Mushroomhead is a band that doesn’t need an introduction. 27 years and eight studio albums in, they’re a band that has established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the rock/metal communities. They’re not a band that has ever settled down into one specific sound, or faded away in popularity — their last record, 2014’s The Righteous & the Butterfly, was their highest charting record.
This past Friday, June 19th, Mushroomhead released their eighth studio album, A Wonderful Life, which serves as their first since signing with Napalm Records. Fans of the band have waited for over five years, and it’s one that has proved well worth the wait. Some member changes have kept things fresh for the band, though they’ve never been shy from experimenting within their own sound.
Before the record came out, Substream had the chance to talk with founding member, Steve “Skinny” Felton — in which we discussed A Wonderful Life, releasing a new record during an ongoing pandemic, and the unpredictable-ness of Mushroomhead.
So the new album, A Wonderful Life — it feels like it’s been a long time coming. It’s a big record for you guys after some changes in the band, so how does it feel to finally have some new stuff out after 6 years?
I think it’s great, I’m actually amazed on how fast it’s gone by. It’s crazy, time, it really does fly by, but, you know, a lot of that 5 years, we were setting up to do a lot of touring, and the main thing was to try to re-establish ourselves in Europe/U.K,, that was one of the bigger goals during that time. We were able to do that. We started going back there about 2016, pretty heavy. We did a couple of years, and then doing [our] deal with Napalm Records.
This [record] was put together over the last two years, pretty much from December of 2018 to January of 2020, there were some tours between there, yeah, we stayed pretty busy. We did a lot of writing on the road, actually, brought ProTools with us and captured some pretty good stuff and took all that down time to our advantage to pretty much play with arrangements and overall vibes of stuff. It was cool because we had a little bit more time instead of like “oh we’re back on the road, then going to the studio!” it went pretty quick.
It’s a great time to put together ideas for the record, when everyone is in the same room together.
Yeah, absolutely, I think the best part is everyone’s kind of cooped up, decisions are made fast, [and] it moves pretty quickly. A lot of “alright, moving on,” but the cool thing is everyone’s on the same page, you know, a couple of guys in the studio for 2-3 days, then they’re joined by a couple of other guys, it’s a little — there’s an instant honesty when you’re sitting there working [together].
It’s of course your first record with Steve doing vocals instead of Jeffrey and Jackie becoming a permanent member, how do you think that impacted the writing or even the music itself?
You know, we’ve always held the pretty heavy experimental, held that pretty high in the studio, to always go with our gut and roll with honest, not really…too concerned, like, okay, we had some member changes this time around. Something to think about was, well, you know, we don’t want to try to sound like something we’re not anymore, and you don’t want to alienate the fanbase that you do have, so, to stick with what feels honest, go with your gut, and experiment.
[Mushroomhead] started off as a studio project and it’s always been very experimental. I think part of the Mushroomhead sound is an experiment, it’s part of a musical journey, it takes you on — this album especially — takes you on a journey, there’s a lot of moods, a lot of vibes, a lot of different textures, a lot of key changes, not all of the songs are in the same key. It’s a really diverse album and I think there’s really something for everyone.
Bonus tracks included, you’re delivering fans with 17 tracks here. You’ve got the classic Mushroomhead stuff, but a lot of new elements in the music, as well. All of that experimental stuff has always been an important part of Mushroomhead, and A Wonderful Life is no different.
Right, it’s more setting up the audience and the listener to expect the unexpected. I think it’s always kind of worked to where you’re not blown away if we throw a fucking curveball in there, it’s kind of like, ‘That’s Mushroomhead, they do that.”
So, you know, again, this one was just very fast as far as the writing, we didn’t really second guess it. It was very honest, we just went with our gut feeling and it’s pretty cool. [We] did a lot of experimenting, especially with Stevie and Jackie, they harmonize really well, it was something we didn’t really plan on doing. Even just their octaves, the way they stack there, it brings so much texture, dynamic, diversity to some of these tracks.
It’s cool that, even with Jackie, sometimes she’s not totally singing, sometimes she’s just backing up or doing a cool little whisper, it’s more of an instrument, if you will. Ultimately everyone tries to show as much character as they can do, we like to think of ourselves more or less as Mortal Kombat or Star Wars, more than just the heavy metal band. All these characters bring elements sonically and visually, so let’s dabble with that a little bit more, let’s take it to that realm.
Sometimes when you’re in the studio, with new members, these things just come out and can even be breath of fresh air for a band’s sound.
No, absolutely, it’s been just one of those situations where it’s constantly elevated. It’s not by design, it just is what it is, it’s taken its own life, its own character, if you will. I think a lot of people don’t realize that every single album, right in a row, has never had the exact same line up. There’s always been a member change every album. That lends quite a bit with the ability and the willingness to experiment and do things that weren’t there before or were kind of out of the box for your own self.
I think getting out of your comfort zone is really important if you want to raise your own bar and learn, and with this album, I think we kind of have inadvertently, it wasn’t plan, it just came out, some of this stuff. It’s really interesting, really unique. It’s really dark, and the subject matter is really fitting for the timing. To have put this together a while ago and present it now, it’s pretty doom and gloom. There’s a lot of subject matter that’s going on right now, it’s nuts.
“The Flood” is a song that comes to mind for me, and I think is a good representation of the kind of experimenting on A Wonderful Life.
