They recently played the album front to back as a live streaming event and followed that up a few weeks later with a show of their greatest hits done acoustically. March 5 will find the boys revving up their greatest hits in a full electric show. I had a chance to speak with founder, vocalist and former drummer Brad Arnold to talk about all of it. Here's what he had to say:
antiMusic: Congratulations with the box set. Does it seem like a long 20 years or has it been like a blink of the eye?
Brad: It depends on how I look at it. You know how they say, the days go fast --- the years go slow? So it depends on looking at the years or the day, you know? I can think about it ...it's interesting, if I sit down and try to memoir something I did, it would be incredibly long but looking back, it just feels like it was yesterday.
I can still remember so many things about those first days...the first time leaving home. I was so young when starting the band. I was 16 then. 1 was 20 when we got signed and 21 when the record was made and we started our first touring. And you know, being from Mississippi, I had never really left home. When we left for Memphis to record our first record, it sure was something for me (laughs).
antiMusic: When did the idea about doing a box set of 20 years of the first album come up?
Brad: Well, we first started talking about it around what was going to be our 2020 anniversary tour of The Better Life record and release the box set to go along with the tour. And of course we had to postpone that tour and now it might not be until 2022 but I would still like to do that 20th anniversary of that record. Our original plan was to go out and do it front to back and that would be just so much fun to do. We were still hoping to go out and do it this year but things are not looking so hot for it either so we thought we'd just go ahead and put out that box set.
antiMusic: It's one thing for a new band to release a debut record and have some moderate success but quite another for it to yield what is it...four hit singles and go 7 x platinum. Did you have the confidence that the record had legs and was more than just one lucky hit single or were you just wishin', hoping and dreaming until it really took off?
Brad: We were praying that it would do well and we wanted it so bad. If you had told me that it would go gold.....I mean, I had always just heard during those first days...I don't if it was true or people were just being encouraging...that it's hard to go gold. They said that was the hardest part. Then the record came out and it had its moments of not being sure in the beginning.....but I NEVER dreamed of anything like this. The scale of that record... I never dreamed that it would be anything like that.
I remember a few years before that, the song "Sex and Candy" by Marcy Playground came out and that was a big song. I said, "It would be awesome if "Kryptonite" would be as big as "Sex and Candy". To have a song that big, that would be just awesome." And "Kryptonite" came out and it was a big song." (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) It certainly was. What are some of your favorite memories of either seeing the songs come together or actually recording your very first major label record?
Brad: Before we recorded those songs on The Better Life, some of them had been on a demo which actually resulted in us being signed. We got signed from our local radio station playing our songs in Biloxi, Mississippi from that demo. And the first song was "Kryptonite" and the song didn't really change from one version to the other.
I guess my memories start in the recording of those songs. I remember the day we wrote "Kryptonite". I've said it a million times but I wrote in my math class in high school. I took it to band practice that day and I sang it. I was the drummer back then and I sang it and played it on the drums for Matt and said, "Do you think you could write something to that?" And me and Matt could really gel together. We knew each other our whole lives. The first time through with his guitar was what stayed and it never really changed.
But you know, we recorded The Better Life at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and going up there....everything was the first time for me. When we recorded the demo in Biloxi, it was cool but it was a small little digital studio. It was really nice....not to take anything from it. But it wasn't Ardent Studios with a huge board that goes from here to way over there, big fancy recording room all set up, all the sound-absorbing tiles on the walls and all that. I walked in and said, "I am NOT good enough to do anything in this room." (laughs)
When we got signed, I just had a set of Tama Rockstars. They weren't busted but they weren't very good. So the label said, you need a set of drums to play the on the record so we'll buy you a set no problem. Just pick the fit and we'll buy it for you. So they bought me this set of DW custom maples that were....they had drums that I'd never hit (laughs). I was never going to touch all those drums but they were all there and they looked cool (laughs), So they're in my house right now. (laughs) And I love them. They're my favorite set of drums that I've ever had. And I'm not a great drummer. I can keep a beat. My meter is good but I'm not an expert by any stretch.
