CVLT Nation got the chance to chop it up with one our favorite people in the underground, Mike IX of EYEHATEGOD, and this is what he had to say!
Why self-title this album?
In the beginning, we had page after page of titles, probably 100 or so different names for the record. Everybody had their own ideas, but we couldn’t think of anything that sounded right and we didn’t want it to be cheesy. Before Joey passed away, we talked for a minute about self-titling it because it’s our first album in like 15 years. But then after Joey died, it was an obvious choice. Because it’s his last drum track that he’ll ever record, and it’s a fresh start for the band. We wanted it to be a new beginning. It was a logical choice, it just sounded right.
How has the brotherhood & the hardships you’ve all experienced over the past decade shaped the sound of EHG – both the album and the band?
Man, it’s hard to know exactly where the music comes from, but it definitely comes from a deep emotional place. I mean, we all love playing this music, but I think it would probably take a psychiatrist to figure out why we sound the way we do. It’s not a conscious effort, but I guess the hardships do come out in our music, and I think people can relate to it because of that. To us, it just sounds like the band we want to hear.
Why did the band decide to not to sign to a label and finance this album yourselves? How did that change the way the album was made?
Nowadays, with the state of the record industry, it just seemed like the smartest thing to do. I’ve never trusted record labels anyway, ever. When we were younger, we signed some shitty deals and we still regret it years later, so we were just really mistrusting of any label. But we just want to go out and play, so I’d rather have someone else taking care of the promotion and distribution, because we don’t know how to do that. We just want to record and play the songs. So we figured we’d pay for it ourselves, so there was no pressure and we could just take our time and do what we want with the artwork and everything.
From what I can hear this record is the perfect balance between punk and chaotic dirty fucking blues…how was this achieved?…could you describe the writing process for EHG?
Well that goes back to your earlier question – we just wanted to be the perfect band that we’d all want to be in…like if we had to fantasize a band, it would be Eyehategod. The process is always the same – Jimmy and those guys come up with riffs and parts, and even Joey would write guitar parts too. Nobody knows that, but Joey wrote guitar parts on some of our past records. I can’t remember exactly which ones, but I think some on Dopesick and some earlier ones. And Aaron, our new drummer, plays guitar as well so I’m sure he’ll come up with some stuff. So everybody kind of contributes to it. I wish I contributed more to that area because I play guitar too – simple, three-chord stuff – I always want to contribute to the music but I haven’t yet. They’ll just bring me the songs and then the rest is up to me with the lyrics and usually the song titles. But everyone has a say on song titles too so we all work together on it.
Do you feel that all the lives of your band members lived and being older makes you more comfortable in our creative skin? Because I’ll hear some raging hardcore in a song and then all of a sudden some southern-fried rock riffs will come in, because you’re like, fuck it, we want to throw some southern rock in here too!
Yeah, I mean growing up in the south, you hear stuff like that. When I was a kid I’d go stay with my aunt, and my cousins were all into Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nantucket, Blackfoot, The Outlaws and all these southern rock bands. They were some serious rednecks – you know, tobacco-chewin’, motorcycle ridin’ rednecks. So I’d stay out there for a week and they’d ride horses and listen to that type of music. But some of that music is just good music, feel-good music; it makes you feel a little happy.
Yeah, honestly, sometimes I’m listening to this album and I’m like, damn, I need to take a shower this shit is so filthy! And then you’ll hit me with these riffs that make me feel all sunny inside…
Haha, yeah, that just goes to show what good songwriters those guys are! I think this is our best album, as far as songwriting goes, ever. I mean, some of the other albums you can kind of tell they just put a riff with another riff and play them one after another. But this album’s got a flow to it; they took time to put parts and songs together that make sense. And having a couple of different styles in the songs never hurts.
Talk to me about the things that really inspired your lyrics on this record, Mike? Do you purposely write a call and response with the riffs?
Yeah, we do that on purpose. We never used to do that, but Jimmy’s said now when they’re writing the songs, they think about where the vocals will go. We never used to do that, we’d just write the songs and then I’d come in and do whatever, it didn’t matter. but now they’re writing the songs to fit the vocals.
