The Exorcism of Papa Roach

Vocalist Jacoby Shaddix shares an intimate portrait of his life as an addict and how he fearlessly rebounded to write one of the most genuine albums of his life. And he did it all sober.

Photo by Travis Shinn

In October last year, I was on assignment, staying with my close friend in Los Angeles.

I was there to talk with the members of Korn and stick around for the taping of their episode of Guitar Center Sessions. The band was trickling in throughout the day, but the man they call Fieldy was there a little early, and out of the blue he pulled me aside when we were snacking on crackers and cheese. “You need to talk to Jacoby,” he told me. He knew I was here to interview his band about the man they call Head’s rebirth and he was there, thinking about Papa Roach’s vocalist. “He’s worth covering.” He had a look to his aged eyes, like a magician who knows how the trick is done and he knows I’m going to find out soon, too.

It would be over a year before that time came, and now, on the eve of the band’s eighth studio release, the man Fieldy referenced, Jacoby Shaddix, is about to release his first album sober. I spoke to him before Christmas, and he was as carefree and happy a person you could talk to. He spoke almost like he used sing, his voice equal parts the cadence and flippancy of a hip-hop poet. I appreciated most that self-awareness isn’t an issue for him. He knows you could make fun of “Last Resort,” but he also knows — rightly — that pretty much every single person on the planet knows the song. And that counts for more, because to him, that’s the essence of heart. A congregation to share in the battles he’s fought publicly in his songs, his heart on display, and — in his own thoughts — would this be the last album they make?

Before he could get there in his head, he hardened his heart. He drank it dry and cracked until his brother, the only one who had the guts to face him that day his studio, on his home turf, told him he was done. His kin told him he was a has-been, a drunk, destined for a failed career.

It would turn things around for him. Now, talking to him, the tenor in his voice vibrates with new freedom. He is now sober and, instead of regrets to repair or forget, has actual goals and fulfillment for 2015. He talks with me here about them, the gravity of his band’s upcoming release, his private fight with a very relevant addiction and making sure he’s got a cell phone to make the rest of his interviews.

How are you?
I’m good, man. Just living a tech free life dude.

Seriously? How do you get away with that?
I broke my phone and haven’t got a new one yet.

Oh, so it’s not a self-imposed thing?
No. I definitely could have bought a phone last week. I just haven’t bought one.

It feels a little nice not to be at everybody’s beckon call every second.
It was nice for a week, but now I’m like, I keep missing all my interviews (laughs).

A lot of bands seem to be doing the Ten-Year thing, but it’s almost 20 years for you and Papa Roach. Do you feel like there’s more than one generation of Papa Roach fan out there every time that you go on stage?
Oh, yeah. Most definitely. At this point, being out there on tour, there are two generations feeling Papa Roach. It’s cool to see the younger kids at the rock show. The people that started with us, back in the late ’90s, they’re drinking beer in the back of the venue; the young kids are up front in the mosh pit.

That’s the cool thing about some of our music. It’s been referenced as timeless. We have elements of our band we would hope remain timeless. That track “Last Resort” comes on the radio and still lights up the speaker, you know what I’m saying?

That’s very important to us, to have that young fanbase gravitating towards the music we make.

How does the band’s history split up in your head? And with the younger kids, where does it split up for you? How do you get them on board, especially if they went back and checked out any of your older stuff?
It makes for a good show. You know what I’m saying? When we’re playing the old school classics and the young kids are hearing these things live for the first time, they get jacked on it.

That’s the cool thing about some of our music. It’s been referenced as timeless. We have elements of our band we would hope remain timeless. That track “Last Resort” comes on the radio and still lights up the speaker, you know what I’m saying? Every time we play it live, it ignites the audience.

That live performance is the proving ground for bands that strive to have a career, that strive to have a legacy in rock and roll. It’s shaping up to be like that for us, but it’s come with a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.

But not a lot of people want to do the blood, sweat and tears stuff. How do you identify with the different generations and the bands that have come in and have dropped off along the way?
Sometimes people look at being in a rock band as something you do after high school or after college for a couple years. You go sow your wild oats, and you get to say, “I was in a band.”

Oh, man. I got lost in my addictions. Lost in the whole way of the sex, drugs, rock and roll lifestyle, the whole everything. I thought it was going to be a great time. It was for a bit, but then it bit me in the fking ass and broke me down.

No. That’s not how I look at it. I look at it as we want to have an effect on people from generation to generation with our music. We want to move people with our music. We want to inspire people with our music. We want to lift people up with our music. This isn’t about, “Check me out. I’m the next hip thing.” It’s about this career, this purpose for the music that we write.

What do you define that purpose as, not only for you, but also for the band as a whole?
I think it’s digging myself out of a deep, dark hole is what it’s doing.

