Interviews

Interview: Greg Upchurch of 3 DOORS DOWN

Greg is best known as the drummer for the multi-platinum rock band, 3 Doors Down. Throughout Greg’s career as a drummer, he has had stints with Eleven, Chris Cornell, and Puddle of Mudd. Greg joined 3 Doors Down in 2005.

Greg is using this time to be musically productive. He wrote “Skin to Skin” while quarantined at home. He did all the music and vocals himself. Greg is playing all the instruments in the music video. It’s an honest and heartfelt song written during and about the Coronavirus pandemic situation we find ourselves in. “We are all trying to find some sense of normalcy in the world and what better way than an upbeat and positive song that everyone can relate to…writing about the world we live in now has been very therapeutic. I highly recommend more people do it.”

GREG CHURCH – “Skin to Skin”


ANTIHERO: Okay. I normally begin all my recent interviews at this time with “how are you doing?” But I see you’ve actually been quite busy.

Greg Upchurch: Yeah, it has been a little overwhelming. I was not intending to for this to happen really…it’s been exciting, in a time that’s pretty crazy.

ANTIHERO: I assume therefore that the song that you brought out and released the video for, I assume it’s not a one-off. You will be spending this time creating other music, writing new stuff?

Greg Upchurch: Well, yeah, I’ve always written stuff. This is the first time I ever sang anything. But it’s given me confidence that maybe I can do this. So, it’s funny because, the engineer at the studio, he rents my basement, he lives in my basement. So, I’ve got a key to the studio. So, I’ve got, “Hey man, let’s just go.” And he’s like, “Sure.” And we’d just go and make the… I did this song in a couple of days. I wrote it one day, I recorded it the next, and we mixed it the next day. And I was like, “I can do that.” So just this in itself has given me confidence that, yeah, I can pursue this. I mean, I’m always going to be the drummer for 3 Doors Down, but I can write songs that I like, and I can do all the instruments myself. So, it’s been eye-opening.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned the vocals there, I was impressed with your musical dexterity. Could you have easily picked up a different instrument rather than going out and playing drums? Was there ever that possibility?

Greg Upchurch: I never, ever thought of myself as anything but a drummer. I can play guitar, I don’t know if I can play guitar, sing, and run around on stage like Dave Grohl. But I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t think I could do this. It’s kind of the same thing I tell young students, I teach music, and young kids I talk to, don’t limit yourself, because you don’t know what you’re capable of. And I’ve just kind of found that out myself in the past three weeks with this song. It was like, I didn’t really think I could be capable of doing this and writing a song that reached a lot of people. And so, it’s been extraordinary for me. Like to be in a time with so much uncertainty and craziness going on, and I’ve got this song that’s exciting for me, it’s kind of like, “They like me, they really like me.” It’s just been kind of a whirlwind. And it’s all been in the past couple of weeks. It’s just been crazy.

ANTIHERO: So, this may actually lead to maybe a potential solo album in the future?

Greg Upchurch: Well I’m looking at probably an EP, start off with that, like four or five songs. I guess the only thing I wonder about is, I don’t write one style of music. This was a rock song. Some of my songs sound like that, some of the songs sound like Jackson Brown or something. I don’t know what’s going to come out when I start writing. Because I listen to different styles of music. Because I’ve tried to write country music because I live in Nashville, and apparently, I’m not very good at that. So, I’m not going to be doing a country record. So, I mean, if it’s got a good melody and a good hook, and it’s got good words, and it sounds good, I like it. That’s it. I don’t care what style it is.

ANTIHERO: Growing up then, what was your first introduction to music?

Greg Upchurch: Really my first musical moment was sitting in my mom’s car, and on the radio was 10cc I’m Not In Love. And I remember, I was a little, little guy, and I’d never heard anything like that. And I was like, “What is this?” And then I found Kiss, like all other kids in the ’70s, and then I got into music, and then I thought that they were great. Then I heard Queen and then like, “Oh, what’s this?” Then that turn led into The Beatles and the Led Zeppelins. But it was really, I can remember distinctly, sitting in my mom’s car and hearing that, “I’m not in love, just because…” And all those “oh, ahs” and the vocals. And I was like, “Oh my God!” I was transformed. I tell people, there’s nothing more nostalgic than music. If I hear a Kenny G song, I swear I’m in eighth grade, and my heart still is broken from Rachel .., in ninth grade, or whatever. like that. And it’s one of the only things like that. So I don’t know, people ask me about why drums or music, and it’s like, I don’t feel like I picked drums and music. It picked me for some reason.

ANTIHERO: So, at what point then did that progress to you actually deciding to follow music, pursue music as a vocation, as a career?

