Eyehategod's Mike Williams: "I don't like being labeled. I think we're just a rock-and-roll band"
Eyehategod (due Sunday, January 26, at the Bluebird Theater) formed in New Orleans in 1988. The influential band combined its influences from the world of the blues, Black Sabbath and hardcore punk into a unique alchemy that lent itself well to dipping into the dark side of the psyche and projecting it like a sonic exorcism of angst, despair and desperation.
Singer Mike Williams projects an emotional intensity and sincerity that can be unsettling at times but is also incredibly cathartic. We had the opportunity to speak with the gregarious and refreshingly frank Williams about his experimental project Corrections House, how it is similar to and contrasting with Eyehategod and how he always seems to find himself in darkly intense bands.
Westword: What kind of ideas did you discuss with the other guys in putting together Corrections House? It comes across with a very strong aesthetic.
Mike Williams: Believe it or not, it was all very improvised and not that planned when we started the whole project. We were going to tour where all four of us did solo sets, which we did but at the end of the solo sets. We collaborated on three songs that we did. Denver was a weird show because Bruce Lamont wasn't there. We had Chuck French from Wovenhand fill in on bass. The whole thing was kind of improvised. We just called up Chuck, and he said sure he could do it.
The only things we had pre-planned was the fact that we wanted it to be dark. All of our music in our other bands is dark anyway -- Neurosis, Eyehategod, Yakuza and Nachtmystium. We also wanted to be experimental and try new things and not be the typical rock band. I wouldn't be lying if I said that we didn't deep in the back of our minds want to piss off our regular fans a little bit by playing something totally different.
Some rock fans can be lunkheads sometimes. It's kind of fun to see exactly who reads books and who doesn't. Who is smarter than the other guy. I'm not trying to say I'm a big shot and better. But I'm just saying it's fun to see people's expectations because they usually come in thinking, "It's a cross between Neurosis and Eyehategod," or "Nachtmystium and Yakuza meets Neurosis." And it's not at all. It's something completely different. I think it's really original, but it wasn't pre-planned, really that much.
It's interesting you say that because sometimes a band will put out an album in which it challenges itself to do something a bit different or completely different and some people go along with it to see what kind of interesting stuff the band is up to, and those that want more of the exact same thing they're used to.
It's a whole different band. Corrosion of Conformity changed their entire [thing]. Discharge, back in the day, went glam metal or whatever for a little bit. I think maybe a name change would be good for bands that do something that drastic. It's cool to experiment, and that's why I have Corrections House. I can always go back to Eyehategod, which I love.
Some writing on Corrections House compared it to extreme metal, and maybe that was more the writer trying to convey why it should be interesting to fans of that type of music. But live, Corrections House didn't seem metal at all. More industrial or a more experimental vein of metal than merely the extreme.
No, I did an interview and a guy said -- and I don't know if he listened to it -- "So you're a drone, doom band." Not at all. I hate labels in general. Like with Eyehategod, they say "sludge," and I hate that. I don't like being labeled. I think we're just a rock and roll band playing a different kind of rock and roll. It's more like, with the blues, John Lee Hooker if he was raised on Black Flag and Black Sabbath. That's the way I look at it. People make the obvious comparisons with Corrections House like Swans, which there is an influence from that, we all love that band.
That great video for "Hoax The System" is reminiscent of Death In June.
We get that a lot because of the masks, but not so much the music. I didn't even realize that until later. I was like "Wow, that looks like the guy from Death In June." But that's cool. That's another band we love. Their older stuff, like the stuff they did with Current 93, was more noisy stuff. I like that too and their acoustic stuff as well.
At that show you played at the Moon Room at The Summit Music Hall the night before Neurosis played The Summit, you had what looked like a notebook. Is that how you operate with Eyehategod? What suited it more to Corrections House, perhaps?
Eyehategod is based more in rock and has elements of punk and whatever else. With this band, we have a little more visual aspect to it, as well. It started because the day we started the tour, we'd only been in a room together for the first time the night before the first show, and we hadn't really rehearsed anything. It kind of came from that, having the lyrics in front of me. It looked cool with all of us wearing the shirts with the Corrections House logo/symbol, and I had a book with that symbol too.
