Songwriter Interviews

J-Mann of Mushroomhead

by Greg Prato

Share this post

The '90s saw quite a few metal bands emerge that chose to hide their identities behind spooky masks - one of the more popular ones being Mushroomhead. And while some may have initially dismissed the band (which is currently nine members strong!) as a gimmick, Mushroomhead have shown staying power: they issued their eighth album overall in 2014, The Righteous & the Butterfly, which quickly became the highest-charting album of their career, debuting at #20 in the US.

One of Mushroomhead's vocalists, J-Mann, returned in time for Righteous, after sitting out for a few albums. Mr. Mann spoke with Songfacts on the eve of the album's release, discussing several of his favorite artists/influences, and devling into several Mushroomhead compositions. But since the interview was conducted via phone, we don't know if he was wearing his ghastly mask at the time of the chat...
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's start with Mushroomhead's latest album, The Righteous & the Butterfly.

J-Mann: Writing and recording it was a joy, actually. It was a lot of fun. It was kind of like old times. This is the first Mushroomhead record I've been on in quite a while - I wasn't on the last two. So this is my first record back since an album called XIII that came out on Universal in 2003. So, I was a little nervous about how it was going to work out.

But it was like a day hadn't passed. It was just like back when we started the band in '93. It came really naturally and everyone was really excited to work on it. I think we really focused on trying to capture the entire Mushroomhead discography on this album: a little bit of every album, every era, and just had a more rounded version of what we'd like the band to be.

Songfacts: How does that material differ from previous Mushroomhead albums, and what are some of your favorite songs on the album?

J-Mann: Well, the coolest thing about a lot of the songs is writing with different vocalists. None of them were written from a singular perspective, so I think that's what keeps it interesting. You get multiple perspectives, almost like angel/devil on the shoulder kind of thing once in a while.

As far as my favorite songs I would have to say "How Many Times" is one of my favorites, "Devils Be Damned," "Portraits of the Poor" I like a lot. "For Your Pleasure" I really like a lot, because it really to me sounds like vintage Mushroomhead.

Those are probably my four favorites. But I really like the way the album is put together. It plays like an album. It's not just the best songs, one, two, three. It's like, "Let's assemble an album that's actually an experience for the listener."

Songfacts: And what is the first single going to be from the album?

J-Mann: The first single is called "Qwerty" and we actually just filmed a video for that, that's being edited right now. So hopefully we'll have that done in the week or so.

Songfacts: As far as the songwriting in the band, how exactly does it work?

J-Mann: It's definitely a collaboration. Everyone kind of brings their own thing to the table. It'll usually start with an idea. It usually starts with either a keyboard riff or a guitar riff and then we structure everything around that and then everyone kind of puts their flavor on it.

Songfacts: And what instrument do you usually write your songs on when you contribute parts?

J-Mann: I would say that the guitar player probably came up with the bulk of the material musically on this record as far as parts go. But as far as the structure and the composition, that usually ends up Skinny at the helm making those decisions.

And then once we have a structure put together, that's when we start filling the holes: "Okay, who would sound best in this part? Who would sound best here? Who does this suit the best? Who's got the best idea in the room?"

Everyone's pretty humble when it comes to that as far as just wanting what's best for the song, so there's not too many arguments or egos clashing.

Songfacts: And who would you say are the biggest songwriting influences on Mushroomhead?

J-Mann: When you're talking about a band with nine guys, you're talking about tons of influences. I know when we started the band, we were really into a lot of the stuff Mike Patton was doing - Faith No More or Mr. Bungle, things like that. But we also liked heavier bands like Meshuggah, Pantera. Then there's electronic stuff. So it's really all over the map. It's everything from hard rock to punk rock to hip-hop to electronica. It's pretty vast.

Songfacts: Tell me about the song "Qwerty."

J-Mann: That's got a real kind of "circus vibe" to it. We're really into track composition, and when we were starting the band, we wanted it to be not such a theatrical band, but more of a cinematic-type band, to where a great soundtrack can make a good movie great.

We were trying to create a great stage show to make the music more impactful, so we were always impressed with soundtrack composers. So you hear some Danny Elfman in it for sure, maybe with a little Angelo Badalamenti, who did a lot of the Twin Peaks stuff. But musically, I think it's got a lot of Danny Elfman in it. It's got an ambient, strange circus vibe to it.

As far as the lyrics go, it's a commentary on the state of the country as far as the way Big Brother's clamping down. We've turned war into profit and false patriotism. Lyrically, that's where it comes from.

Songfacts: I see. Can you talk a little bit about Danny Elfman, because I totally agree that he's a very talented songwriter, especially the stuff he writes for movies.

