Richard Patrick left Cleveland in 1993, sporting bruises, bad habits, a buzzcut, and horn-rimmed glasses. After a booze-fueled stint as Nine Inch Nails' touring guitarist on the first Lollapalooza tour, he was ready to strike out on his own with Filter, a band that would become one of the '90s' most popular industrial rock outfits.
But on December 19, Patrick will return to his hometown a changed man. Not only is he clean and sober, but with a slick pair of aviators, he now fronts the classic-rock-leaning Army of Anyone, a supergroup that also includes the DeLeo brothers, formerly of Stone Temple Pilots.
Patrick remembers first meeting guitarist Dean and bassist Robert DeLeo at Cleveland's Phantasy Nite Club -- before Filter existed, and before STP's Core sold eight million copies and the Pilots' drug-addled singer torpedoed the band's career. Beyond that, much of the '90s is a blur for Patrick. Although he's been sober for four years -- thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous -- he has a reputation to live up to and live down.
"[The DeLeos] knew me as an alcoholic," says Patrick, calling from Florida, in the midst of his new band's first tour. "So before we got the band together, we had a dinner. They said, 'So Rich, um, what's going on in your life?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm here to fuckin' work. I'm done screwing around. I don't drink anymore. I'm 100 percent a lead singer and a writer now.' And Robert and Dean were blown away by that."
Unlike many Cleveland teenagers growing up in the '80s, Patrick preferred U2 and Ministry to Pink Floyd. He came late to classic rock. And he says its influence helped save Filter from the dubious distinction of being a one-hit wonder. In 1995, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" -- an industrial grinder about a public suicide -- helped Filter's debut, Short Bus, go platinum. But Patrick scored his biggest hit with 1999's "Take a Picture." The bouncy, uplifting acoustic ditty became a crossover smash, even though the record company and some fans hated it.
"The real Filter fans were completely blown away," explains Patrick. "Because it turns out that they, like me, have Pantera records -- but they also have Beatles records and Zeppelin records."
While Patrick's star was on the rise, Stone Temple Pilots' stars were crossing. Long derided as mere emulators of Seattle's grunge sound, California's STP ultimately outsold both Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. In retrospect, grunge was merely a punk-infused, stripped-down update of classic rock. In fact, the DeLeo brothers, now in their forties, met frontman Scott Weiland at a Black Flag show. And just like most other grunge figures, they all grew up worshiping Kiss and Zeppelin. It's just that the DeLeos' love for punk inspired them to strip away the classic-rock tropes that gave the form a bad rap -- most notably the 10-minute solos. But four-minute grunge classics still rawk via the power of the Marshall-stacked riff. After five albums, though, all that powerful riffage came to an end in 2002. Weiland's erratic, drug-fueled behavior sapped the band's momentum at every key juncture.
The year 2002 also saw the release of the third Filter record, The Amalgamut. It came and went, failing to go gold. Patrick had 30 songs written for a fourth Filter record when his firm, the Firm, connected him with the DeLeos. They jammed, and the guitarist and bassist knocked Patrick's thoroughly Filter "Father Figure" out of the park. Then they collaborated on the wide-open, STP-sounding "A Better Place." Patrick found the chemistry so inspiring that he put Filter on indefinite hiatus and moved ahead with Army's first salvo.
Co-produced by hard rock legend Bob Ezrin (noted for his work with Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper), the band's self-titled debut updates classic rock. To its credit, most of the disc sounds like Stone Temple Pilots with the guy from Filter on vocals. Though none of the songs resonate quite like Pilots' Grammy-winning "Plush" or Filter's massive hits, the emotionally charged single "Goodbye" would sound right at home in the arena. And renowned for their tactile interplay, the brothers DeLeo show off dexterous new tricks, which they learned backing Joe Walsh on a 2004 tour.
Even if the tunes aren't exactly groundbreaking, the business behind them is. Showcasing its talent by acting as its own record label, the Firm eliminates the traditionally bloated, payroll-heavy corporate infrastructure. As a result, the freed-up funds go to the people who actually make the music.
"The CD industry, which used to be a huge thing, is in total chaos," explains Patrick. "The Firm is a music label. They know artists never really made money off our CDs -- we made money on the road and our T-shirts. All of a sudden, we went from making 80 cents a record that our record company sells for $14 to our management company paying us half of a record that we sell for $10."
With the innovative business deal and a live set featuring both Filter and STP hits, Army should do well, even if the project doesn't match its principals' previous successes. But early signs are good, with the band's album debuting at No. 56 on Billboard's album chart. So far, everybody's happy.
"This band is about four other guys who are at a point in their life where they've done other things, and now they want to write the perfect song," says Patrick. "If I can make 10 records with these guys, I will. I'll make it my career."
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