Puddle Of Mudd’s Wes Scantlin: “I Had Everything Stolen From Me In My Life”
There are two moments during this interview with Wes Scantlin where a dog starts yapping intensely in the background while he’s talking. The first time, the Puddle Of Mudd founder and mainman ignores it and it eventually stops. The second time, he explains the dog’s barking because someone is angrily banging on his front door. Of course they are. Would this really be a Puddle Of Mudd interview without a little drama?
After all, this is the band who formed in 1991 and shot to international fame a decade later when their debut album, Come Clean, was released on Fred Durst’s Flawless label. Off the back of the runaway success of that record’s three main singles – Control, Blurry and She Hates Me – the post-grunge band found fame and fortune in abundance, but everything else started falling apart and Wes started on a downward spiral influenced by alcohol and substance abuse.
Over the years that followed, he was better known for intoxicated outbursts onstage, a hideous run of financial misfortune and a jaw-dropping list of arrests that include domestic violence (in 2002, he and then-fiancée Michelle Rubin, were both arrested after a roadside fight), trespassing at Graceland, not paying taxes, boarding a plane with a BB gun, drunken and disorderly conduct, and taking a joyride on a baggage carousel. He was also picked up by cops after trying to break into the house most places report he lost to foreclosure, but which he insists was stolen (and which led to one of his most infamous onstage outbursts).
These days, Wes has been sober for more than two years, and – a decade after the release of their last record – Puddle Of Mudd are back with fifth album, Welcome To Galvania. And while things seem back on track for Wes personally, as the unexpected and unwelcome intrusion that occurs during the interview, his life clearly has a little bit of turbulence left in it…
It’s been 10 years since the last Puddle Of Mudd album, so presumably this one had a lot of ground to cover. Was it difficult to make this record after such a long time?
“No. There were just a lot of battles that had to be fought in the last nine or 10 years. Perseverance is the mega word for my life – there’s just been a lot of crazy, crazy stuff happening and people trying to take me down and trying to keep me down, so the best thing to do is take some deep breaths of air and change your playgrounds and your playmates and people that are really evil. I had to rid the evil people out of my life.”
Right. The press release for the new album mentions how you’ve come across people who want to bring you down. Who are these people and why do they want to do it, do you think?
“I don’t even like to give them the gratification of mentioning any of the frickin’ names, but there were plenty. And you know what? It really boils down to basically one clichéd catchphrase: ‘Hell hath no fury’.”
The first single from Welcome To Galvania was Uh Oh, which seems to almost be an encapsulation of all that trouble and all the scandals you encountered over the past decade. Is that a fair assessment?
“Yeah. Everybody goes through the same type of patterns in life – growing up, trying to find yourself, trying to find your way – and that song when it was getting written, it was like, ‘Wow, man. This is like capturing everybody’s lives’, that we’ve all had to grow up and learn from, you know?”
When did you write that song? Obviously it’s been 10 years since Volume 4: Songs In The Key Of Love & Hate, but what kind of time period are these new ones all from?
“That song was written probably five or six years ago, but it was definitely an encapsulation of every writer that was on that song. Every writer has gone through that in their life, so it made sense.”
And how does it feel being back in the loop, now you have this new record? Do you feel re-energised and ready to do this again?
“I’m down, yeah. I’m totally ready to roll. We’ve just been nonstop touring and I cannot put the acoustic guitar down – as usual. It’s all about just being healthy and touring and being on your best behaviour! (laughs).”
Because you’ve been sober for over two years, now. How difficult was that to do, and what prompted that decision?
“Well, if you ever saw anything in the press, my entire house was stolen from me, I had 40 Gibson Les Pauls stolen from me, all my memorabilia from playing all the shows for the soldiers and stuff in the last 10 years of war… Basically I just had everything stolen from me in my life.”
Speaking of which, there’s the famous video clip of you at gig where you point to a guy near the front of the crowd that you accuse of stealing your house.
“Yeah. My house was basically stolen. It was mailbox fraud. I wasn’t in town – I was actually on tour the whole time – and I came back and there was a barbed wire fence around my house. But I definitely like to turn negatives to positives in my life and have optimistic, awesome beliefs that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and don’t give up. Never give up, ever. Even though all that loss has happened, I’ve gained probably at least 500 million more per cent of positivity in my life and it really turned my life around, and I’m really actually thankful for it.”
Do you think that’s because you stopped drinking and doing drugs?
“Yeah. It’s definitely a positive to be on the up and up and to be doing well. You really look like a big pile of crap when you’re doing the wrong stuff.”
Yet those ghosts will always haunt you, because there will be those YouTube videos and all the articles detailing your breakdowns. How much pressure does that put on you – to be in the limelight and for people to focus on all the negative stuff rather than the music?