That record is one of the last records recorded on tape. It was on 2" tape, reel to reel, Pro-Tools was just coming out. Toby Wright mixed the record and he mixed it on Pro-Tools. And I think doing it that way, really influenced the sound of the record, But you can't punch the drums on tape. Now you can punch in and out of a song. As long as you get a little 10-second clip of it, you can edit it in there but that wasn't how it went back then. You could punch guitars but on drums you couldn't do that. You had to play the entire song front to back and it was hard to do that without messing up. That was one of the biggest memories of doing that record...going in and all the little things that happened leading up to it.
antiMusic: You were the group's original drummer. Was it a natural transition to go to not only lead vocalist but front man as well...and did it take long to be able to command the stage the way you now can?
Brad: Oh man, it was quite the transition. I was so scared to come out behind the drums. I mean, not really scared. It was just so weird. I didn't know what to do with my hands cuz when you're behind the drums, your whole body is kind of hidden. And everything is kind of occupied. You're not nervous about anything because you're busy with your body.
But the first time I did it was in a small town and it was almost our home town because it's only 30 minutes from where we're from. And I had never even sang in front of a crowd before. I had always done it behind the drums. So at that moment I was terrified. (laughs) But it went OK, cuz I went back and saw a tape of it and thank god that was before everybody in the crowd had their phone up.
But it definitely was a transition. It took awhile to get comfortable. It was kind of strange. I used to drink a lot. I had a drinking problem and I haven't had a drink in five years. But I think it took quitting drinking to get comfortable on stage. Because part of the reason I drank a lot was that I was so nervous going out there. I was a very young man going out in front of those crowds and I was scared. So I had to have my liquid courage, you know? But I think that getting truly comfortable was after I got sober and that's only been in the last five years.
antiMusic: What were some of the early shows like when the record first came out? Who did you play with and how long was it before you moved to headlining?
Brad: Well, we had gone some opening tours in the early days but actually the only band that we ever opened for was Creed. And they took us out right off the bat. It was Creed and Sevendust....and wow!! (laughs) I've said it ever since that day. If you ever want to want to get blown off the earth and feel like you don't deserve to be on stage, go on right before Sevendust. Those guys bring it!!!!
And then Creed. Creed was always a very good band live, you know. It was an honor to be on that tour because it put us right in arenas. And at the time we were writing and maybe even making the record. Nobody knew who we were because I don't think the song was even out yet. But somebody that was supposed to be opening for Creed cancelled and they needed an opening band and we got the gig. We were literally playing bars and then a week later we were playing the Cajun Dome in Baton Rouge and that's a big arena. And oh my god, I was terrified (laughs) But it was a great show. I'm so grateful to those guys for taking us out on that tour. We really, really learned a lot.
antiMusic: Besides the remastered songs from The Better Life, tell us about some of the additional tracks you've included in the box set.
Brad: Well some of those songs were ones that were on the demo that led to us getting signed and didn't end up being on The Better Life. But we wanted people to have a chance to hear it and not just because they're great songs. We think it's just cool to hear it in retrospect, you know? Cuz a couple of them are really cool songs and it was great to revisit them. "Man In My Mind" is a really cool song but a couple of the other ones, I just didn't like them at all. But it was cool to put them out there, Well, someone else might like them, for one. But two, it's part of the experience. They're songs that we wrote and why not put them out and let people hear them?
antiMusic: Can you tell us a bit about some selected cuts from the record? First I guess is the one that you put you on the map and you're probably tired of talking about it but how did "Kryptonite" come to be? How much input did you have for that crazy video?
Brad: It was written in math class and I took it to practice and we wrote the song and like I said, we got signed through that song being played on the local radio station, We begged them for two years to play it. We didn't realize that they just can't do that. But finally they did just do that. The guy, Phinny, said, "I'm going to give the boys a chance and show what they can do." They played it once or twice on their local show that they would have once a month and ended up getting a lot of requests for it and it just took off.
And for the video, they sent us a bunch of treatments and I didn't even know what video treatments were and they told us, "Well, it's just a script for a video with a storyline." There's not usually any spoken lines, just the lyrics of the song. So we were reading through these treatments and one was by Dean Karr and he had directed a lot of the videos for Marilyn Manson..."Beautiful People", I think.
