Rich Howells

Mudvayne frontman Chad Gray opens up about life-saving music, nu metal, legacy, and face paint before Scranton show

Mudvayne frontman Chad Gray opens up about life-saving music, nu metal, legacy, and face paint before Scranton show
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It’s a Thursday afternoon in a hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida, but Chad Gray isn’t here for rest and relaxation, though it is therapeutic, in a way.

His band Mudvayne is about to dive into The Psychotherapy Sessions and, once NEPA Scene’s phone interview begins, it’s easy to see where the name of the tour comes from as it all comes spilling out. This is their first headlining run in over 14 years and, in that time, the metal vocalist has built up so many thoughts about his career and why he is still going out there at 51 years old, the central message behind his songwriting, the “nu metal” label and its fans across the decades, the importance of going out and attending concerts, why he regrets taking off the face paint, his longtime connections to his tourmates, the major difference between creating music with Mudvayne and his other band Hellyeah with the late Vinnie Paul, a manufactured rivalry between Mudvayne and Slipknot, and more.

It all comes out honestly, like a personal healing session, and Gray wouldn’t – and couldn’t – present himself any other way. With little prompting, he lets loose with strong opinions, revealing moments, and a sense of peace as he prepares to do what he loves once again – his “life’s work,” as he calls it. The national tour stops at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton on Wednesday, July 26 at 5:30 p.m. with Coal Chamber (another recently reunited band), GWAR, Nonpoint, and Butcher Babies, as well as the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, New York on Friday, July 28 and Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey on Saturday, July 29. For those looking for some musical therapy of their own at this show, the doctor is in and he is “here to help.”

NEPA SCENE: Thank you so much for talking with us on what must be a very busy day.

CHAD GRAY: There’s no way I can describe to you… leaving home for six weeks, when you have three rehearsal days in Nashville, and then we traveled a day to here and then we’ve had two production days here and the show day is today. So, literally, I’ve already burned through a week’s worth of clothes and I haven’t even been on stage yet. Just getting ready to leave home has been chaotic as fuck and leading up to the show because we’re all just the king of procrastinators. Well, most of us are, anyway, and we go right up to like yesterday. We just ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, just going crazy trying to get things for the tour, trying to get things settled so I’m not stressing today, and today it was just a massive ball of stress because I was just trying to get here because I knew I had you at 3 p.m., and I was trying so hard to get out of my room and get over here. I was stressed, but I’m in my room now. I’m relaxed. I’m on the phone with you. You’re good with me and we’re all good. So what’s going on?

NS: How do you feel now, just a few hours away from kicking this tour off? What’s going through your mind at the moment?

CG: When we put this band back together, my main reason was for our fans because we went away before they wanted us to go away. We were still doing well when we disbanded, so a big part of me doing this is to give this to our fans. I have chosen this work as my life’s work, like I’m in this business now. You know what I mean? The reason I’m in this business is because, growing up, this music literally – if you’ve ever seen me play- saved my life a million times. I mean, I really would not be here without metal. I really would not be here without hard rock. I really would not be here without music in general or music that I could lose myself in. I had a very turbulent childhood; I had a very turbulent adolescence. I was just dealing with a lot of bad. The good things, the one good constant that I had, was music, and it really saved me so many times.

I was a big advocate of live music when I was growing up. I mean, I was at shows and I went to concerts and it was just such a big part of my life. So, back then, I’m standing in the fucking arenas and I’m standing in the theaters and I’m standing with other people, but I didn’t understand metal community, metal family, back then. My mind didn’t process it that way. You know, I think it took me devoting my life to music, becoming part of the other side of it, traveling around the rock playing in different countries all over the world, seeing how they respond to live metal music. And honestly, dude, they don’t respond any differently than they do in Australia than they do in America. They don’t respond any differently than they do in Japan. They don’t respond any differently than they do in the U.K. It’s all the same. We all look different around the world, but if you’re into it, you react the same way. So, it’s so important, since I have chosen this life, to tell my stories with my band backing me musically to these fans so they can take them and bring them into their lives, and hopefully some of the fucked up shit that I went through lets them know, reminds them, that they’re not alone.

