Friday, August 5, 2011

Okay, Enough Reminiscing: An interview with Mikey Erg

For those of you living under a rock, The Ergs! were one of the most influential punk bands of the last decade. Hailing from New Jersey and fronted by lead vocalist/drummer Mikey Erg, the band kicked around from 2000-2008 before the three members called it quits and went on to other projects.

Mikey currently plays drums for Star Fucking Hipsters, Ensign, House Boat, and a slew of other bands, as well as being a solo artist, which was the hat he was wearing when he played a bill at New Hampshire Punkhouse “Slaughter House 5”. The show also featured Hunchback and Black Wine, both bands consisting of the other former Ergs! members. The following interview took place afterwards:

D: Thanks Mike for taking the time for this.

M: Of course.

D: The last time I interviewed you The Ergs! had just broken up, and you said Psyched To Die was gonna be your main band, then a few months from that you moved to Minnesota.

M: (Laughs) that’s true.

D: During your set today you said that was a mistake. What was wrong?

M: It happens all the time where you think “this is where I need to be, this is what I need to do” and then it turns out it’s not what you need to do … don’t move anywhere for a girl.

D: (Laughs) was there a plan to start a band out there?

M: The plan was kind of like to not do bands for a while, to chill for a bit. But then it’s me, so I just was like “I can’t do that”. I immediately started a few bands.

D: What were the ones you started?

M: Well I started playing with The Slow Death. I started playing with Nato from Used Kids and Modern Machines, we started a band but then I stopped playing with them and started playing with The God Damn Doo Wop Band. I just started playing with any band that would have me out there (laughs). It became exactly what it was on the East Coast, but I can’t not play music.

D: Would you say you have a nomadic lifestyle?

M: At this point, yeah.

D: Where’s home, New Jersey?

M: Yeah I keep my stuff at my mom’s house and it’s just kind of like a storage.

D: How often do you stay there? Ever?

M: 2-3 weeks at a time, maybe 2-3 times a year, never all that much. She doesn’t mind and it’s not really like I’m living at home. All my stuff is there so it’s not like I have to pay for a storage space.

D: Exactly you’re saving money. So when was the last time you had a day job, you know a 9-5?

M: I worked for my dad for most of my life. He owned a recording studio and I worked there until that went under, which was the same year The Ergs! broke up.

D: Right when the recession started, right?

M: Yeah all that shit just happened at the same time. I was living at the studio, so I lost my job, my house, and my band (laughs). Everything just happened at the same time. It was late 2008, and then 2009 on I’ve just kind of been doing this touring thing.

D: Did you ever go to college?

M: I didn’t. I wanted to go to recording college, and my dad, owning a recording studio, kind of gave me shit about it. He was like “I can teach you everything you need to know”, and now I really wish I went to recording college because I would know a lot more then I learned being at my dad’s place.

D: At this point would you ever considering going back to school?

M: I think about it a lot. I mean I’m at the point where I can tour all year and that’s cool. But at certain points it would be nice to have a home base. I’m not there yet but pretty soon I’ll probably get there and go back to learning something.

D: But for punk rock you’ve sort of made it so to speak, you know? I mean so many people would love to have that sort of lifestyle.

M: Yeah, I’m very lucky to have made the connections I made, and to have done the things I’ve done. To be able to, with a bunch of different bands, tour most of the year, it’s good. I’m not making a crazy living, but I’m living and that’s awesome.

D: When you went to the Bay Area to record with Star Fucking Hipsters, I guess that was when you played Gilman with Mike Dirnt’s band. Who else was there? Fat Mike and Jello Biafra?

M: In the course of a week we recorded in Fat Mike’s studio so I met him, and then Mike Dirnt got us on a show with his other band The Frustrators. Then the next night we played at a club called The Parkside, and Jello was there because Jello put out the second Hipsters record. So in the course of a week I met Fat Mike, Mike Dirnt, and Jello Biafra.

Jello Biafra came up to me and said “Did you really only have one practice with the band?” and I said “yeah we practiced today for like 40 minutes” and he said “that’s the best drumming I’ve seen for any of Sturgeon’s bands ever.” I was like, “well you’re bullshitting me but that’s awesome!”

