“A cockroach can survive anything: earthquake, nuclear holocaust. They come in small numbers, and then they infest. We want to infest the world.” That’s vocalist Coby Dick explaining the raison d’etre of Papa Roach, the Northern California band that has indeed infested the music world with their blend of hip-hop, hardcore, and heavy metal.
Hailing from Vacaville, a mostly middle-class community known for being the “onion capital of the world,” the four band members—Dick, Jerry Horton, Dave Buckner, and Will James—met in high school and formed the group in 1993. Dick and Buckner were on the football team, but knew that playing sports was not their genuine calling. “Neither of us wanted to be jocks; we wanted to be rockers,” Dick told Rolling Stone.
The band took its early inspiration from records by the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, and Metallica. As with most acts starting out, their ambition outstripped their abilities. At a high-school talent show, an early version of the group tried to play the Jimi Hendrix classic “Fire” using a trombone as the lead instrument instead of a guitar.
They christened themselves Papa Roach, initially as a tribute to Dick’s step-grandfather, whose name was Roatch, and was known as Papa. Eventually, the appellation began to take on greater meaning for the group. “We looked at ourselves like cockroaches—we’re survivors,” Dick told Rolling Stone. Still, he confided to Pause & Play, “We admit that Papa Roach is one of the stupidest band names ever.”
For three years, the quartet made the rounds of the local pizza joints and beer parties, using fake IDs when necessary to play bars. They began to develop a devoted local following and some regional allegiances as well, and gradually began stepping up to higher-profile gigs at the Cactus Club in San Jose and the Cattle Club in Sacramento. They opened shows for the Deftones, and even headlined bills that included groups such as Incubus, Snot, Far, Human Waste Project, Downset, and Fu Manchu.
In 1996, however, changes were afoot within the band. Bassist James left the fold when his commitment to attending a church camp prevented him from playing and practicing with the band for the entire summer. The group turned to Tobin Esperence, then 16, who since the beginning had hung out with the band and occasionally served as a roadie, albeit a somewhat ineffective one. “He’d go smoke all the weed and drink all the beer while we loaded up our equipment after the show,” Dick recalled.
Despite their somewhat homogenous surroundings growing up, the band members reflect a variety of personalities and personal styles. Dick, for example, seems the typically gregarious rocker, who has spent his time as a party animal and relishes the chance to indulge in occasional rock star behavior, trashing a hotel room or two along the way. Guitarist Horton, on the other hand, is a devotee of the straight-edge philosophy—he doesn’t drink, take drugs, smoke cigarettes, or even eat red meat. “I don’t even hear him cuss,” Esperence marveled to Rolling Stone. “We used to try to get him to drink and smoke, but after a while we realized how cool it was. We gotta let Jerry be Jerry.”
That would seem to be a good idea, considering that once the final lineup was in place, things began to click for Papa Roach. After changing management, the group recorded its first album, the 13-track Old Friends From Young Years, on a budget of just $700. (An early EP, Caca Bonita, had been recorded in 1995.) Radio stations in Northern California picked up on Old Friends, even though there was no money to promote or publicize the album. Tracks such as “Orange Drive Palms” and “Liquid Diet” sprang up on the playlists of stations in Chico, Davis, San Jose, Sacramento, and the Bay Area, and substantial crowds greeted the band’s record release parties in Berkeley, Sacramento, and Vacaville.
The success of their debut album led to a pair of EPs, 5 Tracks Deep in 1998 and Let ’Em Know a year later. 5 Tracks featured the song “Revenge in Japanese,” which gained exposure on the MTV series Road Rules and was retooled as “Revenge” on the band’s major-label debut, Infest.
Their 2000 album Infest came about after relentless touring brought them to the attention of Warner Brothers
Members include David Buckner, drums; Coby Dick (born Jacoby Shaddix), vocals; Tobin Esperance, (joined band in 1996), bass; Jerry Horton, guitar; Will James, (member from 1993 to 1996), bass.
