ALIEN ANT FARM
BACK FROM THE ATTIC
BY JAY S. JACOBS
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 21, 2006.
It takes a certain amount of charming self-confidence for a band – even jokingly – to name their debut independent album Greatest Hits. Well, anyone who has seen the career-spanning video documentary in Alien Ant Farm’s new DVD release knows that the guys of the band aren’t shy.
Alien Ant Farm really exploded into the public consciousness in 2001, when their buzzsaw-hard cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” ruled the airwaves. That song and theband-written follow-up called “Movies” got the band in the rock fast lane, with their major label debut ANThology moving serious copies.
However, while touring Europe for that album, the band was involved in a tragic bus accident in which the driver was killed and lead singer Dryden Mitchell came dangerously close to being paralyzed. Through hard work and rehabilitation Mitchell made a stunning recovery and merely a year later the band returned with their follow-up album TruANT. This album was every bit as good as their celebrated predecessor, however as it was getting released their record label was just about to fold. DreamWorks Records’ eminent demise meant that the album was not promoted properly and got overlooked.
Three years later, with a slightly different line-up, Mitchell and the guys return on a new label with the band’s third CD, Up in the Attic and the career-profile DVD BUSted. In the weeks leading up to the releases, lead singer Mitchell gave us a call to discuss the band.
Nice vague question to start; how did you originally get into music?
Probably pretty normal. Just watching the people around you. My dad used to play clubs. I don’t know that it was really necessarily that he wanted to become some figure… I just would see him change a room through music, [even if] it was just friends at home. I just saw how powerful any little song could be. I wanted to do that.
How did the band come together?
We were all from southern California. I guess we were thought to be – in our small little scene – some of the better players. [When we got together] we were just moonlighting on our own bands to try and start something we thought was cool. Suddenly within maybe two months time we all thought this was better than the bands that we were in, so we decided to go with this.
Your first indie release was called Greatest Hits and your first major label release was ANThology. Did you have big plans from day one?
(laughs) It was obviously tongue-in-cheek. The ANThology thing kind of suited itself as well. Just because it’s ant, you know.
I remember when all that was going down, when we were first starting to get reviews for our first major label record. We were getting for the most part pretty good reviews. But there was always someone like, “Aww, who does this band think they are?” I was so bummed, because it wasn’t like we were the smartest guys in the room – we just thought it was funny, at least on paper. And they’re saying we don’t even have one hit… I just thought, are you this dumb? You’re writing for magazines and you don’t even really get what it is.
Yeah, you had the ANT capitalized, how could you miss that?
Yeah. The whole Greatest Hits thing; in a weird way, we were insinuating that most bands only get one frickin’ record. So, maybe this is the best we’ll do.
Your 2001 album ANThology and the “Smooth Criminal” single became pretty huge hits, getting you all over the radio and MTV and stuff. How surreal was it when that hit?
Everything was really fast. I kind of expected that song – not in like a bragging way – I just sort of knew that song was going to do really well. We were really kind of bummed when that song came out. I guess it’s our own fault and doing. I mean we put it on the record, but we hadn’t intended it to be a single. Dreamworks, they’re smart, they knew the potential that song had and kind of threw it out without our consent. It’s hard to bitch when your record is selling like crazy and you’re getting all this attention from it. We didn’t know, really, if we were happy or bummed about it. I’m glad in hindsight. It was a good thing for the band. But it just came so quick… It was fun, but I knew the attention we were getting – although I think it’s a really cool song as a cover – but I think it really stopped there. Most people don’t really dig deeper than what you see and what’s in front of you in the pop culture. I felt like we are a good band. People were positive with us, too. But I started to resent – that’s what you’re known for and that’s what it is – but it’s not our song.
While in Europe the band was in a horrible bus crash in which you had serious back and neck injuries. Obviously that kind of injury is a huge trauma, both physically and mentally. Could you have even imagined at the time you would be recording again within a year? How did the experience affect your writing and just yourself as person?
