tep into the living room/practice space of Ringo Jones’ cozy Northside home and one thing quickly becomes apparent — there’s nowhere to sit.
Instead of seating, the living space has been taken over by the music equipment used by Jones and his bandmates in Cincinnati Rock group Mad Anthony. Marc Sherlock’s drum kit occupies the space where a TV would normally be positioned against the wall. A couch and easy chair have been replaced by Jones’ and Adam Flaig’s guitars, amps and pedal-boards. Cords snake across the floor and form a labyrinthine mess that’s just begging to be tripped over during a jaunt to the bathroom. There are four chairs situated around a small dining table in the kitchen, but the table itself is littered with old guitar string pouches, digital video recorders, beer bottle caps, a bottle of Jameson whiskey and piles upon piles of papers.
Don’t think for a second that Jones is messy or unorganized. It’s just that Jones, Flaig and Sherlock are neck-deep in the biggest project of their band’s nearly decade-long career.
With a mix of Rock and Punk, plus a dash of Pop sensibility, Mad Anthony has established itself as one of Cincinnati’s most consistently eclectic and explosive recording artists, something the group’s energized, fan-winning live show matches. Every one of Mad Anthony’s recordings — an EP, a split 7-inch single and three albums (mostly all released through local label Phratry Records) — shows the attention the band seems to put into never repeating itself musically.
All of Mad Anthony’s previous releases have been separated by at least a year, offering plenty of time to road-test songs live, work on the writing and record at their own pace. But can the trio be just as effective and non-repetitive when its release schedule is shortened considerably?
That challenge is currently being put to the test on quite an extreme level. The trio is two months into an ambitious project that will see Mad Anthony releasing a brand new track every single week for an entire year. In less than 52 weeks, Mad Anthony will more than double the amount of songs in a discography that took over nine years to accumulate.
The aptly titled “Mad Anthology” project (which began March 1) spawned from a simple question: What’s next?
The video for the first Mad Anthology track, "Haunt Me," which features special guest Tom Pappas of Superdrag:
“I think initially we were trying to decide what to do,” Flaig recalls. “Did we want to do another record? Make an EP? And Ringo had the idea of doing a subscription-based model where you would sign up and pay a monthly fee, and we would provide however much material deserved the asking price. The idea of a song a week came out of that.”
Falling Into Focus
In many ways, Mad Anthony’s career has followed a path consistent with the group’s genesis. The band sets a goal and fights like hell to achieve it. Most journeys begin with a single step, but Mad Anthony’s began with a mouse click.
While they were both attending Ohio University in 2005, Flaig reached out to Jones through Facebook, and they quickly bonded over a mutual love of Rock & Roll. The Mad Anthony moniker was established in 2007, with the band featuring Jones, Flaig, Dave Markey on bass and Daniel Durick on drums. The quartet released a self-titled EP in June of 2008 and started touring, but it wasn’t long before its first roadblock — Durick quit.
Mad Anthony’s friend, Tony Bryant, stepped in and was able to quickly take over drumming duties.
“When Tony joined the band, I think that’s when we finally started to take the band more seriously,” Jones says. “Before that, it was a party. When Tony joined the band, we decided to write weirder stuff and cut out a space for ourselves and not just be a Rock & Roll band.”
In 2010, Mad Anthony was set to release its first full-length, …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal, when the group yet again lost its drummer, this time under much more tragic circumstances.
“We had finished tracking and were in mixing, and it was in March of 2010 — that’s when Tony committed suicide,” Jones remembers, his normally jubilant voice wavering.
After Bryant’s untimely passing, the remaining members were unsure if they wanted to continue. Ultimately, it was decided that Bryant and the rest of the band’s hard work needed to see the light of day, even if the wounds were still fresh, which is where Sherlock came into Mad Anthony’s story. At first, Sherlock acted as a fill-in drummer, but he officially joined the band during the recording of a song for a 2011 7-inch split single.
Mad Anthony became a trio after Markey’s amicable departure before the June 2012 release of the band’s second album, which, like its earlier EP, was self-titled. Bolstered by the new album and the continued success of Speed Metal, the boys took the next major step in their career. The three musicians decided to quit the jobs they were working Mad Anthony’s touring schedule around and become a full-time band.
There were two big reasons the decision wasn’t too difficult to make — the guys were tired and single.
Jones says, “We had two lives. Monday through Thursday, I was a professor at Xavier (University). Thursday, we’d play Dayton, then Friday I’d go back to work the next morning. Then Friday night we would play Indianapolis, then Saturday we’re in Chicago, Sunday we’re driving home from wherever we are, and it’s crazy.”
“We all pissed our girlfriends off enough that we all started living together,” Flaig adds.
Mad Anthony then hit the road for nine months of relentless touring in a bright yellow van, surviving on dollar bags of stir-fry vegetables. The musicians still look back fondly on their time during that tour, when even the hardest parts of being on the road got washed away with the sweat that poured out of them onstage.
