Mike ‘IX’ Williams on His Health, Old New York and Returning to Eyehategod
It was sort of like that new Pepsi commercial or the blue dress, except actually for the good of the people. When the announcement came down about Mike "IX" Williams and his failing liver, the internet swooped in to help the metal legend, organizing benefits and coming to his aid via a YouCaring campaign. The love was undeniable, and the money raised was similarly impressive. Though he has a long way to go, all signs look encouraging.
And now, almost four months to the day of his surgery, Williams will play his first gig back with Eyehategod, logging a weekend of dates, including the Northeast. Yet, the band never stopped playing shows, teaming up with Philip Anselmo and Lamb of God's Randy Blythe in Williams' place. With these new dates on deck, and all of the other odd things surrounding the legend and his return to center stage, we sat down with Williams for his first post-surgery interview. The results of our conversation are below.
How are you feeling?
I’m feeling amazing, to be honest with you. This whole thing has been insane — it’s been a crazy ride, but I feel better than I’ve felt in ages. I mean, I’m 50 years old … I’m not a spring chicken or anything, but I have so much energy now, and my whole life seems like it’s turned around.
You got the transplant in mid-December. How long did it take for you to become a semi-functioning human being after that?
Well, the doctors said that they thought it was pretty amazing that I healed up so fast. I got back to normal pretty fast. It’s only been a few months, but it didn’t take very long. It feels like the more you try, the faster it works. I was in the hospital for three months! But it started years ago. I mean, the last time we played Saint Vitus, I was feeling terrible. That whole little tour we did … I wish I could forget that tour, because it was pretty horrible for me. I was trying to go out on the road and I couldn’t. I shouldn’t have been.
Once I got the transplant, I just healed up, and it’s amazing how that works. I have someone else’s body part inside me making me feel better.
It's kind of surreal to think about it from that perspective.
The whole thing has been surreal. The key word is "surreal." Everything has been surreal.
How are things progressing? Do you feel like you’re completely better, or do you have a long way to go physically / monetarily?
Physically, yes. I can exercise more, and I still wake up kind of sore, [but] that’s probably due to multiple things at my age. But it’s also the more I stay active, the better I get. Just like anybody, so that’s normal. Monetarily, we still have a ways to go. It’s insane what they charge for this. [Laughs] Good lord. I had to have been in the hospital three months, y’know? It’s insane, and that’s not cheap, every day, to have that go on. The fact that there’s certain medicines I’ll have to stay on for the rest of my life, because it helps keep the transplant stable — I’m not sure exactly how it works, but it keeps [my body] from rejecting the liver. So, yeah, I mean, we still have the "IX Lives" YouCaring [page]. But that’s basically it, man — we’re still scratching and saving.
I want to take the time to thank everybody that’s helped, man. It’s been overwhelming, and I know I’ve put out statements thanking people, but it’s an emotional thing to have all these people show that love. Even though everyone’s done that, we still have a ways to go paying all these bills. I hate to ask stuff like that, but it’s the truth.
From the outside, it was pretty wild to see all the things happening around you and the band. For instance, that Discharge tour. Did you see any videos from that tour? What did you think of that? How did it affect you?
Well, that was my idea. The idea to get Philip to sing was my idea, and the idea to get Randy was also mine. I didn’t want to cancel that Discharge tour. This is my band, and whether I’m there or not, I want to do it. It’s always gonna be part of me. So, when I found out I was absolutely too sick, we had already had Philip do some shows, so we got Randy to do some others. I just didn’t want to cancel and let down more people. They at least got to see Eyehategod, even if it was a different version of the band.
Which is kind of like seeing a shooting star — this different version of the band. Even though it was your idea, it has to be odd to see Phil or Randy up there singing your songs with your guys behind him.
Well, it’s not really that crazy to me — it’s just another part of this situation. Shit happens. I just wanted the band to go on. We’ll be back together as friends and a band soon enough. It was crazy to watch — totally strange to watch somebody in my spot onstage — but it’s another part of the game, and another chapter in this weird band that I’m in. It’s life.
