Despite hailing from New Orleans, sludge-metal legends Eyehategod have formed a ton of connections to Richmond over the past three decades. Ryan Kent caught up with vocalist Mike IX Williams outside the National after their recent gig with GWAR to find out where things stand for the group in the wake of Hurricane Ida and the ongoing hardships of daily life in 2021.
“Come out here Communist bastard. I got wine. They won’t let me in.”
Mike IX Williams sent that message two hours after NOLA’s Eyehategod opened for GWAR and Madball at the National back in September. This was the first of four shows. A prelude to an almost month and a half long hell-ride with the Scumdogs of the Universe and Napalm Death, which was set to launch October 28th at the NorVa in Norfolk, Va.
It was the best I’d seen Eyehategod play in recent years, and that’s not meant to be a backhanded compliment. The Richmond dates from years past were outstanding. Sharing bills with the likes of Negative Approach and Nachtmystium, Ringworm and Corrosion of Conformity. The Hat Factory. Strange Matter. The Broadberry, twice.
This show at the National just seemed better. More succinct, if that makes any sense, given the DUI nature of the music and the coarse vocals of their gutter-mouthed microphone player. Like driving with no brakes and no headlights. Nose-first into the ditch.
Maybe there was just less bog in the atmosphere on this night.
Sure enough, the man had wine. It was one of those miniature boxed wines I’ve seen Moms carrying around The Fan. A little cardboard rectangle with a twisty-top.
Mike IX was standing by a newspaper dispenser, a relic of the late Style Weekly, when I walked out of the National to meet the vocalist on Broad Street. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. It was the first tour Eyehategod had done in 20 months, and the first with guitarist Jimmy Bower back in its nucleus. Welding their bong-blues hardcore punk hull back together.
Mike IX looked in his element standing on the sidewalk with his wine. Just as much as he looked in his element earlier howling into the SM-58.
If you know the back story, you’ll most likely recognize the symbolism here. The streets seem to be synonymous with Eyehategod. A place that can be as unforgiving as it can be relentless. There’s nothing uplifting here unless you are soothed by the bleakness of concrete. Avoiding cops. Trying to keep a low-profile. A Southern nihilism front.
Listen to that with headphones on.
“I don’t have a place to live at the moment,” he said. “I moved back to New Orleans conveniently a week before the hurricane [Ida]. I was in an Airbnb and that got all fucked up.”
Hurricane Ida became the second-biggest cyclone to hit the Bayou State on record. The Category 4 caused $18 Billion in insured losses and had 150 mph sustained winds when it made landfall. Mike IX was also in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was Hell, in a lot of ways. He said there are still buildings standing down there with numbers spay-painted on the façades. A tally of how many bodies were inside.
“Well, you know, I got PTSD, and being in this last hurricane, everybody’s saying it was gonna be like Katrina. It wasn’t thankfully. It was similar, though, because all the power was out for weeks. But that kind of brought the PTSD back, because I stayed through Katrina. I was there. I don’t know if a lot of people know that story. But it’s a long story. I stayed there.”
Since Ida, Mike IX has been waiting to get back in the van. Maybe to get away from bad luck or maybe just to get the fuck out of Louisiana. Eyehategod played three headline shows before the September 16th concert at the National, and they were all “weird and insane” thunderstorms. “We played Nashville, and Nashville is a cool city,” he said, “but I didn’t expect it to be like – people were just dancing like crazy. It was fun, man.”
These are the good things. Welcome deluges and heavy winds. New bodies twisting around each other in the middle. Chaos with the power on. The feeling of being picked up and thrown somewhere.
“We’ve always seen younger people show up to our shows,” he went on. “I remember the first time we kind of noticed it. I don’t know what year it was. Like, 2000 or something. Our friends would show up with their kids, and their kids are wearing our shirt [or] whatever Eyehategod thing and they’re like 12. That’s when I got into [music]. I mean, probably 11-12. Then those kids are now grown up [and] maybe they have kids. I don’t know what you call it. Like a ‘murder of kids,’ or something.”
Playing this brand of underground music is a Hail Mary pass on a good day. Even the superstars aren’t household names. Most original bands don’t even make it beyond the line of scrimmage without being knocked down or batted to the sidelines. Or worse, made to watch some Edison intercept the playbook and run it the opposite way for glory. Eyehategod have shot for the moon for over 30 years. Playing in dank shitholes and mid-level clubs, preaching the same end-time message for three decades across the United States and Europe. New people keep showing up to be leveled by this stark funnel cloud from New Orleans.