D: (Laughs)

M: I went up to him and introduced myself, I’m a huge fan, and he knew who I was from seeing me on stage. It was really weird and surreal, I wasn’t prepared for it.

D: I read an interview with Sturgeon where he said he didn’t vote. Do you know if that’s still true?

M: I don’t know. I don’t know much about him personally.

D: I know Jello, on his spoken word albums, has whole tracks about why he didn’t vote for years, and then why he was so gung-ho with the Punk Voter stuff and trying to get kids registered.

M: Sturgeon’s very political so it seems he would’ve done that, but I could see people being lazy and not registering.

D: What he was saying was no candidate really represents his views.

M: That totally could be true because his views are all over the place (laughs).

D: Right, though the whole argument that Biafra makes is that it’s not really the big races like Senate, or President, or what not, that matter, but the ballot questions. Here in Massachusetts… oh wait this is New Hampshire… where we live in Massachusetts, there’s always stuff you get to vote on directly. There’s some cool ones recently like banning dog racing, and there’s always Republican groups trying to get rid of taxes for all these state institutes that need it, and it’s quite fun to vote those down.

M: Yeah definitely. From what I know he’s all over the place, I don’t know where he actually is on any of that stuff.

D: Are those guys all vegetarians?

M: Yes.

D: You’re a big fast food junkie, right?

M: (Laughs) I am.

D: So wasn’t there some compromise they had with you?

M: Sturgeon’s very anti-corporate, so there was a lot of “These fast food restaurants are good because they do this for their employees…these restaurants are bad because they do this…” There was a lot of that, so I had to compromise and sneak things (laughs). He doesn’t drink Coke products, he doesn’t go to McDonalds, and that’s fine. It’s just, sometimes you’re at a rest stop and the only fucking thing there is McDonalds, so I eat McDonalds if that’s the case. I’ve gotten in trouble for that a couple times.

D: What’s funny is the first time I knew those guys were into you was when I saw them play, and one of the guys had an Ergs! Shirt on.

M: Yeah the guitar player Frank.

D: Yeah the guy from Ensign. I guess that was also in another photo of them they used for publicity, but then in the same picture one of them is holding a can of Coors, I think it was Nico, Sturgeon must have not liked that.

M: I mean we’ll drink Pabst. It’s more “if you can help it, don’t”. “If you can help it, don’t go to fucking McDonalds”, or “don’t do this”, or “don’t do that”. “Don’t go to Walmart, don’t go to whatever”, but if McDonalds is the only thing around that’s what I’m gonna eat because I’m starving.

D: Why did Nico leave the band? It seems like she just quit suddenly.

M: It’s not my place to say. She was there one day, and then one day I woke up in the hotel room and she wasn’t there anymore. I don’t really know what happened.

D: The new girl in the band, what band did she come from?

M: She’s in a band called "Chump Change” from the Bay Area.

D: So she moved out east?

M: No she’s still in the Bay Area. Our guitar player Frank moved out to the Bay Area too, so we’re kind of a bi-coastal thing at this point.

D: So you just meet up when you tour?

M: Yeah. Because the Nico stuff happened in Denver, and then we were going to the west coast, we played a few shows without her, and then we met up with Kelsey (the new singer). She flew up to Portland and we had a couple practices, and we toured down the west coast and then went to Australia. She just kind of jumped in because she was recommended by a friend of ours.

D: Which one of them is gonna be on the new record?

M: I haven’t heard any of the record. I believe they kept some of Nico’s stuff. We re-recorded all of Nico’s stuff before we left the studio. Sturgeon went back with Kelsey and a few other people, but I think there’s some Nico stuff, and I think there’s some Kelsey stuff. But I don’t know, I haven’t heard any of it.

D: Did you write any of the songs?

M: Me, Frank, and Sturgeon ended up basically writing the record. Sturgeon and Frank had stuff, and I contributed drum parts and stuff like that. There are a couple songs that we jammed in practice. There’s a song called “From The Dumpster To The Grave”, which is the title track for the record, Frank had a riff and I started playing, and Sturgeon started playing, and we put the whole thing together in half an hour. That song we’re all super proud of. It was the three of us “writing” but “writing” in a very loose term.

