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Interview with Skinny from Mushroomhead

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Industrial/metal collective Mushroomhead have been together for over twenty years. Formed in Cleveland in 1993, over the last two decades the band has toured relentlessly worldwide and released a total of eight albums. Their latest, The Righteous and the Butterfly, was released in May and resulted in their highest charted debut to date, landing at #20 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The album’s title is a dedication to two people associated with the band who have passed away, original guitarist J.J. Righteous and Vanessa Solowiow, the latter of whom was the band’s former photogapher and wife to drummer Skinny.

The band is currently on tour on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Mayhem will be in Indianapolis next Saturday the 19th at Klipsch Music Center and in Chicago the following day at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. Tour dates can be viewed here, and tickets can be purchased here for Indianapolis and here for Chicago. Drummer and co-founder Skinny took time out recently to speak with examiner.

What exactly is your slot on Mayhem?

I think the majority of it is the afternoon shift, we have 3:05 - 3:30. For the majority. Sometimes we’re a little earlier sometimes we’re a little later.

And which stage are you on?

Coldcock whiskey stage...

Light shows are a big part of your stage show. How do you translate that to an afternoon, daylight setting?

You know, the festivals are... This kind of stuff is pretty fun. We did Australia back in February and we were on at, like, 11:30 a.m. every day. And it was great. We didn’t have to worry about so much of that, we had the extra percussion, water drums, we went out there and bashed tunes like bang bang bang bang bang, right in a row.

You know, if you can keep the energy up and you’re having fun, then the crowd just basically feeds off it. Thank God we have some songs that, you know, you can sing along to and... you really do need the lights and all that s–t but we’ve got a good range of styles. We’ve got anthem, sing along participation tunes that are built for that type of thing. We like it a lot because it totally takes us out of the element that we feel we’ve been stuck in for a long time. I mean, you can always amp up your indoor shows, with more lights and more stuff and more stuff and more stuff, but, man, you get a chance to go out there for 25 minutes, a half an hour and just rock, just play you’re a– off, that’s cool. It gets you right back into why you started doing it in the first place.

So it’s kind of liberating.

Absolutely. And it’s not your headline tour so you’re not playing an hour and a half and you’re just part of a really good vibe and, like, that Soundwave in Australia, it reminded me of how kick a– the stuff pulls off, so I’m really looking forward to it, like not having to worry about all that...

Now, again, on the visual element, I understand when you first started, you wore the costumes so no one would recognize you, and now, 20 years later, it’s sort of become your calling card. Do you find any irony in that?

Well, to some degree, I guess. I’ve been out here the whole time so I guess I knew what I was up to the whole time. But when we did start it, yeah, the whole point was because we were almost all in other bands in the local Cleveland scene at the time. And so the idea was to be able to do that, and people wouldn’t know, “Oh, that’s that dude in that band.” And you could kind of tell but we were going for something kind of different and even some of the people in our other projects, we didn’t tell about because we wanted to have our own thing and see what it was thought of, instead of having some kind of supergroup. We didn’t want any preconceived notions.

So the costumes in a way kept it about the music and not the social and political things that go along with it.

Exactly. We didn’t want any of that to translate into what the band’s for, and that supergroup thing and have people saying, “Oh, it’s gonna sound like this,” and you know, we were just trying to do something that was completely different.

Now, you were the number one founder of the band, correct?

Yeah, it was myself and [vocalist] Jeffrey Nothing. We were in a band called Hatrix at the time. And we had just talked about wanting to do something really different and that’s when Schmotz came on. The first time Schmotz came down, he was coming up for a bass guitar position. And we had John John, our original guitar player, J.J. It started off as a four-piece, and we within one rehearsal we knew basically where it was going and... [it was] pretty cool. Pretty cool. But yeah, Jeffrey and I started it.

When you first started out, did you have any inkling that it might become your full-time gig someday?

No... I just knew that I really enjoyed having the freedom to experiment and to stretch artistically however I wanted... I never really thought of myself as a rock star, I thought of myself more as an artist.... It can dabble in any style, and that’s what I like about it. But I definitely didn’t, I didn’t think of it like that. It’s just, I came to work every day. And just did another day’s worth of work. And when I step back and look at it now, a lot’s gone on, this is crazy. Seven albums, all over the world, blah blah blah. But, the way I look at it, I just got up again today... and went to work and we’re dong some of the best work ever. It’s pretty cool, but again, I’m just an artist doing my thing, still, daily.

Now, on this album and I assume the tour, [vocalist] J. Mann is back, correct?

Correct.

And so you have three vocalists now, and they all work simultaneously?

