You listen to Puddle Of Mudd
album and you're slammed in the face with huge metal guitars and dragged along by a furiously powerful rhythm section. If you look closely at the liner notes, you'll see that some of these guitar parts and drums and bass parts were not performed by the band but by some of the industry's most gifted session rats. Players like Tim Pierce
(guitar) and drummers Kenny Aronoff
, Abe Laboriel Jr
. and Josh Freese
, and others have been brought out to more fully realize singer/writer Wes Scantlin
It can be a dangerous game to play in a world where most modern rock bands are autonomous units and no one from the outside ever gets in. But Kansas City, Missouri native Scantlin
is nor ordinary musician. He possesses the delicate and unique skills of the truly gifted composer and is able to conceive brilliantly simple little melodies and then weave them around intricate arrangements.
, an album that has been out for sometime now, tracks like the title itself, "Psycho
" and "We Don't Have To Look Back Now
" still stand up all these months later. They were hits when originally released back in October 2007 and continue to receive regular airplay.
The singer is working on a new Puddle Of Mudd
album (as well as several other projects) but this conversation was devoted mainly to the Famous
recording. Though he presents a pretty intense visage when he's on stage, Wes
is, in reality, a pretty laid back cat with an easygoing nature. In fact, he opened this conversation by revealing that he got "Snipped by a bus on my big toe and it almost scraped it off, man. That was terrible but I'm alive.
And with a big chuckle and a deep breath, we began.
UG: The thing that is so intriguing about what you do is that you bring in outside players for the albums. Just about every modern rock band like Puddle of Mudd always keeps the music self-contained - rarely are outsiders invited in to provide additional guitars and bass and drums. And yet the Famous album features auxiliary players on virtually every song. Where did this thought process come from?
Well, to be honest, man, we did work with several different producers, songwriters, singers, and drummers. And not only do you have to keep your mind open, you have to keep your heart open. Because everybody at the end of the day has feelings and you really don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Since I've been doing this for like 20 years, you give everybody the benefit of the doubt as much as you possibly can and you try to people come up with good ideas and sometimes people that come up with good ideas actually come up with not such great ideas. You've got to kill 'em with kindness.
I mean I've been doing this for a while so I'm just saying, I kinda know what I'm doing. And when I'm working with other people that know what they're doin', sometimes even though I know what I'm doin', I kinda gotta take a back step and go, I'm wrong, you're right. Then they also in turn have to say, You know what? I think I'm wrong, too, and you're checkin' me, so, you know what, man? I think you were right. So it's nice to deal with people that are as sympathetic as you are.
The studio players on the album are pretty extraordinary: guitarist Tim Pierce and drummers Abe Laboriel Jr. and Kenny Aronoff. Were these musicians people you specifically chose? Or were they selected by the various producers on the record?
We worked with a guy who's like a mixer; he's our A&R guy, his name is Jack Joseph Puig. And he was bringing all those guys in and just sayin' like, Hey, you know, it would be kind of cool if you'd work with this cat. And so I was like, Alright (because) these people were like legends and stuff; we got to work with some legendary drummers, you know. I got no problem with that, dude. Abe's the man, Kenny's the man, Josh Freese is the man; all the drummers are completely awesome and all the producers and songwriters and everybody that was involved in the entire process of making the record. God Bless everybody and their families and I wouldn't change it for the world, man.
It's that sort of Brian Wilson mentality with the Beach Boys where you bring in the perfect musician for each track. Even if that meant that his band didn't play on a song.
|"I really like the simplicity factor stuff."|
Lately I've been looking at the whole situation of songwriting and I've been listening to a lot of different things. And most of the time, 90 per cent of the time, the really great songs are really simple and come out really quick and don't take a lot of looking over; they just kinda happen really nicely. And that's what I'm gonna try to keep (when I'm) making the new records and at the same rate, it's really nice to work with talented people, man. So I guess I feel pretty blessed by God and that's about it, man, really.
