It was announced last month that Alien Ant Farm are to headline the Back 2 School Festival – picked by Dubai students from a selection of acts in an online vote. Ele Cooper spoke to lead singer Dryden Mitchell to find out what’s happened since their cover of ‘Smooth Criminal’…
What are you up to right now?
Just hanging round with my brother and playing with my dogs on Honicombe Beach, which is about 30 minutes from Los Angeles. I’m starting a new band and I only really go to LA for band practice.
Tell me about your new band.
It doesn’t have a name yet, but the music is a lot more atmospheric. Actually I’ve hooked up with the bass player from a band called The Apex Theory. They were really respected – a lot of musicians loved them, so I’m glad to be a part of a project with this person who I’ve admired for so long.
Where does that leave Alien Ant Farm?
Everyone’s doing different things, but we [Ant Farm] have been playing shows here and there for the last couple of months – the name carries a little bit of weight and we decided that it’d be foolish to let it go while we’re still a semi-known band. If you find something that you’re good at and that you love, you’re never gonna leave it – I’ll be playing music for the rest of my life, but it obviously won’t be with Ant Farm forever.
It must be annoying that people still ask you about ‘Smooth Criminal’… do you have any more covers in the pipeline?
[Laughs] We just started doing covers at gigs for fun, and to have it be lucrative is really cool. It started out of love for other bands: we always pick a different song, whether it be Phil Collins, Wheezer or Sade. When we started playing ‘Smooth Criminal’ we thought it worked well as a rock song and it kind of just stuck; I don’t think any of us envisioned that we’d become big from this song. We wanted to wait and put out a couple more singles before we dropped it, but it wasn’t in [label] Dreamworks’ plan to do that. But it’s stupid to complain about success – it’s hard to be mad when you’re selling a lot of records… It was just mixed emotions.
Do you get on well with the rest of the band?
We toured so much when we first started that we went from being best of friends to borderline enemies – it was inevitable when the four of us were cramped together in such small quarters. It’s like a brotherhood; you love it, but you go through rough times too. These days, we’re a little bit older and we appreciate each other more – it’s really mellow compared to the period when we’d just been thrown into the headlights of MTV, when everyone’s egos were rollin’ around all over the place.
Are shows like America’s Got Talent a good thing?
No, I think they’re silly. I’m not a big fan of the whole karaoke thing, it’s embarrassing to watch. I’m not trying to be cool or anything, but I’ve never even seen one of those shows.
So if a kid’s stuck out in the suburbs and wants to be a rock star, how can he make it happen?
Maybe it’s clichéd to say ‘with the internet’, but it’s a pretty small world now. Kids that are smart can stay in touch with what they think is cool; the influences that they have are findable and gettable, unlike a long time ago when if you were out in the sticks you were alone. I have kids that come up and ask, ‘How did you get to where you are?’ Like there’s some magical formula, but really we were very blessed. We just travelled a lot rather than playing the local club five times a month – I mean, how many times can you ask your friends to come and see your stupid band?
Have you been to Dubai before?
No, never. When we got the call it was a ‘raise your eyebrows’ kind of wow – I don’t know if it’s overblown or hyped up, but I’ve heard so many crazy things about Dubai, and I’ve always thought that it would be a cool place to go. It’s obviously a pretty rich mecca. Architecturally it’s really interesting and I’d like to just go round the city and see how beautiful it is.
How much do you know about the Back 2 School Festival?
I actually know nothing about it.
OK… Have you played a lot of kids’ gigs before?
Er… When you say kids, do you mean college kids?
It’s for under 18s.
We’ve done so many shows, I guess we’re pretty used to playing for teenagers…
Do you have kids?
Do you plan to?
No, not at all.
Kids are a pain. I mean, I have two dogs and they annoy me enough as it is – I don’t wanna deal with screaming kids.
Do you have many young fans?
Most of our fans are our age and they’ve kind of grown up with us, but it’s cool to see younger kids at shows now – a new age group is getting into the band all over again and spreading the word.
How would you deal with a fan who had a crush on you?
I guess I’d welcome it, I mean why would you not want someone to dig you? But the crush thing is kind of silly to me because it doesn’t have much to do with music. I’d welcome a little nerd who loves my music more than some cute girl who thought I was cute… Unless she was really cute, and then I’d ditch the nerd!
When you play the Back 2 School Festival, will you mingle with the crowd?
We usually like to hang out and get a feel for our surroundings; we’re all the way over there, it’d be stupid to just show up, play and leave. We are pretty sociable people.
Although Back 2 School Fest is organised by GEMS schools, and certain elements (the mentorship schemes and some of the competitions) are only open to their students, everyone aged 18 and under is welcome at the event, held at Dubai Festival City on October 17. If Alien Ant Farm aren’t enough to convince you that this will be a great day out for your kids, maybe this will…
It is primarily a music event, with local bands Nervecell, OBAG and Sunkin all taking the stage to represent Dubai, and there will be a dance tent with live DJs, so teenagers can experience what a nightclub is like (without any alcohol, of course).
Results from a range of competitions will be evident, from finalists’ short films being played on big screens, to dance and musical performances by category finalists. Activities will also include football shootouts, dunk the teacher, face painting, graffiti drawing and a drumming circle.
The event runs from 2pm-midnight on Friday October 17. Tickets cost Dhs150, or Dhs125 for GEMS school pupils. More info at www.back2schoolfest.com