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Interview: Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod)

Photo by Caroline Harrison

Eyehategod are an American institution. With a discography that goes back to 1992 and a reputation as the builders of the subgenre known by many as “sludge metal” (more on that later), Eyehategod are one of those rare bands that are often imitated but never duplicated. Standing large is the mix are the tortured yells and disorienting lyrics of their vocalist, Mike IX Williams, whose darkly absurd poetry and wild stage presence have created much of the mythos around the band. We spoke with Mike about the new, self-titled record, the touring life, influences, smashed bottles, and recently deceased drummer Joey LaCaze. Take As Needed For Pain.

— Words and questions by Rhys Williams
— Interview conducted by Ian Chainey

Thanks so much for doing this.

I mean, this is what I do. I don’t have a job or anything, so. . . (laughs) It could be Sunday in the middle of the night and it wouldn’t matter to me. I don’t care.

That’s definitely the perfect outlook. When you get in a position where that is your mindset, I think that’s a life achievement.

Yeah? Well, that’s how it feels now, y’know? It’s great, man. I mean, we can live off the band, basically, as long as we stay busy and tour. You know, as long as profits are made, constantly touring, and that’s what we try to do is constantly tour.

Do you still feel that fire when you tour? Has there been any change in that regard over your history or is it still the same as it was in the ’90s?

It’s the same, man. I love going on tour. There’s just something about it. Even on the most miserable days on tour, I would never wanna be working a real job. I hate work. I just don’t believe in it. I mean, like, work for a restaurant or whatever shitty job people do. On the worst hangover days when you’re soaking wet and freezing cold and filthy and covered with fucking scabies or something with dirty socks on in the shitty van, I would rather be doing that than sitting behind a counter serving humans food at a restaurant or some equally horrible job.

Have you ever felt any pull to come off the road, or as soon as you got a taste you knew this was it?

No, this has always been it. I don’t wanna stop until I physically fall over. When I was 9 years old I was listening to my brother’s Black Sabbath albums, and Alice Cooper, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I always just wanted to be in a band, not to be a rock star or anything like that. I think Eyehategod’s an example of a band that’s furthest from that. We hang out with the people and we drink at the bar with everybody else. Anybody can talk to us at any time. It’s just a great, free kind of life.

Almost everyone wants to have tons of money, and I don’t have tons of money. I can make a living doing this, but nobody’s rich or anything. It’s just the music that I think drives all of us. This band could have ended so many different times. I can think of five or six times in my head when we could’ve—I shouldn’t say “should’ve”—but could’ve just gone, “That’s it, that’s too much, it’s insane being in this band.” It’s a struggle, at times, but the music’s always drawn me back.

Do you ever take a moment and look around and just marvel at what you’ve built?

Kind of. . .but I don’t look at it like that. I don’t think, This is the empire of sludge music. And you know, I hate that term, ‘sludge.’ I think it’s so goofy, man. I don’t know who made that up. I’ve been a music journalist, too, so I know that people have to come up with phrases to call different types of music, but I don’t know. I think Eyehategod is just a rock ‘n’ roll band. Besides all that, while we have influenced other bands to play a similar type of music or in some cases an exact copy, and while that’s flattering and while we do, 99 percent of the time, get credit for it, I admit, freely, that we stole from the Melvins, we stole from Black Flag, Trouble, Saint Vitus. All those bands were doing it before us, but we just wanted to mix it. I call it “crossover,” but most people think of crossover, they think of thrash metal or funk metal. But Eyehategod is a punk/metal band, it’s just slower. It’s the same elements, just in a whole different style.

I hear tons of Poison Idea in your sound.

Yeah, there’s stuff like that, and that’s what we always wanted to do with the band. The bands that we listened to, that really turned us on, that really blew our minds; there are so many elements. Confessor, Carnivore, Celtic Frost, Laughing Hyenas, and then all the stuff I grew up on with punk rock. So many different influences, and my family were rednecks listening to southern rock, so I grew up around that, too. And then I came to New Orleans, and you hear blues and jazz every day.

I think the problem with music criticism is that we try to draw these direct lines from band to band, and it just doesn’t work like that.

