It doesn’t take long for Mike Muir to quote his father during a recent interview with GO! Magazine.
The first time he does so, it’s to demonstrate a point about his band’s legacy. The vocalist, leader and only original member of Southern California hardcore institution Suicidal Tendencies is well aware of the negative reputation that has followed his band from its inception in the early ’80s. In those days, Muir and other members of the group were accused of being gang members, and the band’s shows were known (falsely, says Muir) for being violent — it was even banned from playing Los Angeles shows until the early ’90s, according to the band’s website.
But fast-forward to two years ago, when Muir noticed police officers coming to Suicidal Tendencies shows decked out in ST tattoos. The irony is not lost on Muir.
“‘You’re gonna see what you want to see’ — my dad taught me that,” he said from his home in Los Angeles, a few days before heading out on tour with thrash metal kingpins Megadeth (the band’s stop at the Midtown Ballroom on Wednesday is one of only two headlining shows ST will play on the tour).
“Some people are gonna see negative, but there’s a difference when you see the negative because you want to have an excuse to not do anything, and it’s different when you see it because you want to do something to make it better,” he continued. “That’s just coming from a different mindset. I personally don’t want to swim in a … bunch of crap; if I get stuck in it, I’m gonna get myself out of there. Some people love being miserable, and they’re not happy — they can’t truly love unless they make everybody else miserable, and I don’t prescribe to that.”
Fans know Muir has always dredged up the negative in order to bring about something positive, going back to breakthrough 1983 single “Institutionalized,” one of the earliest hardcore songs to be featured on MTV. Clearly, Muir’s father had something to do with this world view. More and more it would seem, Muir is taking his father’s words to heart, quoting the man often in interviews. Now as a father of three boys himself, Muir can look back on the battles he had with his own father with a new perspective.
“I moved out when I was 16 because I was determined to prove my dad wrong, and I found in the course of trying to prove him wrong, I was only hurting myself,” Muir said. “I was 12 or 13 one time, he told me, ‘I’m not telling you these things to be mean; I’m not telling you them because you have nowhere to live and you have to put up with it. I’m telling you this knowing that one day you’ll probably be bigger than me, and older, and time will come on, and if what I’m saying is not true, you’re gonna come back and say, “Hey, Dad, let’s talk about that crap you were talking about.”’ And (he said), ‘I’m telling you because I believe it’s what you need to know; it’s what I would want to know when I was young.’ That’s the same approach I have with my kids: I tell them what I would want to know and try to put it in context of what their age is.”
Muir likes to point out that Suicidal Tendencies — despite the graphic name — is a family band. Often families of four generations will come out to the band’s shows, he said.
“We have people bringing their kids; so many people said, ‘You know, the first show I went to, I snuck out to go to see Suicidal, and it’s my son’s 12th birthday, so I want him to see Suicidal,’” Muir said. “… You know, we’ll always be somewhere and there’s — 10 years ago, we got the little kid (at a show) … and now they’re 18 and they’re 6-foot-3, and I’m like, man, I’m glad I was nice to you when you were little. It’s cool; I think that’s a great thing.”
The band just returned from a month-plus tour of Europe with masked metallers Slipknot. Now for the first time the Suicidal family is coming to Bend.
“Yeah, and you’re probably wondering why it took us 30 years to do it? Everybody is,” Muir said, laughing. “You know, we wanted it to be the perfect situation. … I guess that Bend doesn’t have a great name around the world; people don’t look at it as a musical hot spot, but we’ve always enjoyed playing a lot of places, and usually when we go, as we say, we bring a lot of Suicidal with us, and we kind of transform places and stuff. Our whole thing is when we play smaller towns: You … have never seen a show like this in this town. And that’s what we call a success.”
And there’s some new, famous blood in the lineup: Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo will join the band for this tour only, replacing Eric Moore. He joins Muir, longtime guitarist Dean Pleasants, guitarist Nico Santora and bassist Michael Morgan. Shortly after the announcement was made, Lombardo tweeted, “Rehearsing W @OFFICIALSTIG is taking me back to where it all started. Looking forward to this tour.”
Lombardo, whose double-bass playing helped Slayer practically invent death metal in the 1980s, is the latest in a long line of “big guns” to join the band — from Brooks Wackerman (former Bad Religion and current Avenged Sevenfold drummer); to bassist and co-founder, with Muir, of ST side project Infectious Grooves, Robert Trujillo (currently the bassist for metal titans Metallica).
“Dave’s a legend, you know; it’s a little bit different than other things — people call him the godfather of the double-kick and bass and stuff,” Muir said. “He just has an amazing intensity, but besides intensity, he just has a musical mindset that — he totally understands what we’re doing and where we came from when we started, different, but at the same time and stuff. We’ve always kind of done shows together, this and that, been kind of close. He knows where he’s coming from is the right place.”
Suicidal Tendencies is now recognized as one of the originators of “crossover thrash,” thanks to its blending of punk and metal styles over the course of 11 studio albums. As typified in singles such as “Possessed to Skate,” the band also has deep ties to skateboarding culture and was among the first wave of skate punk bands (Muir’s older brother, Jim Muir, is a professional skater who was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in California in 2014).
It hasn’t always been that way, of course. The band’s self-titled 1983 debut, now considered a hardcore classic, was viewed suspiciously by punk and metal fans alike. Nearly every subsequent release got the same treatment, Muir said.
“All the reviews of our first record were terrible, and now it’s a punk classic; all the reviews of our second record were terrible, and now it’s a crossover classic,” Muir said. “But that’s the way it should be. If somebody puts something on and they’re singing along to it in three seconds, that’s not good. It’s sugar, and sugar just gives you diabetes and heart disease. We’re not a pop band.”
In 2013, the band released its first studio record in 13 years, appropriately titled “13.” Muir hinted at not one, but two follow-ups this year — an EP and a full-length — inspired by the current political climate and upcoming election. Though in keeping with ST’s history, the focus is on personal politics, rather than government, and the connection with the music.
(He also hinted these may be the final ST releases, although, as he pointed out, “I thought the first one would probably be the last we would do, too.”)
As for the music, Muir will keep doing what he and Suicidal Tendencies have always done. Again, Muir quotes his father:
“Musically, style-wise, more people are like, ‘Is it punk, is it metal, is it this, is it that?’ They’re into categories. But it goes back to my dad; my dad said, ‘You never know what you’re gonna like until you find something that moves you,’ whether that’s physically or mentally,’” he said. “We’re more concerned on if something’s gonna move somebody mentally or emotionally, rather than this certain style.”
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