“Well, I went to a Landmark Forum seminar [personal development program]. My parents – God bless my parents, I love them and they’re still here with us on this Earth and in the universe – they dragged me there and a big part of that whole seminar is to not dwell on the past or live in the past, but attain the future and make your future a better existence than it was in the past. Just don’t dwell – don’t dwell on anything because it’s just another day. Move forward in your life.”
But isn’t that hard when you’re in the limelight and people like me are asking all these questions about your past because that’s what people want to read about. You’ll never escape it entirely. Is that not really frustrating?
“Well, I guess it’s that age-old saying that all press is good press!”
What does Galvania mean? According to the internet, it’s a “small spiral galaxy situated about 56 million light years away from Earth.”
“You know what? It’s an arousal. The galvanic skin response is an electric arousal in your body and it’s like when you hear and amazing song and all of a sudden you have these goosebumps on your arms. Like my dad rates the material I’m involved with and am writing on the galvanic skin response meter – and that would be your hairs standing up on your neck and goosebumps all over your arms. My dad taught me this crazy word because that’s how he’s been measuring the music since I was just a little songwriter. And if it was kicking in his galvanic skin metre, he would give me a thumbs up, like, ‘Wow, man! I got goosebumps on that, that was really great.’ But it also has to do with fear, as well – and if it was a bad song and he didn’t really feel it or get it, he’d give me the thumbs down. It’s a great test – I appreciate the electrical arousal response, so I just made up a word.”
So what are your hopes for the record?
“Well, I hope that it can maybe put a smile on some people’s faces and give them some way to break through some hardships that they’ve had to face in their life and give them some optimism.”
And in a way, this is you proving that you can do it, so it serves as an example for people who may be in a similar situation to what you’ve already been through.
“Yeah, I hope it reaches deep down inside people and gets under their skin and it gives them some hope and it gives them some love.”
Puddle Of Mudd have sold millions of records, but you’ve said you weren’t necessarily ready for the pressures that came with that. Do you ever wish that things had happened differently, that perhaps you weren’t quite so successful all at once and that it had instead built steadily? What would you have done differently if you could have done?
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I think God has a plan for everybody. You know, I went to a concert with a fake backstage pass and a freakin’ demo tape from a Puddle Of Mudd fan that lived in Kansas that mailed it to my house, then I got it to Fred Durst’s security guard with a fake backstage pass and left town with a freakin’ super stripper that I was the roadie for and boyfriend. Then I was picking up her daughter in Mobile, Alabama and getting a page from Fred Durst and then talking to these guys and getting flown out of New Orleans to Los Angeles.”
That is quite an amazing story.
“Yeah, and I would never, ever, ever think that it should have gone any differently than that, because that’s pretty epic!”
But your whole life has been like that – like getting arrested for going on a luggage conveyor belt at an airport. Obviously security nowadays is tight at airports, but it’s still such an odd thing to get arrested for. What happened with that? And what’s on the other side?
“There’s really nothing going on back there. It was just a couple of freakin’ baggage guys. They were playing cards. I didn’t actually mean to go out of bounds – it was just a dare. People dare me to do things and I’m a daredevil. Or a dare-angel, anyway. So they didn’t like that very much, but it’s all water under the bridge now.”
Now that you’re sober, do you still have that daredevil streak inside you?
“I’m trying to run away from problems, because jail is cold. It’s very, very cold.”
What effect did being incarcerated have on you? Did it make you want to go straight?
“Yeah. I just wanted to not freeze to death and stuff, you know? It was pretty scary and I gained like 60 pounds. Three hots and a cot, man.”
What were the other inmates like?
“I was in solitary confinement for three months. There weren’t any other inmates. I was basically just locked in a cage. I didn’t have anybody to look at or talk to – it was just one jail cell after another.”
Three months is a long time to be in solitary. Was that a big test for you psychologically and emotionally? How did you cope?
“I just did a lot of push-ups and sit-ups and did a lot of praying and stuff. God basically got me through all that stuff. It was scary and I wish it upon no-one. It’s basically like being locked in a cage for three months without anybody trying to give you any love.”
What was your relationship with God like through those tough times?
“God’s always been here for me the entire time. I just got done praying for the day, and I’m pretty sure that he probably just put me there. I was trying to escape from a bunch of really whack-ass, freaky-deaky people, and I think He was just, ‘Hey, I’ll do this for you and you can get away from everybody like that for the rest of your life.’ So I’m blessed by God for having to endure that kind of incarceration, which is mind-blowing and crazy, but it’s obviously helped me get to another chapter in my life which is filled with love and positivity and joy and happiness.”
You do sound happy – and you sound like you’ve reached a point in your life where you’ve got through the bad stuff and that dark tunnel. How does that feel?