“Shout out to the Lost Well [in Austin, TX]. It’s such a fucking sleazy and fucking beautiful place,” Mike IX said.
I remembered the Lost Well from a tour stop years ago. It looked like the kind of outlaw dive you could imagine Dennis Hopper had drank in once, and spit on the floor. Where there’s blood on the wall in the bathroom, and the toilets don’t have seats.
“I don’t want to bust them, but there’s things you can procure there. It’s not the bar, it’s people that go there. I love those bars. Those are the bars I grew up in as a kid. Punk rock bars. The place would get trashed, like, every weekend, and they’d just put the chairs back up and have another show. Toilets getting destroyed — that’s not cool [to] destroy the toilets. The club might have to close. It’ll cost them money. Just crazy-ass-shit.”
Their recent headline shows have been in small clubs. The energy has been intimate and unruly. Close enough to be sweat on by Jimmy Bower. Eight years ago, my old band, Gritter, opened for Eyehategod with Ringworm at Strange Matter. A five-band bill with zero room for us on the stage. I liked playing floor shows. I could move around and not be confined to a 3ft-by-3ft square surrounded by gear. I’d rather be closer to the audience anyway. At their eye-level. Feeling their momentum. Given the option, it was always my choice.
“Do you remember when it was Twisters?” he asked.
‘Wasn’t here yet,” I said. “Moved here in late 2003, so it was the Nancy Raygun then.”
“Oh okay,” he said. “I didn’t know when you [moved] to Richmond. It’s pretty much the exact same place with a few things changed. We were [at Twisters] with Buzzov*en, like, all the time. We toured with Buzzov*en twice, but we played with them all the time. We’d do shows here and there, like one-off things. We’d drive straight up to Richmond [from New Orleans] just to play with them.”
The 1990’s became a Molotov cocktail for Eyehategod. Records like Take As Needed For Pain and Dopesick were fresh wounds. The legendary tour opening for Pantera and White Zombie in 1996 solidified Eyehategod’s name in infamy. Also, the world-of-mouth tale of a guy setting himself on fire during a show at Twisters with Today Is The Day and Burn The Priest was cauterized into Richmond metal lore. It can still be heard slurring from the mouths of old dudes in bars around town. Every word of it true.
They were lawless, godless, lunatics for hire, and some great like-minded bands followed suit.
Vince Burke (Hail!Hornet, Beaten Back To Pure) owns Sniper Studios, which is located 2.5 hours away from Richmond, in Moyock, NC. On the back of the control room door hung a loud, gold-leaf Eyehategod poster. I looked at the poster for days when Gritter recorded there 11 years ago. So fascinated by the poster’s medieval Lucifer that it never dawned on me to ask Vince who the designer was.
I took the opportunity on the sidewalk to ask Mike IX.
“That was Frank Kozik,” he said. “It was Alabama Thunderpussy and Suplecs. That was our [former] bass player’s [Danny Nick] band. Like, a real stonerish rock band, whatever that means. And I forget who else [Drunk Horse and Natas (from Argentina)]. It was from a show in San Francisco, the gold Kozik thing.”
It was a scarce piece of memorabilia to have.
“I may still have it somewhere, but I don’t know. My stuff’s all over the country [in] storage rooms.”
Before moving back to New Orleans, Mike IX was living in Salem, Massachusetts – 25 miles just outside of Boston. Home to the famous witch trials and the Freemason’s grand architecture.
“Salem’s alright, man. I mean, it’s not great. It’s like a tourist thing, you know. They call it ‘Witch City’ which is so corny to me, but the tourists eat it up and I get it. If they want to make money, they call it ‘Witch City.’ I would too. I like Boston itself. I thought Boston itself was – it’s much more like cities I’m used to.”
“Less of a smalltown vibe. Less suburbia. Much different than the City of Richmond,” I said.
“Yeah. I mean – yeah,” he said.
Right about that time the National emptied out.
Glassy-eyed fans wearing bloody GWAR shirts noticed Mike IX and started walking up, already shouting excited congratulations about Eyehategod’s set. I knew the interview needed to be put on hold. We began wading through the people, like a sandbag wall had collapsed, temporarily flooding the sidewalk with black shirts and tattoos. It took a half-hour or so, but finally we made it across the street to Eyehategod’s Sprinter van. Gary Mader (bass) and Jimmy Bower were outside taking in the pre-autumn air. Drummer Aaron Hill had gone back to the hotel a few hours before.
