When it comes to talk about "heavy" bands and which ones reign supreme, it's virtually impossible not to mention Eyehategod of New Orleans, LA. Self-described as "down to earth motherfucken post amplification blues," the band has been doing their own thing for the last 25 years. Or at least trying to.
Setbacks and bumps in the road have popped up for the band in years past whether it was in the form of Hurricane Katrina's devastation in their home of New Orleans or this past August when drummer and founding member Joey LaCaze passed away. However, the operative word there is "past."
On May 27, the band released their first proper full-length since 2000. The new record, appropriately, is self-titled. With new drummer Aaron Hill stepping in behind the kit, the band is once again out on the road. Before their recent show in Philadelphia, lead singer Mike IX Williams along with guitarists Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton took some time to speak with Scene Point Blank about the new record, moving forward, and how it all goes back to New Orleans.
Scene Point Blank: With the new album, a lot of the reviews that are out so far have been saying stuff like, "It's been 14 years but the band hasn't missed a beat," or "14 years and the band sounds like it always did." I feel like that kind of misses the point. 14 years is a long time and even if every day of that 14 years has totally sucked, that's 14 years of a lot of shitty days. I feel like that goes into how the album comes out and what it sounds like.
Mike IX Williams: Yeah yeah, and the fact is too a lot of these people don't realize that we've been touring the entire time. We didn't take a break. We weren't just sitting at home, not writing a record.
Brian Patton: We've grown a lot, man, in that 14 years.
Mike IX Williams: We put out a 7", a compilation...
Brian Patton: We did a release in 2005, Preaching the “End-Time” Message, and we did 7-inches and stuff. I mean, [Hurricane] Katrina definitely set us back but after that we started touring again.
Mike IX Williams: There's been setbacks but, for the most part, we've just tried to tour. Even if it's just playing locally in New Orleans, we did that once every couple of months. We've been to Europe a million times. I can't even count how many times.
Brian Patton: We were just basically having fun touring and the fact that there was this big resurgence [in the band]...and we were kind of enjoying that. We weren't even really thinking about it. I mean, we'd get in the van and be like, "Hmm, we really need to do a new record."
Mike IX Williams: Just to have something to promote for another reason to tour.
Jimmy Bower: Next thing you know everyone is going home and we don't talk about it no more.
Mike IX Williams: Yeah, we get off tour and we don't talk to each other for three weeks. Everyone is enjoying being home...
Brian Patton: Really, we're just lazy, man.
Mike IX Williams: That comes into play somewhat. We're from the South.
Scene Point Blank: So, it's a little slower down there…?
Mike IX Williams: Yeah yeah, everything is slower, man. We work at our own pace too. I've been saying this in interviews, but I don't understand bands that go on tour and then rent studio time and go in and write the album in the studio and then go back out. That seems forced to me. Like forcing a record.
Jimmy Bower: We're not one of those get-in-the-room, "Ok, we're not leaving until we write a song" kind of bands. We might get half a song written or something like that.
Mike IX Williams: It came in small bits. Some of these songs we've been playing live for years and some of them were written more recently.
Scene Point Blank: Yeah, my buddy and I were talking at the bar before the show. The last song on the album has come out before and been released in some capacity, right?
Mike IX Williams: "Age of Bootcamp"? Yeah, that was on a 7" split with Soilent Green in 2003 or 2002. Then it got re-released on the Preaching the “End-Time” Message that [Brian] was talking about. But we re-recorded it now. It's just a killer song. People always yell it out, even though we haven't played it yet on this tour. [Laughs.] People yell out that song a lot so, obviously, people like it.
Scene Point Blank: There were setbacks along the way but when you guys all finally got together in one room to bang out the record, how long did it take?
Jimmy Bower: We didn't.
Mike IX Williams: Well, yeah that's what I've been saying. A lot of these songs we've been playing for years in some form. Maybe the lyrics or vocals weren't the same.
Brian Patton: The actual recording took a few months. We did the drums then did some sessions. Couple weeks here, couple weeks there.
Jimmy Bower: There are probably 3 or 4 songs that we recorded that, within the last month or two when we knew we were going into the studio, where me, [bassist] Gary [Mader] and [drummer] Joey [LaCaze] would buckle down and just say, "Look we gotta finish these songs, let's just exhaust all the ideas."
Mike IX Williams: Well, we were doing "Nobody Told Me," "Medicine Noose," "New Orleans is the New Vietnam."
Jimmy Bower: "Obessessed" or whatever it's called now.
Brian Patton: We've already recorded four new songs.
Mike IX Williams: We recorded 15 new songs with this album.
Brian Patton: We only put out 11 of them.
Mike IX Williams: Well, one of them is in the new Decibel ["Liar's Psalm"]. One of them is like an intro of sorts...
Jimmy Bower: Is "Liar's Psalm" the one that goes "Dern dern dern..."
