Interview: Jimmy Bower & Randy Blythe
Eyehategod are no strangers to hardship or misery. After surviving hurricanes, opiate abuse and recovery, and the death of original drummer Joe LaCaze, the New Orleans punk blues act recently had to postpone a summer tour with D-Beat hooligans Discharge due to singer Mike IX William's continuing health issues. The tour was rescheduled for the fall, with Randy Blythe from Lamb of God filling in for Williams on the road. The addition of Blythe was intriguing to me as a long time EHG fan. I'm not really into his main band but the man does what he does very well, and he has been a vocal EHG fan. The prospect of seeing the two combined was more than enough to make me want to go.
Blythe ended up stealing the show. If you closed your eyes, he sounded close enough to Williams that you'd be forgiven for not noticing the difference. He hit every word and channeled the nihilistic hate that Williams emanates well enough. The biggest difference for me was his stage presence. Williams generally prefers to sway in one spot, lifting and swinging his mic stand in a trance, while Blythe stalked around the space, occasionally even jumping as if he were onstage in his other band. It has got to be hard to fill in the shoes of someone like Williams, especially with such a dedicated fan base and the cries of elitists who don't want 'their' band associated with a mainstream metal artist, but Blythe did an admirable job. The crowd loved it, and watching Bower and guitarist Brian Patton smile at each other while Blythe screeched, flailed, and raged was worth the price of admission. I sat and talked with Bower after the show about EHG and his other projects, and got some answers from Blythe on how he prepared for the tour. Both seemed mellow and pleased with how things were working out on the road, and both were very adamant about wishing Williams was there.
You just started your tour with Randy singing. How is it going so far?
Yeah we played last night in Seattle, tonight is our second gig for the tour. Randy's been doing great man, he killed it tonight for sure. He does his thing really well, and we've been friends with him for a long time so it was a good fit.
How did you get him ready for the tour?
He was pretty familiar already with our stuff, but the biggest thing for him was he wanted to get the lyrics right. So he called up Mike, and Mike basically said "Well, I don't even know what I'm saying half the time." (laughter) That was the hardest part I think. We had a really good time, we had him come down to New Orleans a week before, went to LA for a couple days and came back for a couple more practices, so he's really been working hard on getting it right, you know?
What do you do if Mike can't come back for a sustained period of time? I've seen you before with other singers filling in for him, like Sammy from Acid Bath/Goatwhore, but your Facebook page had quite a few people with less than positive things to say about EHG without Mike.
Those guys on Facebook can suck a dick. We didn't want to cancel this tour, because for one thing it's an honor to come out with Discharge, man, and we had been having to cancel a lot of shit, so it was Mike's idea to reach out to Randy to fill in. It was the right thing to do. It's hard though, man. It's tough to think about going on without Mike. It would be a completely different band without him. Completely. It's hard. We're starting to lose too many people, you know?
You were the only original member up there tonight, right?
Yeah, Brian wasn't on the first record. I mean, he's been in the band since 93 though. It's tough man. We all just hope Mike gets better.
Down played Psycho Las Vegas this summer. Apparently they had some of your old tour clothes in a glass case on display?
Yeah man, that was a trip! Pellet (Sean Pelletier, co-curator for Psycho LV) called me up and said "Hey brah you got a picture of you wearing these clothes? You wanna do a glass case exhibit?" It was an honor, man, it was really cool. My mom really dug it and my wife thought it was cool. I washed it all before I gave it to them. (laughter)
Is Down going to be touring this year? Have there been any problems with that from the Anselmo drama a while back?
Not really, we're just staying busy and trying not to pay attention to it. I hope we tour, man, we've all been pretty busy. Down is supposed to be writing two new EPs, so we're gonna be working hard on that. Pepper's been doing COC and we just finished up doing the Superjoint album.
Do you expect we'll see Superjoint out on the road? The show at Housecore last year was a great time.
Oh yeah, definitely. It's a really cool band, man. We worked really hard when we wrote the new one to go back to the sound on the first record, which we think is our best. Just trying to keep that hardcore punk style alive. I mean we've got Discharge playing upstairs right now which is just really fucking cool. The music world is definitely different now, either that or I'm old. (laughs)
What's going on with your solo country stuff?
