It isn’t necessary to know Aaron or see him perform live in order to get a clear understanding of where Staind’s forceful music comes from. Without a doubt, the driving force behind Staind lies in Aaron’s expression of pent up emotions and anger that shapes who he is. Without the ideal childhood or perfect life, Aaron remains a private and introspective person who has a difficult time revealing what Staind’s music reflects. However, when he goes on stage, Aaron holds back nothing.
Born on April 13, 1971 in Rutland, Vermont, Aaron grew up in what he considers a troubled family. He grew up in a log cabin on the side of a mountain with only a dirt road leading to it. His hippie parents, Ted and Sondra, grew weed in pots in the front yard. Although it seems unlikely, Aaron’s first musical influences came from the music his parents, who performed in a folk band, listened to – James Taylor, Harry Chapin, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. By the time Aaron was 10, his parents had separated and reunited more than once: "My parents probably split up and got back together again at least 10 or 12 times. One time I would go off with my dad, and the next three times I would go with my mom. Sometimes my dad would leave, sometimes my mom would leave. I don't really want to go too far into it, but it wasn't always great." He continues, “It was obvious something between them wasn’t right. It almost seems like they should never have been together,” tells Aaron. Things didn’t improve when they moved to New Hampshire in 1980. “My dad is very much like I am: laid back and kind of a procrastinator. My mom is the complete opposite.” Calling himself a “chip off the ol’ block,” Aaron appeared to be close to his dad as a child. The two fished a lot near his grandfather’s property in Vermont. However, Aaron’s father admits there were difficulties in the family. “I felt like I have him plenty of time,” Ted says. “But I think in the younger days, I’m not so sure we wanted to be married or even have children at that point. And Aaron probably felt that.” Indeed he did, as written in the lyrics to “Fade” off Break The Cycle – “You were never there for me to express how I felt I just stuffed things down.” “There wasn’t much of a safe home atmosphere,” Aaron explains. “There wasn’t the feeling of a tight-knit family. My grandfather died, and his whole side of the family may as well have died with him, because we were basically disowned. To have half my family disappear left we with a lot of abandonment issues.” While Aaron’s relationship with his father was decent, it was not so good with his mother, Sondra. “Me and my mom had a big blowout when I was thirteen or fourteen. At the end, I basically told her not to call me and to stay the fuck out of my life. That lasted for three or four years.” Over the years, however, Aaron’s relationship with his dad has improved. While on tour, Aaron still calls Ted up, and the two still go fishing. And it was only recently that Aaron told his father about the troubles he faced years ago as a child. “I though we had such a close relationship,” his father says. “But he held it in. That’s probably where some of his anger came from.”
As though his family wasn’t turbulent enough, Aaron experienced more pain outside the home, if that even existed. “A few bad people in the neighborhood,” he says, “tended to pick me out. They didn’t just beat me up. It was a little more than that.” Only Aaron knows what that means, but he says it involves deep scars of alienation and permanent damage. “I haven’t [gone there] yet, and I’m not going to now,” he explains. “I was the sensitive kid. I was the kid who, if he got picked on, would run home crying. Even my friends – I would be the brunt of their jokes. People liked the reactions they got out of me. And I always gave them a reaction.” In another interview he says, “I wasn’t a very well-adjusted kid. I’ve always been the sensitive guy. I’ve never been able to just let things slide off my shoulders or let people’s comments not bother me. I don’t have very high self-esteem, and I’m not the most self-confident person. I tend to be very hard on myself. His years at Pleasant Valley High School weren’t any better. He expresses the pain of being the loneliest sophomore and his lack of focus. “Choir was the only thing I got A’s in. I even failed gym, because I wouldn’t change into gym clothes.” But even as young as he was, he already displayed talent necessary to put him where he is today. After performing at talent shows or battle of the bands, he received sudden attention. “That was the only time girls were interested in me,” he says. Nevertheless, he still feels the torment high school caused. “When I look back, it’s like ‘Fuck all of you.’ My ten-year reunion was last year. I was going to have the tour bus drop me off. But then I was like, ‘Fuck that.’”
