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A Mid-Mayhem Chat with J-Mann and Waylon of Mushroomhead

(Top) L - R, J-Mann, me, and Waylon ~ (Bottom) L-R, J-Mann, Julie, and Waylon (hey, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!

(Top) L – R, J-Mann, me, and Waylon ~ (Bottom) L-R, J-Mann, Julie, and Waylon (hey, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

 

…Along with Some Personal Observations and Commentary

 

By Alyce Hayes ~ Photos by Julie Williams

 

Mushroomhead2And in our continuing coverage of Mayhem Fest, here’s a glimpse of what it was like to just sit and chill with one of my favorite bands after several of us at FlashWounds had, over the past few months, already done all the official stuff like reviewing and shooting one of their shows and conducting an official interview…I got to hang out with the guys from Mushroomhead (who pretty much fell into the category of good buds within five minutes of my camera-wielding partner in crime Julie and I introducing ourselves backstage at one of their shows) after they had played the kind of killer set that defines what Mayhem is all about.  So yes, we’ve adopted them into the FlashWounds family ~ and they couldn’t be cooler about always making time to talk with us, person to person, not celebs to press.  Our time just shootin’ the shit at the festival was great, and our conversation went all over the place (they’re always up for talking about anything and so am I, so there was never a dull moment or awkward silence),  but I’ve pulled out some of the more music-related bits to share with you.

mushroomhead20It was the middle of the day, temps were in the upper 90s, Mayhem was going full force, living up to its name, and I was lucky enough to be cooling off away from my fellow headbangers on a patio with Mushroomhead’s J-Mann and Waylon. Only about an hour prior, they had been finishing up their hard-rocking, awesome, chaotic, highlight-of-the-festival set for the sweaty, black-clad masses, so just the fact that they had the strength to carry on a conversation with me was impressive, never mind truly appreciated.

Indulge me a small (OK, maybe medium) digression here if you would ~ it does have a point, I promise.  During Mushroomhead’s set, I had been sandwiched between two dudes: one with a pot belly that was so…well-developed…that no matter where I turned, there it was, in all its glory, and the other one who was missing his shirt but had no shortage of perspiration to share with those of us around him. The crowdsurfing was constant, and the whole audience was either jumping or fist-pumping or both ~ in other words, they were totally, 110% into every minute of Mushroomhead’s 25 minute set, as was I (sans the crowdsurfing).  

Crowd


Not even the aromas (seriously, dudes, anti-perspirant… do the world a favor and give it a try,), fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk heat, and crazed fans (both with and without 10-month-pregnant stomachs) could detract from their performance. And I have no right to bitch given what the entire band ~ and every other group on the tour ~ was enduring:  a non-stop schedule of performing with their typical insane level of energy,  giving interviews, traveling constantly, being mobbed by press and fans alike, and what I am sure is a slew of other draining festival-related goings-on about which we are totally unaware…so I’m not complaining, I am simply “using my words” to paint a picture of what Mayhem is like and what troopers the bands (and techies…man do they work hard!) are.  OK, digression finished.

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So as I sat across from J-Mann and Waylon, I could only imagine how that they must have been SO ready to eat, shower, sleep, escape the mayhem and take a break from having to be “on,” even though they knew how casual our meeting would be. But they were champs and dove into the conversation with enthusiasm. We discussed Batman ~ and HELLO DISTRACTION, while we were all rambling on about this very important topic (I’m not kidding ~ if you don’t take Batman seriously, well, time to reconsider your priorities), Waylon slowly unbuttoned his outer shirt to reveal a Batman T-shirt underneath ~ and thank goodness members of Avenged Sevenfold and Korn passed by us and each gave me a smile while he was gearing down because I could focus my attention on them rather than get caught in a prolonged girlie-gawk. We joked about how inescapable the Rockstar logo had become and about the over-abundance of Rockstar products on the patio, and the whole time they were posing for Julie’s camera and goofing around pretending to do commercials for the new mango-flavored drink. And then we got down to a little genuine business-talk.

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The men beneath the masks ~ J-Mann (L) and Waylon (R)

Jeffrey Nothing

Jeffrey Nothing

Mushroomhead’s new album, The Righteous and the Butterfly, dropped back in May, and was the first one to feature three vocalists. I’m always in awe whenever just two vocalists are involved ~ but three? That’s an impressive feat to pull off (and having seen the band in concert, I can tell you that pulling it off as well as they do gives their show a dimension that no-one else has) ~ ego can make or break a setup like that, but J-Mann, Waylon and Jeffrey Nothing aren’t and never were the least bit worried ~ none has an egotistical rock-star bone in his body ~ any ego that was there when they were younger Mushroomheads is long gone. J-Mann explained that the writing was easy because they all had a desire to serve the songs, not themselves, and were aware of and respected each other’s strengths. Even during his absence from Mushroomhead, he had remained close with Waylon and Jeffrey, so that when the time was right for them to work together again, the teamwork came naturally.

mushroomhead9So what thoughts did they want to share about the final product?

