At a recent show at The Warfield, Jacoby Shaddix, frontman for the old-school nu-metal outfit Papa Roach, struck the classic rock star pose – feet together, arms outstretched – as white-blue-green lights popped furiously behind him.
The posture likely meant little to most of the 2,000-plus fans in attendance, there for a sonic pummeling from one of the biggest musical acts to break out of the greater Sacramento area. But for those familiar with recent events in Shaddix’s life, it was hard not to see a greater significance in his messianic body language.
Ask Shaddix and he’ll tell you that he spent years slam dancing with demons that nearly ruined his life, suppressing his sadness and insecurities with alcohol. But now he wants to tackle them head-on through song and strengthened faith, a prominent theme of Papa Roach’s new album, “F.E.A.R.,” an acronym for “Face Everything and Rise.”
“It kept taking me out,” Shaddix, 38, said about his alcohol dependency. “I like to check out because I don’t like dealing with my emotions on a daily basis. And then I checked out so long that everything would be slipping away from me.”
That would be a marriage that nearly crumbled and other important relationships that suffered. Shaddix, the father of three boys, remembers the agonizing worry he saw in his brother’s eyes three years ago when he visited Shaddix’s downtown Sacramento studio, when his life had hit a low point.
Despite Shaddix’s struggles, Papa Roach, rounded out by guitarist Jerry Horton, bassist Tobin Esperance and drummer Tony Palermo, continued to find success. Since releasing the breakout record “Infest” in 2000, the band had toured the world, landed two Grammy nominations and sold more than 4 million albums in the United States. In addition, Shaddix had parlayed his rock-star charisma into other high-profile jobs, including a gig hosting the MTV show “Scarred.”
But the fame that Shaddix dreamed about while growing up in Vacaville nearly ruined him, leaving him with a taste for bottle binging, an eating disorder and issues with cutting himself. It got so bad that Shaddix, who once nicknamed himself “Johnny Vodka,” said he started putting out cigarettes on his arm.
“I’d come to think, ‘What the (expletive) am I doing with myself?’” Shaddix said in a recent phone interview. “I did that a few times over the course of my life. This last time, I was just, ‘Enough!’ I need to treat myself the way I feel I deserve to be treated.”
In late 2012, exhausted from the never-ending cycle of hurt and hangovers, Shaddix said he got on his knees and asked God for help. But he was wary of organized religion, wondering if he’d be judged for his tattoos, spiky hair and hard-partying past.
Shaddix turned to Jason Harper, a family friend who also became Shaddix’s running coach on the journey to rebuild his body. Harper was also a pastor and director of community outreach at Capital Christian Center. Shaddix was still grappling with his faith, knowing he needed help from a higher power but not sure of the best route to take.
“He was in a hungry state,” Harper said. “I was training him and his wife to get ready for a marathon, and running became a metaphor for life. I found out we had quite a bit in common. We’d both struggled with religious rigor and the judgment of people. He learned it was OK to accept spirituality and God without having to sign off on the corruption of religion to be the best version of your self.”
On a New Year’s Day run with Harper in 2013, Shaddix stopped running in the middle of a Folsom trail, telling Harper he was “all in,” that he was giving his life to God. Two weeks later, Shaddix was baptized at Capital Christian Center.
But there were other concerns. Coming out as a devout Christian when you make your living in rock ’n’ roll, with all its hedonistic fantasies and anti-authority anthems, can be a tricky proposition. Any number of musicians have undergone religious transformations in their careers, be it Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Prince or Brian “Head” Welch of the rap-rock band Korn. Shaddix fretted about alienating the band’s fan base, while at the same time yearning to stay true to his spirituality.
“It can be a lose-lose situation,” said Harper. “Your fans will call you a sellout, and the Christian world will say you’re not doing enough for the faith.”
According to Shaddix, his band mates were supportive of his life changes. Shaddix’s most public pronouncement of his faith came during Easter weekend of 2014. The frontman, dressed in black slacks and a collared shirt, testified about his spirituality and sang during five standing-room-only services, for a combined audience of more than 10,000.
