Upon picking up his very first guitar, a young Zach Myers thought he’d be able to play it with one hand behind his back. No, the future lead guitarist of Shinedown wasn’t filled with an abundance of confidence at 12 years old. It’s just that he had some interesting ideas about how to play guitar in the first place. “I’m sure people will make fun of me for this forever,” Myers says, “but when I got the guitar, for some reason, I didn’t think you were supposed to put your left hand on the neck, which is the dumbest thing you could probably ever think. I was just strumming the guitar with my right hand, like an idiot.”
This novel method of playing guitar would work if Myers wanted to only play the introduction to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” but if he wanted to advance beyond that, his left hand was going to have to get in on the action. Like so many kids picking up the guitar, Myers learned what he could from watching MTV. Specifically, from Bush’s “Machinehead” video.
“I was watching that video and I was like, ‘I can do this,’” Myers explains. “I started playing along with what I was watching on TV. Looking back, it was probably like that scene in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ when he thinks he gets home fine after taking all of the Quaaludes. I was probably playing it terribly. But in my head I was like, ‘Yes. This sounds kind of good.’”
Luckily, Myers had the good sense to take some lessons instead of relying on picking everything up from grainy live videos on “120 Minutes.” Fast forward a couple of decades and Myers is playing guitar in three different bands—Shinedown (the rock band), Smith & Myers (the acoustic project with Brent Smith, the singer of Shinedown) and Allen Mack Myers Moore (the folk-country outfit).
Where some people could see this as spreading himself too thin, Myers sees each project as a way to scratch a different musical itch. For example, as a kid he dreamed about being Garth Brooks, and Allen Mack Myers Moore lets him showcase that side of him. “I always feel like it’s weird when guys are in rock bands and they go and start a rock side project,” Myers explains. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ To me, if you’re in a band, you should get your creativity out with that project. I would never start another rock thing. I get everything I need out of Shinedown.”
Don’t ever expect Myers to run out of rock music to play—it turns out the guys in Shinedown are pretty prolific songwriters. Each album cycle, they end up with dozens of songs that never see the light of day. “I think there were 78 demos for ‘The Sound of Madness.’ We went down to about 50 on ‘Amaryllis,’ about 31 on ‘Threat [to Survival],’ and only about 19 for ‘Attention Attention,’” Myers says. “Either we’re getting better at writing songs or we’re just getting more cocky about our songwriting ability [laughs].”
Having so many songs in the bank proved especially useful back in May. As the United States struggled to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, Myers and crew knew they wanted to do whatever they could to help. As they looked through their back catalogue they came across “Atlas Falls,” a song that felt like it was written specifically for this turbulent moment in history, even though it had been penned for 2012’s “Amaryllis.”
The plan was to release the song along with a T-shirt for $50 and to donate the money, but where to? With something like a natural disaster, it’s easy to know how to get support in the right hands. But with a pandemic that is affecting the entire world, who needs that support most and how can the money get to them most directly? “Brett [Smith] found Direct Relief, which is a nonpolitical charity,” Myers says. “Literally their whole job is providing hospitals, clinics and testing facilities with their supplies, scrubs, masks, gloves, testing products and everything they need to do their job. They provide to frontline workers, who are the people we should be taking care of the most right now. They don’t have a choice to go out there and be involved in this, and they risk their lives and their family’s lives every day doing so.”
As of early August, Shinedown had raised around $400,000 for Direct Relief, and that number will continue to grow. “It felt really good to find a charity that has no bias towards anything,” Myers says, “no agenda beyond just helping people.”
In a normal year, Myers ends up spending more than 200 days on the road. But the pandemic has completely upended touring for the foreseeable future, and that breaks Myers’ heart. Even after all the years grinding, he still gets excited every time he plays a show. Never jaded, the guitarist likes to show up early and find a seat near the top of the arena so he can watch everything fill up once the doors open.
On the other hand, Myers has been able to spend a ton of time with his family, including his two young sons. “I’ve just been super daddying and I’m getting to go on vacations that I’ve never gotten to go on before,” Myers says. “I’ve been spending as much time with them as I can. We live on a lake, so we go fishing every day. There’s definitely some days I wake up and think, ‘Man, I wish I was playing a show today.’ But it doesn’t happen every day, some days I’m just really glad to be home.”
His role as a doting dad comes across as he talks about his tattoos. He has a tribute to each of his sons inspired by songs that he sang to them as lullabies. Of course, having a rock star dad means he wouldn’t always sing a “traditional lullaby,” but a Coheed and Cambria tune. “It’s funny, I can wear a long-sleeve shirt and just look like super dad,” Myers says. “But then with short sleeves, you see all the artwork I have and it’s like, ‘Oh, OK.’”
Myers isn’t the type of man to go out and get a tattoo on a whim. He’s a planner. Each of his pieces, including his very first tattoo, has thought behind it. He already had a cohesive sleeve planned in his head—a Nintendo theme starting off with the flying Mario from “Super Mario Bros. 3.” Joining Mario in the 16-bit sleeve is Little Mac from “Punch-Out,” Mega-Man, the Paperboy and others.
“Everyone always rags on me for not including Zelda,” Myers explains, “but the reason I got the sleeve was because, when I was 14, my cousin committed suicide. I had an excellent childhood, but I don’t really remember too much from my childhood. I remember playing all of these games with my two cousins, Jacob and Justin. Justin died early, so in the paper that the Paperboy is throwing I have his initials in the headline. I thought it was a cool tribute that wasn’t overt or blatant.”
Everything Myers does has a deeper layer of meaning beneath it, from the tattoos he has to the music he plays, to the way he spends his time. In a world where so many things lack substance, it’s nice to see a true man of purpose.