Is there a fine line you need to walk between being an artist and doing what you naturally do? And trying to accommodate what your label might require of you? Was that part of the reason for working with outside musicians and producers? You said you like to keep it simple and yet the arrangements and production on Famous was pretty elaborate with strings and synths and everything. There's a point where you can refine Puddle of Mudd's sound too much and lose the essence of what the band is.
Yeah, you know man, that's a really tricky question. It gets frustrating but you just kinda gotta take a couple steps back, assess the situation with the right mindset. To me, really, man, basically, I just boil it down to simplicity and basicness. If you step back and take a couple checks at it and if it feels really, really good to you you can do all kinds of different things to simple songs as well. You can throw strings and horns and keyboard parts and extra guitar ambience and all kinds of different lower tunes and you can do all kinds of different things nowadays especially with Pro Tools.
You know, man, it's like sometimes I really just want to break it down, bare bone it and just do it raw dog. But, you know, it's really beautiful actually when there's actually like strings and violins and all kinds of cool music that's added; different musical instruments that are added to the whole mixture of a song. Sometimes it enhances it and sometimes it doesn't do so good.
The record label, the head cheeses in charge, they're always looking and combing it with a fine, with a really thin comb. And you just deal with it and you get along with them as good as you can. And at the end of the day I always thank God and I just let God handle it 'cause it'll all work out. If it's a hit, it's a hit; if it's not a hit, it's not a hit. So, move on. There are plenty of songs that I've thrown to the left and to the right and, OK, I'm done with that, it's not a hit. It's kind of freaky.
Freaky, indeed. Famous was a hit; Psycho was a hit
We Don't Have to Look Back Now
Was a hit.
That's an intriguing track because it is a little left of center for you. There were acoustic guitars and pianos; Tim Pierce is on electric guitar who is one of the greatest players around.
The guy was awesome. Oh, my God, that guy's insane, man! I'm serious, dude. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was absolutely adorable to see him play guitar.
Let's talk about this for a minute, Wes. Did you have a chance to talk with Tim about how he finds parts and records? Do you get that deep into trying to learn how to come up with better guitar tones and that type of thing?
People like Tim Pierce and Abe and Kenny Aronoff and Josh Freese, it looks to me like, Just take a real big deep fresh breath of air and mellow out and get in a zone. They just kind of like get into their little own zones and they seem like they're comfortable in their zones. It's like watchin' Brett Favre on a good day or something or watchin' Tony Romo or some badass running back run his ball and you just know he feels everything is OK that day. You try to get in the zone, man, that's it; just find the zone and when you find it, make sure you stay there as long as you can and then get a good night's sleep (laughs).
Are the guitar tones you created on Famous a little more adventurous than what you created on Life On Display? Is the pursuit of ever expanding guitar tones something that interests you?
Yeah, I've got like a bunch of Gibson Les Pauls; I've got Fenders (but) Gibson's like my main guitar. Yeah, when you're working on a record, you try and throw as many cool tones as you possibly can into the song. Be it guitar, be it bass, be it drums, be it violins or mandolins or anything; and just like making a big pot of stew that's just really awesome, man. And you just hope to God at the end of the day that you did your job the right way and had a good time doin' it.
Do the various producers bring out different pieces of you? Was working with Howard Benson a different experience than working with Brian Howes?
Really seriously, dude, I don't get that meticulous about the whole situation. Howard Benson was very, very easy to work with; it took me an hour-and-a-half to sing the vocals to Psycho. And then it took me about a month-and-a-half to drill down about 18 songs with Bill Stevenson in Colorado who was also really easy to work with but he was a little bit more meticulous than Benson. And Brian Howes was very easy to work with; he's a really great songwriter. Everybody is all real great but I'd say Howard and Brian Howes were both very, very, very easy to work with. They kind of knew how I rolled and they just kind of used it for what they had to use it for.
Heck, man, Psycho went number one for a while there. Howard, man, was the easiest dude to work with; I just like high-fived him and he'd put me up in this weird, like ceiling attic room or something. It was like an attic above his studio where he makes the singers sing. And he's like, Anything you need? And I'm like, Well, I'll take this and I'll take this and I'll take this. And he's like, OK, is that it? And I'm like, OK. He's like, I'll be downstairs recording ya and I'll be on the cans and he's like, Do whatever ya want, man, it's cool. We're gonna make this real quick and it was kinda like going to a really cool dentist's office or somethin'. There was no pain involved in the whole situation.
