With a career spanning over three decades, STAIND remains an undeniable force in the world of rock. Over the course of their career, the band has released eight studio albums and eight Top 10 singles, selling over 15 million albums worldwide. In 2019, after a five-year hiatus, the band reunited for some unforgettable festival performances and a hometown reunion show that was recorded for the live album, ‘Live: It’s Been Awhile.’ Reinvigorated, the boys in the band soon found themselves taking the next steps in their evolution with producer Erik Ron (Godsmack, Panic! at the Disco, Black Veil Brides). Their fearless creative exploration resulted in their first new album in twelve years, ‘Confessions of the Fallen.’ The hallmarks of the sound the band established close to 30 years ago are all there — Aaron Lewis’ vocals flexing from melodic keening to a hellacious roar, Mike Mushok’s ferocious guitar muscling the track forward, Johnny April and Sal Giancarelli propelling it with industrial-strength energy. But sliding through are some new touches and electronic flavorings that give the album a refreshed and contemporary sensibility. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with guitarist Mike Mushok to discuss his creative journey with the band, the making of ‘Confessions of the Fallen,’ and much more. ‘Confessions of the Fallen‘ is available now on all platforms via Alchemy Recordings/BMG.
Staind’s new album, ‘Confessions of the Fallen,’ has been a long time coming. For those who aren’t up to speed, tell us a bit about what brought you all back to the fold. Did you have any reservations about jumping back into it?
No reservations whatsoever! I was really thankful! During our whole time apart, Aaron and I would stay in touch and communicate. In fact, it was always like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do it, but I don’t have a timeline for when it’s going to happen.” It was around 2018 when a gentleman that Aaron works with reached out to me. He said, “I think Aaron is about ready to do this if you want to.” We all got together, hung out, and talked it through. We had to figure out what we needed to do to make it happen. It was really important to me because this is where I started back in 1994. I’ve always been proud of our music, and I’ve always enjoyed working with Aaron. For us, I feel like a lot revolves around Danny Wimmer, who does a lot of the big rock festivals he has with “Danny Wimmer Presents.” He really pushed for us to play some of his festivals. Over the years, he and I would talk, and he would ask, “When are you guys gonna do this again?” He’s actually the President of our label as well! Our album is out on his label as well. We played a show at his bar at New Year’s in 1997, opening for Limp Bizkit in Jacksonville, FL. We’ve had a long history with Danny!
So, we had some offers and went out and played those shows in 2019. We had a whole plan for 2020. We had signed a record deal and knew we had to make a record, but it wasn’t long before the whole world shut down in 2020, and not much was done. Our shows went away, and we had to regroup to figure it out. We got the offer to go on tour with Korn in 2021. It was an excellent opportunity to play Aaron some of my ideas. That allowed us to get an idea and direction of what he liked and didn’t like and figure out where the record would go. I wrote a lot of stuff that ended up on the record during that tour. We demoed a bunch of stuff and chose Eric Ron as our producer. We started working closely with him to put it all together.
Did you have to work hard to recreate the chemistry between you, or was it like riding a bike, so to speak!
Ya know, it really was! [laughs] But, I’m not going to lie to you, there is some anxiety that goes into it as well, not having put out a record in 10+ years. For me, the expectation was that it had to be the best thing we’ve done. It had to be great! You forget about all that stuff once you start working, putting the ideas together, and moving along in the process. You just put your head down and get to work! At the end of the day, when we finished and were able to sit back and listen to it, we were all very proud of what we were able to come up with!
Did you have any particular goals or aspirations about how you’d be moving the sound of the band forward? I ask because while it feels like a Staind record, you’ve brought some new layers to it that keep it fresh.
Thank you! Yeah, I think you just nailed it. That’s what we were trying to achieve. Aaron really wanted to introduce more of an electronic element into the band. I remember saying, “Well, I don’t know how to do that? I play guitar!” [laughs] I think that is where Eric Ron played a huge part in helping us. He was able to take some of those parts that were written on guitar and, translate them into a more electronic feel and add some of those sounds and textures to what the songs were. I think he did a great job, and I’m thrilled with how it ended up.
It was something that I knew, in the back of my head, that we had to do. I had a lot of ideas put together, and a few of those made the record. When we were on that tour with Korn, I would spend every day working. I would get up in the morning, set up ProTools, and spend most of the day sitting there playing. I was trying to come up with something each day that got me excited, recording it and following It through. If I’m really happy about it, some of them kind of write themselves!
