Canadian Rap trio Swollen Members has had their fair share of ups and downs throughout their 12-year career. While dominating the Vancouver Hip Hop scene the group has not exactly caught fire in the U.S. Making matters worse, Swollen Members emcee Mad Child is now banned from the United States.
After battling legal issues and a prescription pill addiction Mad Child is focused and now addicted to the studio. Swollen Members’ sixth album Dagger Mouth hits stores on April 12 and sounds like a throwback to classic Swollen releases. Mad Child and rhyming partner Prevail are back to their old antics while deejay/producer Rob the Viking provides the grimy backdrop.
With their internal issues behind them and Dagger Mouth fresh out of the oven HipHopDX spoke to all three members of Swollen Members about Mad Child’s troubles with drugs, why he was banned from the United States, and about the release of their new album, Dagger Mouth.
HipHopDX: What does Dagger Mouth mean?
Prevail: The imagery for Swollen Members has always been real strong. The skull and the axe has been a real powerful thing for us so when we started recording this new album it felt like we were taking it back to our original lineage. It’s part of our image with the blade and the skull coming together so we came up with the Dagger Mouth thing.
Mad Child: The whole point of being a lyricist is being sharp with precision so the Dagger Mouth is like a razor sharp tongue. Like Prevail said, Dagger Mouth is very much in the same realm of Bad Dreams and Black Magic. It reflects back to that sound so Dagger Mouth was a fitting name for the title of the album.
DX: Dagger Mouth sounds a little darker than your last album, Armed to the Teeth. Was Dagger Mouth an attempt to get back to your roots?
Mad Child: It was more a general consensus of just being ourselves again. When we did Armed to the Teeth I was going through a lot of trials and tribulations. I was addicted to Oxycontin for four years. It got to the point where it was a life threatening situation. I lost everything in a material sense. Once I became sober I was basically starting over. As an artist and spiritually we all looked at each other and said let’s be ourselves again. What I mean by that is some of the lyrical content on Armed to the Teeth was a little out of left field for the average Swollen Members fan. The lyrical content on the last album was a departure from what we’ve done in our careers. We didn’t sit down and say let’s make 2011’s version of Bad Dreams. It just happened because we went back to that place where I was of sound mind and body. Prevail and Rob [the Viking] were already themselves, we just came back and connected like we always have and we made the music that we always made. It just happened to turn out like Black Magic and Bad Dreams because we were in our best form when we made those albums.
DX: Rob, how instrumental were you in the direction of the album?
Rob the Viking: I just started with beats that I was into at the time and it ended up sounding the way it did. We didn’t want to try to force anything at all. Creatively, I think I was instrumental in the fact that I came up with the beats before the concepts were made.
DX: Do you always make the beats before they come up with rhymes?
Rob the Viking: I think when the musical backdrop is laid down that’s when the guys get creative and develop concepts.
DX: Are you still using the MPC or have you gotten into live instrumentation?
Rob the Viking: I use the [Akai] MPC 2000. I also use Logic and I have a bunch of compressors and analog synthesizers.
Mad Child: Rob had constructed all the beats and when we handed in the album we had sample clearance issues so he had to go back and reconstruct all of the beats. It was an interesting process.
Rob the Viking: In December we got back from tour and I had all of the songs ready to be mixed. I handed in a list of samples and they told us which ones weren’t going to work. I had to add a lot of analog synthesizers and guitars. I basically had to recreate all of the samples on the record. It was interesting because it allowed me to expand my repertoire to where I can be more flexible with samples and coming up with stuff from scratch too.
DX: Who is Mr. Impossible?
Rob the Viking: Mr. Impossible is like my alter ego when making beats. I came up with the idea from a cartoon thing. It sparked the energy of the beat and kind of went from there.
DX: You guys remixed the Saigon joint “Bring Me Down” on the new album. How instrumental were you in bringing Saigon to Suburban Noize Records?
Mad Child: I was definitely excited about the idea when Kevin [Zinger] talked to me about it. I’m a big fan of Saigon and always have been. He’s one of my favorite lyricists. Bringing him to the[Suburban] Noize family was a strong move in the right direction. Sub Noize is getting very strong groups and lyricists. The family is building and getting stronger in the right way. I was real excited about Saigon coming on board. I don’t get too excited about meeting other emcees but I was real excited about meeting Saigon. We were supposed to go on tour but it didn’t work out that way because I didn’t get let into America. Prevail and Rob soldiered on and did the tour with Saigon. Apparently it was a great tour and they all got along real well together.
DX: Talk about the events that led to you being banned from the United States.
Mad Child: Basically in the past we had some members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club in some of our videos. In my past social life I’ve been known to spend time with guys in the club. It kind of blew out of proportion and became a big thing with the media in Canada. The myth became bigger than the actual situation. These days I stick to myself. I still have a friend in the club but the only people I’m associated with is the group Swollen Members and our crew Battle Axe Warriors. That’s no disrespect to the club. I’ve just been doing my own thing since I started my sobriety ten months ago. I just work on music, stay home, and try to stay on the right path in life. Not saying that their path is the wrong path, it’s just not my path.
