Canadian rockers Three Days Grace have been on an enforced European ban for over four years, following the pandemic and the tight restrictions imposed on international travel. Now the world has re-opened, MetalTalk’s Dany Jones finally caught up with bassist and founder of the band, Brad Walst, on the second night of their European tour.
Brad tells us that they couldn’t be more thrilled about being back on UK shores and that they are absolutely fully charged with beers in hand and ready to take the place down. We chatted about the ups and downs of changing the vocalist, living separated from their guitarist, embracing new ways of creating, growing up in a changing industry and much more.
Brad Walst says it is beautiful to be back in Europe, especially in the UK. “It’s great to be back with the UK fans. There are special, and they show us lots of love.”
Three Days Grace had finished a tour with Five Finger Death Punch in December 2019 and had planned to take some time off before getting together and writing. But Covid-19 meant a much longer break. “Canada was pretty strict,” Brad said, “We had three or four lockdowns total. March 2020, things changed. We had a few writing sessions before lockdown, but then we couldn’t see anybody. Barry [Stock, guitarist] moved to Indiana in January 2020. Obviously, with the borders closed, we didn’t see him for almost two years. “
The rest of Three Days Grace were in Canada and so, like most bands, had to embrace technology. “We had to learn to zoom and figure out other technologies to be able to record and write,” Brad says. “We had our producer in L.A., and it was just crazy. So a bit of a learning curve. But there’s crazy technology now where I could sit in my room play bass live and send it to L.A.These were interesting times because you had to learn how to be virtual.”
The album Explosions would take about a year to write. “We started writing in February 2020,” Brad says. “We had great days where we could write a song in an hour, and other days where the difficulty of zoom made it tougher. We could laugh and have a beer or two. I think it took a little longer because you’re not sitting in a room. It’s not as spontaneous with vibes and energy. But it’s cool that we know we can do it now.”
Nine of the twelve songs were recorded separately. “Neil would go do his drums in a studio close to him. I would go to another studio once he was finished and listen to his drumming for the first time. There were three or four laptops in front of me with everybody watching. It was just bizarre. We had never done that. So we did it all separately and then put it all together. Matt [Walst, singer] made a vocal booth out of his closet in his bedroom. It was just so weird.
“But you know, we survived. I think Explosions is one of our better albums. We captured that frustration and a bit of that anger of being away from each other. I think it shows in the album.” Explosions, the band’s seventh studio album, is a great record. There is a lot of great darkness in there, but also a lot of melody around the anger and other emotions.
Neurotic, featuring Lukas Rossi, was released as a single and was an apt choice as people came out of lockdowns not knowing how the music industry would unfold. “It was difficult to deal with,” Brad says. “For us, music is therapy. So the idea that you can’t get on stage or jam or be with your buddies was hard. It was tough, and we didn’t know if we’d even be here sitting here right now. I’m glad it’s over.”
Someone To Talk To, featuring Apocalyptica, is an absolutely beautiful song and another collaboration. “Neurotic was a different scenario because Neil Sanderson [drummer] and Lukas Rossi started a side project about seven years ago called King City,” Brad says. “It was more like a techno dubstep thing and they had Neurotic as a song. On our last record, Outsider, we thought about possibly doing it, but it didn’t really fit. We had never tried to put heavy guitars and good drums to it, so we tried it. But holy crap, this is a great Three Days Grace song, so it’s kind of been sitting around for seven years.”
The band have known Lukas Rossi for 25 years. “He is from Toronto,” Brad says. “He was in a band called Cleavage back in the ’90s, and they were one of the top tier alternative bands in Toronto. I remember giving him a cassette tape and trying to get opening slots for him. He sang on the original track with Neil, so we thought, why don’t we get him to sing with Matt? And it just started jelling. Definitely one of my favourites on the record.”
Someone To Talk To was another song the band had kicked around for a couple of years. “We recorded some of it for Outsider,” Brad says, “then we re-recorded for this album. We had done some work with Apocalyptica, so we know that they’re good guys. We sent the track, and within three or four hours, they had sent it back. All these strings are amazing. I wrote the main part, oh gosh, five years ago. So it’s been hanging around. I’m glad it’s on the record.”
Explosions is an apt title for both the song and the album. “It has a lot to do with that feeling inside,” Brad says, “like you’re gonna explode. Every day we have little explosions and big explosions. It’s how we handle that pressure and the anger because it’s a different world now. You can’t really do anything, you can’t sometimes say what you mean, and sometimes you hold that in. I think that overall vibe is reflected in the album. There is a lot of frustration, and I think Explosions is how you deal with things. Sometimes it’s not good to hold it in, and you just have to let it go and let it explode. Songs like So Called Life are a perfect example of that. I think we all feel that and definitely over the last few years, for sure.”
It definitely feels very cathartic.
Lifetime is a personal favourite, and it is particularly moving, being dedicated to the people of Kentucky after a tornado struck. “It’s a song about loss,” Brad says, “and you know, we’ve all kind of dealt with loss. We’ve had family members die. We co-wrote that song with a good friend of ours, Ted Bruner, and he had some loss as well. When it came time to do a video, we didn’t really want to do it. We don’t want to touch on death or addiction to things. Obviously, you know, that was a big part of the song. But Barry [Stock, lead guitar] lives in Indiana and about two hours south was where these tornadoes came through. He started telling us stories of family photos flying into his backyard, and children’s clothing would be in his backyard just from the wind. We didn’t realize the destruction and how deadly this thing was. So we thought we should go check it out, and bring light to it and help the situation. So we donated a dollar from every ticket for our last US Tour.
