Interview: Alien Ant Farm

Alien Ant Farm, one of the breakout bands in the late 90’s and early 00’s alongside fellow rockers Papa Roach, Hoobastank and a host of others.

From the brilliant and visually stunning videos for songs like ‘Movies’ and their cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ to crashing the BET Awards red carpet event to shoot a video for the single ‘These Days’, the band knew how to have fun and enthral an audience.

This year marks the 15 year anniversary of their album Anthology that not only made the world take notice of them and made them a commercial success, but also gave people from that generation something new and exciting to listen to for years to come.

To mark the special occasion of the 15 year anniversary of the album’s release the band decided to go out and tour and play it in its entirety. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the band and having a great conversation with the lead guitarist of Alien Ant Farm Terry Corso before they graced the stage of the Empire Music Hall in Belfast.

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Gigging NI: Welcome to Belfast, Terry and it’s a pleasure to meet you for the interview. Also thank you very much for bringing Alien Ant Farm to our shores at last, but before you grace the stage of the Empire Music Hall I must ask how do you feel?

Terry: “We’re stoked! I mean all these years coming out here you know I mean…..we’ve been coming out to England and Scotland and everything, Europe for like 20 years now – well 15 I guess…..well no because we came out here even before the record! Before Anthology came out we were coming out and somehow Ireland always eluded us. I don’t know how because we did really well here and if we played close enough in England where the kids could come from Ireland and they’d come and they’d fucking give us hell and they be like ‘why don’t you come to Ireland? You guys suck!’ [laughs].

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GNI: For your last album you used Pledgemusic.com. What did you think of the experience of using this platform?

Terry: “I think it’s a really really cool platform. Whether it completely worked out well for us or not is  anybody’s call. I think for DIY projects, whether it be for a record or a movie, it is good. The funny thing is I even see bigger bands using it now for whatever and I think it is like I said it was a good platform. I think our problem was we had a successful campaign but then because we were kind of wrapped up in a fucking shit record deal with an asshole that ran it who didn’t know how to pull the trigger on anything and he held things up really bad.

“Between that and I was having some health issues at the time and it was hard for us to hit our target on delivery. I think it ended up ultimately being a good way to kind piss our fans off – that Pledge, you know what I mean? And it wasn’t something we meant to do! We weren’t being lazy or negligent, you know it was just things that were happening above us took away our ability to deliver in a timely fashion.

“We ended up having to do some refunds on things we couldn’t deliver on like whether it was vinyl copies of this and that or whatever, so it was kind of it was a double edge sword. It was good and it was exciting to see our fans get behind us.”

GNI: Do you think it brought you closer to your fans?

Terry: “Yeah I think so and that is one of the things I like about it.  It’s not just a Gofundme kind of situation where you’re asking for money. We were actually trying to offer some kind of unique services in exchange for what they were donating. And to me that’s cool and makes me feel a lot better than just going with an open hand and saying ‘you should invest because you should.’

“So you know it was made us feel like shit to not be able to [complete all the Pledge requests]. It’s all in the rear view mirror now, thank goodness, and whether we’d do it again? I don’t really think we would! Maybe just because of the bad experience but I mean I think in theory if its really done well, tidy and taken care of by whoevers managing the whole situation and overseeing it, I think it can be really good.”

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GNI: This show is an anniversary for the album Anthology. What made you want to tour with it in its entirety?

Terry: “Yeah! It’s 15 years old this year and it seemed like a cool thing that a lot of bands are doing and we were like ‘yeah that’s kind of cool!’ Here’s the thing – we came over on a tour with P.O.D. and Hoobastank and we went around the UK and kids were just like mental for us. We were completely holding our own against these bands that were the headliners (or whatever you want to say) even though – and I’m not even saying that in like ‘we’re better than anyone kind of way’  – because those guys are our close friends.

“We believe in those bands and Hoobastank are old old friends of ours, same with POD. We are all Southern Californian bands that grew up on the same stages and we took Hoobastank out on their first tour of the US, when they were barely signed.  It was when their record just dropped I think – ‘Crawling in the Dark’ might’ve been the first single I think.

