Sunday 13 April 2014

Interview with Mike IX Williams of Eyehategod

Don’t be scared, Markwell. 

Don’t be scared. 

It’s Friday (4/4/2014).  Mid-afternoon.  Not rainy, but there’s a pressure in the air.  Some kind of lightning making things spark and shock.  Maybe it’s just in my head.  Take a deep breath, compose yourself. 

As soon as my phone begins ringing, I would be talking with Mike IX Williams.  Mike IX: of Eyehategod, Corrections House, Arson Anthem, Outlaw Order… he’s a beat poet, a nihilist, an outsider and a creative tornado.  And I’m about to talk to him. 

The questions I had beside me weren’t just my own: I’d like to thank Matt, Aaron and Steve for looking them over, tweaking and adding to them.  This is a joint effort by all at The Sludgelord; I was merely the guy that gave his voice to the questions.  Here’s what went down when the phone rang and I picked up…

(SL): Hello, Mike.  How are you and where are you today? 

Mike Williams: Today I’m in London, Camden town.  I’m doing fine, I’m doing good.  Excited to be here. 

(SL): I hear on the 12th of April Corrections House is playing London.  How are you guys feeling about this event? 

MW: Good, I’m glad you knew that because I keep forgetting to tell people!  For the past three interviews I’ve done, I’ve totally forgot to say ‘yeah, my other band’s playing here on the 12th’.  I just keep thinking that all we’re doing is Roadburn, but we’re doing Roadburn and then coming back to London.  So yeah, that’s going to be fun; it’s a fun band to be in, because it’s just… it’s mostly experimental.  I mean, it’s more structured than it first was, but it’s a fun thing to do with some cool people, some friends of mine, you know?  And it’s totally different to Eyehategod.  It’s just a fun thing to do, and I’ve always been a fan of that type of music as well, you know?  Like old bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK and whoever from back in the day, and newer bands too, so it’s cool. 

(SL): You’ve just released a new album with Corrections House called ‘Last City Zero’: did you approach the creation of this album differently to an Eyehategod release? 

MW: Well, yeah.  I mean, as far as vocals go I did the same thing I usually do, [and] the music has been written by the band.  I had a few ideas and opinions about what to do with the music also, you know?  To add something here, like a synthesiser noise thing here, or whatever, but for the most part it’s all them, you know?  So I kind of did the same as I do with any of my bands: it’s just go in when the music’s recorded and lay the vocals down, you know?  But with Corrections House, you know, we all sing: like Sanford [Parker], our quote-unquote ‘drummer’ – he’s actually a drum machine, but a human being also – he sings background vocals.  But Scott [Kelly] sings, Bruce [Lamont] has his, you know, gothic vocal parts, and then I do my usual screaming-type thing, and I do spoken-word stuff too. 

(SL): Yeah, it’s a lot more experimental than Eyehategod, definitely. 

MW: It’s still got that negative, End Times feel to it though.  That nihilistic element. 

(SL): Do you feel that nihilism will always be a part of your songwriting, regardless of what band you’re in? 

MW: It seems like it has been so far.  I mean, Outlaw Order – which was a band we did pretty much with everybody in Eyehategod except for Jimmy, because he was out on tour with Corrosion of Conformity, Superjoint and Down all the different times – we did that band as a side-band, with lyrics that were similar [to Eyehategod], but they were more about crime.  We were trying to do a lot of stuff about corruption and the criminal system and cops and things like that, but [it had] the same sort of vibe.  Then I did Arson Anthem, which was me, Phil [Anselmo] and Hank 3, and those were definitely nihilistic lyrics, you know?  But it was a fast, hardcore band: all the songs were fast, kind of like Decroits (sic)… it’s just dissonant notes and fast music, you know?  But yeah, I’m always with the same themes: that’s pretty much all I know, so I’m going to stick with that.  I’m not going to sing about dragons and warriors, you know? 

(SL): You’re not going to go all Dio on us just yet. 

MW: No, not yet.  Maybe next time I’ll sing about them…

(SL): I was wondering: you have a book out, called ‘Cancer as a Social Activity’, have you been doing any non-musical writing recently?

MW: I’m always writing.  I write all the time, even if it’s just a couple of lines here and there.  I never, like, sit down and go: ‘I’m going to write something out’, you know? Unless I have to do something like a biography for the band, or do, like, an interview, an e-mail type interview, you know?  That’s when I’ll sit down and do it.  But I’ll just have an idea in my head, and it’ll just pop up, and it could be at any point, like in the middle of the night, you know? 

