Of Skateboards, Suicide and Pepsi
CoC chats with Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies
by: Paul Schwarz
By 1982 the band "Suicidal Tendencies" had begun to make some impact on the lives of hardcore, punk and metal followers in Los Angeles' Venice Beach area, the same band had also topped Flipside magazine's end-of-year polls, winning in the categories of "worst band" and "biggest assholes". They went on to produce 1983's hardcore classic, _Suicidal Tendencies_, but were plagued throughout their career by the perception of them which is summed up by the results of that Flipside magazine poll. This was due in part to the outspoken honesty of frontman Mike Muir (which had a tendency to piss people off), the rumours claiming the band were "thugs" associated with some kind of Venice Beach street gang (which led the LAPD to prevent them from playing in many venues in the LA area), the group's sarcastic and humorous image (which led them to be thought of as somewhat goofy) and the subsequent attitude which certain areas of the press took to them (that they were a joke). Still, the band built up a considerable and rabid following and produced some brilliant albums in addition to the aforementioned self-titled debut before things came to an end with 1994's _Suicidal for Life_. In the Spring/Summer of 1997 news filtered through to me that Suicidal were back together, and -damn- did I get a buzz out of that. Finally, it would be possible for me, one who had only recently pledged his allegiance, to see the band live! I waited and waited and very little news actually reached me of what, if anything, Suicidal were doing with their time and reunion. Being the cynic I am, I figured this was a half-assed reunion deal and that the band would disappear into oblivion in an unspectacular second break-up before they made it to the UK or I made it to a place they might be playing (a la 1997's Exodus reunion which ended early this year). Well, it just shows how wrong you can be. Suicidal are currently set to play England's Reading Festival in August and are also setting up a London date for some time in September. They have also, out of the blue as far as I'm concerned, released a new album, which takes the title _Freedumb_. However, I was still skeptical, but after this conversation with the manic Mr. Muir, I was more than restored in my confidence that the band are back, and back with a vengeance.

CoC: How would you describe the new record, _Freedumb_, for longtime Suicidal Tendencies fans who've followed you guys for years, who are pretty happy about this new comeback record?

Mike Muir: Basically, what we're doing is quite a different approach than what most people are. Like in America we don't have any ads for the record, and we're taking the approach of kinda the way we started off. Fortunately here we're on the Warped Tour, which means we get to play in front of a lot of people, and a lot of the people that we're playing in front of -- I'd say the vast majority -- never heard of Suicidal Tendencies because they're sixteen years old, they're fourteen years old and five years ago [when Suicidal split], they were nine years old. Basically, we have the approach that if we can't win people over by them hearing the music, then we shouldn't be a band and rather than doing a bunch of advertising before the record comes and have people going "Oh, Suicidal's back, I'd better go buy the record", there's going to be a lot of people that even come to these shows that are like, "I've seen Suicidal, I saw you seven years ago" and after we play they're like "Fuck!", and they go out and buy the record and they're going to be playing it for their friends and go, "Have you got the new Suicidal record?" and they'll say "What, they've got a new record?!", "Yeah, check it out!". So they actually hear the music rather than buying it from what happened in the past. So we've felt it's actually the best situation that we've had that. In comparison, in different places we had to do different things. Like in Japan, it's the only place we're actually on a major and it's been our best selling record by far -- and we've always done really well in Japan. We have a belief that it's a fucking great record, the reaction that we've got has been incredible from the people that have gotten it and the reaction is the type that we want: a lot of people that hopefully won't like it are the kind of people we don't want to like it and people that we want to like it fucking love it and Suicidal; the only way we're going to be effective as a band is not how many records we sell but how many people that actually hear the record are fucking screamin' "Suicidal", and that's what's going on right now, so we feel really good.

CoC: You were saying you felt that people who went to your live show would be convinced enough to buy the record and really enjoy it. So obviously you think it will not only appeal to the old Suicidal Tendencies fans, because it's you guys, but it'll also appeal to fans of metal or hardcore who are around today. Do you think it'll impress them because it's maybe going beyond what other records of this type are doing these days? [This was a suggestion and not a reflection of my opinion of _Freedumb_ at the time. -- Paul]

MM: I think it goes back to where we started. There's a lot of people that won't like it, and they won't like it for the wrong reasons, and the people who will like it will like it because they'll hear it and they'll go "Fuck", and compare it with what else is out there and they'll think it's better than what's out there. That's what we like to do and that's the number one reason why people used to like Suicidal -- because of the music, you know? And the reason why they didn't like it is because "Oh, that fuckin' singer's an asshole", "I don't like the way they look", "They're not this..." or "They don't follow the rules", or that kind of thing -- or they didn't hear the music. So we take it that way: the people that love us is because of the music and what we stand for and so I think that's far more important. Over the years, in the past, we've been exposed as so many different things, a lot of which we I don't think we actually should have been, and now we're very comfortable going about the way that we are now, which I think is going to be far more effective. And I don't believe everybody should hear Suicidal, and I don't believe everybody should like Suicidal, and I think this is the type of record to re-establish us the way we want to be established.

