The Evolution of Mushroomhead - An Interview with Skinny and St1tch

It's been a long road for Mushroomhead, and while the band has run through hot and cold times, the solidarity of their core has led to a remarkable streak of consistency. Fresh off the release of their newest studio record and holding up a pillar Mayhem Fest, Mushroomhead remains a popular and capitvating live performance. As much as any of their contemporaries, the band are artists, blending their music with personal flair and inspriations far and near. Taking a few minutes out of their schedule to sit down, we talked with Skinny and St1tch about their band, balancing all the pieces and the state of horror cinema.
M.DREW: Let’s start at the beginning and set the stage. You’ve got a new record, go! What do people need to know, what does it mean to you, what should they take away from it?
RICK ‘ST1TCH’ THOMAS: They need to know to go to stores and buy it.

STEVE ‘SKINNY’ FELTON: Yeah, the actual physical copy. We’re still firm believers, call us old school, call us ancient, whatever. We still like physical CD’s, we like seven inches and twelve inches and picture discs and actual, physical product. Nothing like holding the lyric sheet in your hand while the thing’s playing and you’re actually reading through it the first time. Nowadays people just download from iTunes. And you know, God bless iTunes for how convenient it is, but people are singing the wrong words. I see them in the audience, like ‘what are you saying?’

ST1TCH: It takes the personality out of it, to straight download. I always like reading the liner notes, who did this, who did the art, who did the mix, what studio did they do it in, oh, they did it themselves, that’s cool. Just the smell of opening up a CD for me has always been part of it.

SKINNY: Weirdo.

ST1TCH: Yeah, I’m just a weirdo. You get that print, you just open it up and it’s the whole package.

SKINNY: I agree, even vinyl has its own smell. It smells…well, like vinyl.

M.D: I’ve always been a fan of great cover art, which you miss out on if you download the music.
ST1TCH: Yeah, you’re not getting the full experience.

SKINNY: I remember going to record stores and literally checking out albums because of the album art. Like ‘oh man, this has to be great!’ And you get it home and it’s crap, but the album art was great!

M.D: How many people bought ‘Don’t Break the Oath’ because of the cover art?
SKINNY: I think everyone. [laughs]
M.D: Every album you’ve done, beginning to end, sounds different. They all have a different feel and spin. How does that happen? Do you go into the studio saying ‘this time it’s gotta be this,’ or is it just trial and error?
SKINNY: It’s very much open ended, throw the sink at it, whatever kind of moods we’re in, and you don’t write one off just because one day it’s not clicking between two people. Mushroomhead’s great because there’s nine of us. An idea that you didn’t think was working with someone you were working with it on, you’ll come in and three other guys ripped it apart and changed the whole thing in a way I never would have thought. We’re pretty blessed that way. The big thing is not hindering ourselves and not being scared to take chances. I mean, it’s just a song, we don’t have to put it on the record if we really don’t like it [laughs]. Ultimately, this album was a really good effort on everyone’s part. We had the introduction of Dr. F on bass and Church on guitar. We had the re-introduction of JMann and it was very focused and everyone kept their eye on the prize. There were five tunes that didn’t get finished and rightly should have been on the album, and we just ran out of time.
M.D: At any given point, it feels like Mushroomhead has a roster of between five and twelve. With all the rotation that’s gone on, does that feel like a help or a hindrance to bring in new people?
ST1TCH: Help, I think. Bringing new blood in is necessary in any corporation or business. You get people who sometimes aren’t into it as much anymore or don’t like their job as much as they did when they first started. You have to bring in that new, excited person who’s going to just kick ass even more. I think it’s great. Some people talk down on it or say it’s not the same, but I think with Mushroomhead, every time we change members it’s gotten better. It’s more exciting, more energy, more life to it. Definitely it’s always been a part of it. The core members have always been part of it, too, a lot of people don’t realize that the same couple guys who started it are still in the group.

SKINNY: Well, sure, look at you, too. You weren’t with us when we first started with Jeff [‘Nothing’ Hatrix], Tom [‘Shmotz’ Schimitz] and I, but since your position started, there’s never been another sample guy. We’ve been together fifteen, seventeen years.

M.D: How did you bring J Mann back? How natural was it, how comfortable was he coming back?
SKINNY: Oh, it was very comfortable, it wasn’t even planned. J Mann and I have a side project, more of an R&B thing, with another artist out of Cleveland named Mike Mahoney, he goes by Just Mike. We had a hip hop project, couple guys from Bone Thugs & Harmony on it, Sid from Slipknot, Mark from Hed PE, just to name a few. We were working on that when I got the contract from Megaforce [Records]. J came by to pick up some stuff for 10,000 Cadillacs, some mixes for that stuff, and he asked me how the new ‘shroom was going. I told him ‘aw, dude, you gotta hear this!’ So we been good with J through all the years, it’s not like we weren’t talking or anything. He heard the tunes and said he loved it, give him a CD, and I said ‘get in the booth right now if you got an idea!’ Five, six hours later he’s on three ideas. Just because he wasn’t in the band, it wasn’t like we weren’t working together or weren’t tight. We’ve been talking the whole time. It was a flawless transition, just like riding a bike.
M.D: The masks, it need to be asked – how hot do they get?
ST1TCH: Very. Imagine if a baked potato had a brain, that’s kind of what you turn into. Especially in the sun. In Phoenix, Arizona, we went on stage and it was a hundred and six. We took a screenshot, put it on our page, and we were literally playing at the peak heat of the day. I don’t think it can get any hotter than three o’clock in the afternoon. As soon as that four count hits and the band’s in though, it’s almost like you don’t notice the heat. You’re snapped into show mode and you do your thing and you suffer afterwards. I have the best job in the band because I do the water drum stuff, and I get to play in the water while it’s a hundred degrees. That’s nice.