Anytime you might get inspired to write just one line down, you know?  And then from there on you can build on that and make it into whatever.  It can kind of inspire lyrics for later too, but it can come any time: when you’re walking down the street, anytime. 

(SL): Are you the kind of guy that always has a pen and paper handy for when inspiration strikes? 

MW: No, I don’t carry a pen and pad.  I mean, sometimes I’ll have one in my bag or something, but I’ll just usually try to just remember, which is hard for me now, I don’t remember things as well as I used to, but if I can remember phrases or whatever… I like propaganda, you know?  I’m a big fan of propaganda. 

(SL): Your brand new track on YouTube is even called ‘Agitation! Propaganda!’ 

MW: Yeah!  ‘Agitation! Propaganda!’  I’ve always been a fan of that type of, I guess you’d say, advertising (laughs).  But, you know, misinformation type things too.  I’ve always liked phrases; I’ve always liked the way words look.  I like the way words look on a page, you know?  Just, the way they fit together, for me, is the way I like to write, you know?  I mean, sometimes they make no sense.  I’ll have six or seven lines and they make sense to me; in my head I know what I’m talking about, but then they’re kind of there for other people to interpret, you know? 

(SL): Do you like the freedom that certain words can give you contextually? 

MW: Of course, yeah yeah!  That’s definitely part of what I like to do.  You can make people think a certain thing.  I mean, you can be blatant and write out just blatant lines of whatever you want to say, but I like being more abstract, a little more cryptic in that way, you know?  That’s just the way I’ve always been, and it seems like it fits me. 

(SL): Do you feel that being subtle with certain messages is important to you? 

MW: Well, not really subtle: I mean, I want it to make an impact on people, you know?  But I just like the way people… I mean, I’ll write something, and I’ll know what it means personally, then people will come up to me later and they give me their story.  Because [of my] being abstract, or whatever, they’ll come up and they have their interpretation of what I’ve said, and I like that, you know?  I think that it lets people have their own feelings about the lyrics and the music too, you know?  As well as the band as a whole, instead of just writing out blatant things, like ‘WORSHIP SATAN!’ or whatever, instead of making it simple, I’d rather make it a little confusing and complicated for people, you know?  I think people should think a little more, and not just have it fed to them. 

(SL): With your lyrics in all bands there’s a kind of beat poetry vibe to them: do you enjoy poetry? 

MW: Sure, yeah!  Everybody from Walt Whitman to Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and William Vollman, JD Salinger… the list goes on and on.  There’s so many writers that I love.  Even writers that are musicians, like Darby Crash from The Germs.  To me, he was a writer.  His lyrics were pretty amazing: he was this fucked-up guy, but he wrote these amazing lyrics, you know?  Same with Nick Cave.  Nick Cave is a big inspiration for me as far as lyrics go.  And he’s actually a published author, too; his books are amazing as well. 

EHG 2014

(SL): Would you say that literature has as much of an influence on your songwriting as songs do? 

MW: I would say so, yeah.  I would say music overpowers it by a small percentage, but yeah.  I love both, for sure.  I love books, I love reading, I love records and I love music.  So all of these things go hand-in-hand for me. 

(SL): Back in the day, you were the associate editor for the magazine Metal Maniacs.  If you didn’t have the music aspect of your life, do you reckon you’d still be a journalist? 

MW: That’s funny; we were just talking about that today.  I don’t think so.  I was writing for a number of [publications]: I was doing it for a couple of websites, like this one in Argentina and this other one in America, and I was writing for this print magazine in Australia called Unbelievably Bad.  That was more fun, because I didn’t have to do record reviews, I could write what I wanted.  But working for Metal Maniacs and doing record reviews… I would rather do interviews, you know?  I interviewed Mick Harris, and Dylan Carlson of Earth, and I’d rather do that than reviews because I would do the reviews and I would say ‘this band sucks’, or whatever.  And then, I’m in a band myself, and I would feel guilty.  Like, who am I to say that?  I’m nobody.  I’m not some powerful person; just because it’s not my taste, it’s only my opinion, and here I am putting it in a magazine, which is influencing people to be, like, ‘oh yeah, that band sucks because Mike said they suck’.  It’s not my place to say that. 

So yeah, if I did do [music journalism] again I would want to do interviews, or have my own column where I could write my thoughts and whatever I was feeling, you know?  Which gets weird too, because I’ve done that for websites, and sometimes you just don’t have anything to say, you know? (laughs) They’re like, ‘well, the deadline’s in two days’ and you’re like ‘I really don’t have anything.  I’ve been hungover for five days, I don’t really care about anything right now, I don’t want to talk, or write, or anything…’ (laughs) That’s the way I would do it: no record reviews, unless it’s a band I really love, which kind of defeats the purpose of being critical.  I don’t want to be a critic, you know? 

