Crazy Town could very well be one of the few groups in the music industry that have been overshadowed by their own triumph. The SoCal band, formed by Bret "Epic" Mazur and the heavily star-tattooed Seth "Shifty Shellshock" Binzer in 1995, was an alternative hip-hop troupe with live instrumentation and a rock edge, and they possessed enough individualism to separate themselves from other artists. Their true identity, however, was ignored -- and perhaps forgotten altogether -- when their smash "Butterfly" mainstreamed them in November 2000.
"Butterfly," a highly enchanting and mesmerizing song filled with charming lyrics and an addictive hook, was by far the most opposite record on their debut album, 1999's platinum-selling The Gift Of Game. Nevertheless, it was this intoxicating single that topped the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and frequently found its way into movies and television shows galore.
The song became the band's calling card and, as a result, their real musical style was practically hidden from the masses. "If anybody doesn't know us for anything other than ‘Butterfly,' it's easy to assume that we are like ‘The Butterfly Boys' or this one hit wonder," Epic explains. "But what you don't know is we had a really hardcore following and foundation of fans in two to three years touring before ‘Butterfly' even came out. We were already successful, and we were -- in a sense -- victims of our own success with how much play ‘Butterfly' got."
But it wasn't just one song that unintentionally damaged Crazy Town and their rep. "We were also victims of the machine called Columbia Records that portrayed us in a way that wasn't so favorable to our futures, and that's not who we are," Epic adds.
The band went on hiatus in 2003, a year after their sophomore set Darkhorse failed to capture a mere fraction of the success compared to its predecessor, and some of the members battled alcoholism and drug addiction in the years to follow. Guitarist Rust Epique, who left the band shortly after the release of The Gift Of Game, suffered a fatal heart attack in 2004, and early member DJ AM passed away from a drug overdose in 2009. Shifty's struggles with drugs have been well documented throughout the years as he was a cast member on VH1 reality shows Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, but fortunately he survived.
It wasn't until mid-2012, months after Shifty had awakened from a coma and committed to stay clean, that he and Epic decided to return to their first love, that being Crazy Town. And, from the sounds of it, the duo are in for the long haul.
"Crazy Town is the number one priority," Epic states. "All of our energy is in Crazy Town. This is something we love to do, this is our band and we have a legion of fans that are going to help us get back to where we rightfully belong, and that is to be able to continue to make music, tour the world, and have a good time and to inspire."
In this exclusive interview, Epic talks to Arena about Crazy Town's forthcoming album The Brimstone Sluggers, the bidding war that led to them initially signing with Columbia Records, the fallout with the label, how alcoholism and drug addiction tore the band apart and claimed the lives of former members Rust Epique and DJ AM, the events that led up to Crazy Town's reformation, and much more.
Arena: Over the past few years, there were some rumblings about Crazy Town getting back together to work on a new album, and there were even a few tracks that were leaked including "Hit That Switch," My Place," and "Hard To Get." What's really happening with Crazy Town now?
Epic: Well some of those songs that were leaked online, those were actually from a new album that we were gonna do, but the problem was the timing wasn't right. After we kinda split in whatever year was (2003), we kinda went in our own direction. I went back into writing and producing for other bands, and doing a bunch of music supervision for some TV shows and movies, and Shifty did some solo stuff -- I actually worked on some of his stuff. But honestly, it wasn't the right time. It's the right time now. Seth got his shit together and we're in a good place to do this the right away and it felt right. What happened was we had all those songs we were gonna put out that -- some of those songs you heard and some other ones that you haven't heard. I called Seth and we had a meeting, and I told him, "Yo, we have all these songs we never put out officially, and some people heard a few of them, but I would like to put these out," and it turned from putting out what we were gonna call ‘The Lost Tapes' to putting out ‘The Lost Tapes' [with] a couple of new songs, and that turned into "Well, let's try to do as much of a new album as we possibly can and get it out as quickly as we can." So that's what we're doing right now.
Arena: A lot of tragedy has struck the band members over the years. DJ AM passed away from a drug overdose, and Rust Epique died from a heart attack. How did you guys deal with that?
Epic: The thing with Rust was, and the thing with AM also are, the tragedies ... it doesn't matter who you are or what background you come from, it can get you. In AM's case, we stayed very ... he's always been one of my best friends. He was sober all throughout the years, even before Crazy Town and after. I think it might have been 11 or 12 years of sobriety and it came back, and it's just tragic. And as far as Rust is concerned, after our first tour, we were actually on the road with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ... it just wasn't a good look. I was trying to maintain a good clean environment with the band, [but] as much as I tried, it wouldn't work, and Rust was always more suited to be a solo artist and do his own things, and we parted ways with him after that first tour. It was tragic, but if you know anything at all about the disease of addiction and alcoholism, it's not just people in the band. I've known a lot of people who have lost their lives to it, and it's definitely a wake up call, for sure.
