Interview: Slaves on Dope

SLAVES ON DOPE – interview by james wright

Getting a jumpstart in the music business has never come easy for Montreal’s Slaves On Dope. Countless hours of drive time between gigs, labels folding, business partners who lied and the search for a home have plagued the band through their career.

Despite the bullshit that comes with it, Slaves On Dope are back with a new album and are stronger than ever. Their sophomore effort, “Metafour”, hit shelves June 10, 2003, and shows the band spreading their musical wings. Returning to the sound of previous independent material, “Metafour” is angelically melodic with its rock-like beauty.

With a new label, new album and newfound fire, Slaves On Dope are back to claim their place on the forefront of hard rock. Modern Fix had the chance to talk to Slaves On Dope throat Jason Rockman about the new record, Columbian neckties, success, the Osbournes and why it’s so damn hard to find a good cup of coffee on the road.

You had the big start with great tours like Ozzfest and lots of promotion, then the wheels fell off. What happened?
Well, the label went under. Sharon Osbourne lost her distribution deal for Divine through Priority Records. The whole house of cards kind of came falling down and we were just left stuck underneath it. There was really nothing we could do. We were really happy where we were and it was great to be associated with someone like Sharon Osbourne, who is a really nice lady and very powerful in this business. There was nothing we could really do about it though, we just got a call saying, “Look, the label’s folded.” We kind of saw it coming because when it came time to pick up the option for the second record, we kept getting a delay. So we looked at one another and said, “We have to start looking for a new home and write the best record we can.” If we thought we were being criticized or scrutinized on our last album, we knew that this one was gonna be worse. People are gonna pull your sophomore effort apart in this business. Our first record was mildly successful; we sold around 70,000 copies in the US. That’s pretty good considering we never received any radio support and we didn’t have a video, it was just purely based on us touring. Our last record was just too heavy to be played on the radio, with this record we’ve definitely changed things up a bit. We just tried to make the best record we could make, no matter what label we were going to be on. We wanted to write songs that were going to be memorable.

Did you feel like your backs were up against the wall with this record?
To a certain degree, yeah. We’re a band that people have constantly put in a corner and for us that’s the worst thing to do because we always come out swinging. (Chuckles) We definitely did that on this album and if it comes out on June 10th and is a total commercial failure, I’ll still be happy because I know we wrote the best record we could write. This really is a good record in my mind. We definitely put all the cards on the table with this one.

So after the label folded, did it feel like going back to the drawing board and starting all over again?
Definitely, but with more experience and insight. We toured all over the US, which we had never done before and at the same time, got an understanding of how this business works. The reality of this business is, it’s all about songs. It’s not about your live shows or how your record was promoted, if you’ve written good songs then you’ve done your job. That’s what we focused on when writing this record. We have some songs on this record that are really outside, but that’s always what we’ve been about. If you listen to some of our older independent stuff, like “One Good Turn Deserves Another”, that stuff is all over the place. We really tried to get back to that with this record. We’re really influenced by bands like Faith No More. They just did whatever songs they wanted to do. They had the attitude of not trying to be the heaviest band or the most melodic band, they just wrote. I love that attitude.

During your downtime, how did you manage to keep spirits high when times were tough?
Just being thankful for things that really matter, like family, friends and health. I’m a real simple guy and unfortunately sometimes life can complicate that. I went through a lot of changes between the last record and this one. It’s obvious on the record that I did a lot of soul searching with this one. I came out afterwards a much happier person too. I kept my spirits high by just staying grounded because this business is a roller coaster and if you get caught up in it, you’ll lose who you are. I do very normal things when I’m back at home like working a day job, hanging out with friends, going to comic book conventions or going to the movies.

Are you still in contact with the Osbourne clan?
We see Jack and Kelly every once and a while. We never really had that much contact with Ozzy, but when we did he was always really cool to us. With us it was always business. We do owe them a lot for giving us a shot and giving us our legs. They’re really great people.

What was it like seeing them become America’s favourite TV family?
Yeah, it’s pretty freaky. It’s very true though because how people see them on TV is how they really are. Their life is crazy. It’s weird because I still remember Kelly coming down to the studio and hanging out with us when we were recording our record. She actually took a pair of my Adidas and put rhinestones down the side of them for me. She is just the sweetest girl and Jack is a great kid too. They’re just really nice people. Underneath all the stardom and fame is just a really great group of people.

