"Better than ever" is a phrase that Mudvayne can't stop using. The alt-metal extraterrestrials just wrapped up their first tour in 13 years, and whether it's the electric reception to their performances, the way they're amicably getting along as bandmates, or how they feel about their own refurbished musical chops, frontman Chad Gray and drummer Matt McDonough can't say enough positive things about their monumental return.
Just over three years ago, this conversation itself would've been inconceivable. The band — rounded out by guitarist Greg Tribbett and bassist Ryan Martinie — unceremoniously split up in 2010 shortly after the release of their fifth album, 2009's Mudvayne, and had no intentions of reuniting in the years that followed.
In the decade prior, the group forged a diehard fan base on the strength of their singular compositions, which ranged from knotty prog-metal compositions recalling Slipknot and TOOL, to anthemic sing-alongs that got placements in Hollywood movies and major rotation on active rock radio. Mudvayne were undoubtedly one of the biggest metal institutions of the 2000s, but as the band members tell it, their success came with mounting industry pressures and unresolved tensions between the hard-touring bandmates, eventually culminating in an indefinite hiatus that ultimately stretched into a 12-year disappearance from the limelight.
Once they called it quits at the turn of the decade, Gray spent time fronting the Southern metal supergroup Hellyeah (which also notably featured Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul), while the other members focused on various side projects. For years, Gray was constantly bombarded with the question of whether Mudvayne would reunite, and he always answered with a firm "no," allowing their mystique to grow as old fans mourned their absence and an entire generation of metalheads fell in love with the band's music, yearning for the chance to see classics like "Dig" and "Happy?" performed live.
Then, in late 2019, around the time that "nu-metal" sounds and aesthetics began to experience an ongoing cultural resurgence, and the rabid nostalgia for Mudvayne's presence became entirely unavoidable, the band began talking again and quietly planned their mighty return. The comeback started with four scheduled festival appearances for fall 2021, but ultimately ended up being just three shows after Chad Gray contracted COVID in the hours leading up to their first gig back on September 11th, 2021.
Emboldened by those hard-fought festival appearances, navigating the sheer lunacy of playing to tens of thousands of people while they were still getting their musical sea legs back, Mudvayne embarked on a full U.S. tour this summer alongside Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and Static-X. The consistency of playing shows again has been exactly what they needed to get back in the swing of things — as players, collaborators and, yes, songwriters.
In their first interview together as reunited bandmates (conducted toward the end of their summer 2022 tour), Gray and McDonough got candid about returning to the road as Mudvayne, what they learned in their long hiatus apart, working through nerves, self-doubt and health issues, and the new music that they're currently in the very early stages of constructing.
First, we spoke with Gray, who was in fantastic spirits while seated in a green room as perilous Texas storms surge above on the venue grounds.
YOU GUYS ARE JUST ABOUT TO FINISH UP YOUR FIRST TOUR IN 13 YEARS. HOW HAS IT FELT TO GET BACK OUT THERE AND PLAY CONSISTENT MUDVAYNE SHOWS AGAIN?
CHAD GRAY [This tour is] what I wanted more than anything. And when we started obviously, we started talking and then putting it back together. And then obviously we did the  Wimmer fests and stuff like that. But we hadn't played together in 12 years and our music's pretty progressive and it's difficult. So it requires a lot of attention. and turning your back on it for 12 years, it's not going to be easy to come back to it. So we did three, separate seven-to-10-day rehearsals in the summer of 2021, preparing for the festivals.
So we did the first 10 days, I was fucking like, "Whoa." It's just like, my breathing even, just even breathing was like ... Because in 12 years I had lost all of the muscle memory that I had had for whether it's breathing or pitches or whatever. Anything that's in the dynamic of voice and singing, I pretty much lost all of the Mudvayne knowledge that I had banked. So the first 10 days, the last couple days was OK, a little bit better, but the first days were rough.
And then we got back together again, got a little bit better, got back together again, got better, did a few days of rehearsal before Inkcarceration. So that rehearsal, I got COVID or whatever. So literally, I haven't been onstage in 12 fucking years, and the first time I walked back onstage, I have COVID. And I had that really bad. My voice didn't warm up all day — and I know my voice. And it's just like, I walked onstage fearful, and it wasn't great, it wasn't fucking great at all.
