3 Doors Down Guitarist Chris Henderson Talks Gear and New Album, ‘Us and the Night’

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly five years since Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum rockers 3 Doors Down released their last album, Time of My Life.

But fans who've been clamoring for new music from the Mississippi rockers are about to get their wish granted—in true guitar-driven fashion.

3 Doors Down recently announced their sixth album, Us and the Night, which will be unleashed March 11. The album's first single, “In the Dark,” was released January 15, and you can hear it below.

Us and the Night, which was produced by Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, Train, Faith No More), showcases the robust riffs and hooks that’ve helped make 3 Doors Down one of rock’s most instantly recognizable bands. That said, it also emphasizes a new groove and swagger.

3 Doors Down—Brad Arnold (vocals), Chris Henderson (lead guitar), Greg Upchurch (drums), Chet Roberts (guitar) and Justin Biltonen (bass)—are planning a huge summer tour in support of the album.

We recently caught up with Henderson to ask him about the new music, his gear and more.

Did the band try to go in any particular direction when recording Us and the Night?

Every time we’ve recorded a record as a band we’ve always made some sort of conscious decision of where we wanted to go or not wanted it to go. Instead of doing that, this time the strategy we took in the pre-production phase of writing the songs was to push left really far until it started to become a little bit uncomfortable.

Then once we got to that point, we’d let it organically fall back into a rock song. Although it’s not the same, this record is more like Seventeen Days and The Better Life than any of the records we've made after those two, in my opinion. It’s got modern elements along with some of those rock elements, and I think we kind of molded both of those together. At the end of the day, it’s got all of the elements of a 3 Doors Down record.

How does the writing process work for 3 Doors Down? Does it begin with a riff idea, a hook, a melody?

It’s all different things. When we’re writing, people in the band tend to write at different speeds. In order to keep the ball rolling, everyone in the band will typically write down ideas or parts. Then we’ll take 10- to 15-second clips of drum, bass and guitar and build tracks off of that. We put things in a way we feel is cool and then let Brad hear them. Brad writes lyrics all the time, and when he responds to something, we’ll work on it. That was typically the process with this record. But then there were songs like "The Broken" and "In the Dark," which pretty much wrote themselves from beginning to end.

How did “In the Dark” come about?

Chet likes to do a lot of programming, and he had this track he was working on for a DJ that had a lot synthetics and keyboards. But there was also a guitar riff on there that was so infectious. It hung around and hung around until literally the last day of pre-production.

I remember we were in the room with Matt Wallace [producer], and all we kept saying was, “Hey, what about that 'dance' thing?” It was a pop/dance track, but we fixed it up and turned it into a rock song. That’s when Brad said, “Hey, I’ve got this ‘do it in the dark’ lyric idea. Let’s try and put them together.” Twenty minutes later, we had our first single.

What about the title track, “Us and the Night”?

That song started out as an idea Chet and I were messing around with. Then Brad sang the “Come on! Come on!” hook over it and we started building it. And just from working on that one little section (before we even had verse, lyrics, intros and outros), Brad had already said, “This is going to be the name of the record!”

“I Don’t Wanna Know”

That was another one where we were trying to push things a little bit left. It started out as just a lyric idea. Brad had the idea of, “If you leave me, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” He brought that idea to the studio without any music at all. We all sat down with acoustic guitars and started building from there.

What was it like working with Matt on this record?

We got to know Mike really well while we were making this album. It was a one-on-one experience with each member as well as with the whole band. Matt was there from point A to Z and at every part of the process. He’s a different level of producer and that’s why we wanted to work with him. You get into the room with Matt and you quickly realize just how much of a genius he is.

Did you always know that guitar was going to be your calling?

At first, I thought I was going to be a piano player. My brother is a professional musician and my mom is the church organist who also plays professionally. So I started out practicing piano and learned just enough to be dangerous. But once I took my first guitar lesson that was it. Guitar was the only thing I did after that. I like to say that I didn’t choose it. It chose me.

Who were some of your influences?

I grew up in rural Mississippi where we didn’t have cable or rock radio. But I was blessed to have a friend who lived down the street who had access to metal records like Accept, Scorpions and Def Leppard. The guitar tones on those albums were so great. Then I started gravitating toward Lynyrd Skynyrd and the blues and began teaching myself that. Gary Rossington and Allen Collins became two of my main influences, and I still draw a lot from their playing today.

What are you most looking forward to about the year ahead and this next phase of the band’s career?

I’m excited about being a band with a new record. It’s been five years since we last had a record out. So the thing I’m looking forward to is when people say, “Hey, what have you been doing?” Instead of saying, “Well, we’ve been on tour for the last two years” we can say that we have a new record that people are talking about!

Henderson’s 3 Doors Down Setup:

GUITARS: PRS Chris Henderson Signature guitar | PRS Hollowbody II Piezo | PRS Custom 22 | PRS Chris Henderson signature SC 250 single cut | Gibson Les Paul 58VOS Standard | Gibson Les Paul 56 VOS Gold Top with Custom Shop P90s | D'Angelico Custom EX-SD

AMPS: 2 Kemper power racks modeled with the EVH 5150 | modeled with Diezel VH4 for backup | modeled with Orange AD30 for cleans

OTHER: Analog Man A/B switchers | Big Joe stomp Box B-502/Empire | Red Box DI's | Klotz cables

For more about 3 Doors Down, visit 3doorsdown.com.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.