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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 20 years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, and B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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Swollen Members Stick Together & See A ‘Brand New Day’
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Longevity is something very few hip-hop groups attain. Not only does it require an act to stay relevant in a genre notorious for short artistic lifespans, it also requires group members to not let potential, or actual, solo success get between them.

This is what makes Swollen Members such a noteworthy group. The trio of Prevail, Madchild, and Rob The Viking have been together since 1996, and during that time they’ve received acclaim as both a group, and solo artists. They’ve also experienced the kind of tough times that would cause almost any other act to break up.

When they began working on their upcoming album, Brand New Day, they discovered that after everything they’ve been through, good and bad, their bond is tighter than ever, and they feel this has led to music that is tighter than ever.

The Canadian trio are on the road right now, and in-between tour stops I caught up with Prevail to find out more about Brand New Day, which will hit stores on June 17th, as well as some of the toughest hurdles they’ve had to overcome as a group, and how they’ve managed to stay together for nearly 20 years.

Adam Bernard: Let’s go back to 1996 for a moment. You’re just starting out, imagine someone tells you that in 2014 you’ll not only still be a group, but you’ll be coming off of your highest charting album. What would your reaction have been?

Prevail: YES! I can’t wait! Get me Michael J. Fox and the doctor with the crazy white hair and the plutonium and let’s do this!

Adam Bernard: What do you consider one of your biggest career altering moments?

Prevail: Oh wow. You do a lot of retrospective stuff when you’ve been in this industry for a long time. I think there’s a lot of touch points you reflect upon, but I really have to say I’m quite proud of us in the last couple years. Mad(child) went through his personal trials and tribulations, and I’m proud of him as an individual for picking himself up by the bootstraps and straightening everything out. The group was certainly also affected by those situations, so I’m proud of all of us for the way that we stuck together and rallied around each other. It’s still the system of belief in each other. We didn’t put the group first, which I think is an interesting way to look at it. I think a lot of groups make that misstep, by saying, “This (group) is the most important thing,” and if it doesn’t work then the group kind of falls apart. We took an alternate look at it, and said the most important thing here is our happiness and our health, as people, as individuals, as friends. As people who work creatively, and on a business level, together, there are a lot of things to balance and juggle, and once we did that it just was by natural osmosis that the group was able to find its strength, and its platform, again.

Adam Bernard: When I spoke with Madchild a few years ago he was very open about his past drug addiction, and overcoming it, saying his family, and the other members of Swollen Members, were the most supportive people in his life. From what you’re saying it sounds like you never reached a point where you were like OK, the Swollen Members thing is done.

Prevail: Well look, to be completely honest, and I’m not pulling any punches here, or divulging any secrets that have been kept behind the veil, yes, you do start to wonder what is going to happen. It’s not, “Oh the group is going to break up,” or “It’s all over,” but you do start to think, “What would happen if that was the case? Where would I go from here?” No disrespect to anyone that plugs away and does the 9 to 5 (thing), I did it for many years, I just couldn’t see myself going back into the working force fold after investing so many years, and sweat equity, into something that I believed in, and I felt that we had a foothold in. So you start to hold along different lines of how you can stay creative, and you do start to develop a plan b. Fortunately we never had to pull the trigger on that b plan, but it was a reality check, it absolutely was. I'm happy to say we made it out on the other side, and we’re better, and stronger than we were, I think, even before going into it.

Adam Bernard: Would you consider that the greatest hurdle you’ve had to overcome as a group?

Prevail: I would. I would second it only to being signed to a major label in the US and getting dropped. I think that was our first actual head shake and eye opening experience, but we learned from that, and I think that we took some things away from that experience unilaterally that helped us get over that next hurdle. I have to say, (and) not in a braggadocio way, we’re quite resilient. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and I think we’ve figured out who we are as individuals, and it just, again, leads to the strength of the group. Because of that we’ve learned we’ve got pretty thick skin.

Adam Bernard: In order to survive as long as you guys have in music, aren’t resiliency, and learning how to handle rejection, qualities an artist is going to need?

Prevail: It’s like was say in the song “Brand New Day” from our upcoming album, “Now we’ve got some thicker skin, but still predicted to win.” You can knock us down, but we haven’t been knocked out. You’re right, though, you gotta keep your eyes on the prize, you gotta stay focused, but just realize this is an industry of peaks and valley.

Adam Bernard: That song is off of the album of the same name, which comes out June 17th. What’s the significance of going from an album titled Beautiful Death Machine, to one titled Brand New Day?

Prevail: We never really stopped recording, but in that process, I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but there just came a natural point where we all allowed each other to celebrate our individualism. We’re getting more mature, we’re making more mature music, and because of that we feel that we’ve turned a new page. I think it was actually our friend Slaine, from La Coka Nostra, we (were listening to) a song on the album and he was like, “Yo, it’s like a brand new day for you guys.” We were like yes, dude, that’s the name of the album. So we owe that one to our brother Slaine.

Adam Bernard: Do you have any other memorable moments from the recording process?

Prevail: Yeah, what is awesome about this album is, again, we’ve come to a point of strength and unity that I think is unparalleled in our career, and because of that we are relying on the strength of Rob’s production, some extra beats from C-Lance, and on this album we actually don’t have any guests whatsoever, so you will hear Mad’s and my voices. We’re using, of course, different tones, different flows, different rhythms, and things like that, so it’s by certainly no means a homogenous sound, there’s a lot of diversity going on there, but it is just basically Mad, Rob, and I, again with a couple beats by C-Lance, but we’re just doing our thing on this record and we feel really really strongly, and proud, about it, and we hope that the listening audience, and the Battleaxe warriors, and Battleaxe dimes, will appreciate that we went full force on this just on our own.