J-Mann: For the new album, we touched on styles of every era of Mushroomhead. We acknowledged the strengths of each record.

Waylon: It was 20 years in one album ~ and I think we succeeded. In a way, we did what needed to be done. Mushroomhead needed a shot of adrenaline, but we also made it artsy, old school, quirky.

J-Mann: We wanted to shut everyone up on the “old vs. new Mushroomhead” debate.

Waylon: We’re evolving with each record. If we don’t test ourselves, it gets boring. We’re a band that needs a challenge.


And with the release of Mushroomhead’s new album, coupled with their presence on the Mayhem tour, the band has been going nonstop for months now. I asked if they had any time to work on any side projects, to which Waylon responded, “Tenafly Viper is in rehab. It took too much whiskey to make that album.” J-Mann, on the other hand, while fully dedicated to Mushroomhead, is also working on a hip hop/rap project called 10,000 Cadillacs with bandmate/drummer Skinny (check out our interview with Skinny here that will feature some a variety of guest artists, including Slipknot and Bone Thugs (n Harmony?). I for one look forward to seeing what comes out of that project, especially given J-Mann’s list of side projects from over the years that rivals Mushroomhead’s own discography.

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Mushroomhead’s  journey through 21 years in the business could likely fill a host of books of all sorts ~ authorized and unauthorized biographies, volumes of an inside look at the music biz, autobiographies, etc. ~ but the success they’ve achieved because of their albums and live shows (the crowd that gathered at Mayhem to catch their set spanned almost two stages in width ~ and I don’t mean just the guy with the huge beer gut!) could still be seen as relatively minor  to outsiders. Unlike other genres, the metal community does not (and honestly, cannot) measure its success by radio presence. Too often we hear of stations that once catered to the hard rock and metal-in-its-many- forms audience suddenly switching over to pop/mainstream music formats on orders from the heads of the conglomerates that own and control the stations.  But the attendance at live shows ~ be they one of just a small string of dates or of a full-fledged tour ~ and festivals including Mayhem, Uproar, and the many held overseas ~ is what makes the success undeniable and the number of fans indisputable. I’ve always assumed that’s why so many bands in the heavier genres tour for so many months out of the year, and have never thought that the barometer for success (already a very subjective word) should ever be the same for bands like Mushroomhead as it is (or was…does she still, um, “make music?”) for Britney.  But I wanted to hear how the musicians themselves viewed their success:

mushroomhead21Waylon: I think success is like a Van Gogh. It’ll happen when I’m dead. Mushroomhead will be here when we’re gone, and that’s what’s so great. I wanted to leave a mark; have a little bit of immortality.

J-Mann: I get to do this for a living. You have to stay hungry, though. Success is something you reflect on after the fact, or else you stop pursuing it.

One theme that was a constant during our conversation: the idea that Mushroomhead was in it for the long haul. Diehard fans (some who’ve been with the band for those 21 years, some who discovered them more recently but are just as dedicated as the “long-timers”) already considered that information carved in stone, but think about the nature of the music business: How many bands have we seen release one album, achieve a little success, and then disband for one reason or another ~ artistic differences, someone’s disenchantment at how much work and time he or she would have to put into the music ~ and then heard that the former members had gone back to living normal lives without so much as an attempt at giving the band another go? It takes guts to move forward and try it all over again, bumps along the way and all. The life of a dedicated musician is a road paved with disappointments and battling inner (and often outer demons who take the form of humans in the music industry), but it has a payoff unlike any other profession in the world. And, to use using J-Mann’s term, you have to be a “lifer” to really understand their drive.

J-Mann: In the music business, there’s “lifers” and “tourists.” Mushroomhead is a lifer. We have no choice but to do this.  And with all the technology now, there are a lot more “tourists” out there ~ people who make a demo, shop it around, and if nothing happens, they go on with their lives. There’s no commitment. But everyone on this Mayhem Tour is a lifer. We need more of those.

Just WaylonWaylon: During the making of our new album, I exorcised a lot of demons. I was caught up in ego, but admitting your weakness is what makes you a stronger person. It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up. You have to forgive yourself, and go with your gut instinct; it’ll never steer you wrong.

I expect that Mushroomhead will be pretty busy for a while. The success of their new album, the excitement of their live performances, their unique style on many fronts, and ~ permeating and driving it all ~ the undying devotion to their craft (all of which has begun to draw some very positive attention from both critics and the general public, who may just be starting to open up their previously closed minds enough to see past the scary masks to the talent beneath) have turned the band into a hot commodity in more circles than ever before, and have accomplished exactly what Waylon hoped they would:  “…leave a mark; have a little bit of immortality.”   I think he captured Mushroomhead’s current status perfectly with, “There’s a resurgence of fans; it’s awesome.” And well-deserved, my friends, well-deserved.

The whole band together onstage at a recent Bloomington, IL show

The whole band together onstage at a recent Bloomington, IL show

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. Goodness…I have so many teeth.

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