More Than A Pepsi: A Conversation With Suicidal Tendencies

It’s been 27 years since Suicidal Tendencies busted onto the music scene with their first hit single “Institutionalized” – a heavily punkish tune best known for satirical lyrics centering on the point of view of someone stuck in an insane asylum.  Since that time the band has gone through several stylistic transitions that make their music as enigmatic as they were eclectic as a unit.  Suicidal has always been known for being as fast and as heavy as they are for their predilection for attracting trouble.  First labeled a band that played music that primarily catered to the skater culture, it wasn’t long before their music was also linked to gang culture and concert violence.  If you were a kid during the 80’s and 90’s, you might recall the violent episodes that would eventually lead to the band being banned from playing venues in the greater Los Angeles area for several years.  Suicidal, though vocal about not condoning violent behavior, was also becoming a band that was living up to the reputation of their namesake and quickly became a difficult sell for promoters.  This, combined with their hard to label music and changes in their lineup (which included the departure of Robert Trujillo to Metallica), would eventually lead to several hiatuses.  Recently, music by Suicidal Tendencies has been featured in feature films and video games which all have contributed to a resurgence of interest in the band and what they are doing now.  I got to speak with Mike Clark recently about Suicidal Tendencies's history, new music and where what's in store for the future.  Check it out. C6M: So, what are you guys up to? I know that the fans have been waiting for 10 years now for a studio album. Are you guys creating new material? Mike Clark: Yeah. We've been on -- in the last 10 years, we've been writing a lot of material, so probably have about four records worth of stuff. C6M: Do you guys have an idea of the release date? Mike Clark: Well, we have a new record coming out, September 5th. C6M: Awesome. Mike Clark: Yeah, that consists of some re-recorded No Mercy tracks and some re-recorded Join the Army tracks, so they're kind of like modernized. C6M: By modernized, what do you guys mean by that? Like you've stepped it up, you've put a new sound to it or…? Mike Clark: Yeah. We stepped it up, put a new sound, the playing is a lot more technical I'd say. And the production of this album is a 100 times better. C6M: I guess that's the difference between 1983 and 2010, right? Mike Clark: Yeah, [laughter], definitely. C6M: Right. Well, that's very cool. Well, you guys also just released -- this year you released a live DVD. How was that in terms of -- did you feel that that was representative of the current band and have you gotten feedback on just where you guys are now? Mike Clark: Everybody really likes the DVD, it showcases really good live performances of Suicidal. But as far as the band goes, we have a new drummer since then, Eric Moore, and he's stepped it up quite a bit, so it's even more powerful, and so it's a lot better now. I mean the band is really working out great. C6M: Let's talk a little bit about some of the older stuff and then we'll get into the newer stuff. I mean starting with the thing that I think pretty much everyone who doesn't know about Suicidal or everyone that does know about Suicidal; they always kind of gravitate towards that one identifying song. It's sort of a song that put you guys on the map. Is that something that you necessarily like or is that something that frustrates you? Because in a lot of ways, that song, “Institutionalized,most people don't even know that the name is “Institutionalized”. They know it for wanting a beverage. Mike Clark: [Laughter], right. C6M: So, is that something that you guys are used to by this point, and you just know that it's… Mike Clark: Yeah, we're totally used to it. It's like -- there's no anger towards it at all. I mean anything that gets them to like listen to the band, so that's just like topping, and they don't listen to the rest of the songs and realize it's not just some novelty song that we put out or something, there's a lot more to it. C6M: Well, yeah, I mean obviously, because you have a huge catalog, and I mean just that alone should merit some discussion, right? Mike Clark: Right. C6M: So, it's funny though, because I hate to keep going back to it, but it's one of those things, like you said it sort of introduces people to you or reintroduces you to the public. Are you surprised still though? Because it shows up in a movie like Iron Man, and then some of your other songs show up in like video games. I mean is it surprising, like this far along in your careers to have that