Because, you know, when I was growing up, when I was in in my little personal hell, just not good people around me, stepfather and all that shit, I felt alone. Abuse and neglect and shit like that is not – and it’s the same with depression and anxiety – it’s not something you scream from the mountaintops about. It’s very introverted; it’s very personal. You hold it in. You don’t talk about it. You don’t talk about abuse. You don’t talk about being beaten. You don’t go to school and be like, “Hey, my dad beat me last night.” You just don’t do that, so it’s a very isolated world you’re living in, and knowing that and what metal music did for me way, way, way back then… Like, my first album was Mötley Crüe, “Too Fast for Love,” and I thought they were fucking speaking to me, but it’s because I needed it that bad. Listening back, those songs weren’t speaking to me, but I needed it so bad I made it fit into my life. And they weren’t even lyrics that were talking about something that I could be like, “Oh, I can really relate.” Still, it gave me some solace; it still gave me some peace.

I’m a little more clear-cut, but I almost write a little bit of riddles. You know what I mean? Like, I don’t give it to you. It’s still very vague. It’s very ambiguous. But I start you down a road and it’s a write-your-own story. You can take any little thing I say, you could take an off-ramp, and make it your own. In Hellyeah, the song “Hush,” the whole thing in that was you’re not alone. That was the whole vibe of the song. I’ve done that with multiple Mudvayne songs too – “Cinderella Story,” a big one. We’re talking about that time.

That’s what I want for this tour, getting back to the original question. I want people to come here and be selfish and be self-serving and give themselves something because life is fucking brutal. It gets its teeth into us. And we almost can’t see anything else other than work, bills, stress, worry, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean? That’s fucking life, and I’ve got my own shit, you’ve got your own shit. Everybody’s got their own shit. Since I do what I do, it doesn’t mean I’m fucking stress-free. I’m not rolling in fucking dough. I’m not like fucking flying private and fucking living like a billionaire. I’m just not. I’m a humble man. I live in a humble home. It’s nice, but I built it. That’s why it’s nice. [laughs]

But I’m a humble person, you know? When I was growing up, I took advantage of these opportunities to go to a show and kind of just check all my fucking problems at the door. I knew they were going to be there when I left. I could pick them back up and I was going to feel stronger when I picked them up because of the music. The music is so powerful. You’re going to feel like that fucking 1,000-pound brick you left at the door, and when you walk into the show, it’s going to fucking feel like a 10-pound brick because you’re just that much stronger mentally, emotionally. On every level, you’re just a stronger human at that point, but what do you owe it to you? Do you owe it to me? No, you owe it to the music that I created. You owe it to the music that Coal Chamber created. You owe it to the music that GWAR created, that Nonpoint created, that Butcher Babies created. I’m excited about this lineup.

NS: It really is an impressive lineup of different kinds of metal.

CG: It’s really cool. I’ve known Miguel [Rascón] and Mikey [Cox of Coal Chamber]… holy shit. When they put out their last album or whatever, 2015 or 2016 or whatever it was, we went to Australia together and me and Mikey and Miguel were just absolute fucking triplets – we were fucking crazy. I’ve known those guys for a long, long time. Nonpoint we toured with in 2000. When we released our album, we toured with Slipknot for seven months. We did three different tours with them and we opened every one of those tours, then we went out on our own. When we went out on our own, we brought Nonpoint with us. They were our support act, so I’ve been playing and touring with those guys since the fucking very beginning, so to have them on this is amazing.

In 2020, the pandemic happened. Heidi [Shepherd] and Henry [Flury], the guitar player and singer for the Butcher Babies – they’re a couple – they moved from L.A. to Vegas, so [my wife] Shannon [Gunz] and I have a pool, and those two came and we spent the entire summer in my pool, so those guys are really, really dear friends of mine and my wife. We see them all the time, we go to dinner with them all the time. We live in Vegas.