J-Mann: He's just fantastic. It's rare in music to have such a distinct sound. Not many people can accomplish that, have a truly one-of-a-kind sound where you could hear three notes and know who it is. And to me Danny Elfman's one of those guys.

We've liked him since he was in Oingo Bongo even before he started doing the soundtracks. When he started working on a lot more soundtrack stuff, you'd be watching a movie and you wouldn't even have to read the credits to know that's Danny Elfman. I always was impressed by that.

Songfacts: Tell me about writing "Solitaire/Unraveling."

J-Mann: That was our first single when we were on Universal Records, and it was the first song we ever shot a real music video for. As far as lyrical content, I'll be honest with you, I don't really like to describe it too much because I like to leave it up to the listener. I try to leave a few riddles in there to where as time goes on, maybe as the listener grows or changes in their life, they can find something new in an old song.

And I try to write in a way that constantly will adapt to your life or you can always find something new in it. So I hate to really explain it much, because I want them to mean different things to different people at different times in their life. And hopefully it's something interesting or hopefully it makes them scratch their head or explore it further.

Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite lyric writers?

J-Mann: Oh, I like the classic guys. I love Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan, Leonard Cohen. Those to me are the heavyweights as far as lyrics go.

But in a more contemporary vibe, I don't know if you ever heard of a band called Pig Destroyer, but they're extremely heavy. They're shouting shouting vocals and it's really hard to hear the lyrics sometimes, but if you sit down and read the lyrics, they're really good. The singer's name is J.R. Hayes, and lyrically I think he's one of the most interesting people out there right now. I just wish they were easier to understand sometimes.

Mike Patton is best known as the frontman for Faith No More (having sung on such hit albums as The Real Thing and Angel Dust). But Mr. Patton has also fronted several other bands over the years (quite a few of which have been issued via his own record label, Ipecac), including Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, and Fantômas. Additionally, he has appeared on recordings by Björk, Sepultura, and the Dillinger Escape Plan, as well as lending his voice to several video games.
Songfacts: Before, you mentioned Mr. Bungle and also Mike Patton being an early influence on the band.

J-Mann: Well, Mike Patton, he came along at the right time for me. This is pre-Nirvana, so when Patton came along, this was back when you had to have long hair and spandex, or leather pants. It was like, "All right, you've got to look like this to even consider being in a band." I think he smashed a lot of that down just with his attitude, his style, and also his sense of humor. This is also the time where bands took themselves way too seriously.

And aside from that, not only does he have an incredible voice, but there's the versatility of it. Not just his vocal ability, but his musical versatility works for so many different styles of music, and I think in a weird way he made it okay for a metal guy to listen to a hip-hop record.

I also think he was one of the first people in a big band to ever have a second band, because back then that was a huge no no. It was like you could only do one band and you're a traitor if you do anything else, and he kind of knocked that down when he got Mr. Bungle. Because of that, you also got Corey Taylor doing Stone Sour aside from Slipknot. I think he made it a little more acceptable to venture out musically and not be considered a whore by doing so. [Laughing]

Songfacts: You just mentioned Corey Taylor, and I think it was maybe two years ago, he mentioned that he'd like to see Slipknot do a tour with Mushroomhead and Gwar. Would you still be interested in possibly doing that type of tour with them?

J-Mann: Absolutely. I've got nothing but respect for them. They're a phenomenal band. I think it'd be an honor to play with them. I've actually met a few of the guys and they seem super cool [we met their drummer Chris - he's definitely cool]. So, yeah, I think that would be wonderful. We're definitely down for that.

Songfacts: Lastly, what would you say is the best Mushroomhead album?

J-Mann: Oh wow, from a songwriting perspective? For me personally or generally what's the consensus?

Songfacts: I would say actually both, if you want to first give it personally and then what you think generally as a consensus.

J-Mann: Well, personally I would have to probably say as far as our most cohesive album would be our second album, Superbuick, and that's just because that was one of "those records." It was early on in the band's career, and we really caught a groove. We had just put out our first record [1995's Mushroomhead]. We were doing a ton of shows and just really clicking as a band.

That album, we wrote it instantly. I think we recorded it just a few months after the first album came out - you usually can tell material is good when it comes that fast. It's like an epiphany, almost. I think that was really strong.

But I also think that XIII is really strong because that was our first major-label album. That was on Universal. Everyone was just so happy to be there and so proud of one another for achieving a record deal of that proportion, that everyone just buckled down and gave it their all.

September 3, 2014. For more Mushroomhead, visit mushroomhead.com.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 1

  • Bucketlead from CaliforniaGood interview, but... Pantera heavier than Mr. Bungle? I think not. Even Faith No More have songs that make Pantera sound like ABBA. :)
see more comments