Though you may have been expecting a lot of pain walking in, right?
Well, I kinda was, but then I walked in and he kinda like was just really cool. And I was like, Wow, this is really simple; I like this. I really like the simplicity factor stuff.
Is that the position you take on composition as well? Simple is better?
|"90 per cent of the time, the really great songs are simple and come out quick."|
Yeah, I'm talkin' like simplicity, man; that's the key. Because out of simplicity you can make magical things happen and there can be some meticulous type things that can bounce into the simple factor. But you know, still bare bone it, man, and use the notes themselves.
The song Blurry is three chords; I mean that's three notes, dude, really! In a basic world, it's only three notes. I mean you can play it with one finger on a guitar. You know what I'm saying? I'm telling the truth here, man, I'm not lyin'.
And that's obviously why your songs work so well. From the outside, they sound pretty complex harmonically - lots of changes and stuff. But at the heart of your music it's just you and an acoustic guitar initially strumming the song down.
Yeah; I write simple songs. I'll tell you what, man, the truth of the matter is, you get some simple notes and then you surround it by a really cool melody. I'm more of a kind of a melody man, you know what I'm sayin'? That's what I'm doin' that other people I'm not sayin' they can't do it but I happen to have this knack to be able to write melodies which are done with your vocal cords in your body. So I'm creating notes with my own voice and those notes usually are the notes that people come up to you at the end of the day and say, Hey, man, wow that song you know, duhduh duh da duuuuh da (scats simple melody)? I've never had anybody come up to me and go, Dodododo do doo doodoo do boop boop boop boop (mimics complex quasi-synth-like line).
It's the melody of the singer singing the song and it's really cool actually to finally figure that out a couple of years ago. That, Wow, man, the melody are notes and they are real notes and it's kinda funny, man. I think that great singers and great melodicists are awesome.
You mention that you only discovered this concept a couple years ago. You've been listening to bands like Nivana and Van Halen and Led Zepplin for a long time, so what is it you learned from them? Certainly Jimmy Page is the king of all melodies but you don't really hear a lot of those influences in your music.
Jimmy Page, of course, but I totally agree with you, man. People say I sound like Curt Kobain quite a bit and there's nothing wrong with that but at the same time, I always step back from a situation at hand and go, I kinda sorta sound like him maybe right there but I didn't mean to do it. And it's just a natural thing that happens. Curt was a really great melodicist; Curt would write like this real simple three-chord type deal and make up a bunch of really cool melodies. Or just go for it and just belt it out. It's all different and it's mind boggling to look at it in a meticulous way but I haven't got enough time to do that, dude. I'd rather just keep everything as simple as I possibly can and that's it, dude.
Have you been giving thought to a new Puddle of Mudd record?
Yeah, I've already been working on it, man; I've been working on the new record. I just got home from Iraq like a month ago and I started writing a bunch of really cool songs. I've got a solo record that's gonna come out pretty soon. We're gonna do like a record of cover songs that are like number one hits by other artists like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin and we're gonna do this whole new cool 12-track record where it's not even our songs. And then we're also at the same time writing a new original record, too. And we're always writing anyway; everybody in the band is writing all the time, dude. It's like a never-ending writing process and I walk on the bus and Christian (Stone) has got four new songs and I'll walk on the bus or I'll be at home and call him and he'll go, Hey, dude, man, I just wrote like four awesome songs. Or maybe they're not so awesome but they felt kinda good! And he'll come over.
And I'm always checkin' myself; I'm not trying to say I'm awesome or anything but it's fun to be able to do this, man. It's kind of a cool job, man, you know? It's a hobby that became a job that you get paid a little bit of money on.
Living the dream has to be pretty sweet.
Gotta live the dream, man.
