It's safe to say that Pat Flannery, lead singer for the heavy-rock group St. Madness (formerly known as Crown of Thorns), has an enormous chip on his shoulder.
"I'm angry, I like angry and I want to stay angry," grouses the lanky purveyor of doom and gloom who sings "I'm in love with the idea of homicide" on the opening track of the CD The Spiritual Visions of St. Madness. "I don't know what you normal people do with your feelings, whether you drink, do drugs or knock over banks. All I know is if it weren't for this band, I'd be in prison."
Although it's unclear just what the artist is sore about--even he seems murky on the source of his rage--Flannery funnels his disgruntlement into a stage persona that is both frightening and highly convincing.
In a recent show at the Mason Jar, captive onlookers were pummeled into submission by a bludgeoning rhythm section as Flannery posed atop an amplifier in a blood-drenched butcher's apron, hacking at the air with a cleaver. "The kitchen is well lit/Knives and cleavers are now brought in," the front man railed, raking back a mop of hair that last saw a comb somewhere around the Reagan era. "I'll place you on the slab/Forgive me if I'm mad!"
In a more peaceful moment, Flannery can be found on the back porch of his East Valley apartment sucking on a hand-rolled stogie in the company of bassist Randy Ax, guitarist Dr. Frankenshred and their drummer, who goes by "D." In the smoky twilight, the faces of these dime-store Satanists seem doughy and ashen, like the bloodless night crawlers of an Anne Rice novel.
Inside, Flannery's 62-year-old father and 8-year-old son are viewing television in a family room that might have been designed by Morticia Addams. (Either that or Spencer had a sale: Gargoyles, candelabra and vampires are everywhere.)
Two years back, St. Madness spiffed up its show with nightmare makeup and blood-soaked theatrics, causing a predictable onslaught of King Diamond, Alice Cooper and KISS comparisons. "We're a little bit like all of them," concedes Flannery, "but we're much more hard-core, dirty and violent. W.A.S.P. used to do a thing where the lead singer would drink blood from a skull, and Gene Simmons would ooze blood from his mouth. I'd look at these guys and say, 'How wimpy. If you're gonna use blood, use blood.'"
Flannery's theatrical excesses have cost him upward of $40,000 so far. In addition to hiring sound and light technicians, the band deploys a dizzying array of props including rubber body parts, gargoyles, Silly String (up to 50 cans a show), a 50-foot cross and enough blood to feed a brace of vampires for the next century.
The stage show, an unabashed display of pure goth camp, unfolds the tale of a serial killer turned monk (St. Madness) who goes apeshit in a monastery, poisons the brothers, then takes himself out with a handgun.
Flannery, who's Catholic, says he based the character of St. Madness on himself. "Years ago I considered joining a monastery, but I couldn't give up women," he recalls. "I had to do something with my monkly desires, so I invented a character named St. Madness. He does everything I ever wanted to do, but didn't because I was unwilling to go to prison for the rest of my life. It's kind of like Stephen King--I've got to believe that guy identifies with his characters and lives out his crazy fantasies through them."
Exhaling a cloud of smoke, Flannery seems to have drifted into a weird space somewhere between reality and fantasy. On the scale of creepiness, he looks about a 10.
When Flannery was 16 and growing up in San Bernardino, California, the thought of being a musician never crossed his mind. Things changed suddenly when Elvis Presley died in 1977.
"In short, I was a nerd with no friends," he remembers. "The day Elvis died, I went home and sang to his records. Then I joined a chorus, and somebody told the choir director I sounded like Elvis. Before I knew it, I was onstage singing 'Blue Christmas.' All of a sudden, I had girlfriends, and everyone who wouldn't talk to me the day before wanted to be my buddy."
He spent the next decade singing "upbeat, happy tunes" in cover bands before he elected to write his own music. Since the band formed five years ago as Crown of Thorns (its recent discovery of a Canadian rock band called Crown of Thornz prompted the band to change its name), Flannery has crafted grim, noirish tunes that he describes as "colliding twisted fact with creatively sick fiction."
The songs, never pretty, alternate between supernatural musings and gritty, real-life experiences. "Trapped," a Sabbathlike tune on its forthcoming God Bless America album, details the woes of a crystal-meth freak.
"I'm a junkie," Flannery says in the mush-free tone of someone who's journeyed to hell and back. "I used to deal crystal, and I quit using it over seven years ago. Basically, I wanted to write a song about what it was like to come down off that shit. Crystal kills so many people, and I'm against any drug that's that brutal."
Real or fanciful, all of Flannery's lyrics seem engineered to offend and irritate. Perhaps the tune most likely to cause teeth-grinding is "Love's Butcher Shop."
"I've written a lot of love songs over the years, and after a while, I got sick of them," he explains. "I wanted to write something that was just terrible, that would get under everybody's skin. When I wrote that song, I thought about every rotten thing I've experienced with a girlfriend or a wife. I climbed inside myself and found that anger from all those years."
But even Flannery has his limits. During the live version of the song "Waiting to Die" (from the band's debut album, Loneliness Is Black), the band stages a mock crucifixion of Christ wrapped in an American flag. Though onlookers might beg to differ, Flannery insists that the image of Christ is never disrespected. He also points out that the flag never touches the ground.
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"I'm proud to be an American," he says. "I respect the flag, not like that dweeb Marilyn Manson, who uses it to wipe his ass. Nor do I spit on the Bible, which he also has a tendency to do."
Which begs the question: Has St. Madness been accused of sacrilege? Flannery responds: "Hell, yes! A lot of people give us flak, like we're Satanists or something.
"It's hard to explain to people you're not a devil worshiper when you're willing to wear '666' on your shirt. But I use that image to incite feelings in people--and it does. Besides, this is just a show. I'm not up there being Billy Graham."
St. Madness is scheduled to perform at a Halloween costume party on Friday, October 31. Call 423-9891 for more information.