Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Among the mask-wearing variety of rockers, there are two forerunners: Mushroomhead and Slipknot. There are camps on each side of the battle, and two versions of who did what first and who's ripping whom off. It takes a discerning ear to unfurl the petals of the rose that is modern metal -- while Slipknot may excel in simple batshit mayhem, the strength of Mushroomhead may lie in their Faith No More-inspired operatic layering. But who's to say. If you get right down to it, isn't there room for two eight to nine-member bands wearing terrifying masks and uniforms? As long as they're not Insane Clown Posse, is there really any harm being done? (Truth be told, however, the Mossberg Persuader 12-gauge will generally come out on top in a contest with a guy with nails protruding from a bondage mask. Generally speaking.) lawrence.com spoke with J. Mann, one of Mushroomhead's vocalists about IHOP, costumes, and saving your soul.
So you're in South Carolina right now?
Yeah, South Carolina.
Where everyone dresses like you guys -
So you're fittin' right in there. Seriously, do you guys get ready for the show and then go over to the IHOP?
- Saturday, May 1, 2004, 9 p.m.
- Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire, Lawrence
- All ages / $14
No, no, no. We get ready right before the show and then change immediately after. We've been on kind of a tourist kick lately where everyone has been dressing in tourist shirts and sunglasses and really bad hats. Then when we do meet kids, I don't know if they're let down or they don't believe us or what, but it's kind of amusing. I guess that's because we've been out here for so long that we need something to stay entertained.
Do you ever carry that look onto the stage?
Oh, no. No, no. The stage - that's where we do our business. That's where we put on the show, get into character, bust our ass every night. I think maybe because we take that so seriously, when we're not on stage -and havin' so many people on the bus, you need things that can bring some levity to it.
And levity is something that's pretty much absent from your music.
I think we use it as an outlet. I think everyone's got some pent up things inside of 'em. But it seems like the people that hold that shit in - they're the ones you find up on top of a bell tower with a rifle. I think it's probably best if people find creative ways to channel some of those negative things out, relieve them from their system, or at least express them, just so they're being addressed.
Do you think you're helping or hurting the kids that are listening to your music?
I'm pretty sure we're helping them. The letters that we get, we seem to be helping. I think what's important to kids is to not feel alone. 'Cause especially when you're younger, in high school, there's a lot of alienation and a lot of confusion, and you're still trying to understand yourself while everyone else is forcing their opinions on you. So I think with our music we're just trying to let kids know that they're not alone, that people do understand that there are different ways to look at things and do things.
The new record, "XIII," is your first completely major label release?
It's our second, but it's the first one that was recorded specifically for the label. The other one was kind of like a compilation of three independent releases that we did.
You sold a ton of copies of your last record ("XX"), and have achieved a pretty amazing underground success, but do you think the masks and costumes are going to hinder mainstream success, especially with the inevitable comparisons to Slipknot?
It's hard to say whether it's helping or hurting. It might be hurting us in a broader commercial sense, to where people might see it, assume it's one thing that it's not. But at the same time, this band has been doing that since it started, so I can't really say it's hurting it because it wouldn't be here without it. So it could go both ways.
It might come as a surprise to a lot of people that you guys have been doing this for 10 years.
Actually more like 12, this is our 12th year.
You had three independent releases on Filthy Hands, your own label.
And you're still running that label?
Yeah, but contractually, because of the Universal agreement we could only sell those CDs online and at our shows. We can't take 'em and sell 'em retail through stores. But at least they're still letting us sell them. In a lot of cases the labels won't even let bands put out their prior material. They're being cool enough to let us sell it, but it's got to be in designated places that don't interfere with them. We can still sell them online and at the shows. They're still some of the best selling items we have.
Universal is the biggest label in the world. What steps are you taking to avoid the shaft?
We're in kind of an awkward place with them right now. We're not doing well enough to have them all excited, but we're doing too well for them to let us go. So we're kind of caught in between. It's a really sticky time over there at Universal because the whole company just got bought out for some ridiculous amount of money, and so they probably laid off about a quarter of the staff. So right now everyone is so worried about their jobs that they're worried that they might f#@! up, and they're so worried that they might f#@! up that nobody's doing anything. They figure it's better to do nothing than risk f#@!ing up by doing something. It's been weird over there the past couple months. It's been a real stalemate. Everyone's just nervous, afraid to spend money, afraid to make a decision, so we've just been out here, basically for the past three or four months, all on our own, with no support, just trying to bust our ass and give this record the attention we feel it deserves.
Do you think that a purchase like this could void your contract?
I have no idea. We're really not too worried. Even if it does it wouldn't be that bad of a thing. Universal's been great as far as distribution and things like that, ... but it wouldn't be the end of the world if things didn't work out with Universal. This band's always been an independent-minded band, and even though we're on a major label we still handle everything ourselves. We recorded our record ourselves. We do the artwork and layout ourselves, lay out our own merchandise - this band's been making it's own decisions its entire career, so even though you see the Universal stamp on it, that's about all they do. That and fund it. Everything else is still us, so nothing would change.
So they didn't come to you and say, "Make us a single?"
They didn't really say it in so many words, but we did make a compromise in order for our drummer (Skinny) to be able to produce the record - 'cause they wanted, you know, a big time producer to produce the record. So we made a compromise that we would go to Chicago and do two songs with Johnny K (Disturbed, Soil, Enuff Z'nuff), under his supervision or whatever, and then we'd be allowed to basically go make the rest of our record at home in Cleveland by ourselves, unsupervised.