Formed by high school friends Shaddix, Horton, James, and Buckner in Vacaville, CA, in 1993. After replacing James with Esperence, the group began releasing a series of their own EPs and the album Old Friends From Young Years. They signed with DreamWorks Records, and their major-label debut, Infest, became a multiplatinum hit with tracks such as “Last Resort” and “Broken Home.”
Addresses: Record company —DreamWorks Records: 9268 W. 3rdSt., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: (310) 234-7700, fax: (310) 234-7750. Website—Papa Roach: http://www.paparoach.com.
Records, who signed them to a deal that financed their demo recordings. The results were rejected, however, but immediately thereafter, the DreamWorks label came calling—”literally the next day,” Dick recalled.
Infest represents a quantum leap in the band’s approach, their musicianship, and mostly, in Dick’s lyrics. “When we started out, I dabbled in crackspeak,” the singer told Rolling Stone. “Just real scatterbrained lyrics. My brother was diagnosed with ADD, and I think I have it, too. I’m pretty hyperactive and mood-swingy. I had a bed-wetting problem until I was sixteen. It was not cool; I had some issues. My mother tried to take me to counseling, but I wasn’t going to talk to someone who didn’t know me. By the time I was nineteen, I found a different way: I decided to write my life down on paper. And on this record, I’m venting my emotions. It’s blunt.”
While some might think Dick’s revelations contain, as they say, too much information, it’s clear that when having a conversation or shouting out his lyrics, Dick holds nothing back. That much is clear on Infest, which contains soul-searching songs about difficult subjects—families falling apart, binge drinking, teen suicide, and the line between good and evil. “We spit the heavy-metal hellfire,” he told Rolling Stone, to which Horton added,” We have a metal sound but a punk rock vibe. Punk rock’s our heart and soul—singing about your life and doing it all for the music.”
That much is clear from “Last Resort,” the band’s first major hit. It’s a song about contemplating suicide, which Dick wrote after a friend he was living with slipped into a harrowing downward spiral and eventually tried to kill himself. The chorus,” Losing my sight, losing my mind/Wish somebody would tell me I’m fine,” has particularly resonated with fans, many of whom have contacted the band with messages detailing their own despair and their efforts to struggle with their depression.
“We’ve gotten so many e-mails from people who tell us ‘Last Resort’ saved their lives,” Dick told Rolling Stone. “It makes some people feel less alone. But it’s hard, too. A lot of people tell us they’re thinking about suicide and don’t know what to do. All we can say is, ‘Keep your head up; find a friend, family member or counselor you can talk to. And if that doesn’t work, write a song or just write it all down.” Horton added,” A lot of people think we have the answers. The only one we have is, ‘Don’t do it.’”
Some critics and others who haven’t read the album’s lyric sheet see the band’s hard-edge sound as another instance of blind rage, and sometimes Dick seems to confirm that notion. “I read a review of us saying ‘Just another band who is mad; it’s so easy to be mad,’” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Well, yeah, it’s so easy to push your problems to the back of your mind until it all explodes on you. We’re not mad to be cool; we’re mad because we’re (expletive) mad! This is my way of venting it.”
In fact, he is quite adept at articulating feelings of helplessness at being caught in the middle of divorcing parents (”Broken Home”), being in the throes of alcohol abuse (”Binge”), and witnessing an abusive relationship (”Revenge”). That such songs have resonated so much with teen audiences shouldn’t seem a surprise, but it has been for Dick, who says he only wrote those words for his own well-being.
“At first I didn’t even think of the listener,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve written a lot of songs that dealt with my past. I realized, ‘Hey, Coby, this is your outlet.’ If there’s anything in the world good for me, it’s this and bringing all those negative things to light. Afterward, I found people were connecting with my songs.”
Despite the depth and variety of subjects covered on Infest and the album’s huge success—it has sold more than two million copies—Dick doesn’t consider himself written out just yet. “I still have things in my past [to work through],” he told the Los Angeles Times. “One album ain’t gonna cure me.”
Caca Bonita (EP), Onion Hardcore Recordings, 1995.
Old Friends From Young Years, Onion Hardcore Recordings, 1997.