SKINNY: I don’t know, you’re so soaking wet by the end of it, it’s like you got pushed in a pool.

M.D: The reason I bring up the masks is because they offer your band both an image and anonymity. Does that help your band? Essentially, no one has seen you age since the beginning of the band, does that help you stay contemporary?
SKINNY: No, I really like it because I’m not very much for attention. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ is my motto. I love it, I can go into the crowd, I can watch a band, I can watch two bands, go to the bar, I can have a drink, no one even bothers me. They don’t know what I look like. I look like I work for fucking Geico, you know? [laughs]

ST1TCH: We can live the average life which is pretty sweet, we don’t have always have to hide in the dressing room. We come off the bus, people think we’re the crew. We went to the after party yesterday, and I think there’s a dozen people who know who we are on this tour. You run into half the bands on the tour and they think we’re the crew guys or merch guys or whatever. It has its ups and downs.

SKINNY: Crew guy. Tour manager, I get that all the time. Nerd city, over here. It’s a blessing.

ST1TCH: We don’t have to look like a persona twenty-four, seven.

SKINNY: Can you imagine Marilyn Manson going to the grocery store looking like that?

ST1TCH: Yeah, wearing basketball shorts and a tank top.

SKINNY: It doesn’t work.

M.D: For the first time in your career, with this record you break the Billboard Top 20. Mushroomhead has been steady all through the years, but interest and sales have been a rollercoaster as you’ve gone along. What did you expect for this? Did you ever anticipate the top twenty?
SKINNY: No, it wasn’t a priority, it wasn’t thought of. Obviously, it’d be nice to even get into the top forty. I think it reflects on what kind of album is it. It’s a very honest effort from artists who are not rock stars. It was written and recorded and put out because we needed to expel these demons somehow. We’re just fortunate that people like it, because we’d make these records either way, doesn’t really matter. We’re artists and we’ve got to get this shit out or we’ll end up dead or in jail.
M.D: You’ve been using samples and similar things for year, do you feel like the sudden rise in interest toward electronic music has helped to bring people back around to Mushroomhead?
ST1TCH: I don’t know, it’s always been, since the early ‘90s, electronic music’s blending into metal has been pretty popular. Since the dupstep movement that’s going on now, a lot of bands are incorporating that again, so there’s been more attention on it. I think the fact that Mushroomhead has always been Mushroomhead has just kept us current. We don’t follow trends, we don’t try to write songs that sound like this band on the radio, it’s always been really natural.

SKINNY: There was a review that said something about us dabbling in techno and all this stuff. Go back to the first album, we’ve been dabbling in that stuff since ’93 or ’96.

ST1TCH: Yeah, recording synths or wubbing sounds, now they call it wubbing sounds, we been doing that shit forever. It’s just the way we sound.

SKINNY: Oscillators and LFO’s and all that shit, yeah. Now it’s a whole genre. I like the dubstep stuff when it’s good and aggressive and mean, it sounds like Godzilla and shit.

M.D: As you’re sitting down trying to mix the ideas of seven or eight people, how does that get cast into the pot into the center? Is there an order to the way things are laid down?
SKINNY: I don’t think so.

ST1TCH: No, it’s just whatever starts clicking.

SKINNY: That’s part of the beauty of Mushroomhead. We don’t even know what the hell we’re getting at sometimes. I like to be surprised by the outcome. Jeff will come in and sing something and I would have never thought of that.

ST1TCH: Or songs you think you throw away, it’ll never make the album, but then someone comes up with a completely different riff and it winds up being the title track of the album
or something. The last thing you’d expect because it’s someone else’s idea.

