Monster in the Machine takes creativity up a notch
By Naughty Mickie

Shannon Crawford is the center of his project Monster In the Machine. He was in the band Cellophane, which was signed to Virgin in 1997. Disillusioned by the lack of label support and the industry in general, he quit the group and left the music business entirely to pursue painting. For one of his pieces, Crawford created the cover of Norma Jean's CD, "Redeemer." In 2006, he began writing music again and went on to self-produce MITM's debut effort, "Butterfly Pinned," which was released in August 2007 on Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer's label, Emotional Syphon Recordings.

For MITM, Crawford takes on vocals, guitars and keyboards, along with bassist Lats (formerly with Memento), guitarist John Chase and drummer Jay Kuri. Bassist Doug Ardito (ex-Cellophane, Puddle of Mudd) and drummer Josh Freese played on album, but could not tour due to prior commitments with other projects.

"I started recording songs at home and Doug Ardito from Cellophane, he's in Puddle of Mudd now, recorded all the bass," recalls Crawford. "I had no intention of getting a record deal, I just wanted to write some songs for me and ultimately, that's probably why the record turned out so well. I wasn't trying to please anybody or anything.

"As far as the band goes, I just found people one at a time that I trusted and liked as far as their musical abilities," Crawford continues. "That's how it started, so it's basically me and I have people touring with me. That is now becoming the band."

Crawford grew up in Bakersfield, California.

"I started painting with acrylic by the age of five and by the time I was in eighth grade I was painting with oil-- full oil paintings," Crawford shares. "I really didn't have the mental capacity or attention span to do music as a child. If I was a child now, the key street lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies would have their little soldiers that people call doctors would have me on tons of medication. I was probably an ADD kid, although back then that wasn't in our dialogue and that's why I'm relatively sane today. They try to stop creativity, they want us all to be robots and they medicate us.

"I tried taking guitar lessons at 12, I just couldn't retain anything and then all of a sudden at 15 I got a guitar and I just picked it up and I started playing in bands at 15 years old," Crawford refocuses. "Then around 16, 17 years old, bands like Mud Honey and Sound Garden were starting to come onto the radar before the big crunch-bang so to speak. We started picking up on the radar on that and that's what we wanted to sound like."

Crawford pursued both interests at the same time.

"I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I ended up dropping out because I got a record deal. Korn started taking off around '93, '94 and I met Ross Robinson through them and he helped Cellophane get its first deal," says Crawford.

I remark that, despite the many talented artists and bands that hail from Bakersfield, the town is often overlooked.

"I grew up in Bakersfield. Buck Owens came out of Bakersfield, Korn and Merle Haggard lived there," agrees Crawford. "It's the person and if you're shining bright eventually you're going to be seen. And as much a disarray the music industry is in, I believe we'll do well because what I'm doing is good and I love it. I haven't gotten one bad review, it's a good record. It's just a matter now of connecting the dots.

"I hate sounding all business, with which I'm having a little private war, as usual, even in Cellophane, from trying to translate the creative language to the business language." Crawford continues, "I have a friend who is acting as a translator because, as an artist, I get too emotional and I want to take extreme action when people aren't doing the things I need them to do. I don't want to sound like a control freak, but I'm passionate.

"As an artist, that kind of passion is the passion of love. People are capable of murder with the passion I have. My mantra is 'talk to Brendan.' I need to focus. When I'm on stage I need to move people, I need people to be inspired and moved like I was inspired in 1994 when I randomly stumbled into the Roxy to see some guy play by the name of Jeff Buckley. I was going to Art Center and I went in there and I realized 'that's what I'm going to do,' " Crawford says.

I ask him what he did for work before making a career in the arts and Crawford gives me an involved response.

"I've been broke my whole life," Crawford begins. "My grandma died when I was 15. I got $10 grand when I was 18. I got to buy a few things then, but that lasted about six months. Bought a car, that was it. Then I went to Art Center totally broke, I had to pay for my own education, got a student loan. Then my record deal got published and I paid back the student loan, paid my taxes and it was gone. In retrospect, I probably would have bought some property. I hate to sound like some business scum, but...

