Q&A with Puddle of Mudd Bassist Doug Ardito
As Puddle of Mudd bassist and Fender loyalist Doug Ardito can attest, sometimes the shittiest days wind up being the ones that change your life for the better.
Take for instance a brutally humid day in Florida back in the late ‘90s when his then-band Cellophane was scheduled to play a show during the Warped Tour.
“The guy who runs it told us that if we helped set up the Warped Tour side stage, he’d let us play it instead of the crappy stage we were scheduled to be on,” recalls Ardito. “Limp Bizkit had the same record producer as us so Fred Durst came to see the show. It was a pretty shitty concert and we didn’t do that well, but years later and that day changed my life.”
Fast forward to six months into his 1999 internship at Interscope Records when Ardito ran into Durst in the hallway.
“He mentioned that he had seen me play once and I was like, ‘Yeah, in Florida,’” Ardito says. “He asked what I was doing musically and then told me about some kid he had just met from Kansas City who needed some people to jam with.”
A decade later and Durst’s introduction between Ardito and Puddle of Mudd lead singer Wes Scantlin is still going strong as the multiplatinum hard rock band recently released its fourth studio album, Vol. 4 Songs in the Key of Love & Hate.
Puddle of Mudd’s longevity came as a nice surprise to Ardito, who remembers a concern of being a one-hit wonder after the band’s first single “Control” came out in 2001.
“It had this line in the breakdown––‘I like the way you smack my ass’––and forever me and the rest of the band talked about how we needed to convince Wes to change that line,” shared Ardito. “Since we had just met him we didn’t want to bum him out and we figured there was time to get it changed. The next thing you know the record hits and it goes gold. We were all saying, ‘Oh, if this is our only hit, we are screwed.’ I thought we’d be on the VH1 specials forever as the ‘smack our ass’ band. But ‘Blurry’ came out and saved us.”
Co-written by Ardito and Scantlin, “Blurry” still stands as the band’s most well-known song, reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and Hot Modern Rock Tracks and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Guitar One magazine also named Ardito’s harmonic riff for “Blurry” as one of its “Top Ten Riffs of the Decade.”
While walking his beloved dogs Brando and Luna in his neighborhood off California’s infamous Mulholland Drive, Ardito spent some time talking with Fender News about that standout riff, the band’s past struggles and successes, and the process and inspirations behind the December released album.
FN: You guys worked with a few producers on this album including Brian Howes, Brian Virtue, Jack Joseph Puig and John Kurzweg. What led to that decision?
DA: It just worked out that way because we decided to do them in batches of three, just because time usually lets you see clearly what is worthy and what isn’t. So we did the first set with Howes in Vancouver, went on the road, did three more with Virtue after that and then went back on the road again. When we did Famous, we went to Colorado and spent all of this money to make a whole record that when we came back, no one was completely satisfied with. The whole music industry has changed, and it’s not about wasting money. It’s about being smart and frugal. So we decided not to waste a ton of money by having them send us off to another state to record a whole record that wasn’t necessarily going to end up getting used. Instead we recorded demos for free at my house, honed those down into batches of three and then recorded. In less than a year we had our record.
FN: Your debut album Come Clean has sold over five million copies to date. How much pressure is there to live up to that success and those comparisons when you are making a new album?
DA: You have the old saying, “you have your whole life to write your first record.” It’s very true. We were a group of guys who came together and met in late ’99 and started working all through 2000 and made a record, but we were drawing from everything we had done in the past and combining forces to make this amazing record. I think it has sold 5.8 million copies now worldwide, so you get yourself in a strange situation where you are like, “Ok, now what do we do?” We were one of the last bands to sell a huge number of records in 2001 because Napster and file sharing started and record sales just went to shit. So now, we are trying to up the ante of 5.8 million, which is pretty much impossible.
FN: How do you measure success then?
DA: If you go gold nowadays, it’s probably platinum and a half back in the day. People aren’t album oriented anymore. I think about how I used to listen to Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall and I could listen beginning to end, even Nevermind by Nirvana in ‘91. Kids aren’t programmed like that anymore. They have the ability to grab the one song that’s on the radio and then one Jay-Z song and one Slipknot song. For 99 cents you get a hit song that’s on the radio. So why spend 12 or 13 dollars? Kids have been feeling ripped off for a long time because they spent 13 dollars to get their favorite two songs and they are sick of it and now they are just going to take the one song for 99 cents and be happy.
FN: So if someone is going to just spend 99 cents on a Puddle of Mudd song off the new album, what would you recommend they get?
A: It’s ridiculous to expect them to get the one I’d want. They are going to get the one on the radio, that’s a given. And then if they get turned on to another song off the record that isn’t going to be a single, then that’d be nice.
