Dark, tenebrous, isolated, pick an adjective. Three Days Grace, Adam Gontier, is all these things and his lyrics on the band's second album titled One-X reflect these emotions. Three years have passed since the Canadian band released a self-titled debut and shook up the world with "I Hate Everything About You." Sounding upbeat and positive, the band's singer verbalized none of the feelings he expresses on the new record but he did explain to Ultimate-Guitar where they originated.
Ultimate-Guitar: How did the band actually evolve? I heard that you had a band called Groundswell that started as a five-piece, then went to a three-piece. Now you have a quartet - what was your musical vision and the concept for the band?
Adam Gontier: Well me, Brad (Walst, bass) and Neil Sanderson, drums), we met, basically?I went to school with Neil for a year in high school. We played in a band together and that band was called Groundswell. And what happened was I left that high school and I ended up going to a different high school. There I met Brad. So basically, me and Neil stopped playing together and when I went into high school with Brad, we started playing together. So what kind of happened basically was I took Neil from my other school and I took Brad from the school I was at, and I got them together. And we basically just started playing, you know, cover songs and whatever else. Just, you know, in my garage and in Neil's basement. We were big into the Seattle scene so we were doing like a bunch of Nirvana covers and that kind of stuff. We just kept doing it. I mean, there wasn't much to do in the town so that's all we wanted to do. We just wanted to play music. And I was sort of writing my music at the time, but not very seriously. So it took a while. We just ended up sticking it out for a long time and about 1997 we met another guitar player. So we turned into a five-piece band. We went with the name Groundswell again, and we moved to Toronto. We wanted to take it very serious in Toronto and just see what kind of people we could network with and that sort of thing. Eventually both of the guitar players actually left the band. So we were a three-piece. And that's sort of how it started. I mean, we moved up to Toronto in '97, we became a three-piece and that's when Three Days Grace Started.
Did you not miss having the other guitars in there in terms of the sound you were hearing? A three-piece suited the kind of music you were writing?
Yeah, that's exactly it. We were getting a bit older. I play guitar, so the songs that I was writing, I mean, I wanted to pick up a guitar and play those songs anyway to give them my sort of feel. By the time the two guitar players had left, I think we had become, you know musically, we had become a little bit different. Moreso, we were all friends. So the biggest thing, it was missing a couple of friends. But you know, everybody got over that and here we are.
You mentioned Nirvana. Were you listening to Kurt as a writer, in terms of the way he was constructing songs?
|"By the time the two guitar players had left, I think we had become a little bit different musically."|
Well, we were influenced by Nirvana for sure. So I mean, they were one of my favorite bands, one of our favorite bands. So I think naturally when we were sitting down writing songs, I think naturally those different influences from Nirvana came out in our writing for sure. I don't think we intentionally tried to actually take any individual parts or anything like that, but it's just what the influence does to you when you're young and you're writing songs.
Did it take you a while to find your voice as a writer?
Oh, for sure. It wasn't really until we started working with producers. The biggest thing was that I don't think I'd necessarily became a great songwriter until - that's not gonna come out right because I'm not trying to call myself a great songwriter. What I'm saying is I think I was more focused on heavy riffs and good melodies and not necessarily lyrics when I was younger. I think when we met with the very first producer we worked with, Gavin Brown, on our first record, I think that was then the whole idea, I started to learn what songs were really about. They were about lyrics and what the listener is gonna get from it and all that stuff. So yeah, eventually I definitely grew as a songwriter, as did all the other guys in the band. You know, we learned a lot of things working with different producers.
Gavin actually co-wrote that first record with the band?
Yeah, yeah. You know, we met Gavin, we had a lot of music already written and that sort of thing, but what he brought to the table was just a different vision of where the parts should go and where the music should go. Yeah, I guess technically he co-wrote the first record that we worked on, yeah.
Let's talk about some of the tracks on the first CD. A song like "I Hate Everything About You" is currently appearing on television.
Yeah, probably. I mean, we made a video for it and, yeah, it's being played.
It's being played a lot still.
Okay, yeah, I mean, that's cool. I mean, if they're still playing the video, you know, our very first video that we ever shot, that's really cool. That's a good thing.
One of the main hooks of that song is that little acoustic slide part. Describe that.
