Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix: “I Can’t Say I’m Perfect… I’m Lucky That I Got Out Alive”
Jacoby Shaddix exploded on to the rock scene 19 years ago – loud, lairy and eminently likeable – and he’s yet to slow down to this day. His band Papa Roach’s breakthrough album, 2000’s Infest, has sold seven million copies to date, but unlike others in the nu-metal scene, Papa Roach refused to be bound by one genre – thanks in no small part to their frontman’s indefatigable spirit and omnivorous musical tastes.
As a result, Papa Roach are now stronger than ever, maintaining critical and commercial clout while peers have been reduced to the nostalgia circuit. The Californian’s 10th album, Who Do You Trust?, released earlier this year, is their most diverse offering to date.
“Every time we go into the studio to make a record, I think, ‘Fucking now what?’” he explains today. He’s currently pinballing between responsibilities on the road: soundchecking, doing chores and calling Kelly, his wife of 22 years, to check in on their three children. When the singer finally settles on the band’s tour bus, it doesn’t take long to understand why forward momentum is a good thing for the 42-year-old. Jacoby’s restless spirit has links to a rootless childhood that saw his family having to move around a lot. But, as he explains during a long and open conversation with Kerrang!, it’s in the quieter moments when things become more challenging – when the corruptive voices come through louder and clearer.
“People may know the artist version of you, and who that persona is, but that’s just one element,” he explains, his typically rampant delivery slowed to a quiet, considered drawl. “There’s a committee going on in my head on a regular basis. It’s a white noise that’s usually telling me the wrong things. My biggest challenge is trying to drive out those fucking voices.”
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Other challenges surround Jacoby on a daily basis. The back lounge of a bus just like this one is an environment in which the artist formerly known as Coby Dick earned the nickname Jonny Vodka, thanks to his herculean bouts of booze consumption. Despite both sides of his family having histories of alcoholism, Jacoby has now been sober for seven years. It’s a constant battle though, and one replete with painful examples of how quickly and quietly the darkness can creep in. Jacoby has gone on record many times to declare The Prodigy his dream collaborator, so he has understandably been rocked by the recent passing of Keith Flint. It’s not simply “a great loss” to music, he says, but a reminder of the importance of keeping his own demons in check, something, he says, with which his family and faith continue to help him.
Have the voices you mention always been present? What were you like when you were younger?
“I didn’t really notice this madness until I was in my mid-20s, to be honest. When I was a kid, no matter how fucked-up the situation I was going through was – like my father leaving – I always had this ‘shit’s going to be okay’ vibe about me. My family moved a lot, so I was always the new kid at school, but that forced me to get out of my shell. It made me adaptable and I always brought a good vibe to whatever circles I was in, whether it was the geeks in the school band, the punk rockers, the stoners or the fucking hillbillies. I’ve always had the ability to understand people. No matter how crazy motherfuckers are, I always see the good in them. In reality, we’re all just trying to do the best with what we’ve got.”
Who best understood you as a kid?
“Not to sound all mama’s boy, but it was always my mother. Through all the traumatic shit I went through as a kid, my mum was the constant. While my dad was all fucked-up and flakey, my mum was always the one who would say, ‘We can handle this.’ She taught me that warrior spirit – the sense that however bad it gets, things will be alright. I truly cherish that woman.”
What did you do before Papa Roach?
“My favourite job before I was a ‘rock star’ was when I worked at a hospital in an intensive care unit as a janitor. I was cleaning up dirty toilets and blood and all that nasty stuff, but I also got to see people recover from what seemed like hopeless states. You’d see people who were initially debilitated have the life return to them. There was obviously dark stuff, too. I was mopping the floor once near the ICU and they brought out the crash cart, which they use to shock people back to life, but this particular guy didn’t make it. I loved the job though.”
Both rock and hip-hop have greatly influenced you, but which hit first?
