Revisit the history of the Valley's music scene, and in those annals you'll find an anomaly: In 1996, four youngsters, barely in their teens, self-released (with a little help from the 'rents) an eponymous debut, Chronic Future, which propelled them onto local radio and eventually to national prominence in the hip-hop rock game. The young musicians -- MC Mike Busse, vocalist and guitarist Ben Collins, Ben's brother Barry on drums, and bassist Brandon Lee -- seemed destined for mainstream success, riding the first wave of the now spent hybrid movement that spawned more horrific bands than any genre since glam-metal.
Fast forward to 2003: Chronic Future hasn't played a live show since July 19, 2001, yet they're holed up at the Hollywood Sound Recorders studio in Los Angeles, recording songs for their upcoming record on Interscope, tentatively titled A Chronic Future. Now in their early 20s, the band members, who have since added guitarist and electronic whiz-kid Ryan Breen, are in the midst of a storybook comeback, more than the locals who were tortured by their omnipresent 1996 hit "Scottsdale" could have ever expected.
Back in 1997, after multitudinous negotiations that were documented in a New Times cover story, Chronic Future became the first act signed to Beyond Music, originally a spin-off label helmed by Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records. Tommy Boy released a couple Chronic Future tracks on its X-Games compilations. The boys, especially MC Busse, were explosive live; what they lacked in songwriting maturity was compensated for by their bombastic enthusiasm onstage. They shared the label with acts like veteran college-rockers Violent Femmes and SoCal punks Face to Face, making for a seemingly prosperous situation. Silverman, however, dropped out of the endeavor and the label began to flounder shortly after Chronic Future released their second album, 4 Elements, in 2000.
"It seemed like a really good idea at first," Busse says of the band's deal with Beyond. But it was soon obvious that the band was on a sinking ship. "Allen Kovac was the owner. He really went kind of nutso," Busse says. Getting out of a record contract is no easy task, yet because of the band's friendship with Face to Face, Chronic Future was able to retain Rich Egan of Hard 8 Management and owner of Santa Monica rock label Vagrant Records as its manager; Egan is a well-known power player in the recording industry, and had previously been successful in releasing Face to Face from its contract with Beyond.
"Rich pulled all the strings, but it was another year and a half process of getting off," Busse says. "At first he was hesitant to take us on, because he didn't want to deal with those fucked-up people again, but he didn't want us to fuckin' die over there."
The band was technically not released from its contract with Beyond until the label went bankrupt earlier this year; however, under California law, if a label isn't paying a band at least $9,000 a year, the band can release an album on another label. Yet they can be sued for damages by the label they're under contract with. Beyond's demise seemed imminent, but no one could predict the time of death. Egan began shopping the band to various major labels, primarily Warner Bros. and Interscope, with the goal of beginning production as soon as Beyond was no longer existent.
The band signed with Interscope last year on the strength of demos the boys had recorded in Breen's home studio. The demos were recorded specifically for Jimmy Iovine, head of Interscope, quite a feat in itself. "He was the one that was pretty much signing us to the label," Ben Collins explains. "That to us meant the best stability, because of the fact it wasn't an A&R guy."
Chronic Future's sound has evolved substantially since 4 Elements; rather than drawing from the nu-metal stylings of bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park, Chronic Future incorporates hip-hop with an indie-rock aesthetic complemented by Breen's electronic skills -- he mangles and reanimates beats in the vein of experimental acts like Squarepusher, giving the band an edge not evident amongst its peers.
"The kind of music that we play could be so easily misinterpreted and watered down and totally manipulated if it was with the wrong kind of places like the whole Korn camp," Collins says. "Even our label doesn't want to do that to us -- they have Limp Bizkit. They understand that what we're doing is different from that nu-metal sound. That's why we're excited to have Rich [Egan]; he's expressed that to people. People respect what Rich has to say, and people have definitely been more open to us because it's Rich showing it to them. He cares so much and has stuck with us through so much bullshit."
During the last two years, while not playing a single show (with the exception of Breen and Busse's side project, Back Ted N Ted), the band holed up and focused on songwriting rather than stage presence. "In the beginning, we were really focused on our live show and put out a lot of energy; we wrote energetic songs for playing live," Busse explains. "Now it's on a different tip. We're understanding ourselves a little bit more. What we're really listening to is a shitload of '80s tunes, melodically pulling a lot from that."
Once Beyond was officially bankrupt, the band recruited producer Sean Beaven to oversee the new record. Beaven has produced Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Moth, and was the original producer for the enigmatic and yet-to-be-heard Guns n' Roses comeback record Chinese Democracy (like a village of others, Axl drove him nuts).
"We fell in love with his sound," Collins says. "He has the bigness, the sonic glory, but at the same time it feels like a real band playing it, not like a Linkin Park record where everything is done on a computer. We're trying to make a real record with that combination but that doesn't sound like a machine made it."
After practicing under Beaven's supervision for two weeks in L.A., the band entered the recording studio in late July. "He knows the songs in and out probably as well as we do," Breen says of Beaven's oversight. "We really jelled with him a lot. We're averaging two songs a day, basic tracking. We have the luxury of being able to have plenty of time getting great sounds. It's rare to have that luxury in a recording situation." The band is booked in the studio for a month, enough time to record its 11-song album and a couple of extra tracks for international release and soundtracks.
The onetime "Scottsdale brats," to quote their first hit, seem to have successfully rebranded themselves to a degree that's unimaginable in the current industry climate, though the true test is yet to come, when A Chronic Future is released and the dynamic band returns to the stage.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.