After banging out hit after hit around the turn of the millennium, the Massachusetts band Staind seemed to be on top of the world. The hard rock quartet was all over the radio with tracks such as “Mudshovel,” “Outside” and perhaps their best-known single “It’s Been Awhile.”
But over the past few years, they’ve seemed to lose some of their popularity, as their music seemed to be getting lighter. After selling more than seven million albums with Dysfunction and Break The Cycle, each of their last three albums have sold less than its predecessor. The band has had some misfortune over the past few years but they’ll be looking to change that with their new album, Staind, which was released last month. It was their last album to feature drummer Jon Wysocki, who left the band shortly after recording.
I caught up with Staind frontman Aaron Lewis and guitarist Mike Mushok at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square before their 9/11 benefit concert. I talked primarily with Aaron about the new album, the coinciding documentary that showed the band nearly killing each other during the hectic recording process, and their drummer situation going forward. The conversation is below.
How did this 9/11 benefit concert come about?
Aaron Lewis: When it turned out that the record release was going to be coinciding with the 10-year mark on the 9/11 incident, when people started talking about us doing a release week show here in New York, we instantaneously thought and decided that it would be the right thing to do to have it be a charity show and have it benefit 9/11 victims in some way. We ended up going with a charity that helps the loved ones left behind of the first responders that dropped everything that they were doing and selflessly ran into the thick of it, and a lot of them didn’t make it out.
Is this the first time that you’re playing a benefit concert where all of the revenue is being donated to charity?
AL: I do one every year for the charitable foundation that I created called It Takes A Community and this year it was two shows, a whole weekend.
Looking at your new album, how different was the recording process as opposed to your previous ones?
AL: It really wasn’t any different. We pretty much did it the same way we always did it. The big difference was that we didn’t make it through the writing process in one piece and that’s really the only way the record differed.
Was this the most difficult CD you’ve had to record?
AL: By far.
Mike Mushok: It was a long, hard process, but look, in the end, we’re pretty happy with the results, you know. It’s just we lost someone along the way [Wysocki].
In the documentary it showed that you guys were under some strict deadlines. Did you think that you might have to postpone the album because you wouldn’t make the deadline?
AL: No, but I think that there was some people that thought that we weren’t going to make the deadline because of where I was at as far as coming up with lyrics and recording vocals, for sure.
Do you feel like some tracks might’ve been somewhat rushed?
AL: No. For me, creativity comes when it’s going to come and, to be quite honest with you, [there is] usually some sort of stressful catalyst in some way, shape or form, that sets in. I really don’t have any control over the faucet, it turns itself on or off when it wants to and I just hope that the timing is right when it does and that we’re in the studio when it turns on because there have been many songs that have just been left on the side of the road because I was driving down the road and I can hear every word, every chord, everything to the song and I’m driving down the road so as soon as the song has gone through my head, it’s gone. There have been many of those. I can’t even imagine if over the years if I’d been able to harness every song that I’ve had fly through my head.
MM: It seems like last minute, got to get it done, it gets done. It’s when you have all the time in the world that it just kind of sits there and listen and listen.
How do you think fans will react to the new CD?
AL: Well, you kind of hope that they respond well to it. You hope as the creator of the product that the fans are consuming that you came up with something that they wanted to consume or else they slowly go away and they’re not those same fans anymore. We’ve been very lucky over the years. We got a pretty diehard fan base that will follow us anywhere. I’ve read plenty of comments of “I never, ever would’ve listened to country if you hadn’t put out a country record” [Aaron’s solo EP, Town Line]. They truly follow us anywhere we take it.
Did you guys personally want to go back to the style of Dysfunction or did you think that it was just something that fans wanted to see?
AL: It was going back to what it was that got us to get together and become a band in the first place. The first songs that we ever wrote as a band were heavier than this but in a different way; they were like metal. That mellower side of Staind didn’t happen until “Outside” accidentally happened and there was light brought to it. There were a couple of songs on Dysfunction, like “Home,” but I think it was pretty much the only one.
What were your overall thoughts about the new documentary?
AL: It was painful to watch. We lived it and it wasn’t necessarily a necessity of life to have to watch it afterwards.
Going forward, what do you think the drummer situation is going to be like? Is Sal Giancarelli going to be a permanent member of the band or is he just a touring member for now?
AL: I think we’re good. Where it stands right now and how I feel right now, I think we’re good. We’ll see how it all plays out but I think the position is Sal’s to have if he wants it.
Looking down the road, where do you think Staind is going to be in a few years?
AL: I think we’ll have our moments. I think that Mike and Johnny and I write great songs together and I think that Jon was a part of that too. And there’s really no reason for me to walk away from that to do something else. I think that both of them can survive in parallel universes. That was one of the reasons why I felt the need to take the solo project outside of the genre, so that there was enough of a separation so that the two could co-exist. If I had just put out an acoustic record and hadn’t given it that country flare, it would’ve been Staind-light and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. And I don’t think I would work out very well as like a Jason Mraz or a John Mayer or something like that.
Are you thinking about pursuing a solo career following your release of Town Line earlier this year?
AL: That was just the beginning, absolutely. As soon as I’m contractually able to, I will be going in to either finish the five song EP so it’s a full-length, because if it wasn’t for restrictions that were put upon me by the powers that be, it would’ve been a full-length in the first place.
I had the songs for it [but] the record label just wouldn’t let me do it. It’s either going to be, just go in and bang out five songs in the various short periods of time like I did for the first five—I think it took about 16 hours to record that record if you take out all the dead time and just add up the time that we were actually recording, and bang out another five songs and re-release it as a full-length or bang out those five songs and follow it up with another five songs and put out a full-length.
Are there any plans for a full U.S. tour with Staind after you get back from Europe in the fall?
Not this year. We’re going to do that European thing and then after Thanksgiving we’re going to go out and we’re going to play a couple weeks worth of Christmas radio festival type things. In January and February I finish up taping for my hunting show and do my annual casino solo run.
By then—the end of February—we start off the world tour in Australia and we’ll be back here probably to do a run here in the States for April and then we go back over to Europe to do the late spring/early summer huge music festivals over there. Then we come back here, throw the brakes on Staind for a split-second and go out and support a big, headlining country tour, and then as soon as that’s over, do a full-blown States headlining tour in August/early September. And then I think the schedule plan is pretty much ceased at that point.
Staind’s new, self-titled album is available now via Roadrunner Records. You can also watch their new documentary on the band’s official website, Staind.com.