Songwriter Interviews

Todd Harrell of 3 Doors Down and 7dayBinge

by Shawna Ortega

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Todd Harrell might really be Superman. For the 3 Doors Down bassist, being in one of rock's most successful and busy bands wasn't enough; he had to have a Binge to fill his "down time." 7dayBinge began as a side gig to keep busy and allow Harrell to fulfill his songwriting jones. The group, which boasts members of Nashville's Muzik Mafia and Kid Rock's band, and has become a phenomenon of its own. Now Todd finds himself in two bands that perform back-to-back, leaving him no free time to get in trouble. And he couldn't be happier.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): I'm big with words. I'm a writer, so I can relate best with lyrics. As a bass player, how do you relate to words? Does it matter to you what the song is about?

Todd Harrell: Definitely. We have a real unique song-writing process. We all do it together. It's something we're not going to try to change. We always just sat in a little circle and threw ideas at each other, and that's how our songs always come about. Sometimes it's words first and sometimes the music. It all depends on where we're at and what we're doing. But there's been times where Brad has this cool melody of words that we'll sit down and throw music behind. And most of the times we'll come up with the music first. We'll write the music as a band and then we'll have it laid out and Brad will come along and he'll get the melodies and he'll write the songs that way. So that's how it's worked in the past and it's always been a lot of fun.

Songfacts: You guys seem to get along so well, it amazes me.

Todd: Yeah, we've probably known each other over 20 years now. We were all friends years before we ever played music together, so it's a unique situation. I see bands that fight and argue and don't get along. We actually get along and have fun together and enjoy doing what we love to do together.

Songfacts: Excellent. Let's talk about a song off 3DD's latest offering and something that's been described as a punk rock song, "Believer."

Todd: I don't know that we try to do it, but it seems like every record we put a curve ball in there somewhere; there's always been that one song on every record that's like this one. And to me, "Believer" is kind of a punk rock song. We were out in Brad's place, and when we first came up with the lick we knew right away that this was going to be our curve ball. It's a real fast song: Brad sat down and started telling a story, and the story evolved into a real heavy punk rock song. And that's where it ended up.

Songfacts: He started telling a story about some kid that gets involved with a married woman?

Todd: You know what, he did. I don't know where he gets it, but he comes up with different stories. And when he comes up with those stories, we fill in and play the music so he can finish his little story. (Laughing)

Songfacts: (Laughing) That's funny. Tell me about "Train." I read a comment that Chris (Chris Henderson, 3DD guitarist) made. He was talking about how that's kind of an old-school southern rock song and it took balls to put that one out and there's "a swampy thing" in there. Can you help me out here?

Todd: Yeah. On our records we want to give a roller coaster ride. We want to put some heavy songs on there and some slow songs. We don't want the whole record to be all heavy metal, but that's one of our heavier songs we ever wrote. And like Chris said, it definitely has a southern rock vibe to it. But it's one of those songs we're sitting around writing one day and Brad was talking about some southern rock songs, and "Put me on a train, mama," that just came out, and it was really cool. We took that line and ended up writing the whole song to "put me on a train, mama." (Laughs)

Songfacts: And was it the lyric that influenced the style of music or vice versa?

Todd: The words were first with that song. Brad come out with this, "Let's write a heavy metal rockin' southern song. This is what I got: 'put me on a train, mama.'" So we just worked that out. That's a fun song to play.

Songfacts: "She Is Love." I really want to know what's going on in this one.

Todd: That song is about a girl. It's just talking about a girl that's full of love, and that's really it: "She is love." A girl that's just full of love. (Laughs)

We let our minds go when we're writing and we kind of write stories. We try to write stories that everybody can relate to, something that you can listen to and get something out of different than when I listen to it. We try to leave the songs open for interpretation and let everybody get something that they can write to out of it. We've always had a lot of success doing that. A lot of our songs mean something to us different than what you get out of it.

Like "Here Without You" is a song that a lot of military folks get a lot of things out of. It's like being gone so far from your family. But I might get out of it that I'm here without my girl, here without my daughter or something. We just leave it open for people to get what they can out of it.

Songfacts: What connections do you guys have personally with anybody in the military?

Todd: We're all from the Gulf Coast area and it is a military town. We all have friends and family who are in the military. We have a foundation here that the National Guard is a part of and we really want to support the men and women that give up so much to keep us free. We did tours overseas and have seen firsthand how much the men and women give up to go do what they do. Because they don't do it for the money. It's just our way of saying thank you, and our way of saying we support you and everything they do.

