In 2000, Mudvayne were written off as third-rate Slipknot clones. They proved everyone wrong

 Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001.
Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001.

Mudvayne may have become one of the most beloved 21st century metal bands, but that wasn’t always the case. When they rose to fame with their debut album, LD.50, they were written off in the press as ludicrous-looking nu metal chancers. In the year 2000, Metal Hammer flew to Atlanta to find out how four facepainted fiends had become metal’s unlikeliest nu superstars

Mudvayne are the genuine article, the real deal and the whole nine yards. They are so real that you can reach out and touch them, but don’t be surprised if they turn round and tear off one of your limbs!

“The person I walk on stage as is not the person you’re talking to right now,” states shaven-headed bassist Ryknow (real name: Ryan Martinie). “At this moment in time I wouldn’t spit at you, but if you were on my stage I’d try to trip you up, or I’d try to kick you, or be pissed off enough to try to push you off the front of the stage.”

I am sitting with the band in the relative luxury of their tour bus, which is hauled up outside the Masquerade club in dreary Atlanta. It’s been a hectic year for Mudvayne. Not only have they been on the road solidly for nine months playing sweaty clubs, heaving toilet venues and the massive Tattoo The Earth festival, as well as touring the UK with One Minute Silence; they have also unleashed their phenomenal debut album, L.D. 50, on the world.

“It’s how toxicologists rate the toxicity of a substance,” drummer Spag (real name: Matt McDonough) tells me. “‘LD-50’ stands for Lethal Dosage 50, and the way it works is that they administer a chemical to a certain number of test subjects, and after 50 die they say that’s a lethal dosage. Basically how much it takes to kill 50 out of 100 test subjects.”

In spite of being given the Slipknot seal of approval, with Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan as the executive producer on L.D. 50, Mudvayne have been dogged by accusations that they are merely pretenders to the Slipknot throne. But Mudvayne don’t wear masks. They do, however, wear make-up.

Says Spag: “We’ve been wearing make-up for almost three years. A year and a half before Slipknot ‘came out’. It’s coincidental that they wear masks and we wear stage make-up. If you want to associate us with Kiss, that’s different. We can’t deny that, we grew up with that in our conscious youth.”

While Slipknot have personas associated with their masks, for Mudvayne this use of theatrics is merely a part of the dis-identification process, drawing the audience’s focus away from the band members, and allowing them to focus on the music.

Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001
Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001

“It’s artistry,” explains frontman Kud (Chad Grey to his friends). “We’re bringing a visual element to music. There’s flow in a painting, there’s a flow in music. We’re bringing art full circle. I like to bring visual stimulation with our sonic arousal.”

“It morphs us into the culture of being this alien clan, far removed from people’s everyday frame of reference,” continues Spag. “It’s an unexplainable thing. It’s indefinable. It gives an element of mystery and something that you want to explore and find out about. The make-up doesn’t really have anything to do with us specifically as human beings. Our ‘personas’ represent nothing – that’s just an assumption people have.”

“We arrived at our current image through a process of trial and error,” continues Kud. “I think they’ll continue to evolve and steamroll right through what we are now. This is basically a precursor to things yet to come!”

And the first notable example of a stage in their evolution lies with four- stringer Ryknow. “Look at me. Where are the horns?” he asks. “Where’s the goatee? We’ve already metamorphosed within our own entity – Spag has changed his colours, Kud changes his smile, Gurrg [guitarist Gregg Tribbett] changes the patterns on his face, but for full change I’m the first one in line. Obviously I’m not the same person from day to day, and neither are you. You’re not going to feel the same from day to day, and you’re not going to wear the same clothes day to day.

“I’m a changing person so therefore am I meant to not change just because our fans have a preconceived idea of what I’m supposed to look like? I’m gonna be real with me and real with the guys in my band and I’m going to step on that stage feeling real and not that I’m made up for anyone but me.”

Still, it begs the question that if Mudvayne are not characters, and their make-up represents nothing, why have they opted for bizarre names? Even though Slipknot’s masks have altered egos, they retain that aloofness by hiding behind a series of numbers.

