By Mike Bax
Photo by Tim Snow
A heavy rock / metal mainstay for over two decades now, Slaves On Dope have recently released a new album, Horse, enlisting the likes of Darryl McDaniels (RUN DMC), Bill Kelliher (Mastodon), H.R. (Bad Brains) and Lee La Baum (The Damn Truth) to help round out the albums 10 new songs.
Never a band that is easily classifiable, most tend to lump Slaves On Dope in with metal, given the band’s late 1990s signing with Ozzy Osbourne’s Divine Recordings and subsequent tours along with Osbourne, Pantera, Godsmack, Incubus, Disturbed, Linkin Park, QOTSA, Fear Factory and Soulfly.
Horse sees Slaves on Dope traversing numerous musical spectrums, touching on their roots as a heavy rock band, with plenty of clever riffs and catchy lyrics throughout the album – the songs without guest contributors all managing to be as great as the tracks with guest contributors.
Vocalist Jason Rockman, an affable front man and reputable radio personality in Montreal, took a half hour out last week to talk a bit with Lithium Magazine about Horse, comics, RUN DMC, Mastodon, Bad Brains and new bassist Rob Laurion .
Mike: You’ve been at this for a while now, over 20 years.
Jason: Yes, 23 now to be exact – almost 24.
Mike: Because you are not a woman, I’m totally going to ask your age. How old are you?
Jason: (laughs) I’m 45. I’m in my mid-forties.
Mike: Talk to me a bit about Slaves On Dope, what it was like in 1996 and what it’s like now in 2016. Specifically, how your approach to writing music and performing has changed over the past 20 years.
Jason: I definitely think in terms of performing, nothing’s really changed. We still go out and try to play as well as we can – we kill it every night. I think in terms of writing a lot has changed. And that’s just because of technology. It’s so much easier to write now in a lot of ways because you don’t have to sit and hammer things out in a jam room. You don’t have to be in a position where you are constantly saving up money to record. It’s way easier to record now. Back when we started the only way you could record yourself was to play something back on a portable radio, you’d record onto cassette and you’d listen back and you’d get this horrible, muffled, crappy recording. So when we got a four-track recorder or an eight-track recorder, it was a revelation. It was amazing. The four-track recorder was just this incredible thing. I remember in the late nineties we ended up getting a Tascam – a 16 channel portable digital recorder and we thought it was the greatest thing in the world. We thought “We can make records with this thing!” That’s when my guitar player started tinkering with recording. Since then he’s opened his own studio he’s gotten a new console in there now. He’s really into it. That’s what he does for a profession. So it’s way easier for us to write music and record than it was before. Definitely.
Mike: Someone knows nothing about music, and they ask you to describe your band, what do you tell them?
Jason: Um, I think we are not easy to classify. I think some people will lump us into being nu metal or older metal. I don’t even think we are that metal, and we end up getting lumped into a metal category. I mean I just think we are a rock band. I would just tell people to listen to the music and see what they think. It’s definitely aggressive but there is a melody in it. We are definitely not the easiest band to describe. I can tell you who we are influenced by. We are huge Faith No More fans. They are a band we always look to for guidance in terms of, you know, “Would Faith No More do that?” They are a band that will pretty much do anything, so that could be anything. (laughs) They are our role models in a way.
Mike: Right on.
Jason: The ironic thing is, you know, if the guys in Faith No More were to listen to our band, they would probably hate it because they hate everything. (laughs)
Mike: They do hate everything. It’s true.
Jason: But that’s ok. I would never even want to seek their approval. But I know they have been a huge influence on us in terms of their attitude towards music. They have never come across as desperate for fame or really cared much if people liked their music or not. They just did it for themselves and I love that. So really, if people were to ask me to describe my music, I would say that it’s very selfish music.
Mike: That’s a good descriptor: Selfish music.
Jason: It’s selfish music but it’s made with a lot of love.
Mike: You have just released Horse. I am assuming it was recorded at Kevin’s studio seeing as seeing as you just described him as being into that aspect of the business and having his own studio.