These days, however, Shaddix’s faith largely remains a personal matter, something between him and a higher power. The normally gregarious singer turns inward when the subject comes up in an interview.
“I’m totally terrified of being judged, most definitely,” Shaddix said. “But the thing is, when asked, I will tell. That’s my church I go to. That’s my pastor. But am I going to be pigeonholed into those Westboro Baptist nutty people that just don’t get it? I struggle with it.”
And a Papa Roach concert isn’t exactly a Young Life gathering. Shaddix dropped f-bombs during stage banter at The Warfield show and raised the time-honored devil-horns salute to heavy metal. There’s no dramatic soliloquy about finding God, no emphatic ask of the audience to get saved. It’s a straight-up rock gig, with sweaty bros barreling into one another in the mosh pit to high-octane guitar riffs.
The only reference to a place of worship: “I’m going to take you (expletives) to church,” Shaddix bellowed to the crowd. “YOU GOTTA GET OUT YOUR SEATS AT A PAPA ROACH SHOW!”
Shaddix sings of both the conflict and strength gained from his spiritual life in “F.EA.R.,” which was released Jan. 27 and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s hard rock album chart and the top of iTunes’ rock albums chart.
The album was recorded in Las Vegas, where resolve, devotion and faith are tested regularly. Harper, who sometimes accompanies Shaddix on tour as a sober buddy, encouraged the singer to redefine the city as a place of success, not somewhere to sink to new lows.
“It was like going back to the scene of the crime,” said Shaddix about Vegas. “I definitely had to have some spiritual armor on to go to a place like that. I came out a stronger person in the process. I locked myself in a studio for three months, essentially from noon to midnight. I just threw myself into the creative process and pulled all the layers back, took a microscope and got after myself.”
Far from the rap-rock leanings of Papa Roach’s early days, “F.E.A.R” displays a more straight-ahead rock sound that’s characterized much of the band’s later career. Shaddix often has sung of dysfunction, be it hits such as “Last Resort” and “Broken Home,” but goes deeper with his inner factions on “F.E.A.R.”
While Shaddix peppers “F.E.A.R.” with some of his spiritual leanings, the album hardly can be classified as Christian rock. But there are allusions to faith-based matters, which are most pronounced on “Devil,” a mid-tempo rocker toward the end of the album.
You can try to take my salvation/
You can try to take everything/
I’m not a slave to your temptation/
’Cause I know who you are and who the devil is.
Shaddix says his lyrics are more about baring his soul, a maturing of sorts, rather than trying to minister his fans.
“I called myself out on my (stuff) in the music, and made myself very vulnerable,” Shaddix said. “It’s been very cathartic and very awakening for me. The more I make myself vulnerable and more brutally real about my struggles and also my strengths, the … more honest (the music becomes). For us, it’s purpose-driven music. Bam! It’s loud noise to shine a light in the dark.”
Shaddix and the band are meanwhile prepping for a busy year to promote “F.E.A.R.” The band kicks off a European tour this month, followed by another North American trek, then back to Europe for a slew of summer festivals. Papa Roach is also performing a benefit show April 18 in Vacaville’s Andrews Park. Proceeds will go toward a cancer center being built by NorthBay Healthcare Foundation.
Shaddix stays busy with outside projects as well. He launched a clothing company, Lovers Are Lunatics, and is a partner in Luminous Marketing & Media. The Vacaville company is producing a documentary about Noah Coughlan, who twice has run across the country to raise awareness for Batten Disease. The firm is also developing a feature film based on Coughlan.
Papa Roach remains a top priority for Shaddix, as noted by the “Born To Rock” tattoo across his chest. But after all the chaos of his career, and finally filling the “God-sized” hole in his soul, he rocks with a sense of renewal.
“Yeah, I lived a crazy life,” Shaddix said. “Rock ’n’ roll become something different to me. It’s about standing up for yourself, not getting mowed over in your life and finding strength in the storm. We all have our battles. I just want to maintain that ferocious fire.”
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.