As far as inspiration, it’s everything – personal thoughts, and sometimes abstract or hallucinogenic sounding. Some of it won’t make sense to other people but it kind of makes sense to me, sometimes, haha. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to me but I know it sounds good. It comes from the same old negative depression, drug problems, the city. You know how Black Flag always had those personal lyrics, about what’s going on inside their heads instead of like “I shot Reagan” or whatever, which is a great song too. But even Suicidal Tendencies had some personal shit in there too, where they’d sing about what’s bothering them. And none of that changes when you’re older, you’re always going to have some kind of strife going on in your life. It’s hard to be 100% happy all the time, it’s human nature to go up and down.
Do you feel like you don’t always want to give the listener the answer with your lyrics, like you want to give them something that they can interpret for themselves?
Yeah, I do do that on purpose – I’ll write something that kind of cryptic that I don’t exactly understand, but I know the feeling the words convey that I can’t explain. And people will come up to me after they’ve read the lyrics and they’ll tell me what it meant to them and what they got out of it. I think that’s cool, because people can relate in different ways.
Give me some insight into why you feel that EHG is a band that appeals to so many different kinds of weirdos, be them punks, metal heads, bikers or just straight freaks?
I guess it’s that whole outsider thing. That comes from when I was a kid and I used to get picked on and beat up, whether it was from being a punk rocker, or earlier than that, just being a weird kid. I think that comes out in the music, because everyone in this band has been an outcast at one point or another. So I think a lot of outcasts are attracted to the band…I mean, we have the strangest group of fans, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! We have fans who are transvestites, hookers, drug addicts – you name it, they feel the lyrics and the sound of the music and they relate to it. I think they can relate to that feeling of not being able to fit into society. I mean, I still can’t fit into society, I’ve tried but it’s hard to do and I couldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t ever try anymore.
I think it’s also the bands you perform with are all so different, you guys will share a stage with a lot of different music and bands, you’re not just like, oh, we’re rock stars an we’ve gotta perform here or there. You’re willing to do a punk rock matinee show…
Well, yeah, that’s just who we are. I couldn’t live with myself if that started to come in between everything. It’s good to keep it real and keep it in the gutter. I’m glad we’re on the fringe, it’s like a cult status kind of band. I mean, people can still find out about it pretty easily but it’s still underground.
How have the fans worldwide responded to the new tunes live? I can imagine some insane pits have opened up…
Right now it’s been kind of weird…the ones we’ve been doing for years, like “Medicine Noose,” people really like that one, and “New Orleans is the New Vietnam,” but that one’s not on the new album…
Well, we re-recorded it – we recorded 16 songs for this record – but we figured it didn’t fit the album. It’s going to be on the Japanese version of this album, actually, because the 7″ didn’t make it over there.
But the other night we were in San Jose, and we did “Agitation! Propaganda!” – and I mean that’s a fast song so we figured people would go crazy – and they were just kind of staring at us because they’d never heard it before. I think once the album’s out and people have had a chance to sit and listen to it, driving around with it cranked up in their car, people will start to be familiar with it when we play it live. It’s funny, there’s always that one guy on Facebook who’s like, “you guys never put out any new records,” but then once you put out a new record they’re the first one yelling “30 Dollar Bag” or “Sister Fucker”!! They just want to hear the old songs live. Damn, I can’t win!
Describe your working relationship with Phil in the studio. What made the band sign to Housecore Records?
Well, the whole band wasn’t in the studio with him for this one. He was actually a part of Take as Needed for Pain, too, he gave us a bit of advice for that record back in ’93. For this one he was just there when I did my vocals, it was just him and Stephen Berrigan, who engineered most of the record. Me and Phil work really good together, we did the Arson Anthem record together and that was a fun experience. And you can hear the vocals on that record really well, they’re more pronounced and he helped me to do that. And I think that came out with this record too. I mean we goof off and get drunk, and when we get too drunk we stop recording and wait for the next day.