Greg Upchurch: Well, I’m from a small town, and I was the best drummer in town, in this town of like a thousand people. And then I moved to Oklahoma City, a bigger city, went to college and studied jazz. And then I was gigging around town. And then a friend of mine moved to LA and he’s like, “You’ve got to come out to LA.” So I moved out to LA, and that’s when I was like, “Okay, I’m going to try this. I want to see how far I can go.” I was 22 years old. My dad said, “If you’re going to do it, do it now. Don’t wait.” So I went and did it. And then it’s just been this constant thing. I started in a band called Eleven right after I moved to LA and then we toured with Soundgarden in Europe, and then I became the drummer for Chris Cornell on his solo record. And then the next thing you know, right after that I ended up in Puddle of Mudd. I was in that band for five years. Then right after that, I ended up… So I never was out of a gig, so I never had time to stop and think, I still think of, “What am I going to do when I grow up?” Kind of. I still think that. My brain hasn’t developed in the sense.

But actually that’s kind of where this song came from because I was trying to open up a coffee shop in my hometown because I want to build a retirement, when I’m older and have something, diversify. And a coffee shop is, I love coffee, and I wanted to put all my gold records, and I wanted to have a collection of vinyl records so people can go and listen, put a record on a turntable and listen to vinyl records, like a cool vibe, and it was about to go down. I had my financing and everything got squared away, and then the coronavirus thing happened, and then everything just killed it. I mean, thank goodness I did not start it two months ago. So, it didn’t happen.

So, I came home and I was pretty depressed about that. And then the engineer that lives in my house, he’s like, “You should write a song about this, maybe it’ll help.” Yeah. So I came up here and then I wrote the song in about 20 minutes, all the lyrics, all the music, and everything, it wrote itself to me. I started it and then all of a sudden it was like, I don’t even remember writing. And we went and tracked it the next day as I said, and then it was done. And I was like, “Man, this sounds pretty good. We should try to release this.”

I mean, I’ve never released anything. I don’t even know how. I don’t have a label. I don’t have a manager. I mean, the band does, but I don’t. So I’m just doing this all myself. So I’m just figuring it out and putting it out. And then the video, I did all the music myself. So I was like, might as well continue and see how far I can get. Now I’ve got people contacting me wanting to be involved and help me. It’s weird because I’ve always been the drummer in a band, and I’ve always been the guy in the back that nobody cared about, in a sense, not that much, but you know what I mean, it’s like you’re not the leader. So, it’s strange for me to have people contacting me wanting to represent me, and, “I can do this for you, I can do that for you.”

And then I have friends of mine who I called that are rock stars that I’ve met along the way that I trust, and I’ve called them, and all of them say, “Fuck that, stay on your own. The more you can do on your own, the better.” They’re like, “The song’s doing fine without any help. You’re doing everything right. Just keep going where you’re going.” So that’s kind of where I’m leaning. I’m like, I don’t really need a bunch of people getting their hands in anything. I mean, I’ll just let this thing just work organically.

I didn’t intend to write a song. I did not intend to release a single. Now I’ve got radio stations adding this, big in New York City, and Nashville, and big cities, and I’m doing this by myself, just by word of mouth. And I think what it is, is also the content of the song, obviously, it’s relatable to a lot of people right now, and it’s a catchy song, and it’s not a depressing song, because everybody’s releasing these coronavirus epidemic songs and they’re all depressing, whereas this one’s fun and hopeful and positive. I mean, sure you can relate to it because we’re all frustrated and pissed off about this, but you know, it’s going to be okay. You have to just keep pushing forward.

ANTIHERO: Sure, yeah. You mentioned there, going back to your musical history. It must’ve been a heck of a leap going from your first band who you mentioned, Eleven, to actually playing with somebody like Chris Cornell. How did that come about? Was it directly through the tour that you did with Soundgarden?

Greg Upchurch: Well it turns out, the guys in Soundgarden, and especially Chris, were huge fans of Eleven, and they were established before I was in the band. I’d met them when I worked at Guitar Centre in Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I was working in the drum department, and they came in there and I was like, “Oh, I’m a huge fan of yours.” And they’re like, “Yeah, Jack Irons, our drummer, he quit. He left to join Pearl Jam. So I was like, “Well, I know your stuff.” Who finds their drummer at Guitar Centre? Then I got their number, and he ended up calling me in a couple of weeks, Alain, and I went down there and auditioned and I got the gig. Then within a couple of months, he’s like, “We’re opening up for Soundgarden in Europe for six weeks.” I’d never even been to Europe.