(SL): While we’re on the subjects of reviews, then: what’s the weirdest or most interesting review you’ve seen about one of your bands? 

MW: I remember an old Eyehategod review... I don’t know which album it was, but it was back in the early days, back in the first two records where nobody really knew what to do with us, you know?  Nobody knew: is it punk?  Is it metal?  Is it noise?  What is it?  Nobody really knew what to do with us, but this guy writes: ‘Eyehategod: they’re a cross between the Circle Jerks and Carcass.’  I just thought that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life!  I was like ‘how did he come to that decision?’  I mean, I like both of those bands, but we don’t sound like that at all!  Not even close!  It was just a strange thing to say, you know?  That’s one that stands out as one of the weirdest.  We’ve always had weird reviews, where they don’t want to talk about the music; they just want to talk about the myth surrounding the band, or whatever. 

(SL): Speaking of the myth of Eyehategod (Mike chuckles at this), after being around for over 25 years and still going strong, and being cited by many bands and artists as their main reason for getting into heavy music, did you ever consider your music would achieve such a cult status? 

MW: No, and that’s what I’d call it, too: a cult status.  Because between the year 2000 –  when we put out our last official full-length record, ‘Confederacy of Ruined Lives’ – and now, the crowds never got smaller.  If anything, they got bigger.  It became this strange thing where people would just be like ‘go see them now before they totally self-destruct!’  Or even just the fact that it was this cult thing, you know? And we were talking about this a little while ago too: Eyehategod is like a band you either love, or you completely hate, you know?  Which is, to me, great!  At least it causes people to have emotions of some sort. 

(SL): It’s better to get a reaction than no reaction at all. 

MW: Yeah.  If people were like ‘meh, they’re alright…’ that would suck!  That would be boring!  But yeah, the cult status thing is great: it’s kept us going with no record, you know?  We’ve been touring constantly since forever, and the crowds are always great.  We’re very thankful for that, that’s a cool thing. 

(SL): How have the recent tours been? 

MW: Everything’s been great.  I mean, of course, we were in Europe for, like, six weeks, and then when we came home our drummer died.  That wasn’t very cool.  But, besides that, I mean that tour was amazing: six weeks is a long time to be on tour, but yeah. 

(SL): Speaking about Joey, would you say the new Eyehategod album is a fitting tribute to his memory? 

MW: Of course, yeah.  We ended up having to re-record a good bit of the record; I hadn’t done vocals yet, but they rerecorded bass and guitar tracks, which is a lot of tracks.  But we kept Joey’s drums, because they sounded amazing.  That was the one thing from the first session that really sounded great.  Everything else, we decided that we wanted to redo it.  There were just a few problems in the studio, some weirdness going on here and there, so it didn’t come out the way everyone wanted, but the drums are amazing.  Joey, he could be on stage, completely wasted, and just nail it every time.  He was a great drummer, an awesome drummer. 

(SL): Following Joey’s death, The Sludgelord did an auction to help raise money to give to his family.  How did the reaction and support from people following his passing make you feel? 

MW: That was all great.  A lot of people helped out, and we had a lot of support.  We realised too who our friends and fans were, you know?  The true fans and friends.  You always find out who they are when there’s a tragedy. 

(SL): It must have been such a shock to the system to have a person who has been in your life for so long suddenly disappear from your everyday routines. 

MW: Obviously.  Me and him shared a hotel room every night on tour: he was the guy, you know?  He was my best friend.  I mean, he was best friend to all of us, but me and him; we would just talk about stuff.  I’m not saying that he was just my friend, you know, but we bonded over a lot of weird things: like noise music, Japanese noise stuff, Joy Division.  He loved Joy Division and so do I, so we would listen to Joy Division while the rest of the band were like ‘what the fuck is this?’  Things like that, the little things.  It’s been rough, you know? 

RIP Joey LaCaze

(SL): Speaking on behalf of all of us at The Sludgelord, you have our most sincere sympathies. 

MW: Thank you. 

(SL): Let’s talk about the future.  You’ve gotten yourselves a new drummer, Aaron Hill: is he a fitting replacement? 

MW: Oh, he’s great, man!  He’s amazing! 

(SL): Where did you find him? 