I’ve never met him, but he just seems like the biggest fan of music, and so happy to do what he does.
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. He’ll have a little party at his house or something and he’ll be over at his computer on iTunes making playlists or something. I mean I though I knew a lot about obscure bands, but he knows a lot too, all these weird bands he finds and puts me on to. Even with Pantera he took out Anal Cunt, Neurosis, Soilent Green, Eyehategod – he took us all out on tour. And when he would wear the Darkthrone shirt back when nobody knew who the fuck Darkthrone was. He’s a total fan of music.
Why do you feel that EHG has lasted, while other bands from when you started have not?
That’s hard to say, because I don’t know why. I think it’s just tenacity, being stubborn, and not giving up. I mean we could have given up so many times, I can think of like 5 times in my head right now, something happened and we were just like, ah fuck it’s not going to work, I’m going to start a new band. But something always seems to draw us back in to this band.
After Katrina, wasn’t that a crossroads for the band? I was in new York and I remember hearing you guys were going through a lot of gnarly shit.
Yeah, that was the big one, where Joey had moved up to Detroit, people had scattered, I was in jail at the time. But as soon as we all got back together and we were in the same area, some kids got a generator and we played in this old flooded out Mexican restaurant. There weren’t any streetlights, it was pitch black because there was no electricity, but these kids got this generator, whiskey and a bunch of food and seven bands played. That’s on video somewhere…
Do you think the fact that you and your band members have other projects keeps your creative spirit fresh? Also, do all of the outside projects in a way feed off of each other and inspire each other?
I think so, because the bands I’m in are all totally different sounding, so they’re all different creative outlets for me. And with Jimmy, he plays drums in one band and guitar in another, so that works out for him. Sometimes there are moments where someone will be on tour at the same time as Eyehategod so the other band can’t do some shows, but that doesn’t happen often. Jimmy has said he’ll do a double tour with Eyehategod and Down together. Even Brian is getting Soilent Green back together, Gary’s got Hawg Jaw, and Aaron’s in other bands – Missing Monuments, Mountain of Wizard. We’re all musicians, so that’s what we do. Like Corrections House, that’s stuff we could never do with Eyehategod.
Mike, how the fuck have you been able to keep up your health with the constant touring over the past two years?
It’s been a long time…but I don’t think I’m very healthy at all, I drink to much, I don’t eat right, I don’t sleep much, or if I do it’s a weird times, like I’ll sleep all day and then stay up all night. It’s definitely chaos, but the passion drives me to do this. I’ll be doing this until I just can’t. I just love it. But it takes a lot out of you. I mean you fly back from Europe, you’re home for a day, and then you fly back out again, and it’s fucking insane. A few months ago I was home for 18 hours. I mean, my kid had to get me form the airport, and I don’t even think I slept, and then she had to drive me back out to the airport 18 hours later. But I just love traveling and the music makes me want to keep going. I just fight through the jet lag. Sometimes I can be a total asshole because I’m so exhausted.
What does the city of New Orleans bring to EHG, and how does it inspire what you guys create?
There’s a lot. There’s all the positive things like the food and the culture. It’s a great place for a kid to grow up because you see all different kinds of lifestyles, not just one group of people. I wasn’t born here, I was born in North Carolina, but I’ve been here for 35 years, so I think I can claim citizenship. This has been my home for a long time now. There’s always music in the streets, parades and parties. It’s got a very European vibe, the architecture is all from the French and the Spanish, and there’s also a Caribbean vibe too. People in Europe will ask me, “are you from America?” and I say, “No, I’m from New Orleans.” We’re just really proud of this city, and with Katrina and everything we’ve been through, we’ve just all gotten closer.
But even the negative things about the city – it’s hot, and it stinks of rotting seafood in the summer – it all inspires Eyehategod.
That’s why I feel filthy sometimes when I listen to your music, it’s the smell of New Orleans coming through and spewing all over me!
Yeah, and the smoky bars where everyone smells like cigarettes and vodka…you’ve gotta go there.