Mike Ness Interview: Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #23

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Yeah, and it’s really weird because bands like Bad Religion, and other bands that started around the same time period as us, they’ve been going over there for a long time, but we just weren’t very, I don’t know if prolific is the right word, but we just didn’t do a whole lot of touring until the late-eighties, really. From ’79 to ’85 was just a party, and I couldn’t really leave the county. And then in ’85 I got my shit together, and I started really getting serious, and I started putting the band back together—I mean we’d never really broken up but…

Did you do anything on the recording or on the writing for the new record, ‘Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes’, that was any different than what you’d done in the past? Different producing style, different song-writing approach, anything like that? That was different than the last couple of records?

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot hasn’t changed, but because I was producing this one myself, there was a little additional pressure. I wasn’t crazy about the production of our last record, so this way, there would be no one to blame, except me; y’know, it’s all on my shoulders. And by being the producer, it really just gave me a focus. In the past I would just trust that the guy knew what he was doing, you know, like, “You can master it, go ahead,” and then all of a sudden you hear it and it’s like, “What happened?”

It’s funny that you say that. I went and had coffee with Jonny [Wickersham] the other night, and he was saying the same thing. That previously, the way you guys would go about it was, you’d go in and do your thing and record, and with this one, there was a lot more direction, and you had a much tighter vision for how you wanted the tones, and the structure…

It was everything. Wanting to go to analog, wanting it old school—I wanted it to sound like a seventies LP. I just wanted that warmth. I’m just not someone that subscribes to that whole thing of making a record in the living room. I think it’s great for when you got an idea and you want to keep it, for the future, but I mean, it was everything, from that, to tones, to grooves; I played with some new grooves on this, and then lyrically—I didn’t want to just write autobiographically, I wanted to write fictionally and non-fictionally; I wanted to write heavy songs and light songs; I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into any one style.

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And one thing that I’ve noticed, watching the set, there’s a track you guys play live, a track called “Bakersfield,” and I talked to you about it on this tour, but it’s much more of a slower, kind of a mid-tempo song, but the crowd seems to dig it, and you bring it in at a really good point in the set, where it kind of let’s more of like a singer-songwriter style come through, versus just, you know balls-out, rock and roll attack. What other songs in the set are from the new record?

We’ve been playing “Still Alive,” and also “Alone And Forsaken,” by Hank Williams.  We’ll probably bring back “Machine Gun Blues” any day now. We’ve kind of been playing “Bakersfield” for a few years already, and we were playing “Can’t Take It With You,” which is an album track, for a few years. That kind of always seemed to work for us, and it’s really probably not the best marketing, but I get impatient, I get excited when I have a new song—I just want to start playing it. Even if the lyrics aren’t done, I’ll just make something up, you know?

Are any of those newer tracks available on iTunes this early? 

I think “Machine Gun Blues” is, yeah.

And you’ve got a new label. Epitaph.

Yeah… Stoked.

Everyone is. I think we feel like you guys are kind of back where you should be. And I wanted to actually talk to you about Epitaph as a label, because some people don’t know, but they’re kind of a two-part animal. They’re a straight-up punk rock label, as well as the Anti header, with guys like Tom Waits and Nick Cave; I’m sure you feel a kinship to those guys as well as to the label.

You know, we had a couple of choices to go with on this record, and these guys signed us without hearing one song. I mean, they didn’t hear it until the last month.

They would call it a no-brainer. [Laughs]

That really made me feel validated. Like, “Wow, these guys have a lot of faith in us.” And the other thing was, we ran a little late, we were missing some of our deadlines to get it out by Thanksgiving, and I still had some vocals to do, and the vocals and the mixing were gonna get rushed and it was like, man…

Yeah, it was supposed to be out for the tour that we’re on right now, and I guess technically, at least in the eyes of your fans, this is the record release tour, even though the record isn’t out yet. Now, are there plans for a full-on record release tour?

Oh yeah, yeah. Once the record comes out, and we’ve been in circulation, we’ll be doing a tour where we’ll be highlighting the album, but this is more, I guess, you could call it a set-up, setting it up a little bit, getting people pumped for it.

And another thing about this label, when I was getting really stressed about meeting deadlines, I just called Brett right up, and I said, “Look, we don’t want to rush this part. We’ve done everything right up to this point. And now, the vocals and the mixing, which are the most important parts, are getting compromised.” And I said, “Brett, you know, I figured I’d just call the boss of the company.” And do you know what he said? He said, “Mike, you’re the boss of this project. If we have to put this record out next year, we’ll put it out next year.” And for me, you know, I think we’ve put out some decent records, but I’ve always resented that time thing, that’s put on you, because you’re—just imagine you’re doing a custom tattoo. Just drawing it and going along, and you spend four hours, and then the guy’s old lady comes in and says, “We gotta leave in thirty minutes—hurry the fuck up!” I mean, what would you fucking do?

[Laughs] That tattoo would not be looking good.

You’d be like, I’m not gonna rush this now! I’m getting ready to put the best things on it!


[Laughs] Let’s go back to the record and to Epitaph. We’ve all seen the pitfalls and follies of certain labels in the way they distribute their records around the world. Epitaph is actually one of the few labels that I’ve noticed—you go everywhere, anywhere, and there are Epitaph records. You go to Malaysia, China, Japan, they are everywhere. Now, is that something that you haven’t had in the past that you think Epitaph is going to provide?

Definitely. I mean, it’s not stuff that I really pay a lot of attention to, I trust management to do that, but at the same time, you can’t help but wonder, when you get to someplace in Europe or South America, and it’s like, “What do you mean our records were never released here?” And they’re like, “Well, Sony never released your records here.” And I’m like, “Why the fuck not?” And maybe it’s gotten to that point in my life, where I really need to take more control, and pay more attention to these [laughs] “minor details.”

I don’t know if we’ve mentioned the title of the record yet, so I’ll yet you take that one…

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. The main metaphor for that title came from the effect on kids that a nursery rhyme or a book has, how, it not only entertains them, but also allows them to escape, and to use their imaginations, and maybe even get them through something. I felt that music did the same thing.

It did it for you.

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13 thoughts on “Mike Ness Interview: Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #23

  1. GREAT interview – among the best interviews of Mike Ness I’ve ever read. I posted a link to it on the retrokustomhonkytonk.com blog. I hope lots of Social D fans read it.

    1. indeed.
      We have great hopes, thanks to Oliver Peck and Shane Trulin, to eventually put together a nice article on Eric’s life and work. It’ll take some time, but it’s on the ‘to-do’ list.

  2. I’m 18 years old, and I loved SD by the first time I listen to Ball and Chain when I was 16, I’ve been search about they for 2 years and now I realize that SD is my faith, Mike has grown so far just not like when I watching their tour on Another State of Mind DVD.. I loved a sick part of your lyrics, keep moving! or we’ll kick ur ass!

  3. Fantastic interview. So glad I stumbled upon it. I waited until I was 34 to get my first tattoo, and it is of Skelli 🙂

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