“We got this sh*t on the hustle and it made us who we are today”: How Infest made Papa Roach superstars

Frontman Jacoby Shaddix looks back at how Papa Roach’s major-label debut, Infest, launched the band into the spotlight…

“We got this sh*t on the hustle and it made us who we are today”: How Infest made Papa Roach superstars
David McLaughlin

Jacoby Shaddix feels his stomach tighten every time he looks down. As their chopper descends, several thousand metres below a sea of 250,000 Brazilian metal fans are baying for his band’s arrival, clapping and chanting, ‘Pa-pa Roach! Pa-pa Roach!’

It’s 2001 in Rio De Janeiro, and Jacoby, guitarist Jerry Horton, bassist Tobin Esperance and drummer Dave Buckner are moments away from playing the biggest show of their lives at the Rock In Rio festival, following in the hallowed footsteps of rock legends like Queen, AC/DC and Iron Maiden. Their major-label debut Infest is rapidly approaching sales of six million worldwide and, as the rotor blades slow and the band step into the oppressive heat, all their hard work and years of struggle suddenly feel worth it.

“I was full of butterflies walking out to greet a quarter of a million people,” recalls Jacoby today. “Talk about a moment where you pinch yourself and ask, ‘Am I really here? Is this really happening to me?’ We were on top of the world, ripping shit up and suddenly everything felt A-O-freaking-K.”

Just a few years before, in January 1997, pretty much nothing felt okay in the world of Papa Roach. Keen to capitalise on their growing popularity in their home state of California, the quartet were itching to head into the studio and lay down a debut album to shop around record labels. But the toll of a lean Christmas and empty band coffers meant that real life came first and all the pennies they could scrape together in dead-end jobs went towards paying rent, bills and food rather than chasing pie-in-the-sky dreams of making it in music. As the frustration gradually got the better of him, though, Jacoby turned to desperate measures.

“I asked the local drug dealer for a $700 loan,” he says. “Our first full-length [independent release, Old Friends From Young Years] was funded on drug money! We weren’t rich kids, we didn’t have parents or benefactors throwing cash at us. We went out and got this shit on the hustle and it made us who we are today.”

It was the initial step on a path of lost innocence that began three years earlier when a teenage Jacoby first butted heads with Dave Buckner on the Vacaville High School football field. Over the next few months, the pair became close friends, hitting it off over a shared love of alternative rock and metal. They traded cassettes of their favourite artists and, both being drummers, dreamed of maybe one day sitting behind a pro kit of their own in a band that kids just like them could believe in. As they started to lose interest in throwing a ball around and became more obsessed with bands like Deftones and Korn, who were making waves with their fusion of hip-hop and rock, Jacoby and Dave decided they would start recruiting members for their own band.

Above: Papa Roach's debut, Old Friends From Young Years.

As Jacoby hung up his drumsticks and moved over to vocal duties, the early incarnations of what would eventually become Papa Roach endured a number of teething problems. Trombonist buddy Ben Luther and bass player Will James would occasionally jam with the duo for fun, but it wasn’t until they enlisted the help of axe-whizz Jerry Horton from nearby Vanden High that the band got serious and headed in a more determined rock direction. This line-up would be the first to hop in their van, Moby Dick, hocking their wares around the state and building a fan base the old-fashioned way “on the road and in the trenches”. After a number of demo recordings, coupled with the permanent recruitment of Tobin Esperance on bass to replace the outgoing Will, the band started to take shape. But they still had a lot to learn.

“We were just kids, man,” admits Jacoby. “Even looking at the photos from back then, there are no tattoos or anything. We were so pure and innocent. We came from a small town and didn’t have a fucking clue how the world worked. We didn’t really expect anything out of music, we just did it because that was all we knew. It was all we had to offer the world.”

Feeling like square pegs in the round hole of their local scene dominated by early emo bands, riot grrl groups and punk rockers, Jacoby and co. took the initiative and put on their own shows at Vacaville Community Centre, packing in 700 people a night and donating the proceeds to help build a skate park in the city centre. Inspired by the video for Jane’s Addiction’s Stop!, they decided to throw keg party shows whenever someone had a free house, charging people five bucks for entry and keeping the music blasting long into the night until the cops shut everything down.

In 1998, with a DIY debut under their belts, it became clear that without a plan B in place and no educational qualifications to fall back on, Papa Roach was becoming the sole focus of the four men’s energies. They played shows with fellow up-and-comers Alien Ant Farm, Incubus and (hed) p.e., and attracted bigger and ever more enthusiastic crowds. With each major label knocking the band back and a day job working as a janitor at a military hospital grinding Jacoby down, the will to succeed and prove everyone wrong only grew stronger.

“My friend was in a gang in Oakland called the ATR crew, which stood for Against The Rest,” he remembers. “I got that tattooed on me as a sign of my commitment because that was how I felt back then. Like, ‘Fuck everybody,’ as we were out to kill!”

Then, in between shows one day at a gas station, the frontman had an epiphany about the missing piece of the Papa Roach puzzle.

“Tobin stole a cassette that had Johnny Cash’s The Man In Black on it,” he explains. “We were listening to it in the van and suddenly it hit me, like, bam! ‘We have to all wear black.’ From that point on, we were like a real gang, rocking our colours. It was ATR all the way, ‘Fuck all y’all, we’re doing things our way.’”

With a sharper image, steady line-up and an increasing buzz around bands with a dash of rap in their rock, in 1998 Warner Brothers offered Papa Roach a demo development deal, with a view to a longer-term arrangement. For their shot at the big time, the quartet submitted polished recordings of Last Resort, She Loves Me Not, Broken Home and Dead Cell, only to discover that the A&R guy who had vouched for them had subsequently been fired and Warner’s interest had significantly cooled. But with hopes all but crushed, DreamWorks smelled potential and stepped in at the 11th hour to snap the band up on a deal that “totally insulated” them.