“The Flood” ended up being one of my favorites. It was kind of a sleeper on the album, and we got to it in the mix portion later in the game, and man, there’s just so much space, it’s wide and open, it’s got the traditional Mushroomhead values to it. It just is like, “There it is, there’s that tone, that sounds like Shroom.”
We had [Matt] Wallace (Faith No More) mix it. It was really fun to get back together with them and, kind of knew what to expect, but he put a nice twist on our stuff. It’s always nice to have a fresh set of ears on the project when you’ve been on it for a year and a half. We did XIII in 2003 [with him] and it came out great, it was just nice to do it again. He’s really diverse, great guy.
I know there’s politically charged tracks like “Carry On” and “The Heresy,” you guys have never shied away from writing about anything, and of course there’s never a shortage of things going on to write about. How do you fit tracks like that into the mold of what Mushroomhead is?
You know, a lot of times, at least for me, because I do end up writing a lot of lyrics as well, the music will kind of hold over the mood, and like “The Heresy” when Ryan was just kind of playing around with piano ideas, instantly I had a counter-melody for Jackie, like, oh I have to follow that idea.
Subject matter wise, that kind of varies, I always get into the doom and gloom, always questioning. It’s not really religious, it’s just faith and kind of bringing in a lot of, I don’t wanna say examples, but a lot of elements for people to draw their own ideas from, leave it open for interpretation but steer you down a path of, you know, doom and gloom, so to speak. A lot of times, yeah, music will dictate if it’s tough and in your face or if it’s haunting. It’s been fun with Jackie because I always refer to the thing where you get the creepy small girl voice and throw distortion on it, you know, need some doomy piano, and it’s like, there it is! That’s the whole song!
The inspiration is truly everywhere. I definitely do, personally, as a writer, and sometimes it’s really cool because there will just be a heavy riff or section go by. That’s why it was fun with Stevie this time, we’ve never done an album together and so to hear and work on some of these things and be like, “Ah this dude really needs a hook, and I’ve got a really cool counter-melody, but I can’t wait to see what Stevie comes in and does,” you never know what it’ll be, and it’s really fun. Even the subject matter, we kind of leave things open sometimes to where it’s the Frankenstein method, see what kind of monster we build, we definitely pass things around a bit more than probably most writers. I know a lot of people come in with whole songs and subject matters, but we’re more like that Frankenstein, collaborative.
Yeah you’ve got a lot of eyes in the band looking at these songs as they’re coming to life.
You’ve got six other guys looking at it going “eh.” And that’s great, we’ve had that kind of approach before in the past before, but after two or three of those songs, they start to sound the same. Literally the same. And we never want an album to sound anywhere near the same other than having the same elements. We just want the story to be elevated. Like video games, they put out a new Mortal Kombat, old characters come back but they’ve got cooler costumes, better moves, graphics are way better. That’s totally where we’re at with it at this point. Album eight, this far in it, this is what we do, so let’s just enjoy what we do.
Hopefully the world gets back to normal and we get to play these new tunes and play some fucking festivals. Man, I hope it rings true like 100 years ago and the whole next step is the Roaring 20’s and we come back and everybody’s partying and spending money. We can only be hopeful. The Roaring 20’s, here we come! That’s where we’re at. In the meantime, we’re just gonna keep making videos.
Are there any tracks in particular you are excited for fans to hear? Maybe ones that you think will throw them a curveball?
Well, there’s definitely a couple curveballs on this record. I think it’s track 12, “Where the End Begins,” that’s a deeper one, a little bit more of your Tool meets Pink Floyd, it’s got some doom and gloom and really cool haunting vocals. That one is neat. That one kind of takes you for a loop. There’s a track called “Pulse” that’s more Pink Floyd-ish. There’s one that sticks out to me, one we’re doing a video for currently, called “The Heresy,” the majority of the vocals, Jackie’s stuff, majority of that was recorded at Abbey Road in London when we were there last time. Whether we’re working on the video or the mix or still continuing to work on the arrangement, every time I hear that song, I can still just picture myself sitting in that control room. I’m in Abbey Road every time I hear that song. That one’s real special for me.
Obviously releasing a record during these current times is tough, and a lot of artists have pushed them back or delayed the releases. How important was it for you all to still put this record out?
I think it’s that mentality, like, look, it’s coming. You know, it sucks that everything does get pushed off and things have been pushed off or canceled, it’s so uncertain, but lets not base life on that. It’s like, no, just stick to the plan, and put the fucking thing out. Maybe we’ll even get some new fans and people will want to check it out if they are stuck in their homes and online and streaming, looking for new entertainment, period. Ultimately that is what we’re trying to do at the end of the day; entertain. Hopefully it gets looked at a little bit more, we get some fans we didn’t necessarily get, and anyone who has been following the band for a long time, hopefully it’s worth the wait. The hardest part of doing this whole thing during this whole COVID bullshit was, and it is, doing the videos and organizing people to get together, renting equipment, any of that type of stuff, like the “Seen It All” video, almost everybody is in there by themselves. There’s only a few parts where there’s two people together or more.
It’s kind of the same thing with the video we’re working on now, it’s been really tough to put together. Crazy times. Usually there’s a couple of months lined up and touring to talk about it. It’s unfortunate that it’s so up in the air and we don’t know, but we couldn’t hold back and wait. I know a lot of people — it did come up, we did discuss it. I was against it, absolutely, stick to the plan. We’ve had enough stuff go against the grain, so stick to the plan. I hope it is well received. I think it’s gonna be. A lot of people are really, I should say, pleasantly surprised is the reaction I’m getting.