And then we canceled Louder Than Life and then we did the next two. We did Aftershock, which was great. And then we did Welcome to Rockville, which was really good. But dude, honestly, you're talking about doing a show, not doing a show for three weeks, doing a show, not doing a show again for another three or four weeks. In those first three festivals, I can just honestly tell you, I never felt comfortable at one time onstage.
GRAY Because there is something to be said for repetition and you get onstage and you need to string three, four, five shows in a row together to get your legs, to get your wind. When I'm at home doing my personal rehearsal, which I have to do every day at home, I have to sing every day and I go in my room and I sing to the album. But I was doing that on my elliptical. So I get to know my elliptical. Not going hard, you know what I mean? Just to try to get some level of heart rate up to be reminiscent, on some level, of being onstage.
But there's just nothing you can do. There's nothing you can do to prepare you for the stage. The energy's different, the adrenaline, the endorphins, all the things that go with standing in front of 30, 40, 50,000 fucking people are there and very apparent. So getting a few shows under your belt is really, really important and I never had that opportunity.
And then this [tour] started and the shows have consistently just gotten better and better and better. What's it like being out here right now? It's just over the top because, dude, people seem genuinely excited about what we're doing and that's a really fucking exciting feeling for four guys that haven't done this for that many years. So it's really cool and I feel like, personally, I'm singing probably better than maybe I ever have. I've been doing a lot of training and I work with [metal vocal coach] Melissa Cross and so I've been doing a lot of vocal training. I've basically retaught myself how to sing over the last several months.
McDonough echoed Gray's radiating enthusiasm during a separate conversation later in the afternoon. The drummer, also avoiding the persistent storms, was posted up in a separate room, equally eager to express how necessary — and rewarding — it's been to get back to playing Mudvayne shows on a nightly basis after the stop-start return of last fall.
IT'S YOUR FIRST TOUR IN 13 YEARS. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GET BACK OUT THERE AND BE PLAYING CONSISTENTLY AGAIN?
MATT MCDONOUGH In general, the response has been overwhelming. Fans have been incredible. Like you said, 13 years, we basically missed a generation. So the opportunity for younger kids and people that had never had a chance to see us. So that response, as well, has been incredible. The vibe on the tour is great as well … Everyone's been really super smart about how this has come together. So I guess, honestly, I don't know if it could be better really.
YOU HADN'T PLAYED THESE SONGS IN A LONG TIME. YOUR FANS HADN'T SEEN YOU IN A LONG TIME. YOU AND YOUR BANDMATES HAVEN'T BEEN TOGETHER IN A LONG TIME. WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO DUST OFF ALL THESE COBWEBS?
MCDONOUGH For the band in general, things came together really kind of effortlessly. It was almost like we just kind of picked up where we left off. On a personal level, for me going that long without playing … I did a couple years of training getting ready to be able to [tour] — it's been a struggle. It was obviously worth it. But kind of a cool challenge for myself, professionally and personally, getting into shape. It was intimidating. There's lots of confidence issues and questions about am I really going to be able to do this? And I guess that feeds back into the experience of the tour in general.
And obviously the pandemic made things even more confusing. It was initially like, OK, six months in the fall, we're going to start. And then it's a year and then another year. So that kind of psychologically has been very intimidating. But now [that it happened] it's one of the greatest feelings of relief and weight off my shoulders. And then to be seeing the positive response, it's kind of almost giddy. Wow, it's better than I ever could have expected.
But as far as the band getting together, all of us being together again, we hadn't been around each other for over a decade. And there were a lot of questions … and we were straight up and honest with ourselves. A little bit of age brings some maturity. But we've been very above the board about communicating, everyone talking if there's issues. And obviously all bands are going to have issues, [and we] talk it out. This was kind of a trial for the four of us. Hey, well, we think we're being positive about it, but will it work out? And so now after being stuck on a bus together for 24/7 for over a month, it's been great just how well we've been able to get along.
As McDonough hinted at, interpersonal issues played a role in Mudvayne's long hiatus. For many bands, disputes that go beyond mere creative differences can be one of the biggest barriers to reconciling and returning to the musical fold, but Gray and McDonough are thrilled that they've been able to overcome those communication hurdles and get to a place that's much healthier than where they left off back in the late 2000s.
