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Not So Mindless

(Interview with Little Jimmy Urine & Steve Righ? - Taken From Black Velvet 55 - Feb 2008)

By Laura Fitzgerald

‘If you hate them, they win. If you love them, they win. There is no way for Mindless Self Indulgence to lose unless they disband’. This soundbyte-esque statement succinctly tells you everything you need to know about the New York quartet. A band that provoke and inspire in equal measure, who polarize to an extent only Marmite can rival, a band where there is no middle ground. Sure, Mindless Self Indulgence want you to love them, same as every other band do. They want you to buy their records, come to their shows, pick up their merch. They’ve got to make a living somehow. But if you don’t love them, then that’s ok too. Because hating them you’re just playing right into their hands.






Above: Photo By Shari Black Velvet.

Above: Mark Owen Photo By Shari Black Velvet


And going back to the opening statement of this article? This statement isn’t the product of an overexcited press officer, nor does it form part of a glowing album review. It’s not taken from a sticker on the front of their album, or even from a previous interview. This mission statement was in fact posted on social networking behemoth Facebook, in a group ever so subtly-entitled ‘I hate Mindless Self Indulgence’. (Tellingly, this group has only half a dozen members, the majority of which are MSI fans who’ve joined to defend the band.) Because the band downplay their own talents, heckle the audience during gigs and write seemingly belittling lyrics that may offend unless you’re in on the joke; when people do hate the band, Mindless Self Indulgence don’t care, they’ve given you every opportunity to. In fact, by hating them, you’ve done everything that was expected of you. If you heckle them at a show, it just means they have succeeded in winding you up to the extent where you can’t possibly keep your disproval to yourself. If you’re one of those Christians that complained to iTunes after Mindless Self Indulgence categorized their music as ‘religious’ (in reference of the feverish devotion of their fanbase), then congratulations, you didn’t make the band look stupid, you just made yourself look narrow minded. And if you take offense to their lyrics, it’s pretty clear you don’t realize that almost everything Mindless Self Indulgence say should be taken with more than a pinch of salt…
From what Black Velvet has seen, Mindless Self Indulgence are smart. Smarter than they get credit for. And they’re all on the same wavelength. Guitarist Steve Righ? and singer Little Jimmy Urine can, and often do, finish each others sentences. They’re enthusiastic and animated, and as you will see, entirely possible of giving a straight answer if they choose to….

So Mindless Self Indulgence are in the UK to promote the European release of ‘You’ll Rebel To Anything’. Although the album has been out in the USA for about two years now, the band’s slow and steady rise (cumulating in a thunder-stealing appearance at Give It A Name 2007), has obviously created enough interest in the album to warrant a separate overseas launch. Given the rise in imported CDs available online, not to mention the amount of illegal downloading nowadays, it’s likely many people out there already own ‘You’ll Rebel To Anything’ in some form or other. Even Jimmy has admitted in previous interview for SuicideGirls.com “I get all my shit on Limewire. It’s not even about caring about the artist. It’s about what the artist’s giving you. The artist hopefully is giving you an extra track or different artwork a DVD or something extra with the package when you commit to buying it.” So, why should people pick up the European version of ‘Rebel’? “These days in general, I just think in straight up business-terms you need to give people something extra,” Little Jimmy Urine answers. “You can’t just give them what it used to be. You’d release a record, put a single out, and no-one would know what was on the record. Now, anyone can download the whole record, and if they like it they’ll probably go get it, if it’s got more artwork, if it’s got extra tracks, if it’s got some DVD clips. MP3 has made it impossible to have just the music be worth something anymore. The music is just something there to get everybody hyped to buy merchandise. Or if they’re gonna go buy a record they’d better get something – a clip, DVD, an extra track…”
Steve spots the opportunity to promote their new release; explaining that as well as featuring different artwork, the European version of ‘Rebel’ contains four previously unreleased tracks, including ‘Make Me Cum’. “It’s a song from way back before ‘Tight’. We threw that one on as a special extra. I dunno if that was the smartest move. But people are loving it, we put a clip of it on MySpace and they love it.” Steve’s personal opinion on bonus material and features is hopefully tongue in cheek. “Usually I buy an album if I know someone has a really serious drug problem and they’ll be sick if I don’t buy it. I don’t really need to get anything extra, I just want to make sure that they’re not puking.”
As the album has been in the shops for a while now, Mindless Self Indulgence have plenty of time to live with the album, to work out what parts they like, if there is anything they would have done differently, and even what songs go down best. Steve confirms that his feelings towards the album have changed over time. “Honestly I like it better now than I did then. Not that I didn’t like it back then, but playing some of the stuff live makes you like it more. Especially the reaction to the songs. There’s three songs in particular we play in Europe and people go fucking nuts.” It seems that surprisingly, different songs prove to be the crowd favourites in different territories. In America, Mindless Self Indulgence’s older material is favoured, whereas perhaps due to their relatively low profile until recently, it is the newer material British fans prefer, and in particular ‘Stupid MF’. “Oh my God”, Jimmy explains; “They like it in the States, but they LOVE it here. They go fucking bonkers at us.” Steve adds “In fact when we were on the Projekt Revolution tour, before the song Jimmy used to say ‘you gotta sing this one and you gotta sing it in an English accent’. We just won’t tolerate it in any other language!”
‘Rebel’ has definitely exceeded the band’s expectations, although Steve explains that the success of 2000’s ‘Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy’ has left the band with a tough record to follow. “We’ve always had to live with the ‘Frankenstein Girls’ ghost. That was a bizarre CD anyway, I don’t think anybody could do that again. No one’s gonna give us enough money to do something like that again. We spent money in the most retarded ways possible. We alphabetised it, put 30 tracks on it, got a really good artist involved” (the cover art was designed by Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame). “We did our Citizen Kane early” interjects Jimmy. “It’s all downhill from there. So we didn’t think we were gonna do something that was liked as much as that, they always mention Frankenstein Girls. Some of the fans mention other stuff but mostly it’s that record. But then they seem to really like this one, so they’ll hate the new one. They always hate the new one, whatever the new one is.” Kitty jumps in and sums everything up, “People hate change”.

