Swollen Members reborn: Beautiful Death Machine [Interview]
Ottawa, ON – When the Swollen Members stepped back into the studio to record Beautiful Death Machine, they did with no preconceived notion; they weren’t worrying about the change of times or what any artist was doing musically.
Madchild, Prevail and Rob the Viking were not out for second opinions…
“That’s what made it the biggest reward,” said Madchild of the direction behind their tenth studio record to date and it’s public response. “Everything has felt like the re-birth, or the second coming of Swollen Members. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but we’re finally back.”
To celebrate Beautiful Death Machine’s March 19 release, the 4-time Juno award-winning group took upon a slew of 20 cross-country shows which started on March 15 in their native British Columbia. They reached the nation’s capital on April 16 to wrap up the month long tour at Ritual Nightclub, courtesy of Kapacity Entertainment.
HipHopCanada sat down with Madchild and Rob the Viking to discuss the intentions behind Beautiful Death Machine, the hardships and revival of the group, a new experience of touring and more.
“This tour was a blessing, a real pleasure,” said Madchild. “The whole idea of doing the news again; Entertainment Tonight, HipHopCanada… All these wonderful interviews are really making us feel like we’re being embraced by our wonderful country once again.”
What was supposed to be a follow-up to the group’s 2011 effort, Dagger Mouth, turned out to be more in every conceivable way possible.
The Vancouver hip-hop troupe gave new life to its trademark ‘horror movie soundtrack-textured’ rap on Beautiful Death Machine, proving they are far from a hearse containing a dead rap group’s corpses on a slow roll to the graveyard. Swollen Members are alive, more alive than ever.
Living up to it’s title and image (the cover features the titular Beautiful Death Machine as a ’67 Camaro equipped with a rocket launcher and Gatling gun), the album is a sinister, fear-defying ride to the depths of hell and back.
“People were happy to hear that we were back to our classic, signature sound,” said Madchild. “We remember sitting back down in the studio for the first time in a long time, telling each other we were just going to be ourselves again.”
“We went in to make music; a record that displays our full potential,” Rob the Viking added. “We weren’t really looking to force anything that wasn’t natural. That’s a big part to consider when discussing the successful return of Swollen Members.”
The group effort went on to chart number one on iTunes across the country and number three on Canada’s Billboard following it’s March 19 release. Madchild’s Dope Sick also ranked number three on the same national chart upon it’s 2012 drop.
“The statistics [behind Beautiful Death Machine] really say something,” said Madchild.“It says that there is a large audience out there saying ‘enough’ because they want their true, underground hip-hop back.”
The group’s anti-thesis towards mainstream Canadian music has always been evident through their fierce lyricism. For so long has the group represented the Canadian independent hip-hop scene which has attributed to much of their success over the past decade.
Madchild’s own Battle Axe Records has released a majority of the group’s studio albums since 1999, including Bad Dreams in 2001 which went on to sell 155,000 units in North America and certifying platinum. 2002’s Monsters in the Closet was certified gold after reaching 80,000 sales in Canada alone.
During his 2012 appearance in Ottawa with Tech N9ne, Madchild preached the survival of underground hip-hip to supportive fans in Ritual Nightclub, thanking them for “not giving a fuck about what the radio plays.”
“I’ll say it again, fuck what the mainstream plays” said Madchild, reassuring fans of where he stands behind the statement from a contemporary perspective.
“Mainstream Canadian radio is what’s wrong with our [music] industry. There is not enough hip-hip on our stations, just too much of this Euro-electro music being forced down our throats. There needs to be a place for hip-hop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on mainstream radio, but I won’t stand for being force-fed what a small group of people in a room decided we should be force-fed.”
The Beautiful Death Machine tour saw a much more interactive Swollen Members reaching out to the same Battle Axe movement they sparked years ago to thank the fans for supporting them every step of the way. To do so, the group had set up VIP meet-and-greets at venues across the country throughout their 20 date tour. They had also arranged exclusive meetings between the group and Battle Axe warriors in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg to discuss the future of the movement.
When asked about the highlight of the tour, Madchild replied “I can’t just pick one.”
“This tour went beyond our expectations,” he continued. “If I had to start talking about memorable moments they would be 80 per cent of the shows we played, they were just incredible. We were really experiencing the success of the album while we were on the road.”
To add to it’s number three status across the country’s charts, Beautiful Death Machine claimed the number 12 hip-hop album by sales in the United States following its release.
“It was a huge progression to see first-hand,” said Rob the Viking. “The response from the first show when the album officially dropped was a huge highlight for me.”
As a group, Swollen Members did not see much of the spotlight between 2011 and ’13 as it battled some of its mighty demons, including Madchild’s fight to overcome a serious drug addiction which left him broken during “the low point” of his career.
On the solo side of things, Prevail followed up his Baseball Bat & Nails EP of 2009 with his second solo release in 2012 entitled Spasefase and Madchild released a number of EP’s including Banned in America. His re-emergence in 2012 took the underground hip-hop scene by storm when the subsequent Dope Sick was proclaimed his best work leading up to the group’s release of Beautiful Death Machine by independent hip-hop blogs across the continent.
“We’ve really done our best to stay consistent, but music is a roller coaster,” said Madchild. “My trials and tribulations with my addiction to OxyCotin really set the low point in my career and life, but now we’re climbing back up again and we are very grateful.”
The 37-year-old emcee has now been sober for two-and-a-half years.
“Mistakes are a part of life,” he continued. “You really have to learn from them to better yourself. With most groups there will always be highs and lows, but to come back around with a second chance to do what you love and play the music you love is a blessing. That is what separates the workers from the people who want to sit around and talk more than they want to do.”
“Our music has grown and will continue to grow from generation to generation. Parents who rocked out to Swollen Members can now play it for their 15-year-old kids and even they can say ‘hey, this is fucking dope!’ One day you will look back at our legacy and compare it to the likes of what Motorhead or Black Sabbath we’re to their genre, because good music is good music, real shit is real shit, regardless of what year it is.”
Words and photography by Zack Noureddine for HipHopCanada