Erik Schrody has a thin, Abe Lincoln beard, a piercing stare and a B-boy swagger. Around his neck hangs a pendant that spells out EVERLAST in gold and diamonds – a tag the twenty-nine-year-old has answered to since before his days as the front MC of House of Pain – the same moniker that now adorns his powerful solo departure, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues. Schrody’s arms are a canvas of skulls and personal graffiti from forearm to shoulder. On his chest are more tattoos: the Chinese symbol for love and another that says SINN FEIN, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Between the tattoos, a bubbly seven-inch scar splits his sternum in two.
He is a large man, Schrody – sharp and personable but also well aware of his intimidating reputation – so when he invites you to place your ear to his chest, the automatic reaction is not to nuzzle.
“Come on,” he says as you inch closer. “I’m not shy about it.”
And so you lean in and hear a deep, resonant ticking, like a metronome keeping time in his chest.
“I find it very soothing,” says Schrody. “I like hearing it.”
This beat began a year ago, the day Schrody completed Whitey Ford, the collection of hard-edged hip-hop and brooding blues and folk tunes that he knew would redefine him. It was that very evening when Schrody’s chest began to tighten. After more than five hours of Schrody laboring to breathe, his co-producer and friend John Gamble asked him whether he needed to go to the hospital. Unaware that his aorta had torn and that his heart was drowning in blood, Schrody said no; Gamble called for an ambulance anyway. Miraculously, Schrody didn’t suffer his massive heart attack until just after he’d been wheeled into the emergency room.
“They looked at me, tattoos and all that, and probably thought I was shooting dope or sniffin’ coke,” says Schrody, who has had a heart condition since birth. “Luckily my doctor is a consultant at the hospital they took me to, so they got my records pretty quick. If it had taken another twenty minutes, I’d be dead.”
When he awoke three days later with an artificial valve clicking in his chest, Schrody saw his mother and father, who divorced bitterly nine years ago, on either side of his bed.
“And that’s when I knew it was really bad,” he says.
Schrody laughs a wicked, throaty laugh. It is the kind of emotional burst you expect of him, a moment that’s neither lighthearted nor sinister but somewhere, somehow, at the edges of both.
It makes sense that Schrody’s music is as complex and contradictory as he is – able to draw from diverse genres without sacrificing any of their authority in the process. How else to explain the old-school boasting of “Money (Dollar Bill),” just a track away from the pensive, dark folk of the hit “What It’s Like”? Or “Ends,” the cut between those two, a guitar-strummed blues-and-rap morality play?
It is for that track that Schrody will head to Las Vegas to shoot Whitey Ford’s second video. It’s midday, and we are in his manager’s Los Angeles office, and Schrody needs to run a few preflight errands, so we go outside and hop into his Land Rover.
“My doctor said this valve will last my lifetime,” says Schrody as we hit the road. “I told him, ‘I know it’s gonna last my lifetime – can you just give me a roundabout figure how long that will be?’ ”
Schrody laughs again and cranks up the blistering version of John Lee Hooker’s “Blues for Christmas” that he performed last year at L.A. radio station KROQ’s annual Christmas concert. Choosing it had proved a struggle, since Schrody converted to Islam two years ago and needed a song without overtly Christian overtones.
Certainly, Schrody’s heart attack wasn’t his only life-altering event of the last few years. There was his transformation from Irish-Catholic punk to devout Muslim. (“It makes me able to look at myself and say, ‘OK, I’m making progress in life,’ ” he says. “I’ve had my heyday of debauchery.”) Then there was the breakup of a long-term relationship, which he chronicles on Whitey Ford in “The Letter” and “Seven Years.” (“That person gave me all of herself,” says Schrody. “But I was a rock star and had to fuck a lot of bitches.”) Not to mention the dismantling of House of Pain – with their drunken Irish frat-boy reputation – and Schrody’s decision, two years ago, to stop drinking.