A new release is among a young band’s best benchmarks, and Post Punk provocateurs Mad Anthony are in a celebratory mood with the imminent release of their excellent debut full-length on Phratry Records, I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal.
But even as Mad Anthony prepares to reveal Speed Metal at this Saturday’s release show at the Southgate House and gets ready for a string of hometown and regional dates this fall, there is a somber undercurrent.
With final tracking done and the mixing process beginning this past March, Mad Anthony was devastated by the news that their acclaimed drummer and dear friend Tony Bryant had taken his own life. It was a nearly insurmountable heart punch.
“There were times when we were like, ‘This is it, we get this record out, it’s done,’ ” Mad Anthony vocalist/guitarist Ringo Jones says over drinks at a Northside bar. “Initially, no one wanted to play. We hit bottom.”
“It was a surreal experience,” guitarist Adam Flaig concurs. “I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I hope I never do again.”
In the hours, days and weeks following Bryant’s funeral, Jones, Flaig and bassist Dave Markey dealt with conflicting and overwhelming emotions about the band’s future. Encouraged to continue by loyal fans and Bryant’s family, the trio ultimately realized that maintaining the band was the only logical way to honor Bryant. Speed Metal stands as a testament to the drummer’s powerful presence in Mad Anthony (he also drummed with The Strongest Proof) and to his enduring memory.
“Tony was just so dynamic,” Flaig says. “He was very strong with his hands; he hit his drums harder than anyone I’ve seen. He had a lot of close friends and they’re in our support group. There was a huge gathering of people that loved Tony and supported us no matter what. Even at his funeral, people came up to us and said, ‘We hope you guys continue on.’ ”
“And I think that’s the reason we did,” Jones says.
Speed Metal also happens to be a raucous and noisily melodic snapshot of Mad Anthony three years into the band’s evolution (not counting its first year as The Black Scabs). The album veers wildly from strength to strength — from the blistering opening volley of “Teeth” and the subtle Glam Cowboy Punk of “Uphill Both Ways” to the Stooges homage of “Soul” and the brilliant Post Punk explosion of “Rockets in the Yard.” Although the songwriting was largely done when Bryant joined (he helped write “Teeth,” “Naugahyde” and “They Don’t Look Like Us”), his impact on the album was enormous.
“When he started playing some of the songs we had written, it changed them completely,” says Jones. “A lot of that fell on Dave because he had to lock in with Tony.”
Just like Bryant approaching Mad Anthony to assist when the band’s previous drummer departed last year, The Host drummer Marc Sherlock offered his services after they’d worked with several fill-ins. With The Host on hiatus after guitarist Tim Kindberg’s departure, Sherlock looked to Mad Anthony to quell his creative restlessness.
“They gave me a tape and I stayed in my basement for a couple of weeks,” Sherlock says. “It’s a totally different style than I’m used to playing, a lot more upbeat and energetic. And going on the road has been a blast and a learning experience. These guys want to scream and yell in random cities and sleep in the van.”
Sherlock has already done a number of local dates and a good deal of regional touring with Mad Anthony and will continue in that capacity for the foreseeable future. While working around various work schedules, Mad Anthony seems poised for the next level, though they never take themselves or the business too seriously.
But the band is serious about making music, which is clear when Flaig talks about the band’s forced evolution, the number of drummers that have occupied the seat and Mad Anthony’s present course.
“When you start a band, you think you want to have the same four people the whole time and you have this picture in your mind of bands that you’ve watched growing up,” he says. “The way it’s turned out, it’s been rough, but we’ve been pretty lucky, considering the people we’ve played with and the shows we’ve played. If I could change it, I don’t think I would.”
Bryant’s tragic passing is the crucible that forged the strength of Speed Metal. As such, the band will never forget the path they’ve taken to this point.
“I wasn’t particularly thrilled with this record,” Jones says with surprising honesty. “But after Tony passed away, I had to go out to Vegas for a big convention and I was still pretty broken up and the songs took on a new meaning. All of a sudden, it was the best thing we’ve ever done. They start out as nothing and they turn into something. It blows my mind.”
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