I’ve known the members of self-described “Down To Earth Motherfucken Post Amplification Blues” group Eyehategod since before they were a band. I guess you could say we all grew up together as a part of the local punk and metal music scenes that thrived in New Orleans during the mid to late ‘80s. I was a fan of their earlier individual acts, like Blatant Frustration, Suffocation By Filth, Shell Shock, Crawlspace, Drip, Transaxis, and Armed Response.
They were all good, but from the start I thought Eyehategod was different. They were the first band to express the dirtier, seedier aspects of their native city and have continued to do so for 26 years. I’ve always been proud to tell people, especially visitors (no matter what kind of music they seem to enjoy), that if they want to hear music undeniably born in New Orleans and nowhere else, then they need to hear Eyehategod.
Starting in 1988, Eyehategod creepy-crawled onto the hardcore and metal scene, fusing their love of Black Flag with the down-tuned trudge of The Melvins. Jimmy Bower (guitar), Mike IX Williams (vocals), Brian Patton (guitar) and Joey LaCaze (percussion) appreciated both punk rock and heavy metal equally and saw no reason why the two couldn’t exist on equal terms. Their early shows were feral, confrontational affairs that left people shaking their heads, not quite sure what to make of it all. Even the band themselves occasionally referred to Eyehategod as some sort of joke, although no one ever seemed sure who or what the punchline was.
Eyehategod released In The Name Of Suffering, their first full-length LP, in 1992. Positive reviews and word of mouth led to a deal with Century Media Records, who released six albums of the group’s material over the next two decades. This relationship garnered them multiple tours of the world, glowing media coverage, and documentaries charting the band’s impact on peers and fans alike. Aside from a rotating cast of bass players (remedied by adding Hawg Jaw mastermind Gary Mader in 2002), the band has stayed united and drama-free, despite well- documented battles with the law, drug addiction, recovery, and hurricanes.
Then came the Fall of 2013. After returning home from a successful tour of Australia, Joey LaCaze unexpectedly passed away. This left the band questioning everything, including the future of Eyehategod. They were on the cusp of releasing a new album, their first since 2000’s Confederacy of Ruined Lives, and the band knew that they had to continue on—because that’s exactly what Joey would have wanted. Drummer Aaron Hill (of Mountain of Wizard) was asked to fill Joey’s percussive duties and he has proven to be the right man for the job.
Through it all, they have stayed true to their vision, their fans, and their hometown with no excuses or apologies. I spoke with Mike IX about the ideas and aesthetics that have powered the band from then until now.
Early Eyehategod shows were primal, almost dangerous gigs. Was this something organic or was it thought about beforehand?
Mike IX Williams: From my standpoint, I was always into punk rock, subversive music. So I think I was always kind of provoking people on purpose. Jimmy was from the metal scene, so when it came to the music it was seen as an outlet, just to piss people off. And we were good at it, just being totally obnoxious and playing gigs with all of these faster bands. We knew the crowd would hate us—we just knew it. In the beginning it was two of our friends, Glenn Rambo and Steve Berrigan, that were the only people that thought it was awesome. Everyone else thought we were terrible. But I think that there was a bit of a shock value, too. At the same time, it was fun to cause a scene, disturb these people. Also to open people’s minds to something different, even though we might not have known what that different thing was. We were learning as we went along.
When you say you were trying to piss people off, who were your targets?
The music itself was something that wasn’t very familiar at all to people. You had bands like Flipper and Kilslug from Boston who were real slow; and of course we were influenced by metal bands of the time like St. Vitus, Confessor, and Carnivore— bands that had slow, heavy parts in their sets. And of course the Melvins, which we’ll never deny as an influence. But as far as pissing people off—and I hate saying this because I’m older, but you know when you’re younger… you had these stereotypical metal fans in the crowd. And it was like, “I know if I play this really slow music with screamed vocals and feedback that they’re not gonna like it. So let’s do that!” But I think now it’s finally getting accepted. Back when we were first signing to a label, they didn’t know what to do with us. They didn’t know if we were punk or metal; they didn’t know where to put us. But I’m still like that today: I like to confuse people and contradict things. People hate things that they don’t understand. If they don’t get it immediately, they’re pissed. It’s like anything in this world. But yeah, we would throw things at the crowd; I would break bottles and throw mic stands at people. But it was all punk rock shock-value type stuff. At the same time, we were trying to get this message across that, as stupid as it is, we were trying to change people’s idea of how they look at things.
Do current-day Eyehategod shows retain that danger?
