As above, so below. Through his work with EyeHateGod, Outlaw Order, Arson Anthem, and The Guilt of... Decibel readers have long known Mike IX Williams as one of extreme music’s most distinctive, subversive and iconoclastic voices. Less attention has been paid, however, to Williams' similarly idiosyncratic and visionary literary output, including his excellent collection of surrealist nightmares and fiery gutter prophecies Cancer as a Social Activity: Affirmations of the World’s End, wherein he advances the Southern Nihilist Front via bright burning, bon mot filled bizzaro viscera volleys like "Eat, Sleep, Homicide," "For the Love of Firebombs," "Minotaur Rider," and "The Gospel of St. Siege."
In the wake of his beguilingly discordant spoken word performance backed by the equally incomparable Bruce Lamont in Austin a couple weeks ago, Decibel thought it high time we catch up with Mike IX the writer, currently putting the finishing touches on a couple collections' worth of writings and mulling potential publishing options.
And yes, yes, kittens. Don’t fret. We asked about the status of the slowly percolating EyeHateGod record as well.
At readings you must meet a lot of struggling authors. Has the cache of being in a well-respected, seminal band been a boon to your efforts as a writer?
Yeah, in a lot of ways, of course. But there are also two types of audiences -- the people who want to see what the singer of EyeHateGod is up to and then the lit crowd, which is obviously harder to crack, though I’m slowly working my way into those splinter groups that are more willing to accept abstract writing like mine. The old school, you-have-to-write-poetry-a-certain-way people aren’t as interested. They think you have to follow the rules to write. And I don’t believe there are any rules.
Does your background fronting bands make it more natural for you to do literary readings with the sort of improvisational noise Bruce Lamont lays down?
It definitely helps. It can be intimidating to just get up and read -- which I’ve done also. It’s scary, but you get used to it. The truth is readings are not all that different from shows, really: It’s about getting up in front of a roomful of people and baring everything.
Are your literary efforts an outgrowth of years of writing lyrics, or was it the other way around? Well, I’ve been writing lyrics since I was probably fifteen years-old playing in punk rock bands and hardcore bands, but even as a little kid I wrote stories. I’ve just always enjoyed a pencil in my hand being put to paper. And that’s still how I do it. I don’t usually write on a computer -- actually I started writing before there were computers [in every house], which is pretty strange to think, but true. I still get the words down by hand on paper, then type it up and edit later.
It’s a stream of consciousness process then?
Sometimes. It comes in so many different ways. I might see something on the street or have a random thought or wake up from a dream and say, “Wow, that was cool,” and write that down.
I imagine the touring life must give you plenty of stimulus to mine.
Definitely. Somebody once said, travel is knowledge. It's sad to think of people who are never able to leave their little area, their city. Touring can take a lot out of you, but it is completely worth it: Seeing new things, hearing new things, experiencing new things, everything constantly changing -- it really does stimulate my brain and put me in a state of mind to write. I actually just wrote a bunch of stuff coming back from Austin on napkins and the backs of receipts that I need to sort through and try to figure out what I was thinking. [Laughs.]
It sounds almost like going back through that stuff is a window into your own subconscious.
It’s true. Sometimes you look at something and say, “Why did I write that?” and build from there. I might only keep two words once I start editing and elaborating, but that initial spark and inspiration is so important.
Bukowski is probably the most obvious touchstone, but what other writers do you count among your influences?
Oh, there are so many. William Burroughs, of course -- not so much for what he wrote as for the way he wrote: I like the cut up style of making things more cryptic and confusing. And my writing does seem to confuse a lot of people!
Kurt Vonnegut. Jeff Vandermeer does really crazy stuff I enjoy. I don’t write stories like he does, but back in the eighties Clive Barker’s Books of Blood blew my mind.
Actually, now that you mention it, I can definitely see the early Clive Barker influence, especially in some of your darker allusions and turns of phrase!
Reading Clive Barker back then for me was like, “Wow, I didn’t know you could think like this!” His work really made an impression. But I’m also influenced by other singers like Nick Cave and the Birthday Party, for example, or Darby Crash from The Germs -- Darby had a very intelligent, cool style, though if you only went by the rumors you heard about the guy you probably wouldn’t think so!
Writing for Decibel, you know I’m obligated to ask: What, if anything, is on the EyeHateGod horizon?
We’re doing Maryland Death Fest. We’re going to Europe in July. And we’re trying to hopefully get a new record finished. We’ve recorded nine songs that aren't totally done. We’re just being super slow. We haven't decided what label or anything yet. We’re taking it month by month right now.
Are you ever surprised that such an visceral, confrontational band has taken you so many places and opened so many doors?
Oh, all the time. I consider myself very lucky. I'm not rich or anything like that -- at all. The money part of it isn't anything, really, but we've done so much stuff. We’ve been so many places, I can’t remember them all. It’s a huge part of my life, obviously, and it's been amazing and I'm very grateful...
…It’s interesting. A band like [EyeHateGod] which was completely hated down here for a long time, is now accepted by a lot of people as a part of the history and culture of the city. [The upcoming guest appearance on HBO’s Treme is pretty solid evidence of this – ed.] I recently did a reading at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. I’m a fringe type of artist, so I was just blown away to be asked and really proud to do it because this is Southern art -- all the readings, the bands we have, the things we make. It’s all Southern art.