You've heard the stories about a child that was born disadvantaged but was
too stubborn to know it, raised on the wrong side of the tracks but forged ahead
regardless, and by the time he reached his sophomore year he'd overcome the odds
and went on to become rich and famous.
That analogy fits American Head Charge. The band was born in a rehab
center, and its adolescence followed a rocky road of early successes followed by
more than 3 years upheaval.
Duncan Glenday spoke with guitarist Bryan Ottoson before the band's
Washington, DC show with Bloodsimple, Life of Agony and Mudvayne, and explored
the events of that long hiatus, and Kenny Pierce reports on the band's New York show.
"We kept writing songs, and there were more that 20 of them but they just
weren't what they wanted", says Bryan Ottoson of their previous record label.
"But they were very gracious about letting us leave".
We're sitting is a dark little enclave at the back of Washington, DC's 9:30
club. The doors are about to open but the still-empty club is filled with bored
club employees lolling against the walls while tour managers and roadies are
completing sound checks and setting up the mixing board. There's a sense
of urgency among them but their actions are quick, competent and practiced.
You'd never know that until about 2 hours ago they'd never laid eyes on the
Charging Ahead In DC
"Yeah - those three or four years were difficult," continues Bryan.
"Some guys took full time jabs after a while - I mean, you just had to. At
one time the band was almost gone, history. But we're okay again now. And then
the new label was different. There was a budget, there were only four months of
studio time..." The long layoff caused the band to fall off the radar screens of
the notoriously fickle buying public. There was a bit more rehab, and
there were some changes in the lineup. Some of the personnel changes were
friendly, others were not.
"There used to be two keyboard players, now there's just Justin - and he has
to do all the keyboards and the effects. But he does a great job - he does
it all!" Guitar tech Karma Cheema joined as the second guitarist. Two
guitarists can be a challenge or a blessing, so I ask how the guitar duties are
divvied up. "Well - I wrote a lot of the songs, and I've been working on all the
songs for a long time. So I tend to take most of the lead parts. Also - I had
all the gear, and he didn't have all the stuff he needed yet, when he came in."
I ask about the music, the structures, complex chord sequences, the surprising
lack of guitar or keyboard solos. "No, you won't find any Zakk Wylde style music
here - although I wish i could play like Zakk Wylde", he laughs. "We're
pretty much a meat and potatoes group", Ottoson says. "But our target
audience is people who like good music. I'm not saying it's the best, but we
make sure that every song is different and has its own style. You won't
find the same song played eleven times." This is one of the points we made in
our review of the band's sophomore releaseThe Feeding.
"There's been a lot of rehab in the band's past, Bryan - what's the status
now? Is everyone clean, sober ... or are there still issues?
"Most of us are pretty clean. The one guy - Chris - has been 100% sober
for over a year. Sometimes some of the guys will come into some issues ...
but we work together. We all give him a hand, we pick him up. We're
like a family. We are a family! And there's no way we're going to
blow this opportunity," he waves his hand around, taking in the premises. "I
mean Mudvayne! We won't mess that up!"
In days of the band's adolescence, Head Charge had a reputation for unruly
behavior. "Well that reputation came mostly from that Ozzfest performance.
I mean it's ten o'clock in the morning and people are just coming in - we wanted
to say hey, here we are, you know? Had to do something to get their
attention. It was mostly spontaneous, although we did have to get those pig
heads before we went on." So I ask Bryan if that is in their past. There's a
twinkle th his eye as he says "Well - sometimes you'll see guys climbing on the
gear, or spending half of the show down in the audience. But it's spontaneous,
you know? You just see what happens, you know? I mean we get bored
Like so many American metal acts, Head Charge seems to have a bigger fanbase
in Europe than at home. Their recent 10-stop tour in the UK was hugely
successful, with concerts being sold out and on one occasion being moved to a
bigger venue. "It was cool to hear them singing along - they knew a lot of the
songs before the CD came out!" The band posted a total of 4 songs on their
web site for free download, and fans across Britain knew these songs!
As my intended ten minutes with Bryan turned into half an hour, the venue's
doors opened and he needed to get upstairs to the blue room. the venue was
almost full when Head charge took the stage at 7:45 - exactly on schedule.
Although many audience members were here to see Mudvayne their attention was
riveted on the stage and it was almost impossible for me to move around and take
The show was very short, and there wasn't much time for stage antics.
The band's style of nu-metal meets industrial meets punk is heavy and intense
and the dual guitars led with powerful rhythm and riff section, the vocals cried
out in brutal cries of anguish and the surprisingly small keyboard stack yielded
layers and textures that were sometimes in the forefront, and sometimes hard to
make out in the tight confines of the 9:30 club. The rhythm section of 'Banks'
and drummer Chris - who appeared in what looked like a bathrobe - was
impressively tight despite the deliberate chaos Head Charge brings to their
Ken Pierce reports on the previous night's new York show:
Charge was the first band I saw on my attendance of the Mudvayne performance at
the Roseland Ballroom in NYC the other night. Blood Simple opened, but I was not
able to get in on time. It was good to see the AHC again delivering their brand
of mayhem for they do it quite well. The sad aspect was the fact that they would
only play 5 songs by my count. Overall this short set included the tracks
"Dirty" and "Loyalty" which are the numbers I enjoy from their CD The Feeding.
I was also happy to see the band going over well in this packed venue. It is a
decent sized room and was was being very responsive to the group as they breezed
through the songs they had time for.
After the show I ran into the drummer who
was walking around enjoying Life Of Agony and what made this interesting was
that he was eating a plate of salad. He told us that some people in the audience
asked where he got that and he said "Oh it's from catering". They did not
realize he was one of the performers and thought they missed out on something,
it made me amused at least. Recently they played with Otep, but this is perhaps
a better step in the bands gig status, for I feel the Mudvayne shows will reach
more fans quicker. Especially with those who are enjoying their new release
"Lost And Found".
So the band had a rocky beginning. That's common in this genre.
But as we said in our review, we believe The Feeding will be commercially
successful. Not for any musical brilliance or uniqueness - make no mistake, this
isn't a Dream Theater, a Symphony X or even a Zakk Wylde. Instead, the
music will succeed because of its attitude and intensity, because that's what
people are buying today and as Bryan said - no two songs are the same, which
already puts the album ahead of most of its competitors. WOur review also said
that people are going to love this stuff. If Wednesday night in Washington
was anything to go by, we were right.