People love Eyehategod, but at its core, Eyehategod is a nasty band. What did you think of all of the love shown to you during your illness with respect to some of the themes you’ve tackled?
[Laughs] It’s another strange thing. I didn’t at all. I’m still overwhelmed at all of the love that came from that … the benefit shows and all that. It’s just truly amazing. It just goes to show you — from all the years of hanging out at our shows, not being rock stars and hiding until our set — that it makes a difference. Being cool to people makes a difference. It added up to a massive amount of love. And it is strange that a band with our name and our background would get this amount of love, but that’s just the rock 'n' roll side of it. The whole community, punk / metal / everything else, all those people feel that community vibe. You see people with a shirt with a band on it that you like, you identify with them automatically. You’re pretty much an outcast. Eyehategod are a bunch of weirdo outcasts. The whole thing is just way bigger than we are.
These comeback dates happen next week. Have you been practicing? Do you think we’ll see some new material?
Jimmy [Bower, guitarist] has been writing a lot of new stuff, so it’s possible. Even [drummer] Aaron [Hill] has been writing some riffs and stuff. But many of these songs we’ve been doing for years ... you can definitely expect “the hits.” Brian [Patton, guitarist] is going to come down to NOLA to practice, and then we are going to head out.
So, there is new material in the works, post-self-titled.
Yep. This band is sort of ongoing no matter what. After Jimmy and I are gone, we don’t know what it’ll become … but Eyehategod will never stop. There’s definitely been material that has been written, and we are already talking about when we can get in the studio to put it together. There’s nothing set yet, though.
You’ve been through NYC so many times over the years. What’s a crazy story that you remember from one of your visits?
In the beginning, when we were being courted by Century Media, we would have them drive us around the city. We had them take us to the Lower East Side to get us dope. [Laughs] They had no idea where they were, and we’re just there copping with our record label waiting in the van. That’s funny to me. There’s been police and cops and drugs and fights … it’s hard to pinpoint one thing.
You lived in NYC for a short time, correct?
Yeah, I lived in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, maybe? I don’t remember exactly what neighborhood it was. Those two are pretty close together, right? I could walk from there to downtown Brooklyn. I also lived near Park Slope on the other side of the street — like the bad part of the street, you know? Grand Army Plaza and out there. It was three years out there.
And that was in the ’90s?
Yeah, ’93-’96 or something like that.
It was pretty terrifying back then.
Yeah, it was still pretty bad at that point. It hadn’t really gotten to that point where the LES had started gentrifying, and Brooklyn was still pretty bad right there, out that far, I guess. I’m not sure what it’s like over there by Grand Army Plaza.
There are multi-million dollar homes now.
Really? I guess the whole city’s changed, Brooklyn and everywhere. I’ve only been there to visit since then. I still love it; I still think about how much I loved it. And I’m so glad when I lived there in the ’90s, when it was still pretty nasty, I’m glad I didn’t just go and see all the gentrification. It was still fun and gritty, and the Lower East Side was chaos. Over on Rivington and ABC No Rio back there, and all the streets back there. [Laughs] It was just constantly an adrenaline rush — something was always about to happen.
People don’t realize that these places were like a punk oasis in these neighborhoods of shit.
Right, yeah, man. ABC No Rio, is it even still there?
The structure is gone. Basically, it's being rebuilt right now.
Well, that’s good. I’m glad it’s still there. That place, every Friday and Saturday, we’d go from Brooklyn to there. I saw so many good bands there back in the day. EHG played there, which is hard to believe. We’d play that tiny little basement they had, which was amazing. It was fun as hell.
Yeah, it’s a storage basement now. It’s crazy to see photos of everyone from you guys to Born Against playing this absolutely dingy basement with low ceilings. It must’ve been an absolute war zone.
Yeah, imagine Neurosis playing there. A big band like that, Drop Dead, Rupture — all these bands. So, I’m glad I caught that part of New York, the tail end of that. I mean, I don’t know what it’s like now, not living there now, but everyone seems to think it’s changed so much. Even the attitude’s changed, I guess.