Just looking at Chuck Mosley, you can tell that nothing comes easy for him.
As he steps out of his silver Escalade EXT in front of Ante Up Studios one afternoon in early July, he's a frazzled mess. His trademark medusa-like cornrows are even more disheveled than usual, his Hawaiian-print shirt is wrinkled and unbuttoned, his Dickies sag and his work boots aren't laced all the way up. He's been sick recently and has just returned from a bureaucratic odyssey, applying for a new birth certificate and Social Security card — he lost both — so that he can get a new drivers license — also lost — so that he can fly to a gig in Milwaukee.
Mosley cracks open an early-afternoon Blue Moon and then quietly excuses himself to clean up the floor after it fizzes over.
"The way I walked in here, I looked like I was all fucked up," admits Mosley as he slouches on the studio's leather sofa. "I'm just tired. I've been sick and didn't eat all weekend for like two and a half days. We practiced last night, and that was like the first day I felt OK. I'm not on drugs; I don't have the energy for drugs anymore."
But, at 49, he still hasn't lost his passion for singing. The former frontman for the avant-metal band Faith No More has finally finished a 10-years-in-the-making solo album, the aptly titled Will Rap Over Hard Rock for Food. Despite Mosley's long layoff, the album is getting some national attention. Billboard magazine has already covered it, and AOL is streaming tracks prior to its release next week. And that Milwaukee gig is opening for Korn in front of 5,000 fans.
But this recent success was hard-won. The tale behind the L.A. native's journey to Cleveland is full of twists and setbacks and just-missed opportunities. Just talking about it adds to Mosley's exhaustion. As we listen to the album, which has just gone through final mastering, Mosley nods off, even though studio owner and engineer Michael Seifert has the speakers cranked up so that the studio walls are practically shaking.
Born in Hollywood, Mosley was given up for adoption before he even had the chance to meet his parents. He says he has since discovered that his mom was Jewish and his dad was African American and Native American. (In a strange coincidence, his adoptive parents were of the same ethnic backgrounds.) He studied classical piano for 10 years and was also a motocross enthusiast.
By his late teens, Mosley was hanging out in Venice Beach, spending as much time near the ocean as possible. Later he started attending shows in East Hollywood and joined a band called the Animated with Billy Gould. That lasted a few years, until Gould left for UC-Berkeley.
Gould would go on to form Faith No Man, which evolved into Faith No More, an art-metal band that had a rotating cast of singers. "They liked somebody and would be enthusiastic until they decided they didn't like them anymore," says Mosley of the band's treatment of vocalists. But the guys liked Mosley, who sang with them whenever they played L.A., so they asked him to join the group. He replaced Courtney Love.
"They had three shows booked and had gotten rid of her," says Mosley, noting that Love had become involved in a complex love triangle within the band. "I did those shows in San Francisco, and I just came out really aggressive. We might have even practiced for those shows. Their fans liked me, and other people around them told them I was good enough. Then it came to going in the studio and actually singing. I could croon a little because I liked David Bowie, but I couldn't do much else." Mosley says he simply "rapped over the stuff where I couldn't hear a melody."
The band's first album, 1985's We Care a Lot was issued on the indie label Mordam and generated a bona fide hit with the anti-anthem title track. (It's now the theme for the cable reality show Dirty Jobs.) Looking back, Mosley says his voice was a work in progress.
"When it came to the stuff that required more singing, I had to really focus to get in tune," he says. "I hear myself out of tune a couple of times on those first two records. You couldn't adjust anything. It was just whatever you could get. [Producer] Matt [Wallace] was good at getting the best out of me."
Right after the release of the equally ambitious Introduce Yourself in 1987, Mosley was booted from the band. He says that contrary to rumors, his drug problem began after his dismissal, not before.
"When we were in the band, I didn't have a drug problem," he says. "I would do drugs. But after the third show and the band became serious, I realized I couldn't do drugs because of the energy output. Whenever we were working, I didn't do drugs. Sometimes people offer you stuff on the road, and sometimes I take it. You know, mushrooms and acid and a line of coke. It was on downtime when I got bored that I would go off and do stuff. But that wasn't why they fired me. They said I quit, and I told them they can't say that. Then rumors started up on the Internet, and I became a real terrible person. It became a liability on the business side. That hurt me financially when I wanted to get a record deal."
It turned out that band couldn't just fire Mosley; it had to buy him out. Still, that was little comfort when "Epic" — sung by Mosley's replacement, Mike Patton — reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1990 and powered the album The Real Thing to platinum status.
Meanwhile Mosley got back together with his pre-Faith No More punk band, Haircuts That Kill. In 1990, he was asked to go on the road with Bad Brains, to replace singer HR. Mosley calls that two-year arrangement "boot camp for rock 'n' roll."
"It was tough," he says. "Those guys were the hardest on me. They made me look at myself as a singer. I never took myself too seriously until then. I still kind of don't. I'm an OK singer. Mike Patton is a way better singer. But I have my own style. I can beat everybody else on originality. I know my limits. [Bad Brains] told me I was worse than anybody else, but that made me try harder."
After his Bad Brains stint, Mosley put together a hard-rock band called Cement that released a couple of albums and toured, until a horrible auto accident left Mosley with a broken back. The injury, combined with other life changes (most notably, a girlfriend and daughter) prompted him to leave the rock 'n' roll lifestyle behind.
