Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies

by Dan MacIntosh

Mike Muir, the younger brother to Dogtown skateboarding legend Jim Muir, is best known as the singer/songwriter behind the teen anger anthem "Institutionalize," a big alternative rock hit for one of his many bands, Suicidal Tendencies. Muir also fronts the funkier Infectious Grooves, and releases solo albums under the stage name Cyco Miko.

The brave souls moshing at S&T shows in the '80s are all grown up now, and the band's legacy is becoming clear. Any History of Punk is incomplete without a mention of their 1983 self-titled album, which contained "Institutionalized" and became a hardcore classic. Depending on your definition of "Punk," it could easily be the biggest punk album of the '80s. The band made it out of the basement clubs and flickered into the mainstream, showing up on a Season 2 episode of Miami Vice and also on MTV, where "Institutionalized" made rotation.

There was no lasting crossover for S&T, as their music is far too caustic for sensitive ears. Instead, they've achieved a legacy of respect and admiration among the many musicians they worked with and influenced. Among Mike's fans: Ozzy Osbourne, who sang on the track "Therapy" with Infectious Grooves and brought them along on Ozzfest.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's talk about "Institutionalized," which I think you were still a teenager when you wrote, is that right?

Mike Muir: Uh-huh.

Songfacts: Can you still relate to that song in any way?

Mike: Not to use the Shrek onion layer analogy, but there's a lot of different levels to it. For one, it was stuff that had happened specifically to a couple of friends of mine. And then at the time there were a lot of those - I don't know what they call them - those boot camp things where parents would get their kids taken at 4 in the morning and send them off to these camps in Arizona or Idaho or wherever. The way I look at it and what I thought was, here are people that were parents for 14 or 15 years, they can't brag about their kids at a party so there must be something wrong with the kid. Then they send them off and stuff. They used to have commercials: "Does your kid get angry when things don't go their way? Do they do this and that? If you answer yes to three or more of these, they might have a drug or alcohol problem. And you're not alone, we can help." And I'm sitting there going, Dude, I've never done drugs, I don't drink, and yeah, I get angry when things don't go my way. It's called being human. I'm not a machine. I think it made an easy scapegoat for kids to be the problem. I think a lot of times it was lack of parental skills and time. It happens and it's a timeless thing, there will always be that generational gap, so to speak.

A couple of years ago we played - I think it was in Detroit - and one of the DJs out there started playing the song, and it became the most requested song on the radio. I went out there and he goes, "People are like, 'Whoa! What's that song and that new band, what are they called? I love that song, that Pepsi song!" And I think that's kind of the thing. You listen; you don't sit there and go, "Wow that sounds like it came from the early '80s." People, when they hear it for the first time say, "God, I love this song." Even a lot of my friends, when they have their kids or their cousins or whatever, and they're 13, 14 and you've known them for years, they come up and go, "Hey Mike, duuuude, that's a badass song, man!"

We just went back to New York and did three shows last weekend, and you have a lot of fathers and sons that say, "My first show I went to, my dad brought me here. Now I'm here with my sons." And then there are some that will say, "My dad was never there for me. I brought my son here and I wanted to show him how we get through tough times and stuff. So I want him to be able to experience that. I also want to learn from my dad not being there that I'm going to be there." And so I think that's great when people get that.

When I was younger a lot of my friends, they said, "I hate my dad." He'd come home drunk and beat them and do all that kind of stuff. They'd say, "He's an asshole, he's a drunk." And they're sitting there drinking while they're telling the story. And I go, "Dude, you're missing the point. You're feeling sorry for yourself, but don't become that same person." My dad always said if you see something that someone does and you don't like it, you're twice as bad if you're doing that. When someone does that, you have to sit there and go, "No, I'm not going to become that person." A lot of people have gotten the message, and other people are just like, "Hey, dude, I got Pepsi! Hahaha!" (laughing) Chalk it up to the source.

Songfacts: I wanted to talk about a few of the songs with Infectious Grooves, and there's one called "Therapy" that has Ozzy on it. You've worked with Ozzy. People have this perception of what Ozzy's like, but you probably know him better than a lot of people do. What's Ozzy really like?

Mike: No one could say - someone could say anything about anybody, whether in a band or just a human being, what is anyone like? The only people who really know are the ones that know how someone acts in the good times and the bad times, when they don't think anybody else is watching them. It's kind of like when there's that hidden camera and there's that bag of money, they may be the best person in the world and they don't think, "Wow, look at all that money," in that moment someone's gonna go off with it. We all know we're supposed to return it. But it's one of those laws. And the person that takes it, are they a bad person? Are they a thief? By law, yeah. But, you know what I mean?

