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“It Just Seems Like Monkeys Throwin’ Shit at Each Other”

Jacoby Shaddix, frontman for the long-lasting and newly relevant Papa Roach, talks about rock music, showmanship, politics, and, yes, Paul Ryan

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix is arguably one of the best frontmen active in rock, and inarguably one of the most. Onstage at last month’s Rock on the Range festival, he was Extra in the best possible way, a screaming and chanting and swearing and rapping dervish, like the deranged offspring of Willy Wonka and Johnny Rotten. Shaddix puts on a Show; he proudly holds himself up for both adulation and ridicule. He even brought out a local marching band, the Olentangy Orange, to provide backup on a new song called “Born for Greatness.” (The original plan was to get Ohio State’s band, but as Shaddix tells me, “We didn’t fit their standards and practices.”)

Any reaction is better than none; any emotion is preferable to indifference. It’s been this way ever since Papa Roach’s major-label debut, 2000’s triple-platinum Infest, turned the Northern California band into nü-metal superstars, and Shaddix into a rap-rock poster boy. That record’s biggest single, the bombastic and infectious “Last Resort,” has especially endured as a cultural touchstone. In late March, when House Republicans’ first attempt at a major health care reform bill went bust, a faked screengrab of a New York Times article went viral, alleging that a distraught Paul Ryan fled the White House in a black SUV blasting you-know-what.

The band’s ninth album, Crooked Teeth, is arguably their best and inarguably their weirdest in a decade or more, full of candy-coated blasts of rage and triumph like the mental-health anthem “Help” and the societal-ills lament “American Dreams.” Last week, I talked to Shaddix about showmanship, longevity, the dolorous state of active rock, the inspiring state of current hip-hop, and, yes, Paul Ryan. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

What I really like about you guys is you put on a show: With a lot of other Rock on the Range bands, it was mostly dudes just frowning and rocking out. Is it a crucial part of your job to be a showman, to do almost a ringmaster thing?

I mean, isn’t that the fuckin’ — isn’t that what a frontman is? I don’t know, man. I studied a lot of the greats growin’ up. Freddie Mercury was one of those guys, I just think he’s amazing. The way that he commands an audience. I never saw him live personally, but I watched a lot of footage, and it’s like, somehow Freddie Mercury made a stadium feel like a club, and then, when he’d play a club, he’d make a club feel like a fuckin’ stadium. So that’s always been my approach: make it personal, and draw the people in, and interact. I just feel like that’s why I’m fuckin’ there, man. It’s like a moment where we’re all just interconnected. The live show, that’s the last tribal experience. You know?

I’ve seen you in a few places describe Crooked Teeth as “weird” — you really wanted it to be weird, or at least unexpected in some ways. Any particular reason for that?

It just kinda felt like over the course of the last couple records, it became less experimental and less focused on being adventurous. And I feel like this record, it was just time: Either we’re going to just keep making active rock records, or we’re gonna fuckin’ evolve. ’Cause when we first came in, our songs were sprawling, and kind of oddball at times, and we’d just jump into these weird-sounding parts out of nowhere. And we lost that.

This record was kind of a mission to get that back: to still maintain our identity as a fuckin’ kick-ass rock band, but also spread it out a bit, because I don’t know, man. I listen to rock sometimes, and I just feel like it’s just fuckin’ so homogenized — that it’s just, like, one long song. I just fuckin’ — we want to do our best to break it up, you know? Crooked Teeth, it’s got elements of the core, but then it’s got elements where we just freak shit out. Those moments are important.

It’s been out a week or two — do you have a sense of the reaction? Are you freaking out any hard-core fans who just want that core experience?

Oh, dude, the fans are fuckin’ loving it. Our fans know that it’s about the evolution when it comes to Papa Roach. It’s always about pushing it forward. They expect that from us at this point — it was just a little bit more dramatic on this record, as far as how we evolved. A lot of our hard-core fans are coming back with, “Fuckin’ ‘Born for Greatness’ is my jam.” And that’s like a cross between fuckin’ Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” with some fuckin’, I don’t know, White Stripes crazy rock drop with a cool anthem built on top of it. There were a lot of moments in the studio where, like, “Fuck it! Just try it!” If we string a bunch of those moments together, it just makes it fun, man.