MW: He’s from New Orleans.  It’s like, you never know what’s there, and when it’s right under your nose, kinda thing.  He’s in a bunch of local bands and I know he’s a great drummer, and I’ve been getting to know the guy, and I knew how great of a drummer he was, and I’ve loved all of his bands.  I was the one in the band going ‘we need to audition this guy’, when there was so-and-so many from some popular band who wants to come audition, and I’m thinking in that mindset.  And then Jimmy’s like ‘trust me, man.  Just trust me’, and I’m like ‘are you sure, man?  Are you sure we don’t want somebody from another band?’  And he’s like ‘no.  Just trust me.’  And as soon as I saw Aaron play the songs I was just blown away.  They had sent me some files of him and his bands practising, and they sounded fucking awesome.  I mean, Joey had more of a… he would change songs up sometimes, and he had a different style, but, for the most part, they’re [Aaron and Joey are] the same.  Aaron’s got this tighter feel, he’s right on the notes, he’s still in the pocket, behind the beat, but he’s got these fills and stuff which are really tight. 

(SL): Are you looking forward to getting in the studio to record something new with him? 

MW: Well, we’ve already got, I’d say, five or six songs written… well, they do, I don’t have anything added to it yet as far as vocals go, because I’m kind of worried about this record right now… but I’ve heard the tapes, and it sounds excellent.  I think that comes from getting a new drummer too, and being inspired with new blood in the band.  He’s a musician, too: he plays guitar in a crusty punk band; he sings in another band, this poppy, garage band; he plays the mandolin; he’s just a well-rounded musician.  He knows his shit, you know?  He’s a smart guy, and also a complete weirdo, just like we are.  He’s got a bizarre sense of humour, he’s just a freak like us.  That’s one thing you’ve got to think about: it’s not just whether he can play, it’s also whether you can ride around in a van with the guy.  If you’ve got some guy in the band who’s just a killer drummer who just sucks as a person, then I’m going to end up getting in a fist-fight with the guy.  But Aaron, he just totally fits in, and he’s super-cool, which works out great, man. 

(SL): It sounds like the future’s looking just a little bit brighter in the land of nihilism that is Eyehategod. 

MW: I’ll still be nihilistic forever, I still won’t trust anybody, and I’m a paranoid bastard, but that’s just the way it is.  Between everybody in this whole band, there’s like schizophrenia, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder, you name it, we’ve probably got it!  But still, that makes us who we are. 

(SL): What are you most looking forward to in the coming years? 

MW: Just playing live, man.  Playing live and getting bigger audiences and reaching people that didn’t know about us before.  I mean, that’s already started to happen before the album was even announced: we’d get these old fans of ours, who’ve been with us for twenty-something years, maybe even for twenty-five, since we started, but they come out and they bring their kids, and their kids are like seventeen, and they’re like ‘yeah, my son or my daughter’s a huge Eyehategod fan, and I used to come see you play back in the early nineties, but my kids love you now.’  It’s really cool to see that happen.  I’m looking forward to playing live and just having more people hear it.  A lot of people think it’s just noisy punk-rock, metal, whatever, but there’s a lot there that people can get into.  So touring, performing, and definitely recording the next record.  That next record will probably be out in another fourteen years! (laughs)

(SL): What country would be the one you’d like to visit with Eyehategod the most? 

MW: Well, we went to Australia a couple of years ago, and we were supposed to go back there not that long ago, but some stuff happened and that fell through.  There was a bad promoter, a horrible promoter, who bought two tickets for the entire band to fly over!  Then asked if we could pay for the other tickets out of our pocket, while we’re at the airport, passport in our hands!  He’s on the phone, saying ‘can you guys just buy the other tickets?’ and we were like ‘no!  We don’t have ten thousand dollars sitting in our bags!’  So he goes ‘well, can you and Jimmy just come over?’  We were just baffled by the ineptitude of this fucking idiot, man.  We cancelled that!  We were also supposed to go to Japan in the next couple of weeks, towards the middle of April, but they cancelled the entire festival.  So I would say I’d want to go back to Japan, definitely.  That’s being rescheduled, and so is Australia.  I want to play everywhere: I want to play Indonesia, anywhere.  You hear of some bands playing these wild places, and they always come back with these awesome stories.  I want to play Mexico; I’ve heard that’s insane.  I’ve heard bands playing in Alaska, which seems a bit absurd, but I would do it just to say I’ve done it. 

(SL): Just pack your thermals and hope for the best! 

MW: Yeah, bring a knife, just in case! There’s drunk lumberjacks up there, man: they’ve been known to beat the shit out of people.  But, you know, I’ll play anywhere, so I’m looking forward to anything. 

(SL): What do you think attributes to your longevity? 

