It would be logical to think that 3 Doors Down knew they had a hit single on their hands with the song "Kryptonite" well before that song was ever released as the lead single from the band's first CD, The Better Life. A version of the song included on an early, self-released CD landed on the playlist of WCPR in Biloxi, Mississippi and stayed in rotation at the station for 25 weeks.
The success of the song helped 3 Doors Down get a deal with Republic Records, part of the Universal Records group of labels. But guitarist Chris Henderson said the band didn't come onto the national scene with heightened expectations because of the early success of "Kryptonite."
"We're from the South, and the South is like its own little world down there, especially where we live, Mississippi," he said. "It's like living in a bubble. We thought while it did well here, what does that mean? This is the smallest market in America. It did well here. That doesn't mean it's going to do well in Boston. That doesn't mean it's going to do well in New York City. Come on, those people there are bombarded with every different type of music you can think of. And Mississippi's really not. They only get what they get. We thought we'd have a regional hit. We thought we'd do well around Biloxi and around Texas and maybe around Georgia. We didn't think it would go any farther than that."
Obviously, "Kryptonite" has gone a long way -- right to the top of the mainstream rock chart -- and far enough to have propelled 3 Doors Down's debut CD, The Better Life, past four million in sales. And with a new single, "Be Like That," having now hit the top 20 (following two other singles that topped the mainstream rock charts, "Loser" and "Duck And Run"), it doesn't look like the band's momentum will slow any time soon.
The success of The Better Life is quite an achievement given the humble beginnings of 3 Doors Down. The band was formed by singer/drummer Brad Arnold, bassist Todd Harrell and guitarists Matt Roberts and Henderson about five years ago in the small Mississippi town of Escatawpa. (Drummer, Richard Liles has since joined, enabling Arnold to move out front as singer.)
The group built a following by playing around the Southeast, selling their self-made CD at gigs in 1997. But it was a decision to pursue a slot on a "home grown" show dedicated to area talent on WCPR that eventually paid the biggest dividends for 3 Doors Down. Over the course of a year, the band made some 10 appearances on either WCPR's "home grown" show or the station's morning show before "Kryptonite" was added to the playlist and record labels tuned into the band.
Once Republic/Universal signed 3 Doors Down, they sent the group to Memphis to record The Better Life with producer Paul Ebersold. According to Henderson, the album is basically a spruced up version of the original CD recorded by 3 Doors Down nearly three years earlier.
"We didn't restructure the songs that much at all," Henderson said. "We might have added a bridge, something like that. We didn't write any new lyrics and we didn't really structure any of the songs any different or have any line changes at all. We just added some guitar here, some drums here, that kind of thing."
That said, Henderson feels Ebersold made a significant impact on The Better Life by understanding how subtle touches could make a major difference in the final version of a song.
"What he does to these songs is he adds a dynamic to it. Like he can hear a sound on top of a sound," Henderson said. "He can bring life to part of a song that didn't have life before. If you listen to 'Kryptonite,' you'll hear what I'm talking about. There are these high strung guitars in the background. And subtle strings. There are some strings in 'Duck And Run' that you can't really hear, but they're there. If you listen to the mix without them, you can tell they're not there.
"He's got a really, really good ear for what people like," Henderson said. "When they put a song together on these records, it's a science to make people like it. They can take a bad song and they can make it a great song. And Paul can take a terrible song and make it a great song."
Judging from the material on The Better Life, 3 Doors Down's songs were far better than terrible when Ebersold got involved in the project. With a guitar rock sound that sits comfortably alongside mainstream acts like Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind, songs like "Kryptonite" (known for its line "If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman"), "Not Enough," "Better Life" and "Loser" are all built around meaty guitar riffs and melodic vocals. Though hardly innovative in style, one thing that separates 3 Doors Down from bands like Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind is that their songs are built around heavier guitars that add an appealing dose of crunch to the band's sound.
Henderson said the approach 3 Doors Down takes to music is as straightforward as it seems. "I think that the key to rock 'n' roll in America today is you want to keep it simple. You want a groove in there, you want harmony and you want melody," he said. "You just want simple songs that people can relate to, songs about life, everyday life, because that's what everybody is faced with every day is everyday life."
With sales of The Better Life climbing past quadruple platinum, it's possible that 3 Doors Down could be the Matchbox Twenty of 2001, a band that seemingly comes out of nowhere and sees their debut CD become a monster hit. Henderson isn't fazed by the idea of the band selling upwards of 10 million albums.
"That's what we want, that's what we've always wanted, that's what anybody in a band wants," he said. "I look at it like this: There are so many people in bands who want to do this, and there are so many bands that don't make it, that aren't successful. One or two are, so when you're successful, man, you've got to take it and run with it. Basically we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to everybody else and to all of our fans to do the best we can and take everything that comes to us. Let it get as big as it possibly can get. We'll handle it."
By the same token, Henderson said he and his bandmates aren't going to let the success of The Better Life become a distraction when it comes time to record the next CD.
"We're going to approach our next record just like we approached our first one," he said. "We're going to write some songs, we're going to go in the studio and we're going to see what happens. That's really all you can do, and if you try too hard, you know what, you're going to make a mistake and step on your feet."