Interview: Eyehategod's Mike Williams on His Band's Return to CMJ, Illicit Chemicals, and What He's Saving For His Next Book
The New Orleans sludge legends Eyehategod--a band of squirming, perpetual outsiders--have remained masters of miserablist metal for twenty years now. Dominated by weighty blues riffs, punctuated by bursts of hardcore, and anchored by lead singer Mike Williams' growl, the sound of the New Orleans-based band mixed and matched styles of punk and metal before that sort of thing was fashionable. Add battles with addiction and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the band--temporarily derailing the group and leading to Williams' arrest for drug possession--and Eyehategod more than live up to their return-to-touring tagline: "Twenty years of abuse." The band plays a show on a boat this Saturday, along with Pig Destroyer and Goatwhore as part of the (though varied and ever expansive) still predominantly indie CMJ. Via e-mail, we spoke to EHG lead singer Mike Williams about the show, Hurricane Katrina--something Mike's tired of discussing on other people's terms--and how and why the world getting more and more terrible makes Eyehategod's devastating music sound that much better.
It's been noted that CMJ is noticeably more "metal" this year, and there's a sense that metal's becoming more and more respected all-around.
Well, I wouldn't call Eyehategod "metal", but I do see extreme, heavy music in general getting new attention from some different areas of the population. Also we've played in NYC for CMJ before, back in the '90s, so it doesn't really seem like a new thing. Anyway, is it "respected" or is it "trendy"? "Trendy" meaning hipsters now have discovered us. Who knows? I welcome all people who are remotely interested to check us out.
And you know, Saint Vitus are back on tour too. It just seems like a good time for these weird, awesome bands that didn't really fit anywhere, be it CMJ or whatever metal "scene" of the past. This like early, influential wave of weird metal...
Saint Vitus being on tour again does mean something to me as they were a huge influence on us growing up and are now also good friends, Dave Chandler has been living in New Orleans now for a while. Influential wave of weird metal? I like the term, it should be in all caps! Abbreviated as the IWOWM. The CMJ doesn't really mean anything to me though--I don't really care where we play.
There's also been no "reunion" talk with you guys. You never stopped playing shows and despite stuff like Katrina and references to the group sobering up or whatever, there has not been much made of any of that.
We feel very lucky to have gotten through all the turmoil and bullshit, drugs and all that, so yes, we have been doing more gigs and loving it, celebrating 20 years as a band. It's great. There is a new urgency concerning us, we are fired up to be playing all over the world again. I'm psyched-up that the kids are digging us and what we stand for, but we have plenty of things to be misanthropic and suicidal about, believe me. Sobriety can breed a litany of massive troubles. But who's to say we're sober anyway? There's a term they use in therapy called "dry drunk" that describes humans who aren't doing substances but still are completely fucked. We are far from optimists and the catharsis will seemingly never end. I'll leave it a mystery whether we indulge in illicit chemicals.
Where do you think this renewed, ever-growing urgency in EHG comes from?
I really have no idea. Uh, planetary alignment? The fact that the world is slowly coming to an end and society gets uglier everyday?
It seems more like tastes and context have changed. You guys are doing basically the same thing you've been doing since the start.
I guess that goes along with us not caring what people thought about us and playing only exactly what we wanted to, completely unaware that it would turn into a total genre unto itself. I'm glad people eventually accepted us and now see EHG as an original and inspiring sound, but in the beginning we were hated with an incredible passion. Lots of fights at early shows, many threats.
Why, because you were so different?
It's not that anyone was pissed because we were playing what we wanted, it was because they had never heard anything like that and most close-minded people are scared of new things. We would open for speed and thrash metal bands and that didn't sit well with some of the redneck lunkheads who came to "mosh" or whatever and not listen to downtuned riffs, painful, angry vocals and feedback. Not to mention I used to break bottles and throw glass at the crowd.
Not metal enough, not punk enough...
Like I said before, "metal" is a label put on us by the media, I don't really think we should be put into a singular category. But having said that, we all do listen to anything and everything, everyone having his own particular tastes, of course.
Is that what a project like your spoken-word electronic release is, or Arson Anthem, your particular taste, separate from EHG?
I don't feel bound into one aspect of extreme sound and like to express that, no matter who complains or hates me for it. The Mike IX and the Southern Nihilism Front 7" I have coming out on Chrome Peeler records is kind of a solo deal and is me doing spoken word/power electronics stuff. Arson Anthem is a band born of the hurricane when me and Phil Anselmo were listening to his collection of '80s hardcore punk--some of the same stuff that I lost when my house burned down after the big K. We have always wanted to do a band in that style together, so we called Hank Williams III and got down to business.
Katrina's now a part of the group's mythos, from the birth of Arson Anthem to your arrest.
Everybody's life down here is entrenched in Katrina. It's a part of us now, those memories ain't going anywhere. It will never be the same, although it will be better. I have lived all over the country but New Orleans is a place that people are drawn to. A magical filthy place where hedonism and debauchery exist amongst the beautiful architecture and cultures. I loved living in New York a lot as well, but I'm a Southerner so I feel more at home in the Big Easy. Katrina affected us but it doesn't define us, it just shows we can shake back with pride.
Would you care to explain, for those that don't already know, what happened to you in Katrina?
I'm saving the full story of pre and post-Katrina for another book I'm writing and I'm really sick of talking about it in interviews. Basically, the storm came, I stayed, chaos broke out, pharmacies were looted, I ended up in jail, an innocent man. Saw a lot of death, riots, fires...through the help of my friends, I survived. Everybody's life changed that week...everybody's. I love my city and you cannot kill it. We all became closer and a bit more positive and the music scene here is better and bigger than ever. There's obviously a lot more to the story, way too much to write and say here. But anyway, I need a publisher to put out my books if someone wants to get in touch.
Regional music is always political, social and all that, but for better and worse, just being a group, one of many, from New Orleans means this other thing now.
I think most of the world could really care less about relating to our area as far as a disaster is concerned. Certain influences are bred in certain areas and the environment where you live can change your tastes and create your future. That's just how it is with music. Like Swedish death metal has different flavors than Florida death metal, like Seattle has their own sound, and on and on. We are a New Orleans band. I love my city. Period. We live in the Deep South but we live in a city. We ain't out in the swamp like some idiots think. We are inspired and influenced by our surroundings as much as how we were raised. Living in New Orleans, it's easy to hear that the music of the streets is blues, country, metal, bounce, punk, electronic, southern rock, noise etc. It's all affected us in a good way. The best music is unique unto itself.
Eyehategod plays with Pig Destroyer and Goatwhore this Saturday at 9pm. On a boat. Part of the CMJ/Rocks Off Concert Cruise.