“Long story short, we came out with those bands and we saw how much of an impact that record had…the record was actually a hit and it was what a lot of people grew up on. I don’t remember exactly what we hit in the UK, gold or platinum, but it was close. It was a record that people went to college grew up on and handed down to their kids and that’s what kind of put it in our heads – we were like ‘hey, the record is going to be 15 years old and let’s just go over there and play it from the beginning to the end. Have fun and give some people a real thrill!’ And it’s been a blast and we came over in January and it’s been super successful and this is leg two of that and we are hitting some markets we couldn’t get at in January.

GNI: It’s your first time in Belfast. When you got here did you go out and do a bit of exploring or anything?

Terry: We didn’t even come to sound check today because we were just knackered and we were in Aberdeen, Scotland yesterday so we basically drove 5hrs through the night. We left at 3am-4am – nobody really got any real sleep and then went to the ferry and waited 3hrs for ferry to come. Then it was 3hrs on the ferry and so what do you do on the ferry but start drinking?  By the time we got to a hotel, we were all just ready to get some rest. I think we all got a little bit of rest but sometimes I think it makes it worse, getting a couple of hours as you feel you may be even more tired but yeah, I feel pretty good right now. I’m excited for the show, as when I heard the show sold out, it kind of picked up my spirits.

“It stalled at a certain number [of tickets sold] for a while before it sold out and we were talking about it today and when we heard the number was the number and then my tour manager came and told me that the show sold out before doors even opened so I was like ‘YES!’ that makes it a lot better.”

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GNI: You’ve picked a great intimate venue, The Empire Music Hall, to have a show!

Terry: Cool, cool – I haven’t even seen it. I saw a picture of it, it’s like a theatre a small theatre, right? It’ll be fun! We have fun with whatever it is – we always try to have fun!”

GNI: You haven’t really changed much of the line up through the years have you?

Terry: “No, we are all original, except for the bass player. We’ve had Tim Peugh playing bass for us for roughly 3 years now and he’s turned out to be a really excellent dynamic to the band. With the band being as old as is it sometimes you need a little injection of freshness.

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Alien Ant Farm before Tim Peugh joined

“We’ve gone through shades of everything – we’ve been pissed off with each other, not talked to each other, we’ve left the band, come back to the band and but we always come back to the fact we are brothers and we love each other and, maybe in a spot where we needed a little bit of life, that kid brought it. He brought some youth and enthusiasm and a little bit of positivity to the band where we needed it.”

GNI: New ideas as well?

Terry: “Yeah, he actually he has some really cool ideas. We started writing a little bit before we left for tour in July [laughs]. We’ve been out for a minute. We started writing some stuff and he brought some great ideas to the table.”

GNI: When would you be dropping the new album?

Terry: “Well, that’s hard to say . We’re hoping for next year and the sooner the better, you know, maybe in the first quarter.”

GNI: That actually brings me another question – have you actually started writing any new material?

Terry: “We have actually started demo-ing. I had a couple of fairly mapped out songs I brought in and we started tracking demos. Dryden started vocalising and playing with some ideas so we have another handful of ideas good ideas that need to be sorted into some sort of form. It was kind of a bummer that we had to put that aside. We’ve never been really a band for writing on the road, you know. We have in the past but we usually do better when we go home and we are isolated. 

“I can sit there in front of a computer and start mapping stuff out so it will be fun to get back and get at that – hopefully in a perfect world, maybe by the second quarter, maybe get a record out would be amazing. I mean, really it’s time. The last record was a tough experience for us and we are in love with that record and a lot of songs on there it came out really well. It was a lot of cool new experiences for us but you know we went through, again, the bullshit label and my health problems and this and that. So it ended up being a little bit of a drag for us, but we’re kind of overdue and it’s been a couple of years. We need a new record so we can come back over here get something on the radio again.”

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Alien Ant Farm bassist Tim Peugh

GNI: Party as well, have a laugh and enjoy yourselves!