“Definitely rock music. I lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I was in a record store one day with a friend. This was in the days when if a cover was cool you’d buy an album. One of them was [Poison’s 1986 debut album] Look What The Cat Dragged In. I saw it and thought, ‘Those chicks are hot,’ but those chicks were dudes! Poison quickly became my favourite band, but my parents hated them and told me I needed to listen to some real rock’n’roll, so my stepdad at the time gave me Led Zeppelin II [the band’s 1969 second album]. At that moment I said, ‘Fuck Poison!’ Rap came later. The Beastie Boys were an early favourite, and then there was the Wu-Tang Clan, who are still a big deal to me to this day. The list goes on.”
Do rock and hip-hop appeal to different sides of your personality?
“Rock has given me a heart-on-sleeve spirit and a sense of ‘come as you are’. Whether you’re a freak, geek or weirdo, don’t worry, you’re welcome here. It also gave me a sense of standing up for what I believe in and being emotive. And then there’s that raw energy you connect with. Hip-hop was all about that intense attitude – that idea that, ‘This is my shit, I’m going to bring what I’ve got and I’m going to crush you with it.’ It’s the work ethic, too – doing show after show, then selling records out of the trunk of your car afterwards. [Papa Roach] would go to a Deftones show and walk the line outside with a boombox and me rapping, ‘Papa Roach, five bucks!’, selling our tapes. People would say, ‘Who’s this fucking crazy dude?!’”
There was a point when you became disenchanted with hip-hop, sometime around Papa Roach’s 2004 album Getting Away With Murder. Why was that?
“At the time, I wasn’t feeling the hip-hop that was coming out. People like Ja Rule made me go, ‘Meh’. It felt so watered down and it didn’t speak to me. After we released Infest, lots of people were saying, ‘These guys are just one-trick ponies and are going to die doing rap-rock,’ but I knew there were other sides to us. I wanted to prove myself as a valid rock singer, and at the same time I was getting interested in bands like My Chemical Romance, who melded rock and punk together, which inspired me.”
There was a record before your major-label debut, Infest, of course. What are your enduring memories of making 1997’s Old Friends From Young Years?
“That’s when the hustler spirit was born. In the local scene we were in, there were bands who played indie, punk and rock. But then there was us, this funky, freaky oddball band that never fit in anywhere at the time. Even now, all these years later while we continue to develop our style, we still don’t feel we fit in at all. We’re not metal enough for the metal crowd. We’re not punk enough for the punk crowd. We’re not hip-hop enough to be considered hip-hop. We’re not quite enough of any of those things to be completely our own thing.”
Do you relish that outsider status?
“One hundred per cent. That’s why I don’t have a side project or another band. We give ourselves the freedom to explore everything we want to, creatively. The inspiration for that came years ago when I saw bands like Faith No More, who’d play metal one minute and cover Lionel Richie the next. It taught me that you can do anything if you want to.”
How do you look back upon your time presenting MTV’s Scarred in 2007, on which people discussed their extreme sports injuries?
“I had a fucking blast doing that. It was an awesome time and it was a great time for the band, yet it served to add another way I could show my personality to people. I’d be rolling through an airport and some kid would stop me and say to me, ‘You’re the dude from Scarred!’ Then I’d say, ‘Yeah, but I’ve also got a band, man – check us out.’ I look back on that time fondly. I’d love to do something like that again.”
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You recorded a cover of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water with Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana in 2010. Did you feel that working with a musical legend like him legitimised your own abilities?
“That experience was definitely a moment in time. When I got to work with a living legend like him – someone who played at Woodstock and has such a unique style – I felt I’d reached a place where I was an accomplished rock singer. Carlos was talking to a producer who played him a selection of rock vocalists and he pulled up one of my tracks. He must have said, ‘Let’s get this guy Jacoby Shaddix in’, because that’s what ended up happening. When we got in the studio Carlos said to me, ‘I want the track to sound like a swamp.’ I was really trying to figure out what he meant by that, so in the end I went into the vocal booth upstairs and asked the engineer to turn the heat on as high as it would possibly go. I didn’t tell anyone else I was doing it. I was in the vocal booth for two hours, and when I came out I was drenched, dripping with sweat. Carlos took one look at me and said, ‘That’s what I’m talking about – you get it!’ He sent me a bouquet of white roses and some paintings afterwards. He’s a sweet dude.”
