Matt Walst wanted to be the frontman of Three Days Grace when his older brother, bassist Brad Walst, and drummer Neil Sanderson were putting the band together in the late ’90s in Norwood, Ontario.
“I tried out when I was younger, like around 17, when I started playing guitar,” Matt Walst said in a recent phone interview. “I was kind of like a makeshift guitar player. I didn’t use a pick. I made up my own songs. And I wasn’t like a technical guitar player by any means. Like I tried out and I think I played a couple of shows with them. But I was so young, and like I said, I wasn’t a very good guitar player at all back then.”
Instead the group found Adam Gontier to fill the singer slot, and then added guitarist Barry Stock in 2003. But Walst, 32, didn’t give up on the idea of a career in music. He put together his own band, My Darkest Days, which got discovered by Nickelback singer/songwriter Chad Kroeger, a connection that put the group on a path to notable success.
“I just kept writing my own songs and then decided to really make a go of it at 19, 20, and just started focusing on making my own band,” Walst said. “We got picked up by Chad Kroeger. He co-wrote a bunch of songs with us. And we got a record deal from Island/Def Jam in the states and 604 Records (Kroeger’s label) in Canada. We released two albums and we had a number one song in the states called ‘Porn Star Dancing,’ and it had Chad Kroeger, Ludacris and Zakk Wylde (on it). So it was a big song. I’m pretty proud with what I did in My Darkest Days.”
Three Days Grace, meanwhile, did even better. After signing to the RCA-affiliated Jive Records, the band became one of the most popular hard rock bands of the past decade, notching nine number one rock radio hits, a million-selling self-titled debut album and three subsequent albums that all went top five on “Billboard” magazine’s album chart.
It looked like an all’s-well-that-ends-well scenario for both bands. But then Gontier abruptly quit Three Days Grace shortly after the release of the band’s 2012 album, “Transit of Venus,” when an arena tour with Shinedown was only a few weeks away. In need of a new vocalist, the band turned to Walst, who just happened to be on break from My Darkest Days.
“There was no warning at all,” Walst said of Gontier’s decision to quit Three Days Grace. “I think it (Gontier’s sudden departure) was intended to ruin that tour and ruin everybody pretty much.”
Instead, the new lineup clicked, and soon Walst was a full-fledged member of the band he wanted to join when he was 17.
“My first show was in front of about eight to 10,000 people in an arena, and I was pretty scared,” Walst admitted. “But when it started, it felt right. And the guys say there was a new energy.”
Walst made what seems to be an equally smooth transition to the studio when it came time to make Three Days Grace’s recently released fifth album, “Human.” He settled into the songwriting mix alongside his three bandmates and producer Gavin Brown. But unlike many bands, where the singer is the primary lyricist, that’s not the case for Walst in Three Days Grace.
“The other guys write a lot of lyrics. I think that’s a misconception that Adam wrote a majority of the lyrics. But it wasn’t that way. Actually, Neil’s a great lyricist, our drummer,” the singer said. “I get a good one here and there. But I’m mainly a melody guy when it comes to writing.”
“Human” finds the new Three Days Grace, after experimenting with integrating synthesizers and electronics into its sound (particularly on “Transit To Venus), returning to a heavier guitar-based sound. But Walst and his bandmates don’t let the melodies get lost within the sonic onslaught. Songs like “Painkiller,” “I Am Machine” (both of which were released as singles ahead of the album and topped the active rock chart) and “Landmine” have the beefy riffs and crisp big beats the band wanted, but also boast big chorus melodies. Meanwhile, a few other tunes bring necessary variety to the album.
“Human Race” mixes synths liberally with guitars, while “Tell Me Why” and “Car Crash” effectively works a soft-to-loud dynamic. Three Days Grace, not surprisingly, is featuring some new songs in its live show. But with a hit-laden back catalog, there isn’t much flexibility for the rest of the set.
“We’ve added about five new songs to the set, just to give a taste of the new album,” Walst said. “It’s kind of hard adding many (older) songs that haven’t been number one or haven’t been released to radio. We’ve had to cut two or three number one songs to fit in some new album songs we just released.”
Three Days Grace will perform will at 7 p.m. July 21 at the Sherman Theater, 524 Main Street in Stroudsburg.
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