SKINNY: It’s definitely a collaborative effort, and we’re guessing all the way to the end. Deadlines are the only reason half of it gets done. The other half is laziness. [laughs]

M.D: One wonders, how do you juggle the strengths and personalities of three singers at once? Anthrax couldn’t figure it out with just two.
SKINNY: Yeah, they should’ve hired a juggling coach or something. It was definitely a challenge for me, doing all the producing and recording, just making the space. The song has to speak for itself. We had a lot of great songs with not a whole lot of lyrics, and I just tried to push that the whole time to those guys. They have to compliment or contrast each other, or at least pass the baton, because three guys just screaming over the top of each other just isn’t necessary for the song. Unless it’s good harmony or a good gang vocal or something that makes sense. I tell you, the songs kind of dictated what they needed and wrote themselves. It was very obvious when it wasn’t right.
M.D: Question for Skinny that’s sensitive, but after the passing of your wife, did you ever consider quitting? How did you come back from that?
SKINNY: No, no, no. That’s something that happened during the process of the album, and ultimately it’s a dedication to JJ [Sekula] and Vanessa. It was just the right thing to do. The album wasn’t written for that specific thing, these things happened over the course of time writing the album. Like I said, it seemed very respectful and they were such a large part of the original Mushroomhead camp for the first ten or twelve years. A really good example of those guys when they were around and everything was great – the Universal “XX” version of “Bwomp,” the girl is speaking in Russian, that’s my ex-wife Vanessa, and all the guitar playing on that entire album is John John. Just a real good reference of how kick ass those people were. A respectful dedication, we felt it needed to be done.
M.D: You guys obviously take some inspiration from GWAR – did you know Dave Brockie, interact with him? What are or were your thoughts on his passing?
SKINNY: Our first national show, our first national tour, Dave Brockie asked us to do that. We’re talking ’93, ’95. We’ve done quite a few one-offs with them, Sounds of the Underground, things of that nature. We were fortunate enough in February to play the Soundwave Festival in Australia, and GWAR was on the stage right next to us a couple hours after. We got to reunite with Dave, it had been years, and it was seriously like high school reunion, man. We drank every morning. On our day off in Perth, we went to Bon Scott’s grave. We went to the beach, jumped in the Indian Ocean. It was pretty cool, we were talking about doing some dates with GWAR in 2015 in Europe, we had all kinds of ideas. We were very fortunate to spend some of his last days with him. Absolutely great fucking guy, great artist, he left this world a better place by being in it. Absolutely better than it was when he got here. What a smart, talented, funny guy. Amazing to be around.
M.D: I assume you guys are horror fans, yes?
SKINNY: [Pointing to ST1TCH] Oh yeah, that was the whole thing he wanted to talk about.
M.D: Give me a name, what was something you watched recently that you said ‘wow, that’s it.’
ST1TCH: Nothing. Everything that comes out, it gives you that false hope. ‘This is going to be the scariest, craziest, stupidest found footage ever,’ you know? And it’s the same recycled thing over and over and over again.
M.D: So what do you love?
ST1TCH: I hate to be that dated person talking about ‘horror movies were better when,’ but you know.
M.D: Well, go ahead, because I still think “Suspiria” is one of the best horror movies ever made.
SKINNY: Well, now you’re talking about actual horror. When there is suspense and there is dread and there is fear. “Jaws” and “Alien.” Where you still get that feeling of dread.

ST1TCH: “The Shining.” Timeless horror where you can still watch it now and it’s not cheesy.

SKINNY: Now, gore fests, those are totally different animals. And I get that, I love a good gore fest, too. I’ll chime in, not too long ago there was a remake, I thought I was going to hate it, and the more I watched it, the more I liked it, fucking “Evil Dead.” It wasn’t bad! The more I watched it, the better it got, I think.

ST1TCH: It wasn’t bad. As a stand-alone remake, it definitely could have been a lot worse. Obviously the charm of what Bruce Campbell brought to those movies is what made them as strong as they are. The comedic value was missing [in the remake], but I think if they tried to force it in there it would have turned into a piece of shit. It was cool as its own thing, not relying heavily on CGI, trying to be more practical and stuff like that.

SKINNY: There hasn’t been a whole lot that fucking stands out. The idea of “The Purge,” that could have been amazing! But they ruined it and now they’re doing another one.

M.D: They might become like “Saw” movies, they’re just going to crunch them out.
SKINNY: I guarantee it. And “Saw,” that’s not traditional horror, to me.

ST1TCH: Nah.

SKINNY: I mean, there’s some gore, but I’m old school dread as well.

ST1TCH: “The Conjuring” wasn’t terrible, but I don’t know, some of these movies. “Paranormal Activity,” I don’t even bother with them. I just can’t get into it.

SKINNY: “VHS” one and two, those were pretty cool for what they are, man. The chick in that one part, that was fucking creepy as hell.

ST1TCH: “VHS” one had a couple of those shorts that were good, the second had some cool sequences.

M.D: That’s what you’re looking for though, the grand suspense, the oversized villain, stuff like that.
SKINNY: Story a little bit, too.

ST1TCH: You don’t even have to show a monster, you don’t have to show anything. You can do so much with the suspense and the soundtrack. I want the movie that makes me feel weird when I’m going down the hall at the end in the dark. That’s what I like. That type of shit. I’d rather see that than a splatterfest. Some of the best films, and these are already old, but they seem new, are the European and French horror. “High Tension,” “Frontiers” and “Martyrs” was a really crazy one, too, as far as how that one twisted around. They seem to be getting it a little more, they caught up to that era. I remember, a lot of those horror movies were pretty bad.

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