Before Aaron met Mike Mushok at a Christmas party, he was doing acoustic gigs and was hoping to put a band together. He had held jobs in construction, burger flipping, and landscaping. After meeting Mike, Aaron moved to Atlanta, Georgia for ten months, where he attended a goldsmith school to work at a jewelry store run by his mom’s family as a back up plan if music didn’t work out. While in Atlanta, his friends Tim and Mitch turned him away from U2, Led Zeppelin, and James Taylor, in favor of Pantera and Sepultura, heavy metal he had previously ignored. “The option was given to me to go to school and learn it [gold-plating] and come back and work at the family jewelry store,” tells Aaron. “And it didn’t work out. If I hadn’t come back, none of this would have happened. I never would have hooked up with Mike. And I ended up going and working for a different place, and that was how I ended up round-about hooking up with him, because a friend of his worked where I went to work.” He goes on to say, “I just excelled more in the creative part of making jewelry than I did in fixing it. When I came back to work for the store, I was supposed to be fixing stuff. And, that wasn’t what I was best at. You know, the family jewelry store, it had a good reputation, and I can’t be ruining people’s jewelry when they bring it in to have it fixed. So it didn’t’ really work.” While Aaron never made it as a goldsmith, he didn’t need the backup plan. Staind was formed and music worked out.
For Aaron, music has always been an emotional outlet to release to whatever extent possible the anger he’s buried deep inside. Singing about personal pain, he says, helps him and brings some relief. “It gives me a way of getting all of that out.” He goes on to say, “I use our songs as an outlet for my emotions. I can get pretty deep on some of them, talking about things that I haven’t told people before.” Indeed Aaron has done a lot to improve himself, despite dark thoughts of suicide. Struggling with severe depression, he says “I’ve had a gun in my mouth. Just crying and wanting to do it, but not being able to for the thought of what it would do to the people I was going to leave behind. It took a hell of a lot more courage to not pull that trigger than it would have taken to pull it.’” This gives insight into Aaron’s response to a kid who killed himself – “Fuck you for not having the strength in your hear to pull through…doesn’t mean I should take my life with my own hands.” With some therapy, he has realized that his parents did the best they knew how – “I cannot blame this on my father, he did the best he could for me.” Aaron also seems to have overcome drinking and drug use, which is alluded to in many of his lyrics. “If you dwell on how terrible your life has been,” says Aaron, “it will forever remain terrible.”
It is evident that changes in Staind’s music reflect the growth of the band, especially on Aaron. Time and experience, according to Aaron, have influenced his lyrics. “I guess just kind of getting older and starting to see things different, being in a different place in my life when I write the songs. The titles of the records fit into it all too. During Tormented that was a hard time for me. Dysfunction was when I hit bottom of my little world, and now Break The Cycle is where I’m trying to do something about it. It’s been a natural progression with me getting older and seeing things differently.” Talking about the gory cover of Tormented, he says, "The artwork on the first record was, I guess you could say, there for shock value. There was a knife in a Bible, signifying the lack of faith in religion, and it was from a collage that Mike made in his attic. It kind of depicted a time in my life where I lost faith in myself, in religion, in love, in life -- everything. You know, my lyrics aren't the happiest in the world." He also says, “I use the word ‘you’ a lot in my lyrics, and it can refer to many different people. I try to leave as much as I can open to interpretation. But if you know me, there’s also a lot of me in those songs, things that happened to me in my life. I try to communicate those tings in a positive way. The lyrics to these songs are a combination of everything I’ve been suppressing…It took 26 years for me to realize all the cycles that need to be broken – all the vicious circles.” Because there is so much that lies behind Aaron’s words, he prides himself in keeping the music real. “All I did was be extremely honest with myself and put it in songs, and here I am. Never in my music have I pretended that things were all right. I might have done that in life, just to get through. But in my songs, I’ve always been very candid and straight-forward with what I had to say.”
One problem that Aaron hasn't outgrown, however, is his fear of flying. "I have a problem with flying. I don't know what it is. I've been flying since I was eight years old, but it didn't used to be a problem. I would fly by myself to see my grandparents in Florida, and I was fine. I didn't start having problems until we started touring. There isn't a choice to fly. It's what you have to do to get the job done. There have times when I've gotten such unbelievable tunnel vision going down the skywalk to the plane. The tunnel starts stretching out in front of me, I start to lose balance. It's total craziness. If I don't knock myself out before a flight, I'd end up having an anxiety attack...One little thing goes wrong thirty thousand feet up and it's all over. If you're in a car, which is more dangerous, at least you have control."