So, we do that and then we get back, and then Soundgarden breaks up. So Chris ends up writing the song called Sunshower, which was on the Great Expectations soundtrack. To me, to this day, is my favourite song he’s ever written. But that was the first song I ever played with him, I played the drums on that. And then he did a song called Ave Maria, a cover of a great song, Ave Maria I did the drums on that. And then he did the Euphoria Morning and I did drums on that, but I didn’t do the whole record. He had several different people on that one. But I did the tour. So I’m on a tour bus with Chris Cornell for almost two years.

ANTIHERO: What was that like working with somebody like Chris Cornell?

Greg Upchurch: It was intimidating, but he really made me feel comfortable. Because Chris is a drummer, that was his main instrument, his first instrument. We’d talk drums, we played a little bit together. We’d go see movies together on days off, like hanging out kind of thing. He wasn’t a rock star, but you couldn’t look at him and not think of him as a rock star. Because I tell people a crazy story, once we were on tour and we pulled our bus off to get gas at a truck stop in the middle of America at 2:00 in the morning, and we parked the bus off to the side while the driver is in there doing stuff.

And then another tour bus pulls up to get gas and our tour manager is like, “Hey, there’s another bus. Go see who’s on that. That’s one of our buses, the same bus company.” He’s like, “Go see who’s on that bus.” I was drunk and I was like, “Okay.” And I ran out, and I didn’t have shoes on or anything. I’m banging on their door. I’m like, “Who’ve you got on there? We’re on this other bus.” And I hear somebody go, “Joe Strummer.” He goes, “Who are you?” I said, “This is Chris Cornell.” He goes, “Well, get the fuck over here, mate.”

So, we pulled the buses over, and we all got on Joe Strummer’s bus and party with him for three hours. I’m like, “This is crazy.” I’m sitting there with Chris Cornell and Joe Strummer watching them shoot the shit, and I’m just drinking a bottle of cognac and no shoes. I’m just like, “This is weird.” But yeah, it was always weird being around him, because we played in LA, and then you see people like Quentin Tarantino, they’re in awe of this guy when you see A list, huge celebrities freaked out over him, you’re like, “Wow, that’s big.”

ANTIHERO: You’ve been in 3 Doors Down now over 15 years. How has your role in the bond changed? Obviously, when you joined, I think you were the third drummer when you joined the band? I just wondered how your role in the band had… It must have been difficult going into an established band.

Greg Upchurch: Yeah, I mean, it’s different because, for one, I’m not an official member, if you will, or whatever. But it’s still a band. We’re still friends. We still get along. I mean, sure, we’ve had our ups and downs and arguments and fights, but now we all got sober too, so that’s changed a lot, and we all get along much better. We’re all more honest with each other. But it’s definitely a group, but it’s a business in the same sense like all these are. So you’ve got to have a CEO, a chairman of the board, you have positions. But they respect me as a musician obviously. So it’s not like, we’ll tell you when we need you, kind of thing. It’s not like that.

But like for instance, this song that I wrote, I thought about, should I give this to 3 Doors Down? I wonder if they’d want… But the thing is, with them, they like to be a part of the song. On the last record, we were all part of the song, which is fair, it’s only fair. And so with this one, plus I just didn’t think it was a 3 Doors Down song really to begin with. I mean, it’s a little too punk rock for them, I think, or if you want hard rock or whatever you want to call it. But it’s just like, when I did it, I was like, that’s the way the song should sound, it should sound like me, it should be me.

ANTIHERO: 3 Doors Down, I mean, obviously now, you’re an established part of the band, they’ve achieved huge global success. I just wondered what effect fame and all that goes with it has on you?

Greg Upchurch: Well actually, I’ve been very fortunate because of the instrument I play, I mean, drummer, because I tell people, even the guys in the band freak, or not freak out, but they find it wild that whenever we tour with other bands, whether it be Seether, or Theory of a Dead Man, or Lynyrd Skynyrd, or ZZ Top, or whoever we’re on tour with, I’ll go out and walk into the crowd and watch the show because I like to watch the show from the audience perspective, watch the other bands. And I’ll walk out there and nobody will even notice me. Maybe two or three people. And I’ll walk in, and this is my own show. So the one thing about 3 Doors Down is they do have anonymity, they look like the guy next door. You know what I mean? It’s not like Marilyn Manson or something where we’re, “Oh my God, that’s so and so.” I blend right in. I mean, I have short hair, I look like just another fan in the audience.

And I get it when I’m all together, when we’re all together as a band, sure, I’ll get it that way. But when I’m separate, it’s not like Brad. Brad will walk around… Or like our guitar player, for instance, he’s got a mohawk, so people see that mohawk. I don’t have anything really that makes me stand out, which I prefer that way because I see what’s happened, and I saw with Chris when he didn’t go anywhere. But I appreciate the fact that I can do whatever I want to do.