Yeah. You know, they’ve got a little of the changing of the guard, some of the songs are Waylon and J. Mann, certain ones are just Jeff. The new album material has all three of them on... And they’re not just all yelling on top of one another, they complement and contrast and have the occasional harmony or pass the guitar back and forth. It’s well written. For three singers, it’s put together pretty tight. It’s not just a mess up there. That was one of my biggest... One of the hardest things about producing this last album was just giving everyone their own space. And not having, you know, where it just sounds like three guys yelling over... The most challenging part was making it sound natural.

And as far as this album, it’s your highest debut so far, and it’s kind of unusual because here you are, 20-some years into your career, it’s been four years since your last album, and to have your highest charting debut so far, how did that happen exactly?

You know, Beautiful Stories [for Ugly Children], the last album, debuted at number 44. And the new one charted at number 20, its debut. You know, by no means was it an accident. The new writing team, [Tommy] Church and Dr. F and, obviously, J Mann’s return, there’s some good songs. It’s a well-thought-out album, there’s a lot of depth to it. It’s very back to our roots but in a much more mature fashion. And timing. It’s not just luck, it’s, you can’t win if you don’t play, basically, and timing is really everything. And to be able to release an album and be fortunate enough to be on the Mayhem fest tour for the summer, to be able to do the Soundwave tour right before the album came out, we were in Moscow the week before the album came out, and then we did a quick little two weeks in the states to push...

So a lot of it really is timing, to break an album like that, because you know to break a band after 20 years, it’s already branded to some degree. But you know, it’s a lot of work. And like I said, by no means is it luck. It’s probably just an accumulation of events... not that 44 is a bad number or anything, it charted at least in the top 200, but everyone is very focused on this whole commitment from 18 months ago, when we started writing the album, to where it actually hit the street, and now we’re even more determined and focused. It’s been a long time since Mushroomhead had the beer goggles off. We’ve got em off right now and we’ve got blinders on, we’re just headed straight for that finish line, we’re all just very, very much on the same page right now and it’s been years.

The cover of “Rumor Has It,” [on Righteous] why did you choose that song to cover?

There were probably about five or six covers that we did, The Cult... we did.. Prince’s “Doves Cry,” a really slow, weird one of that. The Stooges, “Search and Destroy.” We did a cover of that, and that was pretty cool... We did a cover of Faith No More, “Epic,” and that was really cool too. Waylon changed it up and Church changed it up. Pretty much, most guys play it safe and as-is, but those guys did some extra stuff. That may see the light of day at some point. And then we did Adele, “Rumor Has It.’ Every time we start a new album, we always throw a bunch of cover songs around. And the point of that is just to have some fun while we’re digging sounds.

One day we were workin’ on the snare drum sounds, just standing in the room, bashing, playing along. Some fun stuff. But, Dr. F and I were working.. And I had my iPhone on shuffle.. and my catalog is pretty diverse, all styles, I’ve got all kinds of stuff, anyways I had some Adele on there. And that tune, because it was on shuffle, popped up. And we were like, ‘Man, listen to that melody right there. If you played it heavy on guitar it’d be kind of like a Metallica riff or something,’ we’re kind of laughing and we said, ‘Hey, maybe we should go back in the studio and track it out really quick.’ So we were amusing ourselves, I got a really good chuckle out of it... and then the whole middle section... with the whole creepy keyboard, it came out really interesting. It was completely a joke and it was just for us, and it came out so well, I was like, ‘You know what? Throw it on the record.’ and the label loved it. We haven’t done a cover in awhile, the last time we did was that Seal, “Crazy,” and that’s a really strange version of that. So, it’s not really [unusual] that we do really strange covers, but it was really more just for us than anything.

So it sounds like some of your creativity comes from being open to new things and being adventurous.

Yeah, it is. It really is, because an album of all the same songs, that’s not us. I know that’s it for a lot of people and I’ve had side projects where it’s very much the same sound. Most of them don’t want to say that, but the fact of the matter is, the majority of a lot of records sound the same. Mushroomhead really tries to make it a curveball from the other one while still maintaining the heavy, and the integrity of who we are. Instead of just, you know, “We’re rap-rock now,” and... no, it’s not like that. We have those influences littered in.

Now the album’s title is sort of a tribute to two people who have passed away. Did that influence any of hte lyrical themes on the album or was it just strictly the title.

You know, a lot of hte album is written... John John passed in 2010 and ? Just passed last year in August so it hasn’t even been a year since she’s been gone. But a lot of hte album was written before she left, and we talked about it and wanted to do a tribute to them, at least dedicate it to them, so we came up with a title and try to make it classy, and it’s my ex-wife and the mother of my children so I needed to be respectful. And then I think towards the end... I know that it influenced some lyrical material for sure. You might just have to find it, it’s not gonna just be blatant. Because those guys are pretty clever, they can twist a phrase pretty cool, where you can think about it a couple different ways. But yes, definitely, it had a huge impact on us, and it will forever.

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