Songfacts: Tell me about 7dayBinge.

Todd: (Laughing) That's my little alter ego band. I guess I can let my hair down a little bit in that band. We all stay up to Nashville a lot now and we've met over the years a lot of cool different bands. And in that band we have Kenny Olson from Kid Rock playing the guitar, and Jon Nicholson from the Muzik Mafia sings - it's just a collaboration of friends. When 3 Doors is down and not touring, I like to stay busy. We started it and it's a lot of fun. But in the past, 7day has opened for 3 Doors. So that's always been a lot of fun, playing a show and then going back stage and then going right back out and playing. But it's a lot of fun for me. I like to say busy. If I don't stay busy, I get in trouble. (Laughs)

Songfacts: Can you talk to me about a couple of the songs that you guys have written for 7day?

Todd: We definitely like to rock it out and let our hair down a little bit. The songs we write in 7day are fun songs, just songs we like to jam to, and it's fun doing that. I get to do things with 7day that I don't get to do with 3 Doors. So the songs we write there are songs that probably wouldn't make it on a 3 Doors record, but it's also things that I love to do.

Songfacts: 3 Doors' music is somehow a little more light, and it seems like the 7day songs are very dark.

Todd: Yeah. There's a song on there called "Up All Night," and it's talking about partying. It's just things that we probably wouldn't write in 3 Doors. We keep it orientated for kids to listen to in 3 Doors, and 7day is definitely a darker and more party-based band, I guess you could say.

Songfacts: And in 7day, do you guys write songs in the same sort of fashion that 3 Doors does?

Todd: Mostly the songs in 7day are with me and Jon Nicholson. We sit down and write all the words and music and then we'll get it all ironed out and we'll go to Kenny and Shannon. Shannon Boone plays drums for the Binge. Me and Jon do most of the songwriting for the Binge, and me and him have pretty electric songwriting - we'll get together and the cool stuff just flows out. It's funny how certain people you get with and just really connect with and can write. Sometimes it's real hard to write with people, but me and Jon get together and come up with a song in no time. It's usually something about having some good times and partying.

Songfacts: Isn't the first song that you guys wrote together "Cold Dark Grave"?

Todd: It was. And we wrote that song in Sweden. We actually met Jon on a tour we did in Europe. We were in Europe and Jon would come out and play the piano and do a solo thing. And during that time Jon was riding our bus. Me and Jon hit it off, became friends right away. We parked in Sweden, we were parked on this hill overlooking this graveyard, kind of spooky and eerie. And we were sitting there with the guitars in our hands and started picking out some songs, picking some tunes, and came up with "Cold Dark Grave."

Jon's an amazing songwriter. He can sit down with a guitar and a piano and in no time have a cool song going. He's a great storyteller, also.

Songfacts: You got hooked up with a couple of great storytellers. So do any of these songs have any kernel in truth?

Todd: All of them have some kind of truth to them. It's things I've seen or things I've done. It's definitely from life experiences, all these songs. Other than the curveballs that Brad throws in now and then, most of them are life experiences. It's what we see and what we do every day and things we get out of life and try to put on paper.

There's a song on a Binge record, it's called "I'm No Good." And that came from a life experience, I guess you could say, from when I went through a pretty nasty divorce a while back, and I was getting told by my ex-wife that "you're no good." So we wrote a song about that. And if you listen to the lyrics, you can probably tell where it goes from there. (Laughing) That's definitely a life experience from a nasty divorce years back. I just wrote it down on paper and that's where it came from.

Songfacts: How about "Free"?

Todd: "Free"? Oh, yeah, that's another one - they're all life experiences. That's a song that's talking about wanting to be free, wanting to get away from the craziness of a relationship that's going nowhere.

Songfacts: Are there any other songs that you have had a hand in writing that have a "graveyard" type story that goes with them?

Todd: 7day is different. Me and Jon will sit in a little room somewhere in our apartment and start talking about something, and next thing you know we're telling a story about it and then we've got some music behind it. And me and Jon usually come up with something pretty cool as far as lyrics and music. We do a lot of lyrics and music for the Binge, and Brad handles most of the lyrics for 3 Doors. Whole different cup of tea on each end. That way I can get my songwriting lyrics out with Binge, whereas Brad's handled it for so long and he's done such a great job we just let him do his thing. And then when I want to tell a story, I'll just go to the Binge.

We spoke with Todd on September 14, 2011. For tour and more information on 3 Doors Down, visit their Web site at 3DoorsDown.com. To hear more music from the Binge, see their Myspace at: 7dayBingeMyspace.
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