Mike IX Williams: No, that's "Worthless Rescue."
[All four of us attempt to imitate the guitar riff from "Worthless Rescue."]
Mike IX Williams: It's just been in pieces. Like I said, we just took our time and did it the way we wanted to do it. We weren't going to rush anything.
Scene Point Blank: Well, there's no reason why you would need to.
Jimmy Bower: A lot of these fucking interviews are like, "Luckily, they got Joey's drums in before he passed." Joey's drums were done, probably, nine months before he passed away. I've been reading these magazines and going, "This is wrong." They make it out like, you know, we finished the record and then he died. That's not what happened.
Mike IX Williams: Well, when I say that, I say that we're lucky that we didn't scratch his drums. Since we scrapped everything else from the sessions with Billy [Anderson]. Although, he could have re-recorded them.
Brian Patton: By that point, though we would have...(trailing off)
Mike IX Williams: But we obviously didn't know what was going to happen. He played so good that day. I think we were lucky that we saved that session.
Brian Patton: We tracked all those drums in two days.
"They make it out like, you know, we finished the record and then [Joey] died. That's not what happened."
Scene Point Blank: So, when it comes to the lyrics, is that something you that write beforehand or, after you hear the music, do you have something to pepper in? How does that work?
Mike IX Williams: [Laughs.] I think, it's just like a feeling, you know. A lot of this stuff was written before. Like when I went into the studio with Phil [Anselmo] to do the vocals, I'd looked in my notebooks and seen a line that I'd repeat twice or whatever. But I wrote a lot of stuff in the studio too that I don't remember ‘cause I wrote it on the spot in the studio and didn't even write it down physically. [Laughs.] Because Phil would be like, "Alright, the timing is like this," and I'd go, "Uh, alright, let me see." And then I'd come up with something. I didn't write it down but it's on the record so now I gotta learn songs from the record.
Jimmy Bower: There's that word "lazy" again.
Mike IX Williams: It's just the way that I do it. I've always done it that way. It happens.
Brian Patton: There's shit that I gotta re-learn big time.
Mike IX Williams: I mean, we play the songs different sometimes live. I like a band that does that. I remember Voivod—and I love them live—but I remember seeing them and it was like you could have just put the CD on and had a video play. It was the exactly the same. I like a band that is a little sloppier, you can hear--
Jimmy Bower: a little rough around the edges.
Mike IX Williams: You can hear the cobwebs.
Scene Point Blank: I got the impression that Phil had a pretty big role in terms of actually getting the record out. Like you guys released it on his label, Housecore, and everything. Was that case? Like how much of a role did he play?
Mike IX Williams: Well, he definitely encouraged us to do it. He didn't say "Put it out!" or nothing like that. He just wanted to hear our new album because he's a fan. That's really all there was to it.
Jimmy Bower: We were pretty focused on this record once we buckled down. We knew what we wanted to do. It just took time.
Scene Point Blank: After the album is finished, are you guys the type of a band where you're just done with it and don't want anything to do with it or do you like to spend some time with it and kind of bask in the fact that you made a new record?
Mike IX Williams: Well, that's why we are touring.
Jimmy Bower: Like he said, a lot of these songs we've had for awhile. It's not that we're necessarily bored with them. We're more concerned that the crowd is going to being bored with the fact that we're not going to play songs that we think they want to hear, which I think every band goes through.
Mike IX Williams: Every night, you never know. Sometimes the people that are mad at you because you don't have a new album are the first people yelling out "Sister Fucker" and you're like, “What? You just bitched at me for not having a new record.” You never know what they want to hear.
Brian Patton: It's a catch 22.
Mike IX Williams: If we play new stuff, they might just stand there or they might go "Fuck Yeah!" and lose their mind. You never know.
Jimmy Bower: I think there's that period of time where it still has to sink in.
Mike IX Williams: People have to listen and then they'll start yelling out for newer stuff.
Scene Point Blank: When it comes to going out on tour with the newer stuff, how do you guys decide which songs you're going play. How do you determine which new song to incorporate into your set?
Mike IX Williams: We just answered that.
Brian Patton: Basically, we play the ones that we like to play, that are fun.
Mike IX Williams: Well, last night they did a brand new one. [New drummer] Aaron [Hill] wanted to play a brand new song that I sure didn't even know.
Jimmy Bower: So, he had to improv.
Brian Patton: He [Mike] turned to me and said,”You just killed the entire momentum of the show!”
Mike IX Williams: Apparently they were going crazy but I didn't even notice. I was being selfish.
Jimmy Bower: Back to that thing. You think they want to hear the shit that works when you play live. Like "Dixie Whiskey" is a no-brainer, people want to hear it.
Mike IX Williams: Stuff like that, for sure.
Jimmy Bower: But we're good at pissing people off so we do what we want. Fuck 'em.
