We interviewed drummer Skinny and vocalist J. Mann during a San Diego tour stop earlier this year. We asked them about their 10 years together, hitting the Billboard charts and being signed to the biggest record label in the world. Then, they went to the beach.
What's kept the band going for more than a decade?
"Just being persistent. Knowing full well this is what we want to do â€" always challenging ourselves every day. We always try to find a way to upgrade the show and basically challenge ourselves and raise the bar every time."
What's your writing process like?
"It's kind of cool having eight band members. There's a ton of style and a ton of influence. It has a little more than your average five-piece. As a producer, all I do is try to get the best out of each one of those individual members that is recording at the time â€" whatever they are good at â€" that is the main goal. We've been together so long we don't have to communicate any more. We know each song, what it needs and what it doesn't."
What did you think when "XIII" debuted at No. 40 on the Billboard albums chart?
"We never set out to be a Top 40 band and we hit it. We delivered a Top 40 record and sold 100,000 units in the first 90 days. To us, it's kind of shocking, but it's just another day at work. Every day is just another step. Every now and then, you look back at how far you've come and say â€˜holy shit!' we're way up here. It's just another magazine that printed something strange that we didn't plan on seeing."
Why did Mushroomhead become such a huge local phenomenon?
"We just relentlessly pushed the envelope and always paid attention, always had someone videotaping it, documenting it. That's the bonus of having so many people in the band. People can focus on other stuff â€" the image of it all. Obviously, without Cleveland, we wouldn't be where we are now."
J. Mann, Vocalist
What's the biggest misconception about being a "major-label band"?
"The biggest misconception is that we're rich. By no means are we anywhere near that caliber. We're lucky as hell to be out here chasing our dreams."
What inspired Mushroomhead's elaborate stage show?
"It's a couple things. Just growing up and having those kinds of shows when we were kids to go to, a Kiss concert, an Alice Cooper concert. If you remember the music climate in 1993 there was no production going on. You had four guys with holes in their jeans and flannel shirts on. I think we just felt something had to be done. At first, we were just trying to put on a bizarre, quirky, crazy kind of show. It's definitely a production that's a lot more streamlined and more focused [today]."
How did merchandising become such a large component of the band?
"That's been an important part from very early on â€" making cool stuff. We're all music fans and concertgoers and we just always wanted killer merchandise and we just try to make people as excited about our shows as we were excited about our heroes."
How did you end up covering Seal's "Crazy" as the bonus track on "XIII"?
"[The label] asked us if we would do a cover song. We thought maybe they wanted a cover song for another soundtrack. We recorded that song in our studio, turned it into the label and they said â€˜this has to go on the record.' "
What's next for Mushroomhead?
"So far, we've got another month on this tour in the states. We're trying to work on a DVD and trying to get that together for a summer release â€" just staying focused and productive."
Eight years after joining forces to form a middle school rock band, Jaded Era has established itself as one the local scene's favorite pop/rock acts. The group is currently working on new material and pondering whether to take their act west. For now, they're still ours and over a recent lunch they talked to us about quitting college, finding their sound and putting those annoying comparisons to No Doubt and Avril Lavigne to rest for good.
On dropping out of college in the fall of 2003 to pursue the band full-time: Jeff Andrea (guitar): "We just kind of decided we're going to focus on this for a while."
Kira Leyden (vocals): "It's always been hard. Even in college, I was in theater and plays and that was a big controversy because it took up so much time."
JA: "The first two years [of college] it was hard just going to school. Marco [Hilj] is in computer engineering, I was in chemical engineering and [drummer] Eric [Ortopan] was in business."
On the band's possible move to Los Angeles by the end of the year: Marco Hilj (bass): "People say if you can't make it in Ohio, you're not going to make it in L.A. If you can't make it in your own backyard there's no reason to go anywhere else. I think we've had some decent success doing what we're doing. It makes sense to us that our next point is to make a bigger step. Some people told us â€˜you can't do anything in Ohio. Just move out there.' Other people told us to start in Ohio, get people to notice us and then move."
JA: "Then, there's the whole opinion that Cleveland isn't a scene anymore. It's really tough. But if you're persistent at it . . . I mean, we just kept at it and eventually you do better and better for yourself. People just want to go up."
MH: "I don't think the music scene is that bad in Cleveland at all. I hear it from a lot of people, but I don't agree with it."
On their approach toward songwriting: JA: "I guess every time we go to the studio and record these songs that we have, we get better as musicians, we know more as producers, we just learn so much every time we record stuff. Like our first album was a great learning experience. It was a bunch of little songs that weren't that serious."
KL: "I'm always trying to make it meaningful and put a message in the lyrics. Growing up on Pearl Jam, I've always listened to the lyrics. My parents always played The Kinks and Bob Dylan and all that stuff. I was just so into the meaning behind the music. That's kind of where we started and each time we worked with a different person, they took us up another level."
On working with producer Tim Patalan, who invited the band to record their 2003 full-length effort "Invisible" at his Michigan recording studio:
KL: "A couple people from Detroit knew of him and knew him enough to get us an introduction . . . I was looking for a studio to record all these songs we had accumulated over the years and I didn't get to go up there to meet him. [Marco, Jeff and Eric] came back and said â€˜We have to record there.' "
Eric Ortopan (drums): "Tim is a very funny guy to meet for the first time. We went to this little coffee shop and then we followed him â€" after he started his car with a screwdriver under his hood. We get back to his studio and the funny thing is you'd think the studio would be this really nice place. And actually, it's called "The Loft" and it's actually a loft of a barn. It's on a horse farm off dirt roads. But the thing is the studio has a really cool atmosphere and he and his brother Andy run it."
On the inevitable comparisons to other female-fronted bands:
JA: "We were unique eight years ago. Now [the industry] is just saturated with all these girl bands."
KL: "Those people are really successful and that's great, but I don't want to be confused with that. I want people to know we're a band and we've been together a long time and we're the real thing that started at the bottom floor."
JA: "There are so many overproduced â€˜American Idol' things, it's just getting more and more fake. It's weird because we were in it when the grunge scene was around, then we see the Brinteys, now it's back to the band and girls are coming out now.
EO: "If you listen to the music, you can't compare us to Avril, but people get confused by the look. They see three guys and a girl singer and they think automatically No Doubt, Avril Lavigne, Garbage, Michelle Branch or something."
KL: "The big thing right now is the female-fronted band. It's a trend right now and it kind of stinks because there can be so many different guy-fronted bands and they aren't compared to each other."