In 1996 Mosley decided to leave L.A. for Cleveland ("cheaper real estate," he says) and music for cooking, at least temporarily. His "five-year plan" involved bonding with his daughter and recording his first solo album. "I was cash-broke by the time I got here," he recalls. "I'd been living off royalties since 1990 or whatever. It's always been enough to pay all the big bills, like the rent and the car. I needed to get a job to pay for the record. I wasn't rich. I've never been rich."
While working at restaurants in Cleveland, Mosley heard about the up-and-coming Michael Symon and hoped to join Symon when he opened his own place, Lola. But that deal took too long to materialize, and Mosley went instead to the High and Dry (now the South Side) and eventually became manager there.
Mosley laments the missed opportunity with Symon. But with his musical career now on the rebound, Mosley says his service-industry days are behind him.
Two years after moving to Cleveland, Mosley teamed up with Cobra Verde/Uptown Sinclair guitarist Tim Parnin, Cement drummer Doug Duffy and Abdullah bassist Ed Stephens and started working on some tracks, a few of which he had demoed in L.A.
Parnin had seen Mosley perform with Faith No More back in 1987, at a Halloween show in New York City, and had kept in touch with him ever since. After that initial meeting, Mosley played with Parnin's band Sons of Elvis a few times.
"He's been calling me every day about this album for, like, 10 years," says Parnin, who works as a web designer at Cleveland-based Telarc Records. "I've been so busy with other stuff, I keep saying, 'My schedule does not allow for the hypothetical right now. You have to give me a when and where. I will drop what I'm doing and be there.' People would be like, 'How's the Chuck thing coming?' I would say, 'Let me give you a barometer. My son Eric is five years old now and the last time we played was before he was born.' I thought my son would be in college before it's done."
Despite the scheduling frustrations, Parnin still loves playing with Mosley.
"He's a great friend of mine, and I love jamming with him," he says. "Chuck's one in a million. He's a living, breathing rock star. He's completely nuts and cool. He's a trainwreck and genius, all wrapped into one. He's like a diamond. You have to chop away all this mud and gook and stuff. Once you dig in, you see the kernel of talent. He has killer songs, and he has his own style."
The road has been long and littered with obstacles. Early recording sessions with Mosley's band, Vanduls Ugenst Allliderasy (the fucked-up spelling changes constantly), went nowhere. Mosley says the record's producer ripped him off to the tune of about $15,000. Seifert stepped in to produce, but the studio he took them to turned out to be "a disaster," says Seifert. "We walked in one day, and the board was disassembled in the middle of the room. It was the worst session I've ever been on in my entire life."
"A total nightmare," adds Mosley. "I got a shitty demo for $15,000."
Seifert always liked the songs, however, and promised Mosley he'd get the record out one way or another.
Seifert eventually built his own studio, Ante Up Audio, in a strip of warehouses off St. Clair in the East 30s, and invited Mosley to record there. That was two years ago. In the past six months, he and Mosley have focused on finishing the album, adding guests like Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie guitarist John 5, Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Michael Cartellone and Korn singer Jonathan Davis, who names Mosley as a chief influence.
"I think Chuck is a genius writer and has been underestimated over the years," says Seifert. "For me, that was the driving force. I felt bad that he got ripped off, but that wasn't enough for me to want to make a record. I just really liked his songs and thought people should hear them. We had a lot of fun making the record. We didn't want to make some cutting-edge, super-modern-sounding album. I think it's a bit like an '80s or '90s record, but it doesn't sound dated. It's just a big, unapologetic rock record."
The album kicks off with a psychedelic orchestral intro that sounds like music you might hear at a haunted house. Then it lurches into "Enabler," a dense, White Zombie-like tune that finds Mosley paired with Davis. "Let's turn your life around, baby," he beckons over a sinewy guitar solo.
A bit schizophrenic at times, the album could be separated into acoustic and electric halves. But the one constant is a sonic density. Seifert's production is meticulous, with songs like the slow-building "Tractor" and the punchy "Punk Rock Movie" carefully balancing screaming and singing. Mosley describes "Sophie," a ballad about his daughter, as "half homage to her coming into existence and half apology for bringing her into this world like this." The tune certainly shows a more sensitive side to a guy known for his sarcastic dismissals.
Mosley says Faith No More invited him to join their reunion tour that's currently traipsing across Europe; the guys even asked him to sing the Peaches and Herb tune "Reunited" at the kick-off date. But the lost birth certificate and Social Security card prevented him from traveling overseas.
"What are you gonna do?" he shrugs. "Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, but I can't be like that forever. I'm getting too old for that. Plus, when I get focused on playing, all that stuff goes away. It's not even an issue for me."
Mosley hopes he can get back out on the road once Will Rap is released. He dismisses the notion that he has some serious work ahead preparing for the rigors of touring.
"I'll be the same way I've been since my 20s," he says. "You sleep all day, and by the time the show's over, that's the one time I don't feel any pain. You're all amped up and can't sleep. The only difference now is that I'm playing guitar more. It's my name on the band, so I can. I just like to stand there and look cool on the guitar. I depend on feedback and wah-wah and delay and stuff like that. A lot of people don't like that because I'm not jumping around and breaking my head open. But I think I'm ready for the road. If I can just make a living at it, I'll be happy."
Will Rap Over Hard Rock for Food is available now through local label Reversed Image Unlimited's website (reversedimageunlimited.com) as an exclusive deluxe edition and hits retail stores on August 11. The release party will be held at the Beachland Ballroom on Friday August 14th with Red Giant and The Bomb Selleck.