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Shaved heads and revelations:Staind share their secrets

For a person who writes lyrics about uncertainty, regret, and the darker side of human emotion, Aaron Lewis, the 34-year-old lead singer of American alternative metal band Staind, is incredibly warm and open over the phone.  From his home in Springfield, I talk to him of things currently relevant in life and in his present world…

The future looks bright for Staind; the four-pieced band have found no less than 16 top ten rock hits in the US, and in Australia had a seventeen-week run in the ARIA Top 40, five years ago with their power ballad smash, ‘It’s Been Awhile.’

When I mention the all-acoustic promotional tour they’re doing across Australia early this month, Lewis promises that the concerts will feature exclusive, never-done-before things. ”To me, it’s the most poignant, most pure and emotional way to deliver the songs,” he muses after some thought. ”There’s no sitting there going ‘What did he say?  I couldn’t hear him ‘cos the distortion was so loud’. In a completely acoustic setting like that, there’s nothing to hide behind. It is the purest, most put-yourself-out-there scenario as far as music goes.  I thrive off it…it’s like my favourite way to do it.  They will be extremely intimate shows… you guys are getting something me and Mike (Mushok, the guitarist) have never done before.”

He also wants to assure fans that it’s been a major issue of his since hitting it big just before the turn of the century to come to Australia.  When asked why it took the band ten years, he says simply, “You’d have to ask the record label.  I wish I could explain to you what it’s really like in this business right now… it’s all we could do to get any support from them after selling them thirteen million records.”  ‘I’m your biggest fan!’ I cry. ’I had the countdown till Chapter V written on my arm for 100 days!’  “That’s awesome,” Lewis chuckles. ”And I hope that when we do get down there that we can deliver.”

Nor will the visits stop with this mini-tour, he insists. ”What we’re trying to get happen out of all of this is for us to be back in January for the Big Day Out.  We’re trying to show the label that there’s actually some interest in what we have to offer down there, because before any of this, the label told us there was no interest.”

Staind’s latest studio release is the platinum-selling Chapter V, an album that’s spawned three hit singles to date and whose material the band have spent a whole year promoting worldwide. Appropriately, Lewis is fond of its contents – “Personally I think that Chapter V is the best record we’ve put out.” The outlook?  “We were hell-bent on writing a better record than the last record we had written…

“I don’t think I have a song that I don’t have a strong emotional connection with,” he says after some reflection. ”There is no such thing as fillers to us. That’s bullshit. The bands that put two good songs on a record and the rest of it is shit (he particularly emphasizes this word) really ruin it for bands that try to make an effort.” 

And on their catalogue as a whole, Lewis also has a lot to say. ”I’ve always tapped into my personal life and my personal experiences and what they have and haven’t been, and I’ve always used that as what the songs are gonna be about. If I’m gonna be honest about my lyrics and honest with what I’m putting forward… then it’s gonna change, cos my life has changed.” Needless to say, this makes listening to any Staind album an intense, from-the-heart experience, at times choked up with honest emotion and touching harmony, at others frustrated, powerful and demanding. But it’s the balance that each CD has achieved that has truly given Staind their success with all types of rock music fans.

Aaron Lewis would back that comment; variety is big on the list for Staind as a band at the moment. ”I’ve always felt that one of the main goals and responsibilities of a band is to not write the same record twice.  And… it’s kind of a fucked-up thing, where we’ve caught more shit from it than props.” Aaron firmly rejects the notion that they’re a critic’s band, and makes the point with a bitter rant about Rolling Stone Magazine: ‘They have me on the cover one minute, and then on our next record compare me to Justin Timberlake…it was the most scathing, terrible review we had gotten to date.”

We move on to his influences, but he cuts me off before I can bring up Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit) in any way, shape or form, sounding exasperated and annoyed.  “I still answer ‘So… what’s your relationship with Fred Durst?’  I still answer that question!  After fuckin’ five records… without him!”  He sighs. ”This is how it went down. We went to Fred’s house and worked on four songs.  When we were done with that, we went home and recorded the rest of the album (Dysfunction, their 1999 breakthrough)... That was it! And as far as everybody else is concerned… he’s still writin’ our records!  It’s insane!” He gets a little more childishly excited when I mention Pantera, though, whose song ‘This Love’ they’ve been covering at some of their recent American gigs. ”I was their biggest fan,” he recalls. ”Pantera is everything that has been or will be heavy with Staind.”  And other than that?  “Oh man… I try to get influenced by everything and influenced by nothing at the same time,” he admits. ”It could be some… classical piece, or it could be country, or it could be death metal, or it could be folk music, or it could be anything that strikes my fancy at that moment. I’m open to anything.”

The music will always be the main focus for Lewis, too. Or so he tells me. ”I still really enjoy stepping onstage and making that connection with whoever’s there in the room that’s listening to what I have to offer. The celebrity, the rag mags, and all of that stuff… I could give a fuck. It’s just something that gets in the way of me enjoying my music.” He assures me I’m not being too much of a pest, though: “I am so psyched to be talking to you right now.”  I tell him not to worry about the critics.  Then again, maybe I shouldn’t talk.

Chapter V is out now through Atlantic / Warner Music Australia.
Staind are touring nationally in July.


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Comment Added

LOMO said on the 10th Jul, 2006

Good stuff Andrew, i really enjoyed this one - especially since i had the pleasure to 'discover' the Stainds for myself last year live in Belgium. Also checked out your other work on AFL - good writing! All the best and i am looking forward 'readin