On December 5, I was part of a mass of concertgoers who’d packed into the Satyricon, a small, dark bar in Portland, Oregon, to see sludge lords Eyehategod, and early in the night the members of the band were squeezed right in among us. “The more drugs you give us, the longer we’ll play,” drummer Joey LaCaze told me. Guitarist Jimmy Bower shot back, “He came from Chicago. He doesn’t have any drugs.” I had, and I didn’t.
LaCaze repeated his request to anyone who might be listening, first from the floor of the bar and later from the stage as the band set up. I don’t know if Eyehategod ever found or took any drugs—vocalist Mike IX Williams reportedly beat his addiction to opiates in jail after Katrina shut down his methadone program and he was caught with a stash of contraband pills—but once they started playing, around midnight, they didn’t stop for more than two hours.
When I e-mailed Williams in May for this interview, he remembered that show well. “Fantastic,” he said. “Freezing outside, insane audience, lots of drunken stage diving, someone throwing a bottle and busting my earlobe, some guy grabbing my legs and me punching him in the head, same guy getting pummeled by the crowd, lots of broken glass onstage, lots of people on the stage, chaos, great!”
Williams, Bower, LaCaze, bassist Steve Dale, and guitarist Brian Patton formed Eyehategod in New Orleans in 1988. Though today they’re on their fifth bass player, Gary Mader, the lineup has otherwise remained unchanged. For more than 20 years they’ve blended the syrupy grind of Black Sabbath and the Melvins, the hardcore punk of Black Flag, and their own poisonous mix of intoxicants and misanthropy. They’ve had a huge role in shaping an entire subgenre of metal, not just as Eyehategod but as members of other influential bands like Down, Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, and Soilent Green.
Eyehategod’s current tour ends with two nights at the Empty Bottle, June 19 and 20. On Saturday they’ll play 1992’s In the Name of Suffering top to bottom, and on Sunday they’ll do the same for 1993’s Take as Needed for Pain.
You guys have really proved to be a hazard to yourselves and, at times, to your crowds. I think you’re one of the last bands going that can create a real sense of danger and threat onstage. Do you think that’s true?
Well, I certainly hope so. We’ve never planned to be dangerous; it’s just happened that way, I guess. When we were younger, the shock value of our whole persona combined with an antisober attitude and a true anger and depression manifested itself in this twisted way, much to our delight. Something about this type of music makes people wanna freak the fuck out and go apeshit. If we are and can remain threatening to the mainstream-shit art and music world, so mote it be.
Eyehategod, in some ways, are the closest thing that someone like me, born in the early 80s, has to a Black Flag. There’s a similar kind of nervous energy and tension; the shows are physical, confrontational, all about sweat. I know Black Flag were a huge influence. Do you see any similarities?
Thanks, that’s a compliment for sure. We definitely all love Black Flag and completely appreciate their ethic of things, like going into survival mode and just flat-out blasting out the sets without care to self or viewer/listener. We do have alcohol fueling our carelessness as well, which is in a whole ‘nother category of rockin’. . . . Really, I don’t think we even come close to Flag’s intensity live, though—but I hope we come close. I’ve seen them a number of times in the early 80s, especially on the Damaged tour, and honestly nothing even gets near. Greg Ginn and company and the Bad Brains were running neck and neck back then, especially in a live club setting, for sheer bristling hardcore terror.
What are you looking to get out of an audience?
It’s nice when they have some energy and ain’t afraid to interact and show us the love. Any band will tell you they feed off that energy. We don’t necessarily need that, though. If there are five people getting into it, that’s fine. Hopefully the sheep will always follow.
What audience encounters have stuck with you over the years?
Too many to say—memory is failing. In the old days more so: naked lesbians, broken microphones, getting attacked, stitches, naked crowd members in general, angel dust, violence, LSD, hurt feelings, bass player in a rabbit suit . . .
Your writing is pretty abrasive, and seems to come largely from a place of anxiety and depression, poverty and addiction. How big an influence have those things been?
They’ve basically been there my whole life. However cryptic some of my words may be, it all comes from a very real place and I have found personally that the bad things in life generate some sort of mechanism to let it all out at a later date, blow off the evil steam. It’s all part of the creative process.
You’ve also said that some of your writing is influenced by your childhood. Can you tell me a little about it?
I hate playing some sort of pity card, but my childhood wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. Of course that’s gonna affect my writing in some way. Growing up in North Carolina wasn’t a lot of fun, I suppose. From a young age I would watch my dad beat my mom, fire guns off, beat my ass for no reason after we would come home from fucking church, stash his porn and booze bottles all over the house. You know, junk like that. My mom died when I was nine, dad at 11. My older brother committed suicide a week after my dad passed. Those are just the things I can talk about. I do remember the good times too, however. But anyway, what you gonna do? Life is life.
