Eyehategod's fall from grace may have been all too predictable — frontman Mike IX Williams led a less-than-ideal life that included chronic drug abuse, incarceration and homelessness — but the band's resurrection was anything but.
Now in the midst of a 30th anniversary tour, Eyehategod became the first in a lineage of New Orleans groups like Crowbar and Goatwhore, whose shared affinity for down-tuned guitars, plodding rhythms and aggro vocalization unwittingly birthed the term sludge metal.
According to one version of the story, all five original members were on probation when they put the band together. The provocative name is credited to the group's first vocalist Chris Hilliard, based on some arcane concept involving the ego, self-hatred and God. To this day, no one else in the band is sure what he was talking about, but they liked it anyway. (Hilliard left the band shortly thereafter and became a born-again Christian.)
Once Williams got onboard, Eyehategod began a decade of increasingly high-profile productivity, releasing four tellingly titled albums: “In the Name of Suffering,” “Take as Needed for Pain,” “Dopesick” and “Confederacy of Ruined Lives.” Then came Hurricane Katrina, furthering a downward slide that led to a 14-year gap between studio albums.
Things were looking better when the band resurfaced with a self-titled fifth album in 2014, but it was only six months later that the singer was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Two years after that, fans had raised some $70,000 toward the transplant that ultimately saved his life. Against all odds, Williams is now back fronting the band, which is currently touring more relentlessly than ever.
With a kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm that brings to mind Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris, Williams talked recently about Eyehategod's music, its history, and the checkered path that's led to where he is today.
Q: You've gone through a lot over the past few decades. Have you thought about writing some kind of autobiography?
Williams: I actually have a book out, but it's all my lyrics and like poetry and stuff like that. It's called “Cancer as a Social Activity.” But yeah, there's a guy helping me get a book together. It's just really slow going. I want it to be truthful if I do it, but I don't want to hurt a lot of people's feelings.
Q: When you reached the point of nearly dying, were you still writing songs, or were you no longer able to do that?
Williams: No, I constantly wrote, whether it was just scribbling on a piece of paper or on my phone. There were a lot of good hallucinogenic strange dreams that I had, and so I just wrote about a lot of things like that. You have a lot of free time when you're just sitting in a hospital.
Q: Backing up a few decades, when you started touring outside of New Orleans, did the band's name get people upset?
Williams: I mean, yeah, back in the early days when we first started touring, we would play like Tennessee or somewhere and the promoter would say, "We've been getting calls all day from the local pastor and he's threatening to shut the show down." And it's even happened in New Orleans.
Q: So for the rest of your lives, you're going to hear the term sludge metal, which is two words that don't necessarily mean all that much. Do you feel like there are people who mischaracterize your band's music?
Williams: I don't even know what sludge metal is. I mean, we were early progenitors of that type of music, and if that's what they want to call it now, that's fine with me, But I don't think we fit in that category. I'd say we're just a rock 'n' roll band. I mean, with "sludge," I can see where the comparison comes from, from the slow, dirty sound ...
Q: With a demanding tour schedule, do you feel like you're making up for the lost time?
Williams: I mean, just because we can, you know? Like I almost died. I got sick and almost died. So why not tour just nonstop? That's what we want to do, that's what we like to do. We've been to Moscow, Russia, Europe twice, and South America, all in one year. So I think that says a lot about where we're coming from now. We're just trying to kick ass as much as we can, before we can't ever again, you know?