411 Music Interview 10.12.10: Swollen Members
Swollen Members are a Canadian hip hop group consisting of rappers Mad Child and Prevail, and their producer Rob the Viking. They have been putting out records independently since the 1990’s, however recently member Mad Child had some trouble with substance abuse, which caused a three year lapse in releases from the group. After his recovery the group decided to sign to Subnoise Records, and are readying their second release on the label, Dagger Mouth, expected to hit stores in February. On their current North American tour I had the opportunity to have a sit down interview with Swollen Members in Calgary Alberta Canada on September 23, 2010. Below is the video of the interview as well as the transcript.
For more information on Swollen Member visit: Swollen Members official website
Part 1: Listen to Prevail and Rob the Viking touch on topics such as Mad Child’s recent troubles and recovery, their upcoming solo albums, touring, signing to Subnoise Records, as well as their brief time on Virgin Records.
Part 2: Listen to Prevail and Rob the Viking speak on upcoming Swollen Members albums such as their upcoming new album Dagger Mouth, Monsters in the Closet 2, 1997, and a potential Battle Axe Warriors record.
How has the tour been so far?
Prevail: The tour so far has been sick, almost every room has been sold out, except for one when we were like 8 people shy of a complete sell out so It’s been awesome, considering we are sort of in between albums right now, just in the studio recording. We came out for Armed to the teeth and did a pretty extensive tour, what we are working on right now is a project called Dagger Mouth, so we will definitely be coming back to the Back Alley when the album comes out, probably February, but in the mean time it’s good to be able to get out on the road.
We really find that the Swollen Members fans are real honest with us, real straight forward, really upfront, so when we are recording it helps us to have a little bit of guidance from the fans, saying hey, you know, we dig these kinds of tracks, we liked the last album, or the album before it, and these are some of the songs that we weren’t feeling, so we can get a gauge of where we are going when we are recording and the live show I really think go hand and hand.
What is the difference between touring in Canada and touring in the United States?
Rob the Viking: There isn’t really a big difference, honestly we get a great response wherever we go. The US has such a great underground following, as well, we have had success in Canada on the mainstream as well as the underground, in the US we have built a really strong underground following, we are able to hit up a lot of towns, ski resorts, colleges and what not, Colorado, Utah, California, all sorts of different places, we just have such a great audience out there too, so it’s really, anywhere we go it’s just a chance to connect with our fans and our friends.
With the release of your last album Armed to the teeth, you released it under SubNoize Records after putting out your own records for so long. What is it like being signed to SubNoize Records
Prevail: It’s amazing, those guys are like family, and the great thing is that Swollen already had a fan base going into that but hooking up with all the SubNoize Soldiers, and all the crazy KMK fans, has really, and we have had an opportunity to tour with the Kottonmouth Kings, that put us in front of a bunch of people who might not have heard of our group before, and by the end of the night I would say 85% of them was like that was dope, and got turned on to what we are doing. We have been able to extend our fan base, through our connection with SubNoize, and on top of that learning about the business when in this day and age, you can never protect yourself from knowing too much of the in’s and outs of the recording industry.
Before that you signed briefly with Virgin records, what happened with that?
Prevail: Ya we got signed and we got dropped (laughing). I think now looking back, in retrospect it was a huge learning experience for us, we had already been coming off of a great wave of success in Canada, like Rob said we were able to sort of crack that mainstream market, and that caught some attention of some people in the US, Virgin happened to be one of those entities. We got signed and were sort of doing our own thing, making our own style of music, and we ended up getting linked up through Virgin, with a very talented group of producers, called the Matrix, who at that time honestly had like 5 out of the top 10 songs on the radio. There style was very mainstream forward and we were still trying to hold on our underground roots as much as we could, although I think we came up with some very creative music, we just didn’t find a common ground that I think Virgin was doing back flips about, and it came down to us and another group and they made the choice. That was our run with Virgin, like I said we came home and went through a bit of a period where everyone was trying to find out who they actually were, as people, because that whole 3 to 4 year ride in Canada was a lot to take in. So all in all, ya we got signed, we got dropped, like hundreds and thousands of other groups do in this industry, but I think we were able to have a unique insight into why it all went down and of course how it affected us, re-established our belief in what we were doing in the first place. Never change for anybody man, fuck that, you get something that you love and you feel good about it in your heart, about doing it, do you man, forget all that rah rah rah in your ear, bullshit (laughing).