D: Is it gonna be more ska based?

M: Yeah, most of the record from what I gather. There’s a couple pop punk songs, and a bunch of ska punk.

D: Yeah I remember him saying when they played in Cambridge, “We have a new album coming out and it’s gonna be called Ska Fucking Hipsters!”

M: Yeah and that was forgotten by the time that we started working together. Then I, coming in as an outsider, was like “Ska Fucking Hipsters, it actually kind of became that.” He was like “Yeah, I guess we planned on that for a minute and then we forgot about that. Then with the lineup change this shit happened”. I came in and we were writing ska songs, which for me is awesome because I’ve never been in a ska band, and I’ve always liked that kind of music.

D: Were you in Star Fucking Hipsters with Frank, before you joined him in Ensign?

M: Yeah. I played the last Measure [sa] show, and I was walking offstage and the bass player from Ensign was like “Hey I need to talk to you! We need a drummer for these next few shows, can you do it?” I was like “I don’t really have a lot of time but give me the dates”. It turned out that the dates were in the places that I didn’t have anything to do. So I learned all their songs, and played a couple of shows, then we’re going to Europe for two weeks.

D: No plans to record with them or anything?

M: No, not for me, just because I’m so busy. I literally just had those couple weeks open, so I was like “yeah I can do this”.

D: You just mentioned The Measure [sa], when I talked to their frontwoman Lauren, she was saying how great of a basement scene New Jersey has. Can you talk about your experience with that?

M: I missed a lot of the Bouncing Souls stuff, a lot of the Lifetime stuff, a lot of that stuff that was happening in the mid to late 90s, I missed all of that. I was going to shows in New York City, bigger shows because I was into bigger bands like the Teen Idols or Chixdiggit!, the bands that would play the mid-sized 300-500 to maybe 750 capacity places. I wasn’t into the basement scene at all. I was aware of it, I knew about all of it, but I never went to New Brunswick alone to go see a basement show.

Then The Ergs! started, and one of the first shows we ever played was a basement show in New Brunswick, and I was like “Oh cool we’re playing a basement in New Brunswick”. It just kind of built up to the point where people were crediting us for starting this new revolution of basement shows in New Brunswick. Thursday, and Bouncing Souls, and Lifetime had all left, and we were the next thing, which I didn’t think of it as that. We were just playing shows at houses that would let us play. But I didn’t get to see any of the cool Thursday/Lifetime/Bouncing Souls house shows.

D: I don’t think you missed much with Thursday.

M: I agree.

D: (Laughs)

M: But with the Souls and Lifetime there was obviously a fucking thing going on that I didn’t know about. I saw Thursday play when Discount played their last show in New Brunswick, it was their last tour, and Thursday opened. I’d never heard anything like that and I wasn’t into it, I was just like, “I don’t get what’s going on here, this guy’s really putting it out there”. Later it got to where I could understand what he was doing, but at that point I was still young, I was in high school so I was probably 18. But everybody around me was totally all for it, and I’m like “I’m not in my element right now”. Then two years later, they were the biggest thing in the world.

D: Are a lot of those basements still around?

M: There are the legendary “This was the Lifetime basement” or “This was the Bouncing Souls basement” ones. I don’t think we ever played any of those places, but every time a new crop of college kids came through they were like “Oh we have a basement. Lets’ do shows!” The house that we always played was at the end of Hamilton Street. It was dubbed “The Parlor” after a Hunchback song. The Ergs! and Hunchback played there all the time, that was our home base. That was when the two of us were the New Brunswick thing of that later period. Fid from The Measure [sa], who was there from the Bouncing Souls/Lifetine days, said that was when it got good again, “When you guys came through, and you guys started going on tour, and you brought bands back”.

Apparently the Screaming Females were influenced by us, and they got it going again after us. It goes in cycles; if it’s true we were a part of that thing I’m glad that that happened.

D: How does it compare to places like here? Have you played any other houses in New England?

