Prevail talks a “Brand New Day” – Swollen Members
Long renowned as one of Canada’s greatest hip-hop conglomerates, Swollen Members and their Battleaxe Warriors have been making an impact for close to two decades now. After a much needed hiatus that ranged roughly from 2005 to 2009, S&M have come back stronger than ever. Their new record “Brand New Day” is a shining example of how far they’ve come since the days of “Balance” and “Bad Dreams.” The signature dark and philosophical sound that they pioneered with those records is what created their cult following. Although they’ve dabbled in mainstream music, topping radio charts, then battling addictions, and being signed and dropped by a major American label, they’ve come back to their traditional roots, and fertilized them with the wisdom they’ve gained throughout their roller-coaster career. Through the good times and the bad, their time in the spotlight, and their time in the darkness, Swollen Members have flourished into a seasoned hip-hop outfit that has now become a force to be reckoned with on every level possible. From their production, their lyrical delivery, and of course to their live shows, they’ve refined and re-branded. Martyr’s Devin Size had the chance to chat with Prevail, one third of the tripod that is Swollen Members (with of course Madchild and Rob the Viking) to discuss the ins and outs of S&M, the new record, and a little bit of the trials and tribulations that have gotten them here today.
DS: First things first, the start of the Brand New Day tour seems to be going really well. I saw you guys at CMW (Canadian Music Week) at the Opera House in Toronto, and I must say, it’s great to see you guys live and in full effect again. How does it feel to be back, seemingly stronger than ever?
Prevail: It’s been stellar. Obviously we started in Vancouver, so it was great to get that hometown sendoff. Then to travel to beautiful Montreal, and then as you said come through and rock the Opera House in TO, it was a kind of ‘bucket list’ thing for us. We had played there before, as openers in the past. To be able to headline there was pretty special. We made our way to Boston and all the way to L.A. It was our first string of U.S. shows in about four or five years now, with Madchild finally being able to get back in the States not too long ago, so it was awesome to see that we still have some appreciation down there and that we could still fill up some rooms – good sized rooms too.
DS: I’ve been a fan since the beginning, since the days of Balance and Bad Dreams. Touching on the new album, it seems that you guys have come back to your roots of back and forth cerebral rapping with dark undertones, which is what fans have always know you for.
Prevail: This little musical thing is a journey. Sometimes you get on that path and you have points of reflection. Sometimes it happen intrinsically, sometimes you talk about it and that’s what happened with us. We never stopped recording after Beautiful Death Machine – we just kept going. And with that spent time, obviously Rob is an amazing producer, and regardless he just keeps getting better. It always forces Mad and I to become more tactful writers. I think that’s part of how the sound came back to us. We just got angry and hungry again. Rob is providing all these beautiful templates for us to be able to get back to what we consider as our signature sound, or our original sound as you put it. It happened seamlessly, it’s not something we sat down to do, it just happened by osmosis. When it feels natural and everyone is the group is happy in their personal lives, it just makes the strength of the group that much better.DS: Definitely. And the new album title says it all. How do you feel you guys have evolved from Balance to Brand New Day, nine studio albums later?
Prevail: I look at a couple key points. I think something that was huge for us, was having gone through… Unfortunately Mad took the brunt of that situation with his addiction and everything. As a group we fought through it and as brothers and friends we fought through it. We stood by each others side. I’m not going to say that it was easy or pretend that it was the greatest period in our lives – it was challenging, it was tough. We stuck together and we got through it. When that happened, although we had always had respect for each other personally and creatively – something just shifted for the better. It was as if our unbreakable bond, become ever more strengthened. So for whatever reason we went through that and we came out better on the other end. We have a better understanding of what it means to celebrate each others’ individuality. For that reason, I think that helped us to claw back and realize how fortunate we are to be in this position. You can never sleep on this game.
DS: Talking about the hiatus, it does really seem like you’ve come back for the better. Not to say that you ever took what you had for granted, but sometimes it’s hard to appreciate something when you’re in the thick of it. Do you guys think that the hiatus before 2009 was good for you guys?
Prevail: I really do, and I think it was necessary. You’re absolutely right, it put everything back into perspective. We had those moments of friction – not within the group – but we had been signed to a major label in the States, and we got dropped. That was a reflective period where we had to pick ourselves back up by the boot straps and ask ourselves individually “do I still want to do this? Is this still where my heart and passion is?” Obviously the answer was ‘yes.’ When you shake all that bullshit off your shoulders and you have a clear focus of important it is to you and how important it is to your life as a musician and an artist. But nothing impacted us as heavily as what Mad went through. So yes, that hiatus was huge, we had just come off of making Armed to the Teeth which was an album I feel was necessary for us to make to be able to get that theme of the kind of people we actually are.