“I feel amazing, man. I really do. I love it, and I’ve been able to slightly drop the weight from eating too much food every day and drinking way too much coffee. I never drink coffee, but when it’s like that, you drink coffee. So it’s all been nothing but a big positive, but mentally it takes a minute to bring yourself back in, but fortunately I’ve been really happy and you totally hit the nail on the head.”
Did you ever lose faith in God when you were going through the bad times? You weren’t cursing him out, asking, ‘Why are you doing this to me?!’
“I would never curse God. You don’t want to do that, because he’s pretty awesome. So I never did that. I just thanked him every day for the struggles that I was going through and I thank him for everything that’s ever happened in my life. I thank him a bunch and thank him a bunch and then throw in a little, ‘Maybe you could make this happen…’ for some happiness in my life.”
Are you already looking forward to the record that’s going to come after this? Do you want to get Puddle Of Mudd back on a more regular schedule?
“Yeah, that’s basically what I’m doing – just writing and writing and staying focussed.”
Is the line-up now solidified? Because you’ve gone through some public fallouts in the past.
“That depends on the mental status of the people that are playing. And then everybody gets sick of it and wants to leave because they miss their loved ones and I can’t stop the pain and the suffering of being on tour all the time. I’m just used to it, and I really don’t fire people. People just end up leaving. It usually has a lot to do with people thinking they didn’t get enough, but I give everybody credit where credit’s due. Everybody gets a paycheque in the mail if they’re a writer on anything or anything like that. I do not screw people over. I just make people’s dreams come true, dude.”
When you started the band in 1991, the scene and the industry was completely different. Now it’s much harder to be a rock band, so what keeps you motivated to keep going?
“Well, pressure is a privilege and I love every minute of it. I hate to see people buckle in the midst of it, but hell hath no fury, bro.”
Is that a motto for your life now?
“As I’m talking to you right now, there’s a fucking psycho outside of my fucking house beating on the door.”
Do you know who it is? Do you need to go deal with it?
“I leave people nameless, just because I don’t want to put anybody on blast.”
But you know them?
“Well, it’s a woman. And she should probably get the fuck back in the fucking car and get out of here. I’m in a bathroom now, and my dog’s fucking furiously barking at the door and this fucking person won’t fucking leave. My best friend is saying, ‘What do I do?’ – I’m texting with him on the phone at the same time trying to live a life of sullen awesomeness.”
Is this a regular occurrence, people knocking at your door like this?
“Yeah, it’s the way it goes, man. Hell hath no fury, man. Just don’t get married. Don’t ever do it or I’ll come kick you in your balls.”
But surely at the time you got married, you thought it was the best move to make?
“You know, I should have listened to myself and my own rule. But I broke my own rule, so I pretty much deserved everything that happened. But the person outside, who’s hopefully gone now, has got no ring on her finger.”
So is the main benefit for you making music these days to exorcise all these demons?
“You know, I give all credit to my mother and my father and my grandmother, my family. They were like, ‘You could write your own songs’ because I just couldn’t do Eddie Van Halen solos. I went to a Van Halen concert in 1984 and thought, ‘Wow, man – I want to do that!’. I missed a soccer practice and a soccer game and the coach kicked me off the football team in front of the entire team and it broke my heart. But I was also invigorated and enlightened by music and my mom was like, ‘You can’t play Eddie Van Halen solos. You’ve been trying for a few months and you’re not getting it, so just write your own songs. So I took her advice and I started being a songwriter when I was 12 years old.”
Most parents would probably warn their kids off pursuing a career in rock music.
“Right. It’s more likely that you would get struck by lightning than become a successful musician in this life.”
So how did you feel when Come Clean sold all those millions of copies and you became this international superstar? Did you feel validated?
“I felt like Nadal when I was watching the U.S. Open last night – that fist forearm pump and screaming ‘Yeeeeeah!’ An invigorating scream of doing it well.”
You said you wouldn’t do anything differently, but do you think that record being so successful put you on this path that took a bit of a downward spiral for a while? Or was that just the industry – and if so, are you in any way wary about getting back into it?
“No, I’m cool. There’s a lot of lurkers and stuff, but just don’t answer your door, don’t answer your texts. Do not reply to anybody that’s insane. Keep positive people around you in your life and stay focussed, optimistic and healthy.”
How do you get rid of the crazy people who come knocking at your door?
“Just be very quiet, go to the bathroom and don’t say anything. Let them wear themselves out and then ‘Bye!’”
You can’t spend your life hiding in the bathroom, surely?!
“I’m telling you, dude. It’s insane. I’ve got to get some water and a taco or something at least. I’ll see if I can get a water tank in here in a second. I might have to start crawling under the fucking house!”
Puddle Of Mudd’s new album Welcome to Galvania is out now.
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