I didn’t finish the interview with Mike IX that night.
Five weeks later, I was listening to his spoken word-cum-industrial project, Corrections House (featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis, producer Sanford Parker, and saxophonist Bruce Lamont), while driving back from the Outer Banks. The lyrics to the title track of their 2013 debut album, Last City Zero, were taken from Mike IX’s 2005 book of lyrics and poetry, Cancer As A Social Activity. I remembered how the book inspired me to continue writing poetry even though I was in a metal band. Some years after that, I handed Mike IX my first book of poetry. When the time came to release my second, he wrote a paragraph for the back cover.
Twenty-five minutes from Moyock, I pulled into Digger’s Dungeon (home of Dennis Anderson’s Grave Digger) off North Carolina Highway 168 to shoot Mike IX a message. On September 16th, I’d wanted to ask him why he’d left Boston. Maybe even get some of the lurid details about the hurricanes. But for whatever reason it felt inappropriate, so I stuck with pedestrian shit. Maybe it had something to do with the sidewalk.
He got back to me that day, saying, “I don’t wanna talk about leaving Boston. I’ll talk about living there a little bit, however. I’ve lived all over: San Francisco, Houston, Brooklyn, spent a good bit of time in Chicago, blah blah. I’ll [get back to you] in a couple of hours.”
Eyehategod played a show the night before, and Mike IX was sleeping it off.
A few hours later I received this message.
“Hurricane Ida heading this way just brought back a lot of tension and anxiety to the city and me personally. It was bringing up bad memories of Katrina and what that did to our city. All the anguish it caused EVERYONE in New Orleans. Luckily, in the city proper, Ida didn’t cause too much physical damage, but the mental damage was there, nonetheless. The poor people on the Gulf Coast however, got demolished AGAIN. The pain in the ass in NOLA was that the power was out for weeks. I evacuated to a hotel on the beach in Mississippi and wasted a ton of money paying for that, which sucked. I had just moved back from Boston as well, so I was like, ‘Great timing!’ Katrina just fucked everybody’s head up. Lots of horrific scenes. I ended up in jail in Morgan City for ‘liberating some items from a Walgreens pharmacy.’ Actually, I looted the fuck out of that place. There’s so much more detail to this it’s incredible. Every person here, at that time, has their own stories of that hurricane. It definitely left scars on us all. I’m gonna write the full story sooner or later of August 29, 2005.”
It’s fitting Mike IX Williams moved back to New Orleans just in time for Hurricane Ida. That old saying of, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” couldn’t ring truer when said in the same breath as the singer’s name. That goes as well for the band and their name: Eyehategod.
You can find lots of meaning in a name if you poke a shovel just below the surface. Maybe make several comparisons based on circumstantial evidence. Maybe it’s the necessity to have meaning for a run of good luck or bad luck. Package it together, tie a little bow on the top and – voila. There’s your nice little reason for everything. Your apex predator. Your benevolent benefactor.
For instance, the names Ida and Katrina have very different origins, but their meanings can piggyback one another depending upon where you are in your quest for meaning. Ida comes from the Germanic root id, meaning “labor” or “work,” while Katrina is ancient Greek, meaning “pure,” as well as “torture.”
On the other hand, the name Williams is derived from the old German Wilhelm, meaning “resolute protector” or “strong-willed warrior.”
Mix that up in a bowl and call it whatever you want. The ingredients are sitting right on top. It won’t be terribly difficult to put two and two together. One slice of marbled rye, then a slice of pumpernickel, and whatever you want in the middle. Like how Dean Martin sang, “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You;” well, Biggie Smalls rapped “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Kills You.”
Sometimes, life doesn’t have any real meaning. Seems to be, at times, that apex predator stomping around a deciduous forest looking for you. Not one that simply looks like you or may weigh roughly the same as you or use a similar soap, but specifically you. Or maybe some terminal billionaire is being driven around town in their Bentley Mulsanne, desperately trying to bequeath you their entire estate before the stroke of midnight.
Sorry, but all of that is nonsense. Mike IX Williams didn’t protect NOLA from “pure torture,” and he wasn’t supposed to. Hurricanes Ida and Katrina held no personal vendetta against the Big Easy. It’s just how it is. Occasionally, life is in the business of dying. Maybe even living. It’s all one big storm with a different name and a different trajectory. Pay attention or throw caution to the wind. Luck is only in Vegas.
Take that as needed for pain.
Top Photo by Dark Division Media, Courtesy Mike IX Williams