"College is a scam now, it's a total scam and the people that are profiting are no better than the Halliburton scumbags. There's this documentary called 'The Selling of Iraq' or 'Buying Iraq' or something like that and it just shows you the pharmaceutical companies and the lobbyists. The lobbyists make the most money." Crawford goes on, "Halliburton had a non-bid contract for billions of dollars and they're making billions, I can't explain in an interview, but just tell people to watch it. I tell people to watch it.

"It's good because you have people in middle America doing the interviews, people who may have been disillusioned in 2000 and 2004 from voting for Bush because of so-called Christian values," Crawford says. "They're starting to figure it out. These people are evil and they want nothing to do with helping people, just their corporations and their profits."

(Editor's note: The film's correct title is "Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers").

I try to steer Crawford back to music by asking him about his writing.

"It's usually music first, music and melody first." Crawford explains, "The melody goes equally with me because no matter what language you speak, if you feel that chord transition that's what moves you, that's what makes the goosebumps, that's what moves the soul and language is secondary. Just like, in my opinion, words are secondary. That's just so pop music culture, Britney Spears bullshit, to come out and rap bullshit just to come up with some catch phrase and make a song around a catch phrase.

"That's the problem with our world, we have an administration that is based on catch phrases: War on Terror, Cut and Run." Crawford continues, "People apply that to creativity and that makes absolutely no sense to me. It's disgusting. And they buy it, just like a lot of us in 2000 and 2004.

"I'm not stupid, at the same time I'm going to write something that people can relate to, I'm not going to just put out some weird Mr. Bungle stuff or something, which I love by the way, but it's just not what comes out of me naturally." Crawford laughs, "Some weird Frank Zappa craziness. I do write, for the most part, traditional verse chorus verse chorus pop format songs.

"I write the music melody and then I start writing lyrics," Crawford finally explains. "That may be all mumbled syllables and then I'll write words that match the syllables I've mumbled. By that it just doesn't feel so premeditated, it doesn't feel like a business."

I wonder how Crawford managed to stay out of music.

"I tried to stop. I tried to just paint and it was like a pot that finally boiled over the the lid blew off," responds Crawford. "All these songs started coming out to me and I figured I want people to hear them, so my best friend from Korn started a label and it was like, 'OK, if I can trust anybody it's him.' He's not actually hands-on running it, which kinda sucks, but I wanted to just put out some music and this was the best solution for that. I get to put out music and I don't have to be part of some machine, but ultimately it all does happen.

"I'm becoming a little more disillusioned as it is, being bugged to do blogs and tour manage myself and manage myself and advance shows, it's overwhelming," Crawford goes on, "Basically I've shut my phone off. That's why I'm glad you called me and I was just about to shut it off too. I've been advised by my friend just shut off the phone. I can't do to people what Jeff

Buckley did to me and move people with just a glow and an aura if I'm cluttered. So fuck it, I'm shutting off my phone, I'm going to do my meditation and do my warm ups and get on that stage and move people because that's what it's all about. As far as record sales, that's the only thing they need that's just going to sell records, blogs aren't going to do it.

"I don't tell publicists that I am going to rehab and say, 'OK I'm going to rehab now, tell everyone. Oh, I'm going to an AA meeting, make sure you have all of our paid paparazzi out there to take pictures of me so I look like a big star.' It's all just a big illusion and scam," says Crawford.

He's still doing his art.

"I'm probably taking a few months off," Crawford says while preparing for his music tour. "I just sold three pieces to Greg Strauss, he's directing the next 'Alien vs. Predator,' that was the last one I did. But if someone contacts me wanting to purchase a painting I've already done or wants to commission me and if it's enough money to help me survive, if I have a few days off, I'll go to an art store and go to a hotel room.

"I'm homeless now," Crawford shares. "I've made sacrifices for this - I stayed at a Motel 6 last night - because I have a little girl and I've got to pay for her mom to watch her and I've got to pay for her to go to school. My illusion of security is not important for that, I need her to eat, so I gave up my place to live because I believe in this.