With Ozzy, the way I look at it is in a couple of situations. If I went back to when I was 12 and we were kids and we listened to Black Sabbath and someone said, "Hey, one day you're gonna do a song and Ozzy's gonna sing on it with you," I'd be like, "Yeah, hahaha!" And you sit there and you go, wow, to me that's something that's important. The same thing when we did the first Cyco Miko record and had like Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols playing on it. Someone said, "Yeah, one day you'll have Steve Jones from Sex Pistols play on a record, he's gonna sing on it." And I'll be like, "Yeah, right." So that was my barometer. When we did the Vans Warped Tour last year, when I was a kid that's what we wore, we went back to school we had one pair of shoes and I got a pair of Vans. And if someone said, "Hey, one day you're going to have your own model shoes on Van," "yeah, sure." Those are the kinds of things that I really enjoy. It's something that I never would have thought was possible. I thought that is cool.

But with Ozzy, when we were doing the record and first started recording it, the producer said, "What do you want to do on the chorus?" I said, "I actually think it would be really cool if Ozzy sang on it." And they're like, "Oh, give him a call." I'm like, "Dude, I don't know Ozzy." (laughing) He's like, "Oh, well why were you thinking that, then?" And I go, "Cuz I just listened to his songs and I've always got these videos in my head and I just thought it would be so cool, Ozzy, and it just stuck in my head." And then two days later, I came in the studio, and he goes, "Guess who just came in the studio next door?" And I'm like, "Who?" And he goes, "Ozzy." I'm like, "You serious?" And he goes, "Yeah, go talk to him." I'm going, "I'm not going to talk to him!" We went to lunch and we came back later and there he was in there. He goes, "You have a song you want me to do?" I'm like, "Uhhhhddduuuhhh." And he put the song on, and he's like, "I want to do it! I want to do it!" And it was really cool. So it's funny, 'cause after we did it at least like once or twice a day and in the evening, we hear this little knock or something and look and he'd be poking his head through and he's like, "'Scuse me, will you play that song for me again?" And he'd get in there and listen and start jumping and he goes, "I love it! I love it!" (laughing)

Then they'd come to get him and they knew he'd probably be in our studio and he'd say, "Tell them I'm not here!" And then because of that he asked us to do the No More Tears tour, so that was a really cool experience, to see him say "I want that band!" That was a very cool moment for us.

Songfacts: It's impossible to pin down the style of music that you do, because you started out with the punk thing and then you evolved into a metal thing, and then you did Infectious Grooves and you did the funk thing. So you must have a really amazingly eclectic iPod, is that right?

Mike: Not really, man. I just actually got an iPod a little bit ago. I'm not really on the technology and stuff - I have a lot of old CDs. When I was young I realized music was everywhere, but sometimes you don't realize it's the in the stores or elevators, because it's just bland. And then when I listened to the radio a lot it was just bland. And then when someone goes, "Dude, you gotta check this out," and you're like, 'Whoa, what is that?," it's like nothing you've heard before. That's a great experience, so I never tried to fit in, I never labeled myself. I never really cared about that. Where we were from, people didn't go to get their concert jerseys and talk about how great the show was and how fucked up they were, the whole Fast Times At Ridgemont High kind of thing. We skated, we did our own thing. But if we liked something, we didn't sit there, "Well, what do they look like? What do they call themselves?"

The two favorite bands that I thought were brilliant were the Sex Pistols and Parliament. When I was a kid, there was this show that used to play hard music for one hour on a college station, and we used to record it because it started at midnight - it was called Midnight Madness or something. So we put the cassette in and tried to stay awake and then take it and listen to it. And one day there was a song I couldn't figure out on the tape, and then someone had the Sex Pistols album, and I was like, "Dude, that's that song! That's the Sex Pistols!" I liked that because it was music, not because of the presentation. What I got out of it is that it doesn't matter how you dress, you just have to do your own thing. And a lot of people didn't get that.

So I thought the Sex Pistols were brilliant, and there was absolute believability and honesty in it. I didn't say, Oh, we want to do the same thing the Sex Pistols did. And the same thing with Parliament. I think they're funky and crazy, but we didn't say, "Oh, we want to be like Parliament." You should be different, so that's what we tried to do. It's not as much now because the labels don't really exist, but people like think, what's the demographics? Will people like it? What market is it? Well, now people are doing things for a specific market. Do something differently. Don't just sit there and regurgitate the same stuff and say, "Oh, we're metal, we're punk, we're this, we're that." If you're into metal, you'll love this! You're like "What?" Because you'd see that with metal, punk, this or that, why? And that was the whole problem. Support your scene. You mean your scene. I could be Italian, that doesn't mean I have to like lasagna and pizza; it doesn't mean I can't eat anything else. And for me, I think music is like food. There's like peas. I hate 'em. You know, I wish I liked 'em. Would have saved me a lot of time as a kid at the dinner table, sitting there staring at them. But I know when I like something, and that's all that should matter. As my dad said, the best way to be different is to be better. Do it in a better way.

Songfacts: I like that. I just want to wind things up by talking about Cyco Miko. What is the concept behind that?