“If the truth be known,” says Spag, “we’ve got a Monty Pythonesque approach to our band. We’re always fucking around. Gurrg has probably got 13 different nicknames. They were given to us by people around the band, by each other, and like the make-up you can’t read too much into them. But unlike the make-up, the names will probably stay the same because they’re so stupid! Also, if we’re gonna change everything else we have to give the audience something to identify with.”

Mudvayne are putting the showmanship back into rock’n’roll, the glamour and the allure as extreme music embraces performance art. They’re regular guys who eat, sleep and shit, but you don’t want to know about that. It doesn’t play to the larger-than-life lifestyle we expect people in bands to inhabit. But does it get to a point where the make-up overshadows the music?

“You can’t deny it,” sighs Kud. “And we’re cool to talk about it, but we’re doing something different musically and all people wanna know about is the make-up. It starts to get in the way of the music when there are bands out there that aren’t doing anything different musically and they get to talk about their own music and we don’t.”

“It depends from what perspective,” says Spag. “From our point of view absolutely not, but from your point of view, or other people’s, most definitely. But anyone who comes to a show or sits down and pays some attention to the album realises, make-up or not, we’re a band and we can play!

“Initially the idea with the make-up was to gauge an instant reaction. It’s backfired to a certain extent, but maybe we were being naïve. You go on message boards and all they talk about is the make-up. We had a write-up in a large US music magazine and the whole piece focused on the make-up, saying that the lines on my face weren’t straight. It was supposed to be a fucking album review! It’s like an art critique!

“We’re a rising band and people feel threatened, and they’re looking for an angle to put us down. It’s easy to say we picked up on a gimmick and maybe there’s some truth there, but at the end of the day, what is wrong with that?

“When we started doing it, it was way the fuck out!” he continues. We played hick-assed bars full of 40-year-olds who’d never heard of us, who weren’t there to see us, they were there to drink. We got up onstage looking like this, played our show, emptied the whole fucking bar out and scared everyone half to death! We got off on that!

“It’s also inevitable that a record company is going to see it as an obvious marketing tool, and 13- or 14-year-old kids are gonna freak on that, and they do and it’s great! We can play to the 30- year-old market as we’re proficient musicians and we’re thoughtful about the music we’re doing; 13-year-olds are gonna come to the shows and buy our album because we’re cartoon characters – we’re from another fucking planet! To me, as an artistic entity, I think that’s really powerful and very positive.”

Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001
Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001

At the same time, doesn’t he think people find it hard to identify with them as people because Mudvayne, as an entity, is not them as people?

“Not at all,” says Spag. “There’s a side to our band that worships anonymity. It’s unfortunate in modern metal that everything has to mean something, has to be explained, has to be lowest common denominator, and there’s no appreciation for intelligence! I think that some of the world’s greatest art, whether it’s paintings, whether it’s sculpture, doesn’t have to explain itself. I think that some of the greatest work that really gives something back to the human experience doesn’t necessarily have to define everything about it. It gives the audience an opportunity to interact with it and make the experience something for themselves, and there’s the identification.”

“We’re about relating to our audience through our own personal experiences,” adds Ryknow. “With our music I believe we reach people and see into their lives through our songs. That’s definitely a part of what we’re about.”

So will there ever be a point when the make-up will come off?

“If the make-up comes off,” says Kud, “then I don’t want to be a part of this band. It’s what I’m about, it’s a way to express myself. It stops me from being just another singer on a stage. We’re not 18 years old, we’re not out there to do a show, try and get inside some chick’s pants and get back on the bus and drive to the next town. We’re more mature. We’re doing this because we’re artists; if we weren’t there’s no way I’d be doing this. I wear my art on my sleeve.”

“The make-up has been a portion of where we are now,” says Ryknow, “but it’s really the music that has brought us through, and there are a lot of people out there, fans or industry people, who get off on the music, people who have not seen what we look like, people who just have a demo tape. This is not the only genre of music I’m involved with, and to say I’m gonna wear make-up to perform all the time is not true. I’m also a jazz singer, I love to sing and I’m not gonna wear make-up all the time. And that goes for Mudvayne. I don’t want to wear make-up all the time and if in the future you see me without make-up then don’t be surprised.”