FN: Do you have a favorite though?
DA: Well, there are certain songs that mean more. After our second record, we were just sitting on the back burner at our record company and there was no sign of hope at the end of the tunnel. I was recording demo after demo and it was a really dark period for us––from personal stuff to the president of our record company, who was just done with us. We had to lock ourselves away in the studio and just work and work and get told, “No, you are not going to get to make a record.” Finally one day, that president wasn’t the president of our label anymore. I had compiled this 35-song demo on multiple CDs to play the new president and he was like, OK, go make a record,” and that was Famous. So there’s a song from that timeframe, “The Only Reason,” that finally made the new album. It’s a heartfelt song with great melody. It switches from 6/8 time signature to 4/4 in the chorus. Wes and I co-wrote it and our buddy Duane, who is Dickey Betts son from the Allman Brothers, is a little protégé. From growing up around the Allman Brothers, he’s learned that whole southern rock guitar lead playing. Duane put all the spice on top of that song, actually on a Fender Telecaster®, and ripped some leads and harder melody stuff. The song is just pretty. So when I think back to the darkest period of our band, that particular song was the most positive thing that was going on in my life, and the thing I was most proud of then. I was dumbfounded because we had this beautiful, positive message in this song, but people were so narrow minded that they wouldn’t even let us make a record. So now to see it finally, even a whole record after Famous, make it onto an album makes me proud. That’s the song I would want people to hear the most.
FN: Although you are Puddle of Mudd’s official bass player, did you also play guitar some on the record?
DA: The two songs I co-wrote on the record, “The Only Reason” and “Uno Mas,” I played guitar and bass. I just talked about that first one, but “Uno Mas” is a punker. I realized the simpler I play, the more apt Wes is going to be able to write stuff to it so I just did some simple punk rock guitar. Basically, I was bored on the tour bus one day trying to kill time on a 10-hour drive and that’s what I came up with.
FN: Wes has talked about how you’ve come along as a singer, too?
DA: It’s fun and all, but it’s definitely like being naked up there when you try to open your mouth and you are not a god-given singer, and I’m just not. But when Paul (Phillips) left the band for a while, I got my buddy Christian Stone to replace him and he’s a lead singer in his own right, so all of the sudden I had this guy to sing backup with and it just made my confidence level go up. Wes, Christian and I were all doing vocals and with all of those songs from Famous, even after Paul came back and Christian left, I still can go out and let them fly with confidence. I think that confidence has carried over to the new album now and it does feel good to sing. It’s a therapeutic thing.
FN: Who came up with Songs in the Key of Love and Hate as an album name?
DA: That was a Paul thing. When I first heard it I thought obviously he lifted it from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, but then I started thing about it and realized that Paul definitely does not listen to Stevie Wonder. He listens to bands like Pantera. A friend of mine was like, “No, it’s this amazing album concept from Leonard Cohen.” Apparently he has an album Songs in the Key of Hate. But I know Paul doesn’t listen to Leonard Cohen either, so I’m proud that Paul is subconsciously stealing from people that he’d never listen to. It was a happy accident that’s spot on because in a band, there’s so many moments of feeling like brothers and then hating each other’s guts after being locked together for 10 years on a tour bus, or in airports, van rides, trains. There’s so much hate and so much love. It’s the perfect title from so many dynamics. Songs like “The Only Reason” and “Keep it Together” are more touching, honest songs about love and relationships and then there’s “Pitchin’ a Fit” and “Stoned.” One of the lines in “Stoned” is based off when the artist relations guys had us pay for a whole record and then told us it wasn’t any good. It’s about people who sit behind desks and snap their finger at you and you are supposed to jump through hoops. There’s a lot of hate in that song. “I’ve got to get this shit off my chest. Another sucker behind a desk. You try to tell me that you know best, snap your fingers, snap your neck.” It’s kind of prong lyrics; instead we are saying, “No, snap your finger, we’ll snap your neck.” So there’s your hate. Sorry if that’s offensive, but this is a really honest interview.
FN: No problem, anything else you’d like to get off your chest? I hear you have an issue with the interpretation and reaction sometimes to “Blurry.”
DA: Yeah, there’s nothing worse than going into a strip bar and seeing a girl onstage strip to “Blurry”––which is this melancholy, heartfelt song that people tell me they get married to. That’s the ultimate worst, only second to, every time there’s a fight at our concert it’s always during “Blurry.” Why is there a mosh pit during “Blurry”? And why is there always a fight? It’s the most emotional song we have and people are slam dancing and fist fighting and girls are stripping to it. I guess it’s because of the video since people correlate what they see with the meaning of the song. It paints a picture for people that might not have anything to do with where you were at personally when you wrote the music.
