Staind is returning again in May — just not in the way its members originally envisioned.
Frontman Aaron Lewis tells Billboard that the heavy-rock quartet from Springfield, Mass., was expecting to break into a new cycle of activity in 2020, starting by touring with Disturbed and then recording an album. That was all scuttled twice by the global pandemic after Disturbed decided to pull the plug entirely again earlier this year.
Rather than staying on the outside looking in, however, Staind pivoted on its own. On May 7, the group, which has worked only intermittently since 2012, will release its first album in nine years. Live: It’s Been Awhile (Yap’em/Alchemy Recordings) was recorded during an October 2019 reunion show at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., and features hits such as “Outside,” “It’s Been Awhile,” “Right Here” and “Not Again.” The release will be bookended by The Return of Staind: A Two-Part Global Streaming Series that consists of Live: It’s Been Awhile (From Foxwoods) on May 1 and the newly filmed 20th Anniversary of Break the Cycle, Performed in Its Entirety on May 8 — exactly 20 years to the date of the release of Staind’s sophomore albums. Tickets are available via staindlive.com.
It’s the most material the band has released in years. Lewis feels this is a reasonable Plan B after everything else fell through.
“Everything went away,” he notes by phone before a solo concert in Corpus Christi, Texas. “The Foxwood gig we had in the can already; that was just a matter of when it was going to come out. And then the [Break the Cycle] performance just came out of everybody trying to think of ideas of how we can do something else, especially after we had told people we’d be around.”
The appetite for Staind is easy to understand. Between 1996-2011, the group — Lewis, guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April and (since 2011) drummer Sal Giancarelli — released seven studio albums, four of which sold platinum or better. Its tuneful brand of sludge and angsty lyricism also notched a dozen top 10 Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart hits, with four of those reaching No. 1. The five-times platinum Break the Cycle vaulted Staind to headline status, and the group was still going strong when it announced a hiatus to take a break — but, pointedly, did not break up — in 2012.
Staind has regrouped a few times since, mostly for festivals, and for a handful of shows during 2019. Lewis has focused on his solo career for the past 10 years, with all four of his releases (three albums and an EP) hitting the top 10 on the Top Country Albums chart. Mushok, meanwhile, co-founded the all-star group Saint Asonia and played in former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted’s band.
Lewis says that reuniting Staind is not like hell freezing over. “No — I guess the comment is more that people didn’t think it was going to happen,” he explains. “It wasn’t necessarily that it would be so impossible to put it back together. I’ve kind of gotten used to it, and I kind of like not having to answer to anybody creatively. With the whole solo thing, I’m kind of the master of my own universe. So to go from that to sharing the universe with three other people in a creative situation is different, but it’ll be great.”
The Break the Cycle show in particular is a double-dip blast from the past for Staind. The group filmed it at Mill 1 in Open Square in Holyoke, Mass., the same city where the act played its first-ever show. “What you get is what you get in the sense [that] it is live,” says Lewis. “We’ve never been a band to mess with anything. We’re not going to do that. But when you see it, you’ll realize the production levels that we achieved could not be achieved in a regular live [show] where we walk out, start the set and when we’re finished, we’re finished. It wouldn’t have the same impact if we did it that way.”
According to Lewis, revisiting the album was “pretty cool, to be honest with you.” In addition to the original 13 tracks, Staind added some B-sides he guesses that band has never played live. But performing Break the Cycle in its entirety didn’t necessarily make the frontman sentimental about the set.
“I don’t think as highly as everybody else, as fans might think of it,” reveals Lewis. “I found myself not wanting to listen to it. It wasn’t a ‘Wow, man, I remember all of this!’ kind of experience at all. It was ‘Oh God, why did I sing it like that?’ I’m my own worst critic. It’s never good enough.”
But he does appreciate the regard that the album is held in by fans. “I have been told over and over and over and over throughout my whole career since that record came out how important it is to people,” he says. “That’ll never get old. All I was really trying to do with that record and during that time was just get all of this stuff off my chest. I was just trying to help myself. I might not have felt that way if I knew so many other people felt the same way I did, y’know?”
Next on the agenda is new Staind music — the group’s first studio set since 2011’s self-titled release, if all goes according to plan. “There are definitely some ideas that have been shared with me that I focused on for a little bit,” says Lewis. The group paused during the pandemic and is now making plans to get back to work, though Lewis notes, “We haven’t really talked very much about producers and where and that type of stuff yet. We’ve all kind of got our thoughts and ideas, so we’ll see.”
In the meantime, Lewis is pushing ahead with his solo music. He recently raised eyebrows with a new song, “Am I the Only One,” which he has been playing live. It takes a lyrical shot at Bruce Springsteen (“Am I the only one who quit singing along/ Every time they play a Springsteen song”) and criticizes calls for the removal of Confederate statues. He’s planning to release a new album this year, which he calls “very obviously country … it’s just going be vocal and acoustic instruments.” No release date has been determined yet.
Lewis has also started work on another batch of material. It was written during the pandemic, and is quite different from what he has done to date. “It’s like 30 ideas, but they don’t fit with anything that’s going on right now,” he says. “They don’t fit Staind. They don’t fit with my country thing. It’s somewhere between Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon and Billie Eilish — very dreamscape-y, very ethereal. The musical landscape is quite simple and sparse; there’s a lot of stuff going on without much stuff going on. It’ll be much more focused around melody.”
He plans to release his album and then record with Staind, but after that, Lewis says, “I’m very much looking forward to getting back to this other stuff. I can’t wait to see where it goes.”