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Prevail, Mad Child, and producer Rob the Viking

Okay, so you've heard the name of Canadian rap group Swollen Members before, does that make you underground? Well, if you actually are a Canuck, eating Canadian bacon all day, watching hockey, and other stereotypical bullshit, then no, because back in their home country, Swollen Members are multi-platinum selling artists. The duo of Mad Child and Prevail struck gold in Canada with their first album Balance (1999), and continued the trend with their backpacking sophomore release Bad Dreams (2001). The B-sides compilation Monsters in the Closet followed, but both the group and the fans weren't too pleased with Heavy (2003), as some thought it was a sign that the group was reaching more for the dollar bills than the actual hearts and minds of the fans.

Swollen got back to their roots, though with their follow-up, Black Magic (2006), but in between that period, Mad Child, took a long break because of a drug addiction. Two weeks ago the group returned with their latest album in three years, Armed to the Teeth, signaling that they're ready to get back into it and swell up some more, er, members. We talked to the duo to find out about their new album, Mad Child's OxyContin addiction, and how they came up with that pauseworthy name of theirs...

Interview by Rich Knight

Complex: Okay, let me get right down to the bottom of this. What does the name Swollen Members mean?

Prevail: In hip-hop, swollen means fat. Like, you have fat pockets, your pockets are swollen. You can take that interpretation as how you feel, but to us, Swollen Members is an extended family. It's a family that's always growing, always expanding. People are always being welcomed in, and it's like, our Swollen Members listeners [are the family].

Complex: Alright, that's settled. Let's talk about the new album now.

Prevail: Armed to the Teeth has been a great adventure for Swollen Members and an experience that has really unified our group in a way that we didn't anticipate happening. Mad will tell you, he had an addiction to prescription drugs. So that experience obviously affected him directly, and it affected us [as a group] directly as well, so I think you'll see that there's a lot of positivity going on in the creation of this.

Complex: Why the title, Armed to the Teeth?

Mad Child: Armed to the Teeth is just something that I've thrown in lyrics in past albums, and I got it tattooed. I guess I just wanted to come up with a slogan to go with the logo. We were originally going to make the album titled Beautiful Death Machine, but as we started making the album, Armed to the Teeth just seemed like a more fitting name. Just like, we're prepared, we got all the ammunition, we're ready to go. It's going to be a battle and we're ready for war.

Complex: Let's talk about how big you are in Canada. You're really huge there.

Prevail: We've had a lot of success at home, definitely. Our country has been very open to us, and the Canadian music scene has been good. There, we're platinum artists and we've filled stadiums, so it felt good to be embraced and get love from your own country. It gave us a positive push.

Mad Child: Yeah, it's been great like, it's all been from touring and word of mouth, and now with the Internet being such an important tool, promoting music, the Internet has been a huge part of getting awareness in America. We haven't had the same commercial success, obviously, in America that we've had in Canada, so in Canada, we're fortunate to have lots of radio play and get on MuchMusic and MTV and that kind of stuff. So obviously, that opens you up to the masses, which brings you to a mainstream level. But in America to date, we've always been still an underground, independent group. And that's great. We have a great movement in America, and we have lots of loyal fans, and I've found that American fans really stay true and they embrace you.

Complex: Mad Child, you've been open about your drug addiction. What went down with that?

Mad Child: I just got off of a four year OxyConton addiction. The first year was just kind of doing Perks (Percocet) and stuff, the last two years was sort of dark, very heavy addiction that I went through. And I got to the point where the last year and a half I was doing a retarded amount of OxyConton every day and was definitely stuck in an actual trap where my whole life circulated and was involved with getting stoned every day.

Complex: How does that work in with the album?

Mad Child: One of the only great things that happened during that three-year period, especially the last two years, was that we were still making music. I got a pretty incredible group of guys around me as far as my rap group and my other friends and family who didn't turn their back on me. The problem is, when you're in a situation like mine and you become a drug addict, which is obviously a selfish act, you're not only affecting your own life, but you're affecting other people's lives around you. And I literally put the guys in my group's lives on hold for three years because I was a very non-productive person as far as going out and going on tour, you know. But fortunately, the guys were supportive enough to stick around and be my true family, and I have a studio at my house, so we were able to still work on the album while I was intoxicated or whatever. I basically made the whole album stoned.

Complex: I'm sure you're not the first artist to do that. Alright, time for the kicker. What's your favorite Swollen Members album?

Mad Child: Well, up until Armed to the Teeth, Bad Dreams [was]. I just listened to it about a month ago, so I could reflect on it. Still to this day, I'm impressed with what we did.

Complex: Prevail?

Prevail: For me, it's Balance, because it's our first one. You know, we didn't go in with any preconceived notions about anything. It was a very raw album in that we were just really learning how to hone our talents, and really how to become a group. That was a stepping stone for me.