At what point did you end up in New Orleans?
I’ve been there many times; it’s a beautiful city. How strong an influence has that been?
I would say 100 percent. The love I have for this city is like no other. Of course like any relationship it’s love-hate. New Orleans can be dark and messy, and hedonism exists around every corner. The debauchery, crime, and corruption is easy to get caught up in, and can bring you under. But NOLA holds a place in my heart that no one can take away. I’ve flirted with other cities like SF, NYC, Berlin, London, et cetera, but I will always come back to my beloved city that care forgot on the Mississippi.
Can you tell me about the aftermath of Katrina, and how you ended up in jail?
I stayed through the storm. Things got bad, like no 911—people were dying and houses burning. I realized I had to get out. I acquired a car and some drugstore pharmaceuticals, left town, and got busted in a motel in a small shit city west of NOLA. Ended up doing five months in the parish and got a shitload of probation.
How has that whole experience changed you?
As far as the city as a whole, it’s brought us all together closer as a family I think. As for me personally, it’s made me a stronger person, made me think about life and relationships, made me appreciate certain things.
How has getting clean affected your writing?
Not at all. I used to think maybe it was the drugs helping me write this way, but it’s not. I’m still a pissed-off, confused bastard, and have the same emotions I’ve always had—maybe even more since they aren’t numbed by painkillers.
You’ve traveled a lot, from Mexico to Europe to Japan. What sorts of things have you seen while traveling, and how has it affected your view of the world?
Everyone should travel, it opens your mind. I get sad when I see these people who are older and have never left their little towns and most likely never will. I love it. It’s something I wanna do forever. Well, till I can’t do it anymore. Traveling is a constant education of cultures, environment, and architecture.
It’s been five years since your latest release—the Preaching the “End-Time” Message comp—and ten since your most recent full-length. Why the big gap?
Hurricane Katrina obviously, drug problems, record-label bullshit, personal and legal troubles—I’m not the only one who has seen the inside of the local courthouse.
There’s now talk of a new album. What can you tell me about that?
Not much. We’re writing new material and we have about five, six songs finished without vocals. We don’t even have a record label right now.
In the past you’ve referred to the many twisted stories surrounding the recording of all of your albums. Can you tell me any?
Well, everyone in the group is a fucking weirdo. And all our friends are weirdos, so it’s like a retarded circus when we all get together. Going into the studio is an experience not unlike playing live, except it has added delirium from being isolated in some place for hours and hours at a time.
You recently played the first two albums in their entirety at Emo’s in Austin. What was that like?
Great, man. Packed house. We were onstage for over two hours. We even did like three songs from Dopesick.
Why did you decide to end your current tour in Chicago?
I love Chicago, so it just makes sense. Me and Joey LaCaze, our drummer, are also gonna be involved in an improv noise/electronics in-store at Reckless Records on Sunday. That will also feature Mark Solotroff and Isidro Reyes from Bloodyminded and Ryan McKern from my other project the Guilt Of . . . . We’re billing it as the Ten Suicides.
I’ve also read about an Eyehategod book.
That’s something that’s hard to get together, but we’re trying bit by bit. It basically takes everybody digging up any old photos, articles, flyers, et cetera. What we need is someone to curate and help us produce this book, someone to interview us and get it all together. We can be lazy sods if we ain’t motivated properly.
Can you share one of the more colorful stories?
You mean like hallucinating from staying up for days on end shooting coke and huffing carpet cleaner? Getting attacked by skinheads in Detroit? Kicking methadone in jail? So many things have gone down while I’ve been in this band, both fantastic and horrible. I mean this has been half of my entire life, this EHG thing. But we’re not out to prove anything like “What’s the sickest thing you’ve seen or done.” There is a preconceived notion about us, but we are all very nice southern gentlemen. Anyway, we’re saving those stories for the book.
What do you think sets you apart from the bands who talk the talk but don’t necessarily walk the walk?
I don’t know, bro. All I know is that we’re honest, down-to-earth people who just wanna have a good time. As I said before, we are who we are. We evolved like this as humans. This Eyehategod band is a group of great friends who have been through hell and back and we’re all the better for it—crushing the population with pounding riffs, squelching feedback, and a laryngitis voice. The fact that we’re still around and breathing after 20-plus years proves that we are real. You can tell fake motherfuckers when you see ’em. They’re pitiful.
Buy my book of dark negative poetry, Cancer as a Social Activity, at thehousecorerecords.com. Record labels, publishers, book writers, movie producers, drag queens, pill freaks, get in touch with me at myspace.com/nolanine. Also look out for my other bands: Arson Anthem, the Guilt Of . . . , and Outlaw Order.