If art could accurately imitate life's many nuances, Flaw's Through the Eyes would be one of the most powerful, traumatizing nü-metal records ever.
Not that it's at all tepid as is. The songs are simultaneously harsh and melodic, filled with pulverizing beats, power-sander guitars and agonized, hook-laden vocals.
But frontman Chris Volz's childhood experiences have been so damaging that even his most abrasive, confessional songcraft couldn't possibly reveal the pain he endured growing up, first as an orphan bouncing from foster home to foster home and then as an adopted child confronted with a whole new set of challenges.
Flaw's new single, "Whole," which is about how Volz's adoptive mom committed suicide when he was 12, is probably the closest the singer comes to a breakdown.
"Everything in that song touches from sadness to anger to grief to blaming myself to confusion," Volz said. "I just really wanted to go as deep into it as I possibly could and still be able to come back. She was the one who got me into music. She was an operatic singer, and for me to go wholly into music has kept a part of her alive inside of me."
As devastating as his adoptive mother's death was, the way in which the news was delivered intensified the blow. Volz and his mom had been in Germany visiting his grandparents, but she headed back a few days early, telling her son that she wanted him to get to know his relatives better.
"I was literally on the other side of the planet when it happened," he said with a sigh. "I was flying back to Washington, and I was supposed to transfer flights in LaGuardia [Airport in New York]. So I get off the flight, walk into the terminal and look to my left and I see my entire Stateside family standing there waiting for me, and no one was supposed to be there. I saw everyone except my mom, and I knew at that point that something had happened to her."
Other songs on Through the Eyes including "Inner Strength," "Reliance" and "Get up Again" were written about Volz's trauma and frustration. Unable to cope with the pain, grief and guilt, the singer began to rebel, embracing aggressive rock music and disrespecting authority figures including his teachers and his father.
Unsure of what to do, Volz's dad shipped him off to military school, which only worsened matters. The boy ran away from school to hang out with his neighborhood friends. So pop sent Volz to various juvenile detention centers. When Volz was 14 his father caught him with a homemade bong and sent him to a long-term drug rehab center.
"I was 14, and there were 19-year-olds there who were intravenously shooting up, and I felt really out of place," Volz said. "It was one of those rehabs designed by Nancy Reagan, and you were stripped of everything. You couldn't even walk to the bathroom by yourself. You couldn't listen to music or wear rock T-shirts or do anything that they felt led you to do drugs. I would stand up in these meetings, and people would talk about robbing stores to get money for cocaine, and then they'd point and me and say, 'OK, Chris, tell us about your worst experience.' And I'd be like, 'Uh, my worst experience was smoking weed in my bedroom and spinning.' "
Volz dealt with his rehab nightmare the same way he reacted to military school. He ran. Not long after going AWOL, Volz was picked up by the police. It was the best thing that could have happened. The fuzz tossed the youngster in a juvenile detention center, where he explained his situation to a social worker.
"They were very concerned that my civil rights had been taken away," Volz explained. "The court system decided to hire me a public defender, and then the courts would decide whether I needed to go back, instead of just releasing me to my dad and having him stick me back in there."
Volz won the battle. Not only did the court decide he wasn't a candidate for rehab, it forced his father to take him back.
"They basically said, 'Quit sending this kid away and live up to your responsibility,' " Volz explained. "From then on, my dad was kind of bitter with me because I publicly humiliated him."
As life became more uncomfortable at home, Volz sought further escape in music. When he turned 17, money he inherited from his mom was legally turned over to him, and he left home for good to start a band. That led to the creation of Flaw, which became the cathartic vehicle he needed to dilute the venom that was poisoning his system. Of course, that only led to more guilt about how his mother's death triggered his rock career.
"At times I feel I wish it didn't happen or that it was wrong to happen," he said. "But at the same time, I wouldn't be at this same place emotionally without that happening. Not that it was a gift, but in a strange sense it all led up to molding me into what I am today. The cover of our album is a 12-year-old little boy who doesn't look like he's in pain, but it looks like he's got a world of things he wants to say, but his mouth is zippered shut. And that's kind of the way I felt throughout most of my childhood."