NEW YORK -- Shinedown makes no apologies.
Critically compared to Creed and other message-laden rockers, the band has broken into the musical mainstream with a heavy song about overcoming thoughts of suicide.
While ".45" - the title is taken from the line "I'm staring down the barrel of a .45" - sounds dark, the band says that kind of pain can inspire people to do great things.
"Is it bad to have a positive message?" said drummer Barry Kerch, 27. "What's wrong with it?"
Nothing, according to fans who pushed the Jacksonville, Fla., band's debut album, "Leave A Whisper," into Billboard's Top 200 this week. Shinedown makes its network debut Tuesday on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
"The best way I can describe it is to say that this band is a celebration of being alive," said Shinedown frontman Brett Smith, 26. "We all have our problems, but if you're honest with yourself, you can draw from that darkness and turn it into something great."
Even the band's name reflects its position. "Sometimes you shine. Sometimes you're down," Smith said.
Smith knows both sides. In 2000, he walked away from a record label development deal while with another band. A year later, he had a new group - Kerch, guitarist Jasin Todd and bassist Brad Stewart - and a new sound. They hit the club circuit and by early 2002 caught the attention of Atlantic Records
While the band's first single, "Fly From The Inside," a song about pursuing one's dreams despite criticism, garnered respectable radio play, the followup ".45" has pushed it onto the charts after about a year in stores.
Sitting backstage at Irving Plaza before a recent performance, Shinedown discussed its image and its message.
"We're not pretending to be anybody other than who we are," said Stewart, 27.
The band said it went out of its way to make sure every song on the album was distinct. "We didn't want 12 songs that sounded the same. We wanted 12 songs that said something," said Todd, 29.
The result are songs that stand on their own - from loud power chords and smashing drum mixes to soulful ballads - but are loosely tied together with an uplifting message.
Even the back of the album cover offers a message of hope: "This record was written for the dreamers. For the people that have, in one way or another, been cut down or cast out of society for being different or having an opinion."
But it's ".45" - an unlikely anthem against suicide - that has caught the public's imagination. A music video has begun rotation on Fuse and has been submitted to MTV.
"I think in a lot of ways, I reach the end of my rope every day and I regain strength through the music and the people around me," Smith said. "It's not worth destroying yourself and the people around you because you want to give up."
One of the band's earliest and biggest advocates, Keith Hastings, program director for Boston's WAAF-FM, was among the first in the country to put the band into regular rotation.
He said the simple, honest lyrics have paved Shinedown's way.
"Whenever we've played this band, we've seen the result. People walk into the record store and buy it," said Hastings. "Every so often somebody stumbles onto a magical moment. This appears to be one for them."
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