M: Yeah. We played… (thinking)….

D: The Ant Cellar in Lowell? Or any of the places in Boston?

M: The Used Kids played a basement in Boston, it might have still been when we were the Modern Machines. I know we played a basement in Boston, we’ve played basements in Philly, but this is great. I always heard about Slaughter House 5. I’d never played here until The Dopamines played outside of here and then someone wrote me an email, “Do you wanna do a solo show in our basement?” Absolutely. I walked down here and there were already tons of people down here waiting for me to start. That was the second solo show I’d ever played in my life and I was like “Wow people wanna hear this? That’s cool.” I played here later again with House Boat, and then played solo. This is just such a cool place. The Ergs! played venues in New Hampshire and Boston, and so forth, but we never played basement shows here.

D: These places are always better than the venues.

M: Yeah, if The Ergs! could have done it any other way we would have had our last show at one. I mean we played a “secret” show as our last basement show, but for our last show we wanted as many people that could’ve made it. People were flying out and shit, so we had it at a venue.

D: That must have been pretty flattering though, hearing people are coming in from out of the way.

M: It was, but honestly for me I remember the basement show more. I mean the last show was the last show and it was fucking awesome. The fact was Lemuria just happened to be in town and they needed a show, so we booked them a show, and we’re like “Okay it’s two days before our last show, we’re just gonna play it, we’re not gonna announce it”. But people kind of knew. It was at The Parlor, at the place we’d always played for years, we just got up and played, and it was so magical. Tonight was the first time I’d seen Hunchback in a basement since that show. Tonight for me, that was my perfect Hunchback show, I can’t even describe how amazing that felt.

D: Yeah, it was cool that the three of you were all here with different bands.

M: Yeah I’m glad too that we all could be here. I wish Night Birds could play, but it was so fucking rad to see that and not know if that’s gonna happen again. Just to see that and have that in my mind and in my heart, that’s what I wanted to see, and it’s fucking awesome.

D: There was that secret show and the official last one, then you did that cancer benefit last year, and didn’t you play someone’s wedding?

M: Yeah we’d already agreed to that before we’d decided that we were breaking up, so we did all the last show shit, and the guy wrote us, “So I guess you won’t be playing our wedding”, and we were like “No we said we were gonna do it, we’ll do it”. Our last show was our last show, this was as invited guests. We practiced a couple times for it, we played, and it was fun, it was great. It was really fun but it was an invited crowd, and people got video of it so if anybody didn’t get to see it they can see it on youtube or whatever.

Even the cancer benefit was just that we wanted to help out. We practiced for a few days and were like “It still sounds alright, and we’re not fucking things up by doing this.” We did it, and we honestly played like an hour and forty-five minutes or something, we played a long set. I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen again, well I don’t know if it’s ever gonna happen again, never say never, but we were kind of playing as if that was the last time it’s ever gonna happen. But it was good to do it and we helped immensely, more than I’d ever thought that any band I would’ve been in could have helped monetarily.

D: Was it that you helped in paying for the medical bills?

M: Yeah basically it was raising money for the medical bills.

D: Were you able to cover it?

M: Well it’s cancer, so you never know when it’s gonna stop, but we raised a lot of money, way more than I ever would have thought. It was really nice to be able to do that.

D: I’ve always wondered this, how many artists do you have in your itunes library?

M: That’s a good question. It’s in the thousands (laughs).

D: What would you guess five thousand? Or closer to three or two thousand?

M: I don’t even know, I never even thought to look actually. Probably in the two to three thousand range.

D: What album would people be most surprised to learn that you own?

M: That’s the thing with me; I like so much dumb shit. I mean there’s Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, which is a classic record, but it’s an unlistenable record to a lot of people. There’s so many weird records that I like.

D: Do you have Kriss Kross or something like that?

M: Certainly when I was 12 years old I was listening to Kriss Kross, but I was also listening to Nevermind. Surprising in that way? I have the Right Said Fred record.

D: (Laughs) how are the songs besides “I’m Too Sexy”?

