“We Walked Behind Our Middle Fingers” an interview with Mudvayne’s Chad Gray
Formed in Peoria Illinois during the mid-90s, US heavyweights Mudvayne quickly rose to prominence within the early 2000s nu metal tsunami. The release of their breakthrough album L.D. 50 was the catalyst for four more studio albums and 10 years of touring internationally with the likes of Slayer, Rob Zombie and Metallica amongst a plethora of others.
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Now after a long hiatus, Mudvayne are back and making their way to Australia for the first time in nearly 20 years with fellow nu metal stalwarts Coal Chamber in tow. I took some time to chat with vocalist Chad Gray about returning down under in 2024.
“I love Australia, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, it’s all so beautiful” Chad exclaims as soon as our morning interview kicks off. Expressing a vivacious enthusiasm for his band’s return to Australia for the first time since their Big Day Out appearance back in 2006, which saw Mudvayne headline nationally amongst the likes of Iggy And The Stooges, The White Stripes, and Franz Ferdinand.
As a matter of fact, Chad’s inherent enthusiasm extends to Mudvayne’s reunion as a whole, stating “We went away before people really wanted us to go away”. In 2023 alone the band has steamrolled through a total of 26 US dates on their Psychotherapy Sessions Tour receiving monumental reviews in the process. “There was this decade of people wanting us but they couldn’t have us, and now that we are back people are really excited” is a statement that summarises the reception of the Summer tour from the enraptured frontman.
Mudvayne Australia 2023
“But I gotta be straight with you, nothing against America, but we all got really excited hearing that Australia was even a possibility,” Chad tells me in a hushed tone. “I made a lot of friends touring down there with Mudvayne and even later on with Hellyeah”. A brief enquiry into Melbourne’s fabled Festival Hall venue only serves to further excite Gray as he exclaims that “these shows are going to be insane!”
In true Mixdown fashion, the topic quickly turns to gear as Chad spots a few of my guitars in the background of our Zoom session. In an instant, he is pointing out his prized Dean Cadillac guitar to me stating “That thing is a fucking great lap guitar,” whilst admiring its presence. His praise for the classic US guitar maker is accentuated as he states “I need to get one of the Dimebag ones,” further elaborating on the time he was lucky enough to handle Darrell’s original Dean From Hell while on a shoot for Hellyeah “his project with Darrell’s late brother Vinnie Paul”.
I take this trajectory in the conversation to ask whether Chad has any sort of home studio setup, “I have my interface and mic that I just load up our songs into Garageband to rehearse.” Along with his use of Apple’s classic entry-level DAW, he expresses an affinity for the ever-dependable Shure SM58. Specifically praising the mic’s ability to handle high sound pressure levels remarking “My voice naturally squishes the capsule, when I lay into it it’s gonna fucking distort!”
Gray takes this opportunity to elaborate on the enigma of creativity, “I’m always writing, I have voice memos, the other day I was driving and I just had this rad fucking melody pop up in my head and I just put it down like that.” He expresses the same approach with lyrics stating “I have a folder of new lyrics, sometimes I’ll take 4 or 5 minutes to work on a couple lines to complete a section of a verse.”
As Chad gives this insight into his creative process I sense an immediate essence of inspiration from the singer “I just need that initial idea, otherwise I’ll fucking forget. I’m going into that lyrics folder 20 times a day” he exclaims as his face lights up.
One thing that Chad makes apparent is that inspiration can come from anything at any time
“Idioms like there’s no business like show business, I don’t know how I’d write that into a song but these very familiar things that have been said since the dawn of time, I’ll think about whether these ideas have been used in a song and if they haven’t I’ll try to figure out a way to use them.”
He further elaborates on this approach by stating “People like familiar things, so it’s really easy to create choruses, with lyrics that are already familiar to your brain, if you can come up with something familiar then you are fucking winning.”
This insight into how Chad engages in his methods of wordsmithing was certainly enlightening and it immediately leads to another conversation relating to how Mudvayne’s approach to music was always differed from that of their peers. Whilst Korn was experimenting with Hip Hop influences and Slipknot was expanding the standard template for a metal ensemble with extra percussion and turntables, Mudvayne always straddled the frontier of progressive music utilising complex polyrhythms and other rhythmic motives.
Gray immediately acknowledges this sentiment “What we were doing was definitely progressive when compared to a lot of other nu metal, honestly, I really want people to reflect on it being a really, really good time for music. Thinking back to Ozzfest 2001 with Drowning Pool, Manson, Slipknot and Disturbed, not one of those bands sounded the same and you can hate me for saying this but a lot of today’s music sounds the same.” However, Chad isn’t dismissive of all modern metal as he sings praises for Slaughter To Prevail and the vocal stylings of Alex Terrible.
We round out our morning chat by tipping our hats to the old guard and talking about the importance of influences, with Gray highlighting James Hetfield and his all-mighty “Yellody” [yell/melody] as an important foundation for him on his own vocal journey as well as the glass shattering shrieks of Pantera’s Phil Anselmo. Perhaps most importantly, Chad expresses an affinity for pure attitude stating “We walked behind our middle fingers!” whilst discussing the ties between punk and metal. Expressing adoration for everyone from Floridian heavyweights Morbid Angel to Bay Area thrashers Testament, he especially makes sure to take a moment to express his condolences for the recently fallen Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker.
Mudvayne is set to carve through Australia this February with fellow nu metal luminaries Coal Chamber, a must-see tour for nu metal aficionados and nu fans alike.
For tickets and more info about the Mudvayne and Coal Chamber tour, visit The Phoenix here.