We have all heard about Mad Childs recent problems over the last couple years, which had an effect on the group by causing a three year gap between releases. How did his issues affect you guys, and did you ever think that this could be the end of Swollen members as a group?
Rob the Viking: Ya you definitely think that when you see somebody close to you that you work with on a daily basis going through something like that and you don’t know if they are really going to come out on the other side even alive. We didn’t know, we were like kind of looking at each other like we were going to have to do something drastic just to try and get him to wake up and snap out of it and at the end of the day its honestly a personal decision, there is not much that we can really do to get him to stop. He did, and he came to the conclusion that it was either stop now or stop forever kind of thing, stop life, and he made the right decision and he has been doing really good with that and we are really proud of him. But as activists we really struggled with that because we had to spend a lot of time to try to be creative, almost without him and he is a part of our group so, I mean that is just detrimental to what we are doing,
You have this very unique style and sound, do you ever feel like you are handcuffed and trapped because every time you try and do something different or expand your sound your fans criticize you for it?
Prevail: Naw, I think from the beginning, Swollen Members from Balance up until even now Dagger Mouth, we always experiment we do everything from you know, I’m in love with the girl songs to I’m going to come in this club and light the roof on fire and smash holes in the floor and leave the speakers short circuited. So I think we have always been abstract in the way that we approach most of our material and some of the topical subjects especially but I don’t feel that we have ever been handcuffed. I think that if there have been any obstacles, put up in the creative process those are things that we have put up ourselves and had to overcome. We have the skill set to take on a new sound and give it a new approach, and as an artist man, I don’t want to write the same lyrics next week as I did 12 years ago, that is not a challenge for me, I feel like we know what that is and to tap into that is already part of our aura, it’s part of the identity and signature of Swollen Members. That is always going to be there, we can get to that dark dungeons and dragons abstract material in the blink of an eye, but in order to do that and for us to feel good about it we have to know that we can do other sounds and other styles as well.
Prevail you recently released your solo album, SpaseFase in July, what has been the response to that?
Prevail: Ya Spasefase, produced by Ol City Rockers, Rob helped with the arrangements of the songs and getting everything tightened up and actually engineered the whole session. That was fresh for me man, it was a bit of a departure from anything I had ever done before, real aggressive, heavy modulation, and really in your face, production and sound, and because it was a 6 song ep, I was able to go in a direction that was pretty topic oriented but really disguised, you really had to listen. That ep is for real swollen fans, and for real lyricists to wrap their head around and producers to, Ol City Rockers just go this fresh different style to them that turned my ears on like yo damn we should do something and we listened to a couple joints one day and we ended up making the ep. I think Razorblades was the first song, we kind of sat on that one for months, but the rest of the ep we ended up knocking out in like 3 weeks, so it was an easy great project to do and we are probably going to work on a part 2 and 3 and make it a trilogy.
Rob do you have any plans on releasing a beats or instrumental album?
Rob the Viking: Actually yes, I do have plans to release an instrumental album. I released, Beats to Pillage and Conquer, like, I don’t even know what year that was probably 7 or 8 years ago, and I have had that question asked to me a few times, and creatively as an artist I think that I just have to get my mind in the right place to do it, and we have been so busy working on Swollen Members things and dealing with personal things in our lives that it just hasn’t come around, but at the same time as an artist right now, I feel like I am really progressing and evolving and am really inspired by the things that are going on in the industry in terms of instrumental albums, and it has gotten me excited about making another one, so there is one going to be in the foreseeable future.
How do you go about making a Swollen Members Album? Does Rob make the beats first and then you write the lyrics to fit the beat?
Rob the Viking: Ya we do do that, that is sort of the token formula, for starting a song, but sometimes we have done it the other way around we had a concept and me and Prev are like… Mad had a cool idea, me and Prev are like ok lets go in and mess around, and I created a beat around a melody that somebody else had, we have done that before definitely, but I think primarily we do it the other way.
Prevail: I like it the other way, I like when Rob gives us music and we get to just write. Because sometimes you get a beat and you just hear it and you know it’s got to be a topic, it’s got that feel, it needs to have a story. Sometimes you get a beat and Mad and I call each other and say dude, write a sick 16 and let’s come in and maybe write a 4 each and finish it off and go back and forth or write another 8. But I like when Rob gives us the beats and opens the flood gates and lets us go. That’s my favorite.
