Madness behind the Mask: An interview with Mushroomhead. “The Heavy Metal Blue Man, that’s what they call us right?”

Posted by: Greg Latham on 30th July 2019

Mushroomhead aren’t known for their extensive UK tours, so when they stopped off in Southampton we made sure to collar them for a chat about what they’ve been doing lately, copying The Blue Man Group, Working at Abbey Road Studios, what it’s like being a creative band with an ever changing image and how they have survived 25 plus years in the music industry as well as what the future holds.

You haven’t been over for a while right?

Skinny (drums): No man, our stage production has just changed so much and member changes, label changes…all of it. So it just turns into logistics and finances…we had to save up all our fucking pennies to make it happen.

I’ve heard it’s often more down to labels than bands about not touring certain places…

Skinny: Yeah, especially with us coz we have the water drums as part of the show and we didn’t have that back in the day, so a lot of the promoters are like “we’d love to have you over, we’ll fly you in, give you X amount of money and support backline”, well you don’t have those water drums in backline, you can’t just call a company and rent them, you know, so it took a little longer than expected, but now we’ve got a B rig of our production, we’re still building it but it lives in Germany. Now we’ve got enough to hopefully come over once a year.

So with the water drums, who was it who saw the Blue Man Group and said “we need those in our set”?

Skinny: The Heavy Metal Blue Man, that’s what they call us right? The original idea for that was literally just one drum and it was just for one act in a set in the set where I got out from behind the drumset and it was an electronic piece, so as we were building it and trying different lights in it, etc to try and really make it work and figure out what was most effective visually, we were looking at playback and video and thought “that’s really fucking cool – we need them on each side of the stage!” But back in the day it was our Production Designer Dave Brooks and myself that came up with ripping off Blue Man a little bit… BORROWING that’s it!

As we said, first time in these parts for a while, how’s it being going so far?

Skinny: Great.

What show number are we on now?

Skinny: 4? Yeah 4 and the whole tour was set up around a festival that was supposed to happen Saturday that unfortunately was cancelled, but it’s been really good, Monday night in London was great, so so far so good.

Have you played with the supports before?

Skinny: No first time with both of them. Waltari are from Finland – REALLY cool band, if you’re staying for the show I recommend checking them out, very diverse man, lot of elements going on from song to song. They’re like kinda pop-metal, then it gets into like Death Metal… It’s really cool, they twist it up quite a bit.

So Mushroomhead The Band – in its various guises – has been going for over 25 years now – what fuels your fire and keeps you going?

Skinny: You know, I think, we got a really good team assembled and everyone’s got their head on straight and really focused on writing this next record. Definitely got a shot in the ass, signing the new deal with Napalm Records – that just happened a few months back – so excited to be part of that team on that roster. I think ultimately though, we’re way more a group of artists than we are rock stars. We’re very much addicted to the creation of things – not just the music, the masks, the stage show, just the entirety of it, we’re very much artists at heart you know? It just keeps you going and then obviously there’s a demand for it, you come out over here and you see fans showing up in masks and got the X Face logo tattooed on them (from the XX days when the band first broke the UK – RS) , it’s very inspiring to keep it going and push it even harder

Are you keeping the nu metal embers glowing?

Skinny: Heh heh, I dunno, I think we’re doing our part!

A lot of those bands have fallen by the wayside or changed their sound significantly, like Papa Roach. I’m not saying you guys have stayed stagnant, but you’ve kinda got the same sound…

Skinny: Yeah I don’t think we get too far off the beaten path, but we have been crossing genres for the past 25 years – metal, hiphop, industrial to EDM – and all of those elements have always been there, so there’s a little something from everyone.

How do you keep that Mushroomhead sound with so many line up changes?

Skinny: Sometimes (the songs) just write themselves, like the current album we’re working on right now, the strong ones write themselves, like “wow, where did that one come from?”, no fault for the other things that we try, but sometimes when you work on them for too long you lose the enthusiasm and it ends up sounding a bit contrived.

Did you ever think when someone left, not to give up, but just to not replace them and have a smaller band? It’s a lot of mouths to feed…

Skinny: It would be an easy answer, but I think that’s what adds to some of the chaos – organised chaos if you will – and also with that many people, you’re gonna have that many different influences coming together and they just work so well that there’s no other way you can do it. This is our 8th album and the last thing you wanna do is something that sounds contrived or that we don’t wanna play. We wanna be able to make music that excites us into the future. I hope the songs we’re gonna release on this next one are received as well by the public as we like and turn into playing 20 years from now. Some of the songs we’re playing tonight are 20 years old!

You said this is the 8th album – do you think you’d be into double figures by now if it hadn’t been for things changing along the way? Has it slowed you down?

Skinny: Yeah there’s a little bit of one step forward, 20 steps back.

Jackie:(Vocals) I think it was always meant to be that way though…

That’s coz you’ve got 35 legs in your band!

Skinny: Yeah it’s the actual Human Centipede! (laughs) No I don’t think it hinders us at all, I would like to kick out albums a little bit faster, but there’s a lot of factors that go into that time. Mainly time just goes by so fucking fast the older we get, it’s crazy, but you do have to stay on the road when you have that many mouths to feed, so that’s part of why it takes so long between records, we do have a lot of touring to do to continue to keep the fucking lights on (laughs). Obviously with member changes, label changes, management changes, things like that you can get set back 6 months or 18 months really fast

6 months could have been a window that gets completely missed…

Skinny: Absolutely, it definitely happens, like last year was kind of a blur and we were like “what did we get done?”

Jackie: I can’t believe a year and a half has gone by…

Skinny: Since we were here, yeah, it goes by so fast… On a good note, the new album we need to get done pretty fast, especially if it’s gonna come out March 2020.

