Interview: Mushroomhead Talks About GWAR, Tour and More

Over the course of almost 21 years, Mushroomhead has carved out their place as a lasting presence in the ever-changing metal scene. Hard work, relentless passion, and a dedicated fanbase has kept this band going, and they are stronger than ever. Starting out in Cleveland, Ohio, lead singer J-Mann remembers what it was like during the ’70s and ’80s in that area. “It was such an industrial town, seeing that part of it. I remember Detroit falling apart, and signs from the police saying ‘Enter at Your Own Risk’ “.  All of that led to J-Mann taking a liking to the aggressive music scene, which would in turn help shape what Mushroomhead would become. “Subversive music intrigued me, anything that challenged society, or was socially aware.” J-Mann took a break from Mushroomhead in 2005, because he was tired of the fight. “Pro-tools bands come and go, they are tourists – it’s lifers versus tourists.” He was jaded by the way the industry was shaping, but it didn’t keep him out music for long.

*Note: Quotes from J-Mann were part of a phone interview with Managing Editor/Photo Editor, Jim Gilbert, earlier in July.

Photo by Jim 'JT' Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

Returning to Mushroomhead in 2013, the band released their new album, The Righteous and The Butterfly, which went to number 20 on the billboard charts. J-Mann recalls sitting next to Rev. Jesse Jackson on a radio show in Cleveland when he got the news. “Drinking beer out of a coffee cup at 6:30 in the morning, trying to awkwardly high-five and hug Rev. Jesse Jackson. Crazy. It’s all about the fans and their support.”

With a stint on this year’s Rockstar Mayhem Festival, Mushroomhead is looking forward to a headlining tour in the fall, and then the next record, with a lot of new material already in the works, like a track featuring Randy Blythe from Lamb of God. I got to sit down with Skinny and ST1TCH at the festival when it rolled into Saratoga Springs New York at SPAC, and talk a little about the band, and the passing of Dave Brockie of GWAR, both Mushroomhead and Gwar being very close throughout their careers.

Jeff Ayers: So, first question I gotta know. ‘Rumour Has It’. It was your idea, Skinny, to put that on the record, right? Can you talk about that?

Skinny: Usually, when we start recording a new album, we will screw around with cover tunes, just to get tones basically. When you are setting up drums, and dialing in guitars, it’s just about having a little fun with it. That one came about because of my iPod, I had it on shuffle. Dr. F, our bass player, and myself were working on some masks, and we were using it as a background. Sure enough, that tune came on, and we started talking about Adele, I think she is an amazing singer.

's Jeff Ayers and Mushroomhead's ST1TCH (Photo by Jim 'JT' Gilbert)
‘s Jeff Ayers and Mushroomhead’s ST1TCH (Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert)

JA: Yeah, not going to lie, she is a talented artist.

Skinny: Yeah, just incredible. So we were talking about it, and I said what if we put heavy guitars in it? You know like Metallica or something? Dr. F and I were laughing about it, and after a few more beers, we talked ourselves to go back into the studio and do it. We just knocked it out with some simple drums and guitars, just to get reactions from it, and everyone that came in had a chuckle. So we kept just throwing the whole kitchen sink at it for awhile. After a little bit, it turned into something interesting. You definitely know what tune it is, I don’t think we destroyed it too much. It’s very much in the vain of how we did Seal’s ‘Crazy’ in 2003. It was a lot of fun. It was meant to keep things lite during the writing process. Like, when you get frustrated or something, we could be like ‘Let’s screw around with the Adele tune again!”

JA: You need that in a recording process, to keep it fun.

Skinny: Exactly, it needs to be a good time. So when the album was ready, the label, who originally hated the song, asked us “Hey, what happened to the Adele cover?” Now they love it. It ended up morphing so many times that by the end of it they liked it. It was really for us.

ST1TCH: Yea, we almost re-hauled it again at the end too. We turned in a few different versions and that’s why I think they ended up liking it. At first we were all a little on the fence about it, too ,because there were so many other songs that were also good.

Skinny: We did like five or six different cover songs.

JA: Will we have a chance of hearing any of the songs that didn’t make the cut on subsequent records?

Skinny: Hopefully, yeah. There is a bunch of originals that didn’t make the album either, because we just ran out of time.

JA: That is always good though, to have songs in your back pocket for the next record.

ST1TCH: Absolutely.

Skinny: But like I said, the Adele thing ultimately was just for us. At 20 years in, you got have some kind of fun.

ST1TCH: 20 and a half. Mushroomhead is almost old enough to drink. Watch out!

Photo by Jim 'JT' Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

JA: Can you guys speak a little on how the game has changed, or how the industry has changed since your beginnings?

Skinny: To bands at our level, like, we missed the ‘record sales’ portion of the industry by three years. Three years earlier and we might not even be here. But, I won’t change anything. For hard-working bands, that have been doing it this long, they are still just working. They punch in, go do their thing, and that’s all they are worried about. It’s funny how, you can get into cycles, like look at us, twelve years later and we are on another festival. Most people might have written us off, but that isn’t the case for the hard-working, honest efforts out there. People tend to know the difference. The rest of the industry though? I would hate to be in a baby band right now.

JA: Is it harder to contend with the ‘baby’ bands out there now?

