Dryden Mitchell, vocals
Joe Hill, guitar
Alex Barreto, bass
Mike Cosgrove, drums
Alien Ant Farm is back, in more ways than one. Despite a deadly tour bus crash in 2002 and the often career-lethal folding of a record label, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed alt-metal bands of the decade not only has persevered but on Up In The Attic (New Door/UMe), released July 18, 2006, returns to the rockin’ spirit of its platinum, much acclaimed 2001 album ANThology.
“I guess that cliché about getting a second lease on life is true,” says singer-songwriter Dryden Mitchell. “That I get to do my thing in music is overwhelming. In a sense I’m younger and more immature now. We’re having fun again.”
AAF has even returned to its original producer, Jim Wirt, who along with producing Live, Incubus, L.A. Guns, and others, helmed AAF’s 1999 indie released Greatest Hits. Also back on board is ANThology producer Jay Baumgardner, who mixed Up In The Attic and produced its first radio track, “Forgive & Forget.” Baumgardner previously has produced albums from Papa Roach, Coal Chamber, Seether and more.
“Only because Jim was with us when we were raw and wild could he tell us, ‘What’s going on? You guys used to rock,'” says drummer Mike Cosgrove. “We needed someone to give us the greenlight to quit trying to showcase our musical prowess and get back to what we liked as kids when we’d rock out in our bedrooms. Being typical artists we wanted to ‘mature and grow.’ We wanted to say, ‘See, we can play jazz chords or Latin.’ But we’re a rock band. We want cheeseburgers. We don’t dumb anything down by any means but we’re back to comfort food. This album sounds like us. It’s not about evolving into something else; it’s about being who we are.”
Mitchell and Cosgrove admit the black cloud of the bus crash hovered over their 2003 album truANT. In the aftermath of the tragedy, AAF had jumped on stage and into the studio less than a year later. But the role of fun-loving rockers felt uncomfortable. Says Cosgrove: “We tried to not dwell on it but by pushing back those feelings the experience was somehow missing in the record.” Mitchell agrees: “Kids didn’t want to hear how lame that was. And I couldn’t think about it either because it’d bring me down. What’s changed is that now it seeps out in the songs but in a cool way.”
In 2002, AAF was touring Europe following the release of ANThology. The first signing to Papa Roach’s New Noize imprint on DreamWorks Records soared to #11 on the pop chart, went platinum and spun off a Top 20 Modern Rocker in “Movies” and a funky metal cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” that hit Top 25 pop and #1 Modern Rock. The non-album track “Good (For A Woman)” was featured in cult classic American Pie 2 in 2001 followed in 2002 by the non-album “Bug Bytes” featured on the soundtrack to the box office smash Spider-Man. Rolling Stone crowed about AAF: “Finally, a band packs enough balls to put the melody back in metal.”
Then on May 22, while traveling in Spain on its way to a gig in Portugal, the band’s tour bus collided with a truck. The bus driver was killed and the band members and crew suffered various broken bones and bruises. The impact fractured Mitchell’s C2 vertebra, threatening to paralyze him for life. He was put in traction and outfitted with a metal halo that restricted movement in his upper body. During surgery, his C1 and C2 were screwed together.
“I lost some left-to-right motion but you’d never notice it at a show,” says Mitchell. “The only thing that sucks is I had permanent nerve damage. It feels like I have a bad sunburn from my chest up through my head. When I get stressed out it gets worse but that’s a good way for me to gauge how far to push myself. I could take drugs for it but, as much as I hate the pain, I don’t want the lethargic feeling I get with the drugs.”
Though Mitchell was no longer in danger, the band itself was in limbo–until he started writing songs again. The group went back on stage in December, then again in May 2003. Says Cosgrove in admiration, “Dryden is so committed and strong to do what he does with all that pain.” In July AAF took to the road once more for 20-plus shows to support the release of truANT, produced by Dean and Robert DeLeo, best known as the guitarist and bassist for Stone Temple Pilots.
Unfortunately, DreamWorks was in the process of dissolving as a label. “We didn’t have a fighting chance,” recalls Mitchell. “Without the record company everything stalled.” The album barely missed the pop Top 40 though “These Days” reached Top 30 Modern Rock and, thanks to a tour of New Zealand, “Glow” became a surprise #1 hit in that country.
Amidst touring, the band’s original guitarist, Terry Corso, exited, to be eventually replaced by Joe Hill. “When Dryden and I were 14, we loved a band called Spiderworks and we’d go to their shows all the time,” says Cosgrove. “I used to write them fan letters. It’s weird that years later their guitar player is now in our band. Actually, Joe and Terry were in their first band together so this is as natural a change as can be.” The smooth-playing, easygoing Hill is a guitar teacher but, adds Cosgrove, “he has his foot in the gutter. He loves that dirty punk.” Says Mitchell, “He has a savvy way of slipping in guitar leads without being show-offy.”
In another lineup change, original bassist Tye Zamora left for college after recording Up In The Attic. Enter Alex Barreto, who they grew up with skateboarding and playing punk rock before he became a respected player in hardcore bands Chain Of Strength, Inside Out, and Hard Stance (the latter two with Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha).
The four originals started the band in 1996 in their Southern California hometown of Riverside. In fact, Mitchell and Cosgrove dropped out of high school together. “High school felt like daycare,” says Mitchell, “and I was a cocky little jerk.” Renowned for its intense live shows, AAF gigged with the likes of Papa Roach up and down the Golden State club circuit. Becoming friends, the bands would hook each other up with gigs using P-Roach’s NoCal fanbase and AAF’s SoCal fanbase.
In 1999, Alien Ant Farm–the name came from the idea that perhaps humans are the creatures being watched in a cosmic ant farm–debuted with the self-released, and sardonically titled, Greatest Hits. The disc was named Best Independent Album at that year’s L.A. Music Awards. Today, with rare copies selling on eBay for as much as $150, AAF has once again made the album available at concerts.
From the start, AAF was different from others in the alt-metal or nu metal scenes. Hard rockin’ yet melodic, thunderous yet introspective, its rock anthems were more passionate and warmly infectious than aggro and rampaging, its hybrid more R&B than hip-hop, and with more wit and humor than most: “Everything with us is a pun or a half-way joke,” says Mitchell, “even if we’re the only ones in on it.”
AAF refused to jump on any stylistic bandwagon other than the singer’s tongue-in-cheek description of the music as “nerd metal.” Bringing his folk, ’60s and ’70s influences to a quasi-metal band created a unique sound. So when the band’s P-Roach friends hit the big time, they offered AAF its big break by bringing the group to DreamWorks.
Since, AAF has played on bills in the U.S. and elsewhere, including huge European festivals, with Papa Roach, Linkin Park, 311, and others, including metal heavyweights Metallica. “We have a tragic bus wreck in common,” says Mitchell. “They called us up afterwards and were really cool.”
Also released the same day as Up In The Attic is the band’s debut DVD release BUSted. BUSTed includes all 10 of the band’s music videos (five never-before-released), live footage and a candid, edgy documentary. It is an outrageously funny and wild onstage and backstage rock ‘n’ roll adventure, Cosgrove calls the DVD “Boys Gone Wild,” adding with a laugh that Mitchell “obviously has no shame.”
Says Mitchell, “We’ve been up and then we’ve been down. Now we’ve come back around again. But in the end being in this band is about having fun. It’s like ditching school every day.”
In order to move forward, Alien Ant Farm had to go back.all the way back to the beginning.