‘Planet Zero’: Shinedown Bassist Eric Bass Discusses The Making of Band’s Monstrous New Album

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

Over the last two decades, the members of Shinedown have cemented themselves as one of the most vital and forward-thinking bands in modern rock. Their monstrous new album, Planet Zero, continues that trend by taking a critical and optimistic look at the fragility of society in a viscerally charged era.

Produced by bassist Eric Bass, who also produced the band’s acclaimed 2018 album Attention Attention, Planet Zero matches Shinedown’s immersive takedown of authoritarianism with a deliberately infectious and unapologetic sound. And while ferocity fuels much of the tracks found on Planet Zero, like “The Saints of Violence and Innuendo,” there are also pure moments of hope and triumph found in songs like “Daylight” and “A Symptom of Being Human.”

Shinedown is: Brent Smith (lead vocals), Barry Kerch (drums), Zach Myers (guitars/vocals), and Eric Bass (bass/vocals).

I recently spoke with Shinedown bassist Eric Bass about the songwriting and production process behind Planet Zero and more in this exclusive new interview.

How does Planet Zero compare to some of Shinedown’s previous work? Is there a way you can put into words what this new music is all about?

Eric Bass: Traditionally, Shinedown has steered away from a lot of the social commentary we’ve seen going on in the world. We stepped out on a ledge with some of the subject matter on this record and gave our view of some of the things we’ve seen going on that we didn’t agree with. But it’s important to understand that this isn’t a record about right or left. It’s a human record that’s written for the world. There’s a lot of strength, hope, angst, and beauty on this record. We want to use it as a vehicle to help people get through these unique times.

What’s the band’s songwriting process like?

Bass: Every song is different but generally we’ll usually start with a melody over an acoustic guitar or piano. Then we’ll start singing phonetic words just to get a melody and the lyrics will come later. Other times one of us will have a line we think will make for a great hook and that becomes the starting point. If you can come with a really strong and undeniable melody, the lyrics will usually present themselves and tell you what they need to be.

Let’s discuss a few songs on the new album, starting with the title track.

Bass: “Planet Zero” was one of the first songs we wrote. I remember when we were trying to build that track the George Floyd riots were going on. Just listening to the commentary from the news media about what was going on and the intolerance for anyone else’s opinion other than your own was palpable. I started calling America Planet Zero, because we have zero sense, zero tolerance, and zero space for anyone else’s opinion or ideology. That song is about cancel culture and shutting down each other’s viewpoints, and how if we don’t start listening to each other it’s going to lead us into a really dark place.

“Daylight.”

Bass: That’s a song that Brent, myself, Zach and Dave Bassett wrote. Dave produced most of our records and is a very talented guy. We won’t go a record cycle without writing with him. Being around Dave always ignites something new. Most Shinedown songs always have a chorus that’s a release and explosion. For this one we thought, what if we slowed the chorus down. It’s one of the hopeful moments on the record about the person who’s gotten you through times that were difficult in your life. These are the people who keep you alive when all seems lost and dark.

“A Symptom of Being Human.”

Bass: We wanted to write something that was for everyone. A shared experience everyone was having. I love the chorus of the song and how it asks the question to the listener — I’m experiencing these things, how about you? It’s such a uniting feeling and all part of being human. There’s a lot of anger on this record, but there are also moments of real humanity. That song is one of those moments.

“The Saints of Violence and Innuendo.”

Bass: That’s our big tech song. It’s about censoring certain voices to drive a narrative and approving certain speech and violence of one behavior but not approving it of other behavior. That’s one thing that raised it hand a lot during the past three years. How dangerous it is to have political figures that rely on and use big tech to censor certain voices. I’m not saying I agree with all of it personally, but in my eyes the First Amendment is there for a reason so that everyone can have a voice and opinion. Even the opinions I disagree with or something that triggers me. It’s easy to say that people should be silenced or that their opinion is invalid. Big tech and social media companies have weaponized that and what happens is you end up with a one-sided narrative. You’ll always have to hear things you don’t like but in the long run it does everyone good to listen to things you might not agree with rather than be protected from things under the auspices of it being for your own good.

What was the recording process like?

Bass: The Shinedown recording process is very much about capturing the moment. Vocally, about 85% of what you end up with comes from the demo. For us, there’s a certain fire and energy and excitement that comes from a demo performance, so we swing for the fences to really hear what the song is going to be.

What excites the most about the new album and this next phase of the band’s career? What are you looking forward to the most about the future?

Bass: I still remember when we stepped off the stage at the O2 Arena in London in December of 2019 and said the same thing we always say — “It’s not goodbye, it’s until next time. We’ll see you in 2020.” Then we didn’t see anyone for two years and there was a lot of uncertainty. I’m looking forward to being able to be out on stage again in the way that we’re used to. I’m also looking forward to people listening to Planet Zero and loving it as much as we do.

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