Joseph "Violent J" Bruce is on the phone from a Los Angeles drug rehabilitation facility, where he's kicking an addiction to oxycodone.
The Insane Clown Posse frontman, who entered treatment in late September, says he's feeling clear and focused, and is relieved to be taking a break from his professional routine — work, record, tour, repeat — for the first time since forming ICP more than 30 years ago.
"I haven't stepped out of my world this hard since I went to camp as a kid," says Bruce, 49, on the phone last week. "But I'm having a positive experience. I'm growing from this. This is really interesting, fascinating stuff."
The break won't last long. Official duties beckon at the end of the month, as ICP will perform its 28th annual Halloween concert, Hallowicked, Oct. 31 at the Majestic Theatre in Detroit. The concert doubles as a release party for the group's latest album, "Yum Yum Bedlam," its 16th studio effort and its first since 2019's "Fearless Fred Fury." And on Oct. 26, the documentary "United States of Insanity" hits theaters, detailing the group's yearslong battle with the FBI.
The flurry of activity comes following Bruce's summer announcement that ICP is taking a step back from touring. The notorious Faygo-throwing, face-painted rap duo — known at one time as the world's worst band, now enjoying a revival as an internet-friendly meme machine — plans to do one more tour, scheduled for 2022, and then reduce its live performances to one concert a month. That plan was enacted after Bruce was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, earlier this year.
But Bruce says he has a positive outlook toward the future. ICP has endured controversies, setbacks, ridicule and other hardships over the last three decades, and he says now is as good a time as ever to be an Insane Clown.
"Despite heart failure, despite being in this treatment center, I'm on one of the high plains of my life," says Bruce, his usual thunderous pro wrestler delivery softened, lightened. "I'm up there, I'm having a wonderful time. Everything is right where it needs to be."
Bruce, a divorced father of two (his children are 16 and 14), started taking oxycodone to deal with discomfort in his feet that came from being overweight and performing live shows. To cope with the pain, he'd pop pills. Then he started taking them regularly at night, after his kids were in bed, to help him fall asleep.
He says he was never "haunted" by pills, but he took them regularly enough that he feared detoxing from them. When he'd come off oxy, he got used to taking Suboxone, an opiate blocker that, when placed under the tongue to dissolve, does its job but leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
In late September while in Los Angeles, Bruce was weaning off pills and he took a dose of Suboxone, but in an effort to thwart the bad taste, "I chewed it up in a wad of Starburst, thinking it would dissolve in my stomach and I would be fine," he says. "Sixteen hours later, I started going through withdrawal."
Bruce was rushed to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai but was later taken to a treatment facility that offers individualized services to help treat addiction. It's his first time in a rehab facility.
"This whole thing is a departure from everything I've known, but I'm having a really positive experience," says the rapper. "Sitting in a group discussion and hearing people talking about their problems is right at home for me, you know? Then I did yoga for the first time in my life about a week ago, and I can still feel that (expletive)."
Bruce says he plans to return to Detroit several days ahead of his group's sold-out Hallowicked show, which after several years at the Russel Industrial Center is returning to the Majestic Theatre, the site of the first Hallowicked concert in 1994. (Due to COVID, last year's Hallowicked show unfolded inside the living room of Bruce's home, for a small group of invited guests and livestreaming viewers on the internet.)
It will be ICP's first concert since this summer's Gathering of the Juggalos festival in Thornville, Ohio, where Bruce made public his plans to scale back from touring. "It was emotional, there was a lot going on there," Bruce says. "Nobody ever wants to admit they have to take a step back and you may be weaker than you were before. That's an awful thing to have to admit. But at the end of the day everybody eventually has to do it, because that's life."
The announcement came after Bruce learned he had a-fib in the springtime. He was feeling himself getting winded when walking down his driveway to his mailbox, or when stepping between his home and his recording studio, which is housed in a separate building on his property in southwestern Oakland County.
He attributed it to being out of shape after not performing any concerts during COVID, but a doctor's visit resulted in him learning he had a-fib, or an irregular heartbeat. Corrective surgery was performed, but within weeks his heartbeat was once again out of rhythm, and an additional surgery was considered risky.
That's when Bruce decided it was something he could live with, but he'd have to modify the group's rigorous touring schedule moving forward. The biggies on ICP's annual calendar — Juggalo Weekend in February, the Gathering of the Juggalos in summertime, Hallowicked in October and the Big Ballers Xmas Party in December — will not be affected, but the days of five or six live shows a week, with travel in between, are over.