still kind of -- you're still featured in stuff? Mike Clark: That's great, and I mean for us it just keeps us current, you know what I mean, which is awesome. And I think if it wasn't for a lot of that format and people using that stuff, that a lot of people would not know who the band was, I mean would have never even thought about it, would have never known who's Suicidal, and "I like that song that's on that video game or in that movie, I'm going to check these guys out." C6M: Right, right, so does it make you a little giddy, I mean, to know that? You know what I mean? That's a lot of people playing these things games and watching it. Mike Clark: Yeah. I'm all for it [laughter], God. I get stoked every time something like that happens. C6M: Well, let's talk a little bit about how some of the things have changed for you guys over the years. I mean in a lot of ways the entire scene has changed like completely. I was talking to Rob Halford who had mentioned that you can't even measure record sales the same way you used to. Mike Clark: Are there record sales? C6M: Yeah, exactly. I mean he was saying -- that's what he was saying. He was saying that at one time you could go double platinum on something and it meant something, and now if you sold 500,000 units, it's considered like a mega success. Mike Clark: Right. C6M: So, have you felt like you've been through kind of the old way things are and now going through the way that things are now, do you feel like you've adapted well or is it something that you just have to say it is what it is? Mike Clark: Yeah, I mean it is what it is. I wish it was still the old way, it was great. You could actually make a living off it. Now, it's like you have to go out and tour constantly and now with the economy, the way it is, it's like that's even getting harder to do, because promoters are just backing off, because they're scared to lose their money. Can't blame ‘em, I mean right now we're in a kind of critical time as far as music is going. I don't really know what's going on with it, where it's headed. C6M: Well, it seems like you guys are doing pretty well to survive. I mean I noticed that you guys are at least branching out in your merchandise and you got a Vans line of clothing and skateboards… Mike Clark: Right. C6M: So, how did that come about? I mean was that something that you'd approached Vans or was that something that they approached you with? Mike Clark: Well, we've been working with those guys for years and years, and then like Mike’s older brother Jim started Dogtown Skates, and Vans did that whole Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary movie, and basically from there is where it all kind of hatched. Then putting out a Suicidal line, they thought it'd be a good idea, those -- it’s kind of like what you call skate music, it's what the skaters call skate music anyway, so it fits in real well. C6M: Well, the interesting thing, I think, about your band that is a little different than a lot of bands is that there's a lot of groups, whether it be skaters or whether it be gang members or headbangers or something, every group seems to gravitate towards Suicidal in some way, where they sort of claim that music. Is that something that you guys from time to time -- I mean it's caused trouble in the past too, you know what I mean? You have different factions of fans that have been known to even riot at your shows. But is it a weird thing or is it something you guys feed off of? Mike Clark: It's something that we have no control over basically. It's like our music, our image, that's what it is, it's who we are. And you have people that like that style, like that style of music, they're going to gravitate towards it. As far as the violence, we don't condone it. We're not up to doing a cage match fight or anything, we're just playing music. So, whatever happens in the crowd is some -- we don't have any control over that obviously, but for the most part, I mean there's -- 99% of the time, there's not any problems ever. So, those are just -- I mean there have been a couple of incidents, and they've been blown way out of proportion. C6M: Right. Well, it's always the bad egg that sort of spoils everything, right? Mike Clark: Yeah, and it's also -- you got media that likes to feed on that bad egg and then… C6M: Oh, sure, I remember when I was a teenager, one of the things that we were warned about was "Yeah, you can go to any show except the Suicidal show," because that was on the news. Mike Clark: [Laughter] yeah. Well, that was all like a big police conspiracy, we were banned in the Los Angeles for like seven or eight years. Ridiculous, you know. C6M: Yeah. Well, that sort of goes back to… Mike Clark: The problem was like police were  