How did Bieler Bros. come into the picture?
Just through looking for another label. We were doing a demo with Troy and Jason Slater out in L.A and we decided to put the feelers out ourselves because our manager at the time was shopping us to record labels for six months. We found out later that he was just taking our demos and sitting on them, which was pretty disheartening. We ended up hooking up with Bieler Bros. because Jason Slater did the Twisted Method record for MCA. From there Frank went down to a Nonpoint show, met Bieler, and gave him a CD. He was blown away by our demo and signed us right on the spot. He heard “So Clear”, “Drain Me” and “Go” and signed us based on that. He told us he had the label through MCA and a studio in Florida and we didn’t want to wait any longer to record. We did the record before Christmas and here we are.

Does it make you feel good to know you’re with a label that cares about the music instead of sales numbers?
Fuck yeah! I’m not putting down major labels but I’ve always loved having people in our corner who are working hard and believe in you, not people who look at some release sheet and say, “Hey, we have to do something with this.” It’s a great feeling knowing there are people working with you who care and believe in what you’re doing. Our label in France is like that too. We’re on a label over there called MTS and they do a lot of death metal and heavy stuff. They have a couple of bands in our vein but they’re really just a small little outfit that knows how to promote. We went over there for three days and did press and didn’t get a minute to do anything but talk to press. We were on such a tight schedule that I had 30 minutes with each person and if we went over that I had to go onto the next person because we were on such a tight schedule. They did a good job and they really care about the album. You could tell each press person had really listened to the album before the interview as well.

The material on this record is much more like your earlier independent efforts, very melodic. Why the change?
Well, we’ve always had a melodic point of view, even on “Inches From The Mainline”. That record still had this pop sensibility, except I was screaming all the time. If you listen to a lot of hardcore bands you’ll hear them scream until you can’t hear what song is what. Our album you could tell what every song was, it was just really heavy. I think what we did was use my voice more on this one. I love screaming and the energy it brings forth, but when you can sing, I just think you might as well, and I can sing. It wasn’t like we were this heavy band and I had to go take singing lessons to learn how to sing so we could get played on the radio. We’ve always had this side to our music, but we were just really pissed off on our last record.

Is the track “Poster Boy” about you realizing your dreams of making it in this business?
That song is very similar to “Thanks For Nothing” from our last album. It’s kind of about me looking out and feeling that pressure of having to always be on. People expect me to be the singer of Slaves On Dope, rather than Jason. It’s just about people looking at you and thinking, “Look at him. He’s living the dream. He’s got a lot of money, bangs lots of chicks and does lots of drugs.” and it’s not like that at all. No, I don’t make a lot of money. (Laughs) No, I don’t fuck a lot of chicks. No, I don’t do a lot of drugs. I really do this because I love what I do. A lot of people hold you up as this poster boy who does these things everyday. You’re not really a person or an individual; you’re just a poster. I think when I wrote that song I was feeling a lot of pressures of writing another record and I was torn between my personal life and my band life. I just wanted to capture that moment.

So do you think a lot of people expect you to be this over the top rock personality when they meet you?
A lot of people meet me after the show and say, “Wow. You’re nothing like you are on stage.” Rightfully so, because that’s my job and I have to sell it. I offer that as an outlet for my own personal demons and when I get off stage I leave it there and that surprises some people. I can’t get caught up in all the bullshit because before you know it, I’ll be telling my band to fuck off because I’m starting a solo project. (Laughs) That would involve me pulling an Edwin and I don’t wanna do that. Goddamn, I Mother Earth was a great band and they should’ve stayed together. I loved how they just didn’t give a fuck about anything and wrote whatever they felt like writing. Then they split up, went in completely separate directions and both fucking sucked!

I don’t know because I think that Bryon is a great singer and brought new life to IME. I will agree that the first I Mother Earth record was great, but I hated “Scenery and Fish”.
For me it’s like Van Halen. I Mother Earth has their Sammy Hager, and yeah, they’re cool, but get Dave back. (Laughs) It’s just my opinion and opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one. I just wish that band would get back together. “Scenery and Fish ” was great to me.

