INTERVIEW: Mike Mushok of Saint Asonia / Staind

Interview with Mike Mushok of Saint Asonia / Staind – By: MelodicEnmity

Mike Mushok (MelodicEnmity Photography)

Andrew Wayne – MelodicEnmity (New Transcendence): Hey Mike, just wanted to say thank you so much for doing this. It is an absolute honor to have you here with us today.

Mike Mushok (Saint Asonia / Staind): Oh, thank you man, I appreciate that. I’m glad to help you out, so thank you.

NT: First off, congratulations on the release of your record and on how well it’s been doing on mainstream rock charts. Tonight you’re in Nashville, about halfway through the first leg of your first North American tour with Saint Asonia. What has the experience been like so far and working with such esteemed musicians every day in and day out?

MM: Sure, you know, it’s fun. The tour’s been really, really good. Right now we’re all just getting out there and making people aware of what this band is. We’ve all been fortunate enough to play in other bands before this, but now it’s all about raising that awareness for Saint Asonia. We’ve been getting the live show better and better every night, and it’s just been really, really good.

NT: Awesome! I understand you have about a month off after September 1st before hitting the road again in October, any special plans with your time off?

MM: I do, I plan to spend as much time as I possibly can with my kids.

NT: That’s great, I’m sure they can’t wait! I love the idea of the name Saint Asonia. Doing a little research, you can find that the definition for the word asonia is tone deafness, which then leads to the full name being a Saint for tone deafness. Can you provide our readers with the story behind coming up with that name and what it means to all of you?

MM: Sure, it’s really not a great story. Adam, had a lot of words that he was kicking around, and asonia was one of them. Yes, it was kind of ironic, yet funny that it meant tone deaf, especially being in a band, so we were kicking that around and somebody said we should throw Saint in front of it, and we liked it and we went with it. That’s really the only story behind it.

NT: The one thing that was pretty crazy about the “coming out” of Saint Asonia so to speak was that in today’s age where nothing much is sacred anymore, where information seems to leak in some way shape or form, Saint Asonia certainly came out of left field. Was it is easy for everybody involved to keep that a secret for as long as you all did before the official announcement?

MM: Well, there was really no plan to keep it a secret. It just ended up happening that way. You know, I have no social media, and I don’t do any of that. Adam has Instagram, and I think he posted a couple of pictures from the studio, but I don’t think that anybody really picked up on it. You know, I even remember when I did a tour last year, I did some radio interviews, and people asked what I was doing; I said I was writing with Adam! You know what I mean?! I felt there was no conscious effort made or no interest was taken about what was happening.

NT: Really?!

MM: Yeah, you know, so, finally we got the record done and were like, “wait, nobody’s really written anything about it or even knows about it.” So, that’s when the idea came up to try and find some way to announce Saint Asonia. Then, we decided to debut at Rock on the Range that spring.

NT: It’s really hilarious that you all but came out and said it, meanwhile fans usually chomp at the bit for information like that. You know, it’s just kind of funny that nobody really caught on.

MM: I remember even when I was going to do that tour last year asking management, “If people ask me what I’ve been doing, do I say that I have been writing with Adam?” They told me, “yeah, you should put it out there.” And, I said it in a couple of interviews, and I put in out there, but nobody…you know what I mean? They just said, “oh, that’s cool!” …and that’s all it was!

NT: I remember loving the brutally honest documentary that came with the deluxe edition of Staind’s self-titled album. And, I’m not quoting you here, but there was a point where you mentioned something to the extent of that you had a bunch of other material that you wanted to use and if you weren’t going to use it with Staind that you would be happy to use it elsewhere. Is this where the idea for Saint Asonia was born and can you provide our readers with a little bit more of the backstory of how Saint Asonia was created?

MM: Sure, I’m always writing. I mean I keep a little Pro Tools setup here on the bus so that I can write every day just because it is something that I am always doing. There are always ideas floating around. Aaron’s now pursuing a country career, and in the mean time I kind of need to work. I am very fortunate that from Adam and I just hanging out working on a couple of songs ended up turning into this. When he (Adam) had left Three Days Grace, I reached out to him as we toured a bunch together in the past, we had been friends, and I just asked him. I was actually on tour with Jason Newsted and we finished the tour in Toronto, where Adam lived, so I asked him if he just wanted to hang out for the day and work on some music.