Rob the Viking: Ya I like that way too. Honestly I think it fits better too, because the way that making beats and samples work, it’s like you can write your own lyrics, but you don’t write the samples so to try to find the sample to fit the lyrics is a different thing, it’s kind of like working against it, so it is easier to do it that way.
So Dagger Mouth is Coming out in 2011. Can you tell us a little about it, how many songs do you have done, and when is it coming out?
Rob the Viking: We are almost at the stage where we can send all the completed songs in to get mixed. I think we are about three songs out from having a final album which is going to be about 13 songs. Right now I think that we have about 13 songs, but it’s not complete yet so we are going to take a few out and replace them. I would say next month we are going to have it done and be mixing it so at the end of next month, which is October
Prevail: Ya we have to have it done by then. We have to have it done before the US tour, or there is no point in going on tour.
Rob the Viking: No it will be done, but I think it will be out…
Rob the Viking: If not sooner.
Prevail: Ya it’s tough to fight the Christmas crowd, because Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, all your top commercial groups, spend tons of dough to get rack and placement and premier visual placement when you walk into a store or their online presence just gets bumped up around the holidays. We are an underground Canadian rap group, we can’t really fuck with the budget that their spending on advertising so we got to sort of pick our times accordingly and that usually ends up being when people pay their credit cards back in February after the holiday madness but we will see.
Who do you have as guests on that record?
Prevail: Shit do we even have any guests on that?
Rob the Viking: We haven’t actually added any guests to that album yet, and that is still a topic that is up in the air so we have a few ideas, but..
Do you want to say any?
Prevail: (Shakes head no)
Rob the Viking: We also have …. We are also working on Monsters in the Closet Part 2, I think it is going to be called just Monsters 2. Mad Child is also working on a solo album which I handled the production for most of. We also have a record called 1997 coming out, that is basically part 2 of Balance, it is songs recorded in that time, and b sides of 12 inches that were released that were not actually on the album. It is a collection of those so that’s exciting. For people who are really craving and wanting to hear a little bit more of that, they will get some real shit from that era.
On Armed to the Teeth, you featured Tre Nyce on a lot of songs, what is your relationship with him?
Prevail: Ya warrior for life, he is not a member of Swollen Members but he is a Battle Axe Warrior for life, he’s like our baby brother man, eventually when the mantle gets past, and the torch is getting handed off that will be getting past to Tre. He is waving the banner right now and repping hard for the Warriors.
How did you guys meet up with him?
Prevail: Actually I met Tre through a friend of mine, we have a mutual buddy, and he and his partner at the time Caz, they had a group called Corruption Camp, and they were hollering at my boy, like yo, we want to get Prev some of our music, and that ended up happening, and listening, and just kind of chilling out. The first song that we recorded with Tre was actually Bang Bang over at Rob’s studio, and we knocked that out, literally, Tre came in the room, Rob brought the beat up and Tre went out on the patio, had a smoke, came back in, 45 seconds later says I got my chorus and half my verse. We were like, what? He was like no I got the chorus and half my verse already written in my head. We were like alright man go, let’s see what the talent level is, he puts the cans on, bang bang he just starts rocking, kid is like a creative force to be reckoned with for sure. He has swag he has demeanor, he has style and honestly when I … I know when I introduce people to my mom and my mom calls me the next day and is like you guys picked a winner, I know it’s a good call so, he has a great personality and he is a very family oriented person and we have that mentality throughout Swollen Members, keep it crew first and he echoes that.
Do you guys have a battle axe warrior album coming out?
Prevail: The new new Battle Axe Warriors is still being slowly formed. There is a lot of us now but we are still filling in the artists, whom we would like see have a vision on a completed compilation, so not yet, but for the old school battle axe warriors, like the original, Son Doobie, Buck 50, Mister Brady, Abstract Rude, of course me, Mad, Rob Moka……
Rob the Viking: Who knows… (smiling)
Prevail: You never know right…. (laughing)
What is your favorite part of touring?
Rob the Viking: Doing the shows, the shows are so fun, the travelling is not that great, it’s alright, we can do it we are not complaining, but getting in front of the fans, and feeling the energy and the response of the music we have been creating, it’s really reassuring and very gratifying. It seems like people have a good time at our show so we are happy about that too.
Anything else you would like to ad?
Prevail: Thank you!
Rob the Viking: Ya thanks to everybody man thanks to the fans and everybody for supporting us over the years, we are so happy to be doing what we do as a life career it’s amazing so thank you