Swollen Members

Swollen Members
In the ten years since the release of their first album together, Mad Child and Prevail have elicited a lot of emotions. There's the devotion of their oldest fans, who rode for the duo since "Lady Venom" and "Fuel Injected," and the scorn of those who insist they've never put out a good record. There's the elation of family members upon learning of the group's first Juno win ― for Balance, in 2001 ― and the apprehension of their former management head, who dropped the group because of Mad Child's affiliation with the Hells Angels. Shortly before the release of their sixth studio album, Armed to the Teeth, Mad Child and Prevail spoke with Exclaim! about music, the politics of the business and an addiction that almost cost Mad Child everything.

It's been a decade since your official debut with Balance. What have been some of your biggest achievements, or proudest moments, since then?
Mad Child: 2001 to 2004 were epic years for us. Those years were really incredible. The wave of success that we got to ride in Canada during those three years was just unforgettable. Looking back, we were real blessed to have gotten that opportunity.
Prevail: For me, having grown up in Victoria and knowing Nelly Furtado for a good portion of her life when she was younger, I think when we were able to do "Breath" together, that was ten years in the making. That was a pretty special moment. Of course, watching her rise to her success has been amazing.
Mad Child: Our first Juno win, I think, was probably the most exciting moment of our whole career just because it was so unexpected. I was at my parents' house watching the Junos and my mom was so excited we were nominated. We were getting mad at her, like, "Mom, there's no way we're going to win this! Don't get yourself so riled up and excited because there's no chance we're going to win this." When we won, I was more blown away than anybody. It was such an exciting feeling.
Prevail: My grandma called me and I thought she was having a heart attack. "Oh my God! Oh my God!" "Grandma, what's wrong?" My aunt lives on the East coast and saw it in real time. She called my grandma, and she in turn called me.

What would you say have been some of your biggest challenges as a group?
Mad Child: 2009. [Laughs] The whole thing, coming back to this world after being addicted to drugs for the last four years. The music business changed 100 percent. There's not very much left from what I remember, running a business and being in a group. That whole business model has changed completely.
Prevail: The one challenge that every hip-hop artist has is adding the legitimacy to their lineage by having success in the States, it being the birthplace of hip-hop. I believe that Swollen Members has had so much love from Canada that we really need to prove it not only to [the U.S.] but to ourselves that we have the vested faith to be able to take it to the next level and make the kind of noise that [Kardinal Offishall] and Drake have been making down south right now, which is amazing.

[To Mad Child] You mentioned your drug addition, which had you taking 20 Oxycontins a day, at your worst. Why did you decide to speak out about it?
Mad Child: I've made some songs on my MySpace page ― I think one was on [The Mad Child EP] ― that were talking about my drug addiction. I got a decent amount of feedback from other people who had addiction problems and they expressed that that stuff was helping them. When you're an addict, you're not going to be able to quit doing drugs until you're ready to do it. Your friends and family can tell you it's time, and that all helps, but you're not really going to be able to quit until you tell yourself that you've had enough. I felt like if some people are hitting me back saying that this is helping them, if this is one of the 20 things that might click in a person's mind to help them say, "Hey, I've had enough," then maybe speaking freely about it will reach a few other people and help them. It might be one of their 20 reasons to say, "Hey, I've had enough too."

[To Prevail] Were you aware of it all when it was happening?
Prevail: To be honest with you, not the first, maybe, year. I quite honestly didn't notice much of a change aesthetically or anything like that. When we did find out about it, it took me and [Rob the Viking] by a bit of a surprise. I think about groups like AC/DC and Rolling Stone and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Some of those guys have lost members of their groups to similar addictions. Those groups stick together and find the strength within their circle to lift each other up when times are tough and we're thankful to have Mad Child back in full form.

[To Mad Child] How long have you been clean now?
Mad Child: Three-and-a-half months.

Congratulations. Is it still a struggle or is it easier every day?
Mad Child: Nah, it's not a struggle anymore. Once in a while I'll get little panicked moments where I'm like, "Oh my God, this is as good as I'm ever going to feel again." When you come back from doing three years of damage to your life emotionally and financially and physically, it's going to take more than three months to resolve all the problems I've created for myself. I've really got to grind to get back on my feet, but I find when I keep myself busy and keep working toward goals, that really helps. Also, I'm an opiate addict, not a drug addict meaning that... If I want to smoke weed once in a blue moon, it's not like I'm going to go out and buy an ounce, and I've got to smoke the whole bag. I can smoke a little bit of weed, or I can drink casually and not have to get hammered. Those things are fine for me, and I've been careful with them to make sure they're not triggers to make me have bad decisions on slipping back on to the pills.

How much has that all cost you?
Mad Child: Well I spent $500,000 on pills over the last three years, and I estimate I've lost about $2 million because of my drug addiction. When I say that, I mean that I had invested a fair amount of the money I made into real estate, and knowing myself, if I had not been on drugs and not paying attention to the world, I would have paid attention to where the market was going. I would have gotten rid of some of my properties in the right six-month period [rather than] not paying attention to them at all and not caring if I had tenants. They were just money pits. When you add all that up, I figure I lost about $2 million over the past couple years.

Well that sucks.
Mad Child: Yeah, that fuckin' sucks! [Laughs] Yes it does, my friend.

You've said that Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, dropped Swollen Members from Nettwerk's management because of your affiliation with the Hells Angels.
Mad Child: Yeah, that sucked too! Terry had [passed along a message through our former manager that] if I didn't stop hanging around with guys in the club that they were going to let us go, because they didn't want anything to do with that kind of stuff. I was a little bummed out with that because I felt... like we're supposed to be living in a free country. I should be able to hang out with who I want to. It's not like I was bringing anybody to the office, or to any functions of theirs.
Prevail: To be honest, I think at that time in our career, it was one of those stages where we learned a lot about the business side of the music industry. From a business perspective, I've learned a lot from those guys. The bottom line is, Battle Axe has remained independent and stayed strong even through a transition period. I would even say something that was more impactful than our change in management was when we were signed to Virgin U.S. for a short period of time and having that fall through as far as not having an album being released under Virgin with the name Swollen Members on it. We learned a lot of lessons during that period of time and, looking back, they definitely strengthened us for what we didn't know was going to come with Shane's [Mad Child's] particular situation.

Tell me something about Armed to the Teeth (out Oct. 27).
Prevail: Tre Nyce, the newest Battle Axe Warrior, came into the camp and really reinvigorated myself, Mad and Rob, to see the hunger in a 20-year-old rapper's eyes again. He really added so positively to the dynamic of the recording process. Our first time in the studio, he had been there for maybe 15 minutes. Rob put the track on, 30 seconds later he steps out on the patio to have a breath of fresh air, turns around, looks at everybody and says, "I have the chorus." That ended up being "Bang Bang." You're going to really see this cat's talent on the record.
Mad Child: One thing you may or may not have noticed, if you've listened to previous Swollen Members albums, we were very much into abstract expressionism in the early part of our career. We might have used references from movies like Conan and Dungeons & Dragons and stuff like that. There are a certain amount of fans that want us to stay just on that path ― and that's fine ― but I wanted to make sure, because of the life that I lead, I was able to touch on different topics. I would say that some fans that have followed us in our career will know that this album is more street.

I know what you mean, because a lot of underground fans can be very fickle, and if you change―
Mad Child: Exactly. That's exactly what I'm getting at. This album is definitely more street oriented. It's not 1999 anymore, it's 2009. I have certain types of music I like listening to when I'm driving around, and I wanted to make sure, as an artist, I had the freedom to talk about what I wanted to.