If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, Shinedown drummer Barry Kerch has just added a third: no flams on the new record. The 35-year-old drummer does not remember exactly which tunes, all he knows is that singer Brent Smith got bent out of shape over something Kerch was doing during the Amaryllis recording sessions at Oceanway Studios in Hollywood. “I was playing a fill and he said, ‘I don’t like that,’” Kerch recalls from the Shinedown rehearsal space in Nashville, where the band has been spending 8–10 hour days for the last week. “I was like, ‘What don’t you like about it?’
“‘I don’t know. That thing you do. What is it, a flam?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a flam.’ He goes, ‘No flams on the record!’ I was like, ‘Okay, that’s like telling the guitar player not to play the C chord.’” [laughs] “Being the main songwriter, Brent has a vision, and if anything veered from that, then it wasn’t happening. God love him, he’s so neurotic and so passionate about what he does.”
Unless you’ve sworn off video games, never seen a WWE match, or failed to catch season six of American Idol, one way or another you’ve heard Shinedown’s music. The Jacksonville, Florida–bred band have steadily built a following over four releases starting with 2003’s Leave A Whisper. But it was 2008’s The Sound Of Madness that vaulted them into hard-rock’s top fraternity along with Switchfoot, Seether, and Nickelback.
For Amaryllis, the quartet once again brought on Rob Cavallo to produce. “It was definitely a pressure-cooker making it,” Kerch says. “That’s what makes the album special.” Kerch isn’t talking about tracking drum parts (more on that in a second) or pressure from Atlantic Records to surpass The Sound Of Madness’ sales. Nope, Amaryllis was nothing less than a quest to be the best musicians they could. Corny, maybe, but for this band of soul searchers, it trumps pleasing suits, maybe even fans. It’s a sentiment summed up nicely by the album’s namesake, the lonely South African flower that springs up beacon-like in a barren landscape. “We wanted to push ourselves musically, try some new things without losing the Shinedown sound and be better musicians,” he says. “And for me that’s the drummer being the first one to lay down the tracks. It was, ‘Okay, here’s these new songs: Play them like you, but also play them the way we demoed them out, and also make it musical and try something different.’” In other words, deliver a performance so finely calibrated it could reduce Kenny Aronoff to tears.
During the Amaryllis sessions, there was an attention to detail that would make most bands look like slackers, including the band’s elbow-deep involvement in the mixing and production stages. Kerch and his singer, Brent, sat down with the mix engineer, Chris Lord-Alge, who got a nice blend of retro warmth and modern hard rock. “As a drummer you spend so much time getting real drum sounds, but to keep up with the modern music you’ve got to do all of the computer trickery. It was nice to see some balance come back into the music.”
Before delving into postproduction, Kerch had to worry about getting a solid take. He was able to do most of the songs in one run-through. “That’s not saying they can’t go‚ ‘You know what? The fill you played last time was a little bit better or a little bit different and that will fit better in the song.’ And they’ll take that fill and make a track out of that, but they want a very cohesive track overall.”
In order to do that, Kerch has to come correct. Cavallo expects a drummer to come in and know the parts and play like a professional, or at least to the best of his or her ability, the drummer says. “And if you can’t do that, he will mix it so that you can listen from the sidelines.”
Kerch is not one of those drummers who wants the wizard behind the curtain to make him sound good. “The pressure was from me; it was definitely not coming from Rob — he’s actually pretty cool to work with,” he says, adding that the whole record took 19 days with weekends off. “So thank goodness I spent all those years practicing for a reason!”
In the last three years, Shinedown has played 450 shows but took a break for most of 2011. The time off was essential for starting a family, with whom he’s been looking forward to spending some QT back in Jacksonville. “It’s my daughter’s first birthday,” he says. “So I’m going to get my butt home for a couple of days.”
The last year has also been essential for Kerch to clear his head space, which he mostly achieved through wing chun, a mixed martial art he’s become addicted to because it’s so fun but, more important, it’s helped his drumming. “The teacher is focusing on things that maybe will help my posture,” Kerch explains. “I told him I’m this rock drummer and he didn’t care at all, which was great. He’s not a drummer but we’ve found correlations between the two arts. One of the basic principles of wing chun is elbow position. With drumming it’s very similar.”