Cut My Life Into Pieces: Papa Roach On 20 Years Of “Last Resort”

Papa Roach

Cut My Life Into Pieces: Papa Roach On 20 Years Of “Last Resort”

Papa Roach

If you’ve come into contact with Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” in the last decade or so, it’s likely been in meme form. Pizzas, leashes, Reese’s, Jesus — all things that have been cut into pieces as the deathless chorus to the Cali rockers’ hard-charging hit has, as with so much late-’90s and early-’00s pop cultural artifacts, been refracted in cyberspace to the point of absurdity twice removed. But Papa Roach’s most culturally impactful single to date (which notched the band’s first chart-topping Billboard entry on the Alternative Songs list and turns 20 years old this month along with Infest the album it was featured on,) made a mark in ways that transcend kitsch.

When “Last Resort” first appeared on the soundtrack to the David Arquette wrestling comedy Ready To Rumble in 2000, modern rock was awash in a grey-sounding post-grunge miserabilia that had coalesced into the oft-derided rock subgenre of nü-metal. Much of this music teemed with angst and apathy, but few songs were as direct about its subject matter as “Last Resort,” which featured frontman and co-songwriter Jacoby Shaddix explicitly referencing self-harm and suicidal ideation. The last decade of both indie and mainstream musical culture has seen an increase in discussion of mental health awareness, but at the turn of century Papa Roach were practically at the forefront of the FM dial when it came to getting real about how we feel.

“It kickstarted this 20-year dialogue about how our music’s been a beacon of hope to people,” the 43-year-old Shaddix states during a phone conversation. “That wasn’t the mission, but it’s funny how things work out, man.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into full gear, he and Papa Roach were touring in Europe behind last year’s Who Do You Trust?; since his quarantine started, he’s been holed up with his wife and three sons while building a home studio, making crawfish boils (“It was so hot that it was almost miserable, but you eat through the heat”), and perfecting his barbecue chicken recipe. “We’re just being grateful for each others’ company and trying not to drive each other crazy,” he says. “But I’m really enjoying this time with my family, because I’ve spent a lot of time on the road.”

But he’ll be taking some time apart from his family this Saturday, 1PM PST, for “Infest In-Conversation,” a livestream featuring the band’s Infest-era lineup (including drummer Dave Buckner, who left the band after 2006’s The Paramour Sessions) as well as “surprise guests” to celebrate the album’s official anniversary with cooped-up fans tuning in. As we discuss the legacy of that album and “Last Resort” in particular, as well as Shaddix’s own mental health struggles over the years and the changing state of rock music, he’s sincere and passionate about the impact his music has had on himself, let alone anyone else: “Music is a way that I find some clarity. I’m wrestling with this shit and trying to make sense of it, and I came to find out that so many people out there feel the same way.”

STEREOGUM: Tell me about the origins of “Last Resort.”

JACOBY SHADDIX: I was living with one of my best friends, and he had a mental breakdown — it was a culmination of all these events in his life that came to a head. He attempted suicide and was hospitalized, and he found God eventually. His life has miraculously changed in so many positive ways. But it was really traumatic for me, as a young person living on my own. I was like, “Fuck, I almost lost my brother.” It really hurt, and I couldn’t do anything to help the situation — I’m one of his best friends, and I didn’t see it coming. I’d started writing songs about my feelings at this point in time, and I wrote this song in first person. A lot of people thought I wrote it about myself, but it wasn’t until years later that I understood the song when I went through a dark moment in my life.

The beauty of “Last Resort” is that my friend’s struggle and pain sparked an emotion in me that sparked a lyric that sparked a connection through music worldwide with millions of people. Thousands of lives have been saved by this song. I meet people every day on tour who are like, “Your music saved my life.” It’s pretty amazing that you can take this trauma and put it into art, and it becomes a beacon of hope to people. We don’t want to feel alone — that’s what it comes down to. A lot of times when we’re in dark mental states, our heads can speak some dark stuff into our existence. Music can cut through those icy parts of your heart. You take a look at yourself and understand that struggle is a part of this life.

STEREOGUM: When did your roommate attempt suicide?

SHADDIX: 1997 or ’98.

STEREOGUM: Had you experienced any similar instances regarding friends or family members’ mental health previously?

SHADDIX: My biological father was a Vietnam veteran who dealt with a lot of trauma as a kid, and that trauma spilled into his adult life. He had a rough run, man. He’s still alive, and I have a pretty decent relationship with him — not in super close contact, it is what it is. My parents got divorced when I was 10, so the early years of my life were really volatile and chaotic. The only thing that was continuous and strong in my life was my mom. She’s an amazing woman, and she got remarried eventually, and [her husband] has shown me a healthy route to being a human.