Terry: “Yeah absolutely – I need to push that creativity out too, you know what I mean. I feel like my life is kind of weird and lop-sided when I’m not being creative you know. It’s easy to fall into that kind of non-creative zone.”

GNI: Yeah once you’re in it, it’s really hard to get back out of.

Terry: “Yeah! Yeah! And it’s funny, I wouldn’t even call it writers block it’s just like a no motivation towards creating.”

GNI: Just a void, basically?

Terry: “Yeah, you get caught up with just playing shows and going on tour and when you’re on tour you’re anxious to get home, and when you’re at home you’re anxious to get out on tour again and then there’s the fact we need to pay bills now. We’re not kids anymore. We have families and homes and all the shit.”

GNI: Yeah all the stuff you have to do in life?

Terry: “Yeah, all the shit! All the adulating we have to do now! Yeah we use to be young pirates and now we’re old pirates……..with bills!”

GNI: So what actually made you do the cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’?  I know a lot of people grew up listening to Michael Jackson and was just wondering how you stumbled about making the cover of a great song?

Terry: “We loved Michael Jackson. To me, he was probably thee greatest entertainer that ever lived you know and he was just amazing at everything he did! It was great!”

GNI: Did you ever get to meet him?

Terry: “No, we didn’t get to directly meet him but we came super close! I mean, when we did that video we ran everything by him we made sure he was involved – kind of thumbs up or thumbs down on scenes. We didn’t want to make fun, we were trying to pay homage. We didn’t want him to think we were goofing on him and we didn’t want him to feel like that whether he saw the video or someone told him or whatever so we kind of looped him in.

“Then we went on to find out in Cardiff a handful of years back we played that Michael Forever tribute and we met the family and a lot of people that were close to him and in tow with him all the time. They all had a lot of great things to say. They said he loved our version of the song and we were very brave and that we did a great job!”

GNI: You did a fantastic version of the song!

Terry: “Awww thanks man! I can’t remember exactly where he peaked on that song when he put it out I think it was 20 something – 22 or 23 in the charts – and we took it to number 1 and I think of what I gathered, it seemed he was pretty proud of that which was cool but back to the question.

“We kind of grew up playing other peoples’ music, even when this band was growing and young, when we were a local band playing clubs in Southern California, we used to try to do a different cover every night like something peculiar or fun whether it was a Police song or the South Park Theme or whatever the fuck we just had fun with it. It was goofy!

“We had rehearsal and I can’t remember who brought in the idea but they were like ‘we got to try this song!’ ‘It sounds like it was made for guitar!’ and we started just messing with the riff and we were like ‘oh right that sounds cool!’ ‘Let’s get this together!’ We were at a show in our hometown and we played a few bars of it like just fucking off and everyone went mental! We went home the next day and figured it out and it just became a mainstay like we didn’t really play any solos after that, it just turned into our little secret weapon.

“We didn’t really expect that to be any kind of a single in any way – it just happened as we were pushing ‘Movies’ and on tour in the US. ‘Movies’ was in the top 10 and it was doing well and KROCK, a radio station in New York, decided to play ‘Smooth Criminal’ and the rest is kind of history. It is a trend setting station so all the other stations just followed – the lines blew up and, like I said, the rest is history. It took off like a rocket and eclipsed Movies. It’s why we went back and did another video for ‘Movies’”.

GNI: You looked like you had a lot of fun shooting the video for ‘Movies’ with 3D visual effects and everything. What made you shoot it that way?

Terry: “Making videos was a fun thing for us. It was such a cool format back then when MTV was still about music and playing videos. I think now they play videos at like 3am to 6am and they play the same 5 videos over about 3 times then they’re done and go back to reality – reality TV shows, not actual reality [laughs].

“It was a good time for videos at that point and we made a couple of videos with a couple of directors and then we ended up meeting Marc Klasfeld and was kind of just as warped in the head as we were. We would have the greatest little meetings of the minds and we’d sit around the table and bounce ideas like ‘what if we did this?’ and ‘what if we did this?’ and we came up with some funny shit and some really cool interesting classic shit.”

