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"If I Die Before I Wake": We Spoke to OPM About 15 Years of "Heaven is a Halfpipe"

The year 2000 was a beautiful time to be a kid. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 was on Playstation, Scary Movie was in the cinema and "Heaven is a Halfpipe" was on the radio.
October 15, 2015, 10:32am

The year 2000 was a beautiful time to be a kid. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 had just come out for the Playstation, Scary Movie was in the cinema, the sun shone every single god damn day, and a little hybrid scene known as “rap rock” was crossing the Atlantic en route to becoming a global phenomenon. There was Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Kid Rock and various other pioneers who became the spiritual arbiters of everything that could be or ever would be cool. Life was lit.

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Of all the single gems that marked the millennium year, there was arguably none more prolific than LA band OPM’s crossover hit “Heaven Is A Halfpipe”. “If I die before I wake / At least in heaven I can skate” - those unforgettable words, still etched deeper into my brain than the notions of left and right. Back in 2000, my friends and I were dweeby, eight-year-old kids in rural south England. We didn’t know how to skateboard, and we definitely didn’t know what packing a bong meant. And yet, somehow we feigned some sort of intrinsic connection with the American skater plight. The song didn’t just teach us about scaling half-pipes: it was about standing up for what you believed in, in spite of the figurative “man upon your back”. There’s even a reference to smoking dope with Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha! So that's: skating, sticking it to the man, secular spirituality, and novelty record-scratch sound effects. Was there anything this song didn’t have? The aforementioned Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 even had an unlockable level called ‘Skate Heaven’ set in outer space, although whether it was directly influenced by OPM, or vice versa, is still up for debate in selective internet forums.

“Heaven Is A Halfpipe” got to number four in the UK Charts, sold 265,000 copies over here, and won them a Kerrang! Award. They performed it on Top of the Pops, and their debut album Menace to Sobriety was released on Atlantic Records - things seemed to be going great for the Los Angeles band. Of course, the skater phase passed out of mainstream culture soon enough, then out of the schoolyard, and so too did the interest in rap rock. Atlantic didn’t want to release their second album anymore, and the band were forced to leave the contract. All the rap rock that remains now is the distant and fragmented digital echo of Rage Against the Machine bitterly beefing with Fred Durst on the internet. I, myself, have learned the hard way that knowing all the words to “Last Resort” just doesn’t cut it anymore in this careerist world of Tinder and trap.

But this did not deter old reliable OPM. Since their initial fame, they’ve released several new albums and singles. They just dropped an EP in fact, which comes with the aptly problematic title: Minge Dynasty. And their latest single "#Millionaire Like Me" makes no bones about tackling those real hard-hitting 2k15 issues: “She’s got the ‘likes’ cos she’s got the looks / but she should have stayed in school and read more books” - YEAH! But it’s doubtful it will ever reach the dizzy heights of “Heaven”. Recently back from the European ‘Minge Dynasty Tour’ - yep, there it is again - and with a re-issue of Menace to Sobriety scheduled for November, I spoke to frontman John Edney about life 15 years on from having a worldwide hit single.