CoC: Would you say that you were unhappy at all with the way Suicidal Tendencies ended up before you guys reformed, the _Suicidal for Life_ album, the end of the band? Were you unhappy with that as a final album, or were you unhappy with the fact the band didn't continue?

MM: Well, with _Suicidal for Life_ I knew it was going to be the last record I did, that's why it had "shit" or "fuck" in the title of every song on the first side of the record: basically it was because I didn't want to do a commercial record and go on and it made it pretty obvious, you know. Lookin' back, anybody who can't figure that -out-, is not too -bright- [I have the feeling this was directed at me. -- Paul]. So, basically, fortunately there is a lot of changes that were made. I didn't think we'd get back together, but the situation as is now is a situation I never thought would be possible. I'm having a damn good time, you know. We did the Warped Tour in Australia and that was the most fun I've ever had in the band, it was the best tour the band's ever had and it was the most fun I've ever had in my life. Now, if you can say that about your last tour, you're doin' somethin' right, you know. I think this tour is the same situation: I'm havin' an incredible time, I know why I'm here and it's great, you know. I couldn't say that before, I could say before, "Oh, the tour's doing a lot for the band", but it wasn't doing anything for me or it wasn't doing anything in the sense of what I thought should be accomplished. I think right now everybody's -proud- of being in the band and they're also -happy- to be in the band and feel lucky to be in band, and that's the best thing in the world.

CoC: With your label, you've come back after quite a while and you're on Nuclear Blast, certainly in Europe I believe, which seemed to me like an unusual label, simply because Nuclear Blast began as a death metal label and that's the way I've known it. I was wondering why you chose them and I was also wondering what you thought of the interesting fact that other old bands like yourselves, who've come back, have signed to Nuclear Blast -- well, SoD have come back, and Manowar are signed to Nuclear Blast.

MM: Well, first of all we didn't sign to the label, there's no label that we signed to, the only label we signed to, like I said, is in Japan -- we're on EMI. The whole thing is, we weren't going to sign to any label, we're not going to be on any label but our own. Basically the deal is they're distributing the record, they're buying the records from us and stuff and basically to make a long story short: in America, that's where we have the most control, we know exactly what we want to do, other places you can't, we're not there, we can't follow it up as much. And basically with them [Nuclear Blast] it's because there's one guy who's fuckin' hounded us for two years and to be quite honest I never would be on a label like that, there's not one record on that label I would listen to, I fuckin' hate heavy metal, I hate whatever that other stuff is they call.

CoC: Death metal? Black metal? Which metal? <I laugh>

MM: Whatever it is, all I gotta say is we've got a song called "Hippy Killer" and everybody should hear it. So, basically, I'm not afraid to go in front of the enemy, you know what I mean. <laughs> Fuck it, you know. <Laughing as he begins> I told the guy and all those dudes [at Nuclear Blast], "There ain't one record..." -- they gave us a bunch of records and we threw 'em all out the window. It was like we were driving down the freeway, we put it on, heard it, threw it out, try the next one, throw it out <I laugh very loud>, so we said as far as we're concerned everything on there is garbage and people get beat up if they listen to that stuff where we're from. <I laugh again> So, they know, they know we think it sucks.

CoC: OK. I was wondering, then, since you were saying about the running of your own label, etc., I noticed you have a site on the Internet which is full of information, etc.. Are you guys aiming to go the way of the many bands who aim to reach total independence from a label via the Internet: to put out music, as much as possible, on the Internet, and put out records because there are still people who aren't on it. Is that an ideal thing for you, to be able to just control it all in that way?

