Songwriter Interviews

Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach

by Greg Prato

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Some songwriters write lyrics through the point of view of made-up characters, while others write about themselves. Papa Roach's Jacoby Shaddix prefers the latter category, and some of his most personal lyrics reside on his band's ninth studio effort overall, 2015's F.E.A.R.

Formed in the early '90s, Papa Roach scored a major hit with their 2000 album, Infest (which spawned such rock radio hits as "Last Resort" and "Between Angels and Insects"), and have consistently remained a chart presence ever since: all of their subsequent albums have reached at least the Top 20.

When we spoke with Jacoby, he was up for talking about the Papa Roach tunes that contain his most revealing lyrics, and how he feels about making videos.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's start by discussing the new album, F.E.A.R.

Jacoby Shaddix: I believe we picked up where we left off with The Connection [the band's 2012 release]. But the difference is, on this record I came in focused and not kind of scatterbrained and out of my head. I was firing on all cylinders, on top of the writing process, which just kickstarted the whole record into gear.

We showed up in Vegas with one chorus written - that was it - and we wrote the record in the studio on the spot. It really just kept us on our toes, but it was like a floodgate opened when we started writing. It really got us into working in the moment and not overthinking things too much. Not having demo-itis with some songs, and just letting the song grow and build as we discover it. So that was a lot different, but a very personal record for me, a very deep record for me, a very revealing record.

Songfacts: From a songwriting perspective, which Papa Roach album are you most proud of?

Jacoby: I would say F.E.A.R. The reason being it was a very bold move for me, going to Las Vegas - "the scene of the crime." I've got a history of falling off the wagon and going off the deep end, and just going to that city was very challenging for me. But I found that throwing myself into the music 100% was what really saved my ass. I really felt the raw, true power of how music can pull somebody through.

We hear fans talk about that a lot, and I finally saw that for myself firsthand in this writing process. And I think also showing up with nothing written and just jumping in feet-first and going, "OK, I'm here, I'm ready, let's do this," was a very bold decision, as well, and it really paid off. I was focused on nothing but the music, and it saved my ass, man.

Songfacts: Which songs contain lyrics that are the most personal or revealing?

Jacoby: On "Gravity," I really put it all out there: my failures as a husband, as a lover, and as the head of my household. I talk about my brokenness, and me and my wife's relationship in some real, true story factual-type stuff. I think it's a bit of a testimony for me and my wife, like, "Hey man, if you're another couple that's going through this struggle, you can make it through if you really want to, if you really love each other."

Moments like that humanize myself in the music. Also, with a song like "Falling Apart," I definitely dive into my spirituality on that song. I pretty much say, "I believe in a higher power which I choose to call God." I know everybody's got different names for it and whatnot, but it's just my callout to God, straight-up, like, "I've been trying to do this thing my way, and I find myself back in that same place, where I'm broken and alone and looking for something to just fill me up."

I see God in music, I see God in people, I see it out here in the world now, so I'm seeing the world from a different perspective. I'm not trying to be preachy or anything like that, just talking about my experience, my strength and my hope.

Songfacts: "Last Resort" came from a very impassioned place. What was your mindset when you wrote that song, and were you ever able to return to that place?

Jacoby: That song was a cry for help. That song was about one of my best friends, and then 12-13 years later, that song was about me. I found myself in that place, where I was like, "I can't go on this way. I can't do it anymore."

It's awesome when your cry for help gets answered. My band has had my back over these years, and my friends and my family. That song is timeless and it connects with who we are today and what we do today in a major way.

When recording for Papa Roach's eighth album, The Connection, got underway, Jacoby was in a very bad state. Speaking with the Chronicle Herald in 2012, he said: "There was a moment in the record where I was suicidal. I was done. I'm like, 'I'm over this. I can't do this anymore. I can't take this pain anymore.' Like, I feel so alone and broken and just shattered. Like, everything that I had worked for in my life and said that I wasn't going to be, I don't want to be like my father — what happens? I'm like this drunk, (mess)-up that destroyed his family. I did it. I'm sitting there like, 'I did everything I said I'd never do.'"
Songfacts: Are you ever concerned about perhaps revealing too much about yourself in your lyrics?

Jacoby: I know I've got a purpose with this music, and I let it all hang out. Sometimes, I let a little too much hang out, but it is what it is. I just want to be real, and that's how I do it: through this music. Sometimes, I don't like going back and reading interviews because it just takes me through that pain again, and those broken places. Sometimes, the interviews paint a bit of a darker picture than where I am right now. Right now, I'm at a pretty good place, but life keeps on happening, my friend. It's just that constant struggle between that dark and that light inside myself.

Throughout the course of rock history, quite a few songwriters have been bold enough to address their personal demons in song lyrics. Case in point, "Cold Turkey" and "Mother" (John Lennon), "Got to Give It Up" (Phil Lynott), and almost the entire Dirt album (Layne Staley).

When Midge Ure spoke with Songfacts, he disclosed that the title track from his 2014 album, Fragile, was about his struggles with alcoholism.
Songfacts: Would you say the song "Scars" is one of your more revealing lyrics?

Jacoby: Oh, most definitely. The more we dig deep and the more I reveal about what I'm really going through in my life, the deeper the connection is with our fans. And "Scars" is one of those songs.

