Nick Furlong: The Papa Roach and Fever 333 Collaborator Talks Songwriting
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Nick Furlong is a collaborator who doesn’t pay any mind to genre barriers: he’s collaborated with Five Seconds Of Summer, Steve Aoki, Kygo, Machine Gun Kelly, Waka Floka Flame, among others. But what we were interested in was his longstanding collaborative relationship with Papa Roach, with whom he worked on 2017’s Crooked Teeth and 2019’s Who Do You Trust?
Let’s talk about some of the songs you wrote with Papa Roach. Let’s start with “American Dream.”
It’s definitely one of the songs that I feel like stood out from the minute that we started it. There was initially like a track idea that I believe Tobin [Esperance, bass] or Anthony [Palermo, drums] had brought in. And we sort of just kind of like took it and ran with it. They had this vision for the instrumental and it just sort of worked. Jacoby [Shaddix, vocals] and I sort of sat down and Jacoby had that chorus idea, like instantly it just kind of slapped itself together. And before we knew it, we had a song.
When you’re writing with Papa Roach, are you only involved in the music? Do you work with Jacoby on the lyrics as well?
So, it’s kind of an interesting dynamic. It depends on… I sort of play the role of being the man where I’m needed the most, you know? If we’re working on a musical idea and it’s myself and Colin [Brittain, co-producer] and Tobin and Jerry [Horton, guitar] and we’re kind of just playing with some sort of a track idea or coming up with a progression or something, that’s usually how it starts our process so that we have something to work off of. In this case, it was like they already had a track idea. They sort of brought it in. And we figured out a way to divvy up the team where Colin was working with Jerry and Tobin and I’m in the other room with Jacoby, and Jacoby is going through the chorus and we’re going through lines back and forth.
When Jacoby and I do that, he and go into the same room. We’re both on our cell phones and we’re just like nervously walking around the room, just typing and like mouthing words, like whispering to ourselves and hearing that beat over and over and over. And then we’ll go back to each other and compare our verse ideas.
For a lot of people, myself included, “Last Resort” was our first exposure to Papa Roach. I actually was working at MTV2 at that time. And we played that song every five minutes. They were one of the bands from that era that we’re really talking frankly about mental health. But “American Dream” seemed like, in some ways, an “American Idiot” moment for them. They were getting political; it was inspired by watching some of the political debates in 2016.
We started that record in the summer and the first song that we did together was “My Medication.” And then it sort of turned into like, “Hey, this song is really cool, we love working together. Let’s keep working together and see what else we can do.”
And then when we got into “American Dream,” it was debate season during an election year. It was Hillary versus Trump, a really controversial election. And it was just like chaos in the news, as I’m sure everybody knows. And so we kind of felt like, you know, that song and “None Of The Above” were sort of just like a way for us to vent a little steam. We’re like, “Everything’s kind of f—ed up. But it doesn’t have to be, you know?”
Was there any anxiety on Jacoby’s part, like, “We’re really not that political: I don’t know if I want to do this?”
Of course, there’s always that thought. We had the conversation about: “These things are happening.”And obviously, as musicians and especially like with a band like that, with an actual reach, we have the ability to have a platform to say stuff and have a message in the songs that we write. And the hope is that you actually are writing music that resonates with people for a reason, and we just felt like [the song] was coming from a place of concern and genuine compassion. We were concerned about soldiers coming home with PTSD. And that was a topic that we had been talking about because we had family in the military: Jacoby [did] and I did. And we had sort of bonded over talking about how it’s just kind of f—ed up that these guys go to war and then they end up like coming home to not a lot of help.
The system’s broken in a lot of ways for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be, and it’s always going to be a work in progress. And, you know, the song was more meant to say, like, the American dream is not something you go out and you earn is like an award or a trophy, it’s something that you award yourself, within yourself.
How does it sound to you now, four years later as we’re in another election season?
It’s funny, we did an album right after that. We went straight back into the studio and did another record called Who Do You Trust? And people will still hit me up. Like I just had a friend call me three weeks ago. He’s like, “Dude, I was sleeping on that new Papa Roach man.” And I was like, “Who Do You Trust?” And he’s like, “No, that Crooked Teeth album.” And that album came out like four years ago.