MM: Well, as far as the Internet goes, specifically -- I've been kind of following it for a while because of, well, some people told me, at Sony, they go, "Well, in two years this is going to be, you'll see what's going to happen". That was five years ago and I think a lot of people grossly mis-state what the Internet is going to be, I think it is very important in the sense of my nephew's and niece's all learn on computers and stuff, that type of situation. And especially for areas which in the past, you know, Third World countries, etc. -- they have access to it and stuff and it's a way for people to get information. As far as actually being a vehicle for selling stuff, every year people make predictions about what's going to happen next year and they never come out right. I think it's going to take quite a while before people are actually, effectively selling on the Internet. If you're a small group, you can do good because no-one's going to want to buy your records anyhow, no-one knows who you are, but as far as being on a mass scale, being effective, there's a lot of big groups that've tried that where they've said "This record's only going to be on the Internet", and they don't sell any records. So I think the Internet is more effective as far as disseminating information and stuff, and there's a lot of people, in that case, who say, "I've just got a computer, and I just put "Suicidal Tendencies" in there and "boom!", I found your website, you know, and I didn't even know you guys got back together". So, it gets a lot of information out and it's an important vehicle, but I don't think it's an end-all.

CoC: The actual reformation itself happened two years ago. I haven't obviously been following you that carefully, I guess, since then. How much have you done since then, because I haven't noticed a lot done on you guys in the press, and why in particular has it taken quite a while to get a record together?

MM: Basically, one of the things that we didn't want to do was to put a record out and say "We're back together, we're putting a record out and we're touring", you know. I think that's the approach most people deal, and that's a definite lack of sincerity, you know, it's more of the job type thing. What we did is -- there's a lot of places we haven't been able to tour to or we've been there once and we went to a lot of places like South America, etc., and basically we've been touring around so people can see what we're doing before the actual record comes out, so that we know we can get back a solid base the way that we wanted to be. I felt that was important before the record came out so that we had a certain amount of people that kind of understood what Suicidal's about so they could lead the way to the new people that get in there. We found that very important going back, like when we toured with Queensryche in America, that was a situation where they were the most played band in America on the radio and on MTV and there were a lot of places that we'd never played before that we played with them and you'd walk in the hallway and after you played they'd go "aaahhh": they'd be running after you and stuff, but the places we played with Queensryche which we'd played many times before -- like in the major cities --, you know, someone would see, they'd come up, they'd say "Hey Mike, what's up, how ya doin'" and you'd talk, and everybody else who'd see, they would be like "Hey, how're you doin'", you know. So it was an atmosphere which was much more conductive to what we think is good. So I think that's very important, that you have that base, and the same thing carries over on this tour [The Warped Tour], there's always a certain element there, that are very familiar with Suicidal, and they go off and people see it, and so you can see the difference between when, quote unquote, "the other punk bands" play and they're skippin' around. I don't know what the fuck they're skippin' for 'cause I ain't skipped since kindergarten. <I laugh> And then when Suicidal plays, it goes off, and then you see the people scramblin' to get the fuck out of there, you know, and I think there's a lot of symbolism for that with Suicidal: a lot of people don't belong, and if you play on skippin', and you feel like this is going to be the same as the next band, you're fuckin' mistaken, and you're going to find out real quick. That's what we call as "the instantaneous baptism and celebration of Suicidal". So when we start, it goes off, and I think people realise right away, Suicidal is not just another band, and I think that's an important lesson everybody should learn.

CoC: So from that I draw that the new "punk" movement, the very short-lived punk movement, is not to your liking?

MM: No, I really don't think it is punk and I think -that- is a great opportunity for us. I mean, when we started everyone said we weren't punk, so we don't really give a fuck, but I'll tell you what: the unfortunate thing is that there are a lot of people who use that word and think it is synonymous with cool. You know, [say] <puts on whiny voice> "I like -punk-" [and you're] fucking cool, aren't you? And it's like they can name every fuckin' goofy band that never should have been a band as far as I'm concerned, you know. <I laugh heartily again> So for us, if it's a situation and we already find this <whiny voice again> "Oh well, Suicidal, they're "bad"", yeah, OK, we're "bad" but you fuckin' suck, so FUCK YOU! That's what we say.

CoC: About the UK, you guys are heading back here for Reading [yearly alternative rock festival held over three days the last week in August in Reading, England -- Paul] and you're lining up a London date for September. How long is it since you guys last played here?

MM: A long, long, long time. Some people would probably say not long enough, but... <laughs>

CoC: Well, I wouldn't be one of those, but how do you feel about coming back to the UK and what do you think about your fanbase here and music here in general?

MM: Well, I'll be honest, you know -- which has always got me in trouble --, I've never understood, when we went there a couple of times, why we went there. The way I was brought up, my dad said, "You don't do anything just to do it, there should be a reason to why you do things", and those are the few times where I kind of felt that there was really no reason for us to go there, especially in comparison to what was going on. Let me say, every other country, every record we did would sell more and more, and England would sell less and less. And then on the other side, just with press, I remember the first time I did press, in England. I had to have some of my English translated for me because I don't know what the hell they said that I said, because they're havin' me using English expressions, [I'm] like, "What does that mean?!" and they go "You said it" and I go, "I didn't say it, I don't even know what it means!". <I laugh heartily again> So it was an interesting experience, I went, "Man, people do things different over here".

