It’s 2008, and Escape The Fate are about to play their first show after kicking out troubled frontman Ronnie Radke. This is not going to be your everyday show. Craig Mabbitt—recently kicked out of Blessthefall—is the man charged with the task of replacing Radke on vocals. It’s a task that, on any other day, might seem like a-day-in-the-life for any professional musician. But this is not any other day: Radke—convicted felon, drug addict and scolded musician hell-bent on taking back his band—is in the crowd, antagonizing his former bandmates and rallying fans to his cause. The crowd is hostile. Mabbitt forgets lyrics. What happens next is the first public shot fired in a band feud that will stretch years, inflate egos, make headlines and divide fans. Escape The Fate are readying to begin their next song, “The Flood,” as Radke and the crowd hurl insults at the band. Founding bassist Max Green decides he’s had enough and heads for the mic.
“This next song is called, ‘If I Could Stay Clean, I Could Stay With My Band.’”
The crowd erupts.
“I can stay fucking clean, you dick!” Radke screams back from the crowd, “I can stay clean, you dick!”
The band explode into the song.
“I can’t believe the drama that I’m in,” Mabbitt sings, “all because I’m…” Max Green cuts in and screams, “…Leaving. You. Behind.”
This is the kind of band drama you can’t script for reality TV. You just can’t make up this level of grandiosity. It’s the stuff of back lounges, alcohol, tours, drugs, music, prison, death, loyalty, abandonment, more drugs—and all happening within a makeup-smeared music scene that an outsider would be quick to refer to as “emo.”
You wouldn’t believe it happened if we didn’t have it on video.
The show and its drama were over, but the fans were just getting started. “Craig vs. Ronnie” was the talk of the scene. Fans drew their lines, blogged fanatically and even made their own T-shirts (“Team Ronnie”)—and wore them to ETF shows, eager to clash. It was not uncommon to see members of Escape The Fate (primarily an under siege Craig Mabbitt) in verbal spats with their audience.
Almost as if to further provoke their divided fanbase, Escape The Fate immediately headed into the studio and began recording their first album with Mabbitt—their first album “without Ronnie,” as it more commonly came to be known.
Eventually, Radke went to prison. The singer would have far more than just concert barricades blocking him from his former bandmates-turned-enemies: miles of desert, metal bars and time. Lots of time. But simply “going to prison” would be far too tame for Radke. The singer made sure he went to prison on a chariot of fire, at the very bottom of his opiate-fueled downward spiral, in the largest spectacle possible: There was a sting operation with undercover cops; his face was all over the news; the police had a helicopter.
What did Radke do to end up such a wanted man? It’s complicated. It’s actually more about what he didn’t do. Ronnie Radke didn’t kill Michael Cook—a Las Vegas man who was shot by Radke’s friend, Chase Rader, during a fight that Radke was a part of. But Radke was charged with battery for his part in the fight. Rader was let off on a self-defense claim, and the third convicted individual committed suicide. Radke’s addiction would only further complicate his legal situation.
“Ronnie didn’t go to jail for killing anyone; he went to jail for not being able to piss in a cup and pass a drug test. Period.”—Max Green on the AP Podcast, 2009
The walls of Radke’s prison were not nearly high enough to keep his voice contained. Likely with the help of a visiting friend, Radke was able to frequently update his blog with scathing attacks on his former bandmates.
A blog posted to Radke’s Myspace page, during his incarceration:
"I found out the reason why you [Max Green] didn't come ... you were talking to that kid's mom the whole time, stabbing me in my back. She said she went to your house the day before my court date, but I wouldn't have shown up either if I was playing both sides. YOU are the real reason I'm in here, because you're too scared to fix your own problems. I just want to let you know Maxwell, that your time's coming. Trust me, you’re gunna get what you deserve! I'm more clean minded than ever. Escape the Fate is ME and will ALWAYS be ME. And YOU will forever live in MY shadows"
After taunting Green, Radke disappeared back into the world of prison for a brief period of silence. Soon enough, he was back blogging on the internet with a few choice words for his replacement, Craig Mabbitt.
"I didn't say anything about this before ... But you really are trying to be like me ... Fucking my ex girlfriend now, huh!!? So ... tell me ... How does my dick taste?? ... Aaaaand my microphone?? How is it living my life?? Must be pretty rad ... I would know... Don't get used to it. When I get out, there won't be much left for you to live in cause the real deal will be back ... But hey, maybe you could sing back up in my band!!"
Crazy as Radke sounds, it was true: Mabbitt had started seeing Radke’s ex-girlfriend, Mandy Murders, a scene-queen model best known for her role as the “Juliet” in Escape The Fate’s music video for the song “Not Good Enough For Truth In Cliché.” For something that was already so personal, things had just gotten more personal. How was Radke even able to hear about the relationship while in prison? Maybe he saw it on YouTube?
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“IT has only just begun ... A storm is coming, and you can't stop it ... I would rather be in prison and happy, because I know who I am and what I have become, then be in a band with a bunch of liars and backstabbers ... Like I said before ... I am your [Max Green’s] foundation ... No matter where you go and what you do I'll ALWAYS be IN YOUR HEAD!! You must not remember the day we were all at Omars and you all walk in with your sea shell necklaces and Quicksilver t-shirts! After I got finished, you left looking just like ME ... Cause that's what you will always be, an image of me and what I made you ..."—Ronnie Radke blog post, 2008
Escape The Fate began distancing themselves from Radke. When the band entered the studio with producer John Feldman (the Used, Atreyu) to record their first post-Radke album, they were less-than-prepared. Max Green explained on the AP Podcast in 2009: “With Feldman he was like, ‘Just give me the rawest shit you guys got. Give me riffs. Give me hooks.’ I was kind of like, ‘We don’t have any songs. Are you sure we’re ready to go in?’” Despite their lack of preparation, the band were able to whip together a pretty successful album, This War Is Ours, which debuted at No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and sold 13,000 copies its first week.
Naturally, Radke had strong opinions about the album, which he adamantly explained in his first interview from prison:
It was around this time that Radke did what any imprisoned singer would do: start a band. Falling In Reverse (originally named From Behind These Walls) became a sort of sleeper band: The members were friends of Radke, they were active on social media, they visited him in prison, but they couldn’t really be a band until he was released. They were basically just a Myspace page with attitude and a future promise.
Time passed. Escape The Fate toured. Radke remained in prison, writing the songs that would become The Drug In Me Is You. But whatever wounds time had healed were quickly reopened and stuffed with salt by Craig Mabbitt’s antics and comments on stage. Things were beginning to boil over again.
“You miss the old singer? He’s locked up in Nevada. Go suck his fucking cock.”—Craig Mabbitt to a heckler at Warped Tour in 2009