"We've never had a problem with them, but apparently our fans were offended [by Slipknot's remarks in print]," says Popson. "And then Slipknot was telling magazines that it was us fighting with them at Nautica, when we weren't even there. After the thing at Nautica happened, I was pretty disgusted, because I don't think that anybody should go through that, as far as the fighting goes, and I e-mailed every member of Slipknot to apologize. About six months later, Metal Maniacs came out, and [Slipknot] said that they weren't worried about us and that we suck. We were just going to let it go, but they were putting us down in national magazines, and we just wanted to defend ourselves."
In the name of what it calls self-defense, Mushroomhead started a campaign to dismiss Slipknot as imitators and sent press kits to national magazines such as Cleveland-based Alternative Press, which placed Slipknot on the cover of its May issue.
"When you start to delve into it, the similarities are pretty astounding," says Alternative Press Editor Robert Cherry. "I did a little research on the Slipknot end of things, and it's all hearsay, but they didn't have the look initially, but got it together independent of any knowledge of Mushroomhead. It's a weird thing, but I guess these two strange concepts came out of similar environments. It's kind of a shame, because if Mushroomhead does get signed, people will just think they're a Slipknot ripoff, so they'll be defending themselves for the rest of their careers."
Mushroomhead formed in 1992 and played its first show and released its first single in 1993. To date, it has released three albums and plays regularly in Cleveland (including a headlining gig on May 13 at Blossom). Slipknot was formed in 1995 and self-released its debut, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., a year later. Both bands wore masks from early on, but Slipknot, thanks in part to an appearance at last year's Ozzfest, has become enormously popular, and its self-titled album, which came out on Roadrunner Records last year, recently went gold. Popson says that Mushroomhead sent a video, its first two CDs, and a calendar to Roadrunner A&R Director Mike Gitter in 1997 and was in the process of negotiating a record deal when talks broke off.
"It seems a little strange, because they look so much like us -- they have the same number of members and some of the same masks, and it was a little too strange that their record label had this material," Popson says. "I think it's obvious that they borrowed from our show."
Gitter, however, wouldn't comment when Soundbites asked if Mushroomhead's allegations were true.
"I honestly [couldn't] care less about your article, and I have nothing to say," he said when asked whether it was possible that Slipknot had based its look on the Mushroomhead materials he received.
The costumes that Slipknot wears -- masks of clowns and pigs, among other creatures -- do bear a resemblance to Mushroomhead's, but the two bands, which are equally dark and aggressive, sound very different. Slipknot, which combines elements of rapping with heavy guitars, turntable scratches, and an arsenal of percussion (provided by three players), comes across as a combination of Korn and Neurosis, while Mushroomhead has more of a Goth-metal sound and pairs heavy guitars with keyboards. Slipknot percussionist Shawn Crahan (the guy behind the clown mask) maintains that the link between the bands has been blown out of proportion.
"This is all I really want to say. I'm really bored with all that. I'm bored with entertaining the thought. There is no thought. They [Mushroomhead] don't exist," he said via phone from Toronto. "I know you have to ask it because you're from Cleveland, but what I need you to do is ask yourself if you want to break out of the mold. If you do want to break out of the mold and not be cattle and follow, then you need to think about what you just asked, and look at them and us, and ask if you really need to ask the question. Anything I do and anything I am comes from the music. Let's take it to the deepest realms of the beginning, and the beginning is the music, so saying that the music is different has answered everything."
And what about those rowdy Mushroomhead fans? Does Crahan feel threatened in any way about his upcoming show in Cleveland?
"I look into the eyes of the abyss in every fucking city I'm in," he says. "It's not different in Belgium, in Holland, in Des Moines, or in Cleveland."
While Slipknot is featured in the current issue of Rolling Stone, in the midst of a national tour, and selling truckloads of records, the members of Mushroomhead, perhaps the one Cleveland band that can draw over a thousand fans to a live show, maintain they're not putting all of their masks in one basket in the pursuit of national attention.
"We're involved in other things," Popson says, adding that a compilation of songs from the first three Mushroomhead CDs will be released with national distribution this year and that Mushroomhead III is selling well locally. "As we get older, less and less do we want to be part of such a production. I think it's great -- the success Slipknot is having -- but I'm sure it comes with a price. I see them on the cover of everything, but I can't say what one of those guys looks like. It's like a double-edged sword. Yeah, you're famous, but nobody knows who you are."
Crahan has a different set of concerns.
"We got nothing to prove," he says. "We come out, and we do our thing. If you don't like it, get the fuck out my face. If you don't like my music, don't buy it and just shut up. And if you keep pushing me, I'm going to make you get out of my face."
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