San Diego's Music Magazine

"The Devil Inside"

September 19 - October 2, 2001

By Vanessa Lops


It was 20 minutes before Staind was to take the stage for the biggest show of their career - opening for Limp Bizkit on their 1997 "Three Dollar Bill Tour" - when Bizkit frontman Fred Durst stormed backstage, waving a copy of Staind's self-released album, Tormented.  Durst berated teh band, called them "devil worshippers," and threw their CD across teh table at them.  Staind would not perform with Limp Bizkit that night, Durst told them in no uncertain terms.  Not any night, for that matter. 

"So much for our big break," thought guitarist Mike Mushok.  Mushok and his band had played small-scale local gigs for years in their hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts.  For a band of starving heavy metallers in 1997, the chance to open a tour for Limp Bizkit had been the golden fleece.

Luckily for Staind, Durst had determined them evil too late.  

"We got to go ahead and play anyway - by then it was too late to get us kicked off the bill," Mushok says.  The band members figured they'd be booted from the arena the minute their last song ended.  But, Mushok explains, "Fred watched the whole set.  He told us we were the best new band he'd seen in two years and that he wanted to work with us." 

What had struck Durst as satanic and offensive - as it has many others - was the graphic, even tasteless, cover of Tormented: a depiction of Barbie hanging upside down from a cross, next to a bloody Bible with a dagger through it.

The album itself, however, is less pro-Lucifer than it is an explicit account of vocalist Aaron Lewis' personal torment.  In "Nameless," he wails, "The walls around me caving in, cracked and gray, remind me of myself / I need some help, there's no one else, I'm empty, addicted, pissed off, and still afraid."

The dark, graphic nature of lines like "Take your worldly advice and shove it straight up your ass... / Take my life from me, help me to ease my pain" point not to the active presence of evil but to the ongoing failure of Lewis' attempts at salvation.

On tour with Limp Bizkit, this raw psychology and Mushok's heaving melodies proved to Durst that the exorcism of personal demons still makes for good music.  

"After that concert, though, we just figured, 'Whatever, he's busy,'" Mushok recalls of Durst's offer to work with them.  "I tried calling and couldn't get a hold of him."

But Mushok persisted, meeting up with Bizkit at their show with the Deftones in Boston a month later.  "We just recorded four songs, went [to the concert], and dropped them off," he recalls.  "We didn't' get to see two in the morning the phone rings - it was Fred.  He loved the new stuff and wanted to work with us."

So the day after Christmas, Mushok, Lewis, bassist Johnny April, and drummer Jon Wysocki headed to Jacksonville, Florida to spend ten days with Durst, re-writing some of the songs and playing a gig with limp Bizkit.  Two weeks later they were in L.A., signing a contract with Flip Records, who released their second album, Dysfunction, in April of 1999.

The album, co-produced by Durst, impressed heavy metal fans everywhere, most notably with the single, "Mudshovel."  Staind started touring with the likes of Kid Rock and Monster Magnet, and secured a spot on the "Family Values Tour" with Korn.

It was on the Family Values Tour that Lewis first sang a fragmented new song called "Outside."  Most of the lyrics were improvised; Durst sat in on the performance and added minimal vocal support: "This is the real mother-fuckin' deal y'all... / I'm feeling those lighters."  But his contribution no doubt helped that performance of "Outside" get chosen for the Family Values '99  album. 

"Outside" was then picked up by radio stations nationwide and, in no time, Staind's little impromptu jam had turned into a #1 hit.  In June, 2000, Dysfunction was certified triple platinum.

The band toured for a year and a half in support of Dysfunction.  A week after the tour ended they were back in the studio working on their third CD.  Break The Cycle, released in May 2001, entered the Billboard album chart at #1 and sold 716,000 copies in its first week.  It is another album of heavy metal grooves with a touch of Bic-lighter arena balladry, and the kind of painfully raw introspection so familiar to the band's fans.  The first singe, "It's Been Awhile," topped Billboard's Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts, proving that power ballads are still an effective vehicle for hard-rock bands on their way up.  

Staind recently performed at the MTV Video Music Awards, raising familiar questions about how artists who sing of alienation and abandonment wind up as poster children for the largest cable music network in the world.  As it often is in such cases, the word "sellout" is being lamely tossed around.  

"Doing that kind of stuff, like the MTV Awards, is a real honor for us," Mushok says emphatically.  "You work so hard to get to where you are and to be able to do these things is like a reward."

Yet for Mushok, the true sign of Staind's success came when they were invited to be guests on The Howard Stern Show.  "He is so cool," Mushok says of the radio personality.  "That was a huge honor.  In fact, I remember thinking how if we ever go to do Stern, I'd know we made it." 




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