I don’t know the GWAR guys very well, but everybody else on this tour I know, like intimately. It was pretty cool because I was working on getting them on. These are the bands that I wanted on it, so I’m excited about it for that reason. I’m excited about it for the fans. I’m excited about it for me because I haven’t been on stage in a fucking year, so I need this as much as any fan does. I need my fans as much as they need me. And they need to understand that. I want them to understand that. This is not at all about me or the band. This is about togetherness. This is about us getting together.

And usually when you think of people using each other, it’s a negative thing, like, “That person used that person for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, they stole their money.” We use each other in the fucking best way. They use me to get something out of me for their life, and to make it a little bit smoother, and to be able to let go of their life for a few hours. I think they deserve that, right? And I need them for the same reason. I’ve got an hour and 15 minutes that I’m up on that deck, and I’m telling you what, everything goes right out the fucking window for an hour and 15 minutes. It’s that other fucking 22 hours and 45 minutes that sucks. [laughs]

That’s my time to live too. Those are the reasons in a nutshell that I’m excited about this tour. You know, to be self-serving to myself because I need it. To give our fans something because they need it, and for the lineup and how fucking great the bands are that are in it. It’s really exciting. I just hope that people come out. I hope that people are willing to treat themselves a little bit because you can fucking lose yourself in not being a little self-indulgent here and there. You can’t just work for fucking bills and blah, blah, blah. That’s no life. That’s not being alive – that’s living. Living and being alive are two completely different things, so I hope they give themselves the opportunity to come to me and feel alive and, honestly, I’m supposed to be talking to you to promote my tour, but I love the metal fans so much I understand that sometimes they’re gonna have to pick and choose which bands they are going to want to go see, and my band is not on top of the fucking world. I’m not in Metallica or something like that where they’re automatically going to come see me, but I hope that they go to at least a show this summer. It doesn’t have to be necessarily mine, but I hope that they do something for themselves and go to one of the shows. There’s a lot of bands that are going to be out. I want them to come to my show, but if they don’t, I’m OK if they go to another one because they need it for themselves and that’s who I’m looking out for.

NS: Once you got back together with the band in 2021 and 2022, you guys played some festivals and went on tour with Rob Zombie. Now you’re headlining. Are you approaching this differently?

CG: Yeah. Our production is fucking awesome. We really put a bunch of fucking money into lighting and stuff. It’s just so fucking rad, versus ramps and risers and shit like that. I’m like, “Man, put them in the sky, put some more fucking lights up there; save the money on the fucking ramp bullshit. Fuck that,” because I want to give the crowd a show. I mean, that’s what we’re here to do, right? For this one, dude, what’s really cool about this one is we’re doing two songs we never played before. Ever. And we just worked them out in rehearsal, and it’s pretty cool. I think that one of them is definitely a fucking fan favorite. I’ve got about 10 friends that love this song and we never played it live – it’s a fucking difficult song, very hard song to play. But it’s awesome. It’s really good. And then another one is just a really special song that we did probably 20 years ago when we were trying to get signed. It’s cool. And I know there’s one, possibly two songs, that we haven’t played since we’ve come back as a band, so that’s going to be cool.

We’re doing little things to just tweak it. I mean, obviously, we’re not going to fucking re-outline the entire syllabus. We’re not going to like not play anything we played with Zombie because people want their fucking favorites. But we’ve got a lot of favorites. We’ve got a lot of songs; we’ve got a lot of songs that were singles. We’re doing what we can to mix it up. Three songs out of what – we probably did 14 or 15 on the Zombie tour. So putting three new songs in – that’s a lot. It’s actually a lot. A lot of bands fucking go and do a new album and they’ll come back out and only play one new song, whatever the new single is, and that’ll be the only song they play. We’re going back and digging into the old school shit to pull these relics out to play.

NS: Looking back on your discography and everything that you’ve done, what do you think it is about your music that has stood the test of time? There’s a lot of bands that came up around the same era that are long gone. What do you think makes people want to come out and still see you live today?

