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St. Madness: "You Can't Be A Shock Metal Band Without Being Shocking"

The early '90s were not the best of times for metal. Suddenly everyone who grew up listening to Sabbath--and a lot of people who didn't--was exchanging skull rings for flannel and writing grunge songs about being strung out. But Patrick Flannery and his alter-ego Prophet were just starting out playing the music he loved and would not be deterred. After a short stint as Crown of Thorns, the band morphed into St. Madness, and they haven't looked back since.

They've just released a two-disc retrospective of those 20 years, and thankfully, not a single cut is a lousy power ballad or an experimental excursion into EDM. No sir, it's pure adrenaline and crunch from beginning to end, from the early "Loneliness is Black" up to more recent fare like "Vampires in the Church" and "Metal to the Death and Beyond" where the band spells out who its heroes are, if covers of "Comfortably Numb" and "Sweet Leaf" aren't enough of an indicator.

This Saturday Joe's Grotto will host St. Madness' ninth CD release party and two-decade blowout. Performing along with St. Madness performing with past members, the event also includes performances by DCAY, Dr. Frankenshred, Heinous James and Sircyko. We spoke to The Prophet about the difficulties of keeping a group together that long, the magic of facepaint and getting the cold shoulder from Dairy Queen.

Is this 20th anniversary from when you started as Crown of Thorns? We started in April or May of 1993. And I actually have a certificate from September of '93 that we filed so we could use the name as a business.

Then we found out there was a Christian rock band from New Jersey who filed that name two years before us. So we decided, since we named our album The Spiritual Visions of St. Madness, we should go with that as a band name. We had two albums out at the time. T-shirts and posters. And we had to redo it all,

Was there a ritualistic shedding of the merch? We sold it 'till all of it was gone. And we sent a lot of albums all over the world to magazines and radio stations and so forth. We just sent it everywhere.

Did the name change start the tradition of wearing facepaint? We started wearing face paint in 1995 . Before that we had lights and banners and things like that but we didn't have facepaint or anything. Around that time in Arizona, metal was kind of dying, and alternative was getting really popular. And it was killing me, as a person who loves metal with all my heart. So I said to Marge [Margie Johnson, Flannery's wife and the band's longtime manager] one day, "Next time we do a show I'm gonna wear facepaint. I want our music to be heavy and our shows more theatrical. I want to everything we can to stick out." When I told the band that, I thought they were gonna laugh me right out of the rehearsal studio.

My bass player said, "If you're gonna do it we're gonna do it, or we'll look stupid." I still wear it. I've had so many people over the years say to me, "Your band is so good--if you just dropped the facepaint..." I try to tell people, we're not about trying to become rock stars. We're about entertaining.

It's not about egos or being the coolest guy on the block. I want to be an entertainer. I'm sure Heath Ledger wasn't embarrassed wearing makeup to become The Joker. That's how I always looked on it.

It's like getting your game face on. It's a ritual. I sit by myself, smoke pot and paint my face. It's like the calm before the storm. I think I'm addicted to that part of it as well. Getting ready for a show. As soon as that facepaint comes on, I'm Prophet. Otherwise I'm just Patrick.

How long does it take to put on? It's taking a little longer now because as I get older my hands shake a little bit. Somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes. It used to be a lot quicker. I'd just nail it.

I notice you also use grayer facepaint now. Is that a nod to aging gracefully? The idea is to look more dead and zombie-ish. Prophet should look like a dead outlaw raised from the dead. In the old days he was a vampire look. I'm a huge WWE wrestling fan, since I was a little kid. Wrestlers all have a certain run when their popularity is going up, and when they feel the fans are starting not to get interested, they start morphing into a different kind of character.

And we've done that with the band. After a while, you have to change. People say, why don't you wear that upside-down cross face? Well I wore that face for quite a few years, just like I've worn this cowboy face for four years. In the early days I put on a different face almost very show.

The goal in the beginning was not to be Alice Cooper and KISS, where they had the same face all the time.

You used a lot more black than those guys. We did. We're a lot heavier than both those bands. Just when we did blood, which I don't do anymore but we did all through the '90s. I'd fill a chalice with it, hold it above my head, and let it pour down my face.