“Our goal was always modest,” says Jacoby. “Get in the van, travel the country and maybe sell a couple hundred thousand records while building the fanbase at a grassroots level. When DreamWorks came on board,” he continues excitedly, “it was like, ‘Wow, now we can pay our bills and not freak out.’ That alone was a total blessing, but then Last Resort hit the airwaves and, oh man, shit got serious, fast. The game changed. We finally had our overnight success after seven years.”

Infest was released via DreamWorks on April 25, 2000 and sold 30,000 copies in its first week. It was an album that spoke to the disaffected and downtrodden, a generation of socially awkward kids from broken homes, who were bullied and ostracised from their peers but united in their angst and desire to lash back at the world through cathartic songs mirroring their innermost feelings. It favoured brusque, muscular metal with catchy choruses encompassing universal themes with the touch of personal, diary-entry honesty. In Jacoby – then known by the name Coby Dick – Papa Roach fans recognised one of their own, kicking back against the pricks and winning, an antihero with black spiked hair, tattoos and an explosive, edgy unpredictability.

The band joined the traveling U.S. summer roadshow Warped Tour, where they tore up the stage day-in, day-out. But it wasn’t until the official release of debut single Last Resort in September that the Roach started to turn their promise into full-blown success at home and on the international stage.

“Deftones, Korn and Limp Bizkit got the public ready for this sound and style,” muses the singer. “When we came through with Infest, everyone was feeling that type of music and the vibe was undeniable. It was bigger than we could ever imagine. Combine that with luck, the stars aligning and all that cosmic shit, then bam! Three million records sold in America alone.”

Last Resort quickly became a genuine phenomenon, topping the Billboard Modern Rock Chart in the U.S. and peaking at Number Three in the UK. Propelled by an iconic video that enjoyed daily rotation on MTV, it saw them headline arenas in the States, the UK and Japan, and light up the main stage at Ozzfest and Rock In Rio. Soon after, the singles Broken Home and Between Angels And Insects helped earn the band a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Band in 2001.

“We partied our asses off for a couple of years,” smiles Jacoby. “I had no idea how to handle success. We went from travelling in a van, punk rock-style to jumping on jets, riding in limousines, hanging with Playboy models and doing all that nutty rock star shit. Looking back it was all a blur, but for a while it felt like we were at the centre of the universe at the greatest party on earth.”

As with all good parties, there was an inevitable hangover that followed. But Papa Roach put their hands to work, releasing Lovehatetragedy on June 18, 2002. Though it went on to become a fan-favourite and sell over a million copies worldwide, the numbers didn’t come close to matching their breakthrough and it was regarded as a slump, both critically and commercially.

“We suffered from the sea change in music,” the frontman says. “Bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives were where it was at and the media attention shifted. Nu-metal was old news and no-one wanted us on the covers of magazines anymore. We thought that passion in our music was all that mattered. We were young, innocent and dumb. By the end of that record I was deep into alcoholism and in a super-dark place. When I looked in the mirror I hated the person staring back. Then began a progressive slide into insanity. It came to the point where I was self-harming a lot. I was totally depressed and wanted to die.”

Within those darkest depths Jacoby unleashed a new wellspring of creativity, pouring his heart into songs that would feature on comeback record Getting Away With Murder. With new material came a fresh sound, the quartet eschewing their old nu-metal style in favour of a more alternative rock flavour. The 2004 release was the band’s first on Geffen, following the sale of DreamWorks to Universal, and ultimately shifted 1.5 million copies, thanks to heavy touring right through until 2005 and the success of the audacious ballad Scars. The track, the singer claims, “saved my life”, and told how he needed 11 stitches in his head after a heavy night of drinking and self-harming in Las Vegas.

“Our Infest success was like a house built on sand,” muses Jacoby. “The industry is all about what’s hot right now. We were big on television but we needed the reality of a fanbase to catch up. That’s where we’re at now and we built that foundation on Getting Away With Murder.”

Papa Roach had been together almost 10 years, through the highest highs and crushing lows. Jacoby’s alcoholism was becoming an everyday struggle and his oldest friend in the band, Dave, was also dealing with an unspecified addiction, too.

Rather than let the wheels come off, the band went back to what they knew best, throwing themselves into their work in the Paramour Mansions in Silverlake, California. Their fifth album, The Paramour Sessions, was eventually released on September 12, 2006 and supported by an American and European tour. Dave’s battle was one he was losing and, in April 2007, it was announced that he had checked into rehab and was replaced by new drummer Tony Palermo, a move confirmed as permanent in January 2008. Sixth album Metamorphosis swiftly followed a year later, its title a clear reference to the incredible transformation the band had undergone throughout the past decade. The new Papa Roach now sounded more like a modernised rock’n’roll animal.

“We might have made a record that sold a shit-ton of copies,” Jacoby says, “but I don’t feel like we’ve made the definitive Papa Roach album yet. The only thing that’s been consistent about our band has been progression. I want to keep chasing that thread and see where it leads.”

Those are threads the band have diligently followed across many records since. That thirst for creation and reinvention isn’t just necessary for the continued health and endurance of their artistic output, however. It goes deeper still.

“Without this band, I think I would either be dead, in jail or working in some soul-destroying job,” Jacoby reflects. “I’m designed for self-destruction, unfortunately, but it makes for good music and I’m absolutely committed to that. Look at my body: I’m covered in tattoos. I’ve been in the band for over two decades. I’ve got a workingman’s soul that won’t let me rest. I don’t want to be remembered as a flash in the pan. I’m gonna be a roaring fucking fire for a long time yet!”

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