Standing out from the crowd is difficult in any business; it's even more difficult if you are a rap-metal singer and the crowd is Los Angeles.
Jason Rockman and Slaves on Dope came a long way to learn that, relocating in May from Montreal, Quebec. They landed in a city rife with traumatized revenge maniacs who figure a chainsaw haircut and a megaton of attitude will buy them a deal and Ozzy's phone number.
"L.A. is full of guys who say, 'Oh, cool, I'll put on a basketball shirt, shave a Mohawk, get some tattoos, and be the next thing.'" Rockman says.
But in a city where commercial radio stations were playing the Deftones five years ago, it takes more than style to stand out. The Slaves began with modern metal's raw materials — lurching rhythms, tank-tread riffs, down-tuned guitars, apoplexy on the mic — and tried to use them to craft solid pop songs.
"We still write from a pop music point of view, in the sense that our songs are still structured," Rockman explains. "We're still under four minutes; we still have verses, choruses, bridges. You'll still walk away knowing where the chorus is in the song. Even though I'm screaming it."
That's business. What about the personality? Rockman and the band arrived in L.A. with little more than the energy and self-belief on their backs — common stock for a hungry band. However, they did avoid L.A. temptations, sticking to straightedge lifestyles and a ferocious work ethic. Rockman's head is shaved, and another member has dreads, but they forego the clown masks or face paint, and Rockman's demeanor is upbeat and professional. There you have this band's standout feature amid the metal freak show: normalcy.
This past summer, the Slaves found themselves where many young people found themselves: at the "Ozzfest" tour. Their mission: catch the eyes and ears of Ozzy's legions — once more, amid much high-volume competition.
Rockman says he liked what he saw from the stage: "We made a good connection with those kids, more than a lot of those bands did."
The singer believes loyalty to a band can become as ingrained as a tattoo. "You're dealing with kids who are 15, 16, 17, and this kind of music is more of a lifestyle than anything. They buy into the whole thing. It's not just a couple of songs you hear on the radio, then you buy the record, then six months later you're on to something else."
The album is selling strongly out of the box, and a song, "Stick It Up," is on the Blair Witch 2 soundtrack. In March, the band will have two more songs on the Ozzfest live album.
Despite the company on those collections, Rockman wants to distinguish his band from the mob. "I don't think we really fall into [the angry] category. We are aggressive, and the delivery is aggressive, but the whole message is positive.
"Slipknot," he says, referring to Iowa's clown-mask freaks who recently trashed an English music awards show, "they're angry at the world. This is probably the happiest I've been in years."