While they never really went away, Cleveland’s Mushroomhead haven’t always had a super high profile. Since 1999, they’ve roughly released an album only once every four years or so. However, last year’s The Righteous and the Butterfly found them on the Mayhem tour, and became their first-ever album to debut in the top 20. With their newfound visibility, the band closed out 2014 by touring, and we caught up with them at the Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI and talked to Skinny about new band members, the return of JMann, and the band’s existence 20 years in.
Your newest album, The Righteous and the Butterfly, came out in May, how has the reception been so far?
Great, we’ve been very fortunate we got to push it very hard with the Mayhem tour and then we went right out with ICP and now we are doing a short run to support it on our own. It’s been really good every night seeing the crowd sing along to the new tunes. Even playing it myself because, it’s brand new. It’s our seventh album having new material to play is awesome.
Tell us a little bit about the writing and recording process for this album.
We had the introduction of Church on guitar and Dr F on bass and the reintroduction of JMann. Back story on Church, he and I had done the Tenafly Viper side project with Waylon singing. Dr F had done the Jeffery Nothing album, which is Jeffery’s solo album on Subnoize. So, we have a lot of work relationships in bands and studios already. So when those guys came into the Mushroomhead camp, everything we always kind of talked about and dabbled with came into fruition hardcore. JMann coming back was just like riding a bike. Just because he wasn’t in the band doesn’t mean we were still talking and close. We still have a side project, eventually we will put it out. Mushroomhead is on the front burner right now. It’s a hip hop project called 10,000 Cadillacs. We were working on that before we decided to do the new album for Megaforce. So, everyone was working together but, to put all of that into a Mushroomhead album was awesome.
With so many instruments in the group, is the writing process a little more difficult?
No, the biggest problem with this many guys and ideas is when do you stop? We had 22 song ideas for the album and 14 made it. It’s just knowing when to stop. The album damn near wrote itself. But it wasn’t as difficult as you may think.
Going back to choosing what songs made it to the album, how did “Rumour Has It” make it on?
Well we ended up doing 5 or 6 different cover songs and that one was just standing out and it was just fun. Even for us, that’s probably the last song anyone would think we would cover. They always say you mean “Rumour Has It” like Adele? The middle breakdown we really took some liberties and made it all creeped out. I think she would like it if she heard it. She hasn’t told me it sucked. It was just kind of fun to put our own twist on it. If you’re like a band of our caliber that just wants to have fun, that’s where you have to take it and just have fun.
Seven albums total in the history of Mushroomhead. What sets The Righteous and the Butterfly apart from the rest?
This one to me is like taking all of the albums and throwing it into one. It has a lot of the first three albums with the old school elements to it. We got back to our roots. It’s not as heavy as parts of Saviour Sorrow or XIII. But, then again there are moments that are probably even heavier. I think it’s a very modern version of Mushroomhead. It’s evolved properly without getting away from the original old school flavors. I think we brought more of that back this time. A fun fact is I can still listen to it from start to finish. Usually, by the time we finish it I never want to listen to it again. I enjoy playing it but I never want to listen to it again. I’ll listen to it and I’ll say ‘oh shit, I forgot about that!’
If you have to choose one out of the seven, what would be your top pick?
Probably the first one, because it started it all. It was kind of all over the map and there were no rules.
With being on a label, does the label still let you have free reign?
Oh yeah. In their defense, when they are trying to market a band that isn’t as big they may have more control. With us, we have our underground niche cut out for us. So, they basically say keep doing what you’re doing but, do it better if you can.
This is your first album in 9 years having JMann back. How is having him back changed the dynamic of the group?
Nothing really. There’s less beer now because he’s drinking all day too. It’s pretty cool to watch the three of those guys to pass the baton and work together on stage. It’s taken a moment to develop but the dynamic is awesome, watching the three of them working together. Tonight we have Jackie Laponza from Unsaid Faith doing a song with us. That’s interesting to watch the four of them go back and forth. It’s not like a cluster fuck or anything. They’ve got it together and they know when to step off. It’s not like three guys screaming over each other. They compliment or contrast each other.
This album sees two new members, Church and Farrell. How did this change/influence the writing process?
Again it wasn’t really that different from the other albums. It was just a little bit more because they were new. Fresh ideas and different approaches as opposed to what we had done the last two albums before them. The biggest problem we had was stopping. The writing process was simple. It seemed like it was never going to end with non-stop ideas. Those guys brought a huge element to the table. They are both well versed in engineering and pro-tools and recording studios and sessions. So, I didn’t necessarily have to sit behind the controls and click everything. They could record themselves a little bit. I’d come in the next day and they would have a whole new riff recorded over the drums I laid out the night before. They are very nice guys and overall very intelligent.
