Singer Mike Muir has been the only constant member of the band Suicidal Tendencies during its three-decade existence. The band started out as a SoCal hard-core punk rock band featuring an aggressive sound and Muir's raging lyrics that resonated with the era's disaffected youth. Along the way, the band gained notoriety from frequent violence at their shows and alleged gang affiliations, later denied by Muir.
Suicidal Tendencies' first, self-titled album came out in 1983, and the song "Institutionalized" received significant airplay on MTV, the first hard-core punk rock song to do so.
Over time, Suicidal Tendencies evolved in a thrash metal direction, but they always retained a connection with their hard-core roots. Their latest album, 13, was released in March.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?
Mike Muir: One of the things we've found is that you've got the whole crew of people that haven't seen you in 20 years, you know, and you have the people that aren't even 20 years old, they're seeing you for the first time.
Then you have the families, at least three or four, where the people are like, "We met at a Suicidal show," and they've got two or three kids and they're bringing their kids. Their first show was a Suicidal show and they want their kid's first show to be a Suicidal show.
So it's a really interesting mixture. You start out with the bucket-list people, so to speak, and the people who haven't seen you in so long and are being nostalgic. We're not trying to be nostalgic — we're here to remind them why they love the band, to fall in love with the band and to make them feel bad that they haven't seen us in a long time.
I think that all across the board, regardless of their perspective, people are generally really surprised, especially when we're as "old" of a band as we are. I think one of that things people say is, "Dude, I just saw ...," and they'll mention some band that I won't say, and they go, "and he looked old. It was like a Vegas thing almost. They're just going through the motions," or this or that. And when people see Suicidal they know we're not going through the motions.
JM: Can you tell us a little bit about the new album, 13?
MM: One thing for us, we've always had a different approach to music than most people. Most people, they do music that they think or they hope people will like. That's the purpose. Our priority, my personal priority, has always been doing something that I like. Our first record, when it came out, the punk bands said it sucked. The metal ones said it sucked. And we weren't really concerned about it, because we weren't looking for their accolades or whatever.
It changed, over time things have changed. People have always put down our records when they come out, and later on somehow they become great records or classic. I think a lot of times so much of music is done for what people think will happen at the time. We're not concerned with how a record is perceived when it first comes out, but 10 years or 20 years from now, people that aren't even born now, when they hear it for the first time, what they think. That's a lot more important.
JM: The band's best known song has to be "Institutionalized." I remember listening to that when I was a teenager in Iowa, probably around '86 or so, a few years after it came out. How did that song come together? Is that semi-autobiographical?
MM: At the time, they started having all these things about sending people to these camps and stuff, all the "problem kids." They used to have these things in the paper — "Does your kid this, and does your kid that?" "Does your kid get angry when things don't go their way?"
Yeah, I do. That's called being normal. They said, "If the answer is 'yes' to four or more of these, they may have a drug or alcohol problem." I'd never done any drugs and stuff, but according to them I would've had a problem. A lot of my friends, at 4 in the morning these people would come and take them off to these camps and stuff. So a lot of it was stuff that was going on, that was happening around.
The way I look at it, there were parents that never really were parents. Then their kids who are 14 years old, they can't brag about them, so there must be something wrong with the kid, rather than their parenting skills. So what do they do? hey send them off somewhere else rather than see what is really going on and stuff. It's easier to do that than to communicate. I think that's the situation.
Kids now, they hear it for the first time and they can totally relate to it. I think that's great. I think that a lot of people that were young when they felt that way, now they're older and they have that lesson when they're having kids, to have that other perspective and to make sure that they don't have those same problems. I think it's an important song.
That's a song that people, especially when they're older, they say they played it to their parents and said, "This is how I feel. Listen to the song, because you're not listening to me."
JM: The upcoming show is just a few days before Christmas. If it's not too personal, can I ask, how does Mike Muir spend Christmas?
MM: Oh, wow — the best way possible. With the family. Nothing better than that. I've got three kids.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.