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Cleveland Rocks!: Geoff Ketler's Exclusive Interview With Steve "Skinny" Felton Of MUSHROOMHEAD

By Geoff Ketler, Cleveland Contributor
Thursday, March 20, 2014 @ 4:13 PM

"If you don’t want to play ball, don’t be in the park."

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For over two decades MUSHROOMHEAD has ruled the metal scene in Cleveland, Ohio. In that time founding member Steve “Skinny” Felton and his band mates have developed the group into one of the most cutting-edge, genre-bending, theatrical metal acts around. They have a cult following of dedicated fans around the world and have built it all by doing it their way. Recently I had the chance to sit down with drummer Skinny to talk about the new album, lineup changes, and the band’s recent trip to Australia.

KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about the brand new album first, The Righteous & The Butterfly. What can you tell me about the meaning behind the name.

FELTON: It’s a dedication to two people that we lost that were very dear to us. John John Sekula, who was also known as JJ Righteous; he was our original guitar player, he wrote all of the guitars for the self-titled album, Super Buick and M3. He passed away in 2010, obviously way too early. The butterfly is me ex-wife, Vanessa. She was our photographer, the mother of my children, she did the XX layout, she took the photo of the car for Super Buick cover, she did all of the XIII (album) layout. For all of the Universal years and Eclipse, she did the layout for those. She did all of the Ozz-Fest touring photos. She was with us forever and she passed away last August. So, you know, losing people in your camp is really, really devastating. To be able to dedicate a body of work that you do, whether it be a book or a film or an album; it was just that we felt very fortunate to dedicate it to them because they are two people that we really dearly miss.

KNAC.COM: You had mentioned before that this album basically wrote itself. Can you elaborate on that a little?

FELTON: Yeah, it basically did. We would go in everyday and just kind of sit down and jam. It wasn’t, “hey I wrote this keyboard part”, or “hey I wrote this drum loop”, or “hey I got this guitar riff”. It was literally, you know, have a couple beers, sit down and talk about this and that happening during the day or watching dumb shit on YouTube and crack up and we would just kinda jam. But we would record. We always had a couple microphones in the room. Then after jamming for a couple hours, we would go and sit down, have a couple more beers and listen to what you did. We would make little markers like, “oh that’s a cool riff”, or “man that could go somewhere”. It was never, “hey I have an idea”. It was very collective.

KNAC.COM: I have heard the new album. I think it’s some of your best work. I wanted to ask you specifically about the ADELE cover on the album.


KNAC.COM: It’s a pretty interesting choice.

FELTON: Well, you know, if you go back to XIII we covered SEAL's “Crazy”. We tore that up. People were like, “that’s really strange”. It was very much the same kind of thing. (Bassist) Ryan Farrell and I were at one of our friend’s basement where we keep some of our masks because we have so many fucking molds we can’t store all of them things. We were sitting there pouring molds and we had no tunes. We are like, “alright we got beer, but this is getting old, it’s too quiet”. So I got out my phone and was like, “oh, I just downloaded that ADELE record man.” So we put it on and it was on a loop so it went through and we were talking over it and then it started over and we were like, “you know this tune is pretty cool actually – if you did it heavy right there it would kind of sound like METALLICA - we should go do it! Let’s go fuck it up once and just see what it does!” And then we did it and everyone was really interested. Ryan and I – probably more his suggestion, but once we kinda laid out a basic thing of it, everyone literally just said, “oh how fun.” You know? So that’s just us cutting loose.

KNAC.COM: You guys just got back from Australia – so how was it? Tell me about that.

FELTON: Oh fucking sweet man. The Soundwave Festival – we went to five different cities. Two Sidewave shows, we got the off-days that we did with KORN and ROB ZOMBIE. It was just really really cool. It was great to get back on the festival circuit – not to mention it’s summer over there. We were on at 11:30 AM every day and everyone thinks, “oh 11:30 AM” – no man, the kids are there. Doors were at 10 AM. AMON AMARTH was on at 11 AM. MUSHROOMHEAD was 11:30 AM. FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH was at noon. It was just sick. They did it right and they put the metal bands together. ALKALINE TRIO was on at 11:30 AM on another stage. So they separated the music. At 11:30 AM there were twelve-thousand kids there everyday, sometimes twenty-thousand. And they treated everyone so well. Everyone there from production to just the fans were like some of the nicest people in the world. It really almost felt like a vacation.