The group's recording schedule is not expected to be altered.
"Yum Yum Bedlam" is ICP's new set, the latest in its series of Joker's Card releases, and the first to be centered on a female character. The album's themes revolve around temptation, seduction, faith, betrayal and living without regret, and Bruce says it's a very personal album that was at least partially inspired by his relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
"The new album has a big message, and that's (forget) regret," he says. "What is regret, anyway? You sit there and beat yourself up over some (expletive)? If you're the judge and jury over yourself, why you gonna sentence yourself to something harsh? Let yourself go free! I made epic mistakes in my life, huge ones. I'm done kicking my a— over that. And if someone can't forgive me for it, then I don't need to be around that person. Regret is the devil's favorite tool, it's an awful thing, because there's nothing you can do about it. You can't go back and change it, so why are you regretting it?"
The "Yum Yum Bedlam" CD — yes, the group remains tied to the physical product era — will be available at the Halloween show, and the album will show up on streaming services at a later date.
"Yum Yum Bedlam" was pushed back from its original December 2020 release date, and a March release date also came and went, although an 8-song EP, "Yum Yum's Lure," was released in its place. "It just wasn't ready," Bruce says, "so we kept on recording." The album includes a guest spot from Sponge's Vinnie Dombrowski, and Bruce and his ICP cohort, Joseph "Shaggy 2 Dope" Utsler, are recording a music video for the track "Something to See" later this month in L.A.
After premiering at Austin, Texas' Fantastic Fest last month, the ICP documentary "United States of Insanity" is slated to play in theaters one night only on Oct. 26. It centers on the group's fight with the FBI, which in 2011 classified the group's fans, known as Juggalos, as a gang. ICP sued the FBI, lost several cases in court and wound up staging a march on Washington in 2017.
Bruce has mixed feelings about the documentary. "I hope it does really well, I'm just so over the whole FBI thing," he says. "After we marched on Washington, I just never wanted to think about it again."
The documentary includes interviews with Bruce, Utsler, Bruce's mother and brother, and footage of Bruce at home with his family. It was directed by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez, the team behind 2012's "Burn," which looked at a team of firefighters in Detroit.
Bruce is hoping the documentary can spark enough interest to lead to his passion project, a full-on ICP documentary that goes deep into the group's history, its mythology, its ups and downs and all arounds over the last 30-plus years, from getting dumped by Disney over 1997's "The Great Milenko" to going viral for 2009's "Miracles" video and everything in between.
"All those interesting things that happened in our life, we want to do something that covers all of that," he says, adding he sees it as a multi-part saga for a streaming service. "There's still a lot more to our story that we want to tell."
And that story is still playing out, which surprises even Bruce. The group kept busy during COVID by staging events for its Patreon page, amassing about 2,500 paid subscribers — not huge, "but it's still mad lucrative," Bruce says. Episodes have ranged from talk-show-style discussions to live performances to a pro-wrestling event inside Bruce's home that left his kitchen in disarray.
ICP is even enjoying TikTok success — the group's 2009 track "Chop Chop Slide" is currently a Top 10 hit on the video-sharing social networking service — and Bruce has an upbeat and optimistic attitude toward today's youth. "I'm so proud of today's generation, period," he says, congratulating Gen-Z for its tolerance of gay people and its dismissal of bullies. "I feel so safe when I think about the future."
That includes his health. As for the oxy, "it boils down to a simple method that I use, and that is failure's not an option. It's not an option to (expletive) with that (expletive) no more, for me, you know what I mean?" Bruce says. "It's a bad thing. I know that I have to face that. And if I make it an option, I'm going to find a way to weasel back. When it's not an option, that's it, it don't exist for me. And that's my guarantee that I'll be good."
A few years ago, Bruce remembers meeting Detroit rapper Danny Brown for the first time and telling him to enjoy being new on the scene, because you only get the chance to be new once. He says he now has a new message for him.
"What I'm going to tell him next time I see him is, 'Hey man, keep doing what you love.' Because when you reach legendary status, that is the most rewarding time by far," he says. "Being new is exciting, but being looked at in high regard and people saying, 'thumbs up, you guys have done it, I'm giving you your props,' that is hands down so much more rewarding than anything I've ever experienced."
And it's nothing, he says, he ever expected.
"I thought it would be every bit of the opposite of this when we were 32 years into our career," Bruce says. "I thought we'd be struggling and striving, and it's nothing like that. I don't even worry about my kids' future. Things have been really, really good. I feel like we got this sewed up."
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