So it’s interesting to me that people are still catching on to it. To go back to the question, I definitely feel like the songs that were written then… the political climate hasn’t really improved. It’s only gotten worse, which has only made these songs more relevant, in my opinion.
Another song off that album is “Help,” talk about that.
That song was one of those “lightning in a bottle” moments that producers and writers kind of talk about where something just kind of magical happens in the room. And I think it was just that we were all at our wit’s end. We had just written Crooked Teeth. We poured our hearts and souls into this album and we just wanted it to be so good, to make a statement that rock and roll wasn’t dead and that this band who has been doing this for 20 years can still just pump something out that gets people pumped. So when we started getting into the record, we had done the entire thing and we were at the very end of it. And the label was like, “We just don’t hear the big radio single.” We were frustrated by that. It’s common that a label will come back to you and say that. But it’s always frustrating. But we decided to go back in for another week. And in that week, we got “None Of The Above.”
And then we also got “Help.” And we got “Help,” it was like instantly… when we heard that riff on the acoustic, everyone in the room kind of stopped and was like, “That feels good.” And then it just sort of slapped together out of frustration of Jacoby and myself both kind of going through some anxiety… I was actually just starting to suffer from panic attacks for the first time from being way overworked. I had never experienced it before. And so it was like interesting that to be able to write from a place of genuine fear. Those lyrics in that song… we lived that s—. Jacoby’s lived it. I lived it.
And it felt like, you know, a blip in time to be like writing in a journal to somebody else to be like, “You are not alone, man. It’s OK.” I feel like a lot of men don’t really stand up and talk about their struggles with mental health. And so I think it’s cool that, you know, Jacoby is not afraid to do that. And that Papa Roach is a band, has always prided themselves on being able to talk so freely and openly about that with their fans.
I remember when I was seeing the “Last Resort” video every five minutes, I was taken aback. It was a few years after Korn, but not a lot of hard rock bands used to talk about this stuff.
I love the contrast of happy-sad where you’re speaking about something that’s serious and it matters and it’s something that’s not the most happy of subjects, but it’s necessary to talk about… and you’re doing it over music that sounds like it’s a summer anthem. And I think the reason that it works so well is because of that contrast.
So let’s go to the next record, Who Do You Trust? In 2018 I was the editor in chief of Loudwire, which is when the Fever 333 came out. And that record Made An America, which I know you worked on… I figured, “The Papa Roach guys must have heard Fever 333.” It’s not that they’re ripping anybody off. But I think they might’ve gotten some energy from hearing that record.
Well, it’s interesting. I think it’s just that it might have been, Fever 333 has always been politically charged. And I started working with Fever. Me and Jason [Aalon Butler, Fever 333 vocalist] and John Feldmann [producer] started working together and writing “Made An America” was the first song I think we did together. It was either that or “Burn It.”
I started working with Fever right after I did Crooked Teeth with Feldmann. And then when we started going back into Who Do You Trust? I think I was just like, “Jacoby, like, listen to some of this stuff that we’re doing over here with John Feldmann and Fever and Travis Barker.” [Barker worked on Fever 333’s music as well.]
Jacoby was f—ing pissed, too, just like most people. He was like, “I want to vent as well. I’ve got some things I want to say about how I feel about the way that… I see what’s going on and the way I feel about it. I want to express it.” And so when I got that fire in him, I was just able to kind of like, push [him] in the right direction: “Say what you want to say. Get it all out. Get it on paper. And then let’s craft it up in a way that you know is delivered the right way.”
And another song from that album that I want to ask about is “Elevate.”
“Elevate” was a great one. It was another one of those things where it was like I had like a little track idea. That was a little bit more hip-hop leading. And I played it. And Colin had this crazy idea for the verse. And then Tobin’s just playing his bassline that makes it super funky. And everybody just kind of like came together with an idea. It’s almost like when you do a table read with a bunch of actors and you’re all sort of like improvising and putting in little things. And everybody contributes a little bit. And then all of a sudden you just have this scene that works. And that was kind of how “Elevate” came together. It was everyone just kind of had a piece here, a piece there, and it all just kind of worked.