"The whole idea of owning your own home, that goes back to the same scam as college and pharmaceuticals and War on Drugs or War on Terror." Crawford goes on, "It's a catch phrase, 'Own your own home,' yeah, well, some executive in China owns it. And I don't need the illusion of security, the illusion of having a place to live because it's all temporary. I don't need that to feel secure and I don't care. It's really liberating actually. I'm trying to cut my bills down to almost nothing.

"I have tried to be environmental, but I was a victim of predatory lending because my credit wasn't good soI sold it. I had to come up with $5 grand just to sell it because I put $5 grand down. It's all predatory, it is a machine and if I can help destroy that machine, then I'll be that monster," Crawford says.

But you can still be destructive with music and art I counter.

"Yeah, because maybe if it's only one person, they'll think differently," Crawford assents. "If I could transform some guy who's going to drive some SUV and go to an office job, maybe just touch upon a new form of life or creativity, then I've done my job. My religion is art and if I'm a guru and I'm going to save these people's soul, that's the truth, saving of the soul, helping them get out of their everyday life. Get out of church, stop praying to a god you know nothing about or cannot even begin to fathom or comprehend. Listen to somebody who gives you the chills and move your body and see some art that brings a tear to your eye. If that's the case, then I've saved a person.

"If no one came to the San Francisco show because of bad organization, getting nowhere playing at the venue because we're just starting out and a new band you treat like a piece of shit, I'll just play acoustic then, let me play for 20 minutes. I'm glad I did

because someone from My Space came to see us and she had a tear in her eye when we were done. That's why I don't cancel shows because I get to move people. The whole audience was a bunch of Israelis because I was opening for Rab Four," Crawford laughs. "They didn't really get it.

"Someone said, 'You've got some balls,' I don't think in terms of having balls, it's not my style, it's very left-wing, but that's hard to do, get up completely naked and have people chatting and talking while you're playing, it's a difficult thing. And I did it because I believe," continues Crawford. "It's about one person at a time. It's like Al Gore said, 'You've got to get people to think differently-- one person at a time, one family at a time, one neighborhood at a time.'"

Crawford doesn't have time for hobbies or other distractions.

"I haven't had much free time and any time I had I've been watching my daughter because her mom is a drug addict and I had to take my daughter away and I had for two years all by myself no help or no child support," Crawford says. "I used that time to write music and paint. Every now and then through word of mouth someone say, 'Hey, can I buy a painting' and I completely undersell my work just to survive."

Crawford's daughter is eight, "I'm on the road now and I'm going to miss her, but I've got to do this. Sort of like the air mask on a plane-- put the mask on yourself, then you put it on your child. If I'm incapacitated I'm no good. Right now it's about putting the mask on me and taking care of myself."

So what's in the future for MITM?

"I'm going to tour until - I hate to put a number on my art - but I want to be able to make a second record so I'm going to tour until I can sell enough records for this label to say, 'OK, this is a financially OK thing to do; we can make a second record.' So I'm going to tour until I sell enough records to be able to make a second record," Crawford tells me. "Once I get on the road and I start getting a groove and a routine, then I'll be able to write more. I have material, I already hear it, I know it's going to be amazing. I haven't put it into physical for yet, but I feel it and I know it's there."

I ask Crawford for a closing thought before we part.

"I want people to stop believing the lies," Crawford offers. "Stop believing the capitalistic hype of shitty bands, shitty music, pharmaceutical companies and the key street lobbyists and student loans and interest-free home loans. Stop believing the lies, stop believing the illusions, turn off your television. Live for today and be here now in this moment and don't be in fear. Fear is what is destroying this nation and this world. Just ignore it, believe in the universe and what God is in that universe. Don't believe these stupid religions and know that you're totally loved and taken care of."

And would you believe that behind those often caustic words, Crawford was one of the nicest and most appreciative people I have ever interviewed? On top of that, his music is pretty darn good!

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