“All the best times were awesome, and even the worst times, like when you were getting in the van and thinking, ‘I fucking hate everybody’ — once you’re playing music, it’s fine,” Sherlock says.
Refusing to Sink
Music is an endless well of satisfaction and joy for Mad Anthony’s members. But June 29, 2013 is one date in their musical lives that they will never look back on with any measure of fondness. In what would turn out to be yet another grueling, life-changing moment for the group, the evening began while the band was on tour and making what should have been an easy, uneventful drive from Kentucky to a show in Evansville, Ind. Flaig was driving and Jones was riding shotgun, while Sherlock was asleep on a bench seat that had been turned to sit under the back driver’s side window.
They had made this drive several times before, and even the heavy downpour of rain didn’t feel too out of place for what was a very wet summer. But the drive ended abruptly outside of Louisville, Ky. when the band’s van became involved in a serious accident.
“I remember thinking (while driving that night), ‘This sucks, but I’ve driven in worse, and I’ll probably drive in worse,’ ” Flaig explains. “I lost control of the van and we did two 360s, and I remember fishtailing and I jerked it back — then we totally lost control. We hit a tree head-on, and that rocks us, and we hit another tree and Ringo is immediately ejected out of the (passenger seat), like the door wasn’t even closed all the way.
“I was the only one with a seatbelt on and we hit the tree so hard, it fucking rocked me. If I didn’t have my seatbelt on, I would’ve eaten glass — it would’ve been bad.”
Jones had a massive wound on his head (“It was like a Pringles can, peeling back the foil top. That was my head,” he says), but Sherlock suffered the worst. Jones and Flaig found him with his head sticking out of the window and his blood staining the van’s side panel. At first the two guitarists weren’t sure if their friend was alive. But Sherlock suddenly and surprisingly assuaged their fears — with a little flair.
“He gets up, climbs into the front seat and lights up a cigarette,” Flaig says. “I bet that if he had a bottle of gin and a mixer, he would’ve mixed up a gin and tonic. So that’s how I knew he was going to be OK.”
Sherlock was confined to a neck brace until his broken vertebrae healed, Jones had to have his head stapled back together and Flaig had some trauma along his chest, but all three have made full physical recoveries. That isn’t to say that there still isn’t some emotional scarring. During our conversations, each member told their own iteration of the crash story and each had their own distinct reactions to the event. Flaig’s normally upbeat and chill demeanor showed flecks of guilt and pain throughout his long, detailed account. Sherlock’s recollection was short, as he remembers very little before waking up in the hospital. Jones went last and read a prepared piece that he had written for a class. He warned us that he’d most likely cry while reading the story. When he recounted first finding Sherlock after the crash, he did exactly that.
Mad Anthony showed its dedication and remarkable resilience in the immediate aftermath of the wreck. Within 10 days of the near-death experience, Flaig and Jones went right back on the road, finishing up the interrupted tour by playing the nearly dozen shows that were canceled as an acoustic duo. By the end of that summer, using guest drummers while Sherlock recuperated at home, Mad Anthony was touring incessantly again, traveling all over the country (including dates in Texas and California) before a homecoming show in late September that marked Sherlock’s first public performance with the band since the accident.
The wreck had a major impact on Mad Anthony’s next release, Sank for Days, which came out just over a year later. Before the accident, the band had been working on material while on the road, but many of the songs took on new meanings after the crash.
“(The songs) definitely got a different shade put on (them) after the accident,” Jones explains. “When I wrote (the song) ‘Sank for Days,’ I was writing in response to the (mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn.). But after the accident, it became more about my battles with depression and the futility of it. There were some dark days, and I think that came across on that album.”
Kicking Into Overdrive
With only a six-song tracklist, Sank for Days is one of Mad Anthony’s shortest releases, and the lyrical content was much more focused on the band’s personal issues than anything that had come before it. The catharsis brought on by the album was welcome, but when the members discuss their Mad Anthology project, the only sign of what they went through in 2013 is perhaps the noticeable excitement they exude about the prospect of taking up a much larger and more varied project.
“Sank for Days was very dark, and Mad Anthology is like a bright sunny day,” Flaig explains. “At this point I think our options are endless — we can do pretty much whatever we (want), and I think Mad Anthology is giving us that freedom.”
The breadth of the Mad Anthology project isn’t lost on the boys, but they refuse to give up on depth either. Accompanying every song’s release is an email to the fans who sign up at madanthology.com telling the story of that week’s release. In addition, the band plans on including several music videos and the members are working on other ways to get fans involved creatively. So far, the band has asked fans for photos of the group performing and handed out cameras to showgoers to collect live footage. The group says they want fans to remix or use the songs in their own projects. The members are eager to see what other people come up with using their source material.
