GRAMMY-nominated punk/thrash crossover icons Suicidal Tendencies recently released 13, their first new album in 13 years. Original member/frontman Mike Muir and longtime guitarist Dean Pleasants are joined by bassist Steve Bruner, guitarist Nico Santora and drummer Eric Moore for an album that possesses the energy, angst and aggression one would expect from Suicidal Tendencies, along with elements of funk that the band first explored in the '90s when Muir was also part of Infectious Grooves, a side project that featured current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.
Co-produced by Muir and GRAMMY-nominated engineer/mixer Paul Northfield (Dream Theater, Hole, Rush), 13 features 13 tracks, including the closer "This World." The album peaked at No. 15 on Billboard's Hard Rock Albums chart and is currently being supported by a U.S. tour dubbed the Slam City Tour, which kicked off April 11 and runs through May 12.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Muir discussed the band's new album, current tour and maintaining his hard-and-heavy stance and an open mind three decades after the release of their debut album.
You recently turned 50 and are still roaring with Suicidal Tendencies. How do you stay in touch with the angry young man inside after all these years?
I see what happened to a lot of friends that I grew up with. My dad always [told me not to] get caught in other people's definitions. People use definitions of success or happiness but it's their definition and doesn't apply to you. The only people who try to fit in are the ones [who] can't stand out. There are too many people who are too scared in life and give too much power to fear. We make fear this unwavering thing, rather than use it for what it is, which is to [prepare you] for a situation so you go about it in the best and smartest way. Some people just talk about how hard things are. My dad said you see the things that are f***ed up and you have a responsibility to try to do something about it.
Why release a new album now?
We've been touring at least a couple of months [per year] for the last six years, and among other things I had a couple of back surgeries. We didn't want to put out a record afterwards and make it look like we were throwing out our last baseball, the athlete going for the last hurrah before he falls apart. We wanted to get out there and gain a little new ground. Our [fan] base is pretty strong. Obviously, a record helps out a lot, and on this tour we're seeing a lot of people excited to come, not to be nostalgic but as more of a resurgence. We've got a lot of families coming. A lot of people saying that their first show they saw was 20 years ago, and they're bringing their kids there for their first show. We never used to hear that before. At our first show in San Francisco, this girl came up and asked us to sign something for her mom. Then she said, "I love you too, but my mom's loved you longer!" We were all laughing.
Is it surreal to think that you started off in the SoCal punk scene in the '80s, and now you have families coming to your shows?
It's always been that way. People have been brought there by their cousins, mothers [and] families. We just played in Arizona and 27 people from the same family came from an Indian reservation. I took a big family photo with them, [and they were] all wearing Suicidal stuff. In San Jose, we had four generations from the same family: great-grandfather, grandfather, mom, and the kids. It's pretty cool. There are a lot of people who are not even [in] high school yet at the shows.
After spending so much time in this band, what are the biggest life lessons that you've learned?
Back when we started, my dad said a lot of times music is probably one of the most misused things, next to drugs. A lot of people use music as an escape from their life. The way you use it effectively is if it motivates you to live a better life. A lot of people nowadays get lost in reality TV [shows], where everybody thinks there are cameras on them all the time and live their lives that way, and they do things not for themselves but for how it will look. If the angle's not right, they'll have to do it again. Everything is so staged now, and I think that's unfortunate. We try not to be staged [or do] it for [a] reaction. I think we're effective because people know we're doing it [because we believe in it], and I think that's a lot more important.
The new album has songs in the classic Suicidal Tendencies vein such as "Cyco Style," and then "God Only Knows Who I Am" and "Till My Last Breath" are steeped in funk and jazz influences, and even feature reggae-style singing.
I think the difference between Suicidal and [other] bands is there will be one blatant style, then all of a sudden a reggae song comes out of nowhere that sounds like someone who shouldn't be doing a reggae song. In Suicidal we play a lot of different things and do it our way. [It's not] because we can't do it any other way, that's the best way we believe we can do. A lot of times when our music first comes out, it is not quite accepted. For example, with [1988's] How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today, some people think that is so negative, but I think it is the most positive thing because you can't do anything about the problem until you think you have one. You can't just think you're going to wake up and everything is going to be fine. You've got to put some work in, make some changes and make the tough calls. I think it's a very positive thing.
Where is the band planning to tour this year, and are you going anywhere new?
Since 2007, we've been trying to play places we haven't played before. We're racing cross-country [through May] so that we can get back for some festivals in Mexico, where we haven't played before, and then doing the Orion festival in June, where Infectious Grooves will also do a reunion show. Then we go to Europe, South America and Australia. We try to keep it not too crazy, keep the families happy and keep our sanity. It's about keeping it in perspective. It's about life. We turn down a lot of things and take days off for families and for birthdays. You've got to do that.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)