DS: You guys have so much respect for each other as individuals, and as artists. You guys all have your own solo projects, and can intertwine them while going back and forth with the group work. How do you guys do that so flawlessly?
Prevail: Well I mean I really take my hat off to Mad for the way he spearheaded his solo career. It’s absolutely amazing to see what he’s done and to keep that balance, is just something that we understand. Whether it’s his solo album out kickin’ ass, or a new Swollen album out kickin’ ass, or Rob and a compilation that he’s doing with completely different artists. It’s just good for us to have the name out there. It’s all associated to the Battleaxe brand and we can do it on any facet. Like I’ve been doing philanthropic work for the last couple years to Mad’s solo stuff or Rob opening his own studio. It’s all relative to the brand and that’s what we realized. It’s important for us to do our individual things and celebrate life. It helps the group and it keeps the name out there for the greater good.
DS: I agree, and that’s what’s unique about hip-hop groups like yourselves. I mean Rob the Viking, Madchild, Prev One, every one of you have individual identities. Swollen Members is almost a super-group now of three extremely talented and seasoned veterans in the hip-hop game, and I feel that reflects in your work now more than it ever has.
Prevail: Thank you, I appreciate that. We feel fortunate to have lessons every day that tell us that we are still able to do this and we’re relevant, still making music that we’re proud of and still have some power behind us. You learn as you go, this industry is all peaks and valleys. Once you’ve been in the valley, you know what it is to climb. Once you reach a certain precipice, you know what it’s like to fall. You always want to make that happen, and stick to your belief system. We know the values of our group and we stick to that unified vision.DS: You guys have come back really strongly with the Battleaxe Warriors brand, what’s there now that wasn’t there before?
Prevail: This is Mad’s reformation. In the beginning it was really exciting because back then, there weren’t too many independent hip-hop labels. There was us, and a handful of others. We’ll negate naming names. These guys we were signing would crash on our couches and we’d all hang out. The next day we were in the studio and we’d all jam. It was something really magical, and a great wealth of information was going on. Emcees trading lifestyles and trading skills. But, you learn as a business person to balance everything out , and like you said, it’s no different than life and you learn from those lessons. Those who can, bounce back from it and show their resiliency. I’m very excited about this next round. Mad has a very great idea and understanding of what we have to do, and the family is back, not going to name names until it’s all official. I’m excited to see the ultimate roster about a year from now, it’s going to be powerful.
DS: I want to talk about the track “Jacques Cousteau.” I find it interesting that you guys made a metaphorical track about one of the most traveled explorers and discoverers of all time, a worldly man if there ever was such a thing.
Prevail: Yeah, what an inspiring person, right? And that linage has been passed down to his sibling. He’s one of those rare figures that rose about political and social commentaries. He was just someone that everyone looked at as an influence, like Albert Einstein of Nikola Tesla. Great minds of our previous generations. He painted the canvas for future influence as well. But yeah, what a genius. Nothing more to say about it then that.
DS: After nine studio albums, still keeping it fresh, I think about how you guys all work on solo projects on your own travels, then come back to writing together, that must really help stimulate creativity, does it not?
Prevail: Absolutely it does. It’s integral. We spend a lot of time together whether it’s on the road or in the studio together. We love it and appreciate it, and I never take that for granted. But even when we’re working well together, we realize the reason we are still here, as a strong unit of brothers, is because we give each other space. It’s not unlike any other relationship, except it’s just on a different level, a creative level. Most importantly a business level. A lot of it is just balance when you’re wearing as many hats as the three of us are, you just know you need to have space.
DS: On that subject, I wanted to ask you about your latest side project, your lifestyles magazine at www.prevailprevail.com. You’re a pretty worldly guy, you’ve traveled a lot, you’ve seen a lot. You’ve always applied the Socratic method to your life, examining everything about it, how does having this outlet help you both as a person and an artist?
Prevail: It’s been a huge eye opener for me. I grew up in the restaurant industry, serving and bussing and washes dishes. When we were getting the group off the ground before making a sustainable living off of this. That took time. It was a lot of work and that’s still something that is very close to my heart. I love wine, I love craft beer, I love shopping, I can’t lie [laughs.] I like fashion, but I also like literature and reading books. We’ve got an amazing team of writers. We agreed from day one that if we were going to do this, it wasn’t about being the first outlet in the first row of fashion week breaking the news. It’s easy to get caught up in the spiral of all the others out there. You have to do it for you. Once we had our great team it was easy from there. I mean we have Chris Ryan who is a New York Times best seller, Scott Hurst who is a reporter for CTV, Siren has an amazing following, and Joe Leary who is a radio legend. We’re slowly building the team up and it’s been amazing. For myself, individually as the editor, I get to write my letter and a few articles here and there and it helps me get a better understanding of the power of language and how to frame my thoughts. I look forward to the future of it.