Jason: Yes. He did everything. He wrote a lot of the music. He writes all of the actual music, I write the melody and then we co-write lyrics. So he does a lot of work on the records. He produces stuff. He produces everything we record. He engineers it, he mixes it, and he masters it. When it comes to the music part of Slaves On Dope, he takes care of all of that stuff. And then once it’s done, that’s where I come in and do all the rest.
Mike: Cool. After all of these years you both must have a pretty good shorthand together, right?
Jason: Yeah, we really do. We’ve got a great working relationship. Everything flows. It’s like second nature at this point. We both know what we have to do.
Mike: How did you find Rob Laurion. How did he come into the fold?
Jason: Rob has been a friend of the band for a long time. He’s been a fan of the band for a while. The first band he ever saw live was us when he was a kid. He was one of the guys who we first looked at when we first re-formed the band to play bass and we ended up going with Sebastien (Ducap). At that point, Seb just seemed a little more gung-ho to be in the band. It’s funny when you are put to a decision to choose between two people, you have to choose only one. It was ironic that seven years after Seb had been in the band were faced with finding another bass player. We immediately went to Rob. It was like “Ok then. Let’s get the other guy then.” Rob’s always been a fan, and he’s also been a personal fan of myself and Kevin’s now for a long time. He’s helped us out a lot along the way. On the last record Over the Influence, he’s a graphic guy, so he laid out that whole album’s artwork. He did all the packaging together for us. He’s always been around and been a part of our family, so it was just a natural thing to ask him.
Mike: What pulled you out of Slaves On Dope in 2004, and what brought you back into the fold in 2009?
Jason: Um, kids. (laughs)
Mike: That’s what I figured.
Jason: I had my son, who is 12 years old now. I have a daughter also, who is 9. My son is what really made me say, “Ok. It’s time to do something different. It’s time to step away from this and be a dad. I always said to myself that if I ever had kids I would concentrate on being a dad and I wouldn’t be on the road. We were on the road 10 months a year. We used to tour all the time. It was really important to me to present in his life and I’m really glad that I did that because it allowed me to look at music through different eyes. I stepped away for a good amount of time and I kind of re-invented myself. I found different career paths, different stuff to do. And I came back to music with this renewed vigor. I really wanted to do it. I was really able to say now we can do it on our terms without anybody to answer to. And that’s a nice thing to be able to do.
Mike: I really don’t need to ask a “who are your influences” question because you have most of them on this new album as contributors.
Jason: (laughs) Yeah.
Mike: Maybe we can just talk a little bit about Run DMC, Mastodon and Bad Brains and how you managed to get them to contribute to songs on this new album?
Jason: Well, there’s three of my favourite bands right there.
Mike: Right? Yeah.
Jason: I’m a big hip-hop fan. Especially old school hip hop. I really like the beginnings of hip hop. I’m a big Public Enemy fan. And really, Run DMC, they were the first big band there, right? They were the first big rap super band.
Mike: They were. I remember them being prominent way before Public Enemy, even though they both came up at the same time. Date-stamped by the music videos for me.
Jason: Exactly. Run DMC was the first rap band that I was a fan of. Public Enemy was the band in that genre I was obsessed with. And still am. I’m still obsessed with Chuck D. Huge fan. To get Darryl (McDaniels) on the record was just amazing. Mastodon was really fun because I’m a fan of Mastodon. They are a band that my wife and I really like and we have traveled to see a lot. We’re friends with Bill (Kelliher). Our families have eaten together. We’re buds. To have him on the record was really cool because he’s a friend. I’m a fan of the band, but we are also friends. So to have him on was really special because he never thought I would ask him to be on a record.
Mike: Bill doesn’t really step out too much from Mastodon. Some of the other guys do, but not him.
