It’s been twelve years in the making but, on September 22nd, American alt-metal stars Staind made their return with new album, Confessions of the Fallen. Sold-out live shows had already shown that their fanbase was still eager for a new record so, what took them so long?
In our latest Cover Story, V13 spoke to Staind guitarist Mike Mushok about their return, what brought them back together after twelve years, and how it felt to be back working with his partner in crime Aaron Lewis.
So, it’s been 12 years since the self-titled album came out. What brought you back together to write a new record?
“During that time Aaron and I always stayed in touch. We would talk but would say that the time isn’t right. Then, in 2018, I think there was a gentleman that he worked with that called me and just asked about talking and possibly playing again. I was definitely open to that, and, you know, got real excited about it, you know, so we all got together and, you know, figured out what we needed to do to make it happen again. We had some offers, and played some shows in 2019 just to say we’re back. We had signed a record deal.
Obviously, 2020 was a tough year for everybody. We went back out on the road in 2021 touring with Korn, and it was really on that tour, that we’re able to get together and work and figure out the direction of where the record is going to go. It was good to be together and able to get Aaron in a room and sit down and plan some stuff and really see where he was at, see what he liked and didn’t and be able to move forward and figure out where we’re gonna go on the record.”
Like you said, it was 2018 when you started thinking about a new Staind record. Aaron had his solo material, you were in various bands but what stopped you doing something together? Then, when you finally got back together, did it frustrate you that the pandemic halted that momentum? What was that like?
“Aaron has his successful country career and so he was out doing that. That was really what he did. He’s got to be happy with who he is, what he’s doing and that was, you know, what made him happy and what he wanted to do until it came a time when he said he wanted to do Staind again. I wasn’t going to push it. I wasn’t going to push him. I’m thankful that he did and thankful that we’re doing it again.
As far as 2020, everybody was frustrated, right? It’s out of my control so I don’t try to worry about things that are out of my control. What can I do with it? What can I do?”
“It was good to be together and able to get Aaron in a room and sit down and plan some stuff and really see where he was at, see what he liked and didn’t and be able to move forward and figure out where we’re gonna go…”
You talked about those first conversations with Aaron about the new record and seeing where you’re at with it. In terms of your vision and Aaron’s vision, like you said, his country career took him down a different path, how close were the two ideas for what you wanted from a record?
“I think we were pretty close. It was just nice to be able to play him the stuff that I had demoed and put together and get his feedback and he liked it. That was always the big test for me because he’s got to sing it. He’s got to be happy with it. So, to be able to sit there and play it and take those notes and that feedback it was great. It was great to be able to collaborate like that again, and move things forward.”
Just looking over the career as a whole you’ve written some life-changing records as a partnership, not just for you as a band, but for the fans as well. It must have been nice to be able to actually sit down and do that again?
“It was. There was some anxiety that goes along with that too, because it had been a long time since we’ve done that. So, you don’t know. Even in making this record, I keep saying that, it was like, this has just gotta be great. It’s been a long time since we put anything out so, whatever we do, we just have to be super happy with what we end up with and we were at the end of the day.”
You said it in a recent interview that it feels like it’s got that classic Staind sound going back to go back to Break The Cycle and the earlier albums but it’s also got a modern twist, which you brought to it…
“The biggest intention that we spoke of was just making a more modern sounding record. Aaron wanted to bring more of an electronic element into what it is without being, I don’t know, Nine Inch Nails or something. I do feel like Eric, the producer, really helped in adding some of those textures and nuances to what the songs were without overdoing it and to the point where, I think it’s us, it sounds like us, but it does have that element to it.”
In terms of writing music, Aaron was obviously doing his Country thing, you went off and did your own projects and, as a musician, I’m guessing you were writing all throughout those 12 years? When you were writing did you have in the back of your mind that certain material would look good on a Staind record?
“Yeah, some of that made it on this record. Really, for me, I just backlog stuff and when I need stuff, depending on who I’m working with. I’ll just play it for a minute and whatever they like I’ll go with. If I write with Adam of Saint Asonia, I’ll just play him stuff and see what he likes and same with Aaron. That being said, Saint Asonia was doing an EP at the time we were making a record so I did have to say that I was doing the Staind record, and I was gonna keep doing this Staind record because it’s been ten+ years. He was great about it. What happened was Adam went and wrote most of the music and worked with some other people and he would send it to me and I add parts to it so those EPs were a lot of stuff that he put together.”
A lot has changed in the industry over 12 years including the way people work. I think I read that, when you got the spine of the record down, you all went off remotely and fleshed it out? What was that like in terms of it being a new way of writing as Staind?