“It’s crazy because there is so much destruction and loss. But then you go there, and the whole community has come together, everyone’s helping, and there’s so much hope in such a dark, dark place. So we thought it would be really important just to shed some light on that. It’s pretty cool to hear people who live around there thank you. We raised a bunch of money, and hopefully, we can use that to help them.”
Brad tells us the pandemic gave him time to practise and work hard on his bass lines for the new album. “I had so much time to sit with the songs and come up with different parts,” he says. “Sometimes in the studio, you’re thrown into a song, and when you listen to it a year later, you think, shit, I should have done this. We had a lot of time to figure out the parts and make it the best we could. Bass, for me, less is more. But that’s just the kind of style of our music right? We’re very melodic, pretty heavy guitars.”
Brad tells the story of Gavin Brown producing the first record, offering his thoughts. “I would come in with all these parts and all these runs, and he’s like yeah yeah, that’s cool,” he says. “How about this, like … just hold it. So you learn a lot along the way regarding when not to play. Sometimes playing bass, it’s harder not to play than it is to play.”
Matt and Brad are brothers, and you must wonder how the pair cope in the same band. “It’s great,” Brad says. “We don’t fight much as brothers, so it’s pretty easy. We get along really well. He’s six years younger than me. I still take the piss out of him every once in a while. I poke the bear, but he’s done a great job, and to share a stage with him every day is pretty special. If you’re up in front of 20,000 people or 1,000 people, it’s really cool.”
Explosions is the third album with Matt Walst on vocals. “I think he gets better and better every year,” Brad says, “So I’m really excited for the future. He’s a great front man too. He’s really come a long way.”
Matt’s first shows with Three Days Grace were in a five-week tour with Shinedown in the US. “He had four weeks to get ready for it. I remember the first few shows. He was so scared shitless that he was just shaking. But look where he is now. It’s unbelievable. Mind you, that was almost ten years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long ago. He is doing great, and it’s nice to have him around.”
Was he nervous about changing the singer? It does determine the sound. “It was absolutely nerve-racking,” Brad says. “The first show, we all looked at each other, saying this might work. He’s my brother, but he has been around the band since he was a little kid, right? So he is family, and then the chemistry is there, and we knew that. That tour with Shinedown, we thought that could be our last tour. This could be it. Then Matt came to us with Painkiller. We put it out to radio, and luckily it went number one. We said this is working, and we just kept writing and touring and haven’t looked back. So that’s a huge thing. We still talk to Adam [Gontier], our old singer, often. He’s changed, and we’ve changed. It’s been a decade.”
Brad says they have a good work-life balance. When off the road, he and his brother always check-in, even if they don’t see each other too much. “We live close,” Brad says, “but Brad’s got a new baby boy at home, so he’s busy.”
Does Brad have an ultimate dream for the band? “I think to play as long as we can and travel to new places,” he says. “I think as you get older, it gets a little harder, but I think eventually we’ll just do it whenever we want. Maybe play on the weekends and just fly out and do a couple of shows. I think we want to do this as long as we can. I don’t know what the ultimate is. I guess just to create a legacy. To have something that when you look back on it, you’re like, holy shit, which we don’t really do. We don’t look back. We just always go forward.”
Of course, the band have gone platinum several times. “It’s crazy,” Brad says. “People say, oh my God, you have 17 number ones. You forget because you’re just always moving forward, and we’ve always been like that. So I think whenever it does end, we’ll probably be sitting holding our chairs going, holy Jesus, what a ride. So I guess that’s the goal.”
But they certainly know how to keep things grounded. “We’re all married with kids,” Brad says. “We’ve been doing this a long time. We’ve been with our spouses since day one, so they get what’s going on. We have three boys at home, and they’re all hockey players. It’s just cool to be at home and watch them grow. Then when I’m on the road now, it’s a little different. With facetime, you can watch them and see what they’re doing. It’s a whole different way of touring. But back in the day, I remember when I first had my first kid, it was so hard because you didn’t have that technology. We have a lot of support from home and love our families, so it’s good.”
That does not mean that the odd beer does not come out on tour. “We’re not spring chickens anymore,” Brad smiles. “We act like we’re 18 for about two weeks and then realize that we can’t do what we used to. It’s important right now to be healthy and get lots of sleep. Party when you can, but every night? Those days have come and gone. This last year, my knees are shot, right? So I’m up there before the gig putting all this menthol and wrapping my knees up. It’s from stomping around for 20 years.”
Three Days Grace performing is a full-body workout. “Absolutely,” Brad says, “If you see Matt performing, when he comes off stage, he is just drenched, as we all are, but it’s fun. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to play live. It’s our passion.”
Matt was looking fresh and ready for the evening’s gig, even though he had “stayed up till about five am playing cards last night.” Three Days Grace have certainly generated a Riot. The band were in full form in London and delivered without fail, never once losing momentum.
Three Days Grace play Hungary tonight. Further European dates await before a trip to Israel is followed by November dates in their home country. For tour details and tickets, visit https://threedaysgrace.com/events/