Kud adds another twist: “Then again,” he says, “not wearing make-up could be wearing make-up…”

On the flip-side of the facepaint is the most important element of the Mudvayne experience – the music. All four individuals are incredibly proficient musicians and their debut album showcases simple yet brutal riffs over a complex rhythm section with deep, deep lyrics, carefully cemented together with electronic interludes to create a continuous body of work. An uncompromising, all-encompassing wall of noise. A whole experience from start to finish.

This is all well and good, but let’s not forget we’re living in a consumer society where everyone’s looking for a quick fix and fast food and the three-minute pop song reigns supreme. So do Mudvayne feel that by being the seven-course candlelit dinner to Limp Bizkit’s ‘burger and shake to go, y’all!’ they are perhaps in some way alienating potential fans by their comparative inaccessibility?

Gurrg disagrees. “I think we’re offering something new. A lot of people have to put up with all this rap-metal stuff as well as the likes of the Backstreet Boys. People are looking for something with meaning and I’d really like to think we’re a part of that.”

“Also, our live shows draw a lot of attention,” interjects Ryknow. “Take Tattoo The Earth, for example: some shows had 60,000 kids going wild, but there were smaller shows that maybe only sold 5,000 tickets. So if you do the math with 10 or so bands, each with around five members and only 5,000 kids, it’s gonna be pretty easy for people to get out there and meet the bands.”

“We’re working on a grassroots level,” agrees Spag. “That’s why we’re touring like this. Our album’s only been out for maybe three months, but we’ve been touring for eight or nine. We’re building up the kids that are gonna buy our next three albums. They’re not just gonna see a video on MTV and be listening to the next big thing three months down the line. That’s what touring is all about – getting out there to actually see the kids and interact with our audience!”

A highly commendable feat it is, too. Getting back to the music, though, it’s apparent that Mudvayne have a shared appreciation of synthetic, pseudo-gothic 80s kitsch pop. This is perhaps a concept that seems alien to metallers on this side of the Atlantic, but it is nevertheless embraced Stateside by everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Orgy, and Marilyn Manson to Fear Factory.

“It’s what I grew up with,” enthuses Spag. “Joy Division, New Order… we’re a new generation of music fans making music. Music has definitely crossed over between heavy metal and electronica with the White Zombies of this world and half the bands we tour with. It was something that started to happen in the 80s. Punk crossed over into metal and you were getting speed metal, through the 90s Ministry popped up, and we’re one of those bands that have grown up in that era before music like that was acceptable. I’d listen to Ozzy and Talking Heads back to back.”

Mudvayne arrive at the 2001 MTV awards
Mudvayne arrive at the 2001 MTV awards

But the question on everyone’s lips is: why focus on such a small part of music from that era? Why settle for the new romantics? Surely as a metal band looking back at the 80s, wouldn’t it have been a more logical conclusion to go down the avenue of thrash or maybe even cock rock?

“Yes, but that wasn’t what was going on, though,” grins Spag. “It was the staple that was being rammed down everybody’s throats. Sure, we listened to cock rock and played it in cover bands, but that’s not what was inspiring me. I’d much rather have sat down and listened to a Christian Death record or a Bauhaus album.”

In the same way as people now see 80s cock rock like Mötley Crüe and Poison as somewhat dated, are people 10 years from now going to see extreme music such as Slipknot and Mudvayne as dated?

“It’s bound to happen,” says Gurrg. We’ll have our own VH1 special!”

“When we talk about cock rock, the first thing we think about is hair, we don’t think about the music” Spag points out. “I think that as a contradiction to that, our music is going to be remembered. Our music actually says something. Also the fact that our look, our images and the visual aspects of our band are going to change means it’ll be hard to pin us down to pink lipstick and backcombed Aqua Net hairdos. In three albums’ time you’re gonna be interviewing a different band. The music is still gonna be Mudvayne. The image is still gonna be Mudvayne, but what you’re hearing and seeing content-wise are not gonna be the same.”

And speaking of the future, how is the entity which we know as Mudvayne going to progress musically?