Skinny: Well there is a lot of them. Oh my god, the saturation of the music industry is incredible. Sometimes, it gets tougher for a band like us. You get people saying, oh they are washed up, or they are gimmick metal. I think that you have to keep pressing on. A lot of bands don’t have that longevity; twenty years, seven albums, four labels. You know what I mean? If they do have that, they already made their millions, they are the big bands. There really isn’t a lot like Mushroomhead, and that’s why it’s always just another day at work for us. I still wake up everyday, like when I was twenty, saying ‘How do I pimp my band? What’s the next thing, how can I push it further?” I feel the exact same passion as when I started.

JA: You have done a lot in your careers, and I am not throwing this around lightly, but you have helped re-invent the idea of heavy music. You aren’t afraid to throw samples in the music, multiple drummers, multiple singers, different instrumentation. Are there any crazy things on the horizon, or things that you have always wanted to integrate into the band you haven’t had the chance to yet?

Skinny: We love working with other people, like guest vocalists on the records. So to see who the next guest might be, and not knowing is a cool thing. But knowing that I do want it, that next tone, that other texture, is exciting.

JA: Musicians are very singular beings. Is it more interesting, or more challenging, being in a band where multiple musicians fill the same roles, like vocalists and drummers, seeing as I am talking to two drummers right now?

Skinny: As long as you can sort through the bad ideas and get to the good ones, I think the more ideas the better. I’d hate to be in a room full of dudes who have no ideas, or no passion.

ST1TCH: We spend a lot of time making sure that it makes sense, too. Not like some bands, where they might have two drummers, but they are playing the same beat. What’s the point? What I do, with water drums, is more about amplifying the show, and percussion. Not muddying it up at all. Just like with three singers, everyone has their parts, and we organize it more like a play, or a theater performance rather than a band going up there and trying to outdo each other. Msuhroomhead is a show, and we are all about entertaining people

Skinny: [in his best Russel Crowe voice] “Are you not entertained!!” That is how I feel up there. We are not rockstars, we are entertainers.

ST1TCH: As soon as that mask goes on, I am not me anymore. I am the character I snap into.

Photo by Jim 'JT' Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

JA: Mushroomhead was brought up by GWAR, can we talk a little about Dave’s [Brockie] passing. You guys were close right?

Skinny: Yea. The whole GWAR camp gave us our first national anything. Three days after our first show, we were called up for an opening slot at the Cleveland Agora for those guys. So our second show ever was with GWAR. We got to know Dave and Brad and all those guys, and they asked us to do some support stuff the following year. Regional stuff, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

ST1TCH: They were in town filming for the Jerry Springer show then

JA: I remember that!

Skinny: I think that was a few years later, but I don’t know. I remember Jerry introducing GWAR on stage and getting hit with a beer in the face. He was so pissed, he got in his limo and left. [laughs]. But anyway, those guys were really nice to us. We were fortunate to spend some time with Dave on Soundwave 2014 in Australia. It was like a high school reunion. They were on at two o’clock, we were on around 11:30 in the morning, so we shared the same dressing area. So we started drinking, you know, ten in the morning, GWAR and Mushroomhead. You gotta start then! I remember eating kangaroo jerky and drinking jagermeister with Dave.

J-Mann (from phone interview): There were shuttles between all the stages, and Dave joined us for every show. He was brilliant, quick-witted, well-rounded, and that all gets disguised in a big rubber suit. He was such a wonderful guy.

Skinny: On our day off, we all got together and went to visit Bon Scott’s grave [AC/DC]. We went to see his memorial down at the harbour in Perth, and some of us even went to the Indian Ocean together. It was so great to see Dave, and we were very fortunate to spend some of the last days with him. We have some many good memories and great footage of hanging out on stage, and personal photos as well.

JA: It’s great to hear that you got that opportunity with him right before he died.

Skinny: Yea, would you like to see the photo of us at Bon Scott’s memorial? It’s pretty heavy man.

*At this point he took out his phone and showed Jim and I this haunting photo. Skinny was gracious enough to let us use it, another piece of the lasting legacy that Dave was a part of, and a testament to the bond between the two bands.

photo (2)
Mushroomhead and GWAR’s Dave Brockie in Australia at Bon Scott’s (AC/DC) memorial less than two weeks before Dave’s untimely death. Photo by Steve “Skinny” Felton.

Skinny: But, anyway, he was a great guy, funny, talented as hell. He left this earth a better place. We were very fortunate to have him for the short time we did. Because, goddamn, I can listen to those records and laugh my ass off still to this day. Like, we were singing ‘Sexecutioner” out loud the other day, and everyone was taking turns, it was pretty funny.

JA: Have you ever thought about doing a GWAR cover for a Mushroomhead record?

ST1TCH: We were just talking about that actually.

Skinny: Yea, because we were just singing that song recently, we started arguing about which song would be better. So you never know, whenever the time is right maybe we can do something like that. But again, God bless those guys.

JA: So what is the next thing in store for Mushroomhead, then?

Skinny: Touring. We are taking a few weeks off after Mayhem, then we will start getting ready for the Halloween season. That time of year is just us, we have to do that. Probably a nationwide tour, and we are also working on four cities in Russia right now.

JA: Have you been out to Russia recently?

ST1TCH: We were just out there in May.

JA: Well with everything that’s going on over there, be careful.

Skinny: Oh yeah, absolutely. But it is insane for us over there, the fans are great.

ST1TCH: They make us feel like the Beatles.

Skinny: That is no bullshit, they are shaking and crying to get into the shows, it is so nuts.