Staind’s latest album, The Illusion of Progress, was released Tuesday, August 19. After a string of platinum records and hit singles, Staind qualify as one of the few bands that can still be counted on to sell records during an iffy time in the music business. While there are certain perks that go along with that kind of superstar status, there are also drawbacks, as Staind guitarist Mike Mushok knows full well. Speaking over the phone the day before the release of The Illusion of Progress, Mushok talks about the dangers of repeating yourself artistically, the pressure of writing ballads and why some great songs never see the light of day.
The Illusion of Progress comes out tomorrow. How are you feeling right now?
I’m f***ing exhausted. [laughs] I’m just rundown. Days of press, playing acoustically at eight different places, doing a show. I was also nervous – we were fortunate to have three No. 1 records in a row. I never imagined having one. There’s only, like, six other rock bands that have ever had three consecutive [No. 1] records. And it’s a cool group – and the list gets even smaller for four [in a row]. So, of course, there’s an expectation there, but there’s a new group in town that is going to ruin that for us, and they’re called the Jonas Brothers.
Yeah, it’s funny, since they’re definitely not working in the same genre as you.
There’s always a Jonas Brothers. New Kids on the Block or Spice Girls … I mean, you know the list. However, this is our sixth record, and we have been around for 10 years. [laughs] I can say that. And I wish those guys the best of luck, but let’s see in 10 years.
For a band that’s been together so long, it’s unusual that they’re haven’t been any lineup changes in Staind during that time. Why do you think that is?
We’ve been the same four guys for 13 years. We did start off with another bass player, who lasted about a year, and then Johnny [April] came in. And six months later, we had our first record out. We all kinda come from the same place, even though we’re four completely different people. And it wasn’t like we were high school buddies. The first time I hung out with [frontman] Aaron [Lewis] was at a party – that’s where I met him. The second time I hung out with him, we were trying to write a song. And the third time, we had four guys together writing a song. Jon [Wysocki] is a great drummer, Aaron’s great at what he does, Johnny’s great at what he does – and the friendship came from there.
The album title, The Illusion of Progress, could be interpreted a lot of ways and taken to be either serious or sarcastic. Where did it come from?
You’re absolutely right – it could be a lot of things. It basically came about from being in the studio. The last thing that ever really happens on a record is Aaron works on the melody and the lyrics – the basic tracks are all done. He probably should have been working on lyrics and melodies [laughs], but inspiration isn’t a switch you can turn on and off. It kinda has to come to you, and it wasn’t. So we’re screwing around looking on eBay at guitars or just hanging out, because nothing was really happening, and we said, “Well, isn’t this the illusion of progress?”
Staind almost have two audiences: the hard-rock crowd, who like the louder stuff, and the pop crowd, who like the ballads. How do you reconcile those two audiences?
You just don’t think about it, and you write what you like and what you’re drawn to. And at the end of the day, when the record’s done, it is what it is. We have to be happy with the record. We have a lot of fans who say, “I love Tormented [the band’s self-released 1996 debut].” I’m like, “Have you ever listened it? Because I can’t.” But that’s great – that’s why they’re fans. Hopefully, they can listen to this record and appreciate it. In our opinion, there are 13 great songs on there. I don’t want to make Dysfunction 2, I don’t want to make Break the Cycle 2. I want to make Illusion of Progress. Hopefully, as you do this, you get better at songwriting, you have different ways of approaching it, different ideas. For us, it’s about being able to listen to it and go, “We made that step we wanted to make. We made that growth.”
The last record [2005's Chapter V] was a difficult record to finish, as a lot of them are once you have some success and there are other people involved – label management, etc. I joked we should just put out a CD with “It’s Been Awhile” 12 times and send that to them, because that’s what they want. “Believe” was a situation where we needed a mid-tempo song and we had this riff. Johnny and I worked on it, put the song together, recorded it. We brought it to Aaron, and he liked it, and there you go – he came up with the great part that he came up with. There are outside forces that sometimes step in and say, “You guys need to do this.” And that kinda sucks, to be honest with you. I think “Believe” is a great song, but other songs come out of outside people saying something.