Puddle Of Mudd's frontman Wes Scantlin has a rare gift of combining instantly memorable melodies and lyrics with a tough bed of electric guitars and pounding drums. The band's newest album titled Songs In The Key Of Love & Hate reveals a range of music from the acoustic ballad sound of "Keep It Together" and the dark thump of "Out Of My Way" to the straightahead sex rock of "Spaceship" and the intimate electricity of "Better Place".
Scantlin is singing better than ever and his infectious blend of ambient sonics like string sounds and Leslie guitars with big grunge vocals sets him apart from man of the other modern rock bands around.
UG: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate has that grunge element but it's still very melodic. It really builds on the Famous album. There are some bands who use the grunge thing but the song itself disappears down a hole somewhere.
Wes Scantlin: The new school of rock is a little bit weird, man. We wanna just try and keep the grunge and keep it as heavy as we possibly could without going overboard.
You call it grunge, I call it
I meant rock but we try to get it as much grunge in there as we could and stuff. I'm actually really proud of the record. And it didn't take forever either and that was kind of cool. We got it wrapped up in about six, seven months.
And that's fast for you?
What we were doing was we were goin' out on the road for four or five days, maybe a week, then we'd come back to LA and we'd go to the studio. We'd record with producer Brian Virtue and we'd do like three songs with him and then we'd go back out on another week-long tour and then we'd come back in and John Kurzweg would be at the same studio the Sage and Sound and we'd go in there and do two or three songs with him. And before all that went down, we went up to Vancouver and did four or five songs with Brian Howes and we went from Vancouver and go fly out on tour for like a week. We'd go out, make some money, play some shows and come back and basically spend our money in the studio making the record. That's kind of how we did it this time.
That sounds like a grueling schedule.
It's a really good way to do it because I'm already singing anyway on tour so my voice is already really strong.
Some musicians would take the opposite view where they want to be off of the road and save their voice for the studio.
No; it's weird. When you're on tour for like a year and your voice is really strong and you get off and you start making the record within a month or a month-and-a-half maybe? Your voice isn't as strong. I was able to just go in there and rip it for like four or five hours straight every day. It was cool, man; it was a good way to do it. I wouldn't mind doing it again like that. And then we got it done pretty quick.
You actually recorded additional material than appeared on the normal release?
There's ultimately 14 songs on the deluxe edition or special edition or something like that. We actually recorded nine or 10 songs and in our back catalog of songs that didn't make it on Famous, Life on Display, or Come Clean, we still have all those songs professionally produced and arranged. So we got like probably 20 more songs that have never even been used for records. So what we did was we took some of the really good ones from the records that didn't get used and we just said, Oh, fuck it, man and we just threw that on there.
Guitarist Paul Phillips has returned to the band. What does he bring to your music? Did you miss him?
I missed the crap out of him. He just wanted to try something else and I said, Alright, man, you want to try something else, OK, go ahead. That wasn't working so good for him and he called me back and he was like, Hey, man, I tried this different thing out and it didn't work so good but I'd like to come back. And I was like, OK, that's cool, man. And then he came up to LA and he stayed at my house and he'd get his bottle of vodka and I'd take my bottle of SoCo and my beers and we'd stay up until three or four o'clock in the morning every night and sit there and have some drinks and write songs and it was great.
Were you angry that Paul left originally?
I wasn't mad at all. I've had a lot of people come and go in this band and some people have gotten, You've gotta go cause your attitude's a little bit bad but Paul didn't really have a bad attitude. He just wanted to try some other kind of stuff [joining the band Society Red] and I'm always kinda like, Hey, man, if that's what you really want to do. I don't get mad at nobody for that. I wish he would have stayed because it's kind of a hard transfer to get another guitar player in there because you've gotta teach him all the songs and you gotta go and do a lot of rehearsals and stuff.