Back in the day in the rock world, generally speaking, the people who are writing the songs are the ones singing it. Rock bands used to not want to do the thing that Papa Roach has done so successfully with you — writing with someone outside the band. How did you get involved with working with them in this kind of way?
I’m glad you asked that, man. For me, it was just gaining trust in multiple ways, like getting people’s trust in your track record. So, when they look at other things you’ve worked on, how have those things performed? And what are you about? What do you bring to the table that makes you worthy of having input on somebody else’s brand and somebody else’s work? When I met them I was able to kind of just show them what I was capable of doing. And there was no pressure.
And I was already coming into the room with like a couple of other different relationships and had a couple of mutual friends and had worked with other artists that they respected and other people that they were into. So there was some credibility there. But there was also a little bit of: “Let’s see if you can prove it.”
And I did on the first session: Colin and I were able to just slam a song out of the park with these guys and the trust was just built by being able to deliver. You know, we weren’t “hijacking” Papa Roach. We were just kind of adding value in places where we saw that, “Hey, maybe this could be a little bit better. Maybe we could change this about that.” Or, “What if instead of saying this, you say this and it makes the line like more metaphorical?” You’re just fine-tuning a very nice car. And everything is just like a community effort.
Because of that, there’s no ego and nobody’s stepping on each other’s toes and there’s communication. So if a majority of people like something and a lesser majority don’t like it, we can have a conversation about it without it being a big drama fest. And I think having that close-knit family mentality when we make records is what makes it special.
It’s definitely unique and it’s definitely different. You could presume from listening to Papa Roach, that they were schooled on Nirvana, they were schooled on the Pixies, they were schooled on Rage Against the Machine. And those are not bands where they have their producer come and help them write songs. But Papa Roach was smart enough to realize “This will make us better.” And also maybe they realized that tastes were changing.
I don’t think Zack de la Rocha wants help writing and I don’t think Tom Morello wants somebody to tell him what to do. I don’t think some of these bands are open to the idea of it… because it’s not necessary in some of their cases, or they just don’t feel it’s necessary. And that’s totally fine, too. I mean, some people like to just do what they do, for example, like… I think a good off-and-on collaborator would be Tyler Joseph from twenty one pilots because he’s capable of writing and producing a full song by himself. But then he might tap one of the guys from Mutemath or, you know, on blurryface worked with Ricky Reed. And he just may phone a friend, but doesn’t necessarily have to.
In the case of Papa Roach, I think that we just figured out a way… it wasn’t like a one-off thing. It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s go in with these guys and do one song. And the rest of the album is done by, like, [producer] Kevin Churko.” It was like, “Let’s just make it a full-fledged thing where all the songs are funky and we just do a full album.” And then, we had [songwriter] Jason Evigen guest on “Born for Greatness.” It all just kind of worked. And the cool thing about Papa Roach, too, is they’re one of those bands that can kind of do anything. You know, they can get away with anything. They can’t be really pinned down. And they Jacoby can sing and he’s just like a pot of energy. And so it’s like, what do you do with that? You can do whatever you want. You can do “Last Resort. You can do “Scars.” You can do any number of the new songs that we’ve done together and get away with it.
They’re fascinating to me too, because in 1999, if you told me this band is going to be seriously viable in 21 years and people are going to care about their new records, I would’ve been like, “Really?” I don’t know that I would have called that one. In the ’90s, you had Ozzfest and there were tons of loud guitar rock bands. I don’t know that I would have predicted that they would be one of the last ones of standing.
I agree with you. I think that nobody probably really saw that coming. It’s cool… like, we all met each other. We like to make music. And I grew up listening to them, obviously, and they were f—ing with what me and Colin were doing. And so it was just one of those weird, happy accidents. Right place, right time. We found each other. We were introduced by their manager who was working with another friend of ours that we were working with. And so it just happened. And when we made the first song and after the first song, we were like, “There’s something here to this relationship.”
There was something that we need: the ability to prove ourselves. And they needed, I think, just somebody to point them in a different direction.
Talk about Colin, you mention him a lot.
