Though “Flesh and Bone,” one of the prime cuts on Alien Ant Farm’s debut New Noize/DreamWorks album, “ANThology” (out March 6), touches on religion, no one will ever confuse the Riverside, Calif., rock quartet for Creed.
Singer-lyricist Dryden Mitchell just wanted to have a heart-to-heart with God, says guitarist Terry Corso.
“With all these thousands of people dying in earthquakes in India and El Salvador and people in the Middle East killing each other over God,” Corso said, “it just makes you go, ‘What’s this all about? I want to talk to God directly, right now! I don’t want his secretary. I want to talk to him. What’s his cell phone number?’ By the way, do you think God has AT&T or Verizon? He probably has his own network. He gets as many free minutes as he wants, because he’s a God.
“Seriously, the song’s about standing back and looking at it, a what-if. Dryden explains it as a conversation with God, like ‘Give me a sign that that this is all real.’ It’s not preaching at all. When you listen to the lyrics, you can really see where Dryden’s coming from. It’s not claiming anything or not trying to preach toward anyone. It’s more like, ‘What’s going on here? Lemme know.’ ”
Alien Ant Farm is not, repeat, not a Christian rock group.
“We thought about that, wondering what people might think,” Corso said, “and people can just make their own assessment of the song. If you listen to the words, it won’t lead anyone down that road. Honestly, we’re not like that, we’re not consumed with worrying about that. We play it every night, and Dryden says, ‘This is a song about God,’ and if anything leads kids to believe that we are a Christian band, we leave it for them to decide whatever they want to do. We don’t bank in religion or anything like that, maybe some other members do more than others in the band, but we’re about so much more.”
Indeed. The group, formed in 1996 with bassist Tye Zamora and drummer Mike Cosgrove, comes from the old school of hard rock, thriving on the hard-driving 1970s metal of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath but with a knowing nod to other genres, such as the reggae-pop of The Police and the moody alt-rock of Radiohead.
“We just wanted to relay to people our songwriting capabilities,” Corso said, “just being as melodic as possible, and put as much emotion as we could, giving the message to kids that we’re in this to make beautiful music. We’re not really in this for trying to look like some big rock stars onstage, some untouchable gods. We’re regular kids; we wanted to come across that way, but also bearing the big stick of ‘Hey, check out this album. We can write too.’
“Another thing we wanted to do was create a textured album that didn’t stagnate toward the end, like when songs start sounding the same. We’ve always wanted to be as diverse as possible, but in our own vein. We have our own course of direction with our music; we all love aggressive, heavy music, but at the same time we range from Steely Dan and The Police. Why? Because we’ve always admired them for being intense musicians. Stewart Copeland is one of the raddest drummers ever.”
AAF even tips its hat to Michael Jackson, of all people. They rip through a cover of his 1988 hit, “Smooth Criminal.”
The real star of “ANThology,” however, is “Movies,” already racing up Billboard’s modern rock tracks chart. In it, Mitchell relates a bad relationship to film, using such lines as “At slow speed, we all seem focused.”
The album, produced by Jay Baumgardner (Orgy, Slipknot, Coal Chamber), not only has a lot going for it musically, it’s destined for platinum status, thanks to Alien Ant Farm’s association with Papa Roach. The Grammy Award nominees for best new artist, whose debut DreamWorks album “Infest” has sold more than 2 million copies, were given their own imprint and made AAF their first signing.
“We’re signed to DreamWorks,” Corso said, “but we fly the flag of New Noize, because Papa Roach helped us up, they discovered us, as far as we’re concerned, and they get that respect. They brought us home to be family and that’s where we needed to be. Now it’s all a big happy family.
“You run into a lot of bands on the road that you don’t necessarily get into that much, but you swap shows for political reasons or whatever,” Corso said. “But with Papa Roach, we were always fans of each other’s music. They’re awesome because they brought the hip-hop all hard but then (singer-writer) Coby (Dick) wasn’t afraid to sing and they weren’t afraid to get melodic and use melodic-style metal riffs. When we saw their album take off, we were like, ‘Holy shit, maybe this is a sign that kids want the same thing that we do.’ ”
AAF’s own infestation germinated through steady touring through the western United States and Europe. Their first album, the tongue-in-cheek titled “Greatest Hits” (issued on their own label Chick Music Records), was named best independent album at the L.A. Music Awards in 1999.
They count their parents as their No. 1 fans, Corso says.
“Tye’s father and his two brothers are all musicians, so they pushed him that way,” he said. “They saw what he wanted to do and helped him on that journey. His father gets into it; he comes to our shows and films us, stands on the stage. Dryden’s dad had actually worked the club circuit in a bar act, so he couldn’t help but encourage it.
“My dad’s from Rome, Italy; he used to book nightclubs when he was in Italy, and I’ve always listened to his stories about he got to meet Stevie Wonder or how he was in the same joint circle as Jimi Hendrix. Then my mom and my grandmother, they motivated me through everything. I started out playing drums; my mom put me into drum lessons and bought me a snare drum, practice pads and sticks. I only stuck with that a few weeks, then I drifted out of music for a while. I played football for a year, then I discovered the guitar over at a friend’s house and found my way again. I tried to start bands with my little friends, and my amp wasn’t adequate enough, so my grandmother found this cool Marshall stack on sale and drove me to pick it up. They were all very supportive.
“Mike’s grandfather, he was a trumpet player in big bands back in the day, and he had to leave it because he started a family. He put the trumpet up and he doesn’t bring it down, but now he’s kind of living through us vicariously. He call Mike every day to see how things are going; it’s really awesome to watch.”
With AAF now touring with Orgy and later hooking up with Papa Roach, no wonder Corso is pretty optimistic about their chances.
“God, it hope it does well,” he said. “Just from reactions, we might get away with it. There’s so many cookie-cutter bands nowadays; kids are used to it because it’s being force-fed to them. Here we come with something a little different, and we’re really versatile and that’s not an easy thing to get away with.
“The way the single’s already taking off and everyone I know who’s gotten an advance copy has been raving about it, so I can’t help but feel pretty confident about it. I’m real confident in our music to begin with, but when people say, ‘You’re a breath of fresh air,’ that’s when I go, ‘Oh, my god, thank you.’ That’s what we want to be, even though it’s not intentional, but if that’s what we’re going to be, that’s the greatest thing. When we started this band, we started it to be not like anyone else.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “The first one I remember owning was KISS’ ‘Dressed to Kill.’ My mom passed it down to me. ‘Rock Bottom’ was the song that made me want to be a rock guy. Notice we don’t say rock stars, we say rock guy. There’s a big difference.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Judas Priest’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’ at the Long Beach arena, with special guest Great White, like in ’86 or ’87. My dad took me and it was really impressive, just watching that huge stage move around. Seeing the guitar player strike a note that’s so intensely loud and seeing how the whole show came together, that’s what did it for me.”
WHAT DO I THINK OF EMINEM?: “He’s a really intense writer. His subject matter, I can take it or leave it, but as far as skills are concerned, it’s going to be a while before a rapper comes out that can really knock him down. He’s good, he’s good with words and rhythms. He’s got a style that really stands out.”
BWF (before we forget): Fans can raid Alien Ant Farm on the Web @alienantfarm.com.