Jason: Yeah. And the guy is hella-talented. He really knows what he is doing. He’s an incredible writer. When he delivered the solo for the record we were just amazed. We asked him to actually extend it so that it went from an 8 bar part to a 32 bar part. We were just super happy with what he did. So that was fun. And having H.R. (Paul D. Hudson) on the record actually came about because of another collaboration that we are doing with DMC and DJ Lord from Public Enemy. We wanted another vocalist on it and someone had a line into H.R. We were like “Are you kidding me? H.R. is still doing stuff???” And I as then told that he doesn’t do a lot, but he really would love to work with DMC. So we got him in for this other song that we are doing for this compilation, and at the same time, we asked him if he’d mind doing something on our record as well. So we sent the song over in the same session and he put something on there that we were really happy with. H.R. is on our record. That is ALL that matters. (laughs)
Mike: Right? Yes.
Jason: To quote my guitar player, he said: “the guy could fart on the record and we wouldn’t care, it’s H.R.”
Mike: I wasn’t even sure he was still above ground, so seeing his name on the back of your album made me smile immediately.
Jason: You know, he embodies so much of what is the spirit of this band. H.R. is just awesome, you know?
Mike: I’m not that familiar with Lee La Baum. I didn’t include her with these other contributors because I really don’t know that much about her. Can you enlighten me?
Jason: That’s the really nice thing about Lee La. We are a band that gets more attention in the U.S. than we do in Canada. To have her on the album was fun because she and her band The Damned Truth are one of the best bands I’ve seen play live in forever. And because I work in radio in Montreal, they are one of the bands that we have really supported at our station. She is an incredible vocalist. So when we were tracking the album, we’d been sitting on that song for about six years. It was supposed to be on the last record. We had tried it with another vocalist, who is actually very well known (chuckles) and it just did not work. So we shelved the song and said “No. We’re done. We’ll just put it on hold.” Since then, we’ve tried a bunch of other people but it just didn’t work. And then I thought of getting Lee La. Because they are such a blues rock band, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure it would work. But she came in and did it, and it was just perfect. It’s really fun because we are getting that response – the song is really good but people aren’t familiar with her. And it’s getting them some attention, which I’m happy about. They are fantastic. A really good band.
Mike: How did you first get introduced to Marco Rudy?
Jason: Marco and I became friends because… (laughs) I do a lot of things at home to pay the bills. I’m a spokesperson for the Montreal and Ottawa Comic Con. Also, I’m a huge geek. Marco was one of the guests we had at Comic Con about 6 years ago. I instantly became friends with him. We’ve stayed in touch. I have a lot of his artwork at home. I was a fan, but we were friends, you know? When it came time to do this record cover, I suggested to Kevin that I’d really like to get my friend Marco. And Kevin doesn’t know anything about the comic medium, really. He just doesn’t know the genre at all. And he wasn’t sure that he wanted Slaves On Dope to be all comic booky. I pulled up some of Marco’s work and showed him that it’s all next level stuff. It’s art. It’s not line drawings of guys in super suits – Marco is the real deal. When he saw Marco’s stuff Kevin thought it was all pretty trippy. With Kevin willing to give it a shot, I called Marco up on speaker phone and When he answered I started in with the context of Kevin and I sitting in the studio and just wanting to ask him something. Before I could finish, he finished off our question for us and said that he’d love to do the cover artwork for us. So I sent him over some general ideas of what Kevin and I were thinking – loose ideas really, and he kept it for a while, and sent us back the cover as it stands and Kevin and I were both blown away. It was just unbelievable artwork. We were really happy. And then we were in a bit of a pickle because we wouldn’t have a back cover that was as good as the front cover, and he said he’d then do the back cover for us as well. He even rendered the song titles. It came out so well. I was really happy with our packaging for Inches from the Mainline, which was the big album that we did in the States, and our last album was cool too, but this one is next level. It’s so good. I’m super happy with it. I still care about the physical product.
Mike: Cool. You literally wear your love of comic books on your sleeves Jason. You have numerous characters tattooed all over your body. Can you talk a bit about the relevance of comic books in your life, and why you still like them?
