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Special Report! Kerby's Interview With American Head Charge Keyboardist Justin Fowler

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Sunday, May 1, 2005 @ 11:39 AM

Setting the Record Straight: J

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In a perfect world, no band should ever have to go through this.

Ten days ago, American Head Charge guitarist, Bryan Ottoson, was found dead on the band’s tour bus. Conjecture surrounding his death has run rampant on the Internet with the vast majority of information being posted by individuals who have no actual ties to the band or who are even tangentially acquainted with their music. The group, however, contends that Brian’s demise was simply the result of a fatal mixture of prescription antibiotics and liquor--hardly the prototypical junkie death to be sure. Over the last ten days, AHC has dealt with grief, memorial services and what to do with not only the rest of this tour, but the rest of their lives. When the band announced that they were going to rejoin the Mudvayne tour in Lubbock on Friday (a show that they did not end up making do to numerous logistical problems), some were shocked. More than a few people instantly labeled AHC as money hungry even though it has been reported that members of the band live on as little as twenty dollars a day.

When the group showed up in Albuquerque last night, the band was only able to perform three songs because Head Charge “got there a little late.” In this case, the length of the set wasn’t nearly as important as the fact that AHC got onstage at all. What follows is a conversation between keyboardist Justin Fowler and I that took place in the venue right before their first stage appearance since the tragedy. Remarkably, Fowler agreed to speak before show time even though there was some type of disconnect between the publicist and the record label, and they weren’t expecting to do any press here. Discussing the tragedy in as much length as he does with the amount of honesty that he does couldn’t have been easy and is, in fact, much appreciated. Justin turned out to be well-spoken, candid, and really--he could be found dealing with these events as well as anyone could ever hope that someone who has just experienced the loss of their best friend ever could.

For those metal fans who weren’t/aren’t specifically followers of American Head Charge, respect must be given to anyone this committed to overcoming obstacles simply to do what they love. These are basically six musicians who have chosen to carry on--not for great fame and not for great fortune. As hard as some may look for hidden motivations here--the realization is that this band is on the road to perpetuate the memory of their fallen friend and to promote a record, The Feeding, that will serve as the last project their recently departed comrade, Bryan, will ever contribute to in this lifetime.

R.I.P. Bryan.

Here’s hoping that his music lives on, and the band remains strong.

KNAC.COM: Can you explain what the band has had to endure in the last twenty-four hours just to be here?
FOWLER: It has been extremely trying. Our plane tickets were into San Antonio, and then we had to drive about fourteen hours to get here. The band had to split up into different cars. We did get to stay at Karma’s parent’s house, and that was really cool because his mom made us some omelets for breakfast, and we got some mom time. That was something we all really appreciated. That is also something we have all really needed after being in all the different corners of our minds that we have been in right now. Here we are with a new bus--

KNAC.COM: Did AHC manage to get a new bus? There has been all kinds of speculation as to the belief that you were going to continue riding in the old one and that one of you, in fact, would be riding in Bryan’s bunk.
FOWLER: Yeah, we did. I almost took the same bunk position… then it was like, “I can’t. I can’t deal with that.”

KNAC.COM: Could you also dispel the belief that American Head Charge is on the road because of all the money stand to make on this tour?
FOWLER: That is a misconception. People are mistaken. People come into a show and people participate in this illusion that you are onstage, and somehow that makes you different from them, but we are just a bunch of guys who are doing a thing--like working in a car wash or anything you love. It isn’t something that pays extravagantly or in fact [even] at all. Everything we make goes back into making our show run and having a tour bus and paying a crew and making sure we can book shows. We don’t see money. We don’t see any fucking money. It’s unrealistic. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just participating in the illusion to a larger degree than other people.

KNAC.COM: Don’t you also think that there is a huge contingent of people who want to condemn the actions of any person or group faced with hardship or grief? It’s like everyone has a different idea of how to honor a memory.
FOWLER: I’ve noticed that online. Basically, a lot of people are just really fucking mean. I can’t believe how mean some people have been. People who don’t know us or have any connection to us or don’t like the music. As soon as they heard about what happened, they were really quick to snap judge.

KNAC.COM: What was it, like just a few hours later, and the Internet was just rife with rumors about what had “probably” happened?
FOWLER: I just went through the Internet, and I was looking for pictures. I was hoping to see photos of all of us or me and Bryan. Then, I just got into this shit that people were spouting. Again, it is just people feeding these misconceptions who have no idea what is going on, so I don’t take it too seriously, but at the same time it is amazing just how rude some people are. This isn’t like the Jay and Silent Bob Internet geek who is twelve years old either who comments because he is twelve and finally has a voice-- these are adults who say “I’m thirty years old, and this is what happened because I believe this.”