Dude: Collin’s great, man! So I met Colin when he was engineering for John Feldmann. And shortly after, he had decided that he wanted to go out on his own. But he was kind of debating on if he should go back and forth between L.A. [and Nashville] or just go back to Nashville. And one night I told him, “Just stay with me, stay here in L.A., you know, like give it like six months. And I guarantee we’ll start getting some stuff going.”
And at the time I had just started I had just come off the back of working with Five Seconds Of Summer and working with Avicii, and I had had some stuff going on with Steve Aoki. So the first thing Colin and I did was a collaboration with Steve Aoki called “Feel.”
And then, yeah, like I was working with him on some demos. I got a call from Alex Gaskarth to work on an All Time Low record. And so I went out to work with him and I just was like “Colin, why don’t you come with me?” Colin and I just loved working together. And I also saw it as an opportunity to like have another ally, who’s a young producer in the rock world, who is making dope s—. And if he wins and I win and we’re both winning and then everybody’s winning. I love seeing my peers get successful. And if I can help somebody at any time, I will for sure.
After All Time Low, the opportunity came to work with Papa Roach and I was like, “Yeah, for sure. Can I bring my buddy Colin?” That was it. He’s one of the most insane, just like crazy engineers that I’ve ever met. It’s funny because we’re almost a little like neurotic when we’re working. Like, I’m hyper-thinking about ideas and concepts and lyrics and chord progressions and how it’s all gonna be arranged and I’m visualizing the end game in my head while it’s happening in real-time, I can see where the song goes immediately in my head. And Colin’s like, ripping cables out and plugging in guitars and figuring out a tone. And it’s just being around that energy that I feel like… that’s why Papa Roach saw [our collaboration] happening.
Picture four dudes walking into a room and looking at two other dudes that look wacky just running around the studio doing this s—. And they’re like, “This is crazy, but it’s f—ing rock and roll, dude.” We’re like having fun, just loving what we do. Making music. And we do it with the same amount of passion that we would if we were stage performers.
That’s really interesting, too, because I feel like the old version of what a producer was, or even a songwriter is: the guy, like Bob Rock or someone like that, who doesn’t come off as a performer. But you see it differently.
Do you know why, though? Because I grew up listening to hip-hop and I grew up idolizing producers like Pharrell and Timbaland and Rick Rubin and Puffy and Dr. Dre. And so I look at them, and those guys were like rock stars. Granted, most of them were also artists. But Rick Rubin wasn’t an artist but he was like a rock star. He had a “thing.” And I feel like myself and some of the other producers that I know, we all kind of like saw that that was lacking in the world of rock producers, because it’s definitely like… there are tons of personalities in the rock world and in the alternative space. There is no shortage of creativity.
But as far as producers go, I just felt like there needed to be more kooky, interesting people who wanted to have as good of a time and make making music super fun, just like it was when we were kids.
It’s true. Just yesterday, Martin Birch died. He’s this guy who produced some of the greatest metal albums of all time. He produced seven Iron Maiden albums. He produced Black Sabbath when Dio was the singer. He engineered or produced almost every Deep Purple record from the ’60s and ’70s. He’s made some of the records that have changed my life. But when he died, it didn’t get too much press, because he was such a behind-the-scenes guy.
That’s cool, though. I pride myself on the fact that I am not really a super out-there personality. I’m not in your face on TMZ, living a rock star life. But I’m out there enough in the music community. I’m making that presence known in the music community with my views just because I enjoy what I do so much. And every time we go into the studio, I just want to bring that energy, man. I feel like when I have that turned on and I go into the room and I’m having that much fun, it’s infectious. So it’s fun to be around. It makes other people excited about whatever we’re doing now.
When I first started, I was like, “Maybe I’ll be an artist.” And I kind of went into it with those intentions. And then slowly as I got older and slowly as I just watched music change and my own desires sort of changed, [I realized that] I enjoy just being a team player and working on something with a group of people that I became friends with and making something together and then watching it go out into the world.
And then they have to go tour on that for a year and I just get to like go home and play Xbox. Or the next day, wake up and do it with a totally different artist. And that, to me, is so cool and it’s so refreshing that I get to make music and I can do any sort of music I want any day.