Let me introduce you to a man who got a second lease on life. This man had a heroin overdose in 2000, an event many attribute as the beginning of this second life you’re going to read about. While it may sound different now, the band he was fronting, Full Devil Jacket, was on tour with the world’s then-most famous band, Creed. Full Devil Jacket was heir to the radio rock / nu-metal throne, a combination of Korn-influenced bass-driven verses and Alice in Chains-style rock with heavier tunings and riffs. In the same year the band released their debut album, they had already played the reincarnation of Woodstock in 1999 and had licensed one of their songs to a major film franchise.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. The up-and-comers were derailed and nearly put to a permanent, abrupt ending as the band watched their vocalist and major songwriter, Josh Brown, teeter over the edge of rock and roll under the excessive lifestyle, nearly taking his own life after a lust for his weakness. This was the beginning of his second lot on life.
After the overdose, he couldn’t bear the weight he was beginning to carry. Through recovery and rehabilitation, he cleaned up and found God, but he was a nervous wreck of conflicting, snowballing emotions about returning to a life that nearly killed him, fronting a band whose lyrics he wrote, but now a man he no longer knew. He was a new believer, dedicated to Christianity, with the option of pursuing an unknown musical future in the faith-based arena, but had no idea how it would go over. He’s brutally honest, musically, but his heart kept pulling him away. After that one Full Devil Jacket album, Brown decided to leave the band. When he left, one of the other three remaining members, Michael Reaves, also left. For all intents and purposes, that’s how Full Devil Jacket’s story ended.
Brown went on to form the overtly-Christian rock band Day of Fire, which was immensely successful, even being nominated for a Grammy. Their self-titled debut won Rock Album of the Year at the faith-based Dove Awards, the genre’s equivalent of the Grammy. Brown co-wrote a song with Chris Daughtry of American Idol fame. He was featured on Fireflight’s first single. One of their singles was the theme song for a WWE program.
But something out there was lingering, and Day of Fire instated a self-proclaimed indefinite leave of absence around 2010, about the same time Brown and his old bandmates learned Michael Reaves, Full Devil Jacket’s guitarist, had prostate cancer. In what was to be a one-time reunion show, the band played a set on June 19, 2010 in Jackson, TN to benefit the James Michael Reaves Medical Expense Fund. A little over a year later, Reaves would lose his battle with cancer.
Brown would never give up the musical itch, playing in other bands, tip-toeing around the entire Full Devil Jacket roster. One day in early 2015, any rumors proved true: the band announced a new album, Valley of Bones, would be on the way. Full Devil Jacket was now a priority.
HM had the chance to speak with Brown about this shift in direction and, most intriguingly, why now? Why dust off the songbook after 12 years apart? We find out as the man whose second lease on life is slowly turning into nine lives of good, honest, hard work.
Hey Josh, this is David Stagg with HM Magazine. I’m the new guy.
Awesome, man! How’s (former owner) Doug (Van Pelt)? Are you running things now?
Yeah. It’s an interesting story if you want to hear it. I will keep it relatively short.
Yeah, go ahead.
He was looking for somebody to take it over, and I had interned there, like, ten years ago. When he asked recently, I was in a good position and had the time on my hands to do something with it, and, most importantly, I had a little bit of experience.
Doug is still very much involved and still a good friend of mine. He still remains a good friend of the whole magazine.
Yeah. After all, he had put his time in. Really gives new life and new energy to the whole thing, switching jobs. What a great job he did, though.
He was pioneering the genre before a lot of people thought it would be possible. I think a lot of people will remember him for that. If that’s how I would have to go down, I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start.
No doubt about it. I agree. I have to say, it looks great now, too. I’ve been reading about the recent issues, and it looks great dude. Good work.
Thank you so much. We appreciate it. Good work to you, too, though! You’re finally getting back out there, releasing some new music. It’s been a reunion of sorts, right? By my notes here, you were doing Day of Fire. Is that still correct? Now you’re starting back in with the Full Devil Jacket project after 12 years off and here we are. What happened? What were you doing in the off season, man?
There’s this record called A New Rebel, which is Jason Null from Saving Abel and the rest of the guys from Full Devil Jacket. I did that between Day of Fire and this Full Devil Jacket record. That record is the best record I’ve ever done that no one’s ever heard. Skidd Mills produced it, and it’s a powerful group of songs. I suggest you check that out. On top of that, they are a group of songs men. Pretty special.
What was the inspiration behind those songs, and how did that project come about? Was it always intended to be just the one release?
You always have your dreams. You always want to do something like that. The industry can dictate otherwise. That’s what happened with that record.
