For some bands, every few years marks a new re-invention. There is a conception — endorsed by a fair number of rock critics — that a group can get "stale" if it keeps the same basic sound and writes the same sorts of songs for the duration of its career.
Puddle of Mudd doesn't buy into any of that crap.
"We're just Puddle, and we never made a conscious decision to try something different," says lead guitarist Paul Phillips. "We just get in a room and make the sound that comes out."
It's a formula that has rarely failed the band since it rose from the ashes of grunge in the early 2000s with "Blurry," a song that not only cemented their place in alternative-rock radio rotation for the following decade, but crossed over to the mainstream and landed them at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But it was that meteoric rise to success, with an album on Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst's Flawless Records, that eventually threatened to pull the band apart. The group was touring with Linkin Park, Staind, and other behemoths of turn-of-the-millennium alt-rock, but all was not well for the newfound stars.
"It's crazy, man. When you blow up that fast right out of the gate and you're afforded money and fame and all that, it messes with people," he says. "You see it on VH1 Behind the Music all the time." Phillips left the band in 2005, citing artistic differences, and by then, band members were failing to show up for recording sessions. Phillips knew things had gone south when they lost each other's phone numbers and stopped communicating.
Phillips played for a while with Los Angeles hard rock act Operator, fronted by The Fast and the Furious actor Johnny Strong. But it wasn't to last. In 2009, cooler heads prevailed, and Phillips gladly accepted an invitation to play with Puddle again. "We just all started talking again," he remembers. "It was more just kind of rekindling the friendship. With the circumstances being way mellower and way cooler than they were, I was up for the opportunity."
With Phillips back on lead guitar, and with some of the pressure off, the band proceeded to make precisely what it had made before: slickly produced angry rock that managed to toss around the F-word without sounding too scary, plus the occasional acoustic rock power ballad. Lead single "Stoned," from the 2009 album Vol. 4: Songs in the Key of Love and Hate, sounded as if vocalist Wes Scantlin had culled his lyrics straight from a domestic dispute in a Wal-Mart parking lot: "So check your attitude at the front door / I'm really getting tired of taking / All of your shit when I'm sober / I'm thinking that I'd rather be stoned."
Don't let the vitriol fool you, though: This is a fun-loving bunch of dudes. Nowhere is that more evident than on Re:(disc)overed, a collection of classic rock covers released Aug. 30. From AC/DC's "T.N.T." to the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," most of the tracks are tribute-band staples, rendered faithfully with little embellishment aside from the occasional vocal snarl. Phillips was particularly keen on recording a cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man."
"It was definitely challenging and definitely pushing the envelope of what this little rock band does," he says.
Is there another "Blurry" in Puddle's future? Maybe. Phillips certainly wouldn't mind, but there's no accounting for mainstream radio taste. He's still scratching his head over the last smash hit's appeal. "We never would have dreamed that that one would've made it, so no, it's not something that we strive to do," he says. With the band's implosion a thing of the past, he has a new lease on music, fame, and life on the road.
"I think we all realize how lucky we are to still be doing this 10 years later," he says.