I'm still working on an album. I put out some stuff on Soundcloud to see if people would even dig it. It's got the outlaw country feel that I'm into. I'm thinking about doing an album of half country, half rock but we'll see. I'm still getting used to singing man, I mean I know how but I've just never done it like this, you know? It's just something new to try. I might even take it on the road, if there's enough people interested in it I'd love to get something together. I've been procrastinating and really busy with other stuff too though, so we'll see.
I like doing new things and new styles, you know? I worked on Kirk from Buzzoven's solo country record K-Lloyd a long time ago, did drums and stuff and had a really good time. I've gotten really interested in producing and helping other bands out with stuff I've picked up over 30 years. Basically just keeping real busy and trying new things. My favorite thing right now is songwriting and arranging, I love that stuff.
What local food would recommend to someone who's never been to New Orleans?
Crawfish etouffee or a good gumbo. That's my favorite, or fried fish. My mom makes a real good brown gravy, she's been making it since I was a kid. Rice and gravy, man, with a shitload of onions in it. She does it with a grease gravy, and oh man it so good. Real simple food, you know, not a lot to it.
How old were you when EHG started?
20. I would hope we would do things the same way now if we were starting out, but it was really all about our influences at the time, you know? We were just trying to imitate the Melvins, Trouble, Black Flag, and that's what we wound up with. This band is everything to me, you know? I wouldn't know what to do if I weren't doing it. It's scary to think of to me. I mean we're coming up on 30 years as a band, and just looking back at everything we've gotten to do, it still trips us out man.
How did this all start out for you?
Well, they asked me to do it, and I the first thing I said was, "Yeah, I'll do it, but everyone has to be cool with it, especially Mike". So then I told Jimmy to send me a playlist, so he immediately sent me a list of about 25 songs to learn. So for the next two weeks or so before I came down to New Orleans, I listened to nothing but those 25 songs, read Mike's book, pulled out their records and watched live bootleg videos trying to piece together the lyrics. The hardest was the lyrics, man. Mike writes in a very deep, fragmentary manner, and even though a lot of his stuff is there to read it's still so garbled when he sings it that it's almost like he's speaking in tongues.
So there's bits and pieces of stuff I had a hard time finding, and it's been a real puzzle to put it together. It's been kinda neat, and also kinda frustrating, because he won't tell me anything, just like "Man I don't know either". Like, there's a line that goes 'Hyenas stalk rodentia'. What the fuck does that even mean? And the line is only written down in a rare CD insert hidden in a triangle or something, it was like “AAAAAAHHHHHH!” So anyway, I went down to New Orleans and stayed with Jimmy, we knocked out four or five good practices. Hung around New Orleans, went to the bayou and ate like fucking assholes. Went around and did some photography, and then it was more practice. I really want to do these songs justice.
How did you approach the performance aspect? You are a much more physical performer than Mike, if that makes sense.
I just didn't want to completely ape Mike, you know? EHG has had other singers before, Sammy from Acid Bath, Phil Anselmo, I think Ben from Goatwhore, and they didn't do that. One thing that is a huge positive is that I get to use a microphone stand and play around with that. My other band would never let that happen, they'd bitch and whine and cry about getting hit. Plus, there's spaces in this music, instead of that dun-dun-dun-dun in my other band, here there's spaces in the music where I don't have to hold the mic to my face and can get into it a little more.
As much of a fan of Mike's writing as I am, it's important for me not to just put my personality into his stage persona. It's more about me bringing his lyrics out through my physical expression, and it's tricky, you know? I'm a very physical performer, and I don't want to just get up there and completely ape Mike Williams. I'm good friends with these guys, they've crashed at my house in Richmond years ago, and it's like a family unit. I really wish Mike was out here though, I know it's on everybody's minds. I mean, they're a band, they can't just stop, they have mouths to feed, and I was lucky enough to have a hole in my schedule so this is a complete honor.