WHAT'S IT LIKE BEING BACK AS A UNIT? BEING THE BAND MUDVAYNE AGAIN AS PEOPLE?
GRAY It's fucking great, man. We're getting along probably better than we ever have.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
GRAY Dude, I think that there's a lot of things you take for granted or whatever when you're young in this fucking business shit like that. And I think one thing is consideration. And I think you need to be obviously, being on the road with people and living together 24/7 especially writing, recording and touring, writing, recording and touring — that's all we did from the time we were a band until the time we weren't a band. And, you start thinking about families, or fucking brothers growing up together, absolutely inconsiderate.
And you almost pick fights, you know what I mean? So there's just, I think there's a maturation of what and who we are as people. Like I said, I think we're more considerate. I think we're more caring. These guys know I would lie down in traffic for them right now. And I had the [stage] fall, and we all pretty much had COVID when this started again, so I was dealing with that in the fall. And then my ribs and all that fucking shit. And I'm like, "We're not canceling shows. We're not doing it. We're fucking playing these shows."
So when the [reunion] started, we were all like a fist and acting as a true nucleus of this band, leaning on each other and motivating each other to fucking really make this super fucking high priority. Not as much for us as for our people, but for our fans, for the metal kids and the metal family. They want this shit … and it would break our heart to have to cancel on or whatever and try to go through the bullshit of making it up.
WERE YOU GUYS WORRIED AT ANY POINT IF PEOPLE WERE GOING TO CARE ABOUT A COMEBACK?
MCDONOUGH Absolutely. Of course, there was, absolutely. There's no guarantees in the music industry. I mean, in life in general, obviously. Yeah, absolutely. There were questions about, are people going to want to come out and see us play still? Is our music even that relevant after this long? We were speculative and guarded about, like... I mean, we knew that there were old fans that were going to still want to see us, but would that translate and everything? So yeah. I mean, you roll the dice and you take what comes and luckily we rolled all sixes, or all 20s on our D20s.
GRAY Well, for fucking 12 years or whatever with Hellyeah, every interview I did I answered the question. "No, I'm not doing [a Mudvayne reunion]. Nah. Nah." So, you gotta appreciate the patience of people. But yeah, I never did anything that alluded that I was going to come back to this or whatever.
You know, at the end of it all, there was a lot of shit. There's a lot of stuff, man. There was a lot of bad that surrounded us. Or we were surrounded by not great professionals, and you need those people. You need good management, you need good booking, you need good lawyers. Your team is around you. This is who you depend on. And we were just in a lot of turmoil and a lot of bad stuff, and it just felt like at the time, we didn't know what we wanted anymore.
It's tough. People see me get off the big shiny tour bus and are like, "What's it like being on the road?" Imagine inviting 11 of your closest friends into your bedroom for three months. It's hard, it's not an easy thing and you're balancing, if you have a girl or dude or whatever the fuck it is. Everybody knows how hard a single relationship is with one person. It's fucking very, very difficult.
Look, we're back from the dead. [It] feels good. We're excited about it. We're excited about the future, whatever that may bring in. But yeah, everybody's getting along really, really well so it's exciting, man. I haven't been this excited since, shit, probably the beginning.
OH YEAH? THE BEGINNING OF MUDVAYNE?
GRAY Yeah. Or releasing records. When you release a record you're always excited.
Here it is, the big elephant in the room. Mudvayne haven't released any new material since 2009, which means we're coming up on nearly a decade-and-a-half without a single fresh Mudvayne song. That said, Gray and McDonough are clear that while the reunion didn't come with any strings attached whatsoever, the possibility of new music is definitely on the table — and in fact, already in motion.
WHAT'S THE POSSIBILITY OF NEW MUDVAYNE MUSIC?
GRAY That's obviously something we got to cross, right? There's two ways you can do it. You could go out, and you can go once around the rock and just play catalog. For sure, that's absolutely a possibility. Or you can try to put something together. You can gauge it, you can decide. I'm not going to say because I've been constantly writing, recording touring for the last 12 years with Hellyeah. So I don't think my well's dry by any means. And I'm excited, I would be excited to write with these guys.
