Mike Mushok gets candid about the STAIND reunion and his other band, Saint Asonia
One of the most popular bands to come out of the 90's grunge scene is STAIND. Formed in Massachusetts around 1993 after a chance meeting between guitarist Mike Mushok and singer Aaron Lewis at a Christmas party, the band quickly became a favorite with their fan base, and their singles became hits on rock n' roll radio stations across the U.S. Now, after a five year hiatus, the band is getting back together for a festival in September, and hopefully will hit the road for some more shows along this reunion.
I had the opportunity a few days ago to speak to Mike before he was scheduled to go into the studio to lay down some tracks for the new Saint Asonia record.
by: Kreig Marks May 2, 2019
TRR: You’re originally from a town in Massachusetts called Ludlow. I understand that a lot of people from Ludlow are either of Portuguese or Polish descent. What’s your ethnicity?
Mike: I was brought up Greek Orthodox on my father’s side, but I’m a mix of a lot of different things. (laughing) I never did one of those DNA tests, yet I’m sure the results would show a lot of different things.
TRR: Aren't we all? I’ve always wanted to do one of those tests, or maybe not? (laughing)
Mike: I hear ya! (laughing)
TRR: You know, besides you, there are 2 very famous people from Ludlow. Do you know who they are?
Mike: Gosh, I have no clue. I really don’t know.
TRR: Maura West (actress who is on the soap opera As The World Turns) and Nicole Fiorentino (bassist for the Smashing Pumpkins)
Mike: From Ludlow? (laughing) I had no clue.
TRR: Yah, Look at that. Ludlow is kinda famous.
Mike: (laughing) Who knew?!
TRR: What was it like growing up in a small town?
Mike: Um, it was fine. For me, I spent most of my days playing guitar, especially in junior high and high school, I spent about 10 hours a day. I had a lot of great friends and we still keep in touch. I have no complaints.
TRR: Tell me about when you got interested in music.
Mike: My Uncle, my dad’s brother, played guitar and sang. He was more along the lines of James Taylor, playing acoustic guitar. That’s what my parents listened to, folk music kind of stuff. I played acoustic for a lot of years when I first got started. Then, when I heard Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, that’s when things really changed.
TRR: So, that was the turning point, when you really decided to “plug” the guitar in?
Mike: Yah, exactly.
TRR: When did you first pick up a guitar?
Mike: There’s some pictures of me at the age of 3 holding a guitar, but I started to take some lessons when I was 6. I told my parents when I was very young, that I would give them free tickets to my concerts one day. (laughing)
TRR: Have you done that?
Mike: Nah, I make them pay! (laughing)
TRR: (laughing) When did you know that you wanted to make Music your career?
Mike: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be involved in Music. It was always something I was drawn to. My goal was always to make a living making my own Music, whatever that entailed. That’s what I wanted to do.
TRR: What was your first band you were in?
Mike: My best friend played drums, I played the guitar. My whole life, I always struggled to find good singers. There were some that were good, but it never really came together or really clicked until I found Aaron [Aaron Lewis, lead singer of Staind]. We would play some school parties and things like that. In 10th grade I was in a band and we played some gigs. I was in a bunch of different bands and met some really great, amazing musicians along the way, but it really wasn’t until Staind came together where I felt it was what I was looking for. Finding Aaron, that singer that I just connected with on that level.
TRR: So, with Aaron and Staind, that’s when you feel you really found your musical home?
Mike: Yah, that was it.
TRR: The first time you performed on stage what was that like?
Mike: We played a keg party, that type of thing. It was great, I was excited, and looked forward to doing it. Then, I wanted to do that all the time.
TRR: You and Aaron met at a Christmas party in 1995 in Springfield. Tell me about that.
Mike: Actually, it was 1993. I had a friend of mine who used to have a Christmas party every year. I had never been to one of them before and was pretty sick that day, but decided to go. My friends were going, so I said, "What the heck, I'm going, too." I met Aaron there that night, and he didn’t have a phone, but I gave him my number. Still, I never heard from him after that. I actually ended up moving into that house and I graduated college that year in ’94. Aaron ran into my roommate's girlfriend around October of that year, 10 months later, and contacted me. Aaron had moved to Atlanta to go to jewelry-making school, and he came back and called me. I had never heard him sing, but I had always been looking for that one good singer. I heard so many people saying, “Man, you need to hear him and you guys should get together.” By November of that year, we got together and wrote 3 songs very quickly, and learned some covers so we could get out and play in the area.
We always played originals but did some covers by Rage, Tool, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Pantera. The Seattle grunge scene was really popular then, so those are the bands we covered. By November of 96, we put out our first record, Tormented, which we did by ourselves.
TRR: Which original at the time do you think really got the crowd moving?
Mike: Definitely "Mudshovel." That was the big crowd favorite. There was a little different version on Tormented, but we kind of changed it for Dysfunction. It just always gets a great response.
TRR: Did all of you participate in the songwriting?
Mike: A lot of times I’d come up with the music, and Aaron would come up with the lyrics and melodies. Back then, we were just in a room jamming, and would come up with a lot of cool stuff.
TRR: Is it true that Fred Durst accused you guys of being Satan worshippers?
Mike: Yah, true story. We had the first record, the artwork on it was pretty graphic. We were playing around in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and did very well from day 1 playing clubs. We started doing gigs with other bands, and a friend said Limp Biskit’s first album was out and doing well. They were playing a gig in Hartford and we were offered a 20-minute set. About 10 minutes before our set, Fred had gotten one of our CD’s, and he blew up at Aaron and I, and made a big deal out of it, saying we were Satanists. But, during our set, he stood next to the stage the whole time, and after we got done, he said, “Man, I love you guys and want to try to help you.”