You mentioned Christian just a moment ago and he was recently broad on board to replace Paul Phillips. Paul, in turn, had replaced guitar players before him. Additionally, you've gone through several different drummers and bass players along the way. Is it that you were looking for players to carry out your sort of creative vision and some of these guys just didn't cut it?
Well, Paul bailed out, man; he just wanted to go do somethin' different so he bailed. And then it took us a while; it took me and Doug (Ardito) at least two years to get Christian onboard which was nice but it's really hard to find good musicians. You want them to be good songwriters and at the same time you want 'em to be really cool people because you know that you're gonna have to hang out with 'em, man. You've got to be cool, please be cool. There's some people that tried to get into the band but it was just like, Yeah, but, you're kinda mean; I don't think I want to hang out with anybody mean. I'm gonna go ahead and go this way, you go that way, and I'm gonna go find somebody else on that trail. Seriously man.
At the end of the day, how would people characterize you? If you talked to the various musicians who have been in and out of Puddle of Mudd, how would they size you up?
|"I've got a lot more kind of soul in my voice now."|
I believe that 90 per cent of the time, maybe 95 per cent of the time, everybody is gonna have at the end of the day a nice comment. They might actually throw in a, Wow, man! What was he doing that night? Most of the time people would probably go, Yeah, I wanna work with that dude and I wanna write a song with that guy and he seems like a pretty nice guy. He doesn't seem like he's gonna try to bumrush me or my family or anybody. If somebody had a kid, I'd take care of their kid just for the heck of it.
Let's close our conversation with you summarizing in 25 words how you evaluate the Famous album.
Twenty-five words? Alright, I gotta count this. Awesome
Technically awesome. Basic; simple; lovely.
Rate the level of the songwriting?
I'd say a 9.5 on a Richter.
Level of your guitar playing?
Me? I'd say a 9.37582.
Now, 15 words on the level of your vocal performances.
Ah, all 13 or those? Is that live or in studio?
OK, in the studio my vocal performances is that polished and cleaned up and swept and cleared and stuff, too? I would say vocally as a singer, I would give myself a rating - I'll go song-by-song - Famous, nailed it pretty good and I'll give that a 9.1. I'm gonna say that Psycho, due to the amount of time spent in the studio, I'm gonna give that a 9.95. We Don't Have To Look Back Now, I'm gonna give that a, you know, maybe a 9.069. I'm not gonna blow myself up though so hold on.
The other songs on the record, I'm gonna go all around, basically, I pretty much hit pretty much everything in the studio as a vocal performer at about a 9.7, maybe a 9.6; I'm gonna go 9.5 all around.
Now, take that average of 9.5, and compare that to your performances on this upcoming Puddle of Mudd album.
I don't know the answer to that but I'm gonna go, I'm gonna say that this next record that I do is gonna be in the point in 9.85 category.
So you're pushing yourself as a vocalist and reaching deeper inside to express yourself more fully as an artist?
I've got a lot more kind of soul in my voice now and I know how to do a lot more trickier type things. Yeah, I've been kind of doing this for a while so I've been figuring out other different things to do. I need to work on my falsetto voices even though I really don't ever use 'em; but I need to work on that. And that's about it man; there's a lot of different things you can work on. My voice is really strong right now and hopefully we can start doing recordings right when I get back.
It's gonna be cool, man, it's gonna be alright. You know, dude? At the end of the day, dude? It's gonna be fine. I've been doing this for like 20 years, dude.
Editor's note: Originally Steven hadn't included the ending of the interview that you will find below, but after our request he eventually sent it over.
You're a pro.
You're a pro. This is the best interview I've ever had in my life, dude.
Yeah, you're the most meticulous, awesome different questions; it's like cool to talk to you, it's really awesome.
That's really nice, I really appreciate it.
No, I'm serious, Steve. I do all the interviews for the band every single day and you have had the best questions out of anybody that I've had an interview with or a phoner or whatever you want to call it. You have the most natural and original and organic questions that I've ever had to answer.
Thank you so much, Wes; you made my day.
Yeah, man, you have a good day. And God bless you and your family, bud.
Interview by Steven Rosen