“Casualty of Me” is probably the high point on the album for me.
That song is really personal to me, so I probably won’t get too much into it. That’s always been a conscious decision on my part and that’s why I’ve never wanted to put a copy of the lyrics into our CD’s. I hate putting lyrics into packaging because I think it takes away from someone’s interpretation of the song. I think it makes it a little bit too obvious. Imagine going to an art gallery and seeing a painting with a description of what it means and exactly how the artist felt when he painted it. You don’t wanna know all that because it ruins it. You wanna take it for what it is. With this record, I didn’t want any of lyrics printed in the booklet and I know that will piss some people off because they wanna know what I’m saying, but I think it takes away from the art. To get back to “Casualty Of Me”, that song was written in regards to a tough moment I had with someone. I realized I could become a casualty and that sometimes you can create these huge scenarios out of something little. Sometimes if you go down that road, it doesn’t lead to anywhere but a negative place. I realized that I was blowing things out of proportion and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to get any easier if I kept going down that road.

“Columbian Ascot” plays out almost like something out of the movies. Like “Scarface” or “Traffic”.
Well a Columbian necktie is where they cut your neck from ear to ear and pull your tongue out. That’s how they killed people in the Columbian underworld and that’s what they would leave as their calling card. That song was written about a former manager who forged our signatures on a document and stole $18,000 from us. That was really written out of frustration from that. We wanted to call it “Columbian Necktie” but an ascot is one of those little neckties like the guy in “Scooby-Doo” wears. That song is definitely dedicated to him. The song is a nod to those old mob films though. There’s a movie called “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” and it’s kind of a nod to that. It’s like when you have a pact or trust someone, you didn’t need a contract or anything, just a handshake. Then there’s that violent side of you that wants to just lash out when someone breaks that. I didn’t actually go and do this to the person, I just thought about it. (Laughs)

Does the nasty side of the business sometimes sour your love of music?
Definitely. It’s not “show friends”, it’s “show business” and that’s the truth. It’s too bad because we’re all just a bunch of artists looking to get our point across and there’s this nasty business side. You have to play the game or you’ll never get your art out there. Everyone wants to have their art reach as many people as possible and it hurts when someone gets in the way. It’s an aspect of my career that I’m not really comfortable with but I just have to deal with it.

So is it like you have to split yourself between the artist and the businessman?
Definitely. When you have someone who works very close with you, like a manager, who was almost like a fifth member, when they betray you it hurts. It’s a real hard thing to have to go through, but like I say in the song, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” It really

“Caffeine Love Affair”: was that written as a tribute to coffee?
Jason: I’m a drunk! (Laughs) I drink a lot of coffee.

So then whose coffee are you partial to?
I really like Second Cup, but obviously out here in the US, Starbucks is king. Tim Horton’s does have good coffee and when you’re doing that long stretch on the 401 from Montreal to Toronto, it’s great. I’ve probably pissed in every Tim Horton’s bathroom on that strip! Tim Horton’s rocks but I much prefer Starbuck’s or Second Cup.

Is it hard to find a good cup of coffee when you’re on the road?
Oh, yeah. That’s why you have to succumb to Starbucks when on the road. There’s a reason that #2 [from “Austin Powers”] put all that money into Starbucks for Doctor Evil, it’s a great chain.

So what was it like working with Jason Slater & Troy Van Leeuwen on this record?
They were both very different people. Troy and I got along great because he’s an artist and Jason is more of a businessperson. For the most part, though, in the studio it was just Troy and us, and we hit it off. I have a lot of respect for Troy and for the things he’s done. What he did with A Perfect Circle and Queens of the Stone Age is amazing. If he manages to stay on the next Queens record, what he can bring to the table is just amazing. He has another band called Enemy and it’s just amazing. People don’t understand what he has to offer. He’s a great songwriter and really helped me build up the harmonies and melodies on this record. We’re a really hands-on band and know what we wanted to do, so Troy just really helped when recording. He really helped me during the vocals because a lot of these songs are very personal and he just made me comfortable. I really just needed someone who was easygoing and made me feel as comfortable as possible. He really gave me the confidence to just go for it.

Have you set any goals for the band with the release of this record?
We just want to go out in the world and play for people. I think we want to expand on our already existing fan base and play as much as we can. The record is gonna do whatever it’s gonna do. That’s not in my hands; it’s in God’s hands now. (Laughs) I think there’s a notable change on this record, but a lot of people really liked the parts on the last record where I sang on, like “Fallout”. People kept telling me, “You have a great voice. Why don’t you sing more?” I heard that so much while out on the road, that I just staring thinking, “Why don’t I?” There are some songs on there for the people that want to hear me scream like I did on the last one, but I think this album is about us. We never planned anything or sat there and said, “This will get us radio play!” We only worry about writing good songs and so far from the reaction we’ve got, we seem to have accomplished that. That’s all we can hope for. I know we did our job and I think now it’s
just up to “Metafour” to take its own legs and see how far it walks