No, there's not, there's no slides. But we did use an acoustic for the main riff of the song, the opening riff of that song. Like when we were doing demos for the song, we recorded the guitar part and intro riff. And what happened was, because we liked that intro riff so much and the way it sounded with the acoustic guitar, we ended up using that on the finished record. So we took the demo guitar and we actually planted it into the actual record. But basically that's just an acoustic guitar just run through some different Amp Farms (Line 6).
Can you be more specific with what type of acoustic you're playing?
Actually, yeah. It's funny. That acoustic is actually just an old Yamaha acoustic that was sitting at EMI Music Publishing in Canada and Toronto, where we began writing the first record. So there was an acoustic guitar there. We were working on a lot of the songs. What happened was one of us came us with that riff, we ended up going into the booth, and we sat down with that old Yamaha guitar and we recorded it. It ended up being on the demos. And then eventually that same recording session ended up being on the record.
Lyrically, where did that sentiment come from? It could have been titled "I Hate You," but "I Hate Everything About You" is so much more specific and lyrically intriguing.
I think that's yeah, it's obviously the most blunt sort of song on the record. When we were sitting down, we were coming up with lyrics and all that sort of stuff. We wanted to write a song that people would relate to. Because there's a lot of stuff on the radio that a lot of people don't relate to. I think, for us, it was about relationships and it was about drugs and it was about anything in your life that was taking up all your time, that you just wanted to get rid of. But for some reason you couldn't because you loved it so. And I think that sentiment sort of stuck with a lot of people. I think a lot of people related to that. Yeah, we wanted to write something about that love-hate relationship.
What about a song like "Home"? There are those cool guitars on the intro there - can you describe how that part was created?
Yeah. We wrote "Home" and it had a pretty heavy opening riff. And I think between us and Gavin, our producer, I think we decided that we wanted some kind of melody that was done with the guitar, over the top of the opening riff because it needed something. Basically, we'd just mess around in the studio with different ideas, different lead parts that might sound cool. And what ended up happening, was that high-pitch guitar lead that you hear at the beginning of "Home."
It almost sounds like a synth or something.
|"Being on the road for so long, it takes its toll on you."|
What we did, we actually used a whammy pedal to bring the whole tone up a whole octave. I think it's around the 12th fret where we played. We actually used a whammy pedal to actually bring it up, so it would have been played on like the 24th if there was a 24th (fret).
How do you and Barry (Stock, second guitarist) work out the parts? Are you more of the rhythm player and he is more of the lead guy?
Yeah, that's pretty much the way we work. Barry wasn't around for the first record, but for this second record that we have coming up shortly, he was around for the writing process and the songwriting. He's a great lead player and he's just a great guitar player in general. So he came up with tons of great little licks that went perfectly over the rhythmic stuff that I was writing. That's kind of how we work together. He comes up with leads over what I'm writing.
Do you think he brought a new kind of wrinkle to the band? The new record maybe sounds bigger than the first record?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. You know, he's influenced by lots of different stuff. We're influenced by Nirvana and the Seattle music scene, and a whole bunch of different things like The Beatles and whatever else. And Barry's influenced by, definitely, classic rock bands from the 70's, the 80's. And he brings a different element to the band, for sure. It's great. It works really well. It meshes really well with what we do. He just has a great ear for music and he's a great guitar player. So yeah, he's definitely brought his thing to this new record, which is really cool.
Talking about the new record, lyrically the sentiments are pretty dark. They are about isolation, loneliness, and various things. At the end of the day when I finish listening to this record, how am I supposed to feel or what am I supposed to take away lyrically?
I'll start here - the last couple of years when we were touring for our last record - you know, being on the road for so long, it takes its toll on you. For me, I started to become a different person. I changed. I think I became a selfish person, you know? And when we got off the road, I had realized what kind of person I had actually become and I wanted to change that. So the timing was perfect, where we came off the road and I kind of felt alone. I felt like I had a lot of things that I had to deal with. And I wasn't sure if anybody really understood me in my personal life, in my job with the band, everything. I didn't know if anybody understood me. So lyrically, when we got off the road and we were writing this record, it was perfect timing. Because everything I was writing basically came out on this new record. You know, if you listen to the record from front to back, you almost get a story out of the record. At the beginning of the record, I'm sort of talking about how I've felt, how I've changed, and how I've become somebody else. And in the middle of the record, I'm sort of asking for help, trying to realize who I could become or I'm asking somebody else to help me with changing. And the very last song on the record, "One X," is actually, it's a hopeful song about realizing that there are people that feel the same way that you do, that might feel alone and isolated and not really feel like anybody else understands them. So the very last song on the record wraps it up and sort of says there are people that relate to you and feel the same way that you do. So I think this record is more about relating to, you know, feeling a certain way, feeling like you're alone. When you're done listening to the record, I think you have a glimmer of hope from that realizing that you're not the only one.