More as a person. It was a weird thing. It can happen to anyone. It’s so unexpected, because if you’re doing something dangerous, you’re going to expect to suffer some kind of consequences eventually. It’s not like I was frickin’ rock climbing or something. I was just sitting in the bus. It can happen any time. That, to me, was the biggest shocker. Just laying in the hospitals after the fact, thinking how does this happen? Everything’s going cool. I didn’t think we would be a band after that. I thought I was just going to have to deal with bigger and better things, I guess. The recovery just started coming really quick. The guys were just waiting for me to see what was happening. Within the next couple of months of being by myself I brought them a CD of four or five songs I had done. I was still in a neck brace, so they were kind of surprised. They were waiting for me, and then they suddenly felt like they were lagging and I was writing already. That’s how it really started.
Dreamworks Records was going out of business about the time that you were ready to release TruANT. How do you think that affected the album’s release? Do you think that is why it didn’t do as well as the last album?
I think so, but there are so many different elements that can make or break a record. You know, that being our second and everyone claims that there’s this sophomore jinx. I really thought it was powerful. Even having Robert and Dean DeLeo [of Stone Temple Pilots] produce it was I thought a no-brainer that the success of the record was going to be big. I’ve thought a million times for what could have happened better. Had we known… because Dreamworks kept it private that they were going through the turmoil that they were. None of the bands really knew about it. I just wish that if we had known it, it would have been nice to maybe sit on that record for a few months. When we did get moved over to Geffen, we’d have had something done and pretty bulletproof.
“Sarah Wynn” on TruANT was an extremely personal plea to a drug user. Was it written for someone in particular that you know?
No, actually I’d just seen some documentary – I don’t even know who it was – about this family from New Orleans that had a daughter that was going through all these problems. I’m sure a bunch of families do it. I just thought I’ll just write about this girl from Louisiana who I never met.
You’re on a new label with New Door/Universal. How did that come about and how does the label work out for the band?
Universal and Geffen, it’s like the same building over there. Geffen was really gung ho, “Yeah, we have no intention of dropping you guys…” A lot of people from Geffen gave us the go-ahead and gave us the budget to make this record. We finished it, and basically from the people up top just said, “Hey, you know what, we’re really not even interested in rock and roll right now.” They wanted to do hip-hop, and basically we were in this weird position of… do we give our record [to the label]? How do we even go about buying it at this point? But we don’t want it to just be in some shelf. Universal just kind of raised their hand and said, “Hey, we’ll take it and work it.” It was cool that we didn’t even have to solicit ourselves or anything.
Up In the Attic has some songs that were also on last year’s self-released CD 3rd Draft, such as “What I Feel Is Mine,” “She’s Only Evil” and “Around the Block…”
Yeah, the whole album is… that’s a bootleg of the record. We got on tour with 311 and we wanted to sell some merch and just let the kids know we had a record that Geffen didn’t want. It was kind of… well, if they’re not going to put the record out, we’ll just do it illegally. (laughs) It sold a few thousand just from what we could on the road. But basically it’s the same record. The single that’s out now [“Forgive and Forget”] is the only song we added to it.
On your new album, Up In the Attic, you work with some people from your past, Jim Wirt and Jay Baumgardner. Why did you decide to work with them again? Were you looking to go back to basics for the new album?
Well, I guess, maybe. NRG is a studio that Jay owns. We did our ANThology record at NRG and we’ve always just preferred that studio. So he kind of came with the studio. I mean, he’s a great mixer, but…. Jim was just someone from the past that, when we did get signed to Dreamworks, Dreamworks kind of just assigned us a producer. We were just happy to have the deal and we really didn’t want to rock the boat. We felt like we kind of wronged Jim in a way because he helped us so much, and once we got on a legitimate label we had to use someone else. It felt kind of nice for us to… I mean he doesn’t need our help, by any means, but it felt good to tell him we have a budget now to provide you.
On the other hand, two of the original band members have left in the past year. Is it weird to go on without them?
I don’t know. Sometimes it is. But I want to just kind of… We have this record and I want to finish it with some kind of grace. I don’t want to beat some dead horse and be like 40 and tell people I’m in some rock band that had this hit in 2001. But if we still have a major label behind us and providing us with some support, I want to finish this off the proper way. Our bass player just got accepted to (the University of California in) Berkeley, so he’s going to go to school. It’s all good. Everyone’s fine with each other. I just… I kind of started this band so I didn’t have to go to school, you know? This is what I’m doing right now.