We've done a little bit of file sharing or whatever. Just some riffs. Greg went into the studio in Texas. He lived in Texas. He went in there and just laid some stuff down, sent it to Matt. Matt put just a really simple metronome drum beat to it. I was working on it. It's pretty rad, different stuff. I've got a few different angles that I'm working with kind of how I want it to be, my parts anyway. But it's cool, it's cool. And obviously we're not going to put something out if I don't feel like it stands up.
It's going to have to fucking blow my hair back before I would put it out, because I wouldn't want to put anything out and then people are just like, "[They] can't do it anymore." You can be your own judge of that. And maybe it's not the first song, maybe it's not the third song, maybe it's the seventh song. That's like, OK, now we're on something, but we'll figure it out, man. We'll figure it out. We'll either do it or we won't. But yeah, I'm down for whatever right now, I'm having fun with it.
MATT, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT NEW MUSIC AND THE PROSPECT OF TOURING CONSISTENTLY AGAIN?
MCDONOUGH Yeah. I mean, all that stuff's on the table. It's kind of a no-brainer obviously. We want new music, we want to explore that space. We love to write, nothing's changed in that. The touring, absolutely. I mean, for me, personally, again, taking any kind of significant break is a little intimidating because to sustain the level that I want to perform at, especially at my age again, I'm going to go home and train. I'm going to go right back to what I've been doing for the past couple years before we started playing.
But everything's on the table right now. I mean, we're not quitting right now. We've gotten to where we are now. And again, the response and the positive environment … So we'll stay busy. Definitely next year, we're going to be coming back around. There's going to be lots of opportunities for people to see us next year… Hey, I mean we're having fun. It's a big celebration, really.
WHAT DO YOU THINK A NEW MUDVAYNE RECORD MIGHT SOUND LIKE, GIVEN YOU'VE HAD SO MANY DIFFERENT SOUNDING RECORDS THROUGHOUT YOUR GUYS' CAREER?
MCDONOUGH I mean, we've gotten together in a couple different phases. Ryan has been out at my place. All three of us have gotten together. Chad and I have communicated extensively. I mean, we've been demoing and writing and messing around. The file sharing situation, not to say we're dinosaurs or whatever. And I've done a lot of file sharing on my own just with personal vanity projects, or whatever you want to call it. I enjoy file sharing. But for a band like us, it's not ... after the experience, I feel comfortable saying, it's maybe not the best way for our band to work.
We're very in the moment, reactive, reacting to what's happening and communicating. We write slowly, we take a long time. It's just the nature of our writing process together. We're very reflective. We do a lot of editing and a lot of revising as we write, being receptive. So my hope, personally, is to be able to recreate those past models of how we wrote in the past, recreate that. And how you do that, how do you get the funds, the capital, obviously it takes money. We all live all over the country.
How will that come together? I'm sure there'll still be some aspects of the file sharing sort of experience. But I mean, I think you mentioned, as well, the culture of the industry, the music industry's changed. I mean, it was changing dramatically all through the 2000s. And since in the past 13 years now, I mean, there was no such thing as Spotify. The last time that Mudvayne went onstage, I don't even know if there was Pandora at that time. So how it all works out, but we've always been a kind of band. We don't really set out with a clear trajectory, landscape, mapping, a map of where we want to get with our music. Normally we just start messing around.
What's it going to sound like? I can't honestly say. Some of the stuff that we have messed around is heavy. We messed around with some typical [sounds], people wouldn't be terribly shocked, but the opportunity to experiment and given our past success, I think I feel a sense of freedom. There hasn't been any kind of pressure from any professional direction to try to, "You guys going to write another 'Dig.'" Or "Not Falling" or whatever, nothing like that. So the headspace and the culture around the band right now is incredibly positive. So I personally just would like to be wide open and excited and positive about it. I want to be surprised.
ANYTHING YOU'D LIKE TO ADD?
GRAY We're just trying to figure out what's next and hopefully we'll be able to get abroad and do some stuff. Obviously, it's important for us to appease all of our fans. If you're going to release fucking records in Zimbabwe, you better be ready to go to Zimbabwe and play. So hopefully we get out in Australia, hopefully we can get to Europe. We're excited right now, we're genuinely excited.