Written in algebra class, the Mississippi band’s frontman found the perfect equation to create one of the 00s biggest songs
When 3 Doors Down burst onto the scene in 2000 they were the breath of fresh air needed to welcome in a new decade. Formed in Escatawpa, Mississippi in 1996, the trio of Brad Arnold, Matt Robert and Todd Harrell added rhythm guitarist Chris Henderson to their ranks in 1998. It was that quartet whose six-times platinum debut album The Better Life, heralded the 00s with its unit-shifting blend of post-grunge and classic rock. That monster smash of an album laid the foundations for further success with the chart-topping albums Seventeen Days and 3 Doors Down.
Preceding The Better Life with a toe-tapping beat and questing chorus was lead single Kryptonite. One of those songs that has the ability to burrow its way into your psyche, Kryptonite’s enduring success found it landing at No 43 in Billboard’s decade-end charts – not bad at all for a song which Arnold knocked up while bored in the classroom, as the drumming frontman explains…
“After the creative writing class there was a break and then math. I hated math and would just sit there and write every day. I would write lyrics all the time in that class. I barely passed. So Kryptonite was one of the songs that I wrote in there one day. We were a local band and I was the drummer. I wrote Kryptonite, actually, on the drums. The first thing that came about, the lick, was nothing more than just me tapping on my desk. And that’s kind of like where that little skippy beat came from.
“I was tapping on my desk and the lyrics just sounded cool. I guess the theme of it, later on, became more meaningful for me. But the song is just about friendship, and you’re asking, ‘Will you just be there for me?’ So I wrote the lyrics down there in math class, in not much more time than it took me to speak them. They just kind of came out. I took them to practice that day at our bass player Todd’s place. He lived in a mobile home but it had a little living room and we just left all of our gear set up in there.
“Me and Matt were there practising already. Just as Todd got home, Matt and I were sitting there and said, ‘Man, I got a song I want you to hear.’ I kept that same thing that I was tapping on the desk on the snare drum and just sang the words to Matt. Matt said, ‘Those are cool, man.’ I said, ‘You think you got something for that?’ And he said, ‘I think I do,’ and he played the first notes to Kryptonite. It really didn’t change, it kind of stayed the same. We played through it a couple of times and it smoothed out. Todd had just come in from work and went in the shower. I remember him sticking his head out of the bathroom door and saying, ‘What is it y’all are playing,’ and we said, ‘It’s a hit! Hurry up and get out here.’ The first time we played it, it was a pretty good song. We played it for our friends and they were like, ‘It’s a pretty good song,’ and that was that.
“People just can’t believe we really wrote that song in a total of – in between the time that I wrote it in an algebra class and then added to it at band practice – probably 30 minutes. It was amazing because we’d spent days writing songs before and you know that one was just like, ‘There it is.’ In addition, it was probably only the fifth or sixth song that I ever wrote.
“It was probably five years between the time that we wrote that song and it got recorded onto The Better Life. We’re from South Mississippi, and we made a little local CD that we sold in local record stores and Kryptonite was the first song on that as well. Our local radio station WCPR had a homegrown show. Once a month, they let a local band come on and play. We came on that show a couple of times and played Kryptonite and I think we played Loser a couple of times as well. Kryptonite started getting a lot of calls.
“We begged local radio stations to play the song and finally, Kenny Vest heard us and he said, ‘You know, I think I’m gonna play that song.’ It became the most requested song they’d ever had on the station. They reported what was being played on their radio station and those charts go to the record companies. It would say ‘song title’, ‘artist’ and ‘record label,’ and it was like ‘song’, ‘artist’ and no ‘record label’.
“So here they came. We only talked to a couple of labels. We talked to Atlantic and Universal and we chose Universal and they’ve always been a great company to work with and they’ve always been really great to us.
“When we re-recorded it, we really tried to leave it as close to the same as we could, because we didn’t want it to change at all. As close as we kept it, people that had already been listening to the old version of it for a couple of years hated that new version. ‘What is this crap?’ We’d tried so hard.
“Writing on the drums lends itself to writing rhythmical lyrics. For the first couple of records I would write on the drums… and being a drummer, it really allows you to lock your lyrics into the drumbeat. That’s really important because it lets the guitars and stuff play around a lot more – it gives them more freedom because you’ve got a structure there, lyrically and rhythmically.
“Matt and I started playing together because a friend of his left a set of drums at his house for me to play on, I didn’t have one and he never played his. Matt learned guitar as I learned to play drums. It really is a case of every person, musically, speaks a different language. When you’re writing with somebody you don’t know or have never worked with, artistically, usually, like the first hour, it’s kind of learning how that dude speaks, musically. But me and Matt learned to speak our languages together, so we never kind of had to do that. To this day I miss writing with Matt and I miss him, period.
“I think Kryptonite came at the right time because it was different and there was a wide-open hole for it to come up through. Something about it caught you and you wanted to tap your foot to it, and it was an enjoyable song to listen to and they could relate to it. It’s a far, far stretch from my favourite song we’ve ever written, because some other ones have somewhat more meaning to me. But at the same time, when people ask, ‘Will you ever get tired of it at all?’ Hell, no! I love it.
“We were playing a show in 2019, it was like a fair or a festival or something. There was a bunch of different bands playing and there were about 10,000 people there. The first 2,000 people in the front, not a single one of them was over the age of 18, and they were just jamming to that song. At the end of the song, I was just laughing and I said, ‘It’s awesome that you’re jamming to that song because it’s older than every single one of y’all!’”