December 16, 2019 Interview – Mike Mushok of Saint Asonia & Staind
Dedicating his life to music, Bay Stater Mike Mushok has been an important part of the Hard Rock/Alternative Metal scene for 20 years now. First finding success with Staind, Mushok’s guitar work laid the ground work for the band’s unique sound that made them a sustained multi-platinum selling act. Finding other creative outlets in the wake of a Staind hiatus, he would go on to join Newsted, and more recently put together Saint Asonia.
Saint Asonia, a Hard Rock band featuring former Three Days Grace Vocalist Adam Gontier, first saw the light of day back in 2015 with their impressive debut album. An effort which found them peaking in charts, they return in 2019 with Flawed Design, proving this band is for keeps. Keeping busy and enjoying everything life has to offer, Mushok sat down to talk the hard work he has put into music, Staind’s past, present, and future, the hopes for Saint Asonia, plus a bunch more.
Cryptic Rock – Having been involved in Rock/Metal for well over two decades, you had a tremendous amount of success with Staind leading into Saint Asonia. Before going any further, briefly tell us, how would you describe your journey in music?
Mike Mushok – I feel it started as long as I can remember – when I started playing guitar when I was 6. I feel very fortunate. My goal was always to try and make a living playing my own music, and I feel very fortunate I’ve been able to accomplish that. It’s not easy! (Laughs) The music industry has changed a lot over the years. We worked very hard in Staind getting a record deal, we were able to find some success, but it’s a lot of work. Whatever you do that you’re successful at takes a lot of work, and the music business is no different.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. You certainly put a lot of hard work into Staind and you sustained the success for over a decade when the band was consistently putting out records. Part of Staind’s success is attributed to your unique guitar style. Tell us a little bit about how you developed your style over the years.
Mike Mushok – I don’t know. It’s so different from where I started. I started coming up with those ’80s shredders and writing instrumental music, because I never really had a singer. Then I found Aaron (Lewis), and it was like, “Ah, where has this guy been!” Finally it was someone to be able to write with.
It really changed a lot in that time. The down-tuned stuff started coming in and I thought that was really cool; I discovered a baritone guitar, started playing that, and started playing with a lot of different tunings. I just kind of stumbled on things. Again, it kind of came from hard work, just really sitting down and playing for hours on end. That’s what it really takes if you are trying to find your own voice, there is no other way to do that. For me, anyway, it was just taking the time and putting the work in; trying to figure things out on your own and what works for you.
Cryptic Rock – That work ethic is evident for sure in your music. Outside Staind you would go on to team up with Jason Newsted for a while with Newsted, and now you are with Saint Asonia. How did Saint Asonia come up for you?
Mike Mushok – It kind of came up because Staind stopped working and I had all this music kicking around. I was trying to think of what to do. I thought of the Slash model – he’s a guitar player, and he worked with different singers; I thought that was a great idea. I had all these singers I knew – toured with over the years and was friends with. I started reaching out to different guys and sending them some music.
Actually, one of the last Newsted shows we played was in Toronto and I was talking with Adam, who I toured with when he was in Three Days Grace and I was in Staind, and I said, “Hey, I’ve got some music and am looking for some guys to sing on it.” The tour ended in Toronto, I ended up staying there after that, we got together, I played him some music, and that is where it all started.
Funny enough, the first single off the new Saint Asonia record, “The Hunted,” kind of came about the same way. That is a song I wrote with Sully Erna of Godsmack in that same time. We never really did anything with it and we were doing this record, and our manager who always really liked the song said, “What about ‘The Hunted?’” Adam heard it before, liked it, and that is how we brought it back around, gave it a bit of a facelift, rewrote a couple of parts, and it ended up being the first single. That’s really how Saint Asonia started: me writing with different singers, and Adam left Three Days Grace at that time. Those songs we wrote together that day took a minute, but it ended up turning into more.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear how it all came about. Saint Asonia’s debut album hit in 2015. A successful album, you return now with Flawed Design. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Mike Mushok – It was similar. It started a while back, it started when we were out on the road. We went through a few different phases, we got a few songs, got them demoed, ended up changing labels. Adam had a son and stuff he had to take care of. Then finally, maybe a year ago or so, we said, “Let’s get all our ideas together and figure out what we’re going to do.”
There were a lot of songs written during that time. Adam also wanted to write with some other people as well, which was different for me and something I’ve never really done before. That was cool for me, it’s always cool to work with other people that are good at their craft and songwriting.