On an even funnier note, Aaron remembers when he dressed up as a crack whore, with high heels, red fishnet stockings, a black tube-top, and a faux-fur leopard print mini skirt, at a Halloween show. "I had the nastiest blonde wig. I think I might have even thrown it in the dirt and kicked it around to make it worse. I made a crack pipe out of a soda bottle and a pen and carried that on stage wearing a sign around my neck saying 'Will Fuck For Crack.' When the lights came up, there I was with my hairy belly hanging over the skirt staring out at the crowd. They didn't know what the hell was going on. Hey, it's Halloween. You have to do something crazy." Aaron also has fun fishing, golfing, and riding his dirt bike. He always keeps a fishing rod on the tour bus. While busy on tour, he was able to give golf a try. "That's how I started because it's easy to roll into the nicest golf course and play. I've broken 100, but I haven't been playing very long. I've only played like 13 times. So I guess I'm doing pretty good for only playing a couple of months." Aaron also has a sense of humor when it comes down to hunting. "If there was no hunting season, deer would overpopulate and starve. It would just cause a collapse of the ecosystem." Appropriately, he is a member of the National Rifle Association. "I don't think the key to wiping out inner-city violence is to ban guns. Criminals are always gonna be able to get guns; it's gonna be the law-abiding citizens who can't. That's the most ass-backward way to fix a problem I've ever heard."
Without a doubt, the biggest influence for Aaron is his wife, Vanessa. “She’s an amazing person,” he says, “I can tell anything to. I’ve told her everything that’s happened to me, and she hasn’t felt any differently about me.” Playing a vital role in helping Aaron break the cycle, they hope to someday have a family. “I never wanted that until I met my wife and wanted her to be the mother of my kids. There's nothing in the near future though, I don't want to be an absentee father, I want to see it all.” Like Aaron’s shyness from fame, Vanessa also has had to adjust to the band’s success. “My wife certainly doesn't want any part of this business either. She doesn't want any of the extra attention. It absolutely embarrasses the shit out of her when kids ask her for her autograph.” Vanessa adds, “Sometimes I say to Aaron, ‘Why couldn’t you be a plumber or something normal?’ I never wanted a lot of money. Money changes people. I guess we’ll see what happens.” Nevertheless, as with most big groups in the music industry, Aaron does not support Napster. He says, “Napster is a great thing for bands that are unsigned but it's not a good thing for bands that are trying to meet contractual obligations and make a little something. The system isn't set up in our favor and everyone gets money before you and Napster just takes what little money you do get right out of your hand.”
Since the beginning, as Staind’s front man, has become quite the
national spokesperson for troubled teens. With so many people relating to his
“reality-based” lyrics, Aaron finds it fulfilling. Although he persistently
refers to fans as “kids,” the people who live in his words are more than just
teenagers. “It’s kind of rewarding for me without setting out and trying to –
it seems I’m helping kids through what they’re going through. That wasn’t’
really our goal or plan, it just happened. I’m being honest about how I feel,
and it seems like of a lot of people are getting it and relating.” Yet Aaron
also shows great discomfort in having people so readily relate to his touching
words. He wishes that teens wouldn’t relate because he doesn’t want anyone to
go through the pain and torment he endured growing up. "It's been crazy, and it
totally trips me out. Kids will come up to me and thank me for saving their
lives. That's really heavy. I don't know what to think about that. It's so
amazing to me that I can help them, but at the same time it kinda bums me out in
the sense that they're relating to these words that I'm writing, that they're
feeling it so strongly. I can only imagine what's actually happened to them. I
wouldn't wish being able to relate to what I was writing about upon anybody."
In addition, he calls the attention “unnerving,” especially since he considers
himself a reclusive. “I didn't get into that to be a ‘rock star.’ I got into
this because I love music and my lyrics are my only way to express that side of
myself. I have a hard time
getting it out any other way. But all the pressures and the focus that's put
upon me is extremely uncomfortable for me. I'm a private person and being on
tour and being on the cover of Rolling Stone is such the complete
opposite of what I'm used to having.” Despite his sudden jump to fame and not
knowing how to fully deal with it, he tells Staind fans, “I hope you realize
that just because I tend to hide from you sometimes, you don't mean any less to
me. You are everything to me, you're the reason we're here. I just have a hard
time dealing with the adoration. It's not something I've dealt with in my
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