Ice-T & Body Count Come Blasting Back
Photos courtesy of Sumerian Records
Note: sad to say, Body Count has dropped off the Woodlands date of the Mayhem tour. Sorry, y'all.
Crank up the volume, load up the shotty and make damn sure your bandanna is the right color, because Ice-T and Body Count are back, and they still shoot to kill. More than 20 years after the West Coast crossover thrash band scared the shit out of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas with "Cop Killer," Body Count hit the streets once again this year, undiminished by advancing age, changing trends or the group's tragic mortality rate. Now they're ready to jump another generation of kids into the joys of violently heavy rock and roll madness.
That's the plan, anyway. While Body Count shifted a lot of units back in the early '90s, the current pop landscape is practically unrecognizable from the world in which the band debuted. After all, the government ain't exactly trying to censor Drake. Is there a place for Body Count in a 21st-century metal pantheon ruled by the likes of Mastodon? Are there any cultural sacred cows left for the group to mow down with gunfire?
Typically self-assured, rapper-turned-rock-star-turned-actor Ice-T didn't bother considering such questions when the opportunity to resurrect Body Count arrived after eight years of silence. In Ice's world, if it feels good, you do it. Simple.
"The band just wanted to record," says Ice. "Nothing special. I'd been on Law and Order in New York, doing my day job. They came at me, and I said, 'Let's go.' Sumerian Records stepped up and gave us what we needed: a great producer in Will Putney and the time to make the record. And we just put it out."
Masterminded by guitarist Ernie C, the band's new album, Manslaughter, is chock-full of the chunky riffs, hip-hop attitude and gleefully violent lyrics that made Body Count such a strange and memorable addition to the rock landscape of the '90s. Rather than roll out the nostalgia for their hard-earned fan base, however, the band is striking out this summer to convert fresh young faces for the movement as part of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest, which rips into the Woodlands on August 10.
A shotgun blast from the past though they may be, Ice says audiences have been receptive.
"Music moves in cycles," says Ice. "We're out here right now with a group called Avenged Sevenfold. To me, they sound like an '80s band. If you listen to them, it reminds me of, like, Iron Maiden or somebody. But when you have a fan base that's 19 and 20, they don't even know about that stuff. So you can reintroduce it to them with a little flair, a little twist, and they'll go for it.
"One thing about rock is that they don't age-specify," he adds. "I think rock really has a love for veterans."
Given the current state of hip-hop, heavy metal seems to be Ice-T's best shot at remaining musically relevant. In the metal scene, the edgier, underground artists can still lead. Not so with hip-hop, even for the Original Gangsta.
"I think the hip-hop purists, they love the veterans," says Ice-T. "But you know, hip-hop has gone very pop right now. It became radio-driven. Now the kids are very interested in what's on the radio. But we're in a new generation now. With the older generation, if it was on the radio, it wasn't cool. That's why they came up with the term 'alternative music.' Nowadays, kids feel like, 'Well, if it was good, it would be on the radio.' Then it's spoon-fed, everything.
"You have to accept that; it's not going to go backwards," he adds. "But good music is good music. When it hits your ears, you either like it or you don't, and I know that's a fact."
For Body Count, Mayhem Fest is the perfect chance to hit a hell of a lot of ears. It coincides nicely with Ice's break from TV, and it offers the opportunity to get in front of new fans -- younger fans -- much as their stint on Lollapalooza in 1991 did.
"If I headlined a tour, I would only have my fans," Ice says. "I would have the old fans; I wouldn't have new fans. With Mayhem Fest, I'm getting to get out there in front of a bunch of people that may never have seen us or never would have come to one of our shows, and possibly catch the ear of a new fan.
"That's what the festivals are all about," he continues. "It's not just about your fans, it's about fans that want to listen to other people's music, and you can broaden your fan base. So that's absolutely why we came out here."
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But despite the new outreach effort, Body Count is still very old-school in the way it does business. During the writing process for Manslaughter, there were no digital files being sent around on Dropbox. Ice-T says he's been burned before trying to piece songs together digitally.
"That's how we did a couple albums, and they sucked," he says. "So I didn't want to do that. I said, 'The only way to do this record is to go back to our first formula,' which was all of us in the same room, writing the songs. Last summer, we had a house in Vegas. My wife was out there doing her show, and we rented a house. We had Body Count out there, and we took two months and we just wrote music."
Likewise, the band had no interest in putting out a DIY album. A requisite for Ice's involvement in the new project was the backing of a record label first, just like they did it back in the day.
"I just wanted to have a real label behind us, a good video and everything, so we can make a valid re-entrance into the game," Ice-T says. "At Sumerian, basically, the owner, Ash Avildsen, is a fan. It was not a difficult sale at all. Body Count sold millions of records before, so it's like, 'Can they do it again 20 years later?' And he believed in us. Now we're out here trying to rebuild our fan base."
Naturally, it wouldn't be a real Body Count record without some strong opinions supplied by the band's always-busy front man. Ice-T says he picked the title for Manslaughter as a way to call attention to what he's called the "pussification" of men in recent years. For a born agitator like Ice, life just ain't as interesting without a little controversy.
"I just think that nowadays men have become so politically correct that nobody has an opinion," he says. "Maybe it's Facebook. Maybe nobody wants to be 'unliked.' I just think everyone wants to be nice and friendly and afraid to say anything. Just like music! Music was really heavy and hard, and then it kind of got soft. And Body Count is heavy and hard, so for us to exist, we need a climate of rugged men who want to tackle problems."
By any means necessary, in most cases. On Manslaughter, Body Count takes the fight to the enemy, be it pop rappers, wannabe gangstas or the shit-eating hipsters and real housewives in the video for the hilariously violent "Talk Shit, Get Shot." The band is back to relishing the role of the bad guy, pushing buttons as hard and as fast as it can. Call it shock-rock with a message.
Just don't take it too seriously, Officer.
"Everything in Body Count, you gotta remember, is grindhouse," Ice-T says. "Everything in Body Count is hyper-sexual, hyper-violent, over-the-top, and it's also done with a bit of humor. That's why the album cover looks like we're in a zombie movie. It's symbolism, it's not reality."
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