When Paul came back in, it was a very simple kind of transgression [Scantlin means transition.] And he already knows how to play a bunch of other stuff that our old guitar player didn't really know. So it was really an easy-peasy type thing man and I wasn't mad about it at all; I was really happy. It was brutal on me because I had to basically cough up the fact that Christian [Stone] was gonna be gone so I've always got that job and I've gotta do that. It's kind of rough for me mentally because there wasn't nothin' really wrong with Christian; he's a great guy.
When we spoke back during the Famous album, this is what you said about songwriting: 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 percent 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. Has that philosophy remained for the new album?
Yeah, that's my whole thing, man. Simple, simple, simple. A lot of these songs are like three or four chords. The hardest part about the whole thing is the melodies and making the melodies really catchy. That's where I come in and I've gotta do my thing. But the underscore of the song which is the guitars and the bass and the rhythm, they're mostly like three to four to five notes all the time and then my melodies are all kinds of notes and stuff. And then there's little ambience factors that you put like overtone guitars and twiddly parts; those parts really aren't that hard to make up. They just kinda come naturally. And everything is very simple and I just keep writing simple stuff. The only thing is I've gotta come up with really catchy melodies and then I gotta come up with really hooky clich-type vocals and lyrics. That's it, man.
Talk about that process specifically with a song like Spaceship.
I'm usually sitting on my couch with my acoustic and at that point I was tryin' to come up with somethin' kinda like sexy and stuff; do a little sexy thing. I think I was watchin' the science channel and there was somethin' about UFOs. I don't know how I got the Playboy channel at my house but
I bet you don't.
I don't man; I didn't order it. It's just there; it's on.
I don't usually watch it because it makes me feel like I'm really bad in the sack [laughs.] Because those dudes are in there just tearing girls apart. And kinda getting a buzz and most of the time guys are undressing women with their mind. So I was like, Man, it would be kinda cool if I could try to get a girl naked and we were kinda getting a buzz and I could take her on my spaceship and take her for a little cruise in space. That was it, man; it was like four chords and it was very easy.
It was like the Beatles' song Drive My Car where they use an automobile as a sexual suggestion.
Yeah, it's kinda like let's just get it over with and let's get naked. I think I've actually said that a couple times, man, to a few different chicks [laughs.] It's like, Yeah, man, let's just cut the bullshit and get naked.
For you that works and for the rest of us we get slapped in the face.
Yeah, well sometimes it don't work for me either, dude.
"The hardest part about the whole thing is the melodies and making the melodies really catchy."
Keep it Together is the acoustic ballad with strings and this really intimate quality in the vocal.
That's a sampled cello; it's like a keyboard. They've sampled real cellos but you're just hittin' keys. Me and Paul were sittin' in my house on the couch with two acoustic guitars and our drinks and he just played the riff. In the beginning he showed it to me at rehearsal and I didn't really like the way that it was kinda goin' in a certain way. So when we got home that night, I was like, OK, I'll make it better. I got the guitar and I just totally transformed it into a better song because it was a little bit kind of cheesy in the beginning. I changed it up real quick and Paul was like, OK, cool; great. So I gave him back the guitar and then I started making up all the melodies and I started writing all the lyrics and it came out very simple and it was done.
That lyric I would take a bullet/just to save your life was pretty deep.
Whenever I'm writing a new record, I will lose the person that I'm with because they can't grasp the fact of what I do. I stay up really late and I'm just playing guitar all night for days and weeks and months on end and they get sick of it. But my wife is really cool and she's been hangin' in there for me for a long time; she's made it through two records. It was starting to get really painful for her because I would be up all the time and she'd be sad and she'd be like, Man, I just can't take this anymore. That song is basically me just telling my wife, If you can just keep it together a little bit longer, just hang in there. I'll be done with the writing; the record will be over and we'll be back to normal. But in all honesty, it's like, Yeah, then I'm gonna go on tour. I usually just tell her, Look, I'm really sorry but I thought you knew what you were getting yourself into. And then she's either gotta bite her lip or she's gonna have to say good-bye.
Out of My Way was a dark song.
