Interview: Mule Skinner on Their First Album in Over 20 Years

The New Orleans extreme metal scene spawned a variety of unique and legendary bands, some (Crowbar, Eyehategod, Down) of which have become household names. Others, like Mule Skinner, released crushing albums (1996’s Abuse) in the early and mid-’90s before disappearing. The death/grind beasts waited 18 years to follow Abuse with their EP Crushing Breakdown in 2014. Fortunately, they followed that EP with new album Airstrike in 2018, just four years later.

Crushing Breakdown and Airstrike showed that Mule Skinner hadn’t lost the fire and aggression that made their early albums great, and the band today are driven by the same excitement and desire to play extreme music that got them started in 1990. Decibel spoke briefly with guitarist Michael Howe about Airstrike, the NOLA scene and what happened in the 18 years they were silent. Airstrike is out now on F.O.A.D. Records.

Mule Skinner released an album called Abuse in 1996, then seems to have fallen off the map in the years following, until returning with an EP in 2014. What was going on between Abuse and Crushing Breakdown?
We were all active in music during that period and Mule Skinner never officially broke up. I moved to Tennessee for a couple of years. Todd and Tony were playing together. Tony moved to Houston after Katrina. We met up with Ryan in 2012. Then the stars aligned, and we started jamming.

In addition to the Crushing Breakdown EP, Mule Skinner just released Airstrike, your first full-length in over two decades. What led to the decision to get back together and put out these two releases?
Several things… we felt like we had a lot more music to offer as Mule Skinner. We all missed hanging out and creating together. Also, with Myspace, and now Facebook, we started hearing from Mule fans, new and old, who encouraged us to put out more tunes. Hearing from music fans has been the coolest thing. Back in the day, I was heavily involved in the tape trading and underground scene. Being able to reconnect with past friends and meet new ones is very inspiring.

Your hometown of New Orleans has spawned some of extreme music’s most recognizable names, including Crowbar, Eyehategod, Exhorder, Down, et al. What was the energy like for Mule Skinner at that time when all of those top-notch albums were coming out from NOLA?
Growing up musically in the NOLA scene was an extremely special experience that has shaped our musical expression no matter what genre of music we are playing; the NOLA expression is always there. I can’t even begin to describe the energy of an Exhorder show at Storyville; playing a Soilent Green show at the VFW Hall; or hanging out at an EHG practice. The bands and the crowds just threw down and left everything out there. The guys in those bands were a little older and more seasoned than us at the time. We looked up to them and they served as mentors in some cases, and always as inspirations.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about what might have been if Mule Skinner had remained active alongside those other NOLA bands? If so, does that color the way you approach the band in its reactivated state?
Not really, as far as regrets. I think we enjoy where we are at the moment and being able to do Mule Skinner on our own terms. I know that I needed to stretch and explore my boundaries musically and develop as a song writer and musician. That growth has only made what we do stronger and more focused. I know the rest of the band feels the same about their own musical journeys.

Now that Mule Skinner has a new EP and a new album out, what comes next? Any tour or recording plans?
We also released another 12” on FOAD at the same time as Airstrike. It is a compilation of our early demo and 7” remastered, plus some of the 4-track work recordings we made while writing for Abuse. FOAD does top-notch mastering and pressing, so check out Mule Skinner: Beyond The Abuse 91/93.

We already have some new tunes mixed and are planning to roll out in early 2019. We will start recording another full-length LP in 2019 as well. We have been playing shows in NOLA since 2014 and have more scheduled. We will also put out some feelers for festival opportunities in the states and abroad. Mule Skinner would like to thank Decibel and all of the extreme metal freaks, blogs, zines, bands, etc. who inspire us to keep grinding… y’all fucking rock!