If you think such additional tasks — as well as continuing to play shows, including a June 5 performance at Cincinnati’s huge Bunbury Music Festival — seem like a lot of extra work to pile on to an already massive undertaking, you’d be right.
“I’m stressed out as a motherfucker,” Jones admits. “Because it’s not just 52 songs, it’s 52 emails, it’s updating the website, it’s
13 to 14 videos. It is on my mind 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m always communicating with other people.”
Though they enjoy very brief breathers to gauge reaction to the weekly output, Mad Anthony’s members know there won’t be any laurels-resting for the foreseeable future. In fact, after our initial interview wrapped up, Jones threw a pizza in the oven and immediately called his girlfriend to talk over specifics for a Mad Anthony website facelift she was working on.
With so much work to be done, even for one of Cincinnati’s hardest-working bands, sometimes you have to call in the cavalry. Mad Anthony reached out to many friends and peers to help with the project, including engineers to help produce the songs and videographers to film the videos, as well as vocalists and musicians to guest on tracks. Mad Anthology tracks released so far have featured out-of-town musical acquaintances, as well as local musicians from bands like The Sundresses, State Song and Valley of the Sun. (As if Mad Anthony’s own projects weren’t keeping them busy enough, Jones and Flaig are currently also playing bass and guitar, respectively, in Valley of the Sun as that band tours Germany and Switzerland throughout May.)
Mad Anthony's collaboration with Ryan Ferrier of Valley of Sun, Mad Anthology's Week 8 release:
Sasha Alcott, guitarist and vocalist for Bangor, Maine duo When Particles Collide, was one of the first collaborators to appear on the Mad Anthology project. When Mad Anthony approached Alcott, it did so with little fanfare and caught her off guard when preparation for the project finally kicked off in earnest.
“I was sort of shocked and can’t imagine writing that much material, let alone recording it,” she says. “They hadn’t told us about the collaborative nature of it. So we didn’t know about that until about six months later when I got an email from Ringo, and the subject was just ‘Sing this.’
“I think that part of the genius of this project is that they never really explain what it was that they are doing. I think what’s really cool about the Mad Anthology project is that they just did it; they don’t really talk about it.”
Week 2's Mad Anthology offering, featuring
Sasha Alcott of When Particles Collide:
Getting help from some of their best friends certainly has its advantages, but Mad Anthony also had altruistic goals when deciding to augment the project with special guests.
“The original idea was to spread the word and bring that (collaborator) to town (for shows) and try to promote them,” Flaig says.
The guys are also using the experience to broaden their own musical boundaries. Already a band that has touched on various genres in its music, the Mad Anthology project is pushing them to explore even more. Sherlock in particular has enjoyed the opportunity to test his drumming by working on varying styles.
“We’ve already stepped outside our normal genre a couple of times. We have a song (in the works) that straddles Country that I find interesting, and I hate Country. Stuff like that is really exciting,” Sherlock says.
And just what exactly is Mad Anthony asking for in return for all of this content? Besides the creative fulfillment, it depends on the week. To date, a song was made free to members of the band’s mailing list, another was given to fans who bought a beer at one of their shows and one week’s download was delivered at no cost to anyone who shared the song on Facebook. The band are plotting even more unconventional delivery methods to distribute its music without fans needing to open their wallets. At madanthology.com, every song is available to stream, and each can purchased for a minimum of 99 cents (more can be given if desired).
Mad Anthony is trying to instill an environment in which music has value, even if it isn’t necessarily financial. In their nearly decade-long career, the musicians have learned a great deal, and chief amongst those lessons is that much of the value in creating something is the act of creation itself.
“It was so easy to let go after the accident — I have no desire to make it big, I just want to make cool art,” Jones says.
Flaig elaborates: “I feel like all the training has been done — now it’s just time to just keep creating. We don’t really have to prove ourselves like we used to. We always prove ourselves unintentionally.”
Ultimately, the years of trying to prove themselves are over. Mad Anthony has the time, the miles, the releases, the awards and the personal tragedy under its belt. Mad Anthology isn’t three Cincinnati musicians trying to make waves and get noticed as “the next big thing.” It’s three talented artists who have already made it, celebrating their art and making and sharing it with all of their friends. Any triumphs or glory that come with that — Mad Anthology has received national attention thanks to coverage on major music blogs like Consequence of Sound — are just bonuses.
“We hope we’re successful, but at the end of the day, the success is just in the fact that we’re doing it the way we want to do it,” Jones confides.
Anyone who doubts that the band can completely follow through on such an extensive project as Mad Anthology, just remember — Jones, Flaig and Sherlock may be mad, but they know exactly what they’re doing.
Here is the just released Week 11 Mad Anthology song, "Need Somebody," featuring keys by Cincinnati musician Scot Torres of the band State Song:
For the latest on MAD ANTHONY’s Mad Anthology project, visit madanthology.com.