BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Two of rock’s most revered names, Staind guitarist Mike Mushok and former Three Days Grace singer/guitarist Adam Gontier, have joined forces to form the astonishingly awesome foursome Saint Asonia. The all-star lineup, which also includes former Finger Eleven drummer Rich Beddoe and bassist Corey Lowery (Dark New Day, Stereomud, Eye Empire), will issue its 11-song self-titled debut album on July 31, however the debut single “Better Place” has already ascended to the top of rock charts worldwide. Stocked with potent sonic salvos such as “Blow Me Wide Open,” “Let Me Live My Life,” “Dying Slowly” and “Happy Tragedy,” Saint Asonia is certain to produce a plethora of rock radio smashes in the months to come.
Saint Asonia made its live debut in front of thousands of rabid fans at Rock on the Range, and the group will thrill countless more during its just-announced inaugural 13-city cross country trek, kicking off August 14 in Oklahoma City and ending in Baltimore on August 30. Visit Saintasonia.com for the full list of cities and dates. Meanwhile, Mushok was kind enough to take time to call and talk to me last week about how he and Gontier initially canonized Saint Asonia, how they shaped the songs that make up the debut record and what the future holds for this blossoming band with such a prolific pedigree.
So would it be fair to say that the seed for Saint Asonia was planted sort of as a result of your search to find the almost literal voice for the songs you were writing at the time?
Um, you know, somewhat. I would say mostly that because I do write a lot of music and [Staind frontman] Aaron [Lewis] was pursuing his country trail, I was trying to figure out what to do and one of those things was I started writing with other singers that I knew in other bands, trying to do something similar to a Slash or Santana type of thing. I figured there’s all these guys that I really, really respect what they do and it’d be really cool to work with a bunch of them rather than trying to do one thing. Well that tuned into one thing because Adam and I really seem to work well [together] and I ended up writing some songs for him for a demo he was doing, and playing on it and that turned into a record deal with RCA. So we just kind of followed that through, we worked very well together and as I said I wrote him some music and played him some other stuff that I had, and he had some songs and it ended up being this record.
You and Adam had often shared the same stage, with Adam fronting Three Days Grace and you guys being on the same bill a lot. What was it about his singing and songwriting that convinced you that the two of you could get on the same page musically, in the studio?
I’ve always been a huge fan of what he does, and as you said we have played a lot of shows together, and I was always a fan of Three Days Grace and what they did. I think I watched them every time we played with them. There’s a lot of really talented guys out there but it always seemed like when Adam and I got together and worked on music that there was a bit of a chemistry there and things went pretty easily. As I say, when I work with Aaron he takes what I do and helps make it better and I think Adam did the same thing as far as having some good suggestions, and I’d like to think that I added some decent parts to his music that he brought to the table, also.
I’d say you think correctly, man. I think you brought much more than decent parts. Now let’s talk about some of these tracks on the self-titled Saint Asonia album. The record takes off with the opening track and first single “Better Place.” Sonically, it goes from 0-60 in seconds, which from what I understand is just about how long it took you guys to get in sync on the writing. Talk a little bit about the first single and track on the record, “Better Place.”
That was a song I had kickin’ around for a little while, actually. It was [producer/engineer/mixer] Johnny K (Disturbed, Sevendust, Megadeth) that remembered that riff when we got together to do the demo. Then we played Adam that song and I came into the demo with an idea of what I thought we would do, and that one kind of came out of left field. As I said, we played Adam the music for it, he really liked it, we emailed him the track, he went off and, I don’t know, it might’ve been like a half hour or 45 minutes later, came back with the song written. We re-tracked the music and he sang on it, so that was the song that was actually on the demo that we did.
And Adam definitely put his stamp on it. Now track two, “Blow Me Up,” to my ears, Mike, begins with a vintage Black Sabbath “Iron Man” gritty guitar…
Yeah, that’s another one that I’ve had that riff kicking around for a minute, too, and it’s something that I really liked. I think you kind of nailed it on the head [with Black Sabbath]. That’s what it always reminded me of, also. And again, it’s something that I had played later on for Adam that he really liked. I had come up with an arrangement for it and he liked it, so we ended up tracking it and it made the record.
Yeah I was gonna say that, well maybe not that you had Black Sabbath in mind, but maybe did Black Sabbath serve as a blueprint?
I don’t think I had anything in mind; it was just a riff that I wrote that I really liked. I do write a lot and sometimes certain kind of stick with you and that was one that sorta always stuck with me. A lot of times I write a lot of things and I log it and kind of get pleasantly surprised listening back to it sometimes and some of them I remember and that was one that stuck with me.
Speaking of writing a lot, Mike, what’s your process of storing these idea? Do you throw them in your phone? Do you have a laptop? Do you run in and hit “record?”
There’s a lot of different ways, but usually I have a couple of sessions in Pro Tools that I put ideas in and I just kind of log them in there. But that’s new for me. I do have boxes and boxes and boxes of cassettes (laughs). I remember, it was probably, oh it might have been a year and a half ago at this point, I found an Office Depot near me and I asked a kid that was working, “Hey, do you have any cassettes?” He had no idea what I was talking about (laughs)! He had never heard of them (laughs). That’s when you know you’re old.
(Laughs) I have to confess – I’ve still got some mixtapes hanging around.
