Craig Mabbitt-Sno Babies

Since 2006, Better Noise Music has been consistently putting out hard-rock and heavy-metal music from huge acts such as Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch and Nothing More. Earlier this year, the label’s founder Allen Kovac, who also heads 10th Street Entertainment, launched a sister company, Better Noise Films, and hit the ground running with the fascinating and poignant film Sno Babies. Sno Babies will be on-demand via iTunes, Amazon, Google, Fandango, Rogers and Vudu this Tuesday, Sept. 29.

The film was directed by Bridget Smith (The Retaliators) and written by Mike Walsh (Trust Dance). It centers around two friends, Kristen and Hannah, who live in a typical middle-class American neighborhood and struggle with heroin addiction. The movie shows the harsh realities of the drug and how easy it is to hide the signs of addiction.

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Because Better Noise Films literally puts its money where its mouths are, its share of profits from the film are being donated to the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation (GRI), and all artist royalties from the soundtrack, which includes Escape The Fate, From Ashes To New, Bad Wolves and many more, are being donated to GRI with matching contributions by Better Noise Films.

Alternative Press spoke with Escape The Fate’s singer Craig Mabbitt, whose band have an incredible multilayered song on the soundtrack called “Walk On,” and Paola Andino (Queen Of The South), who plays the aforementioned Hannah, about Sno Babies. Like the movie itself, neither Mabbitt nor Andino hold back on the film’s taboo topic of addiction, its stigmas and potential consequences. It’s a hard movie to watch but quite important for all to see. Read exactly why below.

Let’s start with Craig. I know that addiction has been a very important part of your story, and I encourage you to be as open as possible. How has that shaped you as a human today and as a musician?

CRAIG MABBITT: Very good question. “Important” is  an interesting word. I do think at this point in my life, now that I’m recovering from that addiction—about damn time—important’s a good word because I just feel like it gives someone the ability, if you’ve been that far down and you’ve been there, it gives you the knowledge and the ability to come from that and not only help yourself and rise higher than you were, but to help others in the process. So it has been a battle for me since I was 14. I’m 33 now, so as far as my memory can go, like my entire life almost, you know?

How long have you been sober?

MABBITT: Coming up on 170 days. So meeting people over Zoom has been the new thing for me.

Honestly, during this pandemic, it’s how everything is. Do you do actual AA, NA or any 12-step type programs on Zoom like this?

MABBITT: Yes. All of my AA meetings are all Zoom calls. You’ve got guys in there with 10 years, 20 years, 30 years [of experience in the program] that are like, “You know what? It takes a lot of strength to become sober, but the fact that you’re doing during COVID and just on Zoom meetings—I’d never be able to do that.” But when you’re new, the Zoom AA is all I know. So for me, it’s working. So I don’t even know what in-person stuff feels like. That adds a sense of excitement for me to be able to do things like that and have that human contact and be in person as soon as all of this stuff goes away and we’re able to shake hands and hug each other again.

Yeah, the air-five has been getting a little bit tiresome. Paola, do you have any personal stories relating to addiction?

PAOLA ANDINO: So growing up in Texas, it isn’t as prominent here as it is necessary in the Northeast. I know places like Pennsylvania, of course, specifically Philadelphia, New York and then states like New Mexico, for example, you see it a lot more. So it wasn’t like it was in my school district per se, but I do have a very close friend that lost a sibling to addiction, so it’s more just like you know this person that knows this person. And then having filmed in the Philadelphia area and then on set we did have families come on that had lost loved ones to addiction, which made it even more real.

Because obviously this is happening, but it’s one of those things where it’s like you hear about it, but then when you meet someone that’s actually experienced it, and you look them in the eyes and you see everything that’s going on there, it’s really, really impactful. And then when you start reading up on it because after I was involved in the project and I really dived deep into researching about this, it was extremely eye-opening how common this is and relevant. And how it’s really not talked about enough, so that’s why Sno Babies is so important because we really dive deep.

I think sometimes that kind of effect really can help. If one person watches and it really changes their life for the better, then you did your job.

ANDINO: Absolutely. I think that’s really the message that we’re riding home and what we reminded ourselves [of] while we were filming throughout production. I think that if, how you said it, we could save one person’s life, then that’s all that we really could ask for. But we’re really hoping that it does make a big difference.

This is a question for both of you, and we can start with Craig. A part of the movie that I noticed is that many addicts hide their drug use, or they hide their addiction, and Craig, you said you’ve been using since you were 14. Obviously at that point, you weren’t in a full-time band or living on your own. How did that start, and how were you able to really successfully hide something like that?

