Alien Ant Farm’s Dryden Mitchell Discusses Influences, ‘Smooth Criminal’ + New LP
When you think of California alt rockers Alien Ant Farm, it's hard not to think of their breakthrough -- and honestly, kickass -- cover of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal,' the song that launched them into stardom.
More than a decade since that single swept the nation, Alien Ant Farm are preparing to release their latest album, 'Always and Forever,' which took three attempts before finally being ready to hit the streets. It's now slated for a Feb. 24 release via Executive Music/The End Records.
They've been through a lot, from a brutal bus accident in Spain in 2002 to problems with finding the right outlet and means of releasing this new LP -- but now they're back with a vengeance. 'Always and Forever' packs a heavy punch, complete with catchy hooks and memorable verses, all the more proof that they have no plans to deviate from the sound their fans know and love.
As they get ready for the release of 'Always and Forever,' eclectic frontman Dryden Mitchell took some time to chat with us about everything from the new album's writing process to gay pride parades to a failed cover song with CeeLo Green. Check out our exclusive conversation below:
Your new album, 'Always and Forever,' was funded through a PledgeMusic campaign. What was that experience like?
It's fine, you know, we could have gotten it out in a quicker fashion. Things kind of got bumbled up a little bit but the whole experience as far as using that service, I think it's a great idea. I'd do it again. With the latency of this record's release and just some of the obstacles we had putting it out, I don't know how inclined some of our fans would be to pledge again, considering it took a minute. We made this record three times already so it's been a trip. I'd definitely be inclined to do it again though -- it's the way of the world now, you know?
Do you think the song direction on the record is different than past albums?
Well, a lot of co-writes were done on this one which we've never done before. A lot of different producers in the room chiming in and helping with chord progressions, even lyrics. I mean, everything that Ant Farm have done up until now was done with just the dudes in the band. Even with producers, we weren't too keen in the past on sharing the writing process with them. This album we did a lot of that. Sixty-five, 70 songs worth of it. So it's definitely going to take a different shape and form when you're adding strangers to the mix. Some of those experiences were amazing and some of them fell flat on their face. But more often than not, if everyone is a musician in the room, you can kind of come to a mutual understanding that we have to come up with something cool in the moment. We only have a day with this person so you want to throw your best foot forward and flex your creative muscle a little bit. More often then not it was really good to have those experiences. I would like to do a lot more co-writes, although I'd rather be the hired gun than the band.
The single 'Homage' is a tribute to all the artists that have influenced you. What made you want to write that type of song in the first place?
I don't know, I've been kind of writing love songs about squandered relationships or whatever else was going on in my s--tty romantic life that I just kind of got bored of another ode to a fallen relationship or something. I thought why not show some love to some artists that helped me through some difficult times, you know? The song has like two or three chords, tops -- it's basic progression. I think all rad songs usually are basic progressions actually. I'm not saying this song is rad or not, it just is what it is.
It had an anthemic feel to me and I just thought, "Wow, I'd like to incorporate these sort of anthemic bands." It's kind of a novel idea but I think we did a good job of not making it as silly as it could have been. We were calling out like 50 bands and I thought, is this going to be ridiculous? Then I heard it back from the demos and I really liked it. There are some bands that I call out that I'm not the hugest fan of but I thought that they fell really well within the lyrics, and I know they are massive for a reason, you know, like calling out the Stones and Kiss. I'm not a big fan of those bands by any means but I know the world is. I left out some of my favorite artists because I felt they were maybe too obscure, but I had to throw in a couple like ELO and Supertramp. At least nowadays I can imagine some kid saying "Who the f--k is Supertramp?" [Laughs]
So who are some of your true influences?
I was really more drawn to the female singers. I just always thought they had better voices. When Ant Farm started, I was kind of a metal head and in the early days and even after, I fell in and out of love with metal -- but when I did, I was always into folk music like Joni Mitchell and Edie Brickell; she's my all-time favorite and she never really had crazy success by any means. I know she had the one single, 'What I Am,' but I followed her career forever. To me I always felt if you could write a beautiful song with just a guitar and have a message and carry it for four minutes and carry my attention ... it seems harder to me to do than to do it with all kinds of tricks and production with a full band, even though that's what I'm into doing as well. But yeah, I've always felt that that was kind of the real music. They have a whole lot more colors in their paintings.