They're not my thing but were very artistic at the same time. Cuz, it was some pretty edgy imagery in those and it wasn't the kind of thing that we were going for but the treatment for "Kryptonite" just grabbed it and it ended up so perfect for that song. I think that the video actually led to the success of that song as well. Because a lot of people say, "Man, that's the weirdest video I've ever seen." And I say, "Yeah, but you remember it, you know?" (laughs) And that's what it's all about at the end of the day...it sticks in your mind,
I remember shooting that video, The guy who plays Superman for lack of a better name...I guess he was the green something... (laughs) He was a really nice man. He had done several things but in real life, one of his things was that he was a hypnotist, And he was trying to hypnotize me to not be nervous, cuz I was pretty nervous about it. And that scene at the start of the video where we were on the top of this sign on the building in LA...that was the first thing we shot in the video which was the first thing that I had ever shot of anything. And it was on top of this huge building in LA on the sign. I wasn't scared but it was weird, you know (laughs)
antiMusic: Tell us about my favorite track, "Duck and Run".
Brad: That song was written during our local band days. I don't remember where I wrote the lyrics to that. I think "Duck and Run" was one of those songs that I wrote the lyrics separate from when we wrote the music. I used to keep a notebook of lyrics that I would just sit and write in all the time. It would surprise me because sometimes I would have a melody for them and sometimes I wouldn't. When I didn't write the music, it was surprising how they would just fit into a random piece of music sometimes.
And that's how the lyrics of "Duck and Run" fit into the music but they just fit in so well because it's just the very thing that the lyrics are talking about, It's about just putting your nose down and heading forward. And just keeping on at it. But I love playing that song and the video for that one ended up being a pretty fun one too. It was a live video but I like going back and looking at it because it's kind of cool to see some of those first club dates, Cuz we weren't in the clubs for that long...theaters and stuff and before we were in arenas. So it's kind of cool to look back at that video in particular and see those early shows.
antiMusic: How about the title track, "The Better Life"?
Brad: That song is cool too. I would have liked "The Better Life" to be a single back then. Which is a lot of the reason why we decided to remaster it and put it out as a single now. That song deserved to be a single.
I like going onto YouTube sometimes and reading comments about some of the songs, especially when you just put them out. So we just remastered "The Better Life" and put a lyric video out about it. That seems to be what everybody likes now, is lyric videos.
People are pretty good about all of our songs but haters will always be like the first two or three comments. Now, this song was remastered but it's literally the title track off our first record. And one of the first comments was, "This is not their original sound." (big laughs) I got a little chuckle out of that one. But I'm glad we're putting it out as a single now cuz it's just a fun song.
antiMusic: What can you tell us about "Not Enough", another of my favorites?
Brad: Well, I'm not much of a sit in the studio and write kind of guy. I write when I'm outside cutting grass or something. Back when were teenagers I used to drive a tractor and cut grass at a refinery around all the tank fields. I wrote a lot of songs sitting out on that tractor. I guess it was just the constant hum of the motor or whatever and I would just sit there and sing. And "Not Enough"...if you listen to the lyrics you can tell that it's kind of related to going to work and stuff. It's kind of a working man's rock song. And I just wrote that song riding around on a tractor in a tank field.
antiMusic: Tell us about the song "Loser" and did that instrumental part fall into place from the start or was it added later?
Brad: You know...I honestly don't remember when we put that it in. Maybe we added the instrumental part when we recorded the demo down in Biloxi because it was one of those songs that was on the demo as well. "Loser" was a song that I originally wrote about a buddy of mine that I grew up with. And I wasn't calling him a loser but when a bunch of teenagers grow up together in a little town, everybody gets into their share of stuff. We all got into a share of stuff.
He got into drugs a little more than anyone else and I could just see how his personality changed. I wasn't calling him a loser, I was just seeing how his self-reflection changed. I was writing how I thought he saw himself. Sometimes you get in a rut and I saw it later in myself when I got in a rut with addiction, you do kind of see how every person that gets close, they just seem to kind of push you further down into your hole or over your edge or however you want to compare it. So that song was just written about a friend that was seeing himself through such a negative light. Thankfully he's all good now.
antiMusic: You're in the middle of some very interesting shows that your fans should be very excited about. You played The Better Life front to back on the first show and then a greatest hits acoustic style. Did they live up to your expectations? It must have felt good to play and blow off some built-up frustration after this whole year of COVID madness?