I’m kind of taking that, since Full Devil Jacket, a little bit of heat. That decorative songs don’t get heard, and we make any more music.
The inspiration is always the same, man. I write from my own world view. There are so many things happening in the world, so many things worth writing about. It’s much like it was in the ’60s. There was this rock and roll revolution going on. I feel like there’s a strong regimen of people using rock and roll the same way today, you know what I’m saying? So the purpose for me, for writing this Full Devil Jacket record, was to sing about some topics worth singing about. Singing about anything and any topic, and not be afraid to put some opinions out there. I have a feeling there’s a good grip of truth in this record that maybe hasn’t been put out before. I’m always pushing for that now. I want to be able to be on the edge with my writing. I feel like I go out there a couple of times with this record, you know?
“I don’t know why I’ve been given the life I’ve been given, but I’m thankful for it. I’m very thankful people want to hear my music. I’m very thankful people continue to give me second chances. I’m on my like four millionth second chance.”
For sure. What does it take to get you there? What are you seeing in your world view right now? People are as creative as ever. They’re all trying to find their voice and now they can do it very publicly, which was different before.
Number one is that I am 38-years old, and I have a good sense of what I believe now. I have a real sense of who I am and being brutally honest through music is what keeps me on the edge.
You know, unfortunately, I have got a very addictive personality and struggle with addiction still, and the writing of this record, you know, man… I dove right back into drug addiction, and that is one way I was on the edge. It’s not something I’m proud of. You, know I feel like when I write it needs to be brutally honest. That’s what defines me as a songwriter. When I look at world events and everything that is happening all over the world, those things inspire me, man. I want to sing about topics and concepts and ideas that move me.
I have to look at everything in layers, all the time. If somebody shows me a picture, I will try to figure out the essence of every layer of that picture, if you understand. I realize analyzing every edge, every word and every scene of every movie I ever saw or every book I ever read is impossible. When you break the world down that way and become aware you’re doing it, the strain of events that seem to have connected, is connected to a big story line going on. Behind the story line is never presented and you lose a lot between the cracks between then and now.
“It is wicked men that control the system that would have us believe we’re only worth the zeros and ones inside a bank.”
The thing is there’s not a lot of bands that really sing to me. Maybe there are, but lately I don’t hear a lot out there as challenging.
You mentioned you have an addictive personality. I’m also an alcoholic and I also feel like I’ve been given a second chance. You have a lot of second chances in your life. Do you view music as the outlet that keeps you from messing up again, or do you view it more as an overflow of what is in your heart? Or are they different?
You know, it’s weird, man. I mean, the music scene is and can be a trigger to do drugs and to drink. But I don’t see it that way. I would say, more than anything, I write what’s in my heart because what I’m able to do when I do sit down to write is I’m able to access my past, to be genuine.
I’m not saying I’m always genuine in my life. I try to. To be a great singer and songwriter and performer, I feel like a person has to show vulnerability. That doesn’t necessarily mean being weak. That means putting your heart out there in such a way that if someone wanted to use it against you they could, but having enough character or will to put it out there anyway. This record right here, this Full Devil Jacket record, probably comes from one of the darkest places I’ve ever been in my life.
At the same time, it’s probably the most scripturally-truthful record I have ever done. Those two things are things that can be twisted. People don’t return to truth, or return to God, or repent, or start walking a righteous path because everything is great. Most of the time, it’s when things get dark and heavy and they decide to turn to writing.
You know that I’ve got a lot of struggle in my life. I’ve got a lot of failures, but there’s also victory in my life. I don’t know how, or why I’m necessarily… I don’t know why I’ve been given the life I’ve been given, but I’m thankful for it. I’m very thankful people want to hear my music. I’m very thankful people continue to give me second chances. I’m on my like four millionth second chance.
You’re a whole slew of cat lives. Not just one cat. You’re a litter.
(Laughs) I’m a litter of cats.
(Laughs) Exactly. When you say you were in the dark, like you went into this dark period to write this album, were you revisiting dark periods, or had you entered into a new depression?
I was going through the break-up of a 12-year marriage, and I was away from my kids. I felt like if I pushed it as far as I could go creatively, I felt like I would have had the chance at taking care of my family again through music, through creativity, through arts. Even though I don’t feel I’m a master artist or a master songwriter, a master in any of that stuff. I felt like I knew what genuine art is and where it comes from. I felt in my heart, if I could follow that, I can create a new life for the people I love. It was a journey of faith. I had to go through a lot of self-doubt. When that relationship came to an end, a guy like me is, a lot of times, looking for a reason to jump off the deep end. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s my personality. It’s a flaw in my personality.
To write a record that deals with life and death and eternity and the world that’s going on around us and who we are inside that world, you have to get to a place of desperation.