I don’t know if they do as much as they used to. I mean, there was some really crazy stuff that went on back in the day. Some of the shows we played at the R.C. Bridge Lounge in the ‘90s, everyone could have gone to jail. I mean everyone in the club could have went to jail. Weird, sick things happened back then. So it’s not as extreme now, but people still come to the shows and it’s like they’re not even coming to see us. I mean, we’re a train wreck because we are who we are, but nowadays people come to our show and they wind up being the violent ones. They’re the ones that are cutting themselves up and breaking bottles. It’s still a spectacle, I hope. It’s a different era but I think that danger is still there that this thing could fall apart any minute.
thanks for praying for me because I need all the help that I can get
I don’t know if it’s necessary but it’s always worked for us. It’s always more fun if somebody goes away bandaged up or with stitches. [Laughs] There’s no such thing as bad publicity. I mean, we don’t want anyone to purposefully come do stuff like that but I think that music can sometimes call for it, if you know what I mean. We’re aggressive and depressing. It’s violent music in a way and it’s hard for me to describe exactly what we do, but we get a lot of outcasts, people that relate to the lyrics and the music. I think it’s cool that all of these marginalized people can find this glimmer of hope in a horrible, ugly band.
What are some of the contributing factors that allow a band like Eyehategod to move forward despite the name of the band or the sound, as well as the possible mayhem?
It’s funny, because Jimmy and I were just talking about that the other day, about how the name is just not shocking anymore. Maybe it’s shocking to people in middle America; the Christian fundamentalists probably still get freaked out by it. We have people that write to us saying “I’m praying for you, man.” Or, “Why do you hate God?” And I write them back and just tell them thank you, thanks for praying for me because I need all the help that I can get. For real, help me out here because I’m a miserable psychopath; I need to be prayed for. [Laughs] But I think that the world’s changing; it’s a harsher place and people are used to things like us overall, I guess.
After your first big tour, you guys came back with some hilarious stories from the heartland of America and about the fake names that were used to prevent incidents from happening.
We still do that! We’ll use names from other bands we’re in like Clearlight or Soilent Green. We’ll also use just the initials EHG but sometimes people will ask what that stands for. Then it will be something like the Eddie Haskel Group or the Eddie Harris Group. It’s just a ridiculous thing, really, but when you’re in Arkansas at five in the morning in some diner, you really don’t want to say the name of the group when there’s truckers over here and bikers over there. We usually just tell people we’re a blues group.
Is commercial success something that would be agreeable to the band?
It’s something that we have thought about but we wouldn’t want to change anything. I wouldn’t want to compromise at all to do that. Of course, we make a living with it now. We can do that as long as we stay on tour. Selling records isn’t what does it anymore. Touring and merchandise is what makes it all possible. I don’t know where else we could go, honestly. We’ve kind of gotten to that point where we’re really happy with how far we’ve taken it. I can’t see us being in the Top 40. The music that we play doesn’t answer to that so I don’t know how much further we could go. I spoke with a major label a long time ago when we were hungrier but now I think we’re happier where we are. We can keep it going this way. With a major label, you better sell like 20,000 records and you’re probably signing your life away as well as your creative license. I think we’d rather be dealing with Housecore Records and keep doing what we do.
Housecore seems to be the perfect fit for you guys because I know that the band has had problems with record labels in the past; was that a factor in the long wait for a new album?
Well, we didn’t sign to Housecore, we recorded the new album and paid for it entirely out of our own pockets. Then we licensed it to three other labels. So basically they’ve been distributing it, getting it out there. We own the rights to that record, which is something we screwed up the first time around. We signed our first contract with Century Media because they were saying “Free trip to Europe.” But that turned out to be the worst contract ever, so we learned from that. It did have something to do with such a long wait; mainly because we basically hate record labels. Not to say that we hate all of them, but it’s the whole idea of them. They would tell us, “Here’s a free trip to Europe, but first you have to change your cover art on your new album.” But that’s not us; we really don’t like people telling us what to do. We wanted to do our own label but that takes a lot of work. You don’t really have that time when you’re in the band to run a record label. So we finally figured out that we needed to pay for everything like we did and license it out. Besides that, we had so many other things happening, it just seemed like it was always something keeping us from putting out something new.
We knew the crowd would hate us—we just knew it.
I think it comes from our backgrounds. All of us are into metal and punk, hardcore. I mean, I grew up in the punk rock scene in New Orleans and I’ve been going to shows since I was 12 years old. I used to go see bands like the Normals and the Backstabbers, but I was always one of those people that thought it was okay to listen to metal. Back in those days, there was a division, where people with long hair who went to a punk show would get beaten up. I never got that. I always thought it was stupid. I was always friends with the metal kids, always liked the music. I was a punk rock kid with this Iron Maiden patch on the back of my jacket and I even got my ass kicked for wearing it. But I think by saying that we’re a slow hardcore band… we’re actually more of a hardcore blues band. There’s elements of punk, metal, noise, Southern rock and of course blues. You live in the South, you can’t avoid growing up with that. And then being from New Orleans makes it to where you can’t go anywhere without hearing some kind of music coming out of a club or a car window. It could just be some guy singing on the street.
Visual and lyrical aspects of the band have led some to label Eyehategod as pro-drug advocates, including hard drugs. Members of the band haven’t been shy about their own individual struggles with addiction and then getting clean. Is this something that’s hard to reconcile?