MABBITT: Well, so I had a lot of personal trauma and drama that I was going through in my home life. You can see it just in the previews of the film, where they’re all having a good time at a house party, and that’s how it starts. You start using. It makes you feel a little better. You start using more and more. Then you’re surrounded by all these “yes people” that are having a good time with you, and you don’t personally see where you cross that threshold from “This is fun” to “Now I’m using to really drown out these feelings.” It takes you a long time to realize that you have a problem.

Sometimes the people closest to you are the ones that realize you have an issue and maybe you need some help. When you’re not to that point yet, you feel like these people are just against you. So you go to these “yes people” more and more, and you start using more and more. And you start drowning it out more and more. It’s never-ending. It’s just a vicious, vicious cycle.  

Paola, what about you? Especially for your character in the film, did you notice anything about hiding drug use? 

ANDINO: Yes. Absolutely. And I think it’s even easier for Kristen and Hannah to hide the signs and for the parents to miss it because they’re so busy. So they’re very well-meaning parents. They do love and care about their daughters, but they’re preoccupied with work, with their own problems, with their own achievements, [so] it’s really easy for them to overlook it. And then Kristen and Hannah are so close—they do everything together—that this is something that becomes so normal to them. It’s their normalcy. You see them get home from school, and they’re taking off their backpacks, taking off their shoes, on their phones talking about this or that. Meanwhile, they’re setting up to start shooting up. It’s very, very disturbing because it’s their everyday norm.

A routine: brush your teeth, shoot up.

ANDINO: Yes! You would think it’s like, “Oh, let’s watch some YouTube videos. Let’s practice a new makeup look. Let’s do our nails.” No. These girls are shooting up. So, it’s really hard to watch and it’s really disturbing. But when they are addicted, that is their normalcy. That’s what they do every day when they get home from school. That’s all they really know. But at the end of the day, it’s a coping mechanism because they’re each dealing with their own struggles and they’re each trying to find a way to escape all of these overwhelming feelings that they’re having.

But because they’re both doing it together, it’s not like someone could tell the other person, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t do this.” They just cling onto each other, cling onto addiction, and there’s no way out really. They don’t see that there’s other facets and other ways to get help.

You’re coming from two completely different perspectives: a man in his 30s who struggled with this for the vast majority of his life and a 22-year-old actress who’s seen people go through stuff. The word “junkie” might be the least attractive word for a drug addict, so I would love to hear your take on that, Craig. Again, if we could help one person…

MABBITT: Like Paola was saying, it becomes the norm for you. And if you’re not using, you no longer feel normal after a while. You might not even want to feel the high anymore. Maybe you just want to get through the day, get out of bed, function just a little bit, and that’s what it turns into. You cannot feel like a normal human being unless you’re using. And especially in the music scene. For me, it turns into a puppet thing. It’s easy. Like Paola was saying, in the movie, the parents are just so busy, they don’t really see what’s happening. 

And for my struggles, it’s like, “All right, we gotta be onstage at 10 o’clock tonight. So I just gotta make sure I’m onstage and I get through the show.” “Fine. Cool. Craig must be fine. He got through the show. Nothing’s wrong.” Let’s do it. Let’s rinse and repeat for the next day, and before you know it, a year has passed, two years have passed, a decade has passed, and you’re just falling further and further into this addiction, so, at some point, you need to help yourself. You need to open your mind up to listening to these people that are trying to help you and give you suggestions. They’re not against you.

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ANDINO: Yeah, I think it’s really important to know that addiction is a disease. I think that there’s a lot of shame that surrounds it, and people don’t want to talk about it. They aren’t open to having these difficult conversations, but they need to happen for change to happen, as well. And then, two, I think someone that’s is an addict is a person—they’re a human before they are an addict. That doesn’t define them.

They have goals. They have aspirations. There’s life outside of that. So I think too that sometimes you can look at addiction and see it as a one-way street. I was thinking about this earlier, it’s like a one-way street that potentially leads to you losing your life unless you pave the way towards recovery. So I think that recovery programs, the global recovery initiative… All of these things they give you are the tools to pave the way towards recovery. So then you’re not just stuck in this one-way street. There is a way to veer off. But if you don’t have the tools, how are you supposed to do that?

And it’s a daily paving. It’s like normally when you go down a road, the road is built, and you just drive past it. But Craig, I have a feeling you’re going to concur, every single day you have to work or you’re going to fall back into your bad habits and addictions.