No, you can’t go directly. Sometimes there’s comparisons, but it’s not always an exact line. The Stooges or Aerosmith obviously were fans of the Stones, but they put something different into it. And that’s just like us. We just injected something that we wanted to hear, made it more aggressive, more punk rock, at least in my case. Jimmy might not [think that]; Jimmy hates the term “punk rock.” He’s not a fan of that name. I’m like, “It’s just another title, it doesn’t mean anything.” There’s so many influential groups in every genre, you can’t just put it under one umbrella.

Genres are shorthand for describing it to friends, like, “Hey, what does this sound like? Got it.” People who think that there’s some eternal truth behind that are kind of crazy.

Even today you say, “This band is hardcore, this is punk,” but then there’s five million kinds of hardcore and punk. It just goes off everywhere. And now there’s all these black metal bands, but they’re also influenced by Discharge and the crusty side of things. I think it’s cool the way things evolve, that’s why I love music so much. Talking about bands and music, it’s just really cool the way everything continues to evolve and you can’t really predict it. You never know what’s gonna come out next and you’re like, “Wow, that sounds totally different.”

Why is this album, and not previous albums, self-titled?

That’s the main question everyone’s been asking us. It became a very obvious choice after Joey [LaCaze] passed away. When he was still alive, we were trying to figure out a name for the album, and everybody had their own lists and ideas of what the album could be called. I had pages after pages of one-liners, different things. The album could have been called “Medicine Noose,” or a name from one of the songs, it could have been anything. But that almost seemed like it was cheapening it a little bit, because it’s been 14 years [since we released a record]. So even with Joey, we were toying around with “should we just self-title it?” and we were kind of still up in the air. But then when he passed away, it just seemed like a totally logical thing to do. For some reason, I don’t even think we discussed it, after he passed away it was like “the album is self-titled.” It’s like a new beginning, but it’s also got that solemn kind of feel to it. It’s not some crazy, wacky Eyehategod name for it, it’s just Eyehategod. And for me, that speaks volumes. Sometimes less is more.

Makes sense: it’s not an end. A certain chapter might have closed, but everything keeps on rolling.

It’s been that long since we’ve had a record out and it’s a new beginning. Joey’s on the record so it’s a huge tribute to him. If it was called who-knows-what, people would be asking me “is that because of Joey?” And it’s also the predictability of the whole thing. I don’t want people to expect us to come up with these crazy titles. The songs have them, but I think it’s just fitting for Joey, his drum tracks, and the new beginning of the band to call it Eyehategod, you know?

Rhys Williams caught you at Maryland Deathfest 2012, and there were apparently bottles flying around and there was a crazy pit…

Oh yeah! There’s always bottles flying at our shows, it seems. It’s always unpredictable, as it should be.

Is that something that you seek out, that unpredictability and that chaos?

Well, not on purpose. I don’t go picking a fight or something like that, but if stuff happens it happens. We’ve been playing live for ages, so now people come up and they put the beer bottles in front of me on the stage because they want me to break them (laughs). And sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I don’t want people to think it’s ‘here comes that part where they do this.’ I think that’s kind of stupid. We play a different set every night, anyway. We’re like the Grateful Dead of metal. We do basically the same songs, and somebody might break a string or something, and you gotta improv or start telling jokes or something. We just like to have fun on stage, and it gets loose, but we also love the million-percent energy that we try to give out. At our age, I think we’ve got more energy than ever. Sometimes these kids come to our shows and it looks like they’re exhausted and I’m just like, “Come on! Fuck, man, what is this?” That comes from the old days for me: being at hardcore or punk shows with people just slamdancing. I refuse to say “mosh,” I hate that word. But people just stagediving, slamdancing, and just having a good time. I mean, the music’s just totally negative and depressing and angry and pissed-off and raw, but it’s good to have a good time.

The music is such a cathartic release, too. It always reminds me of the blues, in a way. It’s there to make you feel good. You just pour yourself into it.

And that’s a great comparison. That’s exactly what I would have said. We call ourselves a modern-day blues band. It’s like if John Lee Hooker listened to Black Flag, he would sound like Eyehategod.