Brad: Yeah!! Did it ever. It was so fun to play even just on a soundstage in front of some cameramen. It was a lot of fun to do those shows. I mean, it was fun to even practice for them. It was fun to go to band practice. The rest of the band live a little over an hour from me so when we're not touring or playing, I really don't see them that much since my friends live an hour away.
Our last show was Sept 7 of 2019 and I've sung by myself for a couple of corporate deals but with our band, that was the first time we've played since then. My life is pretty quiet. I live on a farm in Tennessee and when I'm home, we're pretty chill. We don't have kids but we have the horses so we're pretty quiet around here. I mean, I've got a loud mouth anyway but I try to be a little quieter cuz my wife is always saying, "Quiet down." (laughs) So when I got ready to sing I went back into my office and put some songs in and I started to sing. I said, "Man! I am NOT ready for this!" (laughs) I just had to blow it out a few nights and just keep singing.
So I was glad that I did because when I went to band practice, I could tell that I did. It was just so fun to get in there and play with those guys and it was even more fun to get on stage and play with them too....and even just to see 'em. It was so fun to do The Better Life first though. Those songs are so fresh because it's been so long since I've heard them.
And I know lyrics to so many songs...I just like lyrics and some of those songs, just even going back listening to them, I was like, "I don't remember this at all." And it was kind of cool because lyrics and songs, the way that you sing them...the elocution of each line changes over the years and sometimes I go back and listen to the songs if we haven't been touring for awhile and I'm amazed at the way they evolve over time.
Somebody told me....I don't remember who it was but they said if you ever write a hit song, you'll have to sing it for 20 years. I've always kept in my mind. And I've told other people that and also like "Hey you'd better take it easy because you're going to have to sing that live, you know?" And some people don't listen. (laughs) They don't. But if you leave yourself a little room, you'll always be able sing it. And you'll always be able to do it a little better live than you did on tape. And I've always tried to do that.
So it was cool to go back and revisit these songs without that evolution of how they've changed over the years. And it's weird without having played them and having had them evolve over the years. Now you go back and sing them and you sing them the way they were back then instead of the evolved way. It's strange.
[The final show in the series will be a full band electric greatest hits performance on March 5th. Find more details and get your tickets here -ed]
antiMusic: Having such a huge success right out of the gate is something every young band dreams of. Although, people who don't know the 24-7, 365 day life of musicians in that situation, may not know about the increased pressure and scrutiny that goes along with it. If you could do it all again and were in charge of your own destiny, would you still be comfortable with having such a monster record at that point in your career?
Brad: I would have liked to have had it at the point in my career but it wouldn't have hurt anything for me to be about five years older. I thank God that I'm from a really good family and I have really good brothers and sisters and a good mom and daddy. I'm the youngest of seven kids and I'm still just the little brother. I'm not anybody but that.
I think when you look at some of these horror stories in the music business, so many times the most toxic people around people that have tragic endings were family. And I'm so thankful that I've had such a good family that always cared about me and I knew loved me and still love me. Because that was a lot to hand a 21 year-old.
antiMusic: To close, can we expect some new material in the near future?
Brad: I hope it's the near future but you can absolutely expect some new songs in the future because of this time off. It's like I was saying earlier, I don't really do well at writing in the studios. When I've been playing a bunch, I don't really want to write, I guess I don't have that big of a cup and it's easy for it to get empty. I know it sounds crazy but when I've been touring a lot, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a song.
But being here so much and like I say, I live on a farm and I've been busy all year long. I've had to keep my phone in my pocket because I keep coming up with little ideas all over the place. So I just pull out my phone and record them. The hardest part of writing a song for me is the initial kind of idea. So I bet I've recorded 75 of those little ideas this year and we're supposed to get together later this year and put them together.
Morley and antiMusic thank Brad for taking the time to do this interview.
Preview and purchase the 20th anniversary edition of The Better Life here
Buy tickets to the full electric greatest hits show - March 5th here
Visit the official website here