I had a couple of assault charges when I was a young adult. I had been getting into America for the last 15 years with those charges on my record. This time when I went to the border I ended up having to sit there for ten hours. They asked me the same questions, was I a gang member, was I a Hell’s Angel, and was I a part of a club? I kept telling them the same thing, no. After ten hours they came back and used the assault charges as the reason I wasn’t allowed in the country. It was quite obvious that the underlying reason was because of my past association with the Hell’s Angels.
DX: How will this affect the group touring the States?
Mad Child: Well two out of three are there. I wasn’t there when they toured last year but I watched them on Youtube from home and I thought they were doing a great job. It wasn’t the first time that Rob and Prevail have done shows without me. When I was addicted to pain killers I missed a couple of tours to Europe. We’ve done 95% of our shows together but there was a few times where the guys have done shows without me. They pulled it off from what I saw on YouTube. The crowd looked like they were having a great time.
DX: On the song “Chemical Imbalance” from Dagger Mouth you talk about your struggles with addiction. What has sobriety been like for you in these past ten months?
Mad Child: It’s been an incredible experience. The first fuckin’ four-five months was gnarly. I don’t know if you know anyone who has gone through this but it is an emotional roller-coaster. For the first four-five months I was suicidal. I was in a real dark place. I just stuck to my guns and stayed sober. The devil plots on me whenever I go and do shows. People try to offer me drugs but I passed all the tests. I kept saying no and now 10 months later it’s like I’ve gotten over the hill and it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my life. Everyday I feel like little rewards are happening. Maybe a couple of years ago it wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, but these rewards keep me going, man. It’s a really crazy experience when you stay on a better path for yourself and stay in the light. Life just keeps getting better and better.
I would say to anybody who has a problem with addictive substances that it will be difficult at the beginning but everything is a memory once it’s done. When you get over the hill life gets so much better. I’d laugh if someone tries to offer me drugs because I’m having so much fun being clear-headed. Before I had all of these houses, cars, and money and I lost all of that shit. To be honest with you I’ve learned to live in a completely different way. I’m making a living again and things are cool but I’ve minimalized my life so much. Now I just need one place. I still like nice things but you don’t need to clutter your life with tons of material objects. I like to keep things simple. I just need one dope car, not five. I used to be so consumed with having five of this and ten of that and my belongings ended up owning me, I didn’t own my belongings. It’s been a great experience overall.
DX: What kind of rewards have you received from sobriety?
Mad Child: Just the little things like sitting in the studio and working on a song. Before when I was on drugs it would take me a whole day to write a verse. Now that I’m clear-headed, I’ve been writing almost every day for the last seven-eight months. I can write three verses and a hook in a day now. What I’m writing now is way better than what I was writing before anyway. I’ll sit down, write a song, turn it into James [Wright of Kerosene Media] our publicist, and that same night HipHopDX will put it on the site and that same night I can read the comments from the fans. That’s a reward to me. It’s instant gratification. You can see that people are enjoying the music and they’re going to make that music a part of their life. I just finished my fourteenth solo show. I haven’t even put out a record yet and I had 400 kids at my last show. I don’t even have an album out yet. That’s a reward in itself. Just by leaking music on the internet I see a bunch of kids sing the lyrics to my songs.
People are hitting me up for verses. That was not a big part of the game when I left four years ago. I did verses here and there but I have people hitting me up all the time now to hire me for my art. What I’m saying is overall it’s an incredible blessing to be able to make a comfortable living doing what I love! Think of how many addicts get off drugs, lose their wife and lose everything and then they have to go and fucking move furniture for 15 bucks an hour. I have a blessing where I can come back to life and make good money in a day from doing what I love to do. I can write a verse, do a song, or do a show—sometimes all three in a day. To me that’s a blessing. My real true friends and family have stuck by my side. I’m experiencing life with them again and they’re giving me another chance, that’s a huge reward.
DX: Prevail, at any point did Mad Child’s substance abuse issues put the group’s existence in jeopardy?
Prevail: For having known Mad [Child] for a long time it was never a question of if, it was a question of when. When he gets his mind set on something he’s like a bull that can only see red. After even having gone to rehab prior to getting his sobriety back and falling short of his ultimate goal he picked his head back up. I know that in his heart he knew that he had a good support system. There is a part of that journey that you can only go on yourself though. It was just a matter of when. There were questionable times where we just didn’t know what was going on period, not just as a group. The situation was compounding and that’s when he really started to take control of it and get on the right path. It was a trial and tribulation but 99% of other groups would have walked away from it. We stuck together and it was the best decision that we’ve all made.
DX: What’s the group’s goal with the new album?
Prevail: As Mad was saying earlier we consciously sat down at the beginning and decided to go back to the people that we were when we started this thing. We went back and let all the inhibitions go. We’ve had a very interesting career. We took all of our experiences positive and negative and put them into the album. I was talking to me nephew last night. He’s been banging Swollen shit since he was a six-year old kid. He said that the album sounded like we just let it all go and it feels real natural. That’s one of the best compliments I’ve heard.
Rob the Viking: [Prevail] said it perfectly, it’s just us letting out and not really forcing anything. It’s not a single-driven album, it’s not a Pop album–it’s just us being our art.