The first part of the record sounds pretty commercial.
Yeah, definitely. The songwriting has come a long way. I think we're really starting to appreciate songwriting, and understand a hook, and - just getting better at it.
As commercial-sounding as the first part is, the later part turns into a decent hardcore record. That's what made me question whether or not Universal was getting their hand in there.
No, those songs were all written. The only thing that they impacted was just getting a producer to produce two of the songs. And I think the reason the record does get a lot, maybe brutal, or heavier, was just that we figured since -- like you said -- some of that stuff was our most commercial material, that on the same record it was important to us that we deliver some of our most brutal material, too. We didn't want to be looked at like we're selling out or we're trying to change the style of the band. So once it was decided we would try and maybe make a couple songs that could be radio-friendly, we also wanted to make a couple songs that were by far the heaviest f#@!ing thing we've ever done.
What are you working on now? Just touring?
Yeah, we've got about another month left out here on tour, and then I think we're going to spend most of the summer at home, finishing the editing for a home DVD we plan to put out probably sometime around October. So we're just focusing on gettin' that done. We're also putting some final touches on our studio at home. We've really got that thing up and running. We're starting to bring some bands in.
You guys have a full-blown audio and video studio in Cleveland.
And that's operated by Filthy Hands?
Yeah, that's actually exactly what it is.
What are your plans for the studio?
We just started to record some stuff right before we left. That's the hard part, 'cause every time you get a step closer, then you get ripped away on tour and you're gone for six weeks. Then you've gotta come back and catch up. Right before we left, Skinny, our drummer, he started producing like three projects that are really comin' along very well, so he's really excited about that. And I'm starting my own record company as soon as I get home, and that first record is going to be a record by a Swedish band called Meshuggah, and that should be out like the first week of July. Everyone's kind of got other things that they do that are also involved with music. Our other singer just directed a video for 40 Below Summer. Bronson, one of our guitar players, has been doing a lot of video editing for the home video. Like I said, Skinny's producing some other bands, and we're trying to get this company going. So we're just trying to stay focused, but at the same time we understand the life span of a band, so I think that's why we're all working really hard at this point to come up with backup plans that could still maybe keep us in the business or near the business, but something that might have a longer shelf life. You can last a lot longer behind the scenes in this business than you can on the stage. So I think we're all just trying to be realistic, having been around so long, and honestly having accomplished most of the dreams we did have as a band. We're just gonna roll with it.
Explain the concept of the look of the band. Demonic-looking masks, military uniforms -
The look's evolved quite a bit over the years. When it started it was a lot more random, maybe even a little more playful, a little more masquerade party-ish. Then when Slipknot came out and they had the nine guys, different masks, it was very similar to what we were doin'. So we thought, alright, we gotta totally rethink this. And that's when we came up with the X-face, just to try and uniform it a bit more. And so everyone has the X-face. I still kept the face I had, which is the white paint. But a lot of that was just because, once again, there's certain things you can't sell out your fans on - it's like, kids come painted like that all the time, so it was something I thought was important to keep. You don't want to just change everything. So we just tried to streamline it, make it look a little more together, a little more focused, a little more in unison. Plus, at the time, we were coming under such attack because of that band that I think that's maybe where some of the militant look came from, to where we took the approach like, "We're an army at war with everyone that thinks we're some bandwagon, coattail-jumpin' dudes." 'Cause we've been doin' this forever, so let's just stick to our guns, be ourselves, and take it head on.
Plus you dig the guns.
Oh, yeah. That's more of a hobby though. We're not trying to look tough with those or anything like that. We actually just go shootin' all the time.
There's not a lot more fun you can have than while behind a shotgun.
We've got tons of shit. I'm really into the handguns. Semi-auto handguns is what I've been into, but our guitar player is just - our guitar player and our drummer are brothers - and they're just gonzo with it. Our drummer's really into assault rifles and our guitar player's really into like cowboy guns - he's into everything, as a matter of fact. He's got assault rifles, shotguns, he likes the coach guns. That's pretty silly. But it was something we picked up when we were making the record. It was winter time, and there's not a lot you can do in Cleveland in the winter because it's just snowy, cold, and shitty, plus the pressure of making a record. It seemed like a health way to just vent.
You might want to put a shooting range in the studio.
We'd love to, but the shooting range is only about a quarter mile from our studio. And the guy that works there is a really good friend of ours.
Well there's a gun range in the basement of the Lawrence Community Building.
(laughing) Oh wow. Now that's funny.
What are you guys listening to on the road.
I've been listening to the new Clutch record a lot, that's amazing. Believe it or not, I think that new Joss Stone record is amazing. I love her voice. There's a band from Cleveland called Disengage that's phenomenal. And I just got that new Meshuggah record that I'm gonna be putting out in July, so I've been listening to that just because it's gonna be my first release, so I listen to it daily.
With this many members of a band, there must be some variety.
Oh, yeah. We usually make faces when someone else puts music on. You can't really find any band that all eight of us really like.
So "XIII" has been out since October?
It was the last week of October, I believe it came out. It's been out for probably five, six months.
How's it doing?
It's doing really good. And radio's been playing the cover song we did a lot. So that's helping too.
What's the cover?
Hidden in track 13 (called "Thirteen") we cover Seal's "Crazy." It's about five or six minutes into track 13, when it starts with that backwards whatever. You'll hear a very familiar song - metal-ized. (laughs)