Arena: Right, and speaking of drugs, anyone who has a TV or is in tune with pop culture knows Seth has been a subject of those VH1 reality shows Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, both of which have documented his struggles in staying clean. As a whole, has alcoholism and drug use affected the band, and was it one of the big reasons that led to Crazy Town's initial breakup?
Epic: Absolutely. I would venture to say most bands go through it, in one way or another. When we parted ways, the atmosphere, personality wise and everything, disease definitely played a part in chipping away at the relationships, and the record industry was falling apart in that year, actually. Columbia Records started cutting bands that weren't making a lot of money for them and firing people. In fact, Donnie Ienner, the president of the label, got fired himself, and we were dropped from the label, and our management at the time said to me, "Well, it's no big deal, I think we're gonna bring you to Warner Brothers, but you guys should work on new demos." We had just been on the road together close to five years, and what was supposed to be a couple of months break ended up taking nine, ten years (laughs).
Arena: I just wanted to backtrack for a minute and talk about the earlier portion of Crazy Town's career. Clearly, the song that brought the band into the mainstream was "Butterfly." It was a number one hit and a pop culture phenomenon. But some artists who tend to look back on their earlier hits tend to hate their old music. That said, how do you feel about "Butterfly" over 10 years later? Do you still listen to it?
Epic: I don't ever listen to it, [but] I won't turn it off if it comes off the radio or anything like that. When we made that song, it was just another song on the record. We knew the potential of that being a huge hit and in fact, when we we got signed to Columbia Records, there was essentially a bidding war going on with every major label coming to the table. At the time, we were also being championed by the guys in Korn, and the guys in Orgy and the guys in Limp Bizkit. They were putting us on this pedestal, and it was really cool, honestly. It was like, "Yo, Crazy Town is the new shit!" So when people like that are talking about you and they hear the music, it created this bidding war, so we had a little bit of leverage, and we knew major labels were gonna hear "Butterfly" and know that was the song they were really gonna be able to hit a big payday on. So we said we were gonna go with the label that understood the path we wanted to to take, which was we didn't want to get signed and immediately put out "Butterfly." We wanted the string of singles exactly the way we did it. We wanted "Toxic" to come out first, we wanted "Darkside" to come out second, and "Butterfly" to come out third. We wanted to build a core fan base and Columbia agreed with that path. DreamWorks, at the 11th hour, came in and said, "We'll double whatever Columbia Records is gonna give you, come sign here," and maybe we should've done that, I don't know. But it took the path that it took and that's what happened.
Arena: Speaking of Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Orgy, nu-metal was the "metal" or "rock" music of choice. That was the trend and Crazy Town was lumped into that category, for better or for worse. Would you have categorized Crazy Town as nu-metal?
Epic: No, categories have always been our number one enemy for two reasons, because for some reason I can't seem to stick with one genre when making a record as a producer (laughs). I always want to do a million things and that's through my own demise sometimes. Even on this new record, it's been a little bit of an issue trying to stick with something as being cohesive as one kind of genre. But our roots, me and Seth's roots, really are in hip-hop. In fact, I communicate with a lot of our fans online through Facebook and Twitter, and I love the excitement that's brewing around this new record. I see comments or I talk to some of them and they say, "I hope you go back to your metal roots," and I love the enthusiasm, but part of me is like, "Man, our roots our in hip-hop!" So to really peel back the onion, you're gonna find a hip-hop record there. I know a lot of fans are gonna wanna hear this think fast, nu-metal style, but the reality is what this record is is kinda just us. I don't know what genre they're gonna put it in, but it's just what we do. Sometimes, it's really tough because even radio or iTunes, or Beatport or wherever you buy music from, they like a genre. People like to be able to put a label on it and put it in a box, like "This is metal, this is hip-hop, this is pop," and we've always walked that line with our hybrid.
Arena: The band's second album, Darkhorse, had more of a rock sound, and "Drowning" was one of my favorite records on there. But the album didn't necessarily have a crossover pop single like "Butterfly," nor did I feel Darkhorse was promoted nearly as much as The Gift Of Game.
Epic: Well, there were a couple of things that played into that. The first thing is The Gift Of Game album was primarily written by Seth and I, and produced by myself. It was basically just me and Seth in the studio, and there was a lot of live instrumentation, and we had all of our friends [there], who joined the band. They were our boys and they came on after the fact. That being said, the Darkhorse album was a complete band collaboration and it also came after all those years of touring [in support of] The Gift Of Game and doing Ozzfest for two years and all the other tours that we did. That definitely influenced the sound of the record and it was more of a rock record, and we co-produced it with Howard Benson, who is an amazing guy, amazing producer, very honored to have worked with him. But yeah, it did have a different sound. If we would've made another record full of "Butterflys" and more hip-hop inspired stuff, maybe it would have been received differently. I think at the end of the day, Columbia Records probably wanted another record full of more commercial hits, but that's just not the record we made and with the changing of times in the industry, it just doesn't leave too much room for mediocre success at the major record label level. They have their benchmark of amount of money they want to make and we didn't fit within that scheme at the time.