Papa Roach have been a band for more than 25 years, with many of your peers disappearing in the interim. How early on did you realise you wanted to future-proof your career by not focusing on one thing?
“From the beginning. Even in our small town, Vacaville, there were no other bands who sounded like us or were doing what we did. We were buddies with all the emo and punk bands that were around us, but we were different. We had a dream, like they did, but we didn’t want to be one thing. We wanted to take flavours from everywhere and keep mixing them up. Infest showed those different sides to us.”
You’ve been sober for seven years now. To what do you attribute your strength of will?
“The struggle with alcohol has been in my family for generations, continually destroying lives and relationships. I remember my mum telling me when I was a kid that I had to be careful, as alcoholism runs deep in both sides of the family. I should have heeded the warnings, but when you’re young and restless you don’t give a fuck, so I went for it. And lo and behold, it started damaging relationships, and my health and drive. I tried for a long time to put the bottle down. I got kicked out of the house and it looked like my wife and I were going to split up. There came a point when I realised enough was enough, and now I haven’t picked up the bottle in seven years. It’s dramatically affected my life in so many positive ways, giving me the opportunity to be a good husband and father, as well as a kickass frontman. I watch all the fucking VH1 documentaries about musicians dying, and having friends die from this shit, I’m lucky that I got out alive. I can’t say I’ve been perfect – I’ve slipped up and smoked weed a few times, but haven’t had any alcohol, cocaine, pills or anything else.”
Did you ever fear that the need to stay sober might mean you had to stop touring?
“I think that’s why I kept falling off the wagon. Before we put out Getting Away With Murder , that was the first time I tried to put the bottle down. But on the road, I was apart from my sober friends and I’d be on the bus with everyone drinking. So I’d end up in the back lounge, secretly chugging vodka. That was tough for years. Now I’ve been relieved of the obsession – I look back like, ‘That’s a young man’s game.’ Plus, I want to stay pretty!”
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There are other elements of darkness though. We’ve lost a lot of musicians in recent times, including The Prodigy’s Keith Flint who was a huge influence of yours. How has his loss affected you?
“It’s made me want to keep facing those demons, no matter what. I don’t know what [Keith] was facing, but I do know that when you’re experiencing a personal struggle, a mental health or a spiritual struggle, going through that shit alone makes it even more difficult. You think about someone like Robin Williams, whose life was spent bringing hilarity to so many people, but behind the scenes he had this heavy struggle that people didn’t know about. Then something terrible happens, as it did with Keith, and it seems so sudden to people.”
What part does the life of a musician and the business side of it play in these struggles?
“Musicians make many sacrifices. When I first started touring, I was having the time of my life, but I didn’t have children. Now going on tour and leaving family behind is a struggle. We often have to stand alone in our heads, which can get pretty gnarly. Plus, people in the industry have always used artists, and used our lack of music business knowledge to take advantage of us. When you grow up you get a little smarter, and you realise how much that’s happened to you.”
How much has your faith played in getting you through the more difficult periods in your life?
“It’s been key for me. I follow a man named Jesus and I think he’s awesome. Unfortunately there are a lot of terrible fucking Christians out there, but when living in a relationship with my higher power, I feel like I’m clicked in to the ultimate power in the fucking universe. Don’t get it twisted, I’ve certainly had my struggles and failures in my spiritual life, but my walk with God has been one that’s evolved over the years.”
What would you tell your kids if any of them wanted to follow Dad into the business?
“I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem. My eldest son really loves music, but it’s clear it’s not going to be his path. He wants to be a sports rehab therapist. That’s fucking awesome.”
Papa Roach’s latest album Who Do You Trust? is out now via Eleven Seven.
A number of bands have had to cancel shows and postpone tours due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Think before you play. Streaming services are now limiting the amount of music you can listen to