CoC: That sounds like an experiment in lazy journalism to me.

MM: Yeah, yeah, and stuff. So I just kind of like tripped out. I go, "You know, I piss people off enough, and that's just what I say, you don't have to twist it around so I don't even understand what I'm saying", but I look at it this way: it's been a long time and, you know, we should go there, there's a lot of people that are English that you'd see in Europe that would have to go a long way to see you in France or whatever. Basically, I don't think we have much of a following there at all, and I think in a sense that's good because now we can try to actually start all over and see if it makes sense to go back, and I think that's an obligation that we owe all the people that have supported us 'cause they've gotten the short end of the stick in comparison to other places and so I think that there's definitely a lot of people that I owe it to, to support the band in a non-ideal situation. I think also being on the Reading thing, it gives a great chance for a lot of people to see us and I think they're going to realise that this is a far different band than the band that they never heard that they thought they knew what it was.

CoC: Sounds like you've had the force of pre-judgement put against you a couple of times.

MM: Oh, we did. I mean, going back, and a lot of times you shouldn't have it, but I remember: each record, different stories. One was a guy who wrote us a letter saying he was playing one of the new Suicidal records, I can't remember which one it was, and he was like [to his friends], "Check it out, I got this new band", blah blah blah, and they're like, "Oh fuckin' yeah, that's great". And afterwards he goes, "That's Suicidal". He said everybody dropped their heads and goes, [puts on depressed deep voice] "oh". They were all bummed, you know. So, it's kind of like that situation, but I think it's been so long and nobody really knows who we are now, so it's a good place to start over, you know. Ideally all you want to do is be in a situation where people are going to judge you for your music. If they don't like it, they don't like it, I don't expect anyone to sit there and go "I don't like this but I'll buy the record". So on an even basis I think it's all good and I know, like I said, in Australia the majority of the people were like twelve or thirteen years old, they didn't know who the fuck we were, and it went off big time. And I think that on a pure musical sense, if we don't have what appeals to, like, English people, we shouldn't be there and we shouldn't go back, and that's a real simple thing, you know.

CoC: I have no idea where you guys are billed at Reading at the moment, I have no idea what kind of following you guys have, but I'll be there cheering you guys on...

MM: <laughs> I think the whole thing is, like we say, it's not who goes to see you, it's who goes home talking about you.

CoC: Agreed.

MM: And I think that's where we've been real effective and we can be real effective. I think that is kind of the situation where, in a way, we're kind of the underdogs. A lot of people don't know who we are, they go expecting to see certain bands, and they have to kill their time, so it's like, "Fuck, there's a band playing, I'll go check it out 'till my band comes on". And I think a lot of times they find out their band was not the band they thought it was anymore. <I laugh> So that's one of the great things, it enables us to sneak up on people, whereas before I think that one of the things that turned a lot of people off on us was that there was always the people that liked Suicidal -- they didn't like 'em, they loved 'em, "Suicidal! Suicidal!". And so people kind of felt like they didn't belong because they weren't into the band, they didn't know who the band was, and they'd just see all these people going crazy. So they felt alienated and in this kind of environment there's not really that fanatical part. In LA or places like that there still is, but there isn't that fanatical element [at a festival like Reading] so everybody gets to see it on their own basis and I think that really helps us out. And to be honest, I'd be disappointed if it didn't go over really well, you know, 'cause I'd like to be able to come back and, ironically, a lot of the people we always worked with, the producers and people at the label, were English. And no one ever understood, they always said, "You know what? Your going to be huge in England", you know. They always said, "I don't understand how you sell so many records here, there and there and you don't sell records in England", so ironically it's kind of funny. A lot of people say it's my fault, but... <laughs>

CoC: England is a funny country and people [in general] are funny about people who are honest, that's just life sometimes.

[From here Mike and I had to part ways because of time constraints, and thus the interview ended. -- Paul]

(article submitted 12/8/1999)


ALBUMS
8/12/1999 J Webb 7 Suicidal Tendencies - Freedumb
8/12/1999 P Schwarz 8.5 Suicidal Tendencies - Freedumb
GIGS
8/12/2000 P Schwarz Suicidal Tendencies Pledge Your Allegiance
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