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ANTIHERO: Drums and bass provide the backbone of a band’s sound. How would you describe the relationship with Justin? And how does it differ from playing in the band with Todd?

Greg Upchurch: Well, it’s different because, well, Todd was a goofy bastard. I mean, he was on stage jumping around and everything, and then Justin’s more reserved. But Justin, he’s come a long way, because the bass is not his primary instrument. He’s a guitar player, and he plays the bass a little bit different. And so I’ve kind of had to adjust. But the more we’ve done it, the better we’ve locked in, because it’s such a personal relationship, the bass to the drums, I can feel push and pulls, I can feel him following the guitar player sometimes more than he’s following me. And I’ll be at times like, “Hey man, make sure you stay with me. Don’t worry about those…” It’s no fault of his own because that’s just the way he’s a guitar player. But now he’s kind of embraced the bass playing and he’s getting better. Obviously the more you do anything, the better you’re going to get at it.

ANTIHERO: And you’ve got a singer who’s a bit of a drummer as well.

Greg Upchurch: Yeah, a lot of singers are drummers, man. Brad’s a drummer. He played the drums on the first record and he’s always banging on my drums. I mean, before soundcheck, he’s always getting up there banging on them. Chris being a drummer, I mean, you can go back to Phil Collins, Don Henley, some of the best songwriters. I think a lot of it has to do with the lyrics, and it’s not really so much what they say or the melody they make, it’s just as much the rhythm of the syllables of what you’re saying, and how it dances with the rhythm of the drums. Because instead of going, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la.” “Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. That’s a good rhythm. Now what words fit in that rhythm? How can I get that rhythm out in syllables of words?” Does that make sense? Because being a drummer helps with that, I know, and how it flows.

ANTIHERO: Does that help also in the studio setting, where Brad has that insight into the drums as well? I mean, is he more in tune with how you are thinking?

Greg Upchurch: Well, Brad, when he was at home and he wrote lyrics, he plays the drums and writes lyrics at the same time.

So he doesn’t sit in the chair with a pen and paper. A lot of times he’ll sit under the drum set and play the drums, and start singing to it. That’s how he’ll find his pocket.

ANTIHERO: The last 3 Doors Down album was released, I think, 2016. Fans are always going to demand new music from a band. I just wondered, with regard to any new songs for the band, do you have a followup in mind? Have songs been written?

Greg Upchurch: Oh, well, it’s funny because we just started last week doing Zoom online writing sessions. So we’re all at home because we can’t tour, we can’t do shows right now, we can’t really do anything. And I think also it helped that I did this song because it kind of inspired and got everybody like, “Okay, let’s start writing. Greg’s in a writing spot, let’s all get together and start writing together.” Which is great.

So I’m like, let’s get on it now because you always write a bunch of bad songs till you get to the good ones. I’m like, let’s go ahead and get the bad ones out of the way now. But we’re writing right now, which is good, which is always good. It’s just a different way of doing it. We’re all going to get on a Zoom meeting and start writing together, and it’s different but we’re making it work. It can work. We have to adapt. Everybody has to adapt right now in the world to some degree.

ANTIHERO: Yep. The music industry itself has changed quite significantly since you first started out. You mentioned there you have your coffee shop and other business interests. Is it important for musicians these days, you feel, to have some sort of backup when that music career hits a brick wall or ends?

Greg Upchurch: Absolutely. Because, I live in Nashville and if you go down to Broadway, everything is Dierks Bentley’s Whisky Row, Alan Jackson’s this, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red. I mean, all these artists are getting into the honky-tonks. Well, I don’t drink, so I’m not going to open up a honkytonk, but I’m like, I’m going to do something with a coffee shop in a small town where I’m from because I think it’s important to find something.

Because I don’t just love music, I love a lot of things. I love golf. I love coffee. I’m not going to open up a golf course, but I’m like, “Huh, coffee shop. I could do that.” And I can be happy doing that, because I’m a firm believer of, find something that makes you happy and do it, and you don’t work. And it’s true. You know, I play drums for a living. I don’t work drums. I play the drums. So it’s like I’m playing. I like that term more than going to work. So the same thing with, I think it’s important to diversify if you will if you have that ability. And if you don’t, find what it is and work towards that goal.

Because, I thought it was impossible for me to be in this little town in Oklahoma to do anything in music, and I’ve far exceeded my expectations. So it’s just proof, like, well really, the only secret to life is, you just go do it really. You find a way to do it. There’s always a way.