If you look at the second video we did, there's a book in there with a guy holding it with that symbol. We were going with some relationship with the video. We have the banners up with this band, and I think that adds something to it. It's something I've never done before with a band. We wanted to get that feel across like propaganda. An end of the world prophecy we're preaching and giving people a heads up when we come to town that there's about to be a civil war in America.
When you vocalized, it was like seeing inspired, improv poetry with strong political content.
Right. On the new album, Last City Zero, part of it comes from a book I have out called Cancer Is a Social Activity. I'm not scared of that word "poetry." When Bukowski and people like that came along, they showed you can write poetry about anything. It doesn't have to be about trees and bunnies and stuff. I like the reality of that. That's something that I don't think hasn't been seen in the extreme metal or punk community much. Here and there but it's something we wanted to bring something to people and see what happens.
Poetry has historically been a way for people to be subversive, and what you're doing with it in this band is also subversive because of what you're doing with it and tying it with music many people do not associate with the word "poetry" and giving it real content.
We want to keep it interesting, but at the same time get across the apocalyptic feel. Neurosis has that feel live and Eyehategod too. Maybe me and Scott need to seek mental help, I don't know, but we just seem to keep forming bands where everything is negative and dark. Maybe I just need to get that out of my system because I'm generally a pretty happy person. It depends on the day, it depends on the day.
Maybe the overt style of the music is dark and negative and is imbued with that spirit in some ways, but the music isn't presented in a way that is inherently negative.
I agree. It's more like informing people, I think.
Expressing something a lot of people shy away from but definitely need to talk about.
Sure, definitely. And I've always been all for that. I think I was put here for that reason, to do something like that.
The vocals you do for Corrections House, are they different from what you do with Eyehategod?
There's a couple of songs where I scream Eyehategod style. Then we have some fast songs that have almost a Ministry kind of feel. I hate to say that, but people are going to say that anyway. It's fast like a hardcore song, but it has electronics and drum machines in it. It could be Skinny Puppy-ish too. On that song, I kind of scream, but a lot of it is just spoken word, spoken lyrics, like we said before; it's cool to get it out there.
The album was called Last City Zero, what's the origin of the title?
It's from my book, that's one of the first poems in the book. You know they call folk and blues Americana music. I think Corrections House could be a modern form of Americana. The things that I'm saying and the images we're trying to get across is about America. It's about the world situation, but on America, it's about how screwed up people are here. A lot of corruption and stupidity is going on in this country. That's pretty much where it all starts out.
Is there some aspect of that that you've found especially inspiring in writing lyrics lately?
Of course. I think there's going to be a class war. That seems inevitable with the way the country is split up right now. I consider myself an amateur anthropologist. America is really a bizarre, strange place. That's all I can really say. Stuff like the corruption, the court systems, police and lawyers and all that stuff, that affects my writing, too. [The system] wants us to oppress so many people, especially poor people, regardless of race, and keep people down.
Keep people fighting over stuff that doesn't really matter. The classic divide and conquer technique that the ruling class has been using since time immemorial.
Yeah, like crack coming into neighborhoods in the 80s. It's been said a million times before but I agree with a lot of that stuff. Go to any poor neighborhood, maybe not now but in the '80s, there were advertisements for cigarettes and alcohol. Go to a rich, white neighborhood there aren't those advertisements.
It's almost like they're encouraging people to ruin their lives and just keep them down somehow. I guess they're scared of educated people that come from the ghetto. I grew up poor. I think the powers that be, the higher up people, are pretty scared of that stuff. They always talk about murder in these neighborhoods and crime and drugs. The key to that is education but there's very little money being put into that. Generation after generation
You'd think if you were a rich person you wouldn't want to live in a society where people are oppressed. And obviously there are some people who recognize this but don't necessarily know what they can do individually to change it.
I don't understand it either. I can drive a Porsche and drive by some guy begging for money in the street? I don't get that. I say in Last City Zero something about this country having a terrible cold or missing a cog. It's a sick country and it needs help. A lot of the world needs help. People say America is rich and more well off than Somalia. And we are. But there are a lot of horrible things here. I don't understand sometimes why we don't take care of our own country. I agree with taking care of countries that can't take care of themselves. But that dialogue could go on for hours.
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