“It was fine. It’s better being in the same room for sure. Even with the anxiety. Once we got going, that went away. It was really more like just getting started, the anxiety of getting started is where it really gets you. Once you actually crossed that threshold, you actually start working and realise this is fine and we’re gonna be alright. This is what we do, and it’s going to be okay regardless if we need to write more songs, we’re gonna figure it out, and we’ll get it done.”
In terms of your personal way of writing, how did you feel about writing remotely? Did that work for you? What challenges did you face with it?
“When I did the arrangement stuff, we would get together kinda like this in the morning. We would choose one of the songs that I had demoed and written. Him and I would talk about it – conceptually where we wanted to go, if there’s anything that we wanted to change, I would do it and send him the track and he would put it in, he would then go off and do his thing like adding some of the electronic stuff and different sounds that we spoke of. He would then call me an hour later for me to hear it then we would talk through it some more. It really worked out fine. It wasn’t bad at all.”
Over the last 12 years while Staind went on hiatus what was your own personal relationship with Aaron like? You mentioned that you kept in touch with him. Did you see each other regularly?
“No, we would never see each other. We would talk. He’s in Nashville, I live in Connecticut, Aaron tours all the time. We would probably talk, I don’t know, a couple times a year or whatever, just to touch base and check in. It’s funny. I remember I would always say I felt like I would always do for one of my son’s indoor soccer games.”
“Aaron has got to be happy with who he is, what he’s doing and that was, you know, what made him happy and what he wanted to do until it came a time when he said he wanted to do Staind again.”
You’ve talked about the pandemic and how you actually have some fond memories of it. It was a stressful time anyway but you got to do the family stuff that a lot of people did. What about Aaron? Did he talk about his own personal experiences from that time?
“No, I don’t really know. I know he was doing some of those virtual concerts live from the couch or something. I actually went with them a couple of times. I went up there just him and I. I did that with him a couple of times, which was fun. I just bought an acoustic guitar, and we’d sit on the couch and play songs, he’d sing, and they’d film and people would watch it on the internet.”
Live music the way that it shouldn’t never be again…
“No, I know. Right? It was fun though. I mean, it was cool playing some of those songs in that in that setting though.”
Onto the lyrics for the album have you talked to him about where he’s coming from some of those songs?
“They’re just personal. I mean, if you listen to the lyrics, it’s like, hey, you okay? It’s one of those where I haven’t really, other than I’ve said I thought he did a great job. I mean, I’ve just said that he nailed it. I think both vocally, melody, lyrics, I thought he did a fantastic job on all the songs on the record.”
Looking at some of the songs on the album like “Lowest In Me”, “Here and Now” and even going back to the early stuff, which is what really connected with fans, when you’re listening to him singing those lyrics, do they hit the same spot when you perform them?
“For sure. I’m a huge fan of what he does, you know what I mean? So, absolutely. He used to do a benefit show up in Massachusetts, he asked me to play it with him and I’ve done it before but I remember saying to my wife how I walked off stage, and I’d forgotten what a great singer he is. You’re up there and he’s singing, you’re playing the song and it’s just great.
He doesn’t ever really like to say what anything’s about. He’s really open to everybody to have their own interpretation of what it is, which is cool. I do think that a big part of it is that people hear those lyrics and everybody’s felt that way at one time or another. Fans can relate to a lot of the things that he says, in the way he says it.”
It’s obviously quite cathartic for him to perform those songs. Do you get that same feeling when you’re stood next to him. Is it a real outlet for you?
“It’s just nice to be able to go up and perform and play them, to connect with the fans. It’s just great to be playing the songs again and being able to do the band again with those fans out there still supporting us. We’re just very thankful for that.”
“I do think that a big part of it is that people hear those lyrics and everybody’s felt that way at one time or another. Fans can relate to a lot of the things that he says, in the way he says it.”
That support, do you think that comes back to what we said, it’s not like a product that you just throw away. It’s something that people really connect with. Do you think that’s the reason people are wanting to Staind back?
“I don’t know. I think that’s part of it, for sure. I definitely feel that what Aaron does and what he brings to the table lyrically with his melodies, I think that’s a huge part of what it is that draws people to what we do.”
Regarding this record then, what would you hope people take away from listening to it?
“I enjoy listening to the songs. I found myself, even recently, just putting it on and listening through the record, which is really unusual. When you make something you’re done with it usually. I just hope that people can listen to it and enjoy what we do.”
You’ve returned to sold-out shows, and the record is a great return for Staind. 12 years though, that is a long time in the music industry. A lot has changed. What are your thoughts on the industry now? For example, the whole social media explosion of the last few years?
