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Cleveland's best-known band parts with its label. And there's more good news too.

Mushroomhead: Free agents in face paint.
  • Mushroomhead: Free agents in face paint.
Mushroomhead's crew is speckled with paint, as if they've just gotten into a shoving match with Sherwin-Williams. Stepladders and plywood are strewn about the band's North Royalton compound, a door lies off its hinges, a steel sink sits out back. The place is being renovated, now that the band is opening its recording studio to an increasing number of outside artists.

The eight dudes who pay the rent are going through some changes of their own. Mushroomhead recently parted ways with Universal Records, its label for the past three years. It was a mild surprise, considering that the band's latest, XIII, debuted in the top 50 of the Billboard album chart last fall, selling 28,000 copies its first week out and more than 120,000 overall. The band had been featured on Headbanger's Ball, hit the road with Godsmack, and toured with Ozzfest in the U.S. and abroad. In the control room of the group's studio, platinum plaques for The Scorpion King and XXX soundtracks, both of which Mushroomhead contributed tracks to, are mounted on the walls.

But if the band's decision to sever ties with Universal was unexpected, so is the lack of acrimony at the parting.

"We're still on really good terms," says singer J. Mann. "There's no ill will or anything, and they're being really cooperative with us. We approached them first."

"The split was so mutual," adds drummer Skinny, a proud metal dad and a burgeoning producer. "It all boils down to the contract. The way the contract was set up, it was a five-album deal -- two albums were firm, with three options. Now we're at option time, and we want more, they want more, so it was literally a mutual thing. They probably expected more out of us in terms of numbers, they probably thought we were going to be a gold, platinum band, and we expected more out of them as far as tour support, radio support, video support. We couldn't give them what they wanted, they couldn't give us what we wanted. If it's not going to be this way, then we should exercise our right to an option. It was very cool."

During Mushroomhead's tenure on Universal, the label changed management and thinned its staff, putting the band in the uncomfortable position of having to work with unfamiliar faces. Among those let go was Mushroomhead's product manager. "When a job at that level is replaced," Skinny says, "people come in and they want to work on their projects, not the previous dude's projects."

The band has been granted access to videos and footage shot on Universal's dime for use in an upcoming DVD on Mushroomhead Records. In an editing suite, guitarist Bronson is putting together a rough cut, which is a mix of live footage and behind-the-scenes debauchery -- trashing tour buses, vomiting, hiding dildos in their sampler's bunk -- that has the feel of Pantera's infamously crazed home videos. The band may also self-release its next album, which should be completed by spring. They haven't begun writing it yet, but already have earned offers from other labels.

"We haven't written off the possibility of signing with a smaller label or a bigger independent," says Mann, a companionable guy with an ever-present grin, who perpetually has a beer at the ready. "We're still weighing all our options. Now that people are starting to hear about us being free agents, we're starting to get approached."

Indeed, Mushroomhead is in an enviable position these days. The band is remarkably self-sufficient. They put out their first three records and a remix LP on their own, waiting eight and a half years before inking with a major. They record their own albums and shoot and edit their videos. Thanks to Universal, they now have enough of a national name to land solid distribution for their label, allowing them to make four times the profit per album sold.

"We're not the crying artists going, 'We got fucked.' It's not like that," Skinny says. "We understand business. Man, you know, I feel like it's just another feather in the hat; we're right where we need to be. We did it long before they were around, and we're going to do it long after."

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