Without sounding glib, someone would look at you and say, "This guy is in a band, these guys are on the road, his video is on MTV and he's making money - what is it that he really has to be so overwhelmed about?"
Well, let me ask you something - being a music journalist and being fairly successful and that sort of thing, do you have any sort of problems in your life? Do you have issues that you have to deal with? Are there times when you feel at all upset about anything? That's sort of what it comes down to. It comes down to, no matter how good your life looks like from the outside or no matter how great it seems to be, there's always something in your life. I don't care if you're the president of America or if you're homeless and you're in skid row in L. A., you've got things in your life that you have to deal with. And everybody deals with them a certain way. And there was a point, like I kind of said before, when we got off the road, I had felt very alone. When you're touring and you're on the road for so long, you're around people that pretend like they know you that they think they know you. They act like they've known you for years. And you're putting on a show for people that you don't know every single day. You've basically left your family, your friends, everybody that you've cared about, everybody that you loved. You've left them at home. And now you're dealing with people in an industry that's all about money. So I think other bands would definitely relate to the feeling, sort of isolated on the road. That's something that I think a lot of people feel. But for me, I had inner demons that basically over two years of touring, took a hold of me. And I had become somebody completely different. So that's what the record is about. The record is about being somebody that I don't want to be and feeling alone at the very same time.
Jumping to the musical side, the new record starts with "It's All Over," and those big guitars. Can you describe how a track like that would be created?
|"Barry came up with tons of great little licks that went perfectly over the rhythmic stuff that I was writing."|
Well, you know what? For the majority of this record, a lot of the music was written when we sat in our rehearsal space in Toronto when we got off the road. We came up with - you know, everybody had different riffs, different melodies, different ideas for songs that had been sort of accumulating over the last few years of touring. So when we got home, it was a matter of us coming together and putting those parts together. So each song on the record has something different from every single member of the band. And basically, about half the record was written in Toronto in our rehearsal space. And then the other half was written, we went to northern Ontario, Canada, and we went to a cottage and we just basically secluded ourselves. We sat with acoustic guitars and we'd come up with ideas, and we put them all together. Neil sits with a hand drum while me and Barry play riffs. I start singing the melody over the top of different riffs. So each song, I think came together in different ways with different input from all the guys.
In general, can you run down some of the guitars and amps that you were using on the new record?
Yeah, we used a couple different Diezel heads. Diezel makes great amps and great-sounding gear, so we wanted that. When we were in L. A., when were at the studio, we ended up pulling in an old 69 Marshall head that had been modified. And actually, System of a Down had used it on the newest record just before we got into the studio. So we actually pulled the same head right from System of a Down's studio and started using it on our record. For amps, we used that - the old 69 Marshall - and a couple of Diezel heads. We had tons of heads sitting in the studio, so there was tons of gear. But guitars, we used a bunch of old Gibson Les Pauls. Barry used a couple Ibanez guitars. I use Paul Reed Smith and Schecter guitars. We basically had a wide variety of all sorts of different guitar in the studio. You know, we wanted to just experiment with different sounds so we tried to load the studio up with tons of different gear.
Is there any specific guitar that you feel more comfortable on? One that you would play live, for instance?
Yeah, I play a Paul Reed Smith live. I've got one at home and then one on the road that I use. And it's a killer guitar. Paul Reed Smith makes great guitars. I've actually got an endorsement with Schecter guitars as well, so I have a bunch of Schecters that are custom-made that sound great, too.
Talking about guitars, ine of the overriding features is the lack of solos. There are solo sections and musical sections, but no real kind of guitar heroics. Is that something specific to this band?
