On Wednesday, Sept. 19, hard rockers Drowning Pool stormed the nation’s capital, though the date was not part of any concert tour. Instead of taking the stage to pound out their signature screams and raucous riffs, the group of Mike Luce, C.J. Pierce, Ryan McCombs and Stevie Benton stood with U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D – Va.) and members of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building to support the Lane Evans Mental Health Care Reform Bill. The measure, part of the band’s “This Is For the Soldiers” initiative, is designed to provide expanded mental health care coverage and mandatory screening for veterans returning home after serving their country.
The band became involved with the cause after twice playing to U.S. armed forces abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We came home and felt like just playing shows wasn’t enough,” bassist Stevie Benton says.
They were put in touch with the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and have since been championing some of the group’s causes, including the Lane Evans bill. Drowning Pool has also committed to donate 50 cents of every concert ticket sold from its current tour to the IAVA and another 50 cents to the United Service Organizations (USO), the organization responsible for recreational services to American troops. The band has additionally been auctioning off guitars at shows to raise money for the groups.
“We’re trying to keep the focus on the returning troops,” Benton says. “Half of them are coming back with mental health issues. This isn’t a debate about left and right, Democrats and Republicans, it’s about the people at the center of this issue that don’t get a say about where they’re deployed, they just serve this country.”
To their knowledge, there aren’t any bands engaging in similar activities right now, but Benton hopes that some will follow their lead, particularly listing a need by the USO for hard rock acts.
“There’s really no danger involved,” Benton says of playing in the two current American theaters of war. Though he was nervous the first time the band went over, he confesses that he got over it rather quickly. “Your audience is thousands of heavily armed men and women from the U.S. Armed Forces. So that helps.”
Even before directly stepping up to help the IAVA, Drowning Pool has had a close link with the military and its current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 2004 film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” director Michael Moore noted that the band’s song “Bodies,” with the lyrics “Let the bodies hit the floor,” was used by soldiers in tank divisions as they patrolled the streets of Iraq. In the film, the song, which is actually written about a mosh pit, is portrayed with a sadistic connotation. Benton, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“I think he completely misinterpreted it. He tried to present the song like it was a soundtrack for the war, when in reality people in the military use the song to pump themselves up and stay awake while doing extremely dangerous things,” he says. “If our song can help bring home these soldiers safely, then that's more than I ever could have dreamed of. I can't even tell you how humbling it is.”
The hard rock and metal genres have always dealt with a stigma that they are closely related to violent activities, and Benton thinks such a stereotype is unfair.
“There are all kinds of genres that you can link violent behavior to,” Benton says. “Rap. Country. I can’t tell you the number of country songs I hear that are about bar brawls.”
The link to the military didn’t end with Moore’s movie however. More recently, news broke that U.S. interrogators were using their music, along with others’, to break down detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. While some of his peers in the music industry have spoken out against the practice as inhumane or unethical (or were simply coping with bruised egos from the perception that their music was so annoying it could drive humans crazy), Benton puts another spin on it.
“Blaring loud music in order to obtain information that might prevent another 9/11 doesn’t seem that awful. I know others have spoken out about it, but I hope they just got some information that could save some American lives,” Benton says. “I just think it’s pretty funny that our songs make people break down and go crazy. I guess I should be offended by that, but I’m not. If you don’t like us, I could see how it might have that effect on people.”
Benton also admits that he would probably snap if Britney Spears songs were repeatedly blared at him … and if he had to watch her performance at the recent MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas again, he would likely stab out his eyes.
Benton and his mates in Drowning Pool will continue to tour through the holidays in the U.S., with each show raising money for the troops. They then plan on heading back for a third time to Iraq and Afghanistan in January.
The link between the band and the troops — to whom the group has dedicated its latest single, “Soldiers,” off new album Full Circle — is a tight one. Perhaps that closeness is because both parties know what it is to lose someone.
On August 14, 2002, then-lead singer Dave Williams died of a rare form of heart disease while on tour.
“For about a month afterwards we just shut ourselves in and tried to get over it, but we realized that we would never get over it,” Benton says. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Dave. You just make it a part of you.”
The band tried to move on, bringing in new singer Jason Jones, but friction soon forced him out, making way for current singer, former SOiL singer Ryan McCombs.
“We brought in a guy we didn’t know well and immediately we had personality clashes. It just ended badly,” Benton says. “Now the band is much more back to the way it used to be when we were starting out — a family vibe.”
A family that apparently also includes the men and women of the U.S. military.
• For more on Drowning Pool, visit www.drowningpool.com. For more on the Lane Evans Mental Health Care Reform Bill and to sign the petition, visit www.thisisforthesoldiers.com.