Jason: I think a lot of it comes from early memories of going to the corner store and going to that tall circular rack that they used to have to display them. I’d go in with my father when I was like 6 or 7 years old and he would say pick up what you want, and I remember I would always pick up comics. I remember that I immediately just loved that world. I loved escaping there. I especially loved Marvel because they used real cities in their stories. To me, New York was this thing of majesty. I’d read about the Mighty Marvel Bullpen and I would see that they were in New York City and Stan Lee was The Guy. I had an uncle – my dad’s brother, who was named Stanly. I remember being fixated on them both having a name that sounded the same. I can remember going to New York when I was a kid and thinking “this is where Spiderman lives. This is where the Fantastic Four have the Baxter Building.” And I remember asking someone there where the Baxter Building was and them telling me that it doesn’t exist. That whole universe, I just loved it. I also love(d) Neal Adams. His art is incredible. When I read Neal Adam’s Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, I can remember opening up the first pages and they were in Harlem, walking through the streets of Harlem, and they way he depicted the streets and the people on the streets, amazing. When we are done, if you can find it, look at that issue, and the artwork in it. It’s insane. The whole depiction of the street is so vivid. It was a world that I wanted to go into. It’s just stuck with me. It’s funny, I went on in years and I collected comics, up until I was about 16 and discovered pot and girls. Then I sold my collection. And then re-bought it and sold it again. It’s insane how it’s always stuck with me. It’s always come back into my life. It’s always been a p[art of me. I can’t deny it. It’s a part of who I am.
Mike: Well, full disclosure here, I’m likely just as big a comic geek as you are, Jason.
Jason: Ok. (laughs)
Mike: I know those Neal Adams panels well. I know that Superman vs. Muhammad Ali book well. I’m a huge Neal Adams fan.
Jason: YES. You know exactly what I’m talking about then.
Mike: I do.
Jason: My life is nuts. I have really had a lot of great opportunities to do some amazing things in my life. Becoming a friend with Neal Adams is surreal. When Neal comes to these shows, he knows who I am. I’ve had dinner with him. Half of my leg is Neal Adams artwork. It’s nuts, really, that all of this stuff is a part of my life. I get paid to do this stuff!! It’s fucking crazy.
Mike: Did you get that look on Neal’s face when he saw you are covered in comic book tattoos? I’m the same man, I have a Mike Mignola sleeve and some Dave Stevens stuff on me. he rolled his eyes at me when I met him last year and laughed, saying “What are you doing?”.
Jason: (laughs) Oh yeah. I showed my leg to him and his wife Marilyn was like, “Grab a picture, Neal”. And he was like “What are you fucking doing to your body?”
Jason: But he likes me. When he first met me, he didn’t know what to make of me. I mean, I’ve had him on my show. That’s actually how Marco and I first met. Two of my friends were at comic con and they brought Marco along. because they’d met him earlier. they brought him to the studio to hang out. And Marco was like “ Oh this is cool. This is what you do?” And I was like “Yeah. Maybe in a couple more years when you get more well known, I’ll have you on my show. I have Neal Adams coming in shortly.” And Marco couldn’t believe it. He was just hoping to meet Neal. And he wound up spending an hour with him, and Neal critiqued his portfolio. That was where our friendship was cemented, really. That first encounter.
Mike: That’s awesome. Do you still read them now? new comics?
Jason: No. I wish I did. I just don’t have the time. I’m not going to lie and say I do. I’d love to, though. I’ll pick up stuff here and there. I picked up Dark Knight III. I’ve got all of the ones released so far. I just haven’t gotten a chance to read them. And I bought Neal Adams Batman Odyssey series.
Mike: Yeah. He’s still a great artist at 70-some years old.
Jason: There are a few things here and there. The War of Supermen was good.
Mike: I know. I’m the same. I’m 49. Comics aren’t really targeted at me anymore. And I’m feeling quite disconnected with most of them. Characters that I loved back in the day have gone from male to female with new people under the masks. The characters just aren’t driven by the same things anymore.
Jason: That’s true. Captain America is now Bucky. It’s ok. Things come around. I really got into Green Lantern again. The Geoff Johns stuff after Rebirth. I read right up to Blackest Night and I loved it. I was picking up the trades for them. I must have read ten of them, and then I just lost focus.
Mike: It’s really hard right now to keep a creative team attached to a book.
