A typical conversation with Lewis is filled with such silences - awkward, drawn out moments when the twenty-nine year old lingers in contemplation. When he does speak, Lewis goes slowly, sounding exhausted by the endeavor of choosing words. His voice, a soft baritone, is punctuated by the hint of a lisp, and his train if thought often derails as he works his way through his sentences. "I'm not a very good conversationalist," he admits. Lewis' songs draw from a traumatic childhood during which he felt ignored by his parents and alienated from his peers, and the lyrics often convey feelings of self-loathing and deep loneliness. "If you want to call our music dark, that's fine," says Lewis. "I'm calling it reality-based. I'm not making anything darker than it is already." He sees his songs as mutual therapy for the fans and for himself. His lyrics tell kids that they're not the only ones who feel like losers.
Aaron Lewis was born in Springfield, Vermont, to hippie parents, Ted and Sondra. Their house, a log cabin whose front yard was littered with pot plants, sat on the side of a mountain adjacent to a dirt road too precaroius to drive on during the winter months. "They would have to drag me and the groceries up the hill on a sled," Lewis recalls. "And then we would sled down to the Volkswagen bus when it was time to leave." When he was very young, Lewis' parents played in a folk band, and he quickly became a fan of artists such as James Taylor, Harry Chaplin, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.By the time Lewis' family had moved to New Hampshire in 1980, Ted and Sondra had separated and reunited more than once. The new surroundings didn't improve the relationship, and the couple split up a couple more times before moving to Springfield, Massachusetts, divorcing for good when Aaron was thirteen. "It was obvious that something between them wasn't right," he says. And then, sighing, he adds, "It almost seems like they never should have been together. My dad is very much like I am: laid back and kind of a procrastinator. I guess I'm a chip off the ol' block. My mom was the complete opposite."
After the divorce, Lewis' mother moved back to New Hampshire and Aaron remained in Massachusetts with Ted, a dental technician, and the younger of his two sisters. "Me and my mom had a big blowout when I was thirteen or fourteen," he says. "At the end, I basically told her not to call me and to stay the fuck out of my life. That lasted for three or four years."
Lewis' relationship with his father was less stained. Both love to fish, and they spent a lot of time on Otter Creek, which bordered his grandpa Corky's Vermont property. Ted and Aaron remain close - recently, Aaron took him on a fishing trip to Miami - and they talk on the phone frequently, even when Staind are on the road. But Ted acknowledges that, even as a child, Aaron must have been sensitive to the tension between his parents. "I felt like I gave him plenty of my time," says Ted. "But I think in the younger days, I'm not so sure we wanted to be married or even have children at that point. And Aaron probably felt that."
"There wasn't much of a safe home atmosphere," Aaron says. "There wasn't the feeling of a tight-knit family. My grandfather died, and his whole side of the family may as well have died with him, because we were basically disowned. To have half of my family disappear left me with a lot of abandonment issues." To compound matters, Lewis' childhood was marred by what he calls "a few bad people in the neighborhood." - older kids who "tended to pick me out... They didn't just beat me up. It was a little more than that." He's cautious about adding more, but it is clear the experience left deep scars. Feelings of alienation, Lewis says, developed early.
It was only a couple of years ago that Aaron told his father about his childhood troubles. "I'm surprised that he didn't come to me when it was happening," Ted says. "I thought we had such a close relationship. But he held it in. That's probably where some of his anger came from."
"I was the sensitive kid," Lewis remembers, his voice tightening. "I was the kid who, if he got picked on, would run home crying. Even my friends - I would be the brunt of their jokes. People liked the reactions they got out of me. And I always gave them a reaction."
Lewis recalls a sudden surge in popularity always seemed to come after he'd perform at a talent show or a battle of the bands: "That was the only time girls were interested in me." A sly smile pushes at the corners of his mouth. "When I look back, it's like, 'Fuck all of you.' My ten-year reunion was last year. I was going to have the tour bus drop me off. But then I was like, 'Fuck that.'"
Strange but true: Aaron Lewis enjoys fishing and hunting. "If there was no hunting season, deer would overpopulate and starve," he opines. "It would just cause a collapse of the ocosystem." Lewis, who first went hunting with his father and grandfather in Vermont when he was seven, says he has never killed anything he didn't eat. Smiling slyly, he declares, "Like Ted [Nugent] says, 'If you're gonna kill it, grill it.'" Lewis owns an assortment of rifles - more than ten, between him and his dad - and he's a member of the National Rifle Association. "I don't think the key to wiping out inner-city violence is to ban guns," he says, taking an uncharacteristic authoritative tone. "Criminals are always gonna be able to get guns; it's the law-abiding citizens who can't. That's the most ass-backward way to fix a problem I've ever heard." In his lyrics, Lewis bares his soul with unmitigated honesty, calling himself "ugly," "pathetic," and "fuck up." But when a conversation turns personal, he keeps his guard up. "All the things that I've talked about in our songs are very personal and very real," he says. "It helps just to actually have people listen." On stage, Lewis trudges back and forth at an almost glacial pace. He keeps his head down, eyes half-shut, and one arm folded across his stomach, his body language communicating anguish. Between songs, he rarely speaks. "The way I look at it," he says, "I say every possible thing I could want or need to say in the songs."
Aaron Lewis has proved to a nation that the pen is certainly mightier than the sword. His lyrics and rythmic voice have spoken volumes to a nation full of troubled teens. More than that, Aaron has taught us all that life doesn't have to be glamorous to make a success story out of it. We all live with demons inside of us that can't escape.