You do quite a bit of rapping on Crooked Teeth. Is there any pattern or logic to how much rapping you do from record to record? I mean, it’s calculated, but it’s also about just how I’m fuckin’ feeling. I fell in love with hip-hop in the last few years again. Artists like Yelawolf, UGK, Run the Jewels — they’re setting me off again, and I’m like, “Fuck, man, I love hip-hop music again. It’s going down!” It’s a trip, because hip-hop cats are taking a page from the rock-star book, you know what I mean? And it’s like, “Alright, cool. I’ma fuckin’ dip back in your world again and see what happens.”

It’s exciting, man, and it makes it fuckin’ fun and different for me as a writer and as a vocalist. I just felt like this time around, it’s like, if I made everything a melody, it just kinda seems passe and ehhhhh. There’s more fire in what I’m saying when I’m rapping. ’Cause who else in active rock is gonna be rapping on fuckin’ rock music like me? Not many.

Has your fan base changed in a fundamental way since you started doing this? Are they getting older with you, or are you getting a little older, and they’re mostly staying the same age?

It’s a little bit of both. We’ve got some core folks that’ve stuck with it, and just believed it, lived it, for years. And then touring with bands like Mötley Crüe, that got us some older fans as well. But then we’re seeing the demographics skew a lot younger. So we have this fan base that goes from 14 to 50. And for us, we’ve been around long enough to be multigenerational. Where kids are like, “Fuckin’, I was listening to Papa Roach when I was 5 years old!” ’Cause their parents were bangin’ it!

And “Last Resort” is still a classic. It still connects with people in an authentic fashion. Still. That’s what dope. There’s kids hearing “Last Resort” for the first time after fuckin’ jamming out Twenty One Pilots. It’s fuckin’ cool, man.

Speaking of “Last Resort,” do you remember where you were physically when the Paul Ryan Twitter thing happened?

Oh, where was I? I think I was in the studio. Yes. I was in the studio. I remember that, because [my managers] Ian and Jerry were on Twitter or whatever, and saw that pop off, and we were like, “Oh, shit.”

What do you think when that happens? What’s your initial reaction?

I just had to laugh. You know? I just look at American politics right now, and it’s just a fuckin’ shitshow. It’s just, wow. It’s like Idiocracy. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie.

I see that a lot, people making that comparison.

And I’m like, I’m conservative on some shit. I’m like Chris Rock when he said it: “I’m conservative on some shit, and liberal on some other shit.” You know what I mean? But it’s just, I don’t man, it just seems like monkeys throwin’ shit at each other.

Yeah, I really dig “American Dreams.” Is that inspired by any particular event or feeling? Pretty much everybody feels like they’re being lied to at this point.

Yeah. I was writing that during the presidential debates. When that was going down, I’m like, “I can’t even sit my kids down in front of the television and have ’em watch these two.” They seem like high schoolers. Like, bad high schoolers. I mean, hey, man, they’re both intelligent people. We know that. But unfortunately, it just devolved into this, bleaaaggh.

And so the track, it deals with a lot of just American issues. Street crime. Hate crimes. War. The effects of war on people, on family. And through all of it, it just seems like a bunch of smoke and mirrors and lies that we’re trying to sift through to find the truth.

Have you thought about how political, or apolitical, you want Papa Roach to be?

Ughhhh. I take neither side. I take the human side. I’m a human on this planet. Planet Earth. That’s it. First, I’m a human being. First off, I’m a fuckin’ spirit. Second off, I’m a human being on this planet. And then, you know, before I get caught up in … what my allegiance is to, I feel sort of a higher calling than a country or anything. I just try to serve my fellow man. That’s how I look at the world. And so as far as how political I wanna get or what side I wanna pick, I pick the side of justice. I pick the side of truth, even if it fuckin’ hurts. You know what I mean? Or even if it makes me look like a fuckin’ asshole.