And a lot of people relate to the negativity anyway. We’ve always been a band that’s like an outsider kind of band, we attract a lot of weirdos. A lot of strange characters come to see our band, which is great. The weirder the better, really. I think that’s a wonderful thing, to attract this fringe society, the people who aren’t a part of real society. They’re the kids who got kicked out of their house when they were young.

It’s so important to find that human connection where it’s like, “Whoa, somebody else thinks this way too.”

Yeah, yeah! Every one of us has a story like this, where someone comes up and goes, “Man, I was gonna kill myself, then I listened to your music and it really helped me because I could relate to your feelings. Your lyrics, a lot of it’s painful, but it showed that I could get through it without killing myself.” People say it’s gotten them through break-ups, a death in the family; it’s always people saying it’s like therapy. I always thought that was really cool.

Is that one thing that keeps driving you forward, that “I’m not just doing this for myself, other people obviously find this super important as well?”

Of course. We don’t care what people think about us at all, and I think that’s part of the whole vibe, too. I think a lot of our fans don’t care about what people think about them, either. It’s just a ‘do what you wanna do’ type of thing, ‘do as thou wilt.’ We not doing it for anybody but ourselves, but I’d be lying if I said that really because we want people to be united in this whole freak society.

I do value that. I’m not very smart, but you learn certain things the older you get. I love to support the local scene here as much as possible. Anything we can do for local bands opening for us. I don’t go to as many shows as I used to, but I should. I live like an hour and a half outside of New Orleans and I don’t drive: I don’t have a license and I’m a shitty driver. So I go to shows that I really, really want to see. Like, I got to see OFF! and Negative Approach, that was great. Double Negative played that night, too.

Oh, they’re fun, they’re a fun band.

I kind of pick and choose what I go see. I was gonna go see Antiseen, they were gonna do a daytime show in May, but their guitar player just died.

Yeah, that was a bummer.

Yeah man, Mighty Joe Young. Such a nice guy, man, and consistent in that band for 30 years. Him and Jeff Clayton were like brothers. It’s amazing. It’s just like, people are dropping like that now, y’know? Like Dave Brockie, so many people. It’s crazy. Not to bum out the interview or anything.

Does that make you question your own mortality at all?

Not really, no more than it did before. I’ve never been afraid of dying or anything like that. You don’t wanna die a painful death, nobody does, but it should be nothing to be scared of, I don’t think.

It’s so inevitable. It’s a truth you’re gonna experience at some point.

It just sucks that some people go and they could have done so much more. Like Joey: this album’s coming out and he’s not gonna be here to see all the attention we’re getting and all the touring we’re doing. It sucks, y’know? But I don’t sit around and think about things like that. I just wanna play music and travel and have good friends, just live life like that, not stressing out on anything.

And you’re leaving behind something that’s kind of eternal, too. Like, you’re leaving behind this awesome set of music. In a way, that’s all you can really ask out of life.

I guess that’s what people do. Even if it’s writing or painting, people want to have something for future generations to be like, “Oh yeah, I remember those guys.”

It proves your existence, in a way.

When I look back on people who’re gone now and their body of work, it’s like the person is still alive. And it shows you what a genius that person was.

I hear that in anything I listen to that still has Joey on it, like that Mystic Krewe record where his sense of syncopation, that bluesy swing.

That album’s amazing, man. They were such a good band live. They were actually trying to get back together, they did some rehearsing and played a couple times, I think, but I don’t know if they’re gonna still do it. But yeah, even the Outlaw Order record we did, me and Gary and Brian and Joey, where Joey played with us. . .everything he ever did was amazing.

Are you ever scared you’re going to slow down?

No, because we make it happen. We’re musicians, everyone’s a creative person, that’s what we do. We’re gonna do music whether it’s me doing solo noise stuff or spoken word, which doesn’t rely on anyone, just myself. There’s always stuff to be done, and if it slows down, I’ll just make something else up and do something different. I wanna do a spoken word tour. I’m trying to get my new book out. I have a new book of dark, negative poetry. I had that one book, Cancer As A Social Activity. I’ve got a bunch of new stuff already written, I just gotta get it into some format to get to a printer. I’m not very computer savvy, so I think I’m gonna need help with that. So yeah, there’s just always something in my mind, something to do next.

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