When we were writing Infest, I was encouraged by a friend who was like, “You need to tell your story, man. You need to dive into the dark parts of your life that you’ve avoided and put it into the music.” That was the first album I’d really started doing that on. Previous to that, I wasn’t writing with any emotional depth at all. In hindsight, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to become vulnerable and put my emotions and life experiences [into the music]. The Papa Roach story has always been, “How do we untangle this ball of knotted yarn inside our minds and hearts?” We’re not responsible for what happens to us when we’re young, but we are responsible in dealing with what happens to us.

STEREOGUM: There’s songs on Infest about the pain of family life, but Papa Roach as a band takes its name from your late step-grandfather. It seems like family is very important to you.

SHADDIX: I strive to create a safe space within my home and the structures I have. I’m into commitment. I’ve been in Papa Roach since I was 16. It’s an extended family. Where I grew up, I felt like I was a misfit or an outsider. The culture around rock music made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. I firmly believe I was not designed to be alone.

I look at a lot of issues in society now, from the perspective I’ve gained as a father, and I think a lot of the issues I see in the world stem from family. If we’re growing up fatherless or motherless and our early years are full of trauma, chances are that we’re gonna repeat that. I’m trying not to repeat the same stuff I’ve walked through.

STEREOGUM: When’s the last time you spoke to the roommate that inspired “Last Resort”?

SHADDIX: A year and a half, or two years ago. He’s doing great, man. He’s got a wife and two daughters. He’s just living a good life and taking care of his. He’s a real spiritual guy, and a lot of us are really in search of what this is all about — what’s the reason for this life, the silver lining in this madness. It’s a mission we’re all on.

STEREOGUM: You said about “Last Resort” in 2015 that, “That song was about one of my best friends, and then 12-13 years later, that song was about me.” What was your experience?

SHADDIX: I’ve been learning the difference between sadness and depression — between living a life of sobriety, or not. A lot of my dark demons I’d never dealt with kept popping up, and I used drugs and alcohol to quiet those feelings. I’m a hypersensitive person — an empath, passionate. So nine years ago I was in a really dark place, drinking really heavy, my personal life was falling apart, and I was asked by my wife to get the fuck out. That was a really hard moment in my life, because she couldn’t deal with the darkest space I was in. I was like a black cloud, and the drinking had taken a toll on myself, my wife, and my relationship. I went into some real dark depression and felt really lost and alone.

I was in a space where I wanted to end my life. I never thought I’d get to that space, but all of the sudden I was done. I’ve had a couple of moments of clarity in my life, and I had a moment of clarity that made me realize if I fell back into the old me, I’d be dead anyways, so I had to take this opportunity to become the new me. I found a path out, and for me it was sobriety — hitting my knees and praying to a God I didn’t believe in or understand. I continued to stay sober and give the new me a shot, and here I am nine years later. I haven’t picked up a drink in over eight years, I got a spiritual life, an amazing wife. The darkness in my mind wanted to take that all away, and I was just listening to it. I had to take these inner demons and let them go.

Part of it is mental health, and part of it is raw self-destruction — and when you put those two together, it’s a recipe for disaster. I understand why people struggle to talk about these feelings — it’s a messed-up thing. But if people knew the shit that was going on inside my head, they’d be like, “Oh shit, I can relate to this guy!” [Laughs] So I just try to be on my posi-core shit, and the madness in my head quiets down.

STEREOGUM: MTV and multiple radio stations censored the lyrics to “Last Resort” that discussed self-harm and suicide.

SHADDIX: It felt pretty dangerous to them. We were on the front end of the dialogue within pop culture for [talking about suicide], and the system didn’t understand how to take that message. Over time, it’s become more of an acceptable conversation to have. We’re looking more into the dark corners of ourselves lately and finding out who we are as people.

STEREOGUM: Before it became a hit or even appeared on Infest, “Last Resort” debuted on the soundtrack to the David Arquette wrestling comedy Ready To Rumble.

SHADDIX: We also had a song on Queen Of The Damned, and “Blood Brothers” was on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

STEREOGUM: Did you ever see Ready To Rumble?

SHADDIX: Nah. Here’s the thing about me: I didn’t have a television until I was 10 years old, so I never grew up sitting down and watching TV. So when I finally had a TV, I was like, “Whatever, I’m gonna go outside.” I do like some films, but it takes a lot for me to want to invest myself in that.

STEREOGUM: What’s the last movie that you saw?

SHADDIX: A movie I saw that I loved is The Big Lebowski. Absolute classic.