Musically the album is rather diverse, there is rockier stuff like “What I Feel Is Mine,” “It Could Happen” is rather poppy, “She’s Only Evil” is more acoustic, “Around the Block” feels almost like classic rock. Were you looking to experiment with styles on the album?
We just wrote a good thirty songs and picked what we thought to be the best thirteen or so. I don’t think anything really conscious – at least for me. If there was some kind of formula that I knew worked every time, I would use it. But I think we’re just kind of trying write what we think is cool.
In the album, when the songs turn to love, a lot of the relationships are in trouble or dying like in “Forgive and Forget,” “She’s Only Evil” and “What I Feel Is Mine.” As a songwriter, do you find troubled relationships more interesting than happy ones?
Well, yeah, I think. It’s funny, because I just got married. We’ve been married for two months. I’m happy now. But, in a weird way, that doesn’t provide the best recipe for me just jotting thoughts down. I usually like the really dysfunctional drama to make – it’s almost like … at the time when everything was starting and I was a kid, I had no money, so these little frickin’ ditties were almost like offerings – you know, take me back or something – at some stupid romantic kid level. I think that that’s all that love songs really are. It seems to be the better ones for me.
One thing I like about the band is that you are hard, but you aren’t afraid to have a tune. A few years ago it was something of a sell-out for a rock band to have a melody. Why do you think the world is so ready for more melodic rock?
I don’t know. It just kind of comes. I think maybe it’s like blue jeans or something. It never really goes away. You will get these big, huge, trendsetting bands like the Limp Bizkits and all that, and it’s very dated to me. You can hear those records – not to slag any band like Limp Bizkit – but it sounds so much like the year that it came out. I don’t think we’re doing something so innovative. I just like to hear… there are songs that we’ve written that I feel in ten years aren’t going to sound so plastic.
You are also releasing a career spanning DVD called BUSted. What was it like looking back those videos of the band’s earlier days?
It’s funny. It’s sentimental to us, of course. I just get a kick out of it. I haven’t even seen the DVD yet, but I’ve seen every part of it, just going through the editing process. Just making it. I haven’t seen the final one, but I know it’s cool. I’m glad we had enough. There were hundreds of hours that we went through. We shaved it down to like one hour.
Nowadays musicians have so many more ways to reach out to their fans, the forum on the official site, your MySpace page. What is it like being able to communicate with the fans like that?
Yeah, I do. But it’s hard to say. Kids will come on with legitimate [questions]; wanting to know something. “Hey, I’m just starting out in music.” I kind of get a kick out of some kid telling me a story of when they were in high school and this album helped them a lot. Otherwise, it’s… (pauses) you know, you read – and it’s cool, I’m not opposed to it, but just you read a bunch of, “Hey, you guys rock! Talk to you later.” It’s there. I don’t know how massive and how important it really is. We kind of grew up in the era right when that was kind of sparking. So we didn’t really use it as much. Now, younger kids that are presented with that immediately out of the gate of being a band, maybe they know how to use it a little more strategically. It’s fun, but I don’t really… I don’t know.
Radio playlists are so regimented these days. You used to be able to hear rock, pop, country and soul on the same station and that just doesn’t happen anymore. Do you think that can make it tougher for a band to find an audience?
As far as niche? Yeah. Well, I mean, as a fan, if people just want to hear that sound then I guess radio stations are making money, so maybe people just want to hear that one thing.
In the end, how would you like people to see your music?
Geez, that’s broad. I don’t know. I know that this record can do well and I know that it can fall on its face. I’ve seen we’ve been so blessed. It’s funny, because I’ve done a few of these phoners in the last couple of weeks and people will present me with all the tragedy that happened with this band. I think there’s a lot of good things that have happened to us. It’s pretty equal. There’s a lot of bullcrap with the bus crash and the label drop and blowing up on a single that’s not your song. Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of good and bad like anything. I’m just glad this record’s coming out. It’s not sitting over at Geffen. If people buy it or burn it, it’s cool with me. I just want it to be heard by the kids that want to hear it. There’s a few out there that really have stuck with us the whole time.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
I don’t know. I’ve only heard opinions. You know, “you guys are great.” “You guys suck.” It’s all just someone’s thoughts, so I can’t argue them.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 21, 2006.
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