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Interview: Mike IX Williams of Eyehategod

This week Eyehategod released its first album in fourteen years. Self-titled, the new record is cast in classic Eyehategod mode with expansive yet heavy riffs and Mike IX Williams’ emotionally-charged, cathartic caterwaul, casting forth words that shine a light on the uncomfortable places of his own psyche and that of the American political and cultural landscape. Eyehategod formed in 1988 in New Orleans and blended together elements of the blues with their mutual love for both heavy psychedelic rock like Black Sabbath, its sludgier descendents in Saint Vitus and hardcore bands like Black Flag that gave life’s down moments a spirit of defiance and black humor. We got to speak with the typically thoughtful and easy-going Williams ahead of the release of the album about why hardcore was good skateboarding music, the collaborative nature of the band’s cover and t-shirt art and why he doesn’t think the entire rest of the US won’t follow in line with Washington and Colorado in legalizing the recreational use of cannabis as the culture stands now.

GutterBubbles: Was the title Confederacy of Ruined Lives a nod to the John Kennedy O’Toole novel?

Mike IX Williams: Yeah, it could be for sure. I’ve never actually put that together as an obvious thing but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. I just thought it sounded cool together. Now that I think about it probably came from that. A lot of things you write, somewhere down the line, you’re like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that existed and it sounds so similar.” It’s a great book.
GutterBubbles: “New Orleans Is the New Vietnam” is such a powerful statement of a title. What inspired that sentiment for you?

Mike: It’s not like that right now. That was more right after Katrina. The more horrible stuff happened after the hurricane passed. The humans took over and started destroying the city and destroying each other and all the horrible things that humans do to each other.

GutterBubbles: You experienced that first hand.

Mike: Yeah, I stayed because I didn’t have the transportation to leave town and I was there for the entire thing up until about a week later. It took them so long to send in help and even acknowledge how bad things were, you know? It’s just amazing. Our mayor curses on national television and just starts cursing about why is no one helping us, that’s pretty powerful stuff. I think George Bush realized it was mostly poor people left here and he didn’t really care. It wasn’t Republican, right-wing people that paid for his presidency or whatever. It was people that had no money and couldn’t leave town. It was impossible to leave for a little while.

GutterBubbles: His mom said something like “These people never had it so good” about the people that were housed in the Super Dome at that time.

Mike: That’s insane because people refused to go there. They were trying to make people go there. I refused to go. It was too violent and too crazy. With a girlfriend and being in that place without a gun? That’s insane.

GutterBubbles: What do you think Phil Anselmo and Steve Berrigan were able to bring out in the recording process that maybe you weren’t having as much luck with before?

Mike: We’ve known Steve for a long time. I used to live with Steve and we’ve been friends for a long time. Same with Phil. It wasn’t so much as, “Oh we’ll go to them to get the best sound.” We just considered what our options were. We should have gone to them in the first place. We wanted to do it with Billy Anderson but it just wasn’t the right time. Things kind of fell apart in the studio. The one good thing is we got to save Joey’s drum tracks. That was the best part about the whole session. The second choice was to record in our rehearsal room with Steve. That’s where we recorded the guitars and bass. The vocals were done out here at Phil’s studio.

GutterBubbles: Your music is heavy and deals with heavy subjects in terms of personal experiences and social and political commentary but like the best punk bands there is a sense of humor informing a bit of it. That’s probably second nature to you but why do you feel that’s an important aspect of what you do?

Mike: We just like to have a good time. If you’ve seen us live it’s loose and we like to play around with the crowd and make jokes. If we were just like our music, and we create that music from our souls and our hearts, but if you’re like that twenty-four hours a day and can’t laugh at your misery, you’ll go insane. You have to laugh a lot of times or you’ll cry all the time. That’s the way I look at it. So I just try to laugh as much as possible and have a good time. The music is just a way to get it out.

GutterBubbles: Were there bands whose humor you appreciated that have a similar sense of humor?

Mike: A band like Black Flag. I get tons of influence from that band from the content of the lyrics. Some of the bands from that time were writing songs about Reagan, the government and stuff like that but Black Flag was writing about being depressed and miserable and I think that influenced us as a band a lot and me specifically. We’re not ever going to do a goofy song. I really don’t like bands that wear their comedy on their sleeve. Like NOFX. But they’re not a heavy band. Black Flag had the sense of humor enough to do “TV Party.” They did “Louie Louie” and changed the original lyrics to be really dark. The way they did that influenced EyeHateGod a little bit more in terms of singing about dark feelings and negativity.

GutterBubbles: Why do you think bands like St. Vitus, Melvins and Black Sabbath made such a big impact on you earlier in life?

Mike: Those were just great bands. I don’t know why. Maybe the dark, heavy sound.