Mindless Self Indulgence are quite an underrated band, not just in musical terms, but in terms of their business sense and ability to deal with such a changing music industry. Their song titles, onstage joking and often sarcastic interview answers mean that this side of the band is not usually obvious, and remains largely unmentioned. However, as the present music industry setup sees relatively successful bands often making little (if any) money from royalties under standard record contracts; the band have wisely opted to become as self reliant as possible. Their new album (“done-ish” apparently), is due early 2008 and has been financed and produced by the band themselves. Hopefully it will be released roughly simultaneously both sides of the Atlantic (“in an ideal world we’d like to do that”), but the band are unsure at present whether in reality this will happen. Rhys Fulber engineered the album which was recorded at the former Front Line Assembly member’s own studio. Mixing the record was done whilst the band were on tour via countless emails between Rhys and Jimmy, a process that was “totally taking a jump into the future”, but something which the singer admits made him “a much better writer”. In order get the album sounding exactly as they envisioned, Jimmy had to communicate to Rhys exactly what parts of each song needed altering. As anyone who has ever had to review CDs or even try and describe what a song sounds like to a friend will know, putting music into words is far from easy; and having paid close attention to the precise details of each song this way, the new record now “sounds fucking great”. Financing and producing their records themselves and then licensing them to their record label, Metropolis, is working for Mindless Self Indulgence. “That’s how we do it now” says Jimmy. “We don’t really do artist-dealy stuff, we do label-dealy type stuff. A lot of labels still operate the dinosaur way where they wanna own you forever. We’re like ‘we’ll do our job, you do your job, and if everybody’s happy after the records out, we’ll do the next thing, that’s how it goes!’”
Nowadays, it appears that multi-million selling bands are few and far between; industry experts suggesting the way forward involves a reduced reliance on record labels, cultivating small but devoted fanbases, and utilising social networking platforms and new technologies. Hang on; doesn’t that sound a lot like what a certain New York band have been doing for a while now…? “We’ve done that already!” admits Jimmy.
“Well I’m thinking maybe what we should do now is make the jump back to a major, now we have all that…” adds Steve, before Jimmy specifies “as long as they’re gonna give us a big ol barrel of krugerrands” “Just money to continue to do it, you know what I mean?” continues Steve. “There comes a point where a lot of people like to scream ‘sell out’. But if you don’t have money and a record company supporting you, then you’re not gonna be around any more, you’re not gonna fuckin’ do it.” “That’s like, would you do your job for free?! No matter how cool it was…” Black Velvet asks whether Mindless Self Indulgence think there is more security on a major label. Steve thinks, “it depends on who you are. It depends on how they treat you. You can be on a major label and be a tax write off. The three problems with the majors are a) you don’t know if you’re a tax write off, b) you don’t know if you’re just a personal favourite of that A&R guy and they’re never even going to work for you… I think we were guilty of both those ones. And c) they’ll set you up once and if you fail right away you’re fucked. Those are the three real problems. The other side of it is that if they work you right and you click, then of course you’re gonna be huge!”
The band know their stuff. Whether it’s lessons learned from past experiences (good and bad), a natural head for business, or even just bothering to pay attention to what’s happening around them; Mindless Self Indulgence seem on top of the more academic aspects of their career. The band admit that they aren’t too sure what the next step for the music industry is, and movie fan Jimmy in particular seems more exciting about the future of a different field. “Enough about the fucking music industry! I wanna see the fuckin’ movie picture industry bottom the fuck out like the rest of us!”