STEREOGUM: What’s your memories of filming Marcos Siega’s music video for “Last Resort”?

SHADDIX: We were getting ready to leave on our first national tour, and it was the kickoff — shooting a music video with all our fans from NorCal. Marcos did such a great job telling a story where he brought these kids from an isolated space to being a part of something. All of our families showed up. It was one of those peak moments at that time in my life, where we’d worked so hard since 1993 — and my life’s never been the same since.

STEREOGUM: There’s posters for the Sacramento radio station 98 ROCK in the video, too.

SHADDIX: There were two stations in Sacramento: LIVE 106.5, the alternative station, and the hard rock station 98 ROCK, who were the first station ever to play us. It was this guy Pat Martin, who’s still one of the program directors there 20 years later — he put us on one of their big festival jamboree shows. We opened for Staind, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock as an independent band. To this day, when we drop singles, they’re one of the first stations to play the song. Only, now it’s 93 ROCK, but you know how that goes.

STEREOGUM: How have the pathways to success in the music industry changed now compared to when you started out?

SHADDIX: It’s genre-specific. Pop is force-fed down your throat, whereas hip-hop has very viral marketing that’s done really well. To this day, rock radio has a big impact on rock bands’ careers. It’s a vital part of what we do, especially for touring. We couple terrestrial and satellite radio and do some viral marketing, and you get the perfect storm of capturing the rock audience.

I feel like there’s a resurgence of rock music right now. There was an era where the record companies were saying, “You gotta turn your guitars off and turn the keyboards up!” I was like, “Fuck off. This shit will pass.” There was some great alternative music that came through — synth-pop, that’s rad as well. But us rock bands, we can’t turn our fuckin’ guitar off. It’s fuckin’ rock and roll. I feel proud to be part of this culture that will always be here and strong. You go to Sonic Temple Festival, and there’s 90,000 rock fans going fuckin’ crazy.

STEREOGUM: Have you heard the new Code Orange album?

SHADDIX: Code Orange is heavy as fuck, dog. That new record is pretty savage. I’ve given it two listens, and I’m gonna go on a run again today and listen to it again. They are fucking brutal. You feel the pain and anger just seething out of their sound.

STEREOGUM: What other contemporary rock acts do you enjoy?

SHADDIX: I love the energy that Beartooth brings to the live stage. Big fan of Slipknot, I love those guys. Bring Me the Horizon are doing some really exciting things with music — they’re breaking down barriers and walls within their own spaces. There’s this guy Grandson that I dig, who’s on some future blues-Rage Against The Machine shit. I’m excited to see what MGK does, because he went into the studio with some rock guys I know. I think he’s pretty dope. AWOLNATION’s got a vibe, too.

STEREOGUM: Some of your contemporaries from the early 2000s hard-rock era trafficked regularly in misogyny and chauvinism in their music, and those attitudes persist today as well. What’s your perspective on that, and have you seen things change over the years?

SHADDIX: I grew up at a time where I saw a lot of injustice in terms of how people were treated. Nobody is “less than.” I see everyone as my equal — I see the garbageman as my equal. I worked in the service industry, I used to strip and wax floors at a hospital, I know what that hard work is. I don’t consider myself a sexist. I feel like everybody has unique gifts and talents. Misogyny mixed with music, that’s never been how I’ve wanted to approach music. I’ve always wanted to come from an informed place and sing for the underdog, and that path is what’s given us tools to cut through the fuckin’ noise.

STEREOGUM: What would you tell a young person right now who might be struggling with mental health issues during quarantine?

SHADDIX: Stop eating sugar. Start getting 30 minutes of sunlight on your face every day. Start working out five days a week. Start writing a gratitude list every day when you wake up in the morning. Call as many people as you possibly can and talk with them. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings. I’m in recovery, so I meet up with other dudes on Zoom every day at 2PM to talk about the madness in the fuckin’ head. Putting your feelings on paper is another way — I call it “writing out the crazy.” I’ll go back and read what I wrote and go, “Fuck, I was losing my shit there!” But I always feel better. Also, Google some breathing exercises.

I know I sound like I’m on some hippy-dippy shit, but these are things that I’ve implemented in my life that help me, and when I’m not doing it, I see the difference. Your mind can be a crazy, wicked-ass playground, and the loudest voices are often the most negative. If you can find ways to quiet those louder voices, that’s where the piece is. Fuck, just get rid of sugar, man. Seriously, it’s terrible for your brain. I never knew it. Big part of my problem, man. I’m not trying to be some type of health guru, though — I still go on my binges and eat that chocolate ice cream.

CREDIT: Darren Craig

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org to chat with someone online.

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