CG: I’ve had somebody ask me, “Do you think you were ahead of your time?” That’s not a question for me, but doing what we were doing then? We were pretty much the main progressive metal band at that time. We were the main progressive metal band in the nu metal genre, like legitimately progressive with odd times signatures and blah, blah, blah. I would get the songs and I would bring in my influences, and I think that that gave us a really cool mix because what I did with the band then was more current to the time versus what my band was doing as far as songwriting. Like, if you were to give those songs to a different singer and they would approach it differently, this could be a completely different band. It could either be monumentally successful or fucking never did a goddamn thing. My whole point with songwriting was always, always honesty. I mean, that’s the key. You have to be fucking honest. And I don’t think anybody wouldn’t know that James Hetfield wasn’t an influence, that Layne Staley wasn’t an influence, that fucking Phil Anselmo wasn’t an influence. I kind of wear my influences on my sleeve.

But I’ve taken all those influences and I processed through my soul and they’ve come out Chad, you know what I mean? You have to be honest in your music, and I’m hoping that’s what’s done it. I hope that’s the one thing that we’ve done that has kept us successful and relevant, and I have a feeling, honestly, we have a lot of new fans. We went away for over a decade, and we did not go away as a failing band. We went away when we were still successful. I see a lot of youth, but I don’t see a lot of 10-11-year-old youth. I see a lot of 18-22 youth, which would have been 8, 9, 10, or 11-year-olds or 13-14-year-olds. I see those kids now, the 24s and 25s that were 14 and 15 when we went away that are now young adults and our fans, and they didn’t discover us until after we went bye-bye, so they’ve never seen us. It’s really cool to be able to give this to them.

I don’t know the exact answer to that, but those would be my thoughts. I think doing what we do, especially now, is more relevant now than when we were doing it then because we were kind of solo. We were kind of the only band really being what we are back then, so I think that’s what keeps us relevant. None of us wanted to admit we were nu metal back in the fucking day because it just seems so fucking cheesy or whatever. But now it’s really cool to see the resurgence that’s happened with it because it’s an unprecedented fucking time in music. I mean, there’s a lot of fucking great bands that came out of this thing – a lot of really, really fucking rad bands.

NS: And many of them were influenced by what you guys were doing and other people of the nu metal era were doing. The term “nu metal” had such a bad connotation when it came out and bands wanted to avoid it, but now I interview new bands that are coming up and a lot of them freely admit they love nu metal and are influenced by it. They put it right out there. They’re not trying to hide it.

CG: Yeah. I mean, come on, it’s fucking low guitar tunings on heavy guitars and heavy riffs and pretty straightforward twos and fours drums to cool melodies, aggressive melodies, but still singing melodies. Nu metal is very emotional. One of my best friends now, who I’m so fucking proud of, is Jonathan Davis. He’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s actually moving to Las Vegas and we’re so, so excited that we’re going to be able to see each other more. That dude is the king of nu metal, right? Nobody can fucking argue that Korn was the inspiration for the whole fucking thing. Korn, the Deftones, those really early bands, they were the inspiration for everything that everybody did. Jonathan is also a very, very big influence of mine. I fucking love what they did. That first album is fucking incredible, and I was into it then. I saw them on that first album at the Madison Theater supporting [Marilyn] Manson and Danzig – they were the first fucking band. Nobody knew who they fucking were. I had that first album about three months and listened to that thing religiously every day. We went and they fucking tore the house down – for an opening band, absolutely tore the house down. They were fucking incredible. I watched that band and I was like, “That band is going to be fucking huge.” First time I was riding in my friend’s car and we were listening to the radio and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. First time I ever heard that song and I’m like, “Oh my God, that band’s going to be fucking massive.” [laughs] I can call it, man, and I called the fuck out of Korn and I called the fuck out of Nirvana. It was crazy, but they were so good, and they are all great dudes. They’re all the most humble fucking people ever.

NS: You spent about 15 years or so recording and performing with Hellyeah. Did you have any experiences or learn any lessons from that time that you’re carrying over into Mudvayne now?

