Mike "IX" Williams has had a rough year. Williams (best known as the vocalist and wild-eyed wordsmith behind revered sludge metal gods Eyehategod) has had a rough life, one stained by addiction, poverty, incarceration, depression and Katrina's flood waters, but 2013 brought with it an unexpected, nearly crippling blow. In September Eyehategod's original drummer — and Williams' lifelong friend — Joey LaCaze died at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife, a daughter and friends. Suddenly, the future of this hitherto unshakable band hung in the balance. Williams and his brothers in arms Jimmy Bower, Brian Patton and Gary Maders were faced with the brutal decision to either throw in the towel, or to forge ahead into uncharted territory. They chose the latter option, and it's no surprise; the term "lifer" was invented for cats like these. Kim Kelly caught up with Williams in November just before Eyehategod took the stage for a semi-secret show at Brooklyn's hallowed metal/punk venue The Acheron, and got personal.
These two shows marked your first time back in Brooklyn since Joey passed away. How does it feel to be here?
Brooklyn's always great, and Joey loved playing here. There's a few cities in the U.S. like that.We have a group of friends — I don't even call 'em fans, they're like our friends — that always come out whether we have a record out or not. It's just great to have all that support right now. We kind of need it.
The crowd erupted into "Joey, Joey" chants a few times during last night's performance, and the same thing happened when you played in Austin, too. That's got to have an impact on you guys.
It makes me emotional. It's great but it's hard at the same time. We did the show with Dale Crover at the Housecore Horror fest in Austin, and when he got up on the microphone and said, "It's an honor to play with these guys," I had to take a deep breath. It was all a tribute to Joey, 'cause Dale was one of his favorite drummers.
A lot of your fans were surprised to see you playing out again so soon after Joey's passing. Have you gotten any flack or negative feedback for your decision to carry on without him?
You know, I've seen nothing bad at all, not even the one ass---- on Facebook that's gotta be a d---. Everybody's been saying that they admire us for moving on, and that just makes us even prouder, and makes us know that Joey would've wanted it.
Did you ever consider giving up?
It was never an option as far as I'm concerned. I don't think it was for anybody else either. This all happened at the end of September, when we'd just gotten back from a six-week tour of Europe. He's had pretty bad asthma ever since I've known him, and in Europe he was having these weird sleep apnea things when he was sleeping. It was a breathing issue, a respiratory thing, but I don't know; I'm not a doctor. So when we got back, that's when he passed away, so there was a little bit of time in there when we had to think — "We've got shows booked. What do we do?" We did have to cancel probably 50% of them, but we still just said, "Let's keep going, that's what he would want us to do."
We'd even had conversations before, when Joey and I would talk, and he'd ask me, "Who would you get to replace me?" Things like that, and just be honest with each other. He knew the band would keep going, and he wanted it to. To me, it's just part of life; it's just the way things happen, what cards you're dealt, how life treats you. We don't know how to give up. That's been the story of our entire career, our lives, even without the band. We just don't know when to quit. It's just a matter of moving forward.
In the interest of moving forward, you've already found a new drummer and have really hit the ground running. How did Aaron Hill end up as Eyehategod's newest member?
Originally there was a bunch of shows booked around the Horror fest, but, after Joey died, a lot of clubs pulled out 'cause they didn't know what we were doing. So, we started trying out drummers and it turned out that the guy from New Orleans was the best. You gotta have that NOLA groove, you know? We tried some other people from other states and other bands — bigger bands too, but nobody gave us that energy, and we were just like, "It's not gonna work." Aaron grew up in the South, he's from New Orleans, and obviously that's the key right there.
I thought we'd have to audition all these people, and I started freaking out, then Jimmy just said, "Trust me, we'll mold him. He's great already, but Joey's style — he'll get it in his head and he'll know it." I trusted him, and we've got nothing but good things to say about Aaron. He fits in great; he's a weirdo just like us.
You always think about if the guy can play the songs, but then you gotta think, "Can you sit in a van with this guy for eight hours? Can you go to the airport with this guy?" He's cool in all those respects. He plays in a bunch of bands: guitar in a crusty punk band called Gas Miasma with Pat Bruders from Down, drums in a pop punk band called Missing Monuments and drums in an instrumental Black Flag kind of band called Mountain of Wizard, so he's been around the scene. He's 29, so that's good for us, too; it's like fresh air. I think writing with him's gonna be fun. We're looking forward to it.
Eyehategod have been working on a new record for years now; you've released the "New Orleans Is the New Vietnam" 7" and played a few new tunes live, but overall, the whole project remains shrouded in secrecy. What's the latest update?
We don't know yet, we're still waitin'! It's probably been about five, six years now, and no dates yet. We have 15 songs, but we're only gonna use like nine or 10 for the full length. Sanford Parker's mixing it as we speak; we just have to do some editing and stuff to it.
We started out the recording with Billy Anderson. He recorded the drums, bass and some guitar, but that was a mess. There was a documentary crew in there filming, and it was distracting away from our time recording. Jimmy was having a couple problems at the time too, waiting for his kid to be born, so it was a weird time to be in the studio. We ended up using just Joey's drum tracks from Billy. He's awesome — I love him and there's no hard feelings, but we just wanted to finish it somewhere else. We got Steve Berrigan to come out to where I live two hours outside of NOLA, and redid the bass and the guitars. Phil Anselmo gave me some ideas for the vocals, like how we did the Arson Anthem record; me and him work well together.
Now we have to find a label to put it out on. I trust nobody, especially record labels. It's just hard for me to sign away my art. We were kids when we first signed to Century Media. Back then in 1989, all of us were in other bands then; Eyehategod was a side band for all of us, so we just signed it thinking, "Free trip to Europe!" Thinking that would be it. I never would've thought 25 years later I'd be playing sold out shows to places with no record out. The things we've been through since then — it's just amazing, great times and bad times, but it's all life experience.
One would think that a band like Eyehategod that has such an enduring fanbase and DIY roots wouldn't even need a label at this point. Have you thought about self-releasing?
That's the thing — we want to put it out ourselves, but we also want to focus on the music and not have to deal with the business side. We're not super geniuses. We were talking earlier about booking our own tours, and it's the same thing — we want to do that but we're still gonna need someone to help us. I get all these details thrown at me and I just have to ignore 'em and wait for someone to tell me on the spot, "Your flight's at 2:30." I can't fill my head up with too much. We've never had a manager ever. We thought about it, but its just a matter of learning everything slowly.
I suppose you have to just keep on keeping on.
Yeah, as soon as I get home I go back out with Corrections House [a project with Neurosis' Scott Kelly, Yakuza's Bruce Lamont and recording engineer/musician Sanford Parker], then I meet Eyehategod on the west coast, then we go to Australia, then we come back and do some northwest stuff. I'm just glad to be busy, it keeps me from watching too much TV and keeps me making some sort of money. That's why I like to be on tour, 'cause I know it's keeping it steady. I don't ever want to work a real job again!