MABBITT: Absolutely. When you’re in the throes of it, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. And there is.  The easiest thing we say in AA, even like I was mentioning earlier with people with 20-plus years of sobriety: You just gotta take it day by day. Don’t give yourself, “Oh, how am I going to get through the next week? How am I going to make it through this month?” Get through the next 24 hours. And that’s gonna motivate you to get through the next 24 hours when you wake up the next day, and you’re like, “You know what? I didn’t use [or] drink. I didn’t do anything yesterday. Go me!” And reach out to these outlets that are gonna help you veer off the path of death and help you stay in sobriety and recovery.

You can definitely “Walk On” then.

MABBITT: Yeah. For real.

 Lyrically, the song reads like it was written for the movie. It’s dead on. The song sticks out because it’s very ballad-y in the beginning and then just keeps moving forward. It’s a beautiful song.

MABBITT: Well, thank you very much. And aside from my addiction, music has been my only other escape. So you can hear it in the lyrics and what I’m singing about over the years. If you’ve been a fan of ETF for a long time, you know some of our earlier stuff was all about the party. We wanted to be the next Mötley Crüe.  

Who are now sober, too.

MABBITT: At the start of this record, I was not sober yet. I wasn’t working the program; I wasn’t doing AA calls. But I made the decision to go into the studio not using. I was like, “I need to be sober to go into the studio and do this.” I always write to myself. Like, I’m trying to talk to myself to help myself out of something. And in the process of doing that, it helps other people, and I get to hear their stories and how it helped them, so that’s definitely what the message behind “Walk On” was. 

A pep talk?

MABBITT: Keep going! Like a pep talk, yeah. Get through the next 24 hours. It’s always darkest before the dawn. You just gotta keep pushing through, and that’s the message behind it. 

It’s a welcome addition to the Sno Babies soundtrack. Paola, this one’s for you. It’s a two-parter: I’d love your take on the song, and then you can talk about the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation. We really want people to learn about that. 

ANDINO: Absolutely. So I was listening to “Walk On” this morning. It was crazy because the lyrics actually hit home a lot more than I realized that they did, and I think with quarantine and everything, it came when I was really struggling with some personal stuff. The darkness and then you reach the light. “Everybody feels alone sometimes.” That is so true. 

’Cause when you’re dealing with something really heavy or you’re in a dark place, you think no one knows what you’re going through. You think you’re experiencing these awful feelings, you’re in this deep, dark place, and no one gets you, but that’s not true. And I think that resonates with Sno Babies, with the message. There are people there for you, and you have to be vocal about when you need help. Because it’s there, and then you can find the light, and it can turn it into something beautiful. So Craig, I love, love, love this song, and I love the lyrics. It’s beautiful. 

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I did want to touch briefly on the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation. Better Noise Films’ share of profits is going to GRI as well as artist’s royalties from the soundtrack. Which is absolutely incredible because GRI funds organizations that help support people in recovery. 

Recovery is very misunderstood, [and] it’s very underfunded. And so, Global Recovery Initiatives is there to provide as much aid and support toward that. So the fact that we’re partnering with them is absolutely incredible. I think it’ll help bring awareness to all the work that they do. So we’re very lucky to be working with them. 

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And as far as my experience filming, it was… I want to say it was absolutely life-changing. Honestly, I learned so much. I grew not just as an actress but as a person, and that’s really the greatest gift you could ask for when you’re working on a project. I’ve never been on a set that was so collaborative, so creative. I had to dive so deep into [the] scary parts of yourself where you have to think about it like a light switch: [When] you’re on set, the light is on, and [when] you get off set, you have to switch that off. Otherwise, it’s real heavy. It’s real sad. 

When I wasn’t on set, I was at a coffee shop or getting bagels, doing something really lighthearted to tap out of Hannah. Because if I’m with Hannah 24/7, it’s a lot. But I think as a cast, we had really great chemistry. It translates really well onscreen. And then we’re really lucky to have so many great artists on the soundtrack because it really elevates the film. There are beautiful lyrics to listen to as well. It’s not just like, “Oh, this sounds really great. This is really intense!” No, it intensifies the film in a really deep way.

I know you said this about the movie, but all artist royalties from the soundtrack are being donated to the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation, as well. So leave it on loop. Stream it all day and night so they can make more money and help more people. Craig, is there anything you’d like to say to wrap this up about the film?

MABBITT: Oh, I’m so grateful to be a part of the soundtrack for the film and the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation because I can’t tell you the amount of times that I personally have looked up help, and you can’t do it. You need some funds to do it. So a program like this that’s gonna help people is just amazing, and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.