Papa Roach – ‘It’s crazy how many people are affected by our music’

Words: Miljan Milekić

It sounds scary to say that I’ve been listening to Papa Roach for almost twenty years now. They were one of the first bands that got me into music in general, and they stayed with me, pretty much ever since. We caught the band at their show in Budapest, on their current European tour, and were lucky enough to sit down with drummer Tony Palermo and talk about their new album ‘Who Do You Trust?’ touring life, mental health changes in the music industry and more. Check it below!

How are you? How’s the tour been so far?
Tony: Good! The tour’s been good, we’re halfway through it. We played Bucharest yesterday. It was crazy, but Bulgaria was crazier. The crowd was so energetic. It was loud, it was awesome. We love that, I mean, who wouldn’t. (laughs) We just played Greece for the first time, on this tour. Those were two good shows, so we know there’s a crowd there now.

‘Who Do You Trust?’ has been out for more than a year now. How happy are you with the feedback? I would say you are really happy with it since it’s been a huge part of your shows all this time.
Tony: It’s been great, man. You know, it’s one thing to read positive feedback, but playing new songs live is where you really notice if people are into it or not. We usually try to pick out songs that we hope would go over live the best. And it’s been overwhelmingly positive to watch people sing all the lyrics and everything.

Ever since ‘The Connection’ you have been incorporating all these different elements in your music, including electronic music influences. What lead you to that? And knowing that you’re not alone in it, do you think the border between rock and electronic music, between genres in general, is now thinner than ever?
Tony: I think so. It shows, especially when you play festivals. We’re playing with so many different rock bands and so many different, other artists – DJs and stuff and the kids, they just love it all. And that’s awesome to us because it’s not like you go out and play with, say, Imagine Dragons, and the crowds all meh, and just staring at you. Everybody’s into it. And we love doing that. We love trying to prove ourselves and play for different crowds. But, as far as injecting more electronic elements into our music goes, it’s just something we’re interested in. We feel like it sort of flows with the music. It’s not like we ever rely on it to be THE music, we’re still a rock band, but I think these elements are interesting and help us evolve our sound,

Yeah, you also work with people like Machine Gun Kelly or Skylar Gray, people who aren’t really considered rock musicians.
Tony: Yeah. We’re trying to sort of break those barriers down and bring in our influences, and people that we think are doing something positive through the scene.

From day one, Papa Roach was always a band with a message. And one of the most important ones in recent years is about mental health, and you talked about it from ‘Last Resort’ to ‘Help.’ Yet, bad things still happen. The last time we saw you, you were paying tribute to Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and in recent months, it’s Keith Flint. How important do you feel is that artists, musicians, all public figures speak about this, to talk to their fans, and send the message? And not only fans but also to pay more attention to the mental health of people in the music industry as well?
Tony: Yes. You know, it’s a crazy world out here, and on tour. You sometimes lose it on the road, you’re away from your families, and you’re just in the same thing every day. You’re on the bus, and then it’s like – show up here, and then get back on the bus. So I think it can be unhealthy. But the thing that keeps us going is the positivity of shows, the energy, and knowing that we affect so many people through the lyrics. I can’t tell you how many people come up to us every day and say: “You saved my life.” Somebody brought us an award today. He made this award up and had it engraved – “Thank you for saving my life.” And it’s like this nice glass award, we don’t see that that often. But the message, it gets through to people a lot.

And I don’t think it’s something that will ever go away in our lyrics because Jacoby grew up fighting that in his head. He’s been troubled with that throughout his whole life and bringing awareness to that, and to sing about it, is therapy for him. Every night, there are people in the crowd that we take through a lot of emotions. They’re laughing, and then the next song, they’re just crying. And it’s crazy, man. It’s so effective. We think that there’s always hope, and he’s been known to say this too, as far as suicide – it’s such a permanent decision for a temporary problem. You can get through a lot of things in life. And unfortunately, people choose not to, and then they end their lives. But man, music is the most powerful thing for us, and to us. It brings everybody together.

And how crazy does it feel to have that much power to influence people and lead them through all these different emotions? Do you feel any responsibility as a band, just knowing that you have so much influence?
Tony: Well, yeah, it’s a scary thing. It’s like, “Oh my God, somebody could listen to our music, and believe that everything’s okay then.” And that’s great. Like I said, there’s a lot of hope in the songs, and we just hope that people get that conveyed to them. It’s intense when people come up to you saying something – you saved my life. It’s really heavy. I just play drums in a band that’s, fortunately, positive in that aspect, but you just step back and – Oh my God! It’s just crazy how many people you meet, and just how people are affected like that. I mean, music’s always been a powerful thing to me since I was a kid. And it’s a different level of gratefulness when you’re the band that’s actually, not controlling, but influencing people to feel one way or the other.

