Interview: Mike IX Williams on Sen. Jason Rapert Controversy and Censorship

Photo: Daymon Gardner

Eyehategod‘s show at Vino’s in Little Rock, Arkansas would have been just another stop on their never-ending tour schedule, except that Senate Republican Jason Rapert found out about it. The flyer for the show, which also features Phobia, Deadbird and Seahag, depicts the Arkansas senator—who maintains a strong anti-abortion stance—eating a baby. The senator responded with a dramatic, now viral, Facebook post decrying the show and calling for people to boycott the venue.

Last night, Decibel spoke with Eyehategod vocalist Mike IX Williams about the controversy, censorship and politics in music.

Senator Jason Rapert obviously did not like that flyer for the show in Arkansas with Phobia, Deadbird and Seahag. Had you even seen the flyer before his meltdown?
No. Things like that—we play a lot of shows. We toured the entirety of last year and we’re doing the same this year, so there’s a lot of flyers and Facebook event posts and things like this that just go straight by me because there’s so many of them.

We did not make the flyer. It was someone there at the club or the promoter or someone made that. I saw that after he made his post. After our good senator made his post, that’s when I saw the flyer.

How did you react to that when you saw it for the first time? I imagine it was already blowing up by the time you saw it.
Yeah, it was starting to. I saw it yesterday morning, pretty early yesterday morning, so things hadn’t quite started snowballing yet. How did I react? I found it hilarious, but at the same time annoying that this guy’s got a right… He has an absolute right to do this, annoyed that people are offended by artwork or offended by the whole thing, but it is his face on the flyer so I can see where that would annoy or aggravate the guy.

They’ve since changed the poster. I think someone contacted the people there at Vino’s and maybe had a talk with them or something. I’m not sure exactly how that was told to them but the poster’s been changed.

I reacted in both ways: Amazed that someone is always trying to stop people from having fun, and it’s obviously satire and it’s parody of this guy. He’s anti-abortion, so the eating the baby thing is pretty funny to me.

Were you surprised to see that outpouring of support?
Yeah, I was surprised to see it blow up so fast and get so much attention. That’s obviously something that took me by surprise, you know? I also made a statement today on my Facebook page, I did an open letter to the senator. That’s taking off as well.

A decent chunk of people seemed like they were discovering Eyehategod or sludge metal for the first time. Was that kind of a byproduct that you guys found new fans who are into your music?
Yeah, of course. I’d be lying if I said no because, yeah, that’s great. I’m sure there was an equal number of people that went to our page and listened to our band and completely hated it as well, which is fine.

I’ve had a few people write and say, “Unfollowing you, unliking the band now,” mostly because of my post I made today. It’s definitely a good byproduct, like you said, to get more people into it. And also have people talk about the issues that are going on right now, you know?

It was a great coincidence that the night after Donald Trump’s State of the Union, that this happened the day after. People were already talking about the Trump thing and then this happened. Don’t know for a fact, but he’s clearly a supporter of Donald Trump. He seems to have the same views so it’s definitely a good way to get all this out in the open and of course it doesn’t hurt that more people are finding out about my band as well. That’s always something you want if you’re in a band. You want people to like you and listen to your music and come to the shows.

I take it that you and the senator have not had any personal interactions about this?
Not yet, no. I’m hoping to go out for coffee or something with him if he wants. We have not interacted yet. There’s politicians that I have no clue who they are, but he’s made himself known that he’s the enemy, so I thank him for that.

So you would be open then to having a conversation or a dialogue with him if he were willing to talk about it.
Of course, that would be fantastic. If that’s something that would happen. Apparently there’s some sort of something set up for the day of the show, some sort of interview. Not sure exactly what that’s gonna be like, but I’m sure they’ll wanna have both sides of the story coming from him and from me and us, the band.

I would definitely talk to the guy. That would probably be cool; we’ll see how that would go.

You mentioned a few minutes ago that you wrote an open letter and published an open letter on the Eyehategod Facebook page that points out obviously that you have first amendment rights, but also highlights that the senator has an extremely conservative track record. He’s anti-same sex marriage, anti-marijuana, anti-abortion, all these things.
He said things about minorities, he’s said that “minorities run roughshod over us good people” was one of his statements. [Rapert said “minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in” at a 2011 rally—Ed.]

I don’t quote him directly, so I don’t know all those things, but apparently he’s extremely right wing and is opposed to basic human rights as far as I’m seeing.

You referred to it as a “moral crusade against basic human rights.” Do you think or hope that this incident and the reaction will affect how he feels about things?
Of course. I really doubt that it’s gonna change his way of thinking. People have strong opinions and they usually don’t wave much from that, but that would be great. At least it draws attention to this whole thing.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is not the first time Eyehategod has employed provocative imagery, so you’ve been involved in other controversies surrounding your music before.
There’s been something happening from the beginning. Of course the name, we were kids when we thought of this whole thing. Obviously in my late teens and twenties, of course it’s something that people that age do. It’s shock value, the name was meant to be shock value.

Although it does have a meaning, that’s kind of a whole ‘nother conversation. Spelling it “E-Y-E” and all that is a whole different thing. It’s not meant to be Satanic or anything of that sort.

