Seeking Inspiration in Suffering: An Interview with Mike IX Williams of Eyehategod
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Following three years of constant touring and lineup changes, New Orleans sludge metal pioneers Eyehategod are showcasing their evolution as a band. Their newest album, A History of Nomadic Behavior, re-introduces the group as a four-piece with a distinct variation in their sound: cleaner vocals and production, but still true to EHG's aggressive and misanthropic core. We spoke with frontman Mike IX Williams during their US tour with GWAR and Napalm Death to discuss the maturation of their sound, creative nihilism, and channeling pain into motivation.
The liner notes in your newest album, A History of Nomadic Behavior, mention that at one point you thought the album was done, but then you listened back and decided to re-record songs and even add some new tracks. What changed that made this second version the final cut? How do you all decide when an album feels finished?
Well, there were some obvious decisions we had to make first. We originally recorded some of these songs back in 2016 as a demo, but that's when Brian Patton [ex-guitarist] was still in the band and we were a five-piece. He quit the band to take care of his family, which of course was totally cool with us. We also recorded a lot of that material before I had a liver transplant in December 2016, so I was really sick at the time.
We listened to the demo later and realized we’re just a different band now. We're now acting as a four-piece, which we actually really like, and I'm a lot healthier again on top of it all. In 2018, we re-recorded all the music again. We didn't necessarily write whole new songs, we just tightened them up and added some new parts. So yeah, that's what ended up becoming the record. As far as the older demo, I have no idea where it's at [laughs]. I'm sure I have it on my computer or something.
Your lyrical process is very visual, oftentimes pulling words for their sounds or aesthetic rather than meaning. Can you talk a little more on this, and if that process at all changed on this album where you consciously made the vocals/lyrics more audible?
It definitely was a more conscious decision to make the vocals more clear. In the older albums, it sounds like I'm speaking in tongues. It was more of a drunken delivery, 'cause that's just where I was at and how it all naturally came out. At this point, though, I really wanted to make my vocals clearer so people would be able to recognize what I’m saying.
As far as sourcing, I'm still writing constantly. I write books and books of lyrics all the time. My phone, computer and notebooks are all filled with poetry. Most of the lyrics for the new albums were already written by the time I went into the studio to record my vocal tracks, and then I wrote a couple of spontaneous things to fill in certain spots. I just like how words sound, you know? Or sometimes I just like how a word looks and I'll use it, regardless of its contextual meaning. So yeah, the lyrical process itself hasn't changed, though the vocal performance was definitely a conscious shift.
I’ve heard you refer to your albums as a “snapshot” of certain eras for the band. What do you think that A History of Nomadic Behavior is capturing about you all in this point and time?
I think it's capturing our evolution as a band. There's been a lot leading up to this release, and I think that shows. Our last album, the self-titled Eyehategod release, was put out after our drummer [Joseph LaCaze] died. That was a definitive snapshot of us at that era when Joey was still with us. That's also when I started to sing a little more clearly. It's still aggressive and gnarly sounding to me, but you can hear how it's different now.
This album spans a bit of time since the music was recorded in 2018, but I didn't do the vocals until 2020. I actually had to fly out to Chicago during the height of the pandemic to have my friend, Sanford Parker, record me at his studio. We were in a band together called Corrections House, so we go way back. Things were recorded in different times and different places, but it all came together to show the evolution of our band to this point.
The album title refers to you guys being out on tour all the time. It reflects an interesting intersection of your lives, as you vehemently hate humanity, but also don’t necessarily retreat from it. Can you talk to us about the idea of immersing yourself in suffering but also thriving off it?
The album title is basically a loose reference to not being stagnant in my lifetime, it’s not directly in reference to touring with the band only, but of course it does include that part of it all (as we did tour from 2017 literally until the pandemic hit). Traveling is knowledge and it allows a person to learn about cultures and other lives and I’m a huge proponent of gathering all this important info. People who never leave the town they were born in seem to stay pretty close-minded. I like to avoid the “Life Trap”.
As far as dealing with society, I’m just not a fan of the idea of a routine lifestyle: school, work, marriage, house, children and all that comes with it. Normal society is a construct I’d rather avoid and it’s inevitably a daily war. I believe pain is a motivator, suffering is an inspiration to keep going forward, in my insidious opinion. Survival is a will to fight to keep this mind and body alive for whatever reason. Suicide does occasionally cross the mind, however, when unrelenting sadness takes control.