GutterBubbles: Did you get to see any of those bands?

Mike: I didn’t see the Melvins when I was younger. I happened to be out of town the day the first time they ever played New Orleans so I missed that show. I saw Saint Vitus in ’85. And I just talked about Witchfinder General and Black Flag with Dave Chandler all night. I saw Saint Vitus a bunch of times. Black Sabbath I only saw in the 90s at Ozzfest when they did that brief tour with Ozzy still singing. I’ve seen the Melvins since the but not back in the day. I saw Black Flag seven times back in the 80s. I saw every tour they did, except for two tours. We would drive to Texas with a couple of friends, The Hatch Brothers, to see Misfits, Minor Threat, Bad Brains or Black Flag. A lot of bands skipped New Orleans back then.

GutterBubbles: How did you find out about those kinds of bands then?

Mike: Reading fanzines and being into Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath when I was very young because I had two older brothers. They listened to music constantly and after I got into Alice Cooper I got into Kiss. I’d read magazines and it would say, “New explosion from the UK, punk rock!” Or whatever. It was a progression of reading and searching out bands. These days people can go to the Internet and it’s already set up for them. But you used to have to order fanzines and it was harder to find the music you wanted. But it was always worth it. You’d spend a ton of money on imports and go to the record store every weekend and look through all the records and finding out what was good.

GutterBubbles: There’s a blues element to your music. Even in the way you structure and deliver your vocals. Did you get to experience that music when you first moved to New Orleans?

Mike: Of course. I couldn’t go to the clubs and see it live. But you could go to jazz fests and see blues bands. My brother was a big blues fan. We’d hear the stuff coming out of bars in the French Quarter: blues and jazz. The blues is what hit me the most. I like some jazz, the Charlie Parker era in the 40s kind of jazz.

GutterBubbles: Why did the blues strike you more?

Mike: I could just relate to it, even when I was a kid. At twelve years old I had already been through a lot and somehow related to the whole thing. I couldn’t say why. That’s for a psychiatrist to figure out, I guess.

GutterBubbles: You have asthma and sing the way you do. Other than medicine is there anything you do to alleviate the effects of asthma?

Mike: Mainly just using the inhaler. That’s basically it. I have to have the inhaler on me all the time. It comes and goes. It depends on the seasons and allergies and stuff like that. For the most part it’s pretty under control.

GutterBubbles: When you were skateboarding as a youth, what made hardcore appealing music to rather than other music that was around?

Mike: It just went along with the music. It was fun to skate to. I never got into half pipes or anything like that. I tried but I wasn’t very good at it. So it was just street skating and it was five people skateboarding just attacking everything and carrying a can of spray paint around—typical kids of that day, probably. Hardcore was just fast and had that energy to it just like skateboarding. Back then, too, it was one of those things you had to fight for. You’d get the rednecks that wanted to kill you because you shaved your head and looked a certain way. They’d call you Devo, B-52s, all that stuff. Now it’s so accepted it has become a fashion. Back then it was a lot harder and skateboarding was part of being rebellious.

GutterBubbles: With the new self-titled album there’s the amazingly evocative album art. Who made that?

Mike: Gary, our bass player, found the art. But it’s a combination of a lot of different things he found. Just found art. That’s how we’ve done all our records. People always write us and they want to draw something for our record covers. But we never have drawings, we have these collage kind of things. In the past we it was literally cut and paste, even now it’s essentially the same thing on a computer. You’ll see when you get the actual record the inside has a lot more different types of art that we did. We all collaborate on it. Nothing ever goes on the record without the whole band agreeing about it. We’ve always been very adamant about being democratic about it. We’ve never thought about putting a drawing or a commissioned painting on a record. We’ve always done it ourselves.

GutterBubbles: Even though it’s collaborative and done as a kind of collage the artwork for the albums and t-shirts always seem very distinctive and have a style of their own.

Mike: That’s cool. That’s good.

GutterBubbles: Now that Colorado and Washington has legalized cannabis for recreational use, do you think it’s possible for America to adopt a policy toward drugs the way it’s done in certain European countries? Rather than a punitive approach a more humanistic or rehabilitative approach?

Mike: In some states. But I think as far as every single state? I don’t see how that could possibly happen because of the Bible belt and the south. It seems like they’d be opposed to it. Some states will fight it to the death. I just saw this documentary called Marijuana: A Chronic History. It was the same thing. A lot of people still opposed to it look like they’ll start a war over it. They just don’t get it. They think it’s this super addictive thing. Alcohol is so much worse. That’s a typical thing to say but it is true. People shouldn’t drive on it, of course, because it impairs things. But I never thought it would happen the way it has in America so far. But I can’t imagine it repeating throughout the whole country. It seems like a tough thing.

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