Interview: EHG’s Mike IX
. . .
Pain. When you've lost your family as a child, lived in a boys' home and on the streets, you know pain. If you've ever had a crippling substance addiction, had all your wordly posessions burned during Hurricane Katrina, and been locked up in a hicktown parrish jail, withdrawing from opiates while wondering if anyone knows you are alive, you know pain.
You would have to know that kind of skittish, nauseating sickness to write words like "Through alleys witless and wicked / Drawing influence from corrosion and corruption", "Live like a riot / then deal with the consequences" and "Critical lunar syndrome / Over a granite face / Baying out in the garage / Rottweiler muzzle blast chewing on the chain".
Give Mike IX Williams a pen, or a microphone, and he can distill and project his anguish like nobody else. The man hasn't just been around the block; he owns a slummy flat there and probably enjoys annoying the neighbors by playing Abba at full throttle. As the vocalist for the infamous New Orleans outfit Eyehategod, Mike has spent more than 20 years on the road, preaching his world view while playing live shows that often ended with him (or someone in the crowd) bleeding.
Mike was kind enough to donate half an hour of his time for this interview, right before recording vocals for the new Eyehategod record. So yes, it's really happening, people. Relax. Here, he talks about his project the Guilt Of.., crowd interactions, his friend Philip Anselmos' upcoming Housecore HorrorFest, and his current view on life in general..
"When I'm with you I'm falling
Peace is a word of the sea and the wind
Peace is a word of a day without end"
. . .
The first time I saw you guys was in Richmond, Virginia, in 1993 I believe. I happened to look around during your set, and saw two city cops by the door. What grabbed my attention was that one was grooving his ass off, smiling and having a blast. I think what blew my young mind was the fact that here is a black cop in the Capitol of the Confederacy, dancing to a band called Eyehategod, who are playing a song called "White Nigger" and demanding pills from the audience. Does that sum up your live show fairly well?
Hahaha! We have a fan up North, and he's an African-American dude, and a policeman. He's a huge fan, he's come to see us a few times, and he's always talking about trying to fuck all these girls, and offering us coke and shit (laughs). I'm like, this is insane, y'know? Policemen are 99 percent corrupt anyway, but to have one of these cops liking my band, I just thought it was really bizarre. But yeah man, as far that cop in Richmond, that's pretty crazy. Was he actually dancing? I wish I could have actually seen that . . . !
Since you bring up "White Nigger", besides being a shock statement it is about the destruction and deterioration of racial relations and not to mention a nod to Patti Smith lyrics, the great writer Lester Bangs t-shirt comments and a rip off of SF punk band The Avengers song title as well . . . No one in this band is racist - Never was or ever is. I guess the shock factor will be with us always, because of that album.
He wasn't straight up dancing, but he was digging it, for sure . . . With the recent legal battles Randy Blythe has been dealing with, are you more conscious of something like that happening? I haven't seen you live for a long time, but you used to be crazy with the audience, and yourself for that matter.
Well, yeah, we've toned a lot of that down a bit over the years anyway. I don't think I've done anything like that in awhile. I think the last time something like that happened was in maybe Portland. Some guy threw a bottle at me, and it broke and cut my cut my ear, so I grabbed him out of the crowd and just started punching him in the face. It does make you think, though. I feel lucky. Not lucky for having committed violence, but for the fact that I haven't gotten into anything like that recently. I mean, I've paid for microphones and stuff like that, and I've been to jail for an incident back in the '90s and it's cost me money before as far as fines and material stuff, but nothing like what happened to Randy.
Even before that, my neighbor Phil Anselmo, he's been sued, he's had things happen to him as well, but again, nothing is as horrible as going to jail in a Czech jail. That's outrageous, man. It does make you think a little, especially over in Europe, you never know what's gonna happen. But we're older guys now, we've kind of taken all this into consideration, and we're a little more professional now, as far just getting up there and playing our music. I do wake up the next day bruised and beaten, just minor stuff, butterfly stitches, duct tape band aids etc.
The point could be made that if you throw a bottle at someone, you kind of deserve what's coming to you.
I think the guy did deserve it, the problem is I actually don't know if I grabbed the right person (laughter). I'm a little guy, if you've ever seen me, people could kick my ass very easy, so I don't why I do shit like that, but it's been far and few between lately.
How has the recording been going for the new album? Are you working with Billy Anderson again?
We did the basic drum tracks and stuff with Billy, but we went in thinking we could just knock the record out in like a week, and that was totally wrong . . . We wanted to take our time and make it a good record, so we're taking our time and using somebody else right now that's going to cost us a whole lot less. I mean its been this overdue for years, so we might as well do it right. But working with Billy is fine, man, he's an old friend of mine and we get along great. Another distraction was that a documentary was being filmed in the studio about Billy and EHG and it got everybody on edge.
Your project The Guilt Of... just had a new release, is that correct?
