Look, I get it.
Portland isn't New York. It isn't even Miami. We're known more for our tight pants hipstering and girlfriend-stabs-you weepo than we are for any more beefy genres. But we really do love our hardcore punk. And we love our metal. Not only that, but we love our hardcore/metal crossover, and since a lot of us are tight pants hipsters or overthinking critics, we love expatriates from same. So when a veteran of those genres disappears from the scene, and resurfaces years later as the founding member of an oldschool garage rock n' soul band, The New Evils, and head of SoundCo records, it just tickles our tattooed Morrissey-and-Johnny Cash listening hearts. Of course I'm talking about former Prong singer/bassist Mike Kirkland! And yes, I interviewed him!
After a minor misunderstanding involving a hobbit that almost scuttled the whole deal, we proceeded directly into
MY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MIKE KIRKLAND
JESS: I know a lot of the early ground has been covered before, but I have to say I love the sound of things like "This House" from your Damage years.
MIKE: The only reason that I was a part of a “hardcore band” was because my close friends were all in favor of starting a band with that sound. I kinda just added to it on the edges here and there. I suppose my influence made Damage’s sound less typical than the other bands barking up that same tree. Steve Mcallister and I had wide interests so we mixed things up when we could.
Was there a conscious intent to bridge the Manchfester sound with the NYHC?
I suppose that there was some unconscious meddling going on. I liked the Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall etc...
It was a sound that worked- and I assume you were trying to develop it through the Prong years on some of the less 'metal' tracks.
When I quit Damage, there were a handful of songs that I had written that carried over and became the first songs that Prong rehearsed and arranged. With Prong, it was just Tommy and I at first. I played bass and drums on the rehearsal demos. He quickly wrote a few tunes to fill-out the set. A few months later with the addition of Ted Parsons on drums those songs became the Primitive Origins mini LP.
Do you think the two bass player setup was copped by some other NYC acts? CopShootCop... I'm looking right at you!
Now, one question that's been bugging me forEVER. Like, since 1993 forever. What is with the sound quality of the early Prong releases? Was that an intentional lo-fi approach?
I can’t say why early Prong recordings sound the way they do other than everything we did was done very quickly, there wasn’t any time spent re-working, re-recording, re-mixing or looking back. Everything was done fast and as cheap as possible. We were just scraping along. We just wanted to get our recordings finished and pressed and get on the the next one.
For the longest time I thought my tape of "Primitive Origins" was defective, because of the sound and the weird warbling in "Persecution," which is one of the best tracks on there.
The song “Persecution” is one of the songs that I wrote pre-Prong. I thought it was one of the best I had to offer at the time. Tommy named it unfortunately.
I contrast the first two with "The Peel Sessions" and "Beg To Differ."
The Peel Sessions and Beg to Differ are recordings made in state-of-the-art studios with two or more engineers in the control room. German mics! Expensive mixing consoles, tube compressors, quality pre-amps, etc....
What are your thoughts on the aesthetic choices that went into that clean sound?
Our angle was to create a stripped-down riff machine. I think it was a mixture of Ted’s influence from playing drums in the band Swans and mixing that primal machine beat with hardcore and metal.
There was something about 1989 in metal (well 88-90, but I average it) that was unique. There were so many intense and powerful albums- it's tempting to say watershed. "And Justice For All," "Nothingface," "Persistence Of Time"... even "Pump" and "Dr. Feelgood." Then of course "Beg To Differ." But they're all characterized by a sound that's very clean and clinical. Sometimes it's even characterized as sterile by reviewers. Did you feel something during that time, since you were in the thick of it?
We worked on the sound in our own little bubble of sorts. Other bands approached the same territory but they got there from a different path than ours. I personally had issues with the precision fanaticism. I felt it stripped away the “feel” at times. Clinical doesn’t really appeal to me unless you’re Devo or Kraftwerk.
Last NY era question. Sheer Terror, badass live?
When it comes to NYHC, the early “Blake era” Sheer Terror was my favorite. Like a big loose fuckin’ monster.
I never got to see them. I went to see their last concert here in PDX before they broke up, but it was cancelled because I was one of the only people to show up, and I was too young to go hang out with them in the bar. So... SoundCo. How much of that is you?
Soundco. Well, Soundco came about as a outlet for a couple of musicians that landed on my doorstep. I did it primarily for Bob Moss. He’s an old friend from High school and I felt that his talent was under-appreciated. I decided to help write and produce songs for him. I probably co-wrote a dozen or more songs with Bob. It was a fun diversion from what I’d been doing musically in previous bands. I’ve always been a big fan of American and English folk music, folk-blues and country. Stuff like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, Billy Bragg, Ewan McColl, Bert Jansch, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and the like. Bob Moss and I wrote the majority of his first release way back in about 1995. The recording is called Tragic Tales from the West. It was released by a friend of Bob’s but it’s out of print. I think “Tragic Tales” is some of the best work I’ve done musically.
Did it expand from there?
Initially Soundco was just a moniker to make Bob Moss’s recordings available. I never looked for artists to release but a few just sort-of showed up. When my neighbor Nate Padley (Monster of Vision) asked to be on the label I said sure, why not? The was same was true for local record-store clerk George St. John. Recently George has put together a very cool electric duo called “Doctor and the Bird”. If you're in the Seattle area check them out. The Soundco label is now defunct. Lack of funds and interest.
Those Morrison boys seem like trouble. How are you guys as a songwriting unit?
I love working with them. These boys are like a massive secret gold mine that just don’t wanna give up it’s treasure. When you finally get there, you gotta dig and dig and dig some more. It’s real good gold though. It’s always is worth the sweat. Remember to bring a pick and shovel.
The new stuff sounds very spacious. Tell me about your recording setup- are you an analog head, or has the brave new world swallowed you up?
Love analog, I’ve settled for digital.
There was a New Evils song on a soundtrack from the last album, right? Do you welcome that sort of opportunity, or is it a hassle?
Jonny Polonsky asked us if we’d contibute a New Evils song (the Drifter) to a score he was working on for Sleeping Dogs Lie (a short film starring Brad Wilk and Maynard James Keenan of Tool & Puscifer). We were happy to be involved.
I know you were a bass player for the longest time. Do you still identify that as an 'A' instrument, or have you diversified?
Honestly, I’m a crappy bass player. The Bass is a very finesse-y instrument. It takes a certain mindset, one that I’m lacking. These days I’m the most comfortable just banging out rhythm on guitar. I play drums on my own demos.
Once this new disc is out, are you going to drag the crew on the road?
Yeah, I want to drag the New Evils out into the public eye. It wasn’t possible before when the band was just me and the Morrisons. The new record includes new members! Aldine Strychnine (or Al Gossi as he is known, formally a member of Poison Idea) is playing lead guitar and Leif Myrberg is playing drums. Both Leif and Aldine have been great to work with. Our problem is getting everyone in the same location. Leif lives in Portland, Denny’s in NYC, the rest of us are in Salt Lake.
I am hinting that you should come to Portland. We like that low-down sound. It gets around. What are your other plans now?
I’m planning on releasing a batch of my un-released songs. Not sure what to call it. I’ll be asking some local talent, Aldine, Brad Wheeler, Greg Midgley and others to fill it out, hopefully they’ll come on board. Also, Aldine, Bad Brad Wheeler and I are currently working on a recording project that should see the light of day in early 2010.
Let me know if you cats come to PDX. We'll have a cee-gar despite my doctor warning me that I'll stroke out. Fuck him.
Thanks Jess, it was fun.
MIKE KIRKLAND (L) with the Morrison bros
trying to set vinyl on fire with their minds