Exclusive: Lord Mantis Ex-Frontman Charlie Fell On Band Blow-Up
Last week’s sudden changes to Lord Mantis are much bigger than they seem. Why is that? we might ask. For what reason has it felt only like one of metal’s most exciting bands has replaced a not-that-significant member and is essentially unchanged? How come it didn’t dawn on us to despair until after a couple days of thinking about the situation?
For to look at the “big picture” — to view more than a two-inch section for a few seconds and then the next — is to see that Lord Mantis is a very, very different thing now, one that might no longer possess its magic. This band that fans could cite as proof of metal’s health and fearlessness has done more than part with bassist/vocalist Charlie Fell, a kinda fucked-up dude who doubles as a terrific scapegoat. Also no longer in LM is guitarist Ken Sorceron, who goes unmentioned in Thursday’s announcement of the new line-up. We knew that, but not until we connected with Fell by phone Tuesday did it seem to matter. Read on.
First, recall that in the announcement of LM’s new line-up, guitarist Andrew Markuszewski said he’d opt not to get specific about the circumstances of the shake-up. Fell, blue but magnanimous, needed to share details about the personalities of Lord Mantis, the fight that ended their tour and his tenure, his reaction to the new Lord Mantis, and his new project. (For clarity, we’ll discuss me and Charlie’s interaction in the present tense; the parts detailing the Lord Mantis story are in past tense. It’s kinda lame but best. Thanks for reading!)
The story according to Charlie Fell: He tells me that it was around 2011, during his time in Markuszewski’s band Avichi, that he figured out that the two wouldn’t be friends:
I quickly realized that … we can’t stand each other. I’m pretty sensitive, goofy, talk too much. Drew [Markuszewski] takes a personality like that as stupid. … If Robocop were a bad guy, that’s Drew. That was his nickname from all the Eyehategod dudes when we were on tour with them.
Skip forward to 2013: When it was time to work on a follow-up to Lord Mantis’ Pervertor, Fell says hostility was an obstacle. And mistrust too, thanks to his association with Nachtmystium and to his “monstrous dope addiction.” People, including Markuszewski and LM drummer Bill Baumgardner, assumed he was party to Nachtmystium frontman Blake Judd’s shenanigans:
None of us were getting along. Drew had no interest in doing Mantis … I kept telling them, ‘I’ve got some of the best shit I’ve written in a long time. I really wanna do Mantis.’ It became a personal thing at that point; it really got me through that part of my life, too. They really didn’t have much faith in me.
Not collaborating with Markuszewski, he enlisted Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams to help flesh out his songs. Later, Markuszewski got involved, but in a limited way, for at that moment he was short on material. Though last-minute, his interest pleased Fell for now the album would have the guitarist’s “really sick leads.” Finally, Lord Mantis reached the studio, where:
[They weren’t] taking it seriously. Drew brought in a tune, at least [“Negative Birth”]. The first couple days, Bill was playing terrible. Drew was ready to fire him. He was freaking out about the performance. It was looking bad. It started to turn around when we did guitars and vocals. By the end of it, the album came out really good. That was kinda that.
Drew went home to Arizona. Charlie “took care of” finishing the album and mixing it. No communication. Released in April, Death Mask got great reviews. Drew formed a record label for Avichi, and purchased “the rights” to the Death Mask vinyl release. Charlie proposed a 50/50 split of profits from the $30 retail item sometime around the start of an October tour supporting Today Is The Day; Drew said he’d keep 100%. Charlie fumed: He had struggled to get Drew’s small amount of interest and input on Death Mask. Now the guy was cutting him out?
It kinda started the tour off shitty. It created this animosity. It all came to a head in Rhode Island at this club Dusk. I was basically unhappy on that tour; Ken had to sit out for personal reasons. We had a fill-in player, so it was like I was in the wolf’s den.
So Charlie did the normal thing: He got hammered every night. But he’s one of those guys that doesn’t handle alcohol with poise. Nodding at my phone, I can tell that he knew it was a mistake at the time but didn’t change course. Anyway, that night in Rhode Island, Drew communicated to him a request that he settle down during their performances. I ask why. Charlie is vague, but hints that he’d been “wild” that night in a metal way, antagonistic; he “let[s] it all out” up there. And he was blasted. His reaction to Drew’s critique:
I wasn’t having it. I was like, ‘My back is killing me. Fuck this shit. Don’t talk to me right now.’ He pushed it farther again, and I said something back to him: ‘When you pay for your own boots, then you can tell me how to play on stage.’ That pissed him off and he slapped me. I think he felt like I was gonna just take it, but there was no fuckin’ way. I was wasted.
As Charlie tells it, the story is that he jumped Drew. Their fracas was broken up, possibly by Steve Austin of headliners Today Is The Day. At some point, Drew “spilled” Charlie’s pain meds and walked away. Charlie grabbed a glass bottle and followed. Bombed, he got to Drew, swung, and either missed Drew’s head by a mile (because alcohol) or missed when Drew glimpsed him approaching (alcohol) and took evasive action. Now on the floor, Charlie was beaten by at least two guys, Drew and a bouncer. He left and took a seat in their van. He was then informed angrily (by Drew and Bill, presumably) that Lord Mantis is leaving the tour. Go home, asshole.
