Suicidal Tendencies' Mike Muir on being on Miami Vice and tangling with the Secret Service
Over the weekend, Suicidal Tendencies played to a packed house at the Summit Music Hall. Before that, we had a chance to chat with the band's founding frontman, Mike Muir, the sole continuous member of the group, about how he first got into punk, how his group has successfully straddled the divide between metal and hardcore, how Suicidal ended up on an episode of Miami Vice, and he also shared some of the wit and wisdom he gained from his father.
Inspired by the music he learned of through his older brother Jim, one of the stars of the emerging SoCal skate culture, Muir formed Suicidal Tendencies in 1981 with some friends. The outfit, which went on to become one of the most commercially successful hardcore and punk bands of the era, first earned notoriety when its iconic song "Institutionalized" was included in the soundtrack for the cult classic film Repo Man. ST was never just a punk band; it straddled the divide between punk, metal and funk in a way like pretty much no other band had then or since.
The group's big breakthrough to a mainstream came, paradoxically, with the release of what is considered its most experimental album, 1992's The Art of Rebellion, which featured the songs like "Nobody Hears" and "I'll Hate You Better." Suicidal Tendencies took a hiatus in the mid-'90s but re-emerged later in that decade and been going strong ever since, including its latest release, 13, the thirteenth album of the band's career.
Westword: Your brother Jim was part of the Dogtown skateboarding team. How did the culture of skating impact the kind of music you made early on?
Mike Muir: [It affected that] in so many ways. My brother is five years older than me, but when we grew up, we didn't have Playstations and X-Boxes and all of that. We didn't have cable TV. We had three or four channels. Cell phones? No. No one had camera. If you had a camera, you were rich. The thing that you don't realize, that kind of gets across, is that now people see so much of what they do as for how it's going to look on Instagram, or a for a post on Facebook, or this or that. They're doing it for the reactions from other people.
With my brother [and his friends], if they did something, and it didn't work, they did it again because they wanted to accomplish it. You see people now, and they're filming and looking at it later, and, "Oh, oh, let's do it from this angle again." You know what I mean? It's different.
Not to be critical or to say that technology is bad because that's not the point. But there's [something to be said for] when you do something because it's a feeling, a drive, a passion you have within yourself rather than waiting for the reaction. It doesn't matter if it's 50,000 people in Yankee Stadium or you're just there by yourself kind of thing.
I think that's one of the things with them: They weren't following the path because the path hadn't been made yet. They were the first people that said, "Hey let's empty out the pool and try to skate it. That's crazy, but because of that, you'll see commercials where people are skating. It's interesting when people do things just as a challenge to themselves to accomplish it for no other financial reward, just for the satisfaction [of having done it]. That carries over into your life. That came across really well.
It also had a lot to do with my dad. My dad, like a lot of people, they kind of push their kids in a direction that they wish they could have done or been better at or want them to do. They want to live their life again vicariously through their kids. My dad never pushed us in any direction. If there was an opportunity or something, it was like, "Do you wanna do it? Fine. It's your choice."
My brother ended up being a pro skateboarder. I backed into doing music because I didn't really have an interest in it. My dad always says, when people ask him about it, "I didn't want them to be anything; I just wanted them to be happy." I think that's the thing: just to let people find where they have a passion.
When people find a passion for something, to get back to the point, for the right reason, great things happen. When they do things for other people's attention, that affects the way they think. And I think that greatly limits it because it gets back to the point that most people won't understand, and they won't support it. If I was brought up [thinking I had to document and post my activities], I would probably think that way and not even know it. So I try to make that point every now and then.
What was your introduction to the punk world in terms of going to see shows and being involved in it?
Again, it was through my brother. There was the Marina Del Rey Skate Park that my brother helped to design. They started doing punk shows and stuff. I remember going to my brother's house, and on there, "Punk is Bunk," to all of a sudden seeing him with crazy, short, dyed black hair when he had reddish blond hair. Six foot three looking insane and a huge trench coat. I was like, "Whoa, what happened to 'Punk is Bunk?'"
It was funny because when we were young, everybody had long hair, so when someone came back from summer vacation and their hair was short, we used to say, "P.O.P." There's Pacific Ocean Park, and we used that expression, too. But P.O.P., in this case, was "Parent Or Punk." Why did you cut your hair? Did you get in trouble. A lot of parents, that was the thing if you didn't good grades or whatever it was. It became more and more the latter, the punk, rather than the trouble.
My one friend was so cool; he said, "Man, I've been working at this a long time getting in trouble, trying to do the big one." We'd be like, "We're shaving your head!" So they did it, and he grabbed a safety pin and put it through his lip: "Thank you, you've made my dream come true." It was hilarious.