FN: So what was on your minds when you guys wrote “Blurry”?
DA: For Wes, it was a culmination of missing his kid. He was from Kansas City and living in Los Angeles, so that line about “there’s an ocean between us but that’s not very far” is about him missing his son. But when a lyricist writes to music that someone else comes up with, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy who wrote the music part was thinking anything about what the lyricist was talking about. I wrote the harmonic guitar part years before I ever met Wes. Originally, I was in a melancholic state of mind and was just messing around with guitar harmonics, like on the fourth and fifth frets and in the fifth fret of the high B and E string. Then years later, I went through a huge breakup with some nasty little girl and I was super angry at the whole world. So I think I was just in my room probably doing bad things to my body and listening to heavy ass music when I had this moment of clarity and that beautiful bell-like thing kept ringing out. It just kept developing until I finally nailed the right progression and pattern of the harmonics with the root notes underneath it. That just took a natural progression of time. It was spread out for three years, developing that one silly part. But I never had a singer around who was worth a damn so when I met Wes, I sat down and played the thing and he instantly just started singing things from his old song. We just took our two songs and slammed them together and it became that monster.
FN: And it started out on a Fender acoustic that was a gift from your mom, right?
DA: Yes, I can’t remember if it was for Christmas or my birthday, but I had moved from Boston to L.A. and I was just totally broke at the time. I remember my mom asking what I wanted and I told her I really could use an acoustic guitar to do some writing on. She told me to go pick one out and she’d buy it for me, so I found this blonde acoustic and that’s what I wrote it on. It’s also what I played it on originally for our artist relations guys. There was just something so catchy and pretty about the harmonics so when they heard it, they told us we needed to make something out of it. John Kurzweg took it to the next level and made me play it way faster. He kept pushing up the click track faster and faster. At first, I didn’t think I could even play it that fast. Finally we got the tempo, but I remember being freaked out because in my mind it was this pretty acoustic thing, and then all of the sudden there were these huge power chords in the chorus. I was not pleased at first but they brought the guitars down and I got used to it and it became our biggest song ever.
FN: I know you are a fervent fan of Fender in general. Which ones in your collection did you use on the new album?
DA: On “Spaceship,” which is our first single, I played a ’63 Jazz Bass®. I used that on “Stoned” and “Keep It Together.” The rest of the record is either a gold anodized ’59 Precision Bass® or it’s the Fender Custom Shop bass that I had Alex Perez make, which has an ash Jazz Bass body with the back knobs based off a ’61 Jazz Bass. The center knob is the volume on the top and the outer ring of the knob is the tone for each Jazz pickup. Instead of putting both Jazz pickups in, we have a Jazz pickup in the rear by the bridge and a Precision pickup in the front by the neck, and then we copied the neck from a ’57 P-Bass that I bought from this guy in Louisiana. I had been looking for one forever since it was the very first year of the P-Bass as we know it today––when it stopped looking like a Telecaster. The ’57 P-Bass has a V-taper on the back so when you grab it you feel this sharp V. I guess that’s the Strat® neck that Eric Clapton used, but in ’57, the P-Bass had the V-taper as well. So Alex took my ’57 that I bought in Louisiana and had someone take molds, and he bent solder on the taper of the neck every five frets or so to analyze how strong the taper of the V-shape on the back of the neck was. So my custom-built bass has a ‘57 maple neck with a V-taper on a Jazz body with a Precision and Jazz pickup in it.
FN: How did you finally come across the ’57 Precision Bass in Louisiana?
DA: It was right there in New Orleans. This guy’s uncle was a blues cat. I had been looking forever, and the one thing there is on tour is time, so I spent so much time on my laptop searching for a ’57 Precision and I could never find one. Then all of the sudden there was one listed on Craigslist, but with this horrible, fuzzy photograph. I called the guy from Oklahoma, which wasn’t too far for me to get down there to check it out compared to going from L.A. I didn’t hear back from him and so I fly back to L.A. and as soon as I landed and turned my phone on, it rings and it’s the guy in Louisiana finally calling me back. I ended up getting one of the promoters we work with down there to agree to check it out for me. I sent him photographs of what it should look like and what all the serial numbers should be and he told me it looked exactly like it should. So I wired my promoter cash and then crossed my fingers until it arrived, praying that it was legit and not a reissue. I started taking it out of the box and could smell that scent of a real old vintage instrument. I picked it up and it was an October 1957 P-Bass, and it was like a dream come true. It had never been re-fretted. I don’t recommend buying anything like that ever, but this guy was really trustworthy and I lucked out.
Check out Puddle of Mudd’s tour dates in support of the new album here.