He returned to Chicago. Their record label, Profound Lore, was pissed about the pull-out. Charlie got a letter from Drew declaring his disinterest in continuing Mantis, and that Bill won’t give the name to Charlie. To him, they sounded over it. He and Sorceron drafted two guys from Altar Of Plagues to play LM’s European dates, including the Roadburn festival in April. That got kiboshed. He didn’t hear anything for a while; he booked a Chicago show with a second new line-up. That too got kiboshed.
This is the crazy thing: What decides who’s got the band is Facebook. The day I went home, they kicked me off as an admin of the band’s page. If you don’t have that, you have no way to tell your audience what’s going on. In effect, whoever controls [the Fb page] controls the band. As shitty as it is, Facebook decides the fate of a band.
Charlie sounds legit sad at this point. Later he would explain that he doesn’t want to spend his life taking measures to protect himself from betrayals. He doesn’t want to plan for trouble or take the time to consider it. Naivety or laziness? I’m unsure. Back with Charlie I am ready to discuss his Facebook problem: “That’s fuckin’ weird!” I blurt.
It is fuckin’ weird, man. The whole thing was so fuckin’ weird to me. Me and Ken were like, This is so fucked. We just made this album … These guys didn’t even want to do the fucking album, I had to talk ’em into it. Homeboy wrote one song and maybe two other riffs on the whole fuckin’ record, and now he wants to take over the goddamn band. I was thinking, ‘Why the fuck does he even want to sing this shit? He has so much shit against me because of my drug problems and shit — and [Death Mask] is about my drug problems. Why would he want to get up there and sing songs about being a drug addict, when he hates that shit so much? It didn’t make sense to me, man.
He learned about the new Lord Mantis line-up at the same time and the same way we did: last week via Drew’s statement. He contacted Drew — this was during the time that Charlie’s Lord Mantis had a show approaching — who told Charlie that he had trademarked the name. Charlie’s LM concert could earn a cease-and-desist order. Here he pauses to praise Drew’s guitar playing and Bill’s “very original” and “weird” drumming, then sighs a bit between the first few words of this sentence :
So I figured I’d put a different name on the line-up that [was to] do Lord Mantis stuff, and carry on.
We continue talking about Death Mask: His new band with Sorceron and Jeff Wilson (Wolvhammer, Abigail Williams) will perform its songs live; half of them were authored by Charlie, the awesome finale by Sorceron; his band would “expand on” the sound of Death Mask; its noise and industrialisms will be represented in the live setting; the new band’s name, Missing, is inspired by Ministry (this jam and its chilling lyrics); an EP is planned for this year with drums by Jef Whitehead (artist of Death Mask‘s mad cover art).
At that point, I toyed with the idea of going all Lisa Simpson on him, explaining that it sucks to have no control of how important shit comes to an end, but heck, he’s now free of a fucked-up situation. Focus on the “arrival,” even though the “journey” was shit, I’d advise cheerily like a high, attractive Dr. Phil. “Sure, all the hard work you put into Mantis seems wasted, but that bummage can be redirected into your next project,” I nearly blathered. But Charlie beat me to it:
It really took talking with good friends — people that let me do my thing but at [some point] will say something to me — [to recognize] that this is a new opportunity. Cuz actually, I always hated the name ‘Lord Mantis.’ That’s one thing I really hated. I always thought it was cartoony. That was Bill’s name. But friends were like, ‘You have an opportunity to play with people you like. Why [wouldn’t] you write songs like Death Mask? Keep on going with it!’ I’m like, ‘Alright, well fuck. This is the wrong time to fuck myself up; this is the time to get my shit together, and just put that behind me.’ Mantis is done for all intents and purposes. The name’s there, but that’s Indian. Ron [DeFries, bassist of Indian] didn’t really do much besides booking anyway. So Lord Mantis is Indian with Drew and the guy from American Heritage. The band is buried. It’s been buried since October. Time to carry on and get it right this time.
Charlie Fell expresses another regret to me: That Death Mask was kinda orphaned by its divorcing parents. No promo tour on the West Coast or in freaking Europe — where shows could be profitable! — and only a measly 14 gigs in the US. Too few people got the chance to see Mantis at their peak, he explains, and that thought is such a profound bummer to us that both of our voices soften a few notches. Still, I’ve already arrived at resolution: If he can say fuck it and start anew, so shall fans.
I remember he’d written in an email that he wanted to communicate to fans what had happened to Lord Mantis. I suppose we both expected to do what two midwesterners always do: bitch bitterly about the problem then be pissed off for life. But nay. My vibe when we hung up was, Wow, we kinda processed it. He totally cheered me up. I can now focus on the fact that there’s a band with three guys who worked a lot on Death Mask (including producer Sanford Parker). We dug into the negativity, barfed it out, and took a step. Exactly what happens in Lord Mantis music. Maybe that’s Charlie Fell.