Brad Arnold’s ‘Backstage Pass to Life': From 3 Doors Down’s ‘The Better Life’ to ‘Wicked Man’
2020 may be a down year for many musicians amid the pandemic, but there are two significant milestones happening for 3 Doors Down's Brad Arnold this year. It's the 20th anniversary of his band's debut album The Better Life and Arnold just branched out with his first solo single, "Wicked Man."
It's been a highly successful two decades for the singer, who is just as joyful and passionate about the journey he's undertaking now with his solo music as he seemed when he was a 21-year-old emerging rock star with 3 Doors Down when "Kryptonite" just hit the airwaves.
We recently had a chance to speak with Brad Arnold about his new solo song "Wicked Man," which takes a darker tone exploring how the world's events unravel in today's culture. He also shares how his writing process often comes together, what's inspiring him as he continues to work on new music and offers some insight on the artwork for the "Wicked Man" single.
Arnold also takes us back to the year 2000, reflecting on the ride that came with The Better Life album, his thoughts on how "Kryptonite" has evolved through the years and why "Loser" was the "deal maker" that really paved the path for their career. Check out the chat below.
How much of what you’ve seen this past year has influenced what we’re hearing on “Wicked Man”?
Everything, man. It just seems like there’s so many things going on in the world and there’s just so many things when you look around on social media. It really doesn’t take that long before you see that there just has to be more than we’re seeing on the surface. There has to be people behind the scenes that are orchestrating these events and making things happen.
I’ve been reading different books and doing more research to start with, and I’m realizing that some of the powers that be in this world do not have the greater good of the people in mind. That’s just what the song is talking about.
I thought you had some very cool artwork to go along with this. Who did that for you and what was your thought on the artistic representation for this song?
My buddy Jimmy Compton did that artwork for me. Jimmy and I have been friends for probably 10 years and he’s ex-military. Jimmy and I met when he was coming home from serving overseas in the Middle East and being deployed over there and we were on our way home from Europe doing a European tour. We met in London’s Heathrow Airport in a bar and had a couple of drinks together and just kind of became friends. We’ve been friends ever since. Jimmy does a lot of artistic things. He does a lot of leatherwork.
So when it came time, I had an idea of what I wanted in my head for it. I just explained it to Jimmy a little bit and that’s what he drew. We didn’t touch it. He literally just drew it. He said imagine your hand holding a ball and tell me what you want it to look like, and I said a peach. He drew it from that and came back and I was like, “Dude, that’s perfect.”
But we just wanted it to represent the hands of a businessman who has his hands around the world. On one side you have the oil and on the other side you have the blood. It kind of makes you think about how much blood has been spilt over that much oil and for all kinds of gains for very few people. There are those who make their gains off the sacrifice of so many.
Brad Arnold, "Wicked Man"
You’ve been so engrained with 3 Doors Down, with so many songs people know by heart. What made now the right time to release some solo music and was there any trepidation about doing so?
You know, there really wasn’t any. I didn’t do this project expecting anything. I did it honestly because I had the song in my heart. That’s the most honest reason there is to make a song. Greg [Upchurch] had written the music for that song months ago and he sent it to me and it was different. Greg is our drummer. He and I see music, and he’s a way better musician than you and me, but nonetheless, he and I see music in a very similar way. We speak the same language on it, and when he sent me the guitar part, I could kind of feel a vibe to it. I just wish it was like that every time where a word will kind of happen and then things just snowball. But I think on those lyrics, I spent maybe a third of a night in the shower singing that, little tidbits of it and coming up with pieces of it that work together.
I know everybody’s like that. I was telling one of my buddies the other day and he was asking about writing it, and I was like, “Usually when I write, it’s like a month of standing in the shower singing.” We have a tile shower and it just sounds like a big room when you’re in there singing, but I just get ideas in there.
But I wish they’d all flow out like that. You get to the end with all these little tidbits and there’s always a few spots that you just don’t have a lyric for. When they finally work together and you’ve got it complete, you’re like, “Yes, there it is.” But sometimes you just have to fine tune the idea, and that’s what happened with that one.
It’s a fun way to make a song. That’s not always how they work, but just going in with this project on vacation, I just wanted to do it so I don’t go mad sitting on my farm. It’s either make a song or cut a tree. What do you want to do today? (laughs)
Greg Upchurch worked with you on that song, but I thought I’d ask if you might be working with any other guests or bandmates on some of your other solo ideas?
Well, Greg came out here and wrote with me the last couple of weeks. We just worked on some different ideas. That’s another thing about the solo thing is that it gives me a chance to do some things that I have in my head and have in my heart that aren’t necessarily 3 Doors Down songs.
It’s interesting for it to be a solo thing because nobody expects me to be a certain genre. Some of the songs I have in my head, maybe they lean a little more love songy. Some may be a little more country. Others may be a little more rock.
I’ve always had a problem, but we’ve kind of just got back to where we call it rock music again. But in the early 2000s, people would be like, “What kind of band are y’all?” and we’d say, “We’re a rock band,” and then they’d say, “Well what KIND of rock band are you? Are you alternative or are you ….” I didn’t know there was anything but rock. Thankfully we’re kind of getting back to that but I guess we are broadening our spectrum out a little bit. But most of it, we’ll just put it under the rock category. But this definitely took down some borders for me and let me experiment with some stuff. I’m looking forward to doing that more.
You mentioned earlier being at the farm and having time on your hands. As you’re working on new music, what’s inspiring you these days? Have you been reading more? Paying closer attention to world events?