Yeah, we’ve had run-ins from playing in the Bible Belt and having preachers call the club and have people call the clubs to try to get us to not play the show, things like that that haven’t got publicity. The fact that a lot of times that we just have to use EHG on flyers, that’s kind of a common thing.

The biggest thing that ever happened before that, in New Orleans there was a girl that had run away from home and her parents had found a flyer in her room that had some graphic imagery, it was an Eyehategod flyer with another local band, a band called Graveyard Rodeo.

So the next time there was a show from that band, my other band Crawlspace, we actually opened. Christians that marched around the club all night carrying crosses on their back, giant crosses on their back and banners saying “Sinners repent” and “You’ll burn in Hell” and things like that. That was the biggest thing that actually happened—that actually made it onto the local New Orleans news.

It happens and it’s been happening. This is the biggest thing that’s blown up like this in the day of the internet.

Do you find generally that controversies raise your profile than damage the band?
There’s absolutely no way this can hurt the band. There’s absolutely no way this can hurt us at all. We are what we are and all this does is give us publicity for this show and we’re touring this year, we’re touring with the Obsessed and Negative Approach and Sheer Terror and ANTiSEEN, we’re going tot he Philippines this year, to Malaysia, Japan, Australia, so we’re doing a lot of touring again as we did last year. All this can do is bring attention to all of that, you know?

There’s no way it can hurt us. If somebody is physical to a fan or someone wearing a shirt or comes to a show protesting and things get ugly, that could tarnish things a bit but as far as that goes, that’s not gonna happen. Even if that happened, it’s not gonna stop us.

This is art. It’s his freedom to do whatever he wants. I support his freedom to say anything he wants to say but he’s attacking artists. An artist made the flyer, artists are playing the show, it’s just silly to me.

Whether you consider it a political statement or just advocating for basic human rights, how do you react to the crowd of people who say “Just play the music, don’t make it about politics, just play the music. That’s what you’re here to do.”
We’re not a political band, obviously. Maybe social politics or something like that, personal politics, but as far as this thing goes with the governmental thing, I think people should mention it.

I listen to bands that are political and that’s fine and all. It’s a good chance for me personally, I’m speaking for myself—we don’t sit and talk politics in the van. This is all my views.—I find it a good way to get it all out in the open and people to start dialogues and start talking about these type of things. That’s a good thing.

I’m not afraid for people to say “Oh, I liked you guys better before you mentioned that” or putting politics into the music. It is a public forum that I have and it’s a good way to get people to think and either people are on my side or they’re not. I think it’s fine to put that with the music.

When Eyehategod formed, Tipper Gore and the PMRC hearings, that huge conversation about censorship, was still pretty fresh. Do you ever feel that things sort of stay in the same place or that they’re moving backwards?
It doesn’t surprise me at all. People have their opinions and their views and there’s always gonna be two sides or three sides or whatever. There’s always gonna be people that stick to their beliefs and I think that’s fine. It is amazing, though, that nothing absolutely has changed as far as that goes.

I was just talking about that last night when Dee Snider spoke in front of the PMRC. I think it’s always a valid argument to fight censorship and fight to keep entertainment free. It’s all art, whether it’s writing or painting or sculpture or whatever. There’s no reason people should try to stop that. It’s like “OK, don’t look at it or don’t listen to it,” you know? It’s the same old story, like you said. It’s like nothing has changed and there’s always gonna be the moral right that wants what they want and we’re gonna want what we want, and there’s no reason there can’t be conversations about it as opposed to any kind of violence. We don’t want anything like that.

There are a few people on your open letter when you made that statement who said things like “Oh, Mike should run for office” or “Eyehategod for president.” Is it pretty safe to rule out a political run from you?
Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. When this whole thing comes up too, I’m not a politician and I’m not well-versed in a lot of politics either. That’s something that’s not gonna happen.

I have my views, though. As people get older, I don’t mind representing this section of people. It’s a good thing to constantly fight back against these people such as Jason Rapert, Senator Jason Rapert, but no, I’m not gonna be running for any kind of office but I would gladly speak on it in any interviews. I’m not pushing some kind of agenda. I’m just telling my point of view and, you know, the Bible says, “Just don’t be a dick to people,” and so does the Church of Satan. They also say, “Don’t be a dick.”

We can all agree with that, but some people just want to force their views and it just seems ridiculous. If people ask me questions, I’ll tell them what I think but there’s no need to go crazy with it and run for some sort of office.

I didn’t expect that you would run for office, but we have a reality TV star in the White House so you never know.
It’s amazing. How many times has that happened? There’s Al Franken and there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan and now this clown, Donald Trump. He basically, I think, probably bought his way into office. If you’re a billionaire, there’s a lot of things you can do with that. People will do anything for money. I don’t know that for a fact but there’s ideas in my head about that.

This year Eyehategod will be on tour a lot and people will be able to see you around the world, it sounds like.
Of course. We’re still doing it, man. We’re too stupid to quit. We still have fun, we still love this band and we still have fun. We’re in the studio now recording some stuff.

We’ll continue to do it until we drop, apparently. I don’t know how old I would have to be to stop, but there is a stopping point there somewhere. We just continue to do this and we have legions of fans and it’s still valid, so we’re gonna continue to do it and have fun.

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