I’m familiar with deep, dark holes. Where were you?
Probably a little bit left of where you were. Maybe a little bit deeper. Oh, man. I got lost in my addictions. Lost in the whole way of the sex, drugs, rock and roll lifestyle, the whole everything. I thought it was going to be a great time. It was for a bit, but then it bit me in the fking ass and broke me down.

Some of the things I went through as a young kid, I carried them with me into my adult years. I’m a selfish, self-seeking, fking asshole trying to do the right thing when there are so many temptations in the world.

Me, too.
So many things that you think are going to be fulfilling really just suck you dry.

Let’s talk about that, if you don’t mind, because the name of your album is F.E.A.R. Do you still get scared? Do you still find yourself facing fears?
Oh yeah, most definitely. It’s like, here we are at the bottom of another mountain in our career as a rock band. We’re going to go out and release a record in a climate where rock music isn’t the biggest thing anymore. How do we cut through and make an impact on people with our music? Could this be our last record?

You never know what the future holds. I’ve just got to walk in faith and maintain the passion and the vision for the music. I feel like we’re doing the right thing in writing the songs we write. You don’t know if you’re going to be accepted or embraced. That’s a natural fear, for an artist or a writer.

You put yourself out there. For sure.
Yeah. I’m going to go back out on the road this next record cycle. Last time I had a dude who was working on my road crew that was clean and sober. We supported each other out on the road. Now, I’m going out on the road without a sober homie. I’m like, “Fk, am I going to get caught up in that sh-t again out there? I hope not.”

It’s hard. It’s really hard.
That’s a healthy fear for me to have, because I don’t want to go touch that flame and get burnt right now. I really don’t.

We’re going to go out and release a record in a climate where rock music isn’t the biggest thing anymore. How do we cut through and make an impact on people with our music? Could this be our last record?

Do you mean to imply that you’re sober now? Did you give up drinking?
Yeah. Almost three years.

Oh, yeah? Congratulations. I’m almost to two years. It’s a bizarre world for us, isn’t it? You wake up every day, and you don’t have a hangover.
It’s so great.

For people reading this that struggle with the same types of addiction, how would you reach out to them? Let’s say they came up to you after a show and they asked you, “What got you through today?” What would you tell them?
For me, I would say being open and honest to the people you love about how you’re hurting or about the pain you’re going through. It’s about being willing to be teachable. It’s about coming to the conclusion that maybe your way isn’t always the right way and being open for change. For me, that really opened a whole new way of thinking for me, which ultimately got me spiritual.

When you were there in your darkest hours and were thinking about changing your lifestyle, was there a moment that pushed you over the edge? “OK. This is it. I need to go get help now, because if I don’t, tomorrow I’m going to die.”
Everybody around me was telling me, “Yo dude, you all right?” Checking in. “You good, man?” It wasn’t until I was at my rock bottom and my younger brother came to my recording studio and was like, “I don’t even fking look up to you anymore. Who the fk are you?” He was like, “I used to look up to you. I used to fking think you were cool. Now you’re just a fking drunk. What the fk’s wrong with you?”

That’s heartbreaking.
Yeah, but that’s the moment I needed, man. I thank my brother every day. To this day. I throw a little prayer out: “Thank you Bryson for shooting straight with me, because I needed somebody to tell me to get the fk up and get my sh-t together.”

It seems like that’s what it takes, doesn’t it? It took my wife saying, “I’m going to leave you.” Then I got it. Tell me a little bit about how you recovered. Once you came out of that on the other side, what was rebuilding your life like? How did that reflect in your music? I have to imagine that a lot of that is part of your new record.
After I cleaned up, about three weeks after that — three weeks clean — my wife kicked me out of the house. I had to go get my sh-t right by myself. It was a series of bottoms, but that was the wake up call. I know my purpose isn’t to be creating the same environment that I grew up in for my own children.

Fk, dude, everything I didn’t want to become, I was starting to become. “I don’t want to be like my father.” Then I end up being this fked up dude. Not available, just fked up — but I switched up my bottoms. Got light, got right with God. God has done miraculous things in my heart and in my family. I received help. Not without hard work and me cleaning house on some of the real emotional sh-t, but coupled with some spirituality, dude, and I’m in a much better place.

For those who aren’t in AA or anything like that, they teach finding the god as you have come to know him, that type of thing, even if it’s not the conventional God that people think of, but a bloodline that keeps you putting your left foot in front of your right. How was that reflected in your records? How long before you came back and you felt you were capable of writing again?
Music has always been a healthy outlet for me. Through all of the thick-and-thin, of all that bullsh-t, music has always been a great way for me to express how I feel. I see the true power in music.

What a gift it is, that it gives me the opportunity to express my deepest feelings, my deepest fears, my deepest brokenness. It’s always been a healthy outlet for me. It took me a while to get confident again, but now? When we went and wrote this last record, I was on fire, dude. I felt solid, strong, clean, clear-headed, spiritual, physically fit. I was in a real great place when I was writing the record. Now I got to work on the physically fit part again (laughs).