Jason: Yes. Gone are the days of the 30 to 40 to 50 issue runs. Like the Chris Claremont and John Byrne X-Men run. That’s the stuff I grew up on.
Mike: Me too. There’s no John Byrne-dedication out there anymore. Some, but not a lot.
Jason: I know. Yeah.
Mike: A lot of my comic book reading friends are also big music buffs. Do you think that there is a tie between those mediums? Comics and music? Metal in particular.
Jason: Um, yeah, there is. I’m sure there is. I think that a lot of music fans and comic fans are FANS. I think when you are a fan of something, you are a little more inclined to get into it more than the average person. I think when you have that fan-ness about you, you are going to be more of a music fan too. And vice versa. Same with comic fans. The die hards will go a bit deeper. You can always count on those people. There are the early adapters and then there are the people that really like you. And then there are the ones that you’ve got to win over.
Mike: True enough. I’m going to finish up with a few quicker answer questions. What’s your definitive metal album?
Jason: Um… God…
Mike: I know it’s a tough thing to answer as there are so many good ones. Just pick one you love.
Jason: Ok. It’s got to be a classic. Probably Vulgar Display of Power. Roots. And Justice for All…
Mike: How about the album that introduced you to metal?
Jason: Fuck, it’s hard to say. I’d say Zeppelin. I dunno tho…
Mike: You can say Zeppelin. They, like Sabbath, are considered gateway bands to metal.
Jason: Yeah. Zeppelin or Sabbath. They both happened around the same time for me. The one that really made me a fan is Ride The Lighting. Without a doubt.
Mike: How about a modern metal band that you feel is getting it right.
Jason: Mastodon. (laughs) Hands fucking down. To me, they are the giants right now. Nobody touches them. What I love about them is they are developing as songwriters too. I’ve stood in a 700 capacity venue watching that band play – No one touches them. Brann’s drumming is just next level. To me, they are the shit.
Mike: Oh, they are. I’m drinking that Kool Aid too. I could go an and on about Mastodon. I love them. Now how about something that being in Slaves on Dope has taught you?
Jason: Patience. Perseverance.
Mike: And lastly, name your favourite superhero.
Jason: The Hulk. An easy one. And sometimes not the most dimensional choice, there’s a lot more to the Hulk than you’d think.
Mike: Old school Hulk. Yeah. But right now? What’s the Hulk? The Red Hulk? The Grey Hulk?
Jason: I know. Yeah. Or this Mr. Fixit shit? I don’t know any of that stuff. I just relate to Hulk. Hulk to me, especially the TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno? Do you have any kids?
Mike: Yes. One. He’s two and a half.
Jason: Oh, you are going to have so much fun then. It’s awesome. My son is twelve. And he is like my best friend. because he’s grown up in this stuff because of me. His 13th birthday is next summer and I am going to be 25 years sober.
Mike: Good for you, man.
Jason: I mean, I hope I am. (laughs) We are going to San Diego together.
Mike: Nice. Did you get into that? Those tickets are not easy to get, man. You are indeed a Super-dad!!!
Jason: I’m lucky because of what I do, I’ve got some really good ins there. In that world, I’m locked. So we are going to San Diego together, and he is just over the moon about it. He thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. Kids will totally allow you to re-live things. I’ve gone back and watched the X-Men cartoons with him. The 90s ones. I was an adult when those came out, but still. Going back and watching the Incredible Hulk 70s show? That show is still good. You can still watch that show.
Mike: Oh yeah. For sure. It’s quality TV.
Jason: It’s all because of Bill Bixby. Bill was amazing.
Mike: My guy is still young. I’ve run him through all of the original Star Trek episodes. The original Six Million Dollar Man. He’s transfixed when that stuff is on. It’s wild. For the most part, it’s a lot of primary colours and sound effects. And space ships. Which he loves.
Jason: It’s either that or the Wiggles, right?
Mike: I’m always going to default to the genre.
Jason: When you do watch Star Wars for the first time with him – obviously in release order – episodes 4, 5 and 6 first, film him. Film his reaction to the Darth Vader reveal. I regret not doing that. Do it.
Mike: Good call.