Q&A: Mike Muir on Playing Suicidal Tendencies’ Timeless Debut at Decibel Metal & Beer Fest

Photo: Raymond Ahner

Suicidal Tendencies’ barn-burning self-titled debut is one of the essential extreme albums. Released four decades ago this year, Suicidal Tendencies is a stew of teen anger, squealing guitars, hilarious and confessional lyrics and replay-worthy songs. It helped birth crossover and yet is in no way tethered to the genre. It made waves underground and then became part of pop culture. When I first heard the album, it was with a few other angst-ridden teens in a basement. Popular kids blasted “I Saw Your Mommy” in their cars by senior year. Who could blame them?: All the songs rule. ST (and Metallica, who now include one-time ST bassist Robert Trujillo) might be one of the first extreme bands embraced by the underground and later adopted by everyone.

Original Suicidal vocalist Mike Muir has kept the good ship Suicidal afloat in unstable industry waters for the past 40 years through the band’s grassroots early years, their commercial heyday in the early ’90s with albums on Epic, the lean mid-to-late-’90s and the streaming 21st century. He has survived the collapse of the traditional label model, the loss of album profits due to music digitization and is navigating the strange world of post-COVID touring. “Bands are trying to go to Vegas to use the ATM machine and get the money back from all the touring they missed,” Muir says. “There are many ideas people would think are uncool if it wasn’t for COVID” (laughs).

Playing ST’s debut, however, is one of the coolest ideas ever, especially since Suicidal’s shows have maintained a constant standard of energy and intensity. Muir and his young new ST lineup will headline night two of Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest in Philadelphia on April 15 with a rare performance of that breakthrough, life-altering debut. We talked to him about why ST’s debut matters and the chances that this beyond-worthy album could finally get into our Hall of Fame,

How did you end up booked for the Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest?

Our agent was approached. We talked to bands familiar with it; it sounded cool and we were available.

Did you come up with the idea of playing the debut?

It came up during the discussion that the 40th anniversary was here. It was a great idea and we’re excited about doing it.

Some of these songs have been on your set list forever… have you ever done the entire album before?

We played the whole album a few years ago. We’ve also done cyco-punk sets and thrash nights.

This album is still so relevant four decades after it was released. You made it when you were kids. Why does it have so much staying power?

That record was made with a lot of youthful stubbornness and not caring. We didn’t care what people liked and didn’t want to do things people liked. Our whole approach was to do something we liked and wanted to hear. This was when punk bands bragged about selling four or five thousand records. We didn’t have any commercial ambitions. Many people do music with a thought of how it will be received. We didn’t and this is a pure, honest record. Young people can relate to it.

It’s interesting you didn’t care about what people thought because so many people who’ve heard this record over generations have seen themselves in these songs. This album has reached millions.

The old adage about music is that you get heard by saying nothing. Music on the radio goes from song to song but doesn’t move you. A great song is where you go: “what the hell is this?” It’s hard to both be different and be heard. When you stand out you stand alone. But you can do things for other people and hate yourself for it or do them for yourself and sleep well at night. The album didn’t sell well initially, but people liked it and played it for others. One of the things we’ve lost with music is that it isn’t shared individually.

They discover music by an algorithm. I discovered this album through word of mouth. My friend Harrison and I still talk about when we first heard it. We put the needle on the album and in the first seconds you could see our heads explode. It was life-changing.

That means a lot to me. I saved many letters over the years, not just after the first record. Some of the letters were funny, some were emotional and some were death threats. People would even send photos from graduations of kids they never thought they would have. I had a few Santa Claus bags at one point.

Do you still hear those stories except on social media?

We do get a bunch of mail every once in a while. I’m not a big social media person – you can say it’s an age thing. I grew up in different times but it’s not something I enjoy. I’m not one of the people that’s like: “I hate that shit!” The Internet is like the Wizard of Oz in that people think they are all powerful and others bow down to the words they type. I often wonder why people bother—do people think it will change something? You won’t change my views unless you have a lot of facts.

If someone writes you a handwritten letter, it takes time. People are pissed in the moment on the Internet and have a vehicle to express that.

Yes, and a lot of it is about politics. I don’t think anyone is changing anyone’s mind. People don‘t like to be questioned at all.

What is it like to play these youthful songs at this point in your life?

This is one of those records that you can’t tell when it came out. It wasn’t what people expected. Some people want to return to CBGBs in 1976 but there is no time machine. When we do something, it has to be something we want. That’s a great approach. We still get emails from people who saw us but hadn’t heard our music and said they thought we’d be one of those old bands. We don’t want to appear nostalgic but represent what we’re about. Tye Trujillo plays bass and he’s 18. Brandon (Pertzborn, drums) is also very young and Ben Weinman was in The Dillinger Escape Plan. They love and appreciate Suicidal.

I last talked to you 13 years ago, after you had back surgery. How is your back feeling?

I had three back surgeries. A lot of people didn’t even know. People seem surprised I can do what I do at my age and in my situation. Pain has screwed a lot of people physically and emotionally. Getting up and not thinking about pain first thing in the morning is not fun. People are sick for two to three days and ask, “why me? For the rest of the year, there is nothing wrong with you. I tell you what—I don’t like feeling like shit. It’s great to wake up and not be in pain.

For many years, Decibel has wanted to induct this album into our Hall of Fame. We’d need to talk to every member of the original lineup. What are the chances of that happening?

Everyone together? Impossible. That’s not going to happen. People are in different places.

In addition to headliners Suicidal Tendencies celebrating the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut by playing the crossover classic in its entirety (along with a helping of other hits), and the triumphant return of melodic death metal kings The Black Dahlia Murder, other special sets include NOLA sludge lords Eyehategod’s first-ever full performance of Take as Needed for Pain, reactivated death metal heroes Gorguts will play a special set exclusively of material from 1998’s landmark Obscura and 1991’s old-school classic Considered Dead. and U.S. death metal progenitors Incantation honoring the 25th anniversary of masterwork Diabolical Conquest with an exclusive start-to-finish performance of the record. All ticket options for Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly 2023 are on sale now! Ticket links and daily band lineups are below.

Purchase Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly Two-Day tickets
Purchase Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly April 14 tickets
Purchase Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly April 15 tickets

FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 2023
The Black Dahlia Murder
Gorguts (performing a special Obscura & Considered Dead set)
Frozen Soul

Suicidal Tendencies (performing the hits and a special Suicidal Tendencies full-album set)
Eyehategod (performing a special Take as Needed for Pain full-album set)
Incantation (performing a special Diabolical Conquest full-album set)
All Out War
Fuming Mouth
Escuela Grind

“Just Metal” Ticket (21+)

Admittance to the day’s event, but as the name suggests, you just get to see the show—no beer samples (You can still buy select beers a la carte if you’re 21+).

“Metal & Beer” Ticket (21+)

Admittance to the day’s event plus unlimited* sampling from our diverse lineup of national breweries presented by 3 Floyds. Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly 2023 sampling cups provided. Limited to 650 tickets per day (less than 100 left for each day)*Please note: In extremely extreme cases, certain high-ABV pours will be ticketed, with attendees receiving a limited number of tickets available to redeem for each offering.