but it's just our two bands are a lot more connected... No matter who plays first or last, I go out and sing with Chris every night and he comes out and sings with me.
MF: You're playing the Erie Insurance Arena on Feb. 5; have you ever been to Erie before?
BA: I have; it's been a few years since we've been through there, but we've been through there a couple times.
MF: Erie has more bands than it knows what to do with, and they're all aiming for the stars. Do you have any advice for up-and-coming bands?
BA: The best piece of advice I can give an area of bands is: work together. If there is something 'Rock' guys could learn from the 'Rap' community or the 'Urban' community - more - is how those guys are always so willing to collaborate with other people. That network builds strength within that community.
MF: You're a product of the transition era where you can remember both pre- and post-Internet. Do you prefer the music industry pre- or post internet?
BA: To be quite honest I like that music seemed to a sell a lot more before the Internet when people had to go buy records... [But] there's been so many walls knocked down by the Internet to where you can talk to somebody directly on your Facebook, or Twitter... and I absolutely love that.
MF: Traditionally the guitarist kicks off the writing process, but you play drums; however you also sing. What is that writing process like?
BA: I don't play the drums on stage, but I still prefer to sit down and write behind the drums because I've never played guitar. I can play like, three notes. With that being said, a lot of songs do start out with guitar, and we just sit there, and whether I'm on the drums or just sitting in the chair, I know they wanna cut my throat sometimes because they'll sit there and play the verse and chorus... for 30 to 45 minutes. The hardest part for me is if I can ever find something to write about.
MF: How do you get rid of writer's block?
BA: It's important not to just sit there and try to make yourself write. Sometimes I cannot sit down and write a song, but sometimes one will fall out of the sky and kick me in the face. [But] if it ain't comin' don't try to make it.
MF: In a lot of your songs including "It's Not My Time," "When I'm Gone," and "One Light," you use allegories and allusions referring to lightness and blindness. Is that on purpose?
BA: It just kinda flows out. I don't know it's just something I always seemed to write toward.
MF: "One light" is featured on your site right now. Your chorus lines are vague but obviously driving towards an important message. Are you referring to anything specific?
BA: I'm just really referring to the world around us and just kinda the general take on the world. I think if we all just really focus on being that light and we all focus on giving more than we take away then we'll lead ourselves to a better world.
Matthew Flowers can be contacted at mFlowers@ErieReader.com.