In 2000, rock band 3 Doors Down delivered its breakthrough album “The Better Life.”
This month, its 20th anniversary tour comes to Baltimore’s MECU Pavilion on Aug. 20.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” Frontman Brad Arnold told WTOP. “I had just turned 21 and started touring, so I’ve been touring for half my life now. … It is by the grace of God that we’ve been doing this for this long.”
Born in Escatawpa, Mississippi in 1978, Arnold grew up the youngest of seven kids.
“My dad listened to everything from Marty Robbins to Charley Pride,” Arnold said. “My older brothers listened to Boston and Kansas, my sister loved Bon Jovi, Poison and all the ’80s bands, and another brother listened to country. … I had an influence from a lot of different stuff.”
He met his future bandmates Matt Roberts and Todd Harrell at a very young age.
“I never remember not knowing them,” Arnold said. “I played t-ball with Matt, he’s like my third cousin, and Todd dated my sister in middle school when I was a little kid. I’ve known those guys my entire life. They’re just those kind of people where you don’t remember not knowing them.”
How did they come up with the name 3 Doors Down?
“We came up with the name a day before a gig,” Arnold said. “We were riding through Foley, Alabama on the way to Gulf Shores. That little town had a ton of fruit stands and one had moved a couple parcels down and they put a sign up on their booth saying their business had moved so many doors down. … Todd said, ‘What about 3 Doors Down?'”
Arnold wrote the band’s breakthrough hit “Kryptonite” in high school algebra class.
“Like a lot of catchy songs, they’re the easiest to write,” Arnold said. “Occasionally one will fall out of the sky and hit me in the mouth. … I was in 16, tapping on my desk, that’s where the little drum beat comes from at the beginning of the song. I wrote down the lyrics. … The general meaning of the song is the question: Will you be there for me unconditionally whether I’m up or down?'”
The song was played heavily on the local radio station, generating enough buzz to sign a record deal with Republic Records. Their debut album sent “Kryptonite” to No. 1 on both the rock and alternative charts, followed by the darker hit “Loser,” a tale of teen addiction and suicide.
“It was actually about one of my friends,” Arnold said. “I wasn’t calling him a loser; it was actually how I thought he viewed himself. He’s fine now, but at the time he was going through a rough spot in his life with some drugs. … I don’t think any young man sees himself living to be an old man.”
The album also included the aspirational “Be Like That.”
“At the time, we knew we were getting signed,” Arnold said. “That song was kind of just me looking forward to a dream. It has the character of the little boy, but I think that little boy is just me looking ahead to dreams. … We all have those dreams. It’s interesting to look out [at the crowd] and see people sing that song with their own dreams in their eyes. … It’s so cool to get to see that.”
The band’s second album “Away From the Sun” (2002) showed Arnold maturing as a songwriter. Instead of writing about high school, he was writing about missing folks back home while out on the road, a common theme in the hit songs “When I’m Gone” and “Here Without You.”
“You can tell, well, he wrote those lyrics on a tour bus,” Arnold said. “The line in ‘Here Without You’ is ‘100 days have made me older since the last time I saw your pretty face.’ That was based on the longest time we ever went on tour without going home, which was three months. … The first three years of our tour, we probably played 300 shows a year and I’ll bet we visited 200 radio stations.”
In 2007, the band recorded “Citizen/Soldier” as part of a recruitment campaign by the U.S. National Guard, which featured a music video directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”).
“The National Guard wanted us to write a song that they could play in the movie theaters,” Arnold said. “Antoine Fuqua, who’s one of the best directors ever, he was so freakin’ cool. He was just the coolest dude. … To see his eye, how he set up those shots, it was just really a cool project. … It’s our pleasure to do anything with the military anytime we can.”
Arnold turns 43 next month and his life has slowed down a lot.
“I’ve been sober for five years,” Arnold said. “Back in the day at 3:00, I was taking a shot of Jack Daniels. Now, 3:00 in the daytime, I’m like, ‘Mmm, about time for a nap.'”
Yes, life is much simpler when you’re not “three shots down.”
“Now I’m three pillows down,” Arnold joked.