Skinny: Mushroomhead Is More Than Masks
It used to be “give the drummer some!” Nowadays drummers are getting more than their share, with guys like Dave Grohl leading the Foo Fighters and Tommy Lee doing everything on his latest solo album. Enter Mushroomhead’s Skinny, a.k.a. Steve Felton when he’s wearing one of his many other hats. Besides skin-bashing duties the 31-year-old Detroit-born drummer has produced, mixed, mastered, and programmed all of the band’s projects (including their Universal debut XX, with re-mix help from Toby Wright), designed stages and masks, and has served as the band’s business manager.
“I handled the whole management end from ’92 when we started until last December,” Skinny explains of the group’s beginnings in Cleveland. “There comes a point where you know so much about how you want things, that you can’t let anyone else do it. Being an artist it’s hard to describe [what you’re about]. So you just have to do it until people get the idea, then you can tell who really understands enough to help you. Throughout the years my drumming took a back seat. Really, I’m not going to blame anyone but myself. The creative process definitely gets stunted, because you’re spending so much time on the look, the management, the merchandise, everything. It took me a few years to realize that was happening.”
Growing up in Lavonia, Michigan (he moved to Cleveland in junior high), Skinny and his older brother, Mushroomhead-guitarist Gravy, were certifiable metal-heads, “Very much Kiss kids, into the whole theatrical rock element.” Watching his brother practice in a band called Purgatory, which also featured current Mushroomhead vocalist Jeffrey Nothing, Skinny saw his future with drumming.
“I was in the eighth grade when I started getting interested in drums,” he says. “I started late, didn’t really start until tenth or eleventh grade. The first song I learned how to play was Megadeth’s ’Peace Sells.’ I was rooted into wanting to play extreme double bass and heavy metal, very much into the whole Gar Samuelson crossover between heavy drums and kind of a jazz influence. Gar, I still listen to his stuff and go, man, that guy was just killing. Then I got into bands like the Accused and Sacred Reich.”
Skinny went in and out of several bands while traversing the Cleveland metal scene. After graduating high school he joined his brother in a shredding band called Hatrix, who scored a record deal with the German label Massacre. “Just brutal stuff,” the self-taught skin-basher smirks. “I sit back and listen to it now and go, I was way faster than I am now.”
In the midst of all the playing, all the bands, the entity now known as Mushroomhead started to take shape in 1992. “I was 21,” he explains. “It was a studio project, originally. Jeffrey Nothing, the singer, and I were in Hatrix, and we were looking for something a little more experimental. Shmotz, our current keyboard player, was actually a bass player at the time. He had a piano at his house, so he knew how to play a couple tunes. We had a couple keyboards, old school Korg DW8000s we used in Hatrix. And we were just hangin’ out one day, and Shmotz started playing around on the keyboard and I was like, ’Hey, do that again.’ And we just started experimenting. We recorded four songs from that, ’43’ being one of them, which is actually on the new album.
“We were all in different bands. Myself and Jeff being in Hatrix. J Mann, our other singer, was in a band called Unified Culture. Hatrix was very industrial and heavy, technical-thrash. Unified Culture was like rap-funk-metal. To make a long story short, we didn’t want to get the stereotype of a funk-metal technical extravaganza. We wanted a project where there would be no boundaries, where there really weren’t formula-based songs. The whole Seattle thing was big at the time, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were kind of taking over. The idea with the masks was just to wear them and not let anyone know [who we were], just come out. And we got a great response, at least in Cleveland, anyways. The idea was to push the music, not the people.”
But wait, we know what you’re thinking. These guys kind of look like that other metal band with masks and jumpsuits, Slipknot. Skinny knows the questions are coming, and he’s ready. “In ’97 and ’98 we were talking to Roadrunner,” he explains. “They had everything on us, from the first two independent albums to Remix (1997) to full color calendars. Tons of pictures, you know, where the bass player’s wearing the pig mask, I’m in a gas mask, the one guitar player’s got the bondage mask. Then in ’98-99 here comes Slipknot. Looking just like us. And on the same label that we were talking with. There have been a lot of rumors. There are similarities. If they’re going to say that they didn’t rip us off, whatever. If anyone really cares who came first, go ahead and do the research. We’ve been around longer, if it really matters. I don’t think it does.”
Skinny continues with no hint of resentment. “We’re really not bitter at Slipknot, although ... they really don’t like us,” he laughs. “I’m not so much salty as I am curious as to how it happened. If Corey, that singer kid, and that clown guy wanted to talk about it, I’d love to find out what happened. Instead they go around in magazines bashing us and saying they’re going to beat us up. Whatever, dude. I’m 31. I’ve got two kids. Do you really want to beat me up? I’d love to see you try, for one, because I know you’re not bigger than me.” For the record, Skinny is 6'1", 185 pounds; Slipknot-drummer Joey Jordison is, well, diminutive.
When asked about Jordison, Skinny pulls no punches. “Drum wise, [Joey’s] a genius, man. He’s incredible. If I was him, I would never let those percussionist guys stomp all over my killer playing. I’d be, ’Bury them in the mix or get them out of the band, because I’m playin’ my ass off.’ Hands down, the kid smokes me. I’m not a flash player, I’m not a showoff guy...I’m really not that good! [laughs] But seriously, Joey’s incredible, and I can’t believe that he lets those guys stomp all over his tracks. I mean, they don’t make Modern Beerkeg Player, do they?”