I tell young musicians this all the time. If your music is not something you’re willing to put your life on — willing to put your life, the life of your loved ones on — it’s not worth putting it out. If you put out good music for the sake of making okay songs, then you’ve missed the point to me. It’s got to be something real, it’s got to be something that can change your life.
I don’t believe I hit the mark every time, but I believe this record has some good songs on it, and I believe it comes from a real place. People connect with it.
Are there any stories you have about any of the songs that were particularly poignant, either struck you as particularly difficult to write?
Yeah. I’d say there were. I could say that about every song on the record. The first song, “Killers,” is about addiction to opiates. It’s like, this is life, in that song. Writing it was is so truthful, I almost didn’t write it. A good friend of mine, Rogers (Masson), once told me that the greatest songs, the greatest lyrics, are the lyrics you’re almost afraid to tell your best friend. It’s like when you’ve got something that real, that’s what makes a great song. There are many points on this record those ideas and concepts are going on.
I will tell you, man, it is crazy chasing fame. I don’t have any desire to be famous.
There’s a song called “Picturebox Voodoo” on the record. It’s a commentary of the state of the world we live in, and that song has got a lot of truth in it.
Whenever you have got an idea or concept in your head or a word or a picture in your head and you are able to transfer that scene in your mind into a song, the listener is able to see that scene in their own brain, and that always feels like magic to me. It always feels like magic.
When I am in the writing process, I am always looking for that magic. Are you still on the phone?
(Laughs) Yeah, I am listening to you, man. It is great. Go ahead.
I thought my phone cut out.
No. I mean, I fell asleep there for a little bit, but other than that I am good.
(Laughs) Right on.
A lot of our readers are age 17 to 28, that range. I think they see and almost expect immediate fame, and they don’t think sometimes you have to go through the things that you have to go through for what you love. The digital quickness of it all has led people to a sense of entitlement.
Right. I will tell you, man, it is crazy chasing fame. I don’t have any desire to be famous. I don’t walk around my world telling everybody I got a record nominated. I don’t feel a sense of entitlement at all. I am happy that way. When you feel like you are entitled to everything, you are always disappointed.
The world works exactly the opposite way. Even if you are entitled to something, you have got to fight to get it. You got to get in. It is kind of the concept of the world we live in.
I feel like this Earth is big enough for everyone on it. I feel like this Earth was created for the people on the Earth. Yet, there is this power structure in place between zeros and ones in computers and green pieces of paper in our wallets that tell us how much of that Earth we’re entitled to.
I believe we’re all supposed to have a piece of it. It is wicked men that control the system that would have us believe we’re only worth the zeros and ones inside a banking system or…
The digital stream revenue from your Spotify plays.
(Laughs) Exactly, no doubt about it. You know what I am talking about.
Just a minute ago you were talking about magic. I wanted to ask you about that before we moved on there. When you were writing this record, when did you know it was time to stop? Do you have that moment of magic? Do you just go, “I have said what I need to say”?
Yes. Because — let’s see, how can I tell you? Singers are insecure egomaniacs (laughs). Because of that, I will second guess a song to death. It is not necessarily what I have said in a song, but the production of that song and the mix and this and that. The moment I write a great hook, right after that hook is written, I question myself about whether it was really good from that point on — until enough people respond to it in a positive way.
Then I knew it was good the whole time.
Yeah, you wrote it. You’re like, I was there. I knew.
Yeah, exactly. That is why I completed the song in the first place. It is the insecurity and the second guessing that can drive you crazy.
Do you have a guy in the band or a producer or somebody that just hits you in the arm and goes, “Dude, it is good. Let’s move on.”
Yeah. Justin Rimer, our producer, did a fantastic job of helping us hone these songs and in the production of these songs. My band, the guys in Full Devil Jacket, they are my greatest supporters and they have a strong belief in my creative flow. If I play for those guys and they get excited about it, I know it is good. So then I need an outside source. I need someone from the outside looking in to help me mold those ideas.
When we did this record, you had a bunch of guys that hadn’t been together. There are quite a few new people on the lineup. A lot of us hadn’t played together that much before this record. Justin did a great job of kind of gluing the whole project together.
You think going through that process formed you all and got you ready to get back out on the road? Is that where you guys are at right now?
No doubt. The guys that are in the band, all of us are way more mature than we have ever been. This is the greatest opportunity I have ever had in music, not just because of our deal with eOne, even though that is such a blessing as it is. It is really about where I am at in my own life and the way I can seize this opportunity. I have never been in this place before, and it is good. It is a good thing.
Full Devil Jacket was posted on April 20, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.