NT: So, you called Adam right from the end of the tour with Newsted. How did that work out?

MM: I stayed a couple of days there, and we hung out. That was really kind of the start of it. But, nothing really took track until almost a year later. We got back together and I thought the songs were great so we ended up doing a demo for RCA. I did that with him and everyone really liked it. That led to a record deal. Once the paperwork was done, we were in the studio by January. We went in with about 12-15 songs, and that’s when it all really worked out.

NT: Are there any b-sides from this record that just didn’t make the cut that fans may get to hear down the road?

MM: There were a few tough decisions there on what did and didn’t make it onto the Saint Asonia record. The other touch decision was that there are other songs that are done, and there are actually a couple of others that didn’t get finished too…but, three that are done. It’s not because they aren’t as good as the other songs because I actually love those songs as well. So, yeah, there is other music that is finished that we have.

NT: So…then it is a possibility that we will get to hear those songs somewhere down the line?

MM: Yeah, they’ll show up somewhere for sure!

NT: On the record itself, you absolutely shined. Your songwriting capabilities are honestly second-to-none. On this album I believe we get to hear a more aggressive side of Mike Mushok, both rhythmically and in your precise and technical soloing. Where did you draw your inspiration from for the creation of this album?

MM: You know, like I said, I did have a lot of music, and it really came down to Adam and me ending up putting this together. I do and did end up with having a lot of music that we just started going through. There were a few things that I wrote specifically for him and there was stuff that I had and never used that I really wanted to, so we started playing off of some of those ideas. Whatever we liked is what we pursued. Ultimately though, whether I’m writing for Aaron (Lewis) or for Adam (Gontier), or whomever really, they have to be inspired by the music itself. As far as where the music came from, it’s just fun to solo again. It’s something I used to do through an entire record, especially in my teenage years. When writing music with a singer, at that point, I really just got tired of soloing, and that’s why with Staind I never really did it. Now I’m starting to bring it back a little bit. I’m trying to make it part of the song. I don’t want every song to have a solo in it. I think the solo should say something musically and act musically within the song as well.

NT: This question is for our musician readers out there: In Staind, at one point you noted that you used 28 different tunings, many amongst your signature baritone guitars. And, as a baritone player myself, what is your setup like now? Can you walk us through it?

MM: Sure, because of that, and having to travel around with a minimum of 20 guitars, became a real hassle. I have one tuning now that I pretty much did the whole record on. I still have a couple other guitars that I bring with me, and I’m playing a 7-string now as well. I still play my baritone guitar, which I used to track the record, but since there are solos, the baritone doesn’t have that high string to do a solo.

NT: If there is one thing that history has shown us about you, is that you are an extremely prolific and versatile guitarist. Arguably, one of the best around today in the rock world. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and training in music?

MM: Thank you very much! I started playing guitar when I was 6 years old. I played acoustic guitar for a lot of years. My uncle was a singer/songwriter, and I don’t think I got an electric guitar until I was probably about 11 or 12. By that time I was into Van Halen and Led Zeppelin…Van Halen being my favorite. “Eruption” will still stop me in my tracks when I hear it 30 years later. Really, there was one guitar teacher that I had that really changed everything for me, who I went to for about a year. That was Tony MacAlpine. He went on to put out many instrumental records, and was probably the best musician I ever played with. He is just an incredible talent. That took me from just playing guitar to practicing 8-10-12 hours a day, every day, all through high school. It feels like all I did. He really kind of pushed me in that direction.

NT: One of my favorite Staind tracks to this day, is 4 walls, a track that you wrote, lyrics and all. Although Tormented was your first independent record with Staind dating back to 1996, does doing something like that again ever cross your mind or be something you may be interested in doing with Saint Asonia?

MM: You know what? Those guys (Adam and Aaron) are just much better at it than I am. You know what I mean? (laughter)

NT: Nah, man! That was a really powerful song!

MM: Oh, thanks, thanks! I just feel that, for me, my strength is in writing the music. Like I said, I’ve been very, very fortunate, in my opinion, to work with, arguably, two of the best singers of rock, Aaron (Lewis) and Adam (Gontier). There’s just so many great singers out there, whether it’s Chris Cornell, or Corey Taylor, both vocalists that I love. There’s just a ton of guys out there. I saw Pearl Jam recently and was just blown away by the whole band, and there’s just a whole lot of really powerful people out there. I’m just fortunate to work with a couple of them.