Right before the holidays last year we decided on what we were going to make for the record, and in the beginning of 2019 we got together, sat in a room and played together. Worked through the songs together, made sure all the arrangements were what they needed to be and started tracking it at the beginning of this year.
Cryptic Rock – The end result is quite good. You collaborated with many people, such as Sully from Godsmack, Keith Wallen from Breaking Benjamin, Sharon den Adel from Within Temptation, Dustin Bates from Starset, etc. There is a lot going on with this album.
Mike Mushok – For sure, there really is. I think the fact that it took the time that it did, it was able to get those collaborations going; those things sometimes take a minute to get to work. I think that also played one of the strengths of it being a diverse, strong album.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, it did. Yourself and Adam are the core of Saint Asonia. For this new album, you bring in a new lineup that includes Staind’s Sal Giancarelli and Adam’s cousin Cale Gontier, formerly of Art of Dying. What has it been like working with them?
Mike Mushok – My relationship with Sal goes back before Staind was signed; he was a drummer in bands we used to play with back in the day. Sal ended up working for the band starting in 1999 and on and off. I always knew he was a super talented drummer. The same thing with Cale – Corey Lowery ended up going to play in Seether. Cale made the most sense; Adam has been playing on and off with him his whole life. He is a super talented, nice guy who came in and is doing a great job. It feels good.
Cryptic Rock – Fantastic. Saint Asonia just wrapped up touring for 2019. Are there any plans for further touring in 2020?
Mike Mushok – We are trying to find some other things that make sense for us to do in 2020. The plan is to get out there the beginning of next year; we are going to try and get out there and see what’s available.
Cryptic Rock – That is something to look forward to. We spoke with Adam back in 2015 for the debut Saint Asonia album. He was very passionate about the band, stating this is not something that was going to be a one-off thing; it is something that will be sustained. Do you share that outlook?
Mike Mushok – Yes, that’s always the goal. The goal is to keep putting out music and trying to build something that people want to be a part of. We want people to listen to what we have to play and still come to shows.
Cryptic Rock – The album is getting a lot of positive feedback, so let’s hope it continues to grow. Amidst all of this, you have also been active with Staind. You have the 20th anniversary of 1999’s Dysfunction and you did a limited tour. What has it been like working with Staind again?
Mike Mushok – It’s been fun. To be able to go back out there and play those songs that we wrote and hadn’t played in a long time was definitely very cool. The shows all went really well – it was a positive experience all around.
Cryptic Rock – Great to hear! Fans are probably very curious to know if something more will come from Staind in the future. Is a new album out of the realm of possibility?
Mike Mushok – I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see on that. I kind of take it as it comes. It’s been more off than on over the past 10 years, but I think it was positive for everybody all around in what we just did. It was fun and that’s what it’s all about – to be able to go out there, enjoy yourself, and hopefully have fans enjoy the music that we put out and want to come to shows and hear it again. I’m open for anything. We will just have to wait and see; we will have to regroup after we finish this little run, and see where that takes us.
Cryptic Rock – It’s positive to hear the door is not closed. As mentioned, it has been a four year gap between Saint Asonia records, but beyond that, you have been an active touring musician for over two decades. What was it like taking that time off to be at home to be with your family?
Mike Mushok – Amazing! (Laughs) Honestly, it’s hard to get back up and leave. I have twelve, soon to be thirteen-year-old twins. They have a lot going on and are very busy with their activities. My sons play baseball – they made States! Just being able to be there, help out, be a part of it, it’s just great. My daughter is at horse shows every weekend. It’s just great to be able to be there and be part of that. I’ve been really thankful for that time.
I see headlines of guys leaving bands because they want to spend time with their family and they’re too much away – I get it! It’s hard, it’s really hard. You bring these people into the world and they’re relying on you. I need to provide for them so we can live, but on the other hand, what’s more valuable than your time? Anyway, it’s been really nice to be home, spend that time with my family; it’s invaluable.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like you do not take it for granted and that is wonderful as well. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Mike Mushok – When I was a kid I went through a phase where me and my friends had to watch every Horror movie that was ever made – that was a lot of years ago. (Laughs) I have to say I’ve probably read every Stephen King book there is, so I’m always a fan of the adaptations of his books – I still go catch those.
For Sci-Fi, Marvel falls under that and I think they are great. I definitely enjoy all those for sure. For me a movie is such a great escape. If I can get two hours away from all the things I deal with on a daily basis, it’s great to be able to sit down and disconnect for a minute. It’s fun.