CG: I’m certainly trying. One thing that is different with Hellyeah – and this is kind of a funny thing to say – with the Mudvayne guys, and this is just how we did it, those guys used to get together, we’d write songs, I’d be in the fucking room, they’d be fucking working shit out and turn around and be like, “Here you go, Chad, take it.” And I would go write it and come back and we’re like, “OK, here it is.” And that’s what we did.

When I started in Hellyeah, we were working on the first songs. I’m in a room with Vinnie Paul, one of my absolute heroes; Tom [Maxwell of Nothingface], one of my favorite metal guitar players; Greg [Tribbett of Mudvayne]; and we’re sitting there and they’re playing through this song. We get to the end and then fucking Vinnie looks at me and is like, “What you think about that?” And I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “How do you feel about that? What do you think?” I’m like, “I think it’s great!” Out of my entire musical career, that was the first time that I was ever asked what I thought about something. So that’s something I’m going to try to bring into Mudvayne if we create new music. It’s really important that we all play for the song – it’s not about ego. It’s not about you. It’s a collective. It’s a group effort. If I was doing something that had a hooky melody or something like that, Vinnie would literally look at everyone and be like, “You fucking stay away from him. We’re his supporting cast on this,” because Vinnie wanted to be successful, because Vinnie was successful. He really embraced me, man. He fucking loved me, man. I was his favorite singer. He’s like, “You’re my favorite fucking singer. Phil did what he did, I loved him or whatever, but just the way you write, the way you wear your fucking lyrics, your heart on your sleeve, it’s just really fucking inspiring. It’s really fucking cool.” It was great.

But that was a big thing I learned from him, that you have to play for the song, and this is coming from a guy that played with arguably one of the greatest metal guitar players on the fucking planet, Dimebag [Darrell]. And they wrote a song that went da nun nun, da nun nun [for Pantera’s “Walk”], and those fucking dudes could do anything with their respective instruments. That is called playing for the song because, you know what? That riff, as cool as it is and basic as it is, supported one of the greatest fucking vocal melodies of Pantera. “Can’t you see I’m easily bothered by persistence?” That fucking melody is incredible and, again, in Vinnie fashion, he probably looked at his brother and said, “We’re staying away from that shit. Let him do his thing. Let’s support what Phil’s doing.” That’s just how he is. That was one great thing about that band. I learned a lot. I did more albums with Hellyeah than I did with Mudvayne. I did six albums with Hellyeah and five with Mudvayne, so I guess we owe you one.

NS: So much time has passed and I’m sure your life is different now. Are the same things inspiring you as a songwriter as they were 20 or 30 years ago at this point?

CG: Yeah. I mean, it’s always there, all the bullshit, and I can fucking take any number of examples from my life and turn that shit into a song. There’s always a well of stuff to choose from. We’ve started working on some new stuff, a little bit. I think, lyrically, it’s in a fucking cool place. Dude, I believe you can sit around, you can write lyrics in notebooks and shit, just writing, just creative writing, and then bring it and make it applicable to a song, but I’m such a big fan of hearing the music and kind of letting the song give me what it wants to give me, like give me some direction on where to go with it, like letting the music inspire me. There are a couple of songs, maybe a handful of songs, say between 10 and 13 songs in my fucking career that I’ve heard the music and the lyrics, the melodies, everything came with it – such a great, special moment that does not happen very often at all. And one of our new songs is like that, like I heard it and everything came – first melody, first lyrics, chorus melody, chorus lyrics, everything. “Moth” was like that in Hellyeah. “Cinderella Story” was like that with Mudvayne. “Fall into Sleep” was like that with Mudvayne. There are songs that I’ve done where everything just came. I heard the music and everything just came out. Those are amazing fucking moments. I wish to God they happen like that all the time, but unfortunately they don’t.

NS: Obviously, you can’t control how people look back at your music, so how do you look back on it all? What do you want to be remembered for across your whole career? Are there certain songs or a certain album or something that you feel is “the one?”