Alcohol is a calorie killer, but so is ice cream. One of the things I learned is I didn’t realize how much sugar was in beer. After I quit, I was eating Skittles and Lucky Charms and anything I could get my hands on. I just craved sugar.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Straight junkie.

(Laughs) For sure. Tell me a little bit more about Face Everything and Rise. You said you came in feeling good, clean, and physically fit. Did you think to yourself, “Look, I need to write this record about what I went through”? Or did you think to yourself, “That was a personal thing, I need to move forward and try to write about a new life”?
No. I wrote with a purpose. I had to write about coming from that darkness to the light. Being stuck, boxed in a corner, feeling there’s no way out to feeling wildly free. I struggled, and I believe that struggle is nature’s way of strengthening.

I took people through that struggle, through this record. I talked about my life. I talked about my strengths and my weaknesses. I put it all out there. That’s how I do it. That’s how I approached it.

It’s got a lot of great hooks on it. I like to think of it like old school Good Charlotte. They had great hooks.
(Laughs) I met those guys! I think those guys are back out making music again.

If there ever was a time, now would be it. A number of older bands are out there having a resurgence.
There’s a couple bands I’d like to hear come back out.

When you got in the studio, did you write it with the band? Did you write by yourself? Did you come in later and put stuff on top of it?
I wrote it by myself. The guys wrote the music. I took the music in the room next door, by myself. They gave me a bunch of stuff to choose from, but it was (more about) whatever was inspiring me at the moment.

I just wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote until I felt I had something I could be proud of to present the guys. Then I would stick that idea in. Play it for them and it would either sink or swim. In the beginning, there was a lot of strife, but towards the end of the process, I tapped into something that was deep and powerful. Everything I was singing to the band… We love it. Oh, we love it.

You feel it took you a while to get back up and running again?
Yeah, but I think that’s with anything. The creative is a muscle. Not a physical muscle, but you get the metaphor. The sharper you are… I need to exercise that a little more before I go in the studio. I think that should be my goal for the next record.

My dad used to say stuff like: “Don’t write lists down. Try to remember it, because your brain is a muscle.
(Door opens) Let me deal with my cell phone really quick. I have been waiting for this thing. (To the delivery person) Hey, what’s up man? Who’s that for? Thank you. Hold up. Hold up. Dude, my cell phone just came. “Yes!” (Laughs) I got the new cell phone.

(Laughs) That’s awesome. I suppose it’s a good time to get going, then! A couple last questions: Where do you find your inspiration now, especially out on tour when you’re around the beer? When you’re around the hard part? Also, how do you overcome those moments when you feel like you’re sliding back?
When I’m out there, I take myself out of situations, if I feel uncomfortable. If you hang out in a barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut. You hang out at the titty bar and the bar long enough, eventually you’re going to take somebody home. Those establishments, I put those few and far between in my lifestyle, because I’m more focused on different sh-t in my life. As I get older fk! I fell in love with skiing. I love fishing. You got to wake up early to go get on a mountain.

Now, it’s a different generation. We’re behind computers and that’s how we work. We have way too much time to think. We’re not physically tired anymore, you know what I mean?

It’s fun on the other side, too. I never thought I’d see 5:30 a.m. again, but now I get so much work done in the morning.
Bang, dude. It’s being more productive and creative. I’m doing of other things. I’m part of a film company. I co-directed “Face Everything and Rise.” We are working on a documentary. We pitched our feature film to some people at CAA, which is one of the biggest agencies. I also just released a clothing line, as well. I just get creative in other places to keep myself driven, to keep myself inspired and doing different things.

Were you doing those things trying to help your mind, too? I found that I do a lot more things, too, but some of it is also to keep busy.
Totally, dude. You get lost in your mind. It’s like a playground.

Back in the day, everybody else used to work from the fking time they woke up to the time they went to bed. People worked hard, with their hands. Tilling the soil. Farmers.

Now, it’s a different generation. We’re behind computers and that’s how we work. We have way too much time to think. We’re not physically tired anymore, you know what I mean?

Totally. I never thought of it that way.
How do we navigate it? I’m going to fking dig a trench. No, I really am. I’m not kidding. It’s like a one foot trench from A-Z.

You dug your own trench?
No, I am going to dig a trench. My power for my gate in front of my house almost died. I have to dig a new trench and lay a new pipe.

Land work. Staying busy.
Manual labor. That’s how I’m going to keep my head straight.

I never thought about the physical exhaustion thing. If you go home and you’re tired and you go to sleep, there’s no room to even piss off your wife.
Let me tell you. When I’m out on the road, by the end of the night, I’m zonked. It’s 100 percent on the stage. I give more of myself to that stage than almost anything else. It comes from a power greater than myself.

Papa Roach was posted on January 6, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by .