Mushroomhead: We Had Masks Before Slipknot, OK?

On-the-rise masked metal band says it has been rocking incognito since 1993.

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Mushroomhead wear masks and play earsplitting gothic metal, so they expect and welcome comparisons to Slipknot. Just don't call the eight-member rock orchestra a rip-off.

"The only thing that is frustrating is that people think that because our record just came out, that we are jumping on a coattail or we just decided to do this yesterday," vocalist J. Mann said last week. "That's not the case."

Mushroomhead formed in 1993, before Slipknot. Over the years, they have independently released three albums and toured around the Midwest and East Coast. However, it wasn't until Slipknot came to mass fame a few years ago that Mushroomhead began gaining national attention.

"They have helped open the doors a little bit, because when we were doing this earlier, people thought it was a gimmick or that it wouldn't last," Mann said. "When they came out of the gate as strong as they did, I think people realized, 'Hey, this is not just a passing fad. There might be something to this.' We definitely tip our hats to Slipknot."

Visually, Mushroomhead are quite similar to Slipknot, with each member except Mann (who covers his face in makeup) donning individually designed black leather masks. Instead of matching jumpsuits, Mann, vocalist Jeffrey Nothing, guitarist Gravy, guitarist Bronson, bassist Pig Benis, drummer Skinny, keyboardist Schmotz and sampler Stitch wear matching military garb.

Musically, though, there are vast differences in the two. While Slipknot's sound is a sonic assault built around four percussionists, Mushroomhead's is a more melodic mix emphasizing dueling vocals and keyboards. They also boast more of a melting pot of styles, since members came from hip-hop, funk, hardcore and techno bands.

"We all rehearsed in a big warehouse on the west side of Cleveland," Mann explained. "After practices, a lot of us would stick around and talk about music ideas together, so that's kind of how the band started. That is also the reason for the masks. Since we were from different bands and different projects, we didn't want the people in Cleveland to assume what we were going to sound like or have any preconceived notions of what Mushroomhead would be, since we are different from our projects in the past."

Mushroomhead first took the stage in the height of the grunge era and were hardly what the music industry was paying attention to. So the band continued on without the help of a manager or record label until late last year, when Universal Records signed them.

"This band has been sort of a do-it-yourself kind of band," Mann said. "We independently recorded and released our records, as well as did our own merchandising and booked our own shows. It just kind of got to a point where we couldn't take it any further on our own. So in order to carry on, we needed a label."

When the industry started showing interest in Mushroomhead, the band put together XX, a collection of their best tunes from their previous releases. Universal liked it so much that they brought in Toby Wright (Korn, Alice in Chains) to remix it but pretty much released it as is.

The album's first single, "Solitaire/Unraveling," was released in December. With its razor-sharp guitar hook and biting opening line — "Locked away in a cage/ My rage has got the best of me" — the song sounds like an angrier metal version of Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet With Butterfly Wings."

"People think it's about a man in prison, and in a sense it is, but it's not a physical prison, it's more of an internal prison," Mann said. "It's about how everyone has got to look inside themselves and deal with their own demons."

"Before I Die" is penciled in as the second single and video, for which the group is currently looking at directors. Mann stressed that making the right video is important to Mushroomhead because of their emphasis on the visual elements of what they do.

"Our music is different because we have more of a cinematic appeal to it," he explained. "Even though we are a visual band live, I think there is a visual to the audio. And just by listening to the record, it plants visual thoughts in your head. We are very influenced by directors as well as musicians, and whatever we are doing we like to sound grand."

Mushroomhead are headlining a club tour that wraps up with a homecoming show April 5 in Cleveland. After that, they hope to join Ozzfest. "It is definitely the tour to be on," Mann said, before jokingly giving a shout-out to the tour's organizer, Ozzy Osbourne's wife. "Hi Sharon! We love you!"

After recently recording a new track with Wright for the upcoming "The Scorpion King" soundtrack, Mushroomhead are also anxious to begin recording songs they've written for their next album.

"You have these dreams of getting that record deal and going into an expensive studio, and then they put out the record that you had," Mann said with a laugh.