Yeah, it just came out. Its called Isolation Room and has 7 tracks. It's not going to be some huge distribution thing. The New Orleans label that put it out, Last Hurrah Records, they just got the copies in, so it's up on their website and all that. I think it's a limited pressing of only 500 or something like that. I'd call our style Black Noise Punk or just simply Electronix if I had to label it. That project is pretty much over however it seems. There's supposed to be one more 7" released on A389, a Goth song we did, on a split with the mighty, Mighty Sphincter and that would be all the tracks released out in one form or another: Broken glass coated anti-cassettes, 10"s, 7"s, silk screen paper bag cassettes, CD and 12" vinyl . . . Plus I'd like to give Ryan Mckern credit for helping me in recording vocals for the Razorblade Express 7" that I did with Strong Intention on Patac records, the KillXLife flexi on At War records and a couple solo projects of mine. Its been a good run...
How did you get turned on to the noise genre, particularly Japanese noise, like Merzbow, Masonna, etc?
Well, when I was a lot younger, growing up listening to punk and metal, I started listening to different types of music, like Non, Birthday Party, Zev, Nervous Gender, and SPK; who are one of my favorite experimental groups ever, also Throbbing Gristle and Nurse With Wound . . . SPK had a lot of influence on the artwork and feedback noise aspect for EHG as well as my trajectory of what defines "music".
As far as the Japanese stuff, I got into it for a little bit, but then realized it all started sounding the same. It just started to sound like static noise, and there wasn't lots of variety back then except the Boredoms, who I adore. later on in the '90s I got into GX Jupiter and the Haters, Sudden Infant, Jeph Jerman, and the whole RRRecords catalog. That's why I kinda prefer the term experimental rather than noise. I mean, The Guilt of..., we put out a split with Merzbow, so I still hang around in those circles a little, but I consider our stuff more than just noise. On the new release there's some black metal, some really militaristic punk type of stuff going on. So I'd definitely refer to it as experimental rather than just noise.
I'm not a fan of labelling music, that's just the term that came to mind.
Oh yeah, man, I was a music journalist at one point. Sometimes I'd feel like a dick for labelling a band but you have to call it something, ya know? You can't describe music on a piece of paper without using, for lack of a better term, labels, but it happens . . .
You worked in the early '90s for Metal Maniacs. What was your official position there?
I started out as a writer, doing record reviews and show reviews and then I think there was only one issue where I was "Associate Editor", and then after that it was all over. They kinda ousted us out of there. I mean, it was just me and Alicia and some other writers. I was actually told that I needed started to write more about bands that had paid for advertising in the magazine, and that's when I thought "Fuck this, this is ridiculous".
What you guys did is the very definition of subversive. It's almost as if you were a group of insurgents let loose.
Oh yeah man. I mean before we were there, I didn't see them putting a whole lot of grindcore, punk, or black metal or other stuff like that in there. I mean, we were doing stuff on acts like Neurosis or S.O.B, Antiseen, Melvins, Buzzoven, where now it's the norm for any extreme music magazine to include that type of music. We were putting stuff in there that got us in trouble, and I think it was just too underground for them. We even approached the owners of the company and asked if we could change the name of the magazine. First of all the name Metal Maniacs was lame as hell (laughs), but second, we were expanding the coverage into unknown territories, y'know. So they didn't go for the name change, it was a huge corporation behind all that, and they pretty much got us out of there after a few issues. We did not play well with others . . . The Suits.
Well, you were there long enough to influence people like me, who lived in cow country and got my heavy music info from the reviews and articles you put in there. I, as well as countless others, got my first taste of bands like Disassociate, Grimple, Starkweather, and more from your writing.
Thanks, man, I'm glad of that! It's funny, I still get people coming up to me, just like you said, who still have those issues and still read them. I mean, we were trying to make that magazine more open minded. You don't put Anthrax, Metallica, and Testament on the cover every week, do you? That would suck. So we were trying to expose some of the underground and it cost us our jobs, basically. We didn't mesh well with the suits and ties, bottom line.
How did you get the gig?
I was pen pals at the time with Alicia Morgan, she had a band called 13 and I wanted to get out of New Orleans for a bit at that time. Well shit I just remembered I was in S.F. already after leaving NOLA and had never really hung out too much in NYC. So I went up and ended up getting in an apartment, and once I got the offer to write, it just went from there, I was doing interviews, reviews etc. Katherine Ludwig was still there at that time and she hired me. Decibel is doing a huge piece on Metal Maniacs soon so read the whole sordid story there.
When your book first came out [Cancer as a Social Activity, 2005], you mentioned Bukowski and Burroughs as two of the biggest rocks to build your foundation on. Since then, have you been influenced by more recent authors such as Cormac McCarthy?