M: There’s I’m Too Sexy, and then there’s “Don’t Talk, Just Kiss”, then I don’t remember any of the rest of them.

One of the ones that always sticks out in my mind as a weird record that came out when I was young: Duran Duran’s Big Thing. It wasn’t like a big hit Duran Duran album, it wasn’t Rio, it was like their ’87 record. It’s a fucking great record. Then they came back with Duran Duran’s self titled album, that was with “Ordinary World”, in their early 90s hit period. But there was a record right in the middle of that called Big Thing, and I love that record.

D: Then you obviously got the Neurotic Outsiders album that the Duran Duran guy did with Steve Jones.

M: Yes! That was Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, and the guys from Guns N’ Roses.

D: Duff and Matt.

M: It was the perfect melding of dumb shit that I liked throughout my life.

D: (Laughs)

M: It’s a shitty record. It’s not a good record, but “Nasty Ho” when you’re 12 years old is kind of a funny song.

I went and saw All once when I was in high school, I might have been out of high school actually, it might have been 2000 or 2001. This band opened up called Wretch Like Me, and they covered Nasty Ho. I was watching it and Stephen Egerton came out and played it with them. That was like the one song I knew from that band, and I was just rocking out. I was like “We should cover this song, it’s cool. Stephen Egerton from the Descendents knows it, so it’s cool.” So we covered it just because we thought it was funny.

Jeff and I both had that record, we were both into that band. Jeff’s younger than I am, but we both discovered it at the same ages. We decided to cover it, but it’s a dumb, fucking stupid, song.

D: It’s a fun song.

M: It’s a sexist piece of shit song, but it was funny at the time (laughs).

D: Did ABC No Rio ban you guys because you played that?

M: They banned us, and I assumed it was because of that. We had our lyrics printed on our website, and that’s the most sexist The Ergs! ever got besides “I love you, you’re cute” (laughs). Nasty Ho might have been the only sexist thing I ever sang.

D: And you never wrote that, Steve Jones wrote that.

M: But we got banned from ABC No Rio, and I was like “Was it because of Nasty Ho?” That’s the only thing I could think of that would’ve been a problem in our catalog. At that point, Dorkrock wasn’t out, The Ben Kweller EP wasn’t out, it was just our demos and seven inch. Nasty Ho came free with a seven inch. That’s the only song I can think of that has anything that could be misconstrued as sexist, which it is sexist, I’m not saying that we were right in covering it, but we were stupid fucking 20 year olds when we recorded it. I wanted to leave it off of Hindsight is 20/20, but it was out and we might as well put it on there.

D: There are some stuff missing from Hindsight, like That’s it Bye, I don’t know if that came out afterwards.

M: It came out afterwards. Anything that came out after was left off, but there will be a Hindsight 2.

D: Is that what it’s gonna be called?

M: I believe it’s gonna be Hindsight is 20/20 Volume 2: Okay Enough Reminiscing. It’s gonna be all Dirty Work references. It’ll be everything commercially released that’s not on Hindsight. The goal is, if you have Dorkrock, Upstairs/Downstairs, Ben Kweller EP, Jersey Best Prancers, and then the two singles collections, you’ll have everything we ever recorded.

D: I’m gonna go off topic, but you mentioned Dirty Work, are you an Artie Lange fan?

M: Oh yeah, absolutely.

D: Did you hear he was back on the radio for the first time in years?

M: I didn’t hear that. Not on Howard Stern right?

D: No.

M: Because I’ve been listening to Stern, I’m a huge fucking Stern fan.

D: He guest hosted one of those sports shows.

M: Like the Norm show?

DL No it was with Nick DiPalo, the comedian from Boston. It was The Tony Bruno Show.

M: I love Nick DiPalo too. I love that he’s Mr. Boston, he’s so fucking funny. I loved that he played a Boston cop in Beer League. It’s so great, that was the perfect role for him.

D: He hosted a radio show again. I’ll send you the link, they have a podcast version of it.