kicking kids' asses and sending them  to the jail because they happened to be into Suicidal Tendencies and they put a ban on us basically. C6M: Right, right, well it sort of goes back to that time though, because it was you guys in some ways were getting the brunt of it, but then so were a lot of people, you know what I mean? It was like they were going after like everyone, whether they were writing crazy lyrics, going after Ozzy, going after Judas Priest. They were just looking for an excuse to blame someone else for their kids' problems. Mike Clark: Totally. C6M: So, going back to the types of people that did gravitate towards that. I mean obviously you're embraced by the skating culture and what not. Do you think that had to do with the diversity of the band? I mean you guys had sort of an all star list of people that are in the band, and then that are no longer in the band, like Robert Trujillo who is now in Metallica and you know what I mean? There are side projects that are as big as the band itself. So, do you think that that's a part of it, people being introduced to those different facets, because of the different interests in the band? Mike Clark: Yeah, definitely it was a lot of diversity in the band. Everybody comes in with a different style. I think that's what makes the band unique. And yeah, a lot of the side stuff that spawned off of Suicidal has been because of those influences, funk or whatever it may be. C6M: Well, you guys had that reputation of being sort of hard to peg, but if you were to just say what was the one style that you felt was sort of home to you? Because you guys got -- you were groovy, you guys are kind of thrash. Early in your careers you were punk, but was there something that you felt was more of a home for you in terms of music? Mike Clark: Just heavy, hard, fast music.  (Laughs) That was how I can describe it. C6M: Right. Have you been approached by anyone over the years that you would say was the most surprising in terms of being a fan of your music? I mean was there anyone that's come up to you guys and said, "Yeah, I really love your stuff," and you in turn just went, "I never would have guessed that guy." Mike Clark: Well, really, because all types really, and I mean all types. C6M: So, there's been nobody? Mike Clark: Yeah, there's not like a certain style of person that I expect, like I've been at the shopping, like at the supermarket and checking out, like, "Hey, you're the guy in Suicidal Tendencies. Well, wow, I really dig your music," and you never suspect the guy would be into the band, but he is. Like you can't judge a Suicidal fan by its cover, really, I mean they're just out there and they're all different like everybody else, I guess. C6M: Right. Well, let's close by talking a little bit about Epicenter Twenty Ten coming up. Mike Clark: Okay. C6M: If there was ever an event that I think seemed to kind of encapsulate you guys, just in terms of like the nature of what this is, and just kind of the diversity of music that's going to be played, this would sort of be it. So, are you guys excited about doing an event kind of this big? Mike Clark: Absolutely. It'd be great to do that all the time. C6M: Yeah, yeah, we're looking forward to it. So, what will you guys be showcasing? Is there going to be any new stuff or are you just going to go back to what's familiar to the fans? Mike Clark: I think we're going to break out a couple of new songs, definitely going to -- well we start rehearsing this week and it's going to be kind of a little bit of harder work this time, because we're going to have to fit a certain amount of songs in like half hour, 40 minute sets. So, I definitely want to break out some new stuff. We have a new record coming out beginning of next year with all new material. So, yeah I mean, we look forward to that show. C6M: Do you have a particular band or group that you're also looking forward to seeing while you’re there? Mike Clark: Just all of them I guess, just hanging out. C6M: Yeah, very cool. Well, thank you so much for talking with us. We'll try to plug the show and make sure that everyone comes out and says hey. Mike Clark: Awesome, thank you very much, I appreciate it. Special thanks to Mike Clark for taking time out before the tour to talk to Circle Six Magazine.  Suicidal will be playing at Epicenter Twenty Ten which promises to be an epic music event for all tastes.  If you’re unfamiliar with Suicidal Tendencies, check out the music on  The classic hit "Institutionalized" was featured recently in the film, Iron Man, and can be heard by clicking on the media player below.  If you like it, don’t forget to purchase music from the band in the usual places.  And once again, let them know that Paul sent ya.

By Paul Stamat