Mike IX Williams: That's another thing with putting the record out. Sometimes when people are saying, "Y'all better hurry up and put a new record out," or whatever. We're just like "Nope." It's like we're going to take our time even more now.
Scene Point Blank: Speaking of Aaron, at a show last month in Baltimore, Mike, you made a few jokes about him. Introducing him to the crowd as the "new boss" and saying that he tells you what time everything starts and how he gives the marching orders. How's it been going with him behind the kit so far?
Mike IX Williams: Oh, it's awesome. When you get someone new in a band, it's always going to be strange. One thing besides the music is that you have to be able live with the guy.
Brian Patton: Finding the talent is the easy part. We've had to deal with some people that were not so easy to get along with.
Mike IX Williams: It's easy with him, man. Some people, you never know what their personality could be like. You could get in a van with somebody and totally hate them but they are a killer drummer or guitar player or whatever.
Jimmy Bower: I actually play in a couple of bands with Aaron so I had jammed with him before and I had seen him with Mountain of Wizard. I knew that he was a good drummer and that he could write.
Mike IX Williams: We were trying out some people from out of state and just nothing was clicking. Jimmy just said "Trust me." I trust him so I immediately just knew that was it.
Jimmy Bower: And he's surpassed our expectations which is a cool thing. We are, what's the word, "blessed" because that's a fucked up situation that we were put in.
Scene Point Blank: And as far as picking up the new songs and everything, he's been good?
Mike IX Williams: He's actually not that good. [Laughs.] I'm joking. He's great with that, man.
Brian Patton: We already have four new songs written with Aaron.
Jimmy Bower: It was really important that it would be someone from New Orleans so that way we couldn't lose momentum and somebody from Louisiana who just--
Mike IX Williams: Has the groove and grew up with that type of music.
Jimmy Bower: Grew up with Mardi Gras, grew up with those music tastes.
Mike IX Williams: That's a big part of our band: the culture of New Orleans. Someone from there has to fit that mold. We were thinking about somebody from another state but they don't have that...and they were in other bands and it was just...[trails off] it just wouldn't....
Scene Point Blank: It's kind of like that one intangible that you kinda need.
Mike IX Williams: It just makes total sense to have someone from New Orleans.
Scene Point Blank: There's been a lot of talk in reviews about how this is the blues-iest sounding album you guys have made so far. Jimmy, I read an old interview where you compared the sound of the band to combination of Black Sabbath riffs and My War-era Black Flag.
Jimmy Bower: Exactly.
Mike IX Williams: Well, Sabbath started out as a blues band.
Jimmy Bower: That's a big deal to us. The whole blues thing is no fucking joke.
Mike IX Williams: We're from the South.
Jimmy Bower: Son House, John Lee Hooker. It's taking that misery that they do and adapting it to what we do.
Mike IX Williams: It's just a modern day version to me. One with electric guitars.
Jimmy Bower: A lot of those guys, like Son House was fucking crazy when it came to guitar playing.
"I think there's no truer form of music than the blues. I don't think it goes much deeper than that for me."
Mike IX Williams: I think there's no truer form of music than the blues. I don't think it goes much deeper than that for me. I mean, as far as roots music goes. Blues is like the beginning of every other type of music. That, and when they mixed it with country and that was rock and roll.
Jimmy Bower: Well, you could it take it back to gospel too. Folk songs and gospel.
Mike IX Williams: You could go back to Congo Square too.
Jimmy Bower: That's why New Orleans is important.
Mike IX Williams: Congo Square is an area [in New Orleans] where the slaves could congregate and worship once a week and there were a lot of Haitians and they'd do these drum circles and it was kinda like the beginning of jazz and blues and rock and roll. Like right there.
Jimmy Bower: All those African rhythms that would later become blues and R&B and soul. There's a great book that Joey gave me about the drummers from the Grateful Dead and they did all this weird research and they would jam together and all that. It kinda puts an insight on everything, you know.
Scene Point Blank: So, it's all kinda like that New Orleans thing?
Jimmy Bower: All music comes from that because people are conscious of it.
Mike IX Williams: I agree.
Scene Point Blank: I was thinking about this on the way over here, but Crowbar is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and Down is still a presence. Do you guys ever think that has anything to do with it? Like you guys know all these dudes from that same general area and the NOLA sound is very unique and really is its own take on heavy music. Is that just a common mindset thing or what?
Mike IX Williams: Well yeah, it is the New Orleans sound.
Jimmy Bower: It's that groove, dude. Go to Mardi Gras and check it out. Growing up, watching marching bands and dancing and shit. Not in many towns can you grow up like that. It's extremely unique. And the culture and the atmosphere and--
Mike IX Williams: The European vibe to the city. When we go to Europe, they always say, "Oh, you guys are Americans," and we always go, "No, no we're from New Orleans."