You guys have been a band for over 20 years, how have you guys grown over time and kept up with the “scene”?
I think we just ultimately kept doing our own thing. I think that’s why we’re still here. We weren’t really worried about too much what anyone else was doing. We’ve watched different styles and themes come and go and here we are just doing it. I think part of it is we reinvent the band a little bit and reinvent our look and stage show. We are a very DIY band and it’s just kept us busy. We don’t have time to worry about what anyone else is doing. We do another album and go on tour for three years; do another album go on tour for three years. It’s just like, good luck to everyone else.
Has there ever been anything that you guys have tried behind closed doors that hasn’t seen the light of day that sounded great in your head but when you got there and it was shit?
Not really. We lay down the ideas and they tell us right away. If it’s rocking, it’s rocking and if it’s questionable you just move right on. We experiment with everything all the time. For example, if it’s a more electronic element, we try and find a way to bring that in without trying to be the current dubstep fad. We just kept ourselves so busy with doing our own thing and maybe throw in a little of what’s currently happening but not so much where we go and change the sound. I think that’s why we have so many side projects.
Does putting on the mask affect your persona?
Definitely, you put the in-ears in and put the mask on and you walk up on stage. You get the Darth Vader thing going and you can hear yourself breathing. A lot of people compare it to Halloween with putting the makeup on and getting into character. There’s a little bit of that. I mean after 22 years of it though, it’s just what I wear to work.
We just saw your masks up for sale.
We do that often. When we get off tour we will sign them and put them up for auction or kids will buy them outright. We have Mushroomhead Mask and Memorabilia page on Facebook where the kids can go on and trade the masks and we sell them on there and signed shirts and albums. There’s a hell of an underground following. You will see the blacklight ones up as soon as the tour is over.
You kind of keep the general idea for the masks each time.
Oh yeah, each guy has their own thing. Their accessories stay the same. I’ll bring the non-painted ones with me and get bored and start painting them up. We do a lot of it ourselves. We get the molds done and pour the latex, cut em up, paint them up, and put the accessories on.
Being in the scene for so long, what is your take on seeing that no record besides Taylor Swift, went platinum in 2014?
Sign of the times, you know. What a lucky girl… God bless her. Good for her. It was almost a whole fucking year of no one doing it. Bands that were selling a million records a year are barely selling 100,000. Mushroomhead’s Beautiful Stories [for Ugly Children] only did 68,000 or 70 something thousand units in the last 4 years and The Righteous and the Butterfly came out in May and it’s almost at 40,000. We are selling more records than we were, currently. We’re up. It’s just a sign of the times, man, if you’re out there working and pushing it, the shit will sell. Maybe not as big as it used to but, obviously if fucking Taylor Swift is doing it, it can be done. She proved everyone wrong. You might as well reinvent the whole thing. Knock it back down to 500,000 is now platinum and 100,000 is now gold or something.
So, what’s your take on the digital era taking over? Are you okay with someone “borrowing” your music if they buy a ticket and the merch?
They have been fucking doing it since they have been coming to my show. We put our first album out in 1994 so it’s been happening to be for fucking ever, it’s not that big of a surprise. We are a band that will go above and beyond. We make killer packaging and make vinyl and make picture discs. We have Converse shoes with 15 different designs. It’s that collector piece at that point so we kind of go the other way with it.
You come out after the show, the bus is gone. There’s an iPod on the ground with one album you get to listen to while you walk to the next city, what do you pick?
Right now, I’d have to say its band called Conquering Dystopia. It’s Jeff Loomis and a couple guys from Cannibal Corpse. It’s instrumental. It’s the best fucking metal I’ve ever heard in my life. It just came out before the Shroom album. But first off, if the bus was gone I’d be like ‘YESSS. I don’t have to be with those people for twelve hours.’ I’d take an Uber and rock that Conquering Dystopia.
Unless you got into a car with Deadmau5, then that’s another story…
Well if his helmet was in there, I’d take that to the next show, now we’re talking. I’d wear that fucker.
Anything to shamelessly plug?
Concquering Dystopia again. What’s crazy we were on tour with Cannibal Corpse guys and it never got brought up once. I go out with ICP and I heard it on Sirius. All summer long on a metal tour I listened to rap and now going out with a rap group I listened to metal. I like to switch it up.
Photos: Sean Matthews