That was Paul, man; Paul brought a lot of that edgy guitars back in which was really cool. And Ryan wanted to make the beat just really simple kinda like AC/DC because I was tryin' to go for more of a galloping type beat and I came in the next day and Ryan and Brian Virtue had already worked out another way of doin' the drum beat. I already had the lyrics and melodies ready to go. That was a teamwork type song and everybody just made it pretty simple. And that song was about I'm goin' out of my way to make everybody happy, dude. I'm always goin' the extra mile for everybody. I got a lot of people that I gotta take care of financially; I got a lot of weight on my shoulders. But this is my gig and I've gotta take care of em all.
You're the Reason is a great example of that ambient thing you're talking about.
We wrote that song about four years ago with Duane Betts who is Dickie Betts' son and he's the guy playing the guitar solo in that song. He wrote a little bit of the arrangement. The lyrics and melodies I just wrote real quick. I wrote that song about my son and my mom and my dad.
Pitchin' a Fit was a cool rocker.
Yeah; that's actually one of my favorite songs on this new record, dude. That's kinda the song where my wife comes down the stairs at four in the morning and I think I wrote that song right in front of her. She's sittin' on the couch going, When are you going to come to bed? Her grandmother told me, Oh, don't you worry about Jessica; she's always pitchin' a fit. So I got that from her grandmother because in Tennessee they got kind of a twang when they talk so that's like a southern term.
Better Place is a ballad that was written about someone?
Yeah, that's about my cousin Sean that just recently died almost a year ago. So I took a picture of him out of my wallet and actually Christian Stone, the old guitar player, was comin' up to my house and he had that song already kind of recorded. I ended up writing it about Sean. It's really just about anybody you lose to somethin' crazy; it could be a car wreck or someone overdosing on drugs; it could be your grandmother just dying of old age. Somebody that you really loved and you missed the crud out of em.
We have an acoustic version; we didn't get to work on it as long as we got to work on the rockin' version so it didn't come out as good.
You've done a lot more co-writing on this album with Paul Phillips, Brian Howes, Ryan Yerdon, and Doug Ardito than you did on Famous. Do you welcome in outside writers?
Yeah; if somebody brings me in like Christian brought me in that Better Place song already pretty much done with rhythm and guitar parts and it's simple and it's something I can sing to and not have to do some fuckin' weird singing, I love that and I welcome that all the time.
"I'm actually really proud of the record."
What guitars were you playing?
I used a Les Paul goldtop; I'm endorsed by Gibson and they give me all my lovely guitars. I think we used a Fender Strat or a Telecaster for the brighter-type parts and then we also used another Les Paul I've been usin' on stage for the last five or six years. And that was pretty much it. When we were recording with Brian Howes up in Vancouver, we also just used one goldtop that he always uses. As long as it stays in tune and holds the tune, then you're money. I think we used a Taylor J-45 and a Gibson six- and 12-string.
Brian Howes has got all the amps and everything; he's got every head and everything you could think of. We had some Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifiers; we had some Dual Rectifiers; we used some Marshall JCM800s. We had a lot of different pedals for the cool effects and stuff.
At the beginning of the conversation we touched on songwriting and new music. Did you have any sense that musicals tastes had changed since you recorded the Famous album?
No, because I swear, dude, I don't listen to the new stuff. I'm not trying to disrespect any bands or nothin' but a lot of it sounds candy-coated to me because I grew up in a totally different era. Some of the kids are trying to look like they're punks but they're not; but it's more kinda like pop rock. And they're skaters or somethin'. I'm just sittin' there going, OK, maybe you can fool the little kids but you can't fool me. My punk rock is back in the day of the Exploited and actual real punk rock bands.
What is the feeling when you go out on the road to promote a new record and play songs for the first time?
It's killer, man, because our set seriously are all number one radio rock hits; it's a cool feeling. But we like to play b sides and songs that didn't really get to the radio and videos and whatever. I know the fans like to hear them too but we throw them in there for our own sanity. Now there are going to be four to five more radio singles so we're gonna have 20-somethin' radio hit singles and we're gonna have to try and figure out how to play all of them every night. It's freaky.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"Whenever I'm writing a new record, I will lose the person that I'm with because they can't grasp the fact of what I do."