GNI: Ghostbusters with the proton packs.

Terry: “Yeah! All that stuff – Edward Scissorhands, fucking Oompa Loompa’s and all that shit! And it was cool because we were kind of turning all our fantasies into real thing via him and he’s an amazing director and had an amazing team.  We did some great work! It was fun as back then record labels would give you a small mountain of money to go and shoot a video and you didn’t have to recoup it and the sky was the limit!”

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Alien Ant Farm’s Terry Corso on stage at the Empire, Belfast

GNI: It was kind of a geek’s paradise reliving your childhood with Ghostbusters, Karate Kid, etc.

Terry: “Kind of, yeah. Like I said, we were just being goofy in these meetings then we turned this silliness into something tangible. We did something in the world and brought those dreams to life. I know that sounds cheeky but yeah [laughs].”

GNI: Finally last question. Have you any advice for local musicians who want a sustainable career in the music industry?

Terry: “You know, that’s always a weird question. It’s kind of like what we were talking about with trying to find the right combination. You got a band with guys who want to do it and with guys who want to go to university or whatever.  Face it, this is a tough business now. It’s really almost impossible now to make a real living in this business anymore especially the way music is now and with rock in the shade.

“I listen to the radio and everything just completely sounds like it is just written on a laptop to me and, especially after that last record, we did as half the record is co-writes because we wanted to get outside of our box to try different stuff. We also learned how that world works which is basically laptop writing. A lot of those producers we worked with were baffled that we wanted to take what we demo-ed and go into a real studio and try it for real as a band. They were like ‘oh I thought it was done!’ ‘We were just going to mix it and then put it out!’ and we’re like ‘What?!’”

GNI: Sitting there on your Apple Mac…

Terry: “Yeah, we were like ‘oh yeah!  We just made this on a laptop and push it out to the world. Nah, we could never wrap our head around that! As good as some shit sounded and some stuff really did sound good.”

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GNI: Yeah, you can really brush things up on a computer these days.

Terry: “You can do anything on a computer nowadays! That being said and back to the question with young band, if you got the fire and the heart then you really have to dedicate, work for it and be ready to not make any fucking money! Sometimes it’s about the art, and sometimes it’s about being smart. 

“You just got to get out on the road these days and master your touring game. Get a grip on your merchandise these days to try and make money as if you are out there trying to chase the dream with no money in your pockets. It can really be a fucked situation and you just have to get out of your hometown. You can’t sit around spinning your wheels in your hometown playing the same venues to the same people who are going to eventually stop coming to see you.”

GNI: Get across the water and see if you can maybe set up a few shows?

Terry: “Yeah, make bigger circles. Network with other bands from other areas – you meet them somehow. It’s like what we did with Papa Roach! Papa Roach are from Northern California and we are from Southern California and if they had a show they’d get us a show up there so we’d drive 8hrs up the coast. If we had a show, we’d get them on the bill and they’d drive 8hrs down and we ended up staying on each other’s floors and becoming blood brothers and ultimately it turned into them blowing up! We had a pact literally, whoever blew up first would pull the other one up and they held true to it. That’s what it’s about. It’s us against them – not us against Papa Roach but bands against the machine.

“But I’ve always suggested that larger circles and spread yourself out because at least you don’t get a record deal or sell x amount of records. Records even sell anymore, they don’t, as everything is digital and nowadays it’s all about getting big on the internet with a Facebook sensation or going viral on YouTube. If that shit doesn’t pan out, at least you can go to a club and put a little money in your pockets and people know who you are besides the ones in your hometown.”

GNI: I’ve always said that there is nothing better than live music and seeing the bands you love!

Terry: “Yeah it’s true and especially when it comes to rock. With rock n roll, people who are into rock they will always love it in its live state.”

Alien Ant Farm performed in the Empire Music Hall, Belfast as part of their 15th Anniversary tour to celebrate the release of Anthology. Read our gig review here.

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Alien Ant Farm 21/10/16

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