Noisey: Hi John. ‘Heaven Is A Halfpipe’ was released in 2000, but really soared in 2001. It soundtracked most young lives for at least a year. So thank you for that. I was nine years old and I loved it, a friend of mine was eight and he bought the album at the time. Were you expecting it to have such mass appeal, even with the under-10s?
John Edney: [Laughs] No, I mean obviously I had no idea. I did think that maybe the person who would be interested in the song would be myself, when I was like 13. When you were 13 years old did you dream of packing a bong with Jesus?
I think that was just more like a clever lyric idea, but that’s definitely when I started smoking pot… yeah [laughs]. I had some funny dreams back then. I’m sure! Do you still get high? Do you still skate?
I don’t skate 'cos I broke two discs in my back, but I still surf a lot. I do jiu jitsu and martial arts because that helps build the muscles where the breaks are. And smoking pot nowadays just makes me really paranoid and depressed. When I was younger, it made me really positive and creative. I dunno, I just think when you get older it affects your brain differently - or maybe when I was younger I just dealt with it differently. I can’t do it anymore. I wish I could, I prefer it over drinking. Those were the days. What would be the best and worst things that happened to you because of Menace to Sobriety?
The best thing is that we’ve had a 15-year career and got to make music. I can’t really think of anything bad - nothing tragic. I’m sure there’s lots of things I could complain about, but I don’t like to focus on those things. There’s a mentality that we could have been dubbed a “one hit wonder” or whatever. That we “had success then” but we don’t now. Like, we just did a RockSound piece, I don’t know if you saw that? No, I didn’t. Why?
Well, we did this really cool interview with them, then they took the piece and the way they spun it… Well… It’s definitely like a British sort of spin on things. I remember Kerrang! did it to us back in the day too. They made millions of dollars off of us, we were a huge thing for them, and they blew us up, but in the end they tore us down. Get ‘em as big as you can and people can enjoy the drama of watching someone fall. It’s fucked that they do that, and then at the same time people complain that bands don’t play live or that the live music scene is dead but it’s like, the whole industry is dying and it’s because of this. I had that success and I’m still successful - you can’t take that away from me, you know what I mean? I’m not less successful because my next record wasn’t as big of a hit. Because you still have that hit in the first place?
Exactly! I did it. I already won so I’m not a loser now. I own a house, I own a studio, I’ve had success. In any other industry, they don’t do this. If you work for a bank and you close a 20 million deal, become president of the company, but you never land another 20 million deal, you’re still the president. It’s really strange. There are people who come see us at a club and they’re like “How come you’re not playing Wembley, you guys are huge!” and it’s like [laughs] if it was up to us, we would be there.

Hey, who wants to play Wembley anyway. By the way, I feel like I have to ask: what is your actual perception of the afterlife? Do you still think that heaven might be a half-pipe?
I think heaven is really about this life, not the afterlife. The fact that we don’t know about the afterlife is what keeps people grounded to some extent. It’s about finding your heaven on earth now. Enjoy it, especially while you’re young and you can still skate and have pipe.

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So you released an EP called Minge Dynasty recently.
It’s just kind of funny 'cos in America right now political correctness has become so over the top - especially anything to do with, you know, sex or body parts and whatnot. Our language comes from the UK. England has much more history than America does and they’re still much more liberal with the language, and I’ve always kind of admired that. I just came up with that title as kind of a joke, a play on words, because Americans don’t even know what the word “minge” means. We don’t use that word at all over here. Do you ever find it frustrating that you’re mainly remembered for just one song when you have all these other songs?
No. I mean, you’re lucky to have one little hit. To have one mega hit is super lucky. It’s funny having such a big hit, because we had other songs that were small hits - ‘El Capitan’ and ‘Stash’ but they were sort of dwarfed by its success. ‘Heaven Is A Halfpipe’ was sort of the perfect storm - it was a good song, but also it was timely. You had skateboarding culture blowing up at the same time and I think maybe the song had a lot to do with propelling that. Do you think if you were to release that song today for the first time it would get the same reception?
No. No?
Well, no. Then, the CD era was ending and Napster was just starting, so there was this new generation of kids who would see a song on MTV or Kerrang! TV or whatever and they knew about this new technology where they could go and take the song for free. So everyone in the world owns that song, but only a small portion of them actually paid for it. It’s different now with YouTube and Vevo, but we had things like Kerrang! that were this very concentrated area of exposure - and we don’t have that now. Like, Jay Z could put out a record now and not everyone would know, but back then that wouldn’t have happened. With “Heaven is a Halfpipe”, we got the tail end of the way that the music industry operated back then. There are artists out there who’ll get a million ‘likes’ on a song and think that propels you to some sort of rock star status or whatever, but those likes don’t pay any money. It’s great, your song got popular, but you didn’t make any money so how are you gonna go back in the studio and do it again? It takes money to do this stuff - Facebook and Instagram likes don’t make you money.

Thanks for speaking with us John.

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OPM will be reissuing Menace to Sobriety in November to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the record.