At his lowest point, Shane Bunting was a zombie of a human being, laid out in a pill-fuelled stupor as porn played on TV and lit cigarettes routinely fell from his lips and burned holes through his couch. He was in the depths of an Oxycontin addiction that had him taking up to 20 tablets a day, sometimes the only variation in his diet being Percocet, Vicodin, Viagra, and Soma. Now, clean, Bunting—better known as Mad Child of Swollen Members—says the three-year addiction cost him millions.

“I spent $500,000 on pills over the last three years, and I estimate I’ve lost about $2 million because of my drug addiction,” says Mad Child, on the line from his Kelowna home. “I had invested a fair amount of the money I made into real estate, and knowing myself, if I had not been on drugs, I would have paid attention to where the market was going. I would have gotten rid of some of my properties in the right six-month period versus not paying attention to them at all and not caring if I had tenants.”

He says the downward spiral began in 2006, shortly after the lukewarm reception of Swollen Members’ fourth studio album, Black Magic, and worsened after Nettwerk Management dropped the group because of Mad Child’s well-documented affiliation with the Hells Angels. (Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, confirmed that this was the reason but declined to comment further.)

“I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest with you,” Mad Child says. “It kind of hurt a bit when we got dropped from Nettwerk. What could I do? I wasn’t going to stop hanging around with my friends because somebody said that I should, so I didn’t.”

Prevail, his fellow MC in Swollen Members, says the rest of the group, which includes producer Rob the Viking, were oblivious to the addiction for about the first year.

“When we did find out about it, it took me and Rob by a bit of a surprise,” he says during a phone interview in Vancouver. “I think about groups like AC/DC and Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some of those guys have lost members of their groups to similar addictions. Those groups stick together and find the strength within their circle to lift each other up when times are tough and we’re thankful to have Mad Child back in full form.”

Swollen Members are currently on a North American tour, promoting their new album, Armed to the Teeth. The 18-track disc features Tech N9ne, Talib Kweli, La Coka Nostra, and Glasses Malone, and replaces what Mad Child calls the “abstract expressionism” of their earlier records with a more “street-oriented” sound.

The first single “Warrior,” for example, piles tales of sex, drugs, and miscellaneous braggadocio atop a bed of heavy bass and electric guitars, while “Porn Star” details the unscrupulous goings-on of an adult film star, making references to Vivid Entertainment, Reality Kings, Ron Jeremy and Cherokee D’ass. Gone are the Dungeons & Dragons references of yesteryear.

Both Mad Child and Prevail attribute much of this to the involvement of 20-year-old Vancouverite Tre Nyce, the newest addition to their Battle Axe label.

“He’s got a great work ethic,” says Mad Child. “He can make three, four songs a day, no problem. I was like, ”˜Wow, I’ve got to step up my game.’ He really helped to bring me back on to the frontline and be able to knock out a few verses in a day as well. That young hunger is back, with the whole group, because of him.”

Prevail notes Tre Nyce’s ear for music and seemingly effortless songwriting ability.

“Our first time in the studio, he had been there for maybe 15 minutes,” he says. “Rob put the track on, 30 seconds later he [Tre Nyce] steps out on the patio to have a breath of fresh air, turns around, looks at everybody and says, ”˜I have the chorus.’ That ended up being ”˜Bang Bang’. You’re going to really see this cat’s talent on the record.”

Swollen Members’ next release will be Monsters in the Closet 2, a collection of B-sides and unreleased singles in the same vein as the original.

While Mad Child says battling his addiction is no longer a daily struggle, he concedes it’s something he still has to work at.

“When you come back from doing three years of damage to your life emotionally and financially and physically, it’s going to take more than three months to resolve all the problems you’ve created for yourself,” he says. “I’ve really got to grind to get back on my feet, but I find when I keep myself busy and keep working toward goals, that really helps.”

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