While you’re not a political band, I’m sure it’s hard not to be affected by everything that’s happened this past year. When you listen back to this album, have you noticed any surprising messages that subliminally made their way onto the record?
Right, we're not a political band per se, but I watch the news and keep up with what's going on. I can't speak for other members of the band, but yeah, it's weird. Like I said, most of those lyrics were written way before COVID and the protests, but somehow a lot of buzzwords came up. Stuff about infections and crowds, it just happened like that. I noticed in the studio when I was reading the lyrics about how current it all was. I figured people would think it's intentional, but I don't want to get our music directly involved with politics in that way. I mean, personally I'm a very political person. I will post a lot of stuff on my social media that people have sent me death threats over [laughs]. I like causing controversy.
I love that. Through all of your evolution, it seems that provoking people is the core of Eyehategod. What would you say will always remain as the core of EHG, despite any and all sonic changes?
I guess it's just our "fuck you" attitude. We've always had that, and we always will. In the beginning, we really didn't care at all about what we sounded like. We just wanted to make the music we'd always wanted to hear but didn’t. Of course, we do care about our fans and care about our band, but I mean, we'll always have that "fuck society" motto. I've been in the punk scene since...well, I don't want to mention my age, but for a long time! I mean, since the late '70s! I got into metal in the eighties and stuff like that, but I still go by those ideals that are so important to these genres.
On that note, do you have any favorite bands that have emulated that process of evolving their sound but staying true to their original ethos?
Neurosis for sure. They used to be a total hardcore punk band. They were influenced by Black Flag back then, who's a huge influence on us too. Voivod is another one that got totally different but still great, you know? I can't think of more off the top of my head, but there's so many other great examples out there.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that a lot of people just want to hear the same album over and over again from their favorite bands. People get bummed out when a band changes in any way.
Totally, and you know, I don't mind that sometimes. Let’s take The Ramones or AC/DC, for example. Both of those bands mostly wrote slightly different, better versions of their previous songs. Same with Motörhead. It’s not to say that those bands didn’t evolve - everybody evolves, even if they stick to their core sound, and I hope that's us too.
You’ve also stated that you consider EHG to be more of a live band than an album band. How do you feel that EHG’s music hits differently in an active vs. passive listening experience?
I mean, it’s really fun going into the studio, but I can’t mix anything or get in the technical aspect as much. I’m not even there when the producers mix the stuff ‘cause my ears are totally shot [laughs]. But yeah man, we’re totally a live band. That’s where all the energy and aggression comes out. Playing music for a live audience is our favorite thing to do. People go crazy at these GWAR shows, but it’s different when there’s a barricade between the stage and the crowd. We would rather be in a small dive bar where people can go crazy and stage dive or whatever, that’s our favorite.
I imagine the constant touring brings out a lot within the band dynamic, and you've mentioned that it can get tense sometimes. Do you think that adds to the gravity of your live shows?
Oh yeah, for sure. I mean everything has been great between us personally, we've all been getting along real well. I think it's because we're getting older and realizing a lot of our old mistakes. Jimmy [Bower, guitarist] and I are like brothers, but we used to fight a lot on previous tours. I've known him for the longest out of all these guys, well before we even started the band. I used to be a roadie for his other band, Shell Shock, but man - that's a whole 'nother story! We used to get wasted and get in fist fights and stuff, but it would all be fine by the next day. I think that tension does go into the band sometimes, and I like to use the live shows as a way to channel all that energy.
Your poetry book, Cancer as a Social Activity: Affirmations of World's End, was released back in 2003. How are your subsequent books coming along?
I've got two other poetry books written out. I just need to tweak out all the logistic stuff, like getting all these poems into PDFs and figuring out if I want to self-publish it or not. I've really been procrastinating on all that, but they're mostly edited and will hopefully come out in the near future. I did another print of my previous book for this tour. The older editions are super expensive online because people are out there reselling them. It's insane. Now we're on the fourth or fifth edition already!
What's been on your reading list on this tour?
Let's see, what do I have in the van? I've been reading a Chrissy Heinz [of The Pretenders] biography. Someone gave me a Kafka book last night that's illustrated by R.Crumb, I've only flipped through it but it seems cool. Someone also gave me a bunch of Manson books [laughs], so those are an option too.
What’s next for Eyehategod? Do you plan on extensively touring as normal after this particular GWAR/Napalm Death tour is over?
We're supposed to play Europe sometime in 2022. We’re trying to work out dates for that, in addition to headlining a West Coast tour. There’s also talk of touring South America again, so we’ll see!
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