Guitarist Isaiah Stuart Discusses New Madlife Album, '21st Century Megalomaniac'
Madlife single-handedly redefining the term industrial rock.
The Los Angeles band's fourth album, 21st Century Megalomaniac, which was released in May, continues to raise the bar set by their earlier albums with a sound that's allowed them to share the stage with artists like Five Finger Death Punch, Volbeat, Korn and Marilyn Manson.
The band's unique approach to songwriting is fueled by its use of catchy guitar tones, electronica and infectious grooves combined with the angst-driven vocals of Angry Phil. Songs like "Just One Gun" and "To Live and Die in Hollywood" have become absolute must-haves for any metal head's playlist.
Produced by Society 1 vocalist Matt Zane, the video for "Just One Gun" also features the beautiful Lexus Amanda (Blacklisted Me), who gives a performance guitarist Isaiah Stuart describes as no less than visually hot and disturbing. With the album and video now complete, the band is prepping for a tour of the northwestern part of the US.
Madlife is Angry Phil (vocals), Isaiah Stuart (guitar), Kyle Cunningham (drums) and Carlos Pagan (bass). I spoke with Stuart about the new album and video. He also discusses his early years playing and how one night changed everything.
GUITAR WORLD: How did 21st Century Megalomaniac get started?
We had originally just written and released the song "To Live and Die in Hollywood" and it started to gain traction. That was when everyone began asking about an album. So we all went back into the studio and recorded the album and put the rest of it behind that song.
Tell me a little about the unique process the band uses to write songs.
We'll usually start with energy percussion and create movements from that. Kyle [Cunningham] will drop some of his baddest grooves at 138 bpm, and we'll start developing a riff that sounds good over it. We'll put it together, verse, chorus, until it becomes a musical movement that feels right. Then we'll ask Phil if he has any vibe for it. For instance, the line "Would you like to sing that angry song with me" [from "Just One Gun"]. That was a line that Phil just sang over what he heard. It was so cool that we created that entire middle section over just that one line. Next, we'll use that scratch we created and take it to the next level by doing something we like to call "fresh ears."
What's fresh ears?
It's a process we use that develops and produces songs in real time. Since we all play pretty much every instrument and don't have any ego, whoever brings the best emotion and clarity to the song gets to bring it. Sometimes one of us will throw down a riff and someone else will hear something in it and yell "fresh ears!" That's the cue to get up out of the "creation" chair and let someone else throw down for a minute. It's almost like a tag-team in wrestling where we tap someone in.
What was the concept behind the video for "Just One Gun"?
That came from the darkest dimension of Angry Phil! [laughs]. I remember we were talking up some ideas and Phil said he wanted to work with Matt Zane from Society 1. He's worked with Static X and Run-DMC and is a friend of ours. So I asked Phil what he wanted to do for the video, and the first thing he says was that it opens up where we're going to execute a girl, but the bullet is going to have our logo on it. I remember laughing and saying, "Are you fucking kidding?" Phil says, "Trust me on this!" and then continues.
"Then she come back and sings with us, but she's also going to get all freaky with the gun!" He knew exactly what he wanted and was so clear about it that I just said, "You know what? This is you and Matt Zane's baby!" [laughs].
How did you recruit Lexus Amanda for the video?
We reached out to her and asked her if she wanted to do it. She said she would, even though we had told her that it didn't pay anything and that she'd also have to get her freak on [laughs]. But she killed it. Not only is she completely hot, but she's also cool as shit!
When did you first start learning to play guitar?
My old man played guitar in the '70s. One day when I was 9, he came to me with a Gibson SG. I would do half-hour proper sessions every week and then also had a chair sitting next to my stereo where I'd practice and play riffs from different songs. Things were going great until one night a few years later. That's when everything changed. My dad came to me with a ticket to see AC/DC at the Forum on the Back in Black tour! It was a life-changing moment. I saw Angus and that was it. I don't think I could speak for four days [laughs]. All I ever wanted to do was be half as cool as Angus Young.
What's next for the band?
We're putting together a Pacific Northwest tour right now. After that, we'll get into early winter and do something in the southwest part of the country. We're all about getting out there and meeting all the different members of the Madlife tribe.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.