Staind's new album is neither decidedly more rock, nor is it completely filled with weepy ballads. It's not angry throughout, though despite singer Aaron Lewis' perkier demeanor, describing it as joyful wouldn't be quite right.
Like life itself, Staind's fourth album, due May 20, doesn't adhere to any one extreme, but to the varying degrees in between. Shades of gray, they're called. Given the album contains 14 songs, or ruminations on life, as anyone familiar with the expressive frontman's body of work can attest, 14 Shades of Grey is an appropriate title.
"Most of life is gray," Lewis said. "Things don't usually wind up being black and white. There's a lot of gray in there ... so I thought that fit pretty well."
Blatant titles are nothing new to Staind fans. On Tormented, Staind's 1996 debut, Lewis was plagued by his mental state. Dysfunction followed three years later and showed the singer as someone not quite right, with tunes that toggled between rage and depression. Break the Cycle (2001) was his attempt at acknowledging and remedying the situation. And 14 Shades Grey, he said, is realizing that some problems are harder to solve than they seem at first.
"This one is the next step," he said of Staind's (so far) four-step self-help program. "Sometimes it's a little more difficult to figure things out and fix them."
The album will be prefaced by the single "Price to Play," a song that began as a treatise on the tolls, both moral and physical, of the music industry. The disdain in his voice is evident whenever he speaks of "this wonderful business that I'm in." While penning the song, however, Lewis noticed the compromises made in music translate to a much broader arena.
"The thought process [behind the song] was spawned from the business that I'm in, the record business," he said. "What the song kind of turned into was the price people pay to play the game of life, however they choose to play it."
The recording of the much anticipated 14 Shades of Grey began in Los Angeles in September, with producer Josh Abraham, who also helmed Break the Cycle, overseeing the project. Guitarist Mike Mushok usually begins the process by coming up with riffs that are then rounded out by bassist Johnny April and drummer Jon Wysocki. Lewis' lyrics, which he said he mostly devises while in the studio, are tracked last (see "Staind's Aaron Lewis Cheers Up For New Album"). This time around, Lewis preferred to record in a studio in Miami, where the temperature and humidity levels suit his vocal cords best.
"I wouldn't go so far as saying they're happy, but I'm in a much better place than [the] last time we were writing a record," Lewis said of Grey's lyrics, which he described as being "more mature." "I'm still the same person I was, just in a better space."
Other tracks on the album include "Layne," a tribute to the late Alice in Chains singer, Layne Staley, who died in April (see "Layne Staley Died From Mix Of Heroin, Cocaine, Report Says"), and "Zoe," a song Lewis wrote for someone partially responsible for his merrier mental state, his nearly 1-year-old daughter, Zoe Jane.
The big question before the band now is will 14 Shades of Grey top the immediate success of Break the Cycle, which sold more than 716,000 copies in its first week. No one dares venture a guess on Staind's first-week draw this time around, though the bandmembers said they would be surprised if it came close to their previous high-water mark.
The major difference between May 2003 and May 2001 is that Staind don't already have a hit song on the radio, like they did with the live recording "Outside," off the Family Values 1999 album. This time they're entering the fray without a running start, which Wysocki sees as a blessing, like starting with a clean slate.
"It's OK to go away for a while, instead of getting drilled by the same band," the drummer said. "There's nothing wrong with being out of the spotlight for a little bit and coming back with something fresh. When people hear this record, they're going to hear a different side of what we've created."