There isn’t a lot of that anymore. We’ll have shows where they’ll try to put a picture of a guy using a needle or something like that. And we’re like “Don’t do that; that’s not cool.” I guess that comes from being older and wiser. I mean, we’ve never told anyone to do heroin, but there’s stuff on a couple of albums where we’d say to drop acid or smoke weed. Looking back on it, I kinda feel responsible that it’s probably not a good idea to say something like that.
Saying that, do you think the burden of responsibility should be on the performer or the listener in making their choices?
I think it’s up to the listener. People can look at my life and see that I’ve made some bad choices. It’s not good and that’s been well-publicized everywhere; that doing stuff like that is terrible. I don’t have an answer to why I ever did any of that; it’s hard to say. You could bring a psychiatrist in here, maybe he could interview me. I mean, I still get reckless but as far as doing the hard stuff, shit like that, I avoid it. I wouldn’t want kids doing it; it just ends up ruining your life. It’s not going to amount to anything good at all. We get the people who come up to us at the shows all fucked up and they’ll say, “Uggghhh, I’m so loaded.” And I’m just saying, “I don’t want to be responsible for this.” But I think people are responsible for what they do themselves. I look back on some of my idols, or heroes in rock’n’roll like Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, Keith Richards… and I’m looking back at these guys and wondering what was I thinking? I mean, it wasn’t their fault. They’re not forcing me to do anything.
After 26 years in Eyehategod, does the band’s nihilistic style and sound seem more of a prophecy than commentary?
I’ve always said that we’re just reflecting society back on itself. I’ve always thought that our lyrics and imagery, the whole sound of the band, is just a product of our environment. It’s just led us to sound like this. Of course, I happen to like music that’s aggressive or sick—what caused me to be like that? I don’t know, but it seems like it’s a reflection of what’s going on around me. The world is a pretty ugly place and I guess I should be trying to put out something beautiful and pretty, trying to make it a better world but we’re not. We’re playing what we feel in our hearts; that it’s just a sick society, that the whole thing is just a mess. I hate that it’s like that, I think it really sucks. But I can’t see myself playing any kind of happy music, you know? In my book Cancer as a Social Activity there’s slivers of hope; they’re hard to find but they’re in there. I guess all I’m trying to say is that the world is a mess but don’t stop, just keep looking for that little bit of light out there. You can’t just give up and leave this world. That’s why the whole situation with Robin Williams is blowing my mind.
That has definitely forced a national discussion about not only suicide but depression in general.
I think it’s a good thing. Eyehategod’s got this image of being so negative, but there’s got to be a reason to try and get up the next day. If not for the people you love, then for something.
Eyehategod is adept at channeling what most people would say are some of New Orleans’ darker aspects. Most notable is our crime rate, as well as the corruption inherent in our political system and police department. Is this something that only a band from New Orleans can do?
It’s not something that we do on purpose; I think that it’s something that’s bred into you, something that comes from living here. Lately, I haven’t been paying as much attention to it. Sometimes I can’t; I just need to escape. There’s just so much that goes down here, like poverty. There’s now homeless people everywhere. Whereas when I was younger it wasn’t as bad. I know it’s not just New Orleans, it’s just I see that because I’m here. And our police, the NOPD, they’re not the most correct on this Earth. It seems like there’s always a cop going to jail. Having been locked up a number of times, you see it face on. It’s shocking, really, and you see it other places. But every time I pick up a newspaper, I see another story about another cop going to jail or another getting desk duty for some bullshit they did. I tear those out and now I have a huge stack of articles on police corruption. I think it’s one of those very sick things: you have a badge, so now you’re allowed to sell coke? It’s judges and lawyers; it’s just the whole deal. I don’t know, it just seems like it’s Southern money, I guess.
In the early days of Eyehategod, I remember one of you saying that the band was just a joke. Is the punchline that you’ve all made it this far?
[Laughs] I guess it could be, now that you’ve put it like that. I mean, yeah. What we were saying about the joke in the early days was we were all in other bands at the time. We thought that those were the bands we were serious about. And then we’d practice with Eyehategod and just play really slow with feedback. We would say it was a joke band, but once we started getting record reviews and especially reviews of our demo tape, we kind of realized that it wasn’t a joke. People actually liked it. We loved it from the beginning but it was probably just us trying to take the edge off of the whole thing, “Ah, we’re just kidding around. We’re just making a bunch of noise, nothing serious.” But it’s been like 20- something years and it’s still going on. I wouldn’t call it a joke now. I think it’s something very serious. It’s kept us alive. Sometimes I don’t know what I would do without the band. I have other bands and side projects and things, but Eyehategod is my love. I love this band.
Eyehategod plays November 22nd at One Eyed Jacks, with Pig Destroyer. For more info on Eyehategod, check out eyehategod.ee. For more info on Mike IX’s side projects and Cancer As A Social Activity, check out mikeix.com