Adam Bernard: If you don’t have any guests how was Slaine getting an advance listen?

Prevail: Oh cuz Slaine gets whatever he wants, man. That’s our brother. He’s actually up in Vancouver quite a bit, and we hang out, and out of all the amazing entertainers that we’ve met over the years, he is one of the individuals that we really really formed a strong relationship with, and a great bond with. We love him to death as a friend, as a brother, and we appreciate him tremendously as an artist. We’re also on tour together.

Adam Bernard: You guys are superstars in Canada, and known worldwide, but does it ever bother you that America has been such a tough market to crack?

Prevail: No, and in fact I’d like to counterbalance that by saying Swollen has been touring throughout the US, with the exception of the few years Mad was handcuffed with some border crossing issues, we’ve been touring across the US before we even got as far as eastern Canada, as far as the next two provinces over. We’d already toured all the way to the eastern seaboard of the US and back across, and zig zagged up and down. We’ve had a long tenure there, and what I love about it is it’s underground hip-hop, and we can go and do a show in say Salt Lake City, or Boulder, or Boston, and we see some of the same faces we saw 12, 13, 14, 15 years ago when we were touring a lot down there, and that’s quite rewarding, because it shows the loyalty of our fan base, and the strength of the Swollen, and Battleaxe, army, the Battleaxe warriors movement.

Adam Bernard: What have been some of the coolest interactions you’ve had with the fans that have been attending your shows for 12 to 15 years?

Prevail: We’ve had everything from people saying, “We met at a Swollen Members concert and now we’re married and have three kids,” to “We met at a Swollen Members concert and went home and made babies,” “We got married to a Swollen song,” things like that. It's nice to see that we bring people together in that way, and it’s also great to see, again, we’ve had a beautiful, long, tenure, and it’s cool to see some of our fans are bringing their kids to the all ages shows, and in some cases the kids are able to get into the club. It’s amazing to see that discography passed down through the lineage of a family like that. I don’t think it happens very often for a lot of groups.

Adam Bernard: Have you had anyone come up and say, “I named my child after you!”

Prevail: The day that someone comes up and says, “We had triplets and we named them Madchild, Prevail, and Rob The Viking,” I will hopefully be able to godfather those kids, or something to that effect.

Adam Bernard: Staying on the topic of tour life, what’s been the wildest, or most interesting, thing you’ve experienced on the road?

Prevail: Wow, there’s been a lot. There’s been cars spinning out on the road in patches of black ice and being dumped into ditches. There’s been near fatal accidents with trucks almost falling over barricades down 80 foot embankments in the middle of the night when we’re the only people on the road. Our bus got hit by a train, and smashed in half, and lit on fire. Luckily no one was hurt. We had just recently left the bus, but our driver, and tour manager, and merch guy were driving it back to the hub in LA and they hit high ground, and they got bottomed out, and had to evacuate the bus, and it got demolished by an oncoming train. That made the news. We’ve had a lot of close encounters, and that’s always interesting, and always makes you very appreciative of the fact that you’re still breathing in air.

Adam Bernard: That’s crazy. You’ve had some serious transportation issues. How can you, after all that, be like, “Alright, we’re going in a tour bus again. This time for sure!”

Prevail: {laughs} You know, I think like anything, we all know driving can be dangerous, it comes with its statistics, but it’s life, man, and there’s no way you can be a touring band and not tour. For us to be effective we’ve gotta get on the road, and that means you gotta take the pleasures with the risks.

Madchild: And hey, let’s be honest, it keeps it exciting! {laughs}

Adam Bernard: What’s your car insurance like at this point?

Prevail: Oh we have maximum coverage all the time on everything.

Adam Bernard: Moving to foreign soil, what’s the most lost, or out of your element, you’ve felt in a foreign country?

Prevail: I remember one show that Mad and I played when we were in a very small, I almost want to say it was a burgh, somewhere in England, and there were probably eight people in the crowd. It was just a bit of an uncomfortable situation because it was the smallest crowd that we had ever performed in front of. It was one of those things where we looked at the sound guy and said, “Bro, do we really need the mics?” We were able to take that situation, something where people were just sitting around eating, sort of watching us, half interested, to being like, “You know, this is kinda cool, and dynamic.” Even though it was a small amount of people, we were able to turn that situation around, but it began very uncomfortably.

Adam Bernard: You turned it into an MTV Unplugged type of thing?

Prevail: Almost to that effect. Yes.

Adam Bernard: That’s really dope. Have you ever attempted to do anything like that again?

Prevail: I wouldn’t mind doing that again, but I would prefer the crowd to be something more like 600 to 6,000. We would obviously have to take vocal lessons to reach that broad spectrum of people without mics. We’ve done some smaller things in the studio, and at radio stations in Canada where there are like maybe 30 or 40 people sitting around, and we just do a very simple set and some storytelling things in-between. That was rather fun, actually. We like being challenged by diversification.

Adam Bernard: Finally, you’re in transit right now, so I want to know, what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve been caught singing along to while driving?

Prevail: That’s a great one. I mean, I think my singing is pretty embarrassing anyway, for the most part, so I would say any song I’m humming along to. I’ll be singing along to a Gordon Lightfoot song and Rob will say, “I recognize that. That’s AC/DC, right?” My tonality is obviously quite askew.

Madchild: I caught you singing along to “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen yesterday, in the car.

Prevail: So there you go. I was singing along to Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.” It’s a fantastic song.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 1:50 PM  
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