You came to the band a little bit later, but in the early 2000s, Papa Roach had this huge boom. However, you did catch some of that wave when MTV was still relevant and massively influential, the radio was a big deal, and music magazines were still important. But what do you see as the main platforms for bands, and especially new bands right now?
Tony: Well, I think it’s different now, with social media. I mean, that’s a whole other outlet for creativity. We’re learning how to come up with visual content for people’s engagement, to keep people interested when we’re not releasing new songs. We always have a videographer with us now, and he’s always coming up with stuff with us, as far as what to do, what people would want to see, and what’s been done so much, so not to do that anymore. I think it’s different that way, and it is weird. But I mean, YouTube is pretty much MTV now. It’s taking the place.

Yeah, I agree, but you need to search for something on Youtube. You need to type something. I agree that the Internet and social media are a good platform for putting the music out, but not so much in terms of being found. While MTV and radio and magazines were different.
Tony: Yeah, the video would just come on, and you’re like – “Oh, who’s that?” Yeah, I totally agree, you have to do the research. There’s a lot of word of mouth now like – “Oh, check this band out, check this band out.” And Spotify and music streaming services like that, you have to search. I mean, there are different playlists that you learn about bands, but it’s strange. It took me a while to get used to social media. I miss the anonymity of like – I wonder what he does in his spare time, or you know… When you’re a kid, you think of that stuff. So I think that’s all gone because people are always interested in what you’re doing. And kids, their attention span is so much shorter now. (laughs)

With changes in the music industry, do you think tours and live shows are now more valuable than ever? Seeing your shows made us believe you couldn’t agree more.
Tony: Yes. I mean, that’s just going off of record sales and stuff that has dipped way down. And your touring business is your main business now, you know, merchandise and show guarantees. It’s gotten to the point where you pretty much have to be on the road a lot. We took a year off back in, I think 2015 or 2016, I forgot. And it was like the best-worst thing for us ’cause we weren’t generating any money, so it was scary. People always think you’re just a rich rock star, but no, you have bills and families. You’re not just making all this money, there’s a reality to it. The biggest part of our business now is to be on the road, and we’re trying to figure it out to balance it between home life and work. Being out here, playing for the fans, and do it enough, but not too much. We overdid it for a while, and we had people be like: “Oh we saw you 12 times this year!” And we’re like – oh, shit! (laughs) We need to take a break, so people actually want to come and see us again.

We saw you two, two and a half years ago in Antwerp in Belgium, where you played one brand new song at the time – ‘Geronimo.’ What happened to it?
Tony: Oh, yeah! Nothing really. It’s been recorded, but I don’t know if it’s finished. It was just one of those things where we went back in and started writing, and that was a song that came out of one particular session. That was before ‘Who Do You Trust,’ but the vibe of that song didn’t fit the record. So who knows? It might make the next record, I don’t know. There are songs that you write, and it’s cool at the time, and then once you put the record together, it doesn’t fit the vibe of the record. So we’ll just keep it for later – maybe three years, four years from now, who knows.

The final question of the day – I got involved in extreme sports and music with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 video game, and one of the most important things on my bucket list is to hear every song from that soundtrack live.
Tony: Yeah! (laughs) That’s funny. So how many songs have you heard? And some of those bands don’t exist anymore.

I think it’s five or six, as I grew up in a country where not a lot of bands come. And yeah some of them probably don’t exist, but we got Rage Against The Machine back! So, are you going to play ‘Blood Brothers’ tonight? I remember that the last time you didn’t.
Tony: Thank God they are! So there’s one chance! (crosses fingers) Yeah, we usually do. We did stop playing it for a while, but it’s back in the set now, so you’ll be happy tonight. You’ll check another one off your list. (laughs)

Are you into any kind of extreme sports – skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX?
Tony: To do it myself? Um, no, not really. I was always afraid to get injured. Especially now. My son has been getting back into snowboarding, and I’m like Oh gosh, it looks exciting, I want to do that. I can’t afford to injure myself. Our guitar player just broke his fingers. He was going to grab his dog, and his dog shot one way, and his fingers the other. So he is not on this tour. But that’s such a freak accident. You’re not even doing something cool like snowboarding. It’s just your dog! I know Jerry feels like he’s missing out, which he is. It’s the first time that he’s ever missed any touring, any shows, in 25 years or something. But he’s at home now with his family, healing up.

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