'Smooth Criminal' was clearly your breakout hit. Do you find it annoying to play now?
I think I used to, a couple years into it. We did a tour once where we didn't play it -- we were just trying to be the cool guys, like f--k that song. Now in hindsight, I regret that. We put it out, you know, it was our decision to at least put it on a record. It wasn't our decision to put it out as a single, but I really love it now. I've fallen in and out and in and out a few different times with that song, but it's just provided this huge podium for us to stand on and create different songs. It's just a fun song.
Music should be the background to a good time I feel like, and we kind of succeeded with that song. It went way bigger than I ever anticipated it to go. And it's cool, I'm sitting in my house right now with my dogs and my kid and my really nice studio and I have to credit that song as a big part of the reason why I'm sitting here, so If I ever find it annoying I kind of have to remind myself that it's a cool cover and a cool song. I kind of dig it now. Maybe tomorrow I'll hate it again, but who knows.
Are there any other cover songs that you've thought about recording?
We did a performance in Wales a couple of years back, it was Michael Jackson's tribute show for his family. Some of his family members weren't a part of it, but anyway, we got invited and we were the only rock band. There were Smoky Robinson and all of these badass artists from back in the day and we were sort of the sore thumb, but I got to talk with CeeLo Green backstage and he told us that we killed it and had a great show. I told him we had to do a song and he said, "Let's do a cover song." I told him I already knew what song I wanted to do and it was 'Easy Lover' by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey. I would do the Phil Collins parts and obviously he would do the "brother" parts because he's the brother.
He was all fired up, let's do it, let's do it. So we went home and recorded it but that guy is busy as hell so we had a bunch of conference calls and however else that goes down, but it never worked out. I don't know if he's a d--k or it just didn't work out. I still have it though, almost complete with just his parts left out, so maybe we'll release it eventually with another singer.
What was it like to make the music video for 'These Days,' when you guys crashed the BET awards, crashed a Justin Timberlake concert, and even a gay pride parade? Do you think you'll ever do something like that again?
The problem with videos like that are they are big budget videos and it seems like the days of the big record deals and the big video deals are kind of obsolete now. I know it looks all rogue like we just went up and crashed the BET awards but there was so much planning for that, like weeks of it, and that director had done a lot of hip hop videos and he had a lot of cameras there and nobody was questioning anything. If we went down there with cameras everyone would be asking, "What the f--k are you doing here?" It was a lot of coordinating.
I would love to do something like that again -- that was one of the coolest things we ever did. It was nerve-racking and we didn't even know if it would look cool. I have a couple of versions of the video that people have never seen but it's just kind of spliced together and too random. But everyone agreed, the BET scenario was the best of all three of those scenarios, you know, so we just went with it. With the gay pride parade, we had a couple of slow motion shots of me drinking and spitting out that white Mexican drink Horchata and it looked like straight up semen. I mean, I was on a gay pride float with these big buff gay dudes next to me. We sent a version to MTV and they told us they would never play it because it's way too gnarly. I really wanted that version to go live but they wouldn't do it.
Your new song 'Godlike' recently premiered via Loudwire. What's your take on that track?
It's just kind of a boastful thing. I was thinking about what Alien Ant Farm are and what the band really is. I know it's just a tongue-in-cheek idea of what if Aliens came and created our species and went away to watch it go down, and I don't really believe that to be so I just think it's a great band name. Some things just sound cool off the tongue to me, they don't necessarily have a lot of meaning. The first line is, "Every comet has a story and every nova is a playground." It's like telling this story through a supreme being or larger than life character. Some of the lyrics get love-oriented, like you could say an orgasm is "godlike." I just kind of threw the idea out there, not a lot of meaning but I kind of just threw the idea out there and that's it.
Alien Ant Farm's latest album, 'Always and Forever,' is set for release on Feb. 24 via Executive Music/The End Records. You can pre-order your copy of the record at iTunes here.