CG: I guess probably just my whole approach to writing the music or whatever. It’s that whole thing of reminding people that they’re not alone. I think that that’s just like, in a sense, “you’re not alone” is one of the biggest things that I’ve offered this brand of music because I was always inspired to help. Like, I’m here to help like. I tell my wife that all the time: “Babe, I’m here to help. Let me know what you need me to do.” I’m not a fucking mind-reader, but I am here to help. I’ve devoted my life to music to help, honestly, to not only remind people that already know, but let people know that don’t know because you don’t scream it from the mountaintops and I can only imagine there’s a fucking zillion people out there that are just like me. I didn’t talk about it, so I felt isolated. I fucking lived in my own little bubble for what was a very big part of my life. I mean, I still battle it. I still battle depression, daily. I’m horribly depressive and full of anxiety. Fucking depression is fucking real, man. So many people just give up; they can’t deal with it. It’s like wearing a fucking wet lead blanket. It’s impossible to move under it, the shroud of depression, it’s just fucking impossible. So if I can give anybody anything, anything, to let them let go of that again for a few hours, that’s my goal. That’s my life’s work. That’s my entire path with either band. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to help.

My wife answers fucking phones, phone numbers that she doesn’t know. I don’t do that shit. My wife responds to people that write her on Instagram or whatever. She hit me up and she said, “Some guy wrote me and said he’s fucking battling and he has been battling for years. Your music is really helping him right now, and he just wanted me to let you know. He said he knows he’s probably not going to get to talk to you, but he wanted me to let you know.” I’m like, “You know what? Write him back and tell him the world is a better place with him in it and tell him thank you for the kind words. Tell him I love him and tell him that he can do this. Let him know.” She said, “All right!” and she wrote him back and he’s like, “Oh my God, you have no idea how huge this is to know that Chad actually told me this.”

NS: Well, many people like him are looking forward to seeing Mudvayne again in person, and I know many fans are happy that you’re back with the face paint and the whole aesthetic that goes with that.

CG: I literally fucking start putting my makeup on like three and a half hours before we play now. I’m just getting so fucking crazy with it and intricate with it. It’s just fucking absolutely nuts. I’m kind of fucking still pissed. We took the makeup off on “The End of All Things to Come” because, seriously, we got so sick of the fucking Slipknot comparison. Because we were embraced by Slipknot – they loved us, and the fucking press always wanted to pit us against each other and make implications like we were trying to copy them. They’re wearing masks – we’re in fucking face paint. We were inspired by movies, visual art, modern art – that was our inspiration behind the face paint. We were inspired by art, by movies, by modern art. We wanted to bring a visual, like a movie has a visual, a score, and content. Our music had a score and content, but it didn’t have a visual. We brought the visual. We were mirroring what a movie brings you, so that was our inspiration, and Slipknot knew that. Clown [Shawn Crahan] knew that. Corey [Taylor] knew that, so they embraced us. They knew that we weren’t copying them. They knew what our reasons were for doing what we did, and they embraced us. The fucking press was just… so with the second album, we took it off. And it was the worst fucking mistake we ever made. Had we kept it on, we probably would have been 10 times bigger than we ever got.

It sucks to look back on that and think that, goddammit, if we wouldn’t have done that, we probably would have been a bigger band. Because, again, in my world and what I want more than anything, is to help, so if I could have touched more people by leaving that fucking makeup on… It makes me very upset with myself that we took it off, but whatever. It’s neither here nor there. It’s all good, dude. But anyway, man, I guess I probably should bounce, but I’ve had a nice time talking with you. I really appreciate you.

NS: Thank you. And I’m sure with all these interviews, you’re happy you don’t have to answer the question “When is Mudvayne coming back?” ever again.

CG: Yep. That’s been the most exciting part about all of this!

Mudvayne – The Psychotherapy Sessions
with GWAR, Nonpoint, and Butcher Babies
Location: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain (1000 Montage Mountain Rd., Scranton)
Date: Wednesday, July 26
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Purchase tickets at