Yeah, I used to call it my Sony one-track. To me it was the easiest thing, you know? I still have a little one in one of my guitar cases. But yeah, sometimes [I record] into the phone, but I usually have a Pro Tools rig set up at the house, or even when I’m on the road I kind of carry a little travel one with me that I set up every day and work.
I mentioned Black Sabbath earlier, so speaking of Sabbath and many others, of course, can you recall when you had your very first musical revelation? Maybe a song you heard where you said, man I wanna do that?
There’s a few of those. If you go as far back as I can remember, the first one was Don McLean and “American Pie.” I was four, or whatever it was. They have pictures of me with a guitar and that was the song that I would sing and strum nothing, at that age. So as far back as I can remember it’s something that I always wanted to do. That was the song that my parents point out was one that I was drawn to and sang all the time.
It’s interesting; just a couple of weeks ago somebody had put up on Facebook a YouTube thing of the meaning of “American Pie” and all the references in the song. It was pretty cool to watch.
Yeah I remember hearing that one for the first time and I have to agree with you. I kind of felt that’s what the first single should have been, but hopefully that song might be next.
Yeah, of course the song we’re referring to is “Let Me Live My Life.”
That was actually some music I wrote specifically for Adam. When we kind of realized that this would be something more, I sat down and wrote some songs and that was one that came out of that. And again, that was one that he went away once he had the music and came back an hour later with that written. He actually demoed it himself in his Pro Tools rig and it hit me right away. I thought it was great.
And you heard it here first- possibly the next single. So what approach did you guys take once you got in the studio, and what role did Johnny K play to help facilitate the end result that we hear on the record?
I’ve done a lot of work with Johnny; he’s done the last two Staind records and we’ve actually written a lot of things together for a bunch of other things, too. So I work well with him and I always respect his ideas and what he brings to the table. As a producer, his job is to help make the songs better and to get everything sounding sonically as good as they can – I wanna say on the tape, but these days, into the computer. I always enjoy working with Johnny for that reason. I really respect what he does and think he’s very good at it. So basically the process was this: we had the music and the arrangements pretty much done. Adam and I had gone through them and we went through them with Rich, the drummer, and worked on getting the drums down, so basically kind of the way I’ve done every record. You work on getting the drum tracks where they should be and the right groove for the song and then you kind of build it up from there.
Some of the quieter moments on the album occur in the sentimental, I guess, “Waste My Time.” Where in the writing process did this one fall?
You know actually it was one of the first ones that Adam and I worked on when we first got together. Again, I had had that music kicking around. It was one of those things that I had written I just thought was a pretty guitar line that I thought had the potential to have some beautiful lyrics and melody put over it. And Adam did that.
So there was never any discussion about, like, man we need a ballad on the record, we need a slower track?
No, no. There was really no discussion on anything. It really was just, like what do you want to sing over that you like, and Adam brought some great songs to the table also. I really liked the songs that he had written and like I said, we kind of worked on those a little bit and I added some parts to them and that’s where the collaboration came from. But no, there was no, oh we need one of these songs; it was just, this is what we like and if we like it let’s just record it, let’s not overthink it and just keep things moving forward and see what we have at the end. Let’s just write some music and have a good time doing it.
Pretty much, yeah. I think you’ll know at the end of the day what’s good and what isn’t. “Waste My Time” is one of those for me where he just did a great job. For me it’s one of the prettier moments on the record.
Mike, can you give me the backstory of “Dying Slowly?”
Well, lyrically, I don’t ever like to speak for the singer because Adam did write the lyrics. Musically, that was one of the songs that I had written with Adam in mind and one of the ones that I had sent him that he liked and he wanted to sing on. And that one we worked on together, I’d gone up to Toronto for a couple of day and stayed with him. We worked on the arrangement a little bit and changed up some of the chords and the chorus a little bit and I think he definitely made a few changes on it, musically, that kind of made the song better.
Just a couple more questions for you, Mike, and again I appreciate the time today. You guys made your live debut at Rock on the Range but something tells me you’re not a one-and-done deal, either recording or touring. What’s the plan moving forward?
We just announced the headlining tour we’re gonna be doing in August…to connect with some of our new fans and old fans, if you will. And then we have a few options, following that up, which we’re looking at right now which will be opening for some friends of ours, whoever that may be. We’re just trying to make that final decision right now, so I’m sure that’ll be announced soon. So I think we’ll just kind of continue along in that vein, you know, getting out there and trying to make some new fans and hopefully reconnect with some of the old ones that enjoy either Three Days Grace or Staind or Finger Eleven or whatever the case may be.
Last question for you, Mike. So the dictionary definition of Asonia is “tone deaf,” which on the surface seems like the last thing anyone would want associated with their band. So for the folks who don’t know yet, why was this an apt moniker for this band?
Well I think Adam is doing a great job of explaining what it means to him and I’ll just try and regurgitate that, which is this: he says that once he left Three Days Grace and he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next there was a lot of people telling him what do to. His explanation is that, you know, you go tone deaf and to try and block out what everybody tells you and just listen to yourself and do what you think is best for you. I thought that was a pretty good explanation.
Very cool. Mike, thanks again for your time today and safe travels.
Yeah, thank you for the time. I appreciate it.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Michael Mushok of Saint Asonia and Staind, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.