Mike: Well, we recorded so much stuff over the years and literally have a couple hundred 2-inch tapes that we're slowly and surely transferring over for Protools and stuff. And all of the sudden you hear something, it's like, "Dave, do you remember when we did that?" And all these different projects and stuff. And so we said, Well, we can kill two birds with one stone. We'll get them put out on the new Suicidal. We'll put on new effects, just because it's been so long for the records, let people have some of that. And then since we found a lot of stuff, we said, "Yeah, people should hear that." And then we started breaking it down and taking one song from each project. We narrowed it down and tried to make it not feel like it flowed together perfectly, because I don't like anything that really flows together perfectly. It's like Universal Studios, you get there and "Oh, we're in Paris now, Oh, we're in the old west," but when you go around all it is is 2x4s holding it up. So it looks good on camera but no substance.

So I think there needs to be some tangents. A lot of times, and I've found this over the years, many times people listen to something as what they want it to be, what they hope it to be, and that's basically the same thing. And then later on they do what they call the walk of shame, where they go, "Dude, I thought I hated that record, but I just listened to it again, I fuckin' love it, it's stuck in my head. I'm not happy about saying that, but I was wrong." So I think that's what music should be, it should be a little bit challenging and a little disjointed. And hopefully what that does is get people to think and go, "I don't have to do production like every fuckin' metal band or every punk band's doing." People I know, they'll sit there and they'll talk about Auto-Tune, "That shit on the radio is so annoying, it's all the same." And I go, "What about that sample kick?" That's the same thing. That's annoying. Every song. It's generic, it's processed and it's the exact same thing, it's Auto-Tuned on pop songs, but you don't get it from the other side. "Well, dude, that's metal." No, it's not. That's studio. That's regurgitation.

And it's like Eric (Moore), our drummer, people go, "Give me that shit, man, it's flash, it's this and that, but that's not metal." I go, "Okay, well you do that, and then you tell me it sucks." "That's not how they do it, you gotta get that sound." And I go, "Oh, you mean that sample kick, okay." Wow. So you're not supposed to play. You're supposed to play around in the studio on the knobs. Okay, that's what music is. And that's where it all goes to the problem. People are playing around in the studio with knobs rather than going out there and doing songs that fucking do something.

March 6, 2012.
Get more from Mike at suicidaltendencies.com.

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 7

  • Dzo from AtlantaI touch the glass
    I see you there
    And we both stare
    The poison air won't
    Let me hold you.
    You touch the glass
    And it's so cold
    The world outside
    Won't let you hold.
    We touch the glass
    Because we still love
    A single thought
    Of each touch
    We touch the glass
    Until it's warm
    And then I feel you
    In my arms.
    I touch the glass
    With just a wish
    The day I hear
    The end of this.
    We touch the glass.
    Love you all, keep up the fight
    America's strong, crush the curve!
  • Dzo from AtlantaFather time
    Please make it pass
    This pain is to much
    Of you I ask
    To calm the hurt
    To calm the death
    Before it's too late
    And nothings left
    A woe has come
    Our greatest foe
    That we cannot see
    And will not know
    Until it strikes
    The fatal blow
    I beg of you
    Please make this go
    Father time
    The mother dies
    The children see
    Through tear stained eyes
    The world they know
    Now torn apart
    Has torn the strings
    Straight from their hearts
    Please give us strength
    To fight and win
    And I shall never ask
    Anything of you again.
    Thank you songfacts you help me a lot when I'm down. Luv u guys. Dzo.
  • Dzo from AtlantaWorld of hate
    Is it to late
    If we hesitate
    Then they will desecrate
    What has been fought for
    And died
    They were brought forth
    And lied
    Guilty but not tried
    While I sat there and cried
    How can so many be killed
    Is the devil's heart never filled
    Is this the world now
    Is this world even real
    As the shadows cloak the earth
    We soon shall see our worth
    As darkness turns it's head
    We are dead from the birth
    See all your king's forces
    And all your king's men
    Shall fall to their knee's
    They shall fall for their sins
    For what we could fix
    We leave it there broke
    For the words we could say
    Sadly never spoke
    You won't believe the end
    Until you see the smoke
    Burning in our lungs
    As we begin to choke
    World of hate
    It's not to late
    People of all colors
    All kinds all makes
    Let's take something bad
    And try to make it great
    If not for you
    Then for the children's sake.
    Silence the violence
    Thank you songfacts mike muir and all of ST.
  • Dzo from AtlantaST saved my life. I had to dig deep into the message but i finally found what mike was talking about. The way he gets it across is in your face and sometimes that's what it takes for some people. ( like myself ). He showed me that it's not about dying it's about fighting to live and to never give in. Thanks Mike I owe you one. V 13, Atlanta chapter. SUICYCO FO LIFE.
  • Mike from New ZealandSuicidal For life. twenty years i love it all.
  • David Steward from Wood DaleI am also the biggest fan of his.

  • Alisha from Union, NjI am thoroughly enjoy all kind of music created or performed by mike.He has an idiosyncratic way to hold fans with his music.

see more comments

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