I used to wear a butcher's apron so you the red would show up really good. And then I'd swing a meat cleaver doing a song, "Love's Butcher Shop." I'll say this about AZ club owners--for five years they'd let us come and trash their stage with blood., then people would step in it and it'd go all over the venue.

After a while they started to get tired of cleaning that. Once I started growing a beard--I did the blood one time, poured it down my face, and it never reached my chest it, just got stuck in my beard. I had this red candy beard. We'd buy a lot of Hollywood blood and mix it with Karo syrup, because a lot of it would get in my mouth. We'd do that just to tolerate it; it sweetens it. [Laughs]

It was hard as a rock. A lot of times my arm and my underarm hair were stuck to the side of my chest, because it would start drying. My old drummer, once, came up to me, and my shirt was covered all down the front of me. He pointed to my chest and said, "What's that?" I looked down, and he grabbed my shirt, and as hard as he could he pulled out all of my chest hair.

How many personnel changes have you had in the twenty-years? Probably as much as Megadeth. All my favorite bands had a lot of personnel changes. Sometimes I think, "Am I that bad a guy, that I can't keep the same band forever?" But if you do the research you'll see there's very few bands like Rush or ZZ Top that's kept the same people together. Sacred Reich has managed to keep the same lineup for many, many years, and I applaud that.

I thought I was gonna be able to have the same guys for twenty years. But after you work together a long time you start to get tired of each other, or your wife doesn't want you to be in a band anymore. We've probably heard every reason there is. Sometimes you have to fire your own friend because they're not holding up their end of the bargain.

I've had to let people go I really care about.

Anyone ever quit over the proverbial musical differences? Left to play jazz fusion or something? Not really. Christian Satan, I heard he's writing not bluegrass metal but hillbilly rock and roll with a little bit of metal in there. But it's never been, "I don't like this music, I'm leaving." It's always been other things. Of all the people who have been in the band, I'm still friends with all of them.

If someone wanders over to the merch booth and wants a single album that gets everything about a St. Madness show, what would you recommend? The three top albums as far as fans are concerned are God Bless America from 1998, Vampires in the Church from 2006, and Canonizing Carnage from 2012. I think Carnimetal will be a favorite, but it's a best of; I don't know if you'd count that.

The strongest has to be Canonizing Carnage. As you progress you get smarter on how you do things. We used to spend too much time in the studio talking and bullshitting. Now it's work. When we go in there, time is money. We do pre-production. We know exactly what were gonna do.

There's not many full-on metal clubs left, is there? Joe's Grotto is one of the only classic rock clubs left. God, I miss the Mason Jar and the old Electric Ballroom. But I love 910 Live. I always like outdoor shows the best. I play shows that say they are a metal fest but it's in a bar. And it's only cause I'm old, but when I was young, a festival was an outdoor gig with lots of bands. Now anything's a festival

After twenty years, what shows stand out the most? We played Jobing.com when it was Glendale Arena and we were the musical guest for Rage in the Cage fighting. And we played two Milwaukee Metal fests. Danny Zelisko and Evening Star gave us the Van Halen side stage when they came with Monster Magnet in 1998, and back then the side stage was right next to the main stage. After we played, the security said we had the largest side stage.

Not to mention the thousand times we played at the Jar. Bands who complained about not getting paid weren't seeing the big picture. Franco offered a historic stage to played on. The Mason Jar was the Whiskey a Go-Go of Phoenix. I miss that place. Everytime I see him I beg him to reopen.

Every get any Christian protestors? We played the Los Arcos Mall, in the Sam Goody. As I was walking through the door, this woman puts her hand up to my head and says, "Be thee in the name of Jesus."

And I said, "Oh, thank you very much." But there was a Dairy Queen next to the Sam Goody, which immediately shut down. We asked the manager of Sam Goody to ask them what was going on, and they told him they would stay closed until that satanic band is out of the mall. We weren't Satanic. We were a shock metal band, and you can't be a shock metal band without being shocking.

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Still, to get the cold shoulder from Dairy Queen, that's harsh. I know.I wanted one of those chocolate-dipped cones, and they wouldn't sell one to me.

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