As the election looms and promises of change are rampant, an album called The Illusion of Progress may seem particularly cynical. Over several cigarettes and the remnants of a joint in a Manhattan office building, Staind frontman Aaron Lewis says his band’s sixth studio album’s title is a little more innocuous. “We were all standing around the counter, bullshitting, when we were supposed to be writing songs and getting work done,” he says. “[Producer] Johnny K. said something about it, and my reply was, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of like the illusion of progress.'”
Musically, the band has taken a few new steps on the record, which was released this week. “The Corner” features the first outside collaboration on a Staind record, in the form of a six-piece gospel choir, something Lewis envisioned from the moment he came up with the song. “From its conception, I could always hear it,” he says. “One of the things I was lucky enough to be given in life is I can hear a whole song in my head before it’s finished. I can sing and I can write a song. That’s about all I was given naturally in this world. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
The Illusion of Progress was recorded in and around Springfield, Massachusetts, the town the band calls home thanks to its central location (none of the bandmembers resides there). Lewis recorded his tracks at his barn on his property in the mountains, avoiding the sketchy area around the band’s rehearsal space (while guitarist Mike Mushok was recording one day, a corpse was hauled out of the building across the street).
Despite the bizarre environment in which it was born, the album is ironically the most optimistic Staind record to date. With his head where it currently is — mostly concerned with bringing up his three young daughters — Lewis agrees that he’s coming from a different place now, and perhaps never inhabited the place he was always assumed to. “I’ve always been kind of pigeonholed into being dark and brooding and angry all the time, when that’s me one day out of a hundred,” he says. “In every song, there’s a twist or a turn or just one little phrase that changes everything that a lot of people don’t catch. Even in the early records, there’s always been that ever-so-slight presence of a glimmer of hope all the way through, and that glimmer has kind of grown. As we go from step to step to step, there’s more little twists and more signs of hope. Go figure.”