TRR: Do you think the band has gotten the same respect as other bands coming from the 90’s, like Creed, Pearl Jam, Candlebox, Godsmack?
Mike: I don’t know. Hmmm? Respect? The respect thing to me comes down to the fans coming to see your show. When ‘Break the Cycle’ came out, everyone was like, wow, you guys are going to get a Grammy for that. I think I kinda got wrapped up in all that hype but when it didn’t happen, I was like, you know what? People are buying our records, tons of people are coming out to see our shows, we’ve got great fan support, so it’s no big deal.
TRR: There's a lot to be said for that, true. Around 2011, Aaron decided to pursue solo projects. Do you remember what you were doing when he told you this?
Mike: I mean, he always went out and played a lot of his acoustic stuff. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. For me, everyone has to be happy with who they are and what they do. If that was going to make him happy, go for it. It’s not for me to tell him or anyone else what to do or how to lead their life. You know, by Aaron going out and doing some of his solo acoustic stuff, I think that’s great. It’s also brought me a lot of great opportunities along the way, too. Some things I’m currently doing, I honestly don’t know if they would have happened, if Aaron hadn’t gone out to do his solo music.
TRR: In 2014, you briefly joined Jason Newsted in his band, Newsted. Why do you think that was very short-lived?
Mike: It was a lot of fun. It seemed short-lived but in a short time, we did a lot. Jason is a great guy and a hard worker. It just got to be a lot for him, and he was bankrolling a lot of it. It was one tour after the other, and it got to be something that he didn’t think was going to be. He just kinda made the decision to back off. He still does a lot of acoustic stuff, his artwork. It was a great time to be a part of that.
TRR: Are you guys still in touch?
Mike: Yah, we are. He’s a really good guy. I like Jason a lot.
TRR: In 2015, you joined Saint Asonia. Is there any new music on the horizon for Saint Asonia?
Mike: That kind of came about from a lot of music I had, and wanted to do something with. Once Staind kind of went away for a while and Aaron was doing his Country thing, I was trying to put something together. Adam had left Three Days Grace, and I always found him to be a great singer, a great front guy. So, we had gotten together after a show in Toronto, and that's where we sowed the seeds for Saint Asonia, where I decided to work with Adam. He didn’t have a band at the time, so we put together our ideas and he had some great songs. There you go.
TRR: Who wrote the song “Better Place?”
Mike: I wrote the music, Adam wrote the lyrics.
TRR: I’ve always liked that song a lot. Real good song.
Mike: Thanks man, I appreciate that.
TRR: You’re welcome. Do you guys have plans to put out another Saint Asonia record?
Mike: The new record is about ¾ the way done. I go back into the studio on Monday to do my overdubs. It will be out in a few months I imagine.
TRR: Good to hear. I’m glad you guys are putting out more music. Saint Asonia is a great band.
Mike: Thanks man.
TRR: Who’s idea was it to get Staind back together again after 5 years apart?
Mike: You know, Aaron and I have been talking for a while, just trying to figure out how we were gonna do it. The time seemed right when we talked about it. Aaron actually came out to one of the Saint Asonia practices - when we were getting ready to go into the studio. We just figured, lets get some offers and go play 'em. He was down to do that and we were able to make it work.
TRR: So now you guys are doing the Louder than Life Festival in September?
Mike: I believe so, yeah.
TRR: Are you planning to do more shows beyond that?
Mike: We’ll be doing Aftershock in Sacramento too. There may be more, we’ll see what we’re going to do.
TRR: Any plans for some new Staind material?
Mike: You know the one thing that ultimately led to Staind not recording is that we finished our contract with Atlantic Records. So, we don’t have a recording contract right now. And, I don’t know if we necessarily need to put out a whole record. I have a bunch of music and, as we get together to do this, we’ll see what happens. I would love to. I think it would be great. I think I’m very fortunate to be playing with 2 of my favorite singers, Adam and Aaron. Last summer, I did Aaron’s benefit concert. He asked me to play at it and it was great to be there and play Music with him again. He has such an amazing voice, so talented.
TRR: Craziest fan story you can remember.
Mike: (laughing) Probably the kid who had a fake leg and he took it off and had us sign it. Also, I’ve seen people crowd surfing in a wheelchair, and then I see the wheelchair come over with no one in it. That’s what I feel bad about it. (laughing) There’s the chair but where’s the guy who was in it? (laughing) Those are a few that really stick out.
TRR: (laughing) That’s funny, in a disturbed kind of way?
Mike: I know what you mean.
TRR: You know, I just heard a story about some guy who had lost his prosthetic leg somewhere, and someone found it and somehow got it back to him. How do you lose a prosthetic leg?
Mike: (laughing) Man, that’s one I haven’t heard. I have no idea how you would lose a prosthetic leg either! I’m glad he got it back, and I’m sure he is, too. Those things have got to be expensive. (laughing)
TRR: (laughing) Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
Mike: Oh, I don’t know. (laughing) My family, my wife and kids.
TRR: Mike, good luck with the new Saint Asonia record, and the Staind reunion. Hopefully we’ll get to see you here in South Florida soon, and hear some new music from the band. Take care.
Mike: You too, Kreig. Thanks for the interview.
For further information about Saint Asonia, visit http://saintasonia.com/
For further information about Staind and their reunion, go to https://www.staindofficial.com/