KNAC.COM: That was your first time over there right?

FELTON: For MUSHROOMHEAD, yes. Two years prior THE NOTHING PROJECT opened for HED(PE). We weren’t on the Soundwave Festival. It was a club tour. So for myself, personally, it was my second trip over there.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to ask you…and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but there have been some lineup changes over the years…

FELTON: I’ll tell you what, in just about all of the years there’s been lineup changes.

KNAC.COM: That’s true.

FELTON: A lot of that, you know, it gets into – I could be as simple as saying it’s fucking creative differences and I felt like creating with someone different. But it’s really not as simple as that. Contracts are involved and when you have an opportunity to sign or resign your band or your group with another outside entity you start to think, “Do I want to do another fucking contract deal and have this guy on my team the whole time?” So then you sit and try to talk, work things out and sometimes democracy won’t work.

KNAC.COM: Right – I guess I wanted to ask you specifically about Dave “Gravy” Felton because – being your brother, was that kind of weird to toss him out?

FELTON: Fucking being my brother, getting him in was weird. You know what I mean? It’s just as awkward bringing him in as it was out. Love the guy to death. (He is) a very talented mother-fucker. He clicked in with all of the people and after ten years probably clicked out ultimately. Like I said, I could flat-out say, “It’s creative differences and I want to create with someone different.” But there was a little more to it. After a decade people are entitled to their fucking say so. But at the end of the day it’s a business and you gotta follow some sort of lead. If you don’t want to play ball, don’t be in the park.

KNAC.COM: Tell me about Tommy Church and Ryan “Dr. F” Farrell. How did you guys hook up?

FELTON: The Bar! Met both of them at a bar one day. They asked me if I’d buy them a drink. They’re kinda like the one-night-stand that never went away. No, uh, Church had been in THE AUTUMN OFFERING. We toured with them quite a bit. Like actual long tours – six, seven, eight, nine weeks we toured together. So I ended up knowing him pretty well. Small fucking world – him and (vocalist) Waylon Reavis knew each other from North Carolina. They were never in the same bands together. They never attended the same school but they knew each other from the metal scene in North Carolina. So however many years later after Waylon joined the band, now Church is in the band – how strange. Church also did the side project TENAFLY VIPER with Waylon and myself and Tom “Schmotz” Schmitz did all the bass on tour. And Ryan – he was in a band called DOG COUGH at the time and he had a demo of just really interesting music. I called up (vocalist) Jeffrey Nothing because Jeff had been wanting to do a solo record forever. I said, “Jeff, I got our guy.” So Jeff came over to the studio and listened to his demo and said, “You’re hired.” Both of those guys (Ryan and Church) are well rounded musically as far as they could play damn near anything and they know Protools and they are very good at engineering. So – they have a lot of strong points. They had both been around since like 2006 or 2007, so it wasn’t like I just met this kid online. They’ve been around.

KNAC.COM: A few years ago you sat down for an interview and you mentioned that you were in the process of trying to put a MUSHROOMHEAD book together. Is that something that is still on? Do you still have plans to do that?

FELTON: Yeah, I’m doing that with a guy from Cleveland. His name is Jim Clevo. He has been one of our friends and passionately involved in the scene for fucking twenty – as long as the life of MUSHROOMHEAD. He actually pressed the first thousand CDs of the self-titled album. He is a dear friend of ours. His health has been kind of on and off. So that’s the reality behind the book. Obviously we are busy but we also don’t want to step on any toes. It is very much his thing. Like I said, his health isn’t the best, so we wish him the best of luck and we plan on continuing it and finishing it.

KNAC.COM:So twenty plus years ago when you started it all, did you picture MUSHROOMHEAD turning into what it has become today?

FELTON: You know, in a lot of ways it just is another day of work. When I step back and look at it, it looks huge, it’s like wow. But because I work so fucking hard and because I do it every damn day, it truly is just like going to work. I am always going to work and trying to find a new way to pimp out my fucking band, pimp out my business, and just make and create. It is a curse too because sometimes I can’t fucking sleep, but it is a blessing, absolutely, and I am very fortunate that it has continued. I started it twenty two years ago with Jeff thinking that we would be doing this the rest of our lives and here we are.

You can preorder a copy of The Righteous & The Butterfly in the KNAC.COM More Store right HERE.

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