M: I’d love to hear it. Howard doesn’t want Artie on; he wants to make sure that he’s okay, because that’s gnarly shit that happened to him [Artie relapsed on heroin and tried to stab himself to death]. Howard doesn’t want anything to do with bringing him back at a time when he doesn’t need to be back in the spotlight. I think that Howard feels pretty responsible for the bullshit that happened with Artie, even though if you’re that fucked up, you’re that fucked up. Nothing’s gonna change it unless something drastic happens.

D: That show, for all the talk that it’s sexist or whatever, there’s been a lot of cool punk bands on it, like the Joey and Marky Ramone fight.

M: Stern rules, and anything that Richard Christy [drummer turned Stern show writer] does, Richard Christy is a drumming idol to me. Ever since I found out about him I was listening to him. He can fucking play the drums. I’ll never play like that.

D: If you had to name one drummer as your favorite, do you have one?

M: Bill Stevenson is obviously a huge influence, but from here, some New Hampshire/Maine/Boston pride, Chris Pierce from Sinkhole. Him and Duncan from Snuff, they’re the two people that made me realize I could play drums and sing at the same time, and they’re both incredible drummers, I owe a lot to both of them.

Chris Pierce happened to move to New Brunswick. The Ergs! half hazardly wrote to him, “Hey would you wanna record this dumb band we have?” And we recorded some shit with him, what ended up being Thrash Compactor, a couple comp tracks, and the country seven inch. We just went in and recorded a bunch of dumb shit with him, just to see if it sounded good, and it sounded great, so we went and did almost everything else we ever did with him. He’s a huge influence on me, and it was really hard to play and sing in front of him.

D: Could you name a favorite artist? Do you have one or would there just be too many?

M: Of all time? It’s tough.

D: What about five of them?

M: My favorite band in the world is probably XTC, because they’re so weird. They’re weird and poppy, the perfect mix of weird Beatle-esque pop and weird funky/new wavey kind of shit. Andy Partridge is a huge lyrical influence on me, in the same way that John Lennon and The Beatles are.

The Beatles were probably my first favorite band of all time. Apparently my first words were “yeah, yeah, yeah” from what my mom tells me. In the early 80s she would bring out her Beatles records. I always loved John Lennon’s wordplay, I always tried to copy that. Andy partridge had that too, and Elvis Costello was kind of influenced by John Lennon in that respect.

So Elvis Costello, John Lennon, The Beatles, XTC, and I love Joe Jackson. He’s in the same kind of vein of angry young man turned punk for a few years and then ventured out into other things. I like that you get into it from the punk thing, because that’s what you can understand, and then you realize you can expand upon that.

So those are probably my five favorites, The Beatles are probably number one, because that’s my first favorite bands. Not that I’m anywhere near as good as Elvis Costello, or The Beatles, or XTC, but those are my three favorite songwriting influences.

D: Do you listen to The Adam Carolla Podcast at all?

M: I have.

D: He’s always saying his favorite artists are Elvis Costello, and who’s the other guy you just mentioned?

M: Joe Jackson?

D: Yeah, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, and some other guy I can’t remember.

M: Yeah, The Pretenders are awesome, Chrissie Hynde is great. That’s rad. I didn’t know that.

If I had three bands I’d say everybody should listen to it’d be XTC, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and The Beatles. Then you go into other genres like punk: Black Flag, The Minutemen, there’s a ton of fucking bands out there that are worth listening to.

D: What about albums?

M: Well Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime, that taught me you didn’t have to stick to a formula, your formula was you could be all over the place for eighty minutes and be awesome. XTC did those records too, they did English Settlement which is eighty minutes of every fucking thing you can throw at an audience. Then The Beatles did The White Album which was one of the first double albums ever, anything you could throw at anybody. They were like “Fuck it, we’re The Beatles! Listen to all this shit, fuck you!”

That’s kind of what The Ergs! did as a whole because we were all super influenced by everybody. On Upstairs/Downstairs we were like “Here’s a few pop punk songs, here’s a slow song, here’s a song that kind of sounds like Fugazi, here’s a song that kind of sounds like Johnny Cash, here’s a song that kind of sounds like this, here’s a song that’s eighteen minutes of noise.” We kind of tried to throw everything at the audience, I don’t know if it worked or not.

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