Staind dove into bleaker recesses than ever before and surfaced with their heaviest and most hypnotic album to date, STAIND, their self-titled, seventh studio album. The multi-platinum Massachusetts hard rock outfit—Aaron Lewis, Mike Mushok, and Johnny "Old School" April—pushed itself to the very brink. There was struggle and strife, but, as a result, Staind constructed a collection of chaotically melodic songs that hearken back to their 1999 major label debut, Dysfunction, while wielding an instrumental and lyrical prowess that could only be cultivated by 16 years of writing, recording, and touring together.
Along the way, the band forged a melodic musical maelstrom that served as solace for fans of all ages. They sold 15 million albums worldwide, had eight top ten singles across multiple formats with three songs hitting number one, and wrote the most-played rock song of the past decade, "It's Been Awhile." Three out of six albums—Break the Cycle, 14 Shades of Grey, and Chapter V—debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and 2008's The Illusion of Progress peaked at #3. On STAIND, they channel the intensity from their early days with tight, taut technicality. Mushok augments an avalanche of baritone guitars with a searing solo on the track "Eyes Wide Open" as Lewis schizophrenically screams. Meanwhile, "The Bottom," featured on the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack, twists and turns through a haze of grinding guitars, bass, and drums. These songs are raw and real. They're heavy and honest. They're pure and powerful. They're everything Staind was always meant to be.
Mushok sums up the band's return to form best. "It's like Dysfunction 2011," he smiles. "The music goes back to where we started, but there's still melody. We were ready to make an album that was heavy from beginning to end. It was time."”
A departure maybe, but only in the sense that it propels Staind’s evolution to heights they have only hinted at on previous releases. While the humble Lewis readily admits that the lead single, “Believe,” is in line with everything fans have come to expect from Staind over the past decade, even he can’t deny the sense of optimism that shines through the track’s musical familiarity and vulnerability. “It’s definitely there,” he says of the album’s more upbeat lyrical tenor. “It’s a different timeframe in my life, and it is what it is.” Adds Mushok, “Aaron and the band have always taken a rap for being dark and gloomy, and it would be nice to try and get away from that – songs like ‘All I Want’ and ‘Believe’ are ways of doing that, hopefully.”
"I aimed to create distance between Staind and my solo material,” declared Lewis. “We decided to go back to what we were doing initially."
The decision to make a heavier album proved unanimous among the band. Staind regrouped in December 2010 as a spring deadline loomed. In rehearsals, they tensely tore through ideas before arriving at what would become these songs. With Johnny K (Disturbed, Sevendust) returning behind the board, Staind constructed a studio that mirrored the producer's inside of Lewis's Western Massachusetts barn. They recorded drums, bass, and vocals in the barn, while Mushok cut his guitars in the band's Springfield, MA rehearsal spot.
During the winter months, Lewis stood mired in an intense balancing act of promoting his solo EP, “Town Line,” and toiling over STAIND. During this time, Town Line debuted at #1 on the Billboard country charts and #7 on the Billboard 200 and garnered Lewis two CMT award nominations. He'd play acoustic shows on the weekend and then return home to commence tracking during the week. Still, inspiration didn't truly strike until the last possible moment in April when he wrote and recorded the majority of the album's lyrics in two grueling and nerve-wracking two-day stints. Those eleventh hour sessions were an emotional exorcism.
"Pressure usually kicks in my creativity, but I've never been quite so stressed out over an album," reveals Lewis. "There were a lot of schedule clashes and differences of opinion, and I was trying to muscle through it all. I was burnt from running ragged, and nothing would come out lyrically for months. We'd talk about ideas, but it didn't happen until the end. Those were real feelings of discontent arising within the whole process. There's nothing like shit coming off real—when it's real. I guess that was my breaking point. It was a big heaving deep breath when it was over."
Mushok adds, "This was a hard record to make. We weren't all together in the same place the whole time, and Aaron and I butted heads about the music. In hindsight, it all paid off and we ended up with a better album."
Every moment of the process was captured in a forthcoming documentary piece, which Lewis aptly dubs, "Some Kind of Monster on steroids. It unveils everything that went into this.” After finishing the album, Staind underwent another significant change. The band amicably parted ways with original drummer Jon Wysocki. "Not Again," the lead single, brandishes a vicious vitality, teetering between pummeling guitars and an incisive, infectious hook. "That was born out of the frustrations of making this record," exclaims Lewis. "It came out of being really fucking pissed off, and you can hear that in my voice."
You can also hear it loud and clear on the gritty and gruff groove of "Wannabe," where the singer spits vitriol at faceless online detractors. Then there's "Failing," which snaps from a haunting harmony into an entrancing refrain. With clean guitar and vocals, "Something to Remind You" is sparse and elegantly brutal, while "Paper Wings" burns with raw rage.
"There's a deeper anger to the vocals and music," explains April. "Some of the riffs Mike came up with were challenging and incredibly different. We've grown so much, and at the same time managed to find out way back to our roots.”
Since day one, Staind has found ways to make darkness beautiful, wrapping shards of melody inside a distorted hum. Mushok continues, "I'm very happy to know we can go back to where we came from and write a record like this. It wasn't an easy process, but it was worth it."
Ultimately, Staind will continue their legacy. "As a songwriter, you can only hope someone feels what you're feeling," concludes Lewis. "In terms of what I get off my chest, the subject matter has always been a release for me. I think this record is another perfect example of that."