5 Tracks Deep (EP), Onion Hardcore Recordings, 1998.
Let ’Em Know (EP), Onion Hardcore Recordings, 1999.
Infest DreamWorks Records, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2000.
Metro, October 7-13, 1999.
Papa Roach, www.paparoach.com (September 2000).
Pause and Play, www.pauseandplay.com (September 10,2000).
Wall of Sound, www.wallofsound.com (September 10, 2000).
Additional information taken from DreamWorks Records press materials.
Formed: 1993, Vacaville, California
Members: Dave Buckner, drums (born Vacaville, California, 29 May 1976); Tobin Esperance, bass (born Vacaville, California, 14 November 1979); Jerry Horton, guitar (born Vacaville, California, 10 March 1975); Jacoby Shaddix, vocals (born Vacaville, California, 28 July 1976).
Genre: Nu-Metal, Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Infest (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "Last Resort," "She Loves Me Not," "Broken Home"
Packaging rap and hardcore-tinged rage into melodic pop structures made Papa Roach's brand of heavy metal stand out from contemporaries at the turn of the millennium. More immediate than plodding nu-metallers and more meaningful than posturing rap-rockers, the band's soaring anthems cathartically rallied millions of kids affected by the dissolution of the nuclear family. A decision to tackle more personal and adult topics by their third album, though, compromised Papa Roach's following.
During high school in the Northern California town of Vacaville, vocalist Jacoby Shaddix, guitarist Jerry Horton, drummer Dave Buckner, and bassist Will James formed Papa Roach in 1993. With San Francisco–based Faith No More's blend of progressive metal, funk, and rap as a primary influence, they developed a dedicated local following through explosive live performances and Shaddix's unpredictable, onstage behavior.
After self-producing and self-releasing two EPs, the band dismissed James due to his inability to commit to full time work with them. His replacement, Tobin Esperance, was a longtime roadie for the band. With this lineup they recorded their debut album, Old Friends from Young Years (1997), and released it on their own Onion Hardcore label. Tracks from the album ended up in heavy rotation on independent and college radio stations in the area, and the band was soon touring with up and coming aggressive rock acts such as Incubus, Powerman 5000, and Sevendust. The exposure eventually led to a deal with Dream Works Records.
Sales of their major label debut Infest (2000) were modest in the first month, as was rock radio response for the lead single "Last Resort." Then in June, the "Last Resort" video became a staple on MTV's Total Request Live, a teen-targeted daily video countdown. The song's lyrics explicitly deal with a youth expressing suicidal tendencies that began after losing his mother. With rap-like verses "Would it be wrong / Would it be right / If I took my life tonight / Chances are that I might," and a fiery sing-along chorus, "'Cause I'm losing my sight / Losing my mind / Wish somebody would tell me I'm fine," it was a runaway hit. The band's candid darkness and empathy for dys-functional adolescent situations garnered it a similar audience to Korn, whose gloomy terror had been balancing out the sugary pop on MTV's airwaves for the last couple of years. Though the album's next two singles "Broken Home" and "Between Angels and Insects" failed to match the success of "Last Resort," Infest sold 3 million copies.
During the group's multiplatinum run, front man Shaddix used the abbreviated name Coby Dick. He reverted back to his birth name Jacoby Shaddix prior to Lovehatetragedy 's 2002 release. The change was indicative of Papa Roach's new sound and lyrical approach. They chose to further downplay their already subtle rap tendencies and opted for more straightforward hard rock. Plus, Shaddix shifted the focus from teen angst to his own marital strife. The catchy "She Loves Me Not" was a successful first single, but the more mature direction was inherently less interesting to the legions of youth who identified with more adolescent topics. As a result, the album blended in with much of the current rock and failed to match the success of Infest.
Though not as wildly popular, for a brief time Papa Roach's unabashed dealings with childhood scars infiltrated American teens in the same way Korn, Linkin Park, and Eminem's music did.
Old Friends from Young Years (Onion Hardcore, 1997); Infest (Dream-Works, 2000); Lovehatetragedy (2002).