It was huge for us, too - it was such a different type of track for us at the time. But when we finally step out of our comfort zone as a band and as writers, that's always when we see the most growth as a band, and when we connect to new people. So we'll just keep forging that path. That's what's natural to us: to progress and evolve.

Songfacts: What do you recall about the song "Forever"?

Jacoby: We were living in this crazy mansion outside of Hollywood, on the tallest hill in Los Angeles looking out over the whole city. So it was a pretty surreal environment to write a record in. My drummer was going through a divorce at the time; I was at the tail end of seven-eight years of debauchery.

That song was born from our failures. I pictured the brokenness of my drummer, going through that divorce, and how it's so hard to get through something like that. It's got a romantic edge, because the chorus is, "Days come and go, but my feelings for you are forever." It comes from that, but sometimes when I write about women, it's not always about women. Sometimes, it's about my mistress: Mrs. Vodka. You know what I'm saying? It's just born from all that dysfunction.

Songfacts: "To Be Loved"?

Jacoby: We just wanted a rock anthem. We were just at that point.

I was a big Mötley Crüe fan growing up, and I thought it just had that big rock swagger. It's about walking that line of temptation, and also about being bold and fearless in your life. Moving on your gut instinct.

Songfacts: "She Loves Me Not"?

Jacoby: I write a lot about my relationships. We wrote that song for Infest, but we thought it was a little too forward-thinking for that record, so we saved it for Lovehatetragedy, and that was the lead single for that record. Me and my wife, we have a history of just... struggle. And I think sometimes it's tough for us because of this life we live. I just felt at that point, as a young man, I couldn't do enough to make this lady happy. But I'm pointing the finger at her, like, "You don't love me, blah blah blah," and really, a lot of the issues we had were because of me and my selfishness.

Songfacts: Regarding music videos, Papa Roach has worked with a variety of directors over the years.

Jacoby: The guy we first started working with, Marcos Siega, he was directing music videos, and we got nominated for a Grammy for "Broken Home," which was amazing. We worked with him, and then he moved on to direct the show Dexter. Some of these guys move on to bigger and better things. And then over the course of our career, we worked with tons of different people, a guy named Jesse Davey from the UK did "Burn" and "No Matter What," and really set a standard for us. And ultimately, the budgets for music videos over the years have significantly changed. "She Loves Me Not," we paid 600 grand to make that video. Now, we're making videos for 50 grand.

But the funny part is, we're making videos for 50 grand that still look like they cost 600 grand! I think back to those days, like, "Damn, we were getting ripped off." Just high-sighted by these directors, y'know? And also, we reach out to these people and we read these treatments sometimes, and which one inspires us. It's not always the same guy. This time around, with our new video, "Face Everything and Rise," I jumped into the co-director's seat and took a swing at that and loved it. I'm actually directing the next video, for a song called "Gravity." So I'm kind of taking it back into my hands. That's fun. And the band has entrusted me with it and they support it, so it's an awesome way to express myself creatively in a different light.

Songfacts: I remember reading a few years ago an interview in which you listed the Faith No More album King for a Day... Fool for a Lifetime as a favorite. How has the music of Faith No More been an influence on you?

Jacoby: Mike Patton is one of my favorite singers. Faith No More, one of my favorite bands of all time. Very inspiring to me. I fell in love with that band at a very young age, and I saw them a few times growing up. I was bummed out when they parted ways [in 1998], but they're doing shows again, which is awesome.

But as far as influence, the way that I sing, I definitely was inspired by Mike Patton, but lyrically, I approach my songs very differently than Mike Patton does. He comes from a place of a bit more sarcasm... a lot more sarcasm. Whereas I come from that heart and soul kind of place. My two favorite singers are Mike Patton and Mike Ness from Social Distortion. Total opposites, but I like the storytelling that Mike Ness does so I kind of fused both those two guys together at an early age, and it inspired me to become my own thing.

Songfacts: I'm a huge fan of Faith No More, too. I wrote a book a few years back, The Faith No More & Mr. Bungle Companion. Musically, can you give an example of where Faith No More was an influence on Papa Roach?

Jacoby: Rhythm section-wise, they were one of those bands that the bass and the drums always locked up, and they fused some of that hip-hop and rock together. They were one of the earliest bands to do that, and definitely pioneers to a whole genre. If you listen to Korn, if you listen to how the bass and the drums lock up, it's quite similar to how Faith No More was doing it in their early years.

I can tell you a cool story. We did a festival in Germany called Bizarre Festival and [FNM bassist] Billy Gould was there. He was producing what became one of my favorite bands, called the Beatsteaks - they're a German rock band. I was like, "What's up Billy, I'm a huge fan! We're covering one of your songs ['The Gentle Art of Making Enemies']." He came over, checked us out, we covered the song, we killed it, we broke bread afterwards, shook hands, exchanged numbers, and it was a trip.

After Faith No More broke up, Billy had this side-project called Castro Sinatra that he was demoing up ideas for, and he sent me five songs to throw ideas on. I was like, "I'm going to demo tracks for Billy Gould for a side project? WHAT?!" I honestly was too scared to step up to the plate. And I was very focused on trying to write Papa Roach's next record, Lovehatetragedy. I had a career of my own, so I kind of let that pass me by. I sometimes look back at that, and go, Man. But it wasn't the right time for me. I wasn't brave enough or bold enough to try something like that.

April 12, 2015.
For more, visit paparoach.com.

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