“I am so illiterate when it comes to any of that so you’re asking the wrong person about that. I don’t know. In general the industry it took a nosedive. The one thing that I feel and that’s positive about where things are. I think it just opens you up to really anybody? When I was a kid, if I heard about a band or I wanted to hear what a band did, if they weren’t on the radio, I would have to save money and go and buy a cassette. That’s how old I am. Now you hear about a band, I can go on and listen to every song they ever wrote online.”
It’s not the same quality when I was listening to a vinyl…
“But you get the idea of what it is, you know what I mean? What the song is and what the band is. I think that’s probably opened up a lot of bands to a lot more people. Now, it’s just so easy. Music is so easily and readily available to anybody. Any band that you want to listen to, you can find on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, whatever the case may be. You can listen to everything and, if you’re a fan, you’ll go to a show and if you’re really a fan, you’ll actually purchase it.”
Aaron writes from a personal perspective and you’ve been a songwriter for a long time. What are your thoughts on AI going forward and changing the music industry again? Is that something you’d utilise as a songwriter?
“Me? No, I would never. You’re the second person that has asked me about that. When we were making the record that was really the first time I had even heard of it. Eric had mentioned, he’s saying they’re not going to need us anymore. It’s pretty scary though. I think I read something like wasn’t like a Kanye West song or Drake written like that and that might get nominated for a Grammy or something?
So, I don’t know, it’s scary. Though, not being fully educated on it, the fact that I think you see it even without that. That’s what the big strike was about here in the States, right? Writers and writing movies and TV series. That can be all computer generated. Why do they need the people that are actually doing it? Hopefully, they realise they do.”
One thing I wanted to ask about and, to be honest, if you don’t want to answer it, that’s absolutely fine but news came out today about Live Nation, and the merch cuts. I just wondered what your thoughts were on it as a touring band?
“I have two thoughts about this because I actually am part-owner in a venue. It’s a 1300 seat venue in Foxborough outside of Gillette Stadium. We do live music on the weekends and national acts and we generally have never taken a merch fee from bands at our venue. I got home late last night and I saw this article and I need to go back and really pay attention to it. It sounds like it’s going to make venues like mine very difficult because aren’t they paying into a fund for the crew, for the bands, to tour?
I can’t do that as a venue. They already drive the margins up and, as a promoter, it’s just very, very hard to compete with that for the bands. Now, me coming a musician, it’s great, right? I mean, however, it’s Live Nation, they’re gonna make the money back somewhere. If you think that they’re not going to charge you well… They’re already charging through the charges, surcharges are gonna go up, ticket prices. They’re gonna make it up somewhere. They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They’re not going to just give away money. They’re gonna make it up somewhere and then that is a whole different problem.
I’ll tell you, you know, we just spent a summer out on the road and, now that you don’t make any money on record sales, merch is a big thing for bands. It’s fantastic there are fans who want to support the bands and wear a shirt or buy a bandana or whatever you’re selling. It’s great but the venue takes 25% of it.”
This goes back years though. I remember a band going back to probably the late 90s and they opened for Slayer in the UK. They were told by the venue that they had got to sell their merch at the same price as the headliner, that meant selling a t-shirt for like £60/£70 pounds, because nobody’s gonna buy it…
“But that’s what it is. You can’t under sell, you have to sell everything at the same price and then the venue is taking. I remember ’95 we played some like amusement park out our way and I had never heard of this. We use sell shirts at shows for about 20 bucks or whatever and that was the first time like, “you’re taking a percentage. What do you mean?”
It’s surreal, a real eye opener, because a lot of fans don’t see that side of it but it seems like this has really come to everybody’s attention so I think it’s nice that it’s been addressed.
I think it has come up because it’s just so expensive to tour whether or not. It’s just expensive to go out on the road. It’s really expensive to tour, you know, so I think, for a band playing clubs, maybe not even in a bus because you can’t afford it because it’s a fortune, when you’re selling 1000 bucks, 500 has gotta go back to the venue or whatever, it’s a lot. Consider that over 30 shows, the next thing you know, wait a second, I gave you how much?”
Definitely. Well, hopefully, we’ll get to see some Staind shows next year. In terms of the future, have you any concrete plans in place?
“We’re trying to figure out what next year holds now. We’re in the process of figuring out what next year looks like.”
Just wrapping up then, you’ve talked about Aaron’s country career. Where do you see Staind going long term?
“I think we’re all in a pretty good place right now. I mean, whoever knows but, as of right now, it feels good. We are figuring out a bunch of shows next year to continue to support the record. Aaron’s going to continue his country career. Me? I would love the challenge of trying to write a Staind record.
I feel very grateful that we’re still here, still able to do this. The fans are still coming out, still supporting us and we really appreciate that. For me, this has been a lifelong goal to be able to do this and I’m just very thankful that I’m still able to do it.”
Staind released Confessions of the Fallen on September 22, 2023 and you can pick up your copy here.