Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Hometown Heroes To Whom?

We've all heard the stories about celebrities who think they're better than everyone else. The sense of accomplishment that comes with defeating the overwhelming odds against "making it" can be like a bicycle pump, inflating the ego with each further achievement. Not to say the famous are bad people for letting this happen, especially when we ourselves haven't a clue what we'd be like with a little fame. Nonetheless, it's always the hope that successful people will remember their less glamorous upbringings when dealing with us plebeians.

Mudvayne sprung from the loins of the Peoria area in 1996. The group toiled in town, gigging and doing all the things that a local band should. One bassist and four years later, the band released its major label debut, L.D. 50, which was lightly embraced by metal fans. The band's sound was part chug-metal, part technical riffing and a whole bunch of screaming about depression, mental anguish and everyone who’d ever wronged them.

Mudvayne scored its first single with "Dig" and received some radio love. Since then, it's made a bigger splash in the metal scene, playing the first stage of Ozzfest and the "Summer Sanitarium" tour with Metallica and Linkin Park. The group has also released three more albums, including its latest, Lost and Found. The band made its biggest impact this year with "Happy?," the second single from the same album. The song is a vitriolic retort to detractors and enemies, but maintains a highly radio-friendly vibe. In fact, it's Mudvayne's most accessible single yet, as it all but eschews screaming and technical skill for utter blandness. It's a shocker coming from Mudvayne, considering the group's past and the rest of the record. But "Happy?" has done wonders for the group, whose album sold more than 150,000 copies in the first week. One would imagine that yes, they are happy.

"We're the band that everybody wants to be," said Ryan Martinie, Mudvayne's bassist. "We do what we want to do, when we want to and how we want to." Martinie said he is acutely aware of how lucky he and his bandmates are. What's missing is humility. Coming from a city that's not exactly a hotbed for creative minds (Richard Pryor notwithstanding), it seems reasonable to think the band's members may still remember what it's like to be one of us. One conversation with Martinie and you'll find he's forgotten.

Martinie speaks as if being in a popular-yet-musically-uninteresting band affords him the right to be stuck up and dismissive of influences. His interest in his hometown is minimal at most.

"Coming from Peoria really didn't affect us all that much," he said. Martinie said he thought the band's development and growth was typical of most other locations. It seems curious that Peoria didn't play a major part in shaping its dark, aggressive sound. Martinie didn't even know when the group would be playing in Peoria next. "I don't really care about dates," he said, only moments after disclosing when the band would be in Kansas City. "You can find that out on the Web site," he suggested. Sure, that information is available online, but it would be germane to know when your highly-hyped homecoming show will take place.

What brings out arrogance in Martinie also brings out defensiveness: the suggestion that the members of Mudvayne try to draw attention to the group. It wasn't until last summer that the band put away its claim-to-fame make-up and costumes. Members also simultaneously ditched their goofy pseudo-names – Martinie used to go by Ryknow and R-uD. Why would the band do any of these things unless it wanted people to notice?

"or people to think, 'this is the new Mudvayne,' or 'Mudvayne is trying to reinvent themselves,' I think that's an oversight. I think that's been fueled by the media," Martinie said. What exactly does that overlook? In terms of appearances, the band’s members have made extensive changes -- changes that can easily be construed as attempts to both be taken seriously and to draw eyeballs in Mudvayne's direction. Try as Martinie might to blame the media for people’s interest in the band’s appearances, Mudvayne drew the attention to itself and loved every minute of it.

Another change that has garnered Mudvayne attention is its willingness to write rock radio-friendly material. While most of the songs on Lost and Found aren't exactly something you'll find soccer moms buying their kids, "Happy?" certainly is. It's three minutes and 37 seconds of mindless mush that fits well between Nickelback and Disturbed, but not among Mudvayne's back catalog. Perhaps the group was tired of waiting for fame to come to it.

"I think that's assumptive and narrow [to say]," Martinie said. "If people are familiar with the band, they would hear songs that have a lot of melody and different arrangements." But the proof is in the pudding. No other song from Mudvayne's repertoire has been as appealing to rock radio's palate or has sold as many records for the group. "If you have some idea that you're going to please the public with a way of writing a song, I think you’re going to miss the point altogether," he said. And maybe they have, too.

Between trying to defend its single, Mudvayne's image-consciousness or its lyrics -- check out the cliche "screw the media" rant in "TV Radio" to hear Mudvayne ask listeners to turn off the media that advances the group -- fame has made the band a mess. With hard work, members worked their way through the chutes and ladders of the music industry. And through Mudvayne's success, the group's members have taken on a holier-than-thou mindset, denying any credit to their hometown and their tricks of the trade.

"Maybe we take ourselves too seriously," Martinie said. Considering he thinks enough of himself to brag about his lack of television-viewing or to refuse to disclose his Halloween costume, it seems fair to agree with him. Mudvayne has become a commercial success and one of the new stars of radio metal, but it's resulted in swollen egos and a detachment from the truth for the band.

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