Those two are definitely writers that I love, and I used to say those two because other people had described my stuff that way, and I kind of just went with what they said, it does make sense though. Now I think it narrows it down a bit too much. Really, it's more than just those two guys. I was really influenced by lots of musician writers as well, like Darby Crash, Peter Murphy, Michael Gira, Joe Strummer, Nick Cave, Chris D from the Flesheaters . . .
Um, not so much, maybe some of his earlier stuff a little. Get in the Van is great but mainly 'cos I'm a Black Flag fanatic.
You and Eugene Robinson (Oxbow vocalist/author) both have unique writing styles, as well as vocals. Have you ever collaborated with him?
We've emailed back and forth over the years, and we actually had recently discussed doing a tour together with Scott Kelly, just acoustic and spoken word, so it's funny you mentioned that. As far as other writers, Clive Barker is a big one. A horror writer yes, but mix of some of his creepy descriptive prose with other beat poet stuff and its unlimited the places I can go. Marvel Comics has been a major influence on me, believe it or not. I grew up in the late '70s reading those truly amazing Bronze Age comics with stories about Thanos, Silver Surfer, Galactus, Defenders, Super Skrulls, Inhumans et al and I still love them. Marvel Team Up with Human Torch . . . fuck.. I could go on.
As far as Cormac McCarthy, I've seen "The Road", but I haven't read his books. I know he has a lot of respected work, in fact, Scott Kelly recommended him recently. I haven't read him yet, but I do plan to. There's so many writers out there, man, guys like William Vollmann, Herbert Huncke. It's the same with the music too, like EHG is such a mix of different things, it's like anybody's or any band's influences. It all comes together in your mind . . .
How does the music industry compare, if at all, to the writing/publishing industry, in your experience? Is it the same bullshit, just a different flavor?
I'm not really part of the writing industry. I've got the rights to my own book, I just pressed another printing of it, it's in it's fourth edition now, and has been selling consistently for years. But it got printed because there was a guy who had some money, and wanted to see my writing in a book, so it wasn't anything bigger than that. It'd be like putting out an independent record, to make your comparison. I'm not in Barnes and Noble or anything. I've been told a million times, "Man, all you gotta do is get in with these people and get your stuff in bookstores", and I know it's something I need to do.
I would love to get picked up by some huge publisher and get paid to write, it'd be great, I just haven't pursued it YET. There's another comparison to the music industry, and that is, that if you do get picked up by a major publisher they'll probably fuck you over just like the record labels do. That's one reason why it's taken us so long to put out a new album, we just don't trust any record label at all. I'm 100% sure that boils over into the writing industry too, and I just haven't found anybody yet who I can trust with my work. Until I can find someone I can trust, I'm still going to just do it myself . . . Attention! Wealthy art loving independent publishing folks out there! Achtung! Get in touch with me . . . I have two books of negative dark prose and poetry/words already written.
So I hear EHG is playing at the Housecore Horror Film Fest this summer? And Goblin is going to be live, scoring a screening of Suspiria?! Nice!
Yeah! We're playing, Phil Anselmo and the Illegals, Down, Warbeast, Repulsion, Hymns . . . there's a bunch of bands playing. It's gonna be great, man, I'm really looking forward to it. There's going to be a lot of people there from the horror business in general. I mean, that's a whole type of different exciting industry right there, the movie scene . . . It's gonna be great, I'm looking forward to that a lot.
Horror, punk, metal all that mixed into one big thing. It's exciting because it's the first one, and it's cool that Phil decided to do this, get this together. I think he's a little overwhelmed right now as well, because it's getting bigger every goddamn day, it's getting huge. But that's a good thing!
In recent interviews you seem, well, happy. To be blunt, it's surprising that any of you made it through this gig alive. Is the happiness from being opiate free, or age, or a combination of things?
I think it's part of all of that, y'know, sure. I mean, nobody in this band is 100% clean, I'm not gonna lie. But we don't use hard shit anymore, we'll drink maybe some of us and whatever for sure. But it's being off the heavy stuff, and also kind of celebrating the fact that this is our 25th year as a band. I mean, of course we're still a bunch of completely depressed, angry, miserable people, but I think now we're having a bit more fun being miserable, angry and depressed. We're taking the band a lot more seriously, we've been way more professional in the past 7 years with it than we have in the past.
I'm in a situation now, too, where I am happier, to be at an age and have a little stability. Got a good woman, lots of good animals and friends. A car I didn't steal . . . I've been homeless too, so it's nice to get to a part of life were you feel slightly safe. There's still bad days mentally, just less of them I guess, but who knows, I think everybody's like that. I mean Jimmy just had a baby, so he's got that going killer, Joey's got a kid and I think everybody's just kind of glad of where we're at, but still always struggling to do what's right. With this new album I'm hoping it's gonna blow up, I know people have been waiting to hear it. There'll be people who are super critical about it, I'm sure, but I can guarantee it sounds like classic EHG with a lotta blues, passion and soul, and I know people are gonna dig it.
. . .