You’ve been hard at work for decades at this point. What goes into organizing Your vault?
It’s a mess. I’m not going to lie! It’s hard to do. For me, it used to be cassettes that I would label. So, I have shoeboxes full of old cassettes! It wasn’t until they stopped making cassettes that I knew I had to move on! [laughs] Today, we have Pro Tools and I know enough to get around and get my ideas down. I keep different idea folders. As things develop from ideas to what I think might become a song, I just give them random working titles. It’s funny because that was one of the last things done on ‘Confessions of The Fallen.’ Our songs had been called by these random titles for so long that I didn’t know the actual names, and it was the last thing that happened! So, I do my best to try to keep track of different ideas through folders. There are various sessions in there, so I can go and search through the ideas and add notes. For example, I might add a note that reads, “3:46… Start listening there.” I say that because sometimes I just ramble on with the guitar and keep going. So, when I listen back, I might think, “Oh, that part is really cool. Let’s take that and turn it into something.”
Of the songs you worked on for “Confessions of the Fallen,” which resonates most with you?
There are a few that I keep going back to. There was one riff that I had kicking around for a while, and I was delighted that we were able to make it into a song. It ended up becoming “Better Days.” There was also “In This Condition.” That riff had stuck with me for a long time, and I wanted to do something with it. Sometimes, things like that don’t translate into something that actually makes the record. When they do, it is really cool! So, I am slightly more connected to these because they have been around for a while.
It has to be really satisfying to share those tracks and everything else you’ve slaved over for a few years to finally see the light of day.
It definitely is! The record came out last week, and it was really nice because a bunch of people reached out to say congratulations. It means a lot because I didn’t know if this day would come again. It’s really lovely that we were able to put out new music, and it’s music that I’m pleased with! Hopefully, everyone else is as well!
How has your creative process as a band changed over the years?
“Confessions of the Fallen” was made really differently from the way we’ve done things in the past. Aaron is always on the road playing, as he has a very successful country career. He loves going out and playing, so he’s always doing gigs. This time around, we had windows of opportunities to work. My schedule was much more open than his, which led to a different way of doing things. Eric and I would put together the arrangements. Then, he would get together with Aaron to play them for him. They would tweak things where needed, change things where needed, or work on the melody and lyrics. Once we had all of that down, we’d start tracking. I don’t think Aaron and I were in the studio together once! I did all of my stuff at the studio we have at our storage spot in Western Massachusetts. Johnny [April] did his bass in Massachusetts, too. He lives in Mass, and I live in Connecticut. Aaron did all of his vocals in Nashville. Sal [Giancarelli] did his drums in Eric’s studio in Los Angeles. So, it was a very different recording process for us. All of these songs were demoed and finished when we went into the studio to actually start recording them. We had a good idea of what everybody was doing from the start.
I imagine putting out a record in 2023 is a lot different than it was for you three decades ago.
It’s way different! I was talking to our manager last week. I was saying that in the past, when we’d put a record out, there would be some sort of in-store signing or whatever. I’m doing a bunch of interviews, and I really appreciate what you guys do in helping to get the word out, so thank you for that! But, yeah, it feels way different than it used to. Then, a week before the scheduled release, the record leaked, and everybody could have it. I was like, “If I was the record company, I’d be annoyed with that because that’s how they make their money.” So, it’s out a week earlier, but everybody can get it for free Friday night at midnight or whatever. It will be on Spotify or whatever your streaming preference might be, so what’s the difference?! [laughs] I appreciate everyone who went out there and bought it because I know nobody has to. So, that’s great, and it goes a long way in supporting the band. So, thank you to those who bought the album; it’s greatly appreciated!
Staind has always had some incredible album art. One thing that has always really stood out to me is your logo. It’s served you well and has truly stood the test of time.
There was a gentleman, when we first signed to Elektra Records back in 1998, named Greg, who designed the logo. I can picture him as clear as day, but I can’t remember his last name, which is killing me. He came up with that logo. He was an artist who was working for Elektra Records at the time. We’ve stuck with that logo ever since! I’m not going to say that it’s as iconic as Korn’s logo, but that’s always the thing you go to. I feel like their logo is so amazing. It can be huge on the front of a shirt, and it’s so cool! It always looks great, so I always thought, “Man, I want a logo as cool as theirs!” I’m not saying it is because it’s not! He had done a bunch of different takes on it and that was the one we all gravitated towards and stuck with it all along!