Arena: So you and Seth re-form Crazy Town in 2007, and two years later perform your first show together since the re-formation. Why such a long gap, and what led to the re-formation?
Epic: Well, you know, we did have a hiccup. Are we talking about the show we did with the Kottonmouth Kings?
Epic: Ok, so there was a little hiccup after that, and it took approximately two years to pick up where we left off. I don't know if you heard, but there was that accident Seth had that happened and he was in a coma basically.
Arena: That was a year ago, right?
Epic: Yeah, a little more than a year ago, and that's not a healthy way to go into something. I wasn't even thinking about doing it again, but he's like my brother, and it was only after the energy on my end as well that it felt right, that we were able to do it. We were talking and Seth joked around, but in a way it's true. He said, "It's hard enough for us to get along at times, but to start adding the other members of the band would be crazy at this point," so it was just a matter of us two getting together [and] doing what we love, and it kinda just took a life of its own. It just so happened that maybe things would've happened quicker, but whatever. It is what it is now.
Arena: Let's talk about the new album. So is there an official name?
Epic: The name of the new album is The Brimstone Sluggers, and when Seth and I started Crazy Town, we were originally the Brimstone Sluggers. It was me, Seth and DJ AM ... actually even before DJ AM, it was DJ Adam 12, whose real name is Adam Bravin. He went on to the band She Wants Revenge.
Arena: Oh yeah. They initially signed with Fred Durst's Flawless Records and released a few albums.
Epic: Yeah, that's Justin Warfield and Adam 12. Adam is also President Obama's DJ, as a sidenote.
Arena: Now that I didn't know.
Epic: He does Obama's events. But yeah, it was originally us three, and then me, Seth and DJ AM, and we were the Brimstone Sluggers. Then it evolved into Crazy Town, so the reason this album [is named The Brimstone Sluggers is] because we're kinda taking it back to those roots again.
Arena: And it will feature some of the songs you had previously recorded for ‘The Lost Tapes' that leaked?
Epic: Yeah. We're gonna put two or three of those on there because what we wanted to do is. Like I was saying, we wanted to put out ‘The Lost Tapes,' but then we wanted to record as much new material as possible, and we wanna put it out as soon as possible, so it was gonna end up becoming a new EP full of records and songs. But in order to give away more songs, we'll put "Hit That Switch" on there, and maybe one or two more. We [recently] shot a video for the first single [entitled "Come Inside"] -- it's not really an official first single, but it's more of what the business people call a "positioning song." It's like smack-the-world-in-the-face, saying, "Look at us, here we are, we're back, and hopefully you'll like it and we should be taken seriously."
Arena: So how would you compare The Brimstone Sluggers to Crazy Town's two previous efforts? How would you describe it?
Epic: If I had to be pinned as to what kind of genre we are, going back to your old question, there is this thing I only heard what the genre was after we were out and doing our thing. This whole nu-metal [category], which is like the rap-rock kinda thing, I don't relate to that. If anything, I think it's alternative hip-hop. The beats are banging, there is some instrumentation, there's some guitars, some of the flows are gonna be straight up hip-hop flows, some of them are gonna be more abstract flows, some songs are gonna be fun, and some songs are gonna have more of a meaning and emotional tie to us. There is a lot of meaning -- most of the songs on this album, in one way or another, reflect what we've gone through.
Arena: Are there any plans to tour in support of the The Brimstone Sluggers?
Epic: Absolutely. We can't wait to go on tour. Usually the touring season starts in spring. That's when a lot of the big tours and festivals are, and hopefully they will have us. We would love to be a part of it.
Arena: Lastly, what would you say is the most glaring difference for you guys now, both professionally and in your personal lives?
Epic: The most glaring difference now is that we're more grown up, much more emotionally mature, and much smarter when it comes to our personal lives and our relationships. You realize as you grow up that it's the little things that matter the most. An example would be is as much as we toured the world, I can't tell you how much I wish I would've taken days off and really went sight seeing and really appreciate the cultures. That's something we hope to be able to do this time around. That got swept up in the whole rock and roll lifestyle of everything when we were kids, and if you saw us at the after party, it was as much a party for us as it was for you, whereas this time if there's after party, we want to go and spend some time with everybody, but you better believe we're gonna go back to the hotel and get a good nights sleep so we can be 100% for the next day, whether it be another show, an interview, spending time with fans, or whatever it is that we have to do. So we've grown up, and the things that are really important in life have taken place where they should be, front and center in our minds and in our hearts.