MW: This is what we do.  This is all we really know how to do.  Gary’s probably the only one that works another job – he works at, like, a Mexican restaurant – but nobody else works.  When Eyehategod’s not on tour, I’m trying to go out with Corrections House; we all try to fill in the blanks, you know?  Brian’s supposed to be getting Soilent Green back together.  That’s the word, anyway, I don’t know how that’s going.  I could go paint houses like I used to, or wash dishes in a restaurant, but I don’t want to do that.  I’d rather be broke, you know?  We just keep busy to pay the bills.  Just keeping at it and not giving up. 

(SL): Would you say that personal attitude is important to keep a band working? 

MW: Well, yeah: you have to be tenacious about it.  Being from the South, Southern America, where we’re from, people just have that ‘never give up’ attitude.  That’s just the way we were raised.  You’ve just got to keep going, no matter what the obstacles are. 

(SL): Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life? 

MW: Well, I don’t want to be up there in a wheelchair or a walker, just hunched over… I couldn’t do that.  But the cool thing I like to think is that: I might not be able to play in a band when I’m older, but I could always do spoken word and write books and read poetry.  Even tell stories of the band, one day.  I could always do that and still go on tour, you know?  There’s always something there to do, without being a part of real society, which I don’t fit into anyway. 

(SL): A Mike Williams one-man show could be an interesting thing to go and watch. 

MW: People have asked me to do that.  I’m doing a spoken-word thing in Germany in a couple of days, just a fifteen to twenty minute thing, and then they’re going to play the new Eyehategod record.  It’s like a promo thing.  But there are so many stories about this band: we’re trying to do a book, an Eyehategod book, we’re just trying to find the right people to help us do it.  It’s kind of hard to find somebody that’s dedicated: it’d be a lot of work, tracking down photos and all our old drivers and bands we’ve played with, stuff like that, maybe even getting interviews from all those people. 

(SL): Who would you say are among your favourite bands you’ve played with over the years? 

MW: Chaos UK, they were one of the funnest bands to tour with, because they were definitely out of their minds!  Pantera and White Zombie was great: it was just overwhelming, because it was so huge.  We’d never played arenas before; it was definitely a great tour.  God, we’ve played with so many bands it’s hard to remember who we’ve played with… Corrosion of Conformity tour was great; Today Is the Day… so many bands we’ve toured with, it’s hard to even remember.  But there’s a lot, you know? 

(SL): Have you ever been on the bill with bands that are just so unlike your own? 

MW: That’s always going to happen.  I try to have control over it before we go on a tour, where I’m like ‘can we get this band, and this band, in this city?’ and it never works out.  It hardly ever works out.  You know the band Blast?  Well, they got back together recently and I finally got them to do a show with us… it wasn’t their fault they weren’t able to do it before, it was just timing issues: like when we were going to be in California, because they’re not touring right now, they’re just playing around California.  We became friends with Nick Oliveri, he was playing bass with them.  We toured with Mondo Generator – another fun band we’ve toured with – they were pretty cool… so anyway, Blast is a band that I was just on the phone with constantly, trying to set up this gig, and we finally got to do one show with them.  I actually think they might have broken up again… I always try to get bands that I like on the bill, but there’s always going to be some problems with doing that.  Usually it’ll be something heavy and different, because we like to play with different types of stuff, you know?  It sucks when every single band [on the bill] sounds like Eyehategod, or Down, or Pantera – which happens – they think that if they put these bands on the bill we’re going to be all happy because that’s what we listen to.  I don’t listen to Down.  I don’t listen to Pantera.  I don’t listen to Crowbar.  I don’t listen to any of that stuff.  I’m sorry; I mean, the name of your site is The Sludgelord, but I hate that term ‘sludge’, I just think it’s another label.  When bands play with us and they’re like ‘yeah!  We’re a sludge band!’ I’m like ‘oh, God… here we go…’  It’s going to be the same riffs and the same thing.  I like to play with either faster bands, punk bands or hardcore bands.  We played with this band in Norway, it was like this Italian horror movie soundtrack band – they kind of ripped off Goblin, I guess – and they opened for us.  And that was one of the best shows on the tour.  

(SL): Finally, do you have any words of wisdom to share with our readers? 

MW: Check out the new record when it comes out: self-titled Eyehategod.  It’s a new beginning.  It’s a new start.  It’s a great record.  People should definitely check it out. 

(SL): Mike IX Williams, on behalf of all of us at The Sludgelord, thank you so much for this interview.  Here’s to a great 2014 for you and all your bands. 

MW: Thanks, man! 

Words & Interview by : Chris Markwell

I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Mike Williams for talking to us.  Also thanks to The Noise Cartel for setting it up.  

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