NT: This is a question that I like to ask everyone that I interview as it tends to be a little controversial, especially because it seems that everyone has a vastly different viewpoint on the subject. What advice would you want to give to bands, whether starting out, or already somewhat established, who are trying to take their music career to that proverbial next level?

MM: Sure, but, listen, it’s so different from when we started so I’m just going to tell you how I did it. And, I think some of those things can probably still apply. The bottom line is write as many songs as you can. Practice. Work on your songwriting, try to find your voice, and your own identity. You need to find other people that want the same goal as you do. You need to feel calm, and that’s the one thing about these bands. I know that everybody has to have a ton of respect for each other, for their capabilities of what they’ve done and for what they do. So, when you’re in a band with people like that, you know that they’re holding up their end of the bargain and doing what they’re supposed to do. It just makes it easier. Write as much as you can and go play any show that you can. Really, there is no substitution for going and playing live. I mean, you can practice forever in your garage, but what if on stage, your amp goes down and you have to figure out what to do. You need to experience those kinds of situations, you need to know how to figure them out, and you need to see how your songs translate in that live setting; for instance if they are entertaining people. That’s one thing that was an indicator for Staind. We started out as a cover band who moved to always playing originals, and were able to stay focused on playing our own songs. There wasn’t anyone in our area that was able to do that, and at the time for us, that was a big accomplishment, being able to make that transition. The thing is, and this is what actually led us to getting the record deal: we were able to sell tickets in the area that we worked, and we always did well. We also always had that to offer other bands. So, if you wanted to come play in western Massachusetts, you could come play a show with us and be guaranteed that you would be playing in front of a bunch of people. Then, we would try to find bands that would do well in other areas, and then help out other bands that we liked. We always helped each other. We had this group of bands that we always played together with. We’d go to Boston to play with Tree or Honkeyball, or they would come to play with us and we would head to Providence to play The Shed. Actually, Sugarmilk, a band from Connecticut was a band we really liked that we played with all the time. It was actually their drummer, Matt, who called me up and asked if we wanted to open for Limp Bizkit, which is what led to us eventually getting signed.

NT: Ah yes, the infamous Fred Durst throwing Staind’s “Tormented” album across the table due to the “evil” artwork story.

MM: Yeah, yeah, exactly! In the end, that’s what led to us to a record contract: We were all friends with these guys and we all tried to help each other. It paid off.

NT: It really did, thank you for sharing all that. What would a happy future for Saint Asonia look like for you?

MM: We’re a new band, we’re here, and we’re trying to get people aware of what we’re doing and know the name. It would be great if we could continue that in the States and take the band to the point where we could go out and do some good headlining shows. I would love to be able to take Saint Asonia to Europe, Australia, Japan, and really try to make this something where we can develop a solid fan base just like our other bands have done.

NT: I just wanted to thank you again for doing this today. Are there any parting words you would like to say to our readers regarding Saint Asonia?

MM: Yeah, I just want to thank everybody for all the support over the years. Without the fans, we wouldn’t be here and be able to do this. One other thing, since you’re a guitar player and you play baritone guitar: I will mention one thing I am very excited about that I’m doing. About a year or so ago, I met up with a friend of mine who builds handmade acoustic guitars, named Kevin Michael Clark. He actually used to work for Ovation and builds these incredible hand-made guitars. Through a bunch of meetings with him, we actually opened up a little shop. I’m partnered up with him now, working on him with designs, and putting the guitars out. We’re just kind of getting started, but it’s something I’m really proud of and I look forward to pursuing. They’re really special guitars and he does a great job at what he does. We hope to do well with it and develop more together. I’m excited about it!

You can check out the beautifully crafted Kevin Michael Clark Guitars here:

Well, New Transcendence readers, that’s the latest scoop with Mike Mushok of Saint Asonia!! Check them out on tour now and pick up their self-titled debut record in stores everywhere NOW!!

Also, click here to check out my concert review and pictures of Saint Asonia at Starland Ballroom from August 28th, 2015!!