KNAC.COM: Was it the insensitivity that bothered you the most? Is it anyone’s place to say that someone deserves to die?
FOWLER: No, and that is something I feel strongly about. I generally try to live my life that way. It isn’t anyone’s place to sit there and tell someone what it is that they deserve. I’m not even here to say what we deserve. I watch all kinds of people who deal with this self-entitlement bullshit. They think they can make the calls about everything. It is just more evidence of that attitude socially. It’s just everywhere.

KNAC.COM: Was this tragedy made that much worse by the range of emotions you were dealing with? I mean, you had just released The Feeding, and you guys had just hit the road promoting it…and then…
FOWLER: You know, it’s still really a blur. It’s gonna take a lot of time to gain any accurate perspective on that. It’s been overwhelming. The sharp contrast went from “everything is great” to “oh, my God, what are we going to do now? What am I going to do now?” This guy was like my best friend--not “like” my best friend--he was my best friend. What to do is just what I do when I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next. It’s just going to take time.

KNAC.COM: I mean, we are still only talking about an event that happened ten days ago.
FOWLER: Yeah, it happened just ten days ago. I just stand here today with my arms kind of folded in a quiet disbelief. I just know this is something that I have to do. Bryan wrote half the record, and that was like our dream together out of high school. We wanted to do this. We did. To have his life come full circle, and for me not to perpetuate it, would be disappointing to myself. I have to come out here even though it’s hard for me. I don’t know how to deal with this stuff. When people ask how we’re doing…I just don’t know any more.

KNAC.COM: I would ask you how many millions of issues will run through your mind when you hit the stage, but I’ll bet you have no idea.
FOWLER: You’re right. I will have no idea. I know that I have been really sad and beside myself. It is just going to take me time to understand these feelings. I’m pretty articulate, but there is a lot swimming around in here. Every moment is just different. I just want Head Charge fans to know that grief is a process, and no one is expecting you to have an answer right away.

KNAC.COM: No one who isn’t unreasonable anyway--
FOWLER: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I don’t know. It’s hard for me because I’m still searching for my answers, and I’m sure it’s going to be awhile before I have any. Every day is just a process of trying to figure out even what my questions are. It is just so much more complex than “how do I feel right now?”

KNAC.COM: Let me ask you about another specific item that people have speculated about. On the AHC website there are pill icons, and people have interpreted that to mean that the band is comprised of a bunch of junkies. Is there anything you want to say to that?
FOWLER: I guess the one thing I’d have to say to those people is, “don’t be so suburban.” It’s obviously like a graphic design, and yeah…it was cool…before my friend died. You know what? It still looks cool. It might be in really horrible taste right now, but like what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to phone up the web designer with all of the other things that have been going on and say, “you need to come up with a new website--right now!” That is beyond any of our capacities to act that way right now. I’m sure that we will figure it out if people are having trouble with it.

KNAC.COM: Can you just reiterate what was posted on MTV.COM where it was reported that Bryan suffered from a recurring case of strep throat and he simply took a fatal combination of penicillin and alcohol?
FOWLER: No, he had strep, and he went to a doctor and got Penicillin. It was a combination of the pain relievers and drinking. It was an accidental death, but the rumors would swirl much like they did with Dave Williams. Ironically enough, we have already had three buses and four drivers on this tour. Unbelievable, right? The day we got this driver--we were on that bus for one night--the guy was wearing a Drowning Pool hat, first of all. Then, when Bryan turned the light off in his bunk, it shorted out all the other electrical in the bus.

(At this point, as soon as he mentions the electrical situation and Bryan, the light in the venue where this was being conducted, flickered and flashed. This had not occurred at any other time during our interview and, in fact, didn’t occur at any other point that I observed during the evening. The event seemed to further disconcert Justin who was already understandably emotional about what he was discussing.)

FOWLER: Now the lights just flashed. Great. This is some stuff. I’m not a guy who prays about anything unless I really need to give it up to the world. I don’t ask for very much from this place. That night though, I was sick too because I had been running a fever for about five days. I went to a doctor in Baltimore, and he was like, “this isn’t strep, it’s just something you’re going to have to get ride of.” Believe it or not, the night this happened, I was at my bunk, I was just like “please let me live through this.” I felt like my body was falling out from under me. Then, the next day or that night, we woke up….in wherever that place was…and we ate dinner. Then we went to find Bryan, and he was there--ice cold. It just made me ill. At that point I wasn’t grief struck…I was just sick. I had never experienced death like that before.

KNAC.COM: Is there any other way people should take AHC going back on the road other than you are just committed to the music and Bryan’s legacy?
FOWLER: Mudvayne’s drum tech used to tour with Chimaira when we were out on the road with Slayer, and his comment always was like, “you guys are like cockroaches.” He has just seen us survive so much crap.

KNAC.COM: By the same token, you’ve got to wonder what is next.
FOWLER: Hopefully, it’s just going to be cool for a while although the generator in our new bus has already gone out. We’re just like…it’s the Head Charge Curse. [Laughs] I have to laugh about this or find a way to deal with this because if I didn’t find a way to make light of life generally, I’d spend a lot of time crying in the corner…

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