While Theory of a Deadman made its name on heavy riffs and post-grunge anthems, the Canadian band is singing a new tune on Say Nothing. The band has matured in both sound and lyrical content with a socially relevant message. The evolution began on prior album Wake Up Call, which saw the band importing new influences and defying the genre constraints of post-grunge. It was a distinct departure from 2014’s dark Savages.
“For me, [2014 song] ‘Angel’ was … a bit of a wake up call,” guitarist Dave Brenner said. “We had our heaviest record, and our most successful song was the mellowest, poppiest song on the record.”
Brenner realized that while there was segment of outspoken fans who loved the band’s heavy sound, the material that connected with fans the most was more nuanced and softer.
“There’s a lot of heavy bands that are filling that void,” he said. “I felt like the success that we were having and the songs that were connecting most with our fans were not our heavy songs.”
Connecting with producer Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, Yungblud), the band re-emerged with “Rx (Medicate),” a dark acoustic ballad tackling the topic of drug addiction. The song went on to be one of the band’s most successful singles ever, and it also ushered in a new era of the band addressing some of the most pressing cultural issues of the day in song.
Coming off the heels of that success, Brenner said the band felt a mixture of confidence and anxiety in returning to the studio in London with Terefe to record the follow-up.
“We picked up where we left off and were tracking things that would be on the final record on day one,” Brenner said of the recording process. “But in a weird way too, having the success on the last record from ‘Rx,’ there were some nerves as to whether we could follow that up.”
The success of “Rx (Medicate)” helped band member Tyler Connolly realize his own strengths as a songwriter, as well as the band’s strengths to address societal issues.
“We have a very interesting perspective because a bunch of us live in the states but are from Canada,” Brenner said. “We travel the world; we see how things operate all over the place.”
From opioid addiction to domestic violence and political divisions nationwide, Connolly found ample inspiration from which to draw. At one point in the studio, Brenner joked with Connolly, asking how much CNN he’d been watching.
“[Tyler] took a really awesome perspective in a lot of the songs where he doesn’t seem to take a side; he just points out what’s going on,” said Brenner. “Then it’s really about identifying the fact that there’s some problems before we can start to fix them.”
If someone had asked Brenner a decade ago—when Theory of a Deadman was at the height of the party rock scene—if he’d be writing socially conscious music, he said he would have laughed it off.
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve had songs that people have come up and told us that it made a difference in their life,” said Brenner. “I think you start to feel empowered to try to do something for good.”
Whether Connolly is name-checking the NRA or calling out social media, there is a distinctly modern message to Theory’s material that meets the moment. The guitarist said that while the album has somewhat of a somber and serious tone, it ends on a positive and empowering note with closer “It’s All Good.”
On previous albums, the band would spend weeks on pre-production and rehearsal before they even started tracking. With Terefe, everything was done on the fly. Terefe wanted to hear the mistakes and the different takes that went into finding the direction of a given song.
“He wanted to be there to capture the vibe and figure out what the song was,” Brenner said. “It was a complete 180 degree flop for us. We were playing everything together with Martin in the studio, almost like he’s the conductor as you’re playing it until he’s figured out the mood he wants to capture.”
The band was particularly inspired by a trip to Abbey Road Studios in London and used The Beatles work there as inspiration, incorporating brass, strings and a choir on Say Nothing.
Now on tour, the band is backing up its message, donating $1 from every ticket sold to benefit organizations supporting victims of domestic violence, an issue that is tackled on “History of Violence.” The year will see Theory of a Deadman criss-cross the U.S., Canada and Europe—the payoff for the work the band puts into writing and recording their albums.
“We’re going to be road-doggin’ it, but that’s what we like to do,” he said.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.