By the time American Head Charge's tour bus pulled to a stop outside the Plex in North Charleston, South Carolina, just before 6 a.m. on April 19, Bryan Ottoson was already dead. Somewhere between Baltimore and North Charleston, Ottoson stopped breathing. But American Head Charge's guitarist died doing something bassist Chad Hanks says he loved to do.
"All he wanted to do was tour," Hanks said in American Head Charge's first interview since Ottoson's body was discovered (see "American Head Charge Guitarist Found Dead"). "He was always upset when we had to come home from touring. He did everything he could to stay on tour."
Ottoson's passion for mile-logging, Hanks said, made the band's decision to rejoin Mudvayne on the road this past weekend, after dropping off the tour for a handful of dates, not easy, but obvious.
"Who knows what Bryan would have wanted," he said. "All I can go by is what I think he might have wanted, and all I can figure is he would have said, 'Shut the f--- up, figure it out and go out and do it.' Without a doubt in my mind, that is what he would've wanted. That's what he always wanted to do. He wanted to be on a bus, touring. So it seemed the line of thinking would have been, well, just keep doing it."
Since Ottoson's death, which authorities have ruled to be the result of a prescription-drug overdose, Hanks said each member of the band's been grappling with the loss in a number of different ways. He had never lost anyone close to him before, so for Hanks, Bryan's death has been especially hard.
"It would have been easier to handle this if I had some kind of prior experience," he said. "It's been strange. You've got your couple days where you're grieving. While you're trying to figure out where the wake is, you're trying to figure out how the f--- you're going to get to Lubbock, Texas, to make the last show of the Texas part of the Mudvayne tour. The two thought processes just don't intersect very well. They're at total odds. You're just back and forth, completely flip-flopped emotions. 'Got to be business, got to be business ... holy sh--, I miss the guy.' "
Hanks recalled what happened the afternoon Ottoson's body was discovered by band keyboardist Justin Fowler. Hanks said he was inside the Plex, shoveling food from a catered spread onto his plate. He was talking to Mudvayne frontman Chad Gray and Gray's fiancee when a member of Mudvayne's crew rushed in. Out of breath, he said, "Chad, you need to get out here right now."
"The guy was f---ing white," Hanks said. "I'm thinking, 'Great, somebody just got arrested for drugs.' " As they made their way to the Plex's door, Mudvayne's crew member looked at Hanks and said, "Your little guitar player? He's not breathing."
Hanks sprinted outside, where a swarm of police cars, ambulances and other emergency-response vehicles had already amassed around the bus. He made a beeline for the bus' door, but was stopped by Mudvayne's tour manager: "Don't go on there, man. He's passed away."
It would be three hours before the last police officers and forensics officials would emerge from inside the group's bus. For the members of American Head Charge, those three hours were filled with silent pacing. "Everybody was just walking around in shock for three hours. No one could go on the bus. It was just really ... I didn't believe it was f---ing real for like five hours," Hanks said. "I guess when they had found him, he had been dead for a while. Rigor mortis had already been setting in."
American Head Charge have spent much of the last two weeks in their native Minneapolis; Ottoson's funeral was held Wednesday. Several questions have come up in the wake of Ottoson's death, such as how his body went unnoticed for what officials say was more than 10 hours. Apparently Ottoson was something of an insomniac: The generally accepted rule amongst the band's members, Hanks said, was "when Bryan fell asleep, you didn't wake him up."
"He maybe got two hours of sleep a night and he would nap on and off all day," Hanks explained. "So, no one was going to Bryan's bunk to see if he was awake or anything, because it was a general rule that, you know, leave him alone, he finally fell over. No one thought weird of it because, when he's asleep, he's asleep. This is a guy who, when we'd get hotel rooms, we'd get a band room, and maybe a crew room. He would spend his own money once a week, once every 10 days, to get his own room so he could go in there and turn the TV off, have nobody smoke, turn all the lights off, shut the drapes and get eight hours."
And then there are the rumors that have been popping up on the Internet about Ottoson's alleged drug use.
"Bryan had actually been on penicillin — he had strep throat," Hanks said. "He actually had strep two or three times in like four months, five months. He just had a real propensity for getting strep. Every time he got it, it got worse. This time, his tonsils were literally black. The one to the right was black."
Ottoson saw a doctor in Philadelphia who prescribed him painkillers, "because every time he swallowed, tears would come to his eyes. He was really the type of guy that, I'd say, was real paranoid about taking things when he didn't know what they were. Real careful. He didn't take any painkillers the first few days because he thought it would make him play funny. He wasn't swallowing handfuls of pills and not knowing what they were. This was a guy that maybe liked to drink a little bit, and that was it. He was not some crazy f---ing drug addict — that's probably the rest of the band. That's been widely gone over. Everybody knows pretty much all of us have been to rehab. On top of everything else, as far as my life has gone since I've been 17, and all the stupid sh-- I've done, and some of the stupid sh-- I know other people in the band have done — for this to happen to the most innocent guy in the band, it's just bizarre to me. It was the last thing you'd expect from Bryan."
Black Flood Diesel's Benji Hellberg has been tapped to fill in for Ottoson for the remainder of this tour with Mudvayne, Life of Agony and Bloodsimple, after which Hanks will take over on guitar and the band will start looking to hire a new bassist.
"I feel like we're just cursed," Hanks said. "Just as soon as something starts to move uphill for us, something slams us in the f---ing head."