California may have a shortage of electrical power but not of rap-rock bands. The latest is the seven-man Crazy Town, led by rapper Shifty Shellshock and former hip-hop producer Brett “Epic” Mazur (whose credits include tracks for MC Lyte and Bell Biv DeVoe). Their sound is a heavy guitar stomp — except for the ethereal “Butterfly,” which has turned The Gift of Game into a Top Forty hit. The abundantly tattooed Shellshock calls in on his cell phone while he drives around in circles on Melrose Avenue.
Do you prefer to be called Shifty or Mr. Shellshock?
When I see my name in print, I like “Seth ‘Shifty’ Shellshock.” I thought of a million names when I was younger, but then my friends started calling me Shifty.
Are you, in fact, a shifty guy?
Yeah, I’ve always been dodgy. When I was younger, I was a shoplifter and then a graffiti artist. When I got older, I was a little shady dealing with women. I’d always be juggling a couple of them.
What’s the biggest thing that you ever shoplifted?
When I was sixteen, I still looked twelve. So when we had parties, I would go to the supermarket and fill up the shopping cart with everything we could want — alcohol, food — and then on the top, I’d put paper towels, bird-seed and some tampons. Then I’d walk out the front door with the cart, saying, “Mom?” Most of the time, I’d get six to seven hundred dollars’ worth of stuff. I’d have girls in the car and bring them stuffed animals and roses.
And they knew it came from the heart because you’d taken the time to shoplift it. Were you ever arrested?
A bunch of times. But when I was eighteen or nineteen, I was on L.A.’s Most Wanted. I was selling weed, and this rich guy was also selling weed. He was selling it for fun — I was selling it because I needed the money. And then it got personal: He said the carpets in my house were dirty. I thought, “No one talks shit about my carpets.” I was listening to too much Biggie Smalls and watching too much Reservoir Dogs. I went to rob him, but it backfired; I got into a police chase and got away. And when you get away from the police, they’re really mad at you. So I ran away to Sebastopol [California], but I had to come back to do this big showcase at the House of Blues. The next morning we got surrounded by cop cars at 7-Eleven. I was on Fox II News for an extra week, because they couldn’t find one of my friends, so they had my picture with Captured over my face. I ended up doing three months in Chino. They put me in the wrong part of the prison, so I was there with psychopathic wife beaters and murderers. It was therapy, in a twisted way. I got out, and I’ve been pretty good ever since.
How did you and Epic hook up?
Nine years ago, I was working with Black Eyed Peas, and I walked down the hall: Epic had a studio with all these platinum records. I loved his beats and sang him a couple of my songs, and by the end of the week we had three songs. For nine years, we made music on drugs in a loft in downtown L.A. We’d do one song and celebrate for six months. We didn’t even think about a record deal until we started running out of money and going to rehab, and I got arrested.
How did you make a living during those nine years?
Retail, selling drugs, promoting clubs — working wherever I could make money being an oddball. When I first came to L.A. I was a skateboarder, and that got me a bunch of Levi’s commercials. I was basically being a rock star without making a record.
How did “Butterfly” get written?
I wrote a bunch of the lyrics and told Epic, “It needs to be like ‘Under the Bridge’ — you know, really pretty, mellow.” He looped part of the Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty.” The lyrics are about my ex-girlfriend. We were together three years, and the breakup almost killed me. I was doing cocaine; I was relapsing, and we were driving each other mad. I’ve been clean for six months now, but breaking up was the hardest thing. I’m terrified of falling in love again.
You got your father to design your album cover?
Yeah, him and my uncle. My dad did a lot of art-direction work for Chess Records — a lot of blues, and Buddy Miles and Chuck Berry. He actually directed a Rolling Stones movie, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. Ever since I was conceived, I was around music.
What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you on tour?
We were on Ozzfest. I was drunk, going through my breakup, and I threw a chair out a window. They arrested me, and my management said, “You need to come home and chill out.” So we lasted only two weeks.
So, did you chill out when you got back home?
No, I went on a destructive rampage and disappeared. My mom called Anthony Kiedis and said, “Seth’s fucking up.” He’s a buddy; the Peppers are a huge inspiration to us. Anthony found me and took me to lunch — where I tried to borrow money from him so I could get high. I didn’t finish my rampage for a couple of days, but he showed me that I had people who were worried and cared about me. Anthony’s this angel who appeared in my life.
What’s the craziest town you’ve ever been in?
There’s always a bad part of town.