You’ve just been to Abbey Road is that right?

Skinny: Yeah, basically, we got off the plane and got dropped off at Abbey Road, did a vocal session, then went and did our first show. That’s actually our 2nd time at Abbey Road, we did a vocal session there a year and a half ago and some of that got kept for this new record. Actually Jackie is on 4 of the new songs and 2 of the 4 were recorded at Abbey. It’s pretty cool just be there, just sitting in the rooms where Dark Side of the Moon was done, where they do all the orchestras, all the soundtrack recordings, it’s crazy when you walk down the halls and see all the posters for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones… So many, you just don’t even think of, it’s pretty crazy but awesome.

So are the bones of the next record in place?

Skinny: Yeah, I’m gonna say about 80%. It’s just a matter of finding the right person to mix it and keep us on track for our deadlines!

Empty Spaces, Crazy and Rumour Has It are all covers you’ve recorded and all by British artists, so having just been to Abbey Road are we going to hear Mushroomhead do Norwegian Wood?

Skinny: You never know! I’m not gonna ruin it, but there’s another song we just did at Abbey Road by ANOTHER British artist and none of this is planned, but we were like “how the hell is it everytime we do a cover, it’s a British artist?” You guys rock man!

Jackie: We’re fans of you guys!

How do you write for 2 vocalists (looks at Jackie LaPonza) – sorry 3 vocalists!

Skinny: It’s not really written for “hey this is for this guy, this is for that guy…”, we’ll see who’s feeling what parts. Sometimes I’ll take what someone’s written as a chorus and move it into a verse and start playing around with things…the strongest parts rise to the top. I like to hear everyone’s approach to the entire song almost individually or “hey what stands out to you in this song?” and then they all wanna sing over the same part (laughs), so it’s kinda fun to take things and move them around and then people think “oh shit I never thought about it that way”. Like I said it’s not written in stone when we start.

You still partying on the road after all this time?

RYAN FARRELL (bass): For some of us it’s probably slowed down a bit, for others maybe not…

Skinny: It depends where we are. I definitely don’t do it as hard as I used to, that comes with age. You take some time off then you go do it and “ARGH! IT HURTS!” You know? (laughs) I’m into the 3 day hangover now! Well if you do it right anyways… I can only afford to do it now and again.

I love the move from the boiler suits to the battle jackets – I always think it’s cool when bands have a “uniform” for when they play – do you like the anonymity your image offers you?

ALL: Yes!

Skinny: You just said about changing into the wardrobe, obviously I like everyone to have a uniform look, when you start putting that stuff on, the outfit, the make up, the mask… mentally I change a little bit – ready for battle so to speak, you don’t think about the day to day anymore, it just becomes about focusing on the stage and putting on a show and that’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day. We want to entertain as much as we want to be entertained. Last night (in Manchester) man they were going apeshit, they were pitting hard and I think it was one of the best ones yet – not just the crowd, but how we were feeling. There’s something to be said about getting into uniform and getting ready – changes your headspace, but in a good way.

Is there a story behind the crazy fucked up devil/clown masks?

Skinny: No, the biggest thing about that is because we’re in transition between albums. Every album cycle each guy has his own mask and it changes a little, so you get a fresh sculpt done, but whilst we’re in between I find it pretty cool to have the band back to a uniform thing, so you’re not looking at any individuals, you’re looking at the band as one unit and that’s kinda what we’re pushing right now. Obviously, it helps with the merch, but we thought it looks good and menacing looking too!

Ever overheard anything coz they didn’t realise a member of the band was stood right by them?

Skinny: All the time yeah!

Ryan: The bar’s the best, you can sit there and no one knows – you hear the good and the bad!

Skinny: I’ve sat there and had people say they’ve had dinner with Skinny and he was either a really nice guy or he was a total asshole and I’m like “Oh I’m sorry to hear that! I know the guy…” and they’re telling me how much of an asshole I was not knowing it’s me (laughs). It’s kinda neat, you can filter out the bullshit or they’ll sit online and talk shit about ya (points at Jackie) she gets it the worst! Some guy who’s just bashed her online for 4 months and go “hey can I have a picture?” and then posts “she the nicest girl ever!” and deletes everything from before! It’s OK, we know people gotta have something to do and if it’s praise us or hate us they’re talking about us you know, but it just bounces right off me, it’s just part of it, we stay focused.

What’s next then? You said album in March?

Skinny: Yeah spring time. We’ll finish writing and recording, get to mixing… we’ve got a 4-5 week run in the States from October then we’ll get back to the album and making a video, which is another highlight. I love making video work it’s a lot of fun.

You get quite hands on with that?

Skinny: Yeah absolutely, we do a lot of the set building, we’re really tight with a lot of the make people, I end up doing all the post editing (I’m that nerd), I really enjoy it, so I’m looking forward to it.

More live shows over here?

Skinny: That’s what I’m hoping. Get some festivals and if the album comes out the right time, do a co-headline with another band for the off days between festivals. That’s the ultimate goal right now.

Any plans to evolve the show any further, we’ve got the water drums…

Skinny: We’re always kind of evolving…

Gonna shoot dwarves out of cannons?

Ryan: Fire drums.

Skinny: We haven’t got into the pyro or anything yet coz that’s a whole other thing, but hopefully one day. As of right now just keeping the set fresh and costume and mask changes. We do it a lot more in the states but it’s coming.

After 25+ years, heavy music, all the makeup, all the masks, all the production…CAN you keep going?

Skinny: Have to. I’m 48 and Mushroomhead’s 26 so it’s got me. I’m not going anywhere, don’t count me out yet.

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