ANTIHERO: I guess it teaches you as well, and you have to pick up new skills. You have to learn new skills.

Greg Upchurch: Well, you have to adapt, right? I mean, just like we were saying, now we have to, now I’m having to figure out how to grocery shop online. I don’t like doing it, but I’ve got to figure it out, and it’s the same thing. Now’s a good time to really find out, to think about yourself, think about your life, because there’s not a lot to think about, and think about what you can do from here on out? What’s the next step for the rest of your life? If you need to come up to that decision and you’re in a bad place because there’s something out there. Because the thing is, life is awesome if you make it awesome and you choose to really pursue your dream. Live a life of adventure, not regret, go for something, don’t settle for anything.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned earlier about your different musical likes, your different musical interests. I just wondered if, has the song now that you’ve brought out, prompted any desire to create music in a different maybe musical genre, something that wouldn’t fit in with what you normally do in 3 Doors Down?

Greg Upchurch: Well, yeah. This song is not a 3 Doors Down song, like I said. But I mean, I wrote a song the other day, now that I’m kind of in this little zone of writing, and as I said, it sounds like a yacht rock song or something almost, like a Jackson Brown, like a ballad kind of… I don’t know, maybe even Coldplay if Coldplay had balls, something that’s a little bit… I don’t know how to describe it, but I’m not like I’m that interesting or anything, it just doesn’t sound the same. I’ve got another song that I did that sounds really similar to this song, but it’s just like Skin to Skin is in a major, whereas this one’s in a minor, so it’s got a darker feel to it, but it’s still a beat and heavy, the lyric content is darker. It’d be the same station I played this one and would play the other one. It’s similar enough.

ANTIHERO: So it has fired your creative juices?

Greg Upchurch: Oh yeah. Because I mean, writing songs is like, every once in a while you pop in a zone and you’re just writing song after song after song, and you just try to stay on it as long as you can because it will end. And then all of a sudden you might be in a drought for about a year, you can’t write anything. So when you find these momentous moments, you’ve got to really seize it and get on top of it and see like, “Okay, what can I write here? Let me just pick up this guitar and hit a chord and see what happens.”

ANTIHERO: And I guess it’s taught you stuff about yourself as well. I mean, you mentioned again earlier that you weren’t sure if you could even sing.

Greg Upchurch: Yeah, this is the first time I’ve ever sung on something like this. I’ve sung on demos in the house, but never let anybody listen to it really. So this was the first time. I was kind of shocked, really. I still don’t care for my voice, but I was still kind of like, Okay. I don’t sound as bad as a thought.”

ANTIHERO: But it’s good as well that you’re still actually, even at this time of your life, you’re still learning new things about yourself through this negative experience.

Greg Upchurch: Absolutely. I mean, just because you get older, it doesn’t mean you stop growing emotionally, mentally, whatever. You’re just wiser. I’m just smarter. I’m hoping that I’m smarter anyway. And like I said, it takes time and work. Because I’ve been writing songs for years, but I guess now I’m starting to really understand how to do it a little better by just doing it.

ANTIHERO: Okay. Just to wrap up then with the final one. I’m sure you’ve filmed quite a few interviews over the years, but if the roles were reversed and you could sit down and interview somebody, who would you pick?

Greg Upchurch: Tom Waits. Because I think he’s got interesting things to say about everything.

ANTIHERO: Has he been a huge influence on you growing up?

Greg Upchurch: Well, yeah, I mean, not really so much, the older I got, the more as a songwriter I started listening to his lyrics. I mean, his lyrics are so visual. He transports me to places, to me. He’s not like a listener that’s pleasant to the ear. It’s just, he touches me in a way. Kind of like some people feel about Neil Young, like, “Oh, his voice is terrible.” But some people love it. It’s kind of that same thing. I would say Jimmy Page, but I spent my 32nd birthday with Jimmy Page. He bought me pizza at a pizza parlour in London.

ANTIHERO: Whoa.

Greg Upchurch: Yeah, isn’t that crazy? I met him, and then he found out it was my birthday and he invited me up to a place called Pizza Pomodoro in Brixton, and he bought me pizza and beer, and I sit there, just me and him at a table for three hours. And still to this day, I don’t know what we talked about, because I was in such shock. But yeah, I mean there’s so many people, Tom Waits was just the first one to come up because he would probably crack me up, but I’m just like, I mean, God, there’s so many people that I would love to pick their brain.

ANTIHERO: Okay, that’s great. Thank you very much for chatting. Good luck with the songwriting. Hopefully, when all this passes, I’ll get to see 3 Doors Down back in the UK again.

Greg Upchurch: Thank you, Mark. You have a great day. Be safe.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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