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When Puddle of Mudd made its first major impact on Kansas City in 1994, grunge was still hot — hot enough that KQRC FM made room in its rotation for a track from that quartet’s self-released EP. “They were a hot draw,” recalls Banzai publisher Jim Kilroy, who placed Puddle of Mudd on the 1994 Freaker’s Ball bill that also included Mortal Reign and the Kiss tribute band Strutter. “They were pretty happening,” he adds.

However, given the group’s status in 2001, both of those statements bear redefining. Whereas Puddle of Mudd was once merely a “hot draw” locally, now it’s filling major venues to capacity while sharing the stage with the platinum-selling likes of Godsmack and Staind. And while the group was “pretty happening” with the area’s hard-rock connoisseurs back in the day, now its appeal stretches to the MTV crowd, which quickly embraced the band’s debut video “Control.”

“I was watching TRL yesterday and that’s when I discovered POM,” shares Krista, one such awestruck fan, in her post to the group’s bulletin board. “They’re so amazingly talented.” “That vid was awesome!” concurs Ozone. “I love the little deal of throwing the keys to the truck and them landing in the Puddle Of Mudd.” This visual stunt impressed many viewers (“The keys in the Mudd! A visual euphamism [sic], if you will,” notes RavenDove), as did lead Mudd-slinger Wes Scantlin‘s naughty lyrics about bondage and ass-smacking (“That song is like… probably a GREAT song to have sex to,” opines KinkyKitty69). Finally, like the majority of TRL‘s top vote-getters, the members of Puddle of Mudd are apparently “fuckin’ hotties,” as Allie Kat testifies, “so it makes it better to listen to the song and look at a picture of them, he he.”

How did a group that ground out noisy post-grunge nuggets in the area’s dirtiest, most beer-stained bars end up as pin-up boys for giddy Mudd honeys? Well, for starters, it’s important to note that only one of them has made this transition. Scantlin, the lone hometown hero in the current lineup, claims the group as local fans knew it was nearing its end a couple of years ago. “Everyone was going their separate ways anyway years before this even happened, man,” Scantlin asserts in a slow, surfer’s drawl that suggests he fits right in with his new surroundings in Los Angeles. Still, Scantlin had his dreams for the band, so using a phony backstage pass given to him by a stranger at 1999’s Family Values Tour, he weaved his way to Limp Bizkit‘s Fred Durst and gave him a Puddle of Mudd tape. “I didn’t even know the pass was bogus, man,” Scantlin claims. “If that guy hadn’t made that damn thing, dude, I don’t think we’d be talking on the phone right now.”

By the time Durst finally called back, Scantlin had moved to New Orleans. “I moved down there because I wanted to be able to take care of my kid [four-year-old Jordan] and actually make some money in my life,” he explains. “You know what I’m saying, dawg? You can’t make enough money to support your kid just playing in Kansas City in a band, so I had to get out of there. I knew too many people, and there was too much trouble for me to get into.” When he got Durst’s message, he immediately packed his bags and headed out to Los Angeles. He summarizes this whirlwind of activity thusly: “Pretty trippy, man.”

The wacky times continued as Scantlin started meeting new musicians, several of whom coincidentally had links to Durst. First he teamed up with Doug Ardito, a bassist originally from Concord, Massachusetts, who was working as an intern at Limp Bizkit’s label Interscope. “The guy can play guitar better than me, like Jimmy Page or something, and he’s the bassist, man,” marvels Scantlin. Guitarist Paul Phillips, who hails from Durst’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, was “recommended by a friend.” That left Houma, Louisiana-born drummer Greg Upchurch, who was chosen after an audition process. “We had to go through, like, fifty drummers in two days,” Scantlin recalls. “He was the guy in the end who was the bomb, man.”

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While spending almost three months in the studio recording Come Clean, the initial release on Durst’s Interscope offshoot Flawless Records, the somewhat tossed-together band bonded quickly. “They’re all regular cats, man,” explains Scantlin. “They’re all great musicians and really good guys, and they’re not all wacked out on anything weird.” Scantlin then waxes poetic on the process of creation. “Songs are just ideas, man, that you make up on a guitar. The whole band is the core that makes it the way it’s going to be.”

Produced by John Kurtzweg, who put his gloss-grunge polish on all of Creed‘s albums, Come Clean figures to be a quick hit given the recent pseudo-grunge revival. It has the requisite self-pitying flashbacks and slow-moving melodies of Staind (Looking back on my childhood/wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t that good, Scantlin moans at one point), the breezy guitars and undeniable hooks of Celebrity Skin-era Hole (on “Never Change,” a dead ringer for “Malibu”), and the snarling aggressive sexuality of Godsmack (“Control”). The album’s best track, which is burdened with the less-than-promising title “Piss It All Away,” blends a tribal drum pattern, acoustic strumming and uncharacteristically vulnerable vocals from Scantlin. Come Clean also includes two holdovers from the band’s earlier incarnation, of which the punky “She Hates Me” is the most anachronistic.

Other than the pair of aged selections that appear on the record (“Drift and Die” is the other oldie), Puddle of Mudd won’t be playing any songs that are familiar to its local fanbase when it slides into Sandstone on Saturday, August 11, with Godsmack and Deftones. It’s understandable — teaching old songs to new musicians is counterproductive, unless you’re an established shed-touring band with a brand-name to present (Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd) — but it’s nonetheless likely to disappoint at least some of the Kansas Citians who supported the old Mudd.

“I think they’re gonna love this stuff, man,” counters Scantlin. “Well, some of the fans will love it, and some of them will hate it. Hopefully you get more fans loving it than hating it. But everybody’s pretty stoked about this situation. All the fans that ever came out and saw us are probably like, ‘Wow, man, cool!’ I’d be excited, man.”

Even more likely to be disappointed — and that’s probably an understatement — are Scantlin’s former bandmates, with whom he hasn’t been in close contact. “They’re probably not in a very good mood,” he admits. “But, hey, life is strange, brother.”

Scantlin’s advice for hard-rockers still slugging it out in Kansas City’s clubs: Move to another city. Then he backtracks a bit, explaining he doesn’t know much about the current strength of the Kansas City scene. “I was going at it for many, many years, dawg,” he says. “We had a lot of record labels come down and deny us back in the day.”

Now Puddle of Mudd, emblazoned with Durst’s stamp of approval, won’t have to deal with many rejections. Like fellow Durst discovery Staind (the group has since had a falling out with its one-time champion), Puddle of Mudd has seen its identity become wrapped up with the head Bizkit. Stories on the band lead with the meeting-Durst-backstage anecdote, then trickle down to describing the group’s music a few paragraphs later. This scenario — disproportionate focus on the guru instead of the protégé — led another Kansas City boy, Tommy Morrison, to turn on his trainer in Rocky V, but Scantlin says he doesn’t resent this inescapable connection.

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“We get a little bit of extra love because Freddy D’s our boy,” he explains. “You can’t knock that, man. People dream of this kind of thing happening. It’s like Michael Jordan signing you as a basketball player.”

The players Jordan has signed haven’t resurrected the moribund Washington Wizards franchise, but Durst’s projects have a better track record. And with TRL in its corner, Come Clean might find immediate upper-level chart success. But thanking your record company and MTV is for Grammy acceptance speeches, not for tour press. So for his final statement, Scantlin intones with dramatic fervor “I just want to say thank you, Kansas City,” then punctuates the sentiments with a laugh. Somewhere, his former Mudd buddies are probably feeling as if the joke’s on them.

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