The new 3 Doors Down album “Us and the Night,” introduces a version of the band that is very different from the one that last released a studio album — 2011’s “Time of My Life.”
Gone are guitarist Matt Roberts and bassist Todd Harrell.
Those slots were filled respectively by guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Chet Roberts and Justin Biltonen. Given the personnel changes and the time between albums, some bands would have felt the stakes had been raised going into a new album. Plus, the new 3 Doors Down would be trying to maintain a level of success that had seen this band from Escatawpa, Mississippi notch a pair of triple platinum albums — its 2000 debut album, “The Better Life,” and 2002’s “Away from the Sun” – plus three more studio albums that produced several rock radio hits.
But guitarist Chris Henderson, and singer Brad Arnold, are the lone original members left in 3 Doors Down. They said pressure wasn’t what the group felt in making “Us and the Night.”
“I think it was more along the lines of what do we have to lose at this point?” Henderson said. “We’d already lost members. We’d already lost a lot of momentum. So what else do we have to lose?”
That attitude seems apparent in the new songs. Rather than try to make an album that sounded like one of the group’s previous releases, “Us and the Night” finds the new 3 Doors Down (which also includes drummer Greg Upchurch) taking some risks and pushing their Southern-tinged mainstream rock sound into new territory.
In particular, “Us and the Night” finds 3 Doors Down exploring a poppier slant in its music. The pop elements are especially pronounced on “The Broken,” “In the Dark” and “Living in Your Hell” – three uptempo tunes with big hooks. Another song that stands out is “Fell From the Moon,” a piano-based ballad with a strong pop spin. Then there’s the album’s biggest departure, “I Don’t Wanna Know,” an acoustic-based tune with a Latin accent. But other songs such as “Believe It,” “Still Alive” and “Love is a Lie” hit harder and sound more similar to 3 Doors Down’s earlier material.
“Us and the Night” made a top 10 debut upon its release in March – which has to be rewarding for the band considering 3 Doors Down nearly broke up completely after the departures of Matt Roberts and Harrell.
The split with Matt Roberts came because of the guitarist’s health and circulatory issues.
In Harrell’s case, his dismissal happened after he was charged in 2013 with vehicular homicide for his role in an auto accident that killed the other driver, Paul Howard Shoulders Jr.
Harrell was found to have alprazolam and oxycodone in his system the night of the accident. Harrell had previously been charged with DUI in 2012 and had gone into rehab following that offense. He was arrested on another DUI charge in 2014 in D’Iberville, Mississippi.
In December, Harrell was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. He received a suspended sentence for vehicular homicide and introducing contraband to a penal institution, but will need to comply with six years of probation or face prison on those offenses.
The loss of his two long-time bandmates and friends had Arnold at one point mapping out a new career plan. By early 2014, Arnold was looking at making a country solo album, eyeing a release toward the end of that year. In an interview in July 2014, the singer said the project came about because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of 3 Doors Down.
“To be honest, I was starting to do that (solo record) because I wasn’t really happy with where this band was,” Arnold said. “I was just getting frustrated and I just wanted to see what I could do. I never wanted to leave the band. I just wanted to go do something that was fun again. I got to writing it, and it was going to be like a country record, and I got through writing it and stuff, and I liked it, but I didn’t like it.”
But as Arnold’s solo project was progressing, it became apparent that Chet Roberts and Biltonen were helping to create a positive personal dynamic in the band, opening the door to trying to make new music.
The new edition of the band enjoyed a fast start on what became “Us and the Night.” In fact, the group was targeting an early 2015 release date for the album before deciding to return to the project in fall 2014 and do another writing session. Some 15 songs came out of that get-together, including the singles “The Broken,” “In the Dark” and the title song.
Henderson said the new album could have gone in an even poppier direction because a lighter touch seemed to suit a good number of songs. But the band knew it would be a mistake.
“Once kind of the floodgates were open in a pop direction, it was almost hard to stop. But we had to,” Henderson said. “We had to stop because the next thing you know it’s going to be a 3 Doors Down dance record, and there ain’t nobody who’s going to care for that. So what we did was we took the pop, really the heavy pop stuff we were writing, and rocked it up. That’s how you ended up with a song like ‘In the Dark.’ That’s how you end up with a song like ‘The Broken.’ Both of those songs started as light-hearted pop dance kind of tracks. We kept some of the elements and added some 3 Doors Down to it.”
Even though “Us and the Night” is poppier, Henderson also feels it’s one of the heaviest Three Doors Down albums – not in terms of bombast or lyrical tone, but in terms of its tones.
“If you listen to the guitar tones on this record, and you listen to the drum sounds in particular, this is a heavy record,” he said. “It’s really good sonically done, and that was what I meant. And the reason I knew we were going to capture that was because we were recording at my studio with all of our gear and all of our mikes and all of our cables and all of our rooms and our everything. We knew that room inside and out.”
Henderson said the band figures to play four or five of the new songs on its initial tour dates supporting “Us and the Night.”
For headlining live shows, there will also be a little visual razzle dazzle.
“I think production wise, we’ve done some different things in the past to kind of scale it back and make it look more intimate and everything,” Henderson said. “We’ve shot fire, we’ve done video and done all of these things to make it look massive. I think we’re going to kind of meet somewhere in the middle. We’re going to try to make it seem like both at times. Depending on what song dictates what, we’re going to try to make the production kind of fit with the music we’re playing at the time. That’s a challenge because once you start shooting fire, people want to see you shoot fire. So we’ve got to figure out a smart way to be in and out of that.”
Alan Sculley is a correspondent for Weekender. Reach Weekender at [email protected]
IF YOU GO
Who: 3 Doors Down and Pop Evil
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: The F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts
How much: Tickets start at $49.50. Pit tickets are $89.50. Tickets available at the Kirby box office or through Ticketmaster.