Actually all of those things. I have been reading more and following world events a lot. But I’m getting more careful of how I look at them. I like to look at them more practically. I can’t even watch the news. It’s hard to call it anything but right wing and left wing propaganda one way or the other. We got a new streaming thing the other day that has your local news on it and it’s actually just old school where it just tells you the entire news cycle for the whole day in about 13 minutes. So I like to watch that version of the news, and I’ve gotten way more into reading.
I’m reading a book right now by a Christian author John Kennedy Vaughan, and it’s called “The Right Fight: How to Live a Loving Life.” It’s such an interesting book because we’re so confused about love. What we think of as love, it’s the feeling of love but not the action of love. It’s interesting to be learning about things like that, but at the same time be reading a book about what shapes our minds. That’s two different things you’re reading at the same time, but they work pretty synchronized. It’s two different ends of the stick that we live on.
I think maybe the main thing that I’ve been doing during this time at home is rather than try to fill my days up with stuff, just letting a few things fill up my day and enjoy those few things. Try not to let things bother me so bad and hell, maybe I’ll even mature a little bit. (laughs)
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of The Better Life album. We talked way back when you were first starting, and I remember you just being so happy with everything that was happening and enjoying the ride. But I wanted to get your recollections of that first album cycle and things that stand out to you from that time.
That seems like 200 years ago, and sometimes it seems like two weeks ago. It was all such a blur. It was like a different lifetime and we were all, well I’ll use the word “work” loosely, but we did so much back then. We were just doing everything for the first time. I’d never been out of Mississippi much. We’d never toured or anything before that [album], and that first album cycle was such a whirlwind and such a blessing.
Looking back on it, I didn’t realize how volatile every moment was. We look back and MAN, that was dangerous. (laughs) How in the world did we get out of that alive? It was SO much. It was like having a backstage pass to life. You just wind up in so many different places and situations with people that you just don’t normally find yourself in. But I’ll tell you, I’m still happy to be here and joyful to be here and a lot more thankful to be here than I was then. I thought I was thankful to be there then, now I know I am thankful to be here.
3 Doors Down, "Kryptonite"
I also wanted to hit on “Kryptonite,” which has one of the longest tenures with you as you started writing it when you were still in high school. It’s such a song that relates with a universal theme, but has the meaning changed for you over the years?
It absolutely has. Back then, I kind of had to make up a meaning for it. Now I actually have a meaning for it. I’ve always said it’s about an unconditional friendship and it was, but I’ve seen that song be personified in certain situations where people are really happy to see you do good, but maybe just not better than them. I’d never really dealt with that then, but I’ve dealt with it a lot since then. That song, it means more to me now because everybody is looking for that unconditional friend. Will you be there for me if I’m down or will you be there for me if I’m up? People will come around all the time, but if you have a couple of real friends, that’s a real blessing. If you have a couple of real friends in your life that will still call you Superman, you’re doing good.
I was doing some research and I came across the fact that “Loser” at the time had spent the most weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Everyone thinks of “Kryptonite,” but that was a huge song for you as well, and what did it mean to see the success that song had for you?
In hindsight, it’s cool. But even while it was doing that, I think it was No. 1 for like six months or something like that (editor's note: 21 weeks atop Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart), but yet we were still kind of focused on “Kryptonite” being such a big song. That was so big that “Loser” didn’t get the attention, but looking back now, you realize that it was a deal maker.
Having a song as big as “Kryptonite,” that can be the kiss of death. How many bands have a song like that that ever have anything else? Because a song like that can make your career, but can also make it impossible for you to ever live up to it again. Thank god that we had “Loser,” and then “Duck and Run” and “Be Like That.” But “Duck and Run” and “Be Like That” would have never got the chance if “Loser” hadn’t done that good.
“Loser” really had to be a record breaker song to help establish us as being a band and not just a one-hit wonder. I’m very thankful for it.
3 Doors Down, "Loser"
The music that you’re working on now, is there any sort of timeline when we’ll see more or just take it as it comes? What is the plan for you at this point?
It’s really, absolutely just take it as it comes. I’ve thought about different things. Maybe just try to put out a song every month or so or every couple of months. I’m doing it myself, and I don’t have a record company and our management company has handled everything for me. JP, who hooked us up on the call, I’m thankful for him. JP put in all the legwork for this song, setting up all the platforms cause I didn’t have any of that stuff. But now that we’ve done the legwork, I might have some more that are pretty cool, too.
I’ve got a good couple of songs that I really would like people to hear and they’re not all controversial or deep and dark like this one. There’s one that’s just a love song, a sweet song and I’d really like people to hear it, and a couple more at this point. Now that I’ve got this all set up, I can record one and put it up in a week.
Everybody wants their song to do good, but I don’t want a song to do good just for the money of it. I just want people to hear it. We’ve had more hits than we can play in a show just about and now I can honestly say I can make these songs because I honestly just want to make these songs. I just want to make songs where somebody hears it and goes, “Yeah, man.” That’s what it’s all about and I’m glad I can say that’s the only reason I’m doing it.
It’s a lot more fun right now as there’s not any pressure on this. It’s not so business-y. But at the same time, if you have a really good song, you can play it at a 3 Doors Down show. (laughs)
Thanks to Brad Arnold for the interview. His new single "Wicked Man" can be found via the platform of your choosing here. Also, 3 Doors Down's breakout album, 'The Better Life,' can be purchased here.
The 30 Best Rock Albums of 2000