What does the future hold for Staind, both short and long-term?
We were on the road all summer, and I just got home, so I’m happy being home for a minute! We only have one more show this year, but we are trying to determine what next year holds. I know there will be a lot more touring next year to get out and promote the record. The new single, “Here and Now,” just came out, and we just put out a video for that one. So, hopefully, that does well, and people like it. As far as new music goes, I’m going to continue writing, so we will see! I would love for that to happen. I love what we do. I enjoyed making this record, so I’d love to try to make one even better!
Seeing all you’ve accomplished as an artist is truly inspiring. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point. How did that work ethic get baked into your DNA?
I don’t know. For me, there is only one way to get there: through hard work. Even guitar playing, I’ve always said that for me, it was maybe 5% talent and 95% hard work! I would sit at home and play for hours on end, and nothing will beat that. If you have somebody who is talented and they do that, forget about it! [laughs] That goes for anything you do. Always give your best; that way, no one can say you didn’t try. When you don’t give it your all, you’re eventually going to look back and say, “Oh, man. This could have been different. Maybe I could have done this…” That doesn’t mean you’ll always think of everything to do. Ya know, I used to work at a fuckin’ gas station. I would check the oil, do the windshield, and check the air in the tires. I’ve always strived to do the best I could at any job. I was never fired from a job because I was out there trying to be the best employee I could be. That’s really what it was. It’s kind of the same thing with the band and playing. You just try to do the best you can in whatever you do.
My goal, very early on, was to make a living playing my own music. I remember saying that as far back as I remember. It was really about focusing on writing songs. It was also learning a lot of other people’s stuff, playing what I liked, and spending countless hours practicing. It was really about coming up with stuff that I liked. It wasn’t until I met Aaron that I felt I had a great partner in doing that. I searched for a really long time for that! I wrote instrumental music because I couldn’t find a singer! [laughs] I went that route for a minute but realized I wanted to have a band. Once I found Aaron, I was like, “Where have you been?” That was an eye-opener, being able to connect with him. He and I connect on that level of being able to work together. I’m a huge fan of what he does — his melodies, his lyrics, and his voice.
What are some of the milestones that come to mind when you look back on your career with Staind?
It’s funny; when I look back, there are so many early milestones. From making our first CD, “Tormented,” to meeting Fred [Durst], getting him interested, going to Jacksonville and passing that test, and writing songs with him. We went to Los Angeles, got signed with management, did a demo there, and got picked up by Elektra Records. We also got Terry Date as a producer, which was a huge deal. I remember being so stoked about that. We made that record, it came out, and we got our first national tour opening for Kid Rock. Then we were able to Korn and got our first gold record. You see those things happen along the way, and you keep working and working and working. I always say that getting a record deal is like getting to the base of Mount Everest. You made it there, but now you have to try climbing the mountain to get to the top! [laughs] That’s what it is. You just put your head down, get to work, and try to do your best.
What advice would you give young artists looking to blaze a similar trail?
One thing I have learned in dealing with managers, agents, or record companies is that you’ve gotta stay on top of everybody. That record company has 50 other bands, ya know. I would always say, “This is all I’ve got! So, if I’m being a pain in the ass, calling you all the time, or being demanding, that’s the reason I’m doing it. You guys have other things to rely on, but all my eggs are in this basket right now. I need to make sure I don’t drop it! More importantly, I need to make sure you don’t drop it!” I won’t say that some baskets haven’t been dropped over the years because they have. Again, it’s one of those things where you try to do your best and realize that you must look out for yourself and your band. This is what we have, so I need to ensure everybody does their job to the best of their ability. It’s like anything; you have to delegate to people what they are good at. You might not necessarily know all the intricacies of what that is. I think you start to learn some of those things over the years, and that’s where some of the shortfalls might have come into play. You might not know everything you need to know, but that comes from doing it, learning it, making mistakes, and learning from those experiences.
Well said! Thanks so much for your time Today, Mike. I appreciate all the hard work you and the guys have put in over the years. Keep the good stuff coming!
Thank you, man! I really appreciate you’re support. It was really nice speaking to you.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.