“One of the things that distances us from Slipknot and is gonna define us in the future is that they’ve set a precedent for themselves that they’re crazier than anybody else,” enthuses Spag. “They’re more extreme or off the wall than anybody else. My interpretation as a listener is that they have to go more extreme on the next record, whereas with our next couple of records we’re going to be able to become more accessible, more commercial. We could be mellower and not necessarily lose our market. There’s a much higher unpredictability ratio with us. On our next album I’d like to pursue the use of melody – more melodic vocals that are hinted at on this album, but more so.

“One of the things that we’d like to do with our music – and Kud and I have talked about it – is bring more of the human experience into our songs emotionally instead of just being this juvenile ‘I hate my parents ’cause they wouldn’t let me out tonight’ aggression. Allowing heavy music to maintain its intensity, but allowing it to express that intensity about being happy, about being sad, intensely lonely, the intensity of depression and just being more human. It’s about maintaining the intensity that we want but not just being angry. I’d like to see that on our next album, bringing a bit of maturity to heavy music. Our live show is a pretty aggressive experience, and we’ve been labelled as being this negative band, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t necessarily see us as being positive, but I’d like to see us walking in-between.”

It has to be said that Mudvayne walk that line with impeccable accuracy, and depending on how the next 12 months shape up, they’ll undoubtedly earn their place alongside Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden in rock’n’roll infamy.

“What I see us doing, and people like Slipknot doing, is creating a new mythology like bands used to that just doesn’t happen anymore,” says Spag. “Iron Maiden for me was a mythology when I was growing up. Judas Priest was a mythology, Skinny Puppy was a mythology. Bands don’t have that anymore, but given a record label that’s understanding, and working with good people that want to see something like this happen, this can happen. If you look at our label, there’s only a few bands in this genre that they’re working with, and we’re the only ones they’re putting time and effort into.”

Oh yes, that age-old record company quandary. Unlike Slipknot, who are signed to independent label Roadrunner Records, Mudvayne inked a deal with Epic, an offshoot of multinational corporation Sony. Slipknot have had time to develop their sound, build their career and expand their fanbase, but is this the case for Mudvayne? Surely a weight of expectancy hangs over the band to sell vast units of records?

Gurrg: “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from different bands, but I don’t think we’re getting that from our label. They’re very supportive with what we wanna do. Of course, they want us to sell albums, but they’re not in a rush to do it. It’s a building process and they know it, and they want to build our career at a grassroots level like we do.”

Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001
Mudvayne onstage at the Ozzfest 2001

Indeed, and the difference between Mudvayne and other new bands is that they are not under any illusions and were aware from the outset that they are a marketable product, a commodity to be bought and sold, and are using this elevated platform to get their artistry to as many people as possible.

“We’ve never had any reservations about being on MTV or the radio,” grins Spag. “Any medium that allows you to communicate your work is positive. You just have to be smart about it, you have to play the game and bend it to your angle. We’ve butted heads a couple of times with the label, but to me that’s the perfect opportunity to test out our creative ability and remain consistent with our vision and retain our integrity. There’s no point saying the label is a bunch of assholes, they gave me money so they could make money. It’s stupid to want this label for so long and when they expect you to do something that’s seen as selling out, to kick up a fuss. What the fuck did you ever think? We’ve had complete intentions of selling out. We want to sell out our shows, we want to sell a million albums. We want to get this out to as many people as possible!”

“Outside the band,” interrupts Ryknow, “each one of us wants to make music. We all enjoy touching people through music, whether any of us is a real people person or not. We want to give people something they can’t get in school or something they can’t get from their parents. Each one of us will always be involved with other projects that deal with different musical aspects. I can’t see us not doing it and we’d be very depressed about it – personally, I’d die without it. We’re gonna be doing what we’re doing for a very long time to come. It’s a Catch 22. There’s a business behind everything, but there’s an art to it. And our project manager understands what we’re about and what we’re trying to do on a core level. But the make-up and the glamour is something very exciting and very intoxicating for an audience.”

So where do Mudvayne go from here?

“The only answer to that is that we’ll run it as long as we can run it,” says Kud. “We’ll run is as long as we can deliver it real!”

So there you go. Mudvayne, third- generation Slipknot clones or the genuine article? Make up your own minds, but if you know a good thing when it hits you, you know what the right answer will be!

Originally published in Metal Hammer in 2000