I definitely know what you mean. Well, "It's All Over" actually is just one of the songs that does have a solo in it. I don't know what it is. I think it's just, thanks to the music industry, it's just changing. You know, different bands, different styles coming out. And I think the solo is definitely being pushed away. But it's still great to hear a kick-ass solo in the middle of a really powerful song. So I do like solos. I mean, we've got nothing against them. But for some reason, they don't present themselves in our songwriting structure that much.
On a track like "Pain," is the sound expanded with a keyboard on the last verse?
Yeah, there's a Mellotron actually that we use, which is the same kind of thing that The Beatles used in "A Day in the Life" (presumably Adam was referring to "Strawberry Fields Forever"), which was really, really cool. So we just tried out different keyboard sounds on a couple different things, but it worked really well with "Pain." The Mellotron came out really well.
Did you play the Mellotron part?
Yeah. My mother is a piano player, so I kind of mess around on the piano. But I'm definitely not a professional by any means. I play everything by ear. So I play the bass and the drums and the guitar all sort of by ear. As well as the piano, I play everything by ear.
On "Animal I Have Become," the first single, how do you prepare for a vocal like that? Musically it seems like it's a challenging song for a singer.
Well, I think the main thing is we were lucky enough to work with a great producer, Howard Benson, on this record, in his studio. He's really set up his studio for singers to come through and feel comfortable and feel like they can just give everything they've got. And he really focuses on vocals, melodies, harmonies, all that stuff. I think me and Howard both got into a mindset that we wanted to come up with different vocal parts that we normally wouldn't. And like I said, the studio's just really, really comfortable for that sort of thing. I just sort of put my mindset into the lyrics of the song before I get in the vocal booth. And I sort of just read the lyrics over and over. I just sit in my own headspace for a little while and get into the mindset of the lyrics. And then I go into the booth and just do it.
Is that sort of a first take kind of a situation or is there cutting and pasting going on?
No, basically what's really cool about the way Howard works, I would sing the whole song from front to back. From front to back over and over and over and over, and we would basically get 10 to 12 to 15 takes of the song. And what would happen, he would basically pull what he thought were the best of the best. And we would actually sit together and pull the best vocal performances out, and between us, decide which ones we wanted to be the actual take. So I sang every song about, at least, 10 to 15 times.
Would you default to Howard's decision or would you know that, yes, this is the line, this is the verse, this is the performance?
|"I do like solos. But for some reason, they don't present themselves in our songwriting structure that much."|
Yeah, definitely. I think he's been doing it for so long that he has a good idea of what the best performance is. And I obviously have a good idea of what I think my best performance was and how I felt about it. So you know, I could be on the 7th take or finish the song and the 7th take is done, and I think it's the best performance that I've done. Maybe I'll run downstairs and I'll sit with Howard. We'll both say, "That was the best take." And you know, we'll do a few more and maybe come back to that take. So it's just between us. We just decide what works the best.
On "Never Too Late," is that you on the acoustic?
Yeah. Yeah, that's me on acoustic guitar. I mean, I used my Guild. I have a Guild True American that I love, my acoustic guitar, and I used that on the record. Yeah, there's a few different acoustic tracks on the record, from "Never Too Late" to, I think, we did some acoustic guitars on "Over and Over." There's a few acoustic parts that are just buried underneath different choruses just to fill it out. Like in the song "Let It Die," there's acoustic guitars in the chorus that just sit back really nicely and just keep the rhythm going.
On "Let It Die," is that a Leslie on the electric guitar? Is that the effect there?
No, we didn't actually use a Leslie on the record. Barry owns a Leslie, but we didn't use one.
You mentioned "Over and Over" featuring acoustic guitar -Are there also strings on there?
Oh yeah. What was really cool about that, we were in L. A., and we doing the record, recording the record. We had an opportunity to use a 20-piece orchestra that normally works with films. Yeah, we just had an opportunity to put strings on the song and it sounded amazing. So it was a really cool experience to go into a studio and watch a 22-piece orchestra play strings over something that you've created. It was incredible. And they are amazing musicians. You get awfully humbled when you watch musicians like that, that can just lay it down - just look at a piece of paper and make your songs sound that much better.
So what are the plans now?
I mean, we're excited about the record so we're basically gonna tour for the next year-and-a-half. We love playing live; so we're just gonna tour, man.
2006 © Steven Rosen