Because the band like to provoke and often indiscriminately mock everyone from hardcore fans to curious audience bystanders whilst onstage; assuming they were unapproachable would probably be understandable. However, Mindless Self Indulgence are one of the most fan-friendly bands around, offering prizes to loyal fans who pre-order their releases or buy tickets for shows in advance, and staying behind after shows to sign anything and everything. Mindless Self Indulgence treat their fans well. The band agree that because of their wild onstage behaviour, fans are surprised when meeting the members to discover that they are all really nice people. “Unfortunately we’re much nicer one on one than I think we should be,” Steve explains. “I’m talking specifically about this short period of time where I got the ‘teddy bear’ label. I don’t want that shit! People were like ‘oh Steve’s so nice, he’s a teddybear! I know he’s scary but he’s really a teddybear.’ I’d rather be scary.”
Jimmy adds that their nightly meet and greets after the show have also confused UK fans. “Out here, they don’t know the shtick. In America, they know that when we’re done with the show we’re probably gonna hang out until every last person is gone. But here I don’t think they get it, because when they see us before the show they’re thinking ‘oh my God, this is my one shot to get an autograph or to say hi’. We tell them to relax, that we’ll hang out after the show, but it goes over their head, they don’t get it. I guess they’re not used to that over here.”
Now that the band are becoming even more popular, doing headline tours and, playing to appreciative audiences who lap it up even when the band try and rile them, is it harder to provoke? Jimmy thinks that whether the audience love them or hate them, “either way it’s fine. It depends on the show. Projekt Revolution was fun because there was a whole bunch of new people that were thinking ‘ok, what’s this…?’, a couple of people who thought ‘fuck this’ and a ton of people who came to see us. So you get to do everything. You get the whole bunch who know all the words, then you get people that you can fuck with, then you’ve got people that you can recruit and bring into the fold.” “At our own shows it’s a little harder to provoke, but if we really try we can…” continues Steve. “We’ve been lucky (or unlucky) enough to be playing a lot of shows that were either our own headline dates or ‘friendly audiences’. I’m sure if you put us on the right tour we could provoke the fuck out of them. Just by walking out there.”

Surprisingly, Mindless Self Indulgence’s unusual live show was not a conscious creation. The band didn’t sit down and debate the benefits of peppering their set with tongue in cheek jokes and attention-grabbing stunts (drinking urine, putting cigarettes out on tongues etc). “We just wanted to have fun”, Jimmy explains. “We were just bored. A lot of it wasn’t just what we want to do; it was what other people were doing that we didn’t want to do”. “Actually what’s really funny is that when we first started, we didn’t talk at all onstage!” adds Steve. Seeing other bands patronise audiences by churning out over the top and more than likely insincere compliments (can every audience really be ‘the best crowd we’ve ever played to’?) made the band reluctant to speak up in-between songs. “It took us really a long time to even say one word. Now we don’t shut the fuck up.” Mindless Self Indulgence received a baptism of fire when their first ever major tour saw them supporting Rammstein and Soulfly, playing to “a lot of hardcore guys”, a crowd the band admit were more than a little “testosteroneyish”. Steve recalls why the band will always remember that first show; “the first time we went on an actual tour and stepped out onstage we were heckled by 3000 people. That really moulded the stage show. We realised we’re really good at shutting people up and making them angrier and one-upping them really easy. They didn’t even come up with good heckles, that’s why they were so easy to shut the fuck up! They were meathead idiots.” If the Rammstein tour was the turning point, subsequent tours with similar bands gave MSI ample opportunity to refine their newly discovered powers, “non-stop heckling” meaning that when the group eventually began playing to more appreciative crowds, they weren’t quite sure what to do. “It was a shock,” confirms Jimmy, Steve admitting “we didn’t know what to do at first. And then we decided to do the same thing anyway!”

Recently, ‘Our Pain, Your Gain’ was released, a live DVD filmed at New York’s Webster Hall. It was originally hoped Mindless Self Indulgence fans could pick up the DVD at merch stands during this UK visit, however Jimmy mentions that masses of red-tape and complex regulations prevented this from happening. “You guys have wacky codes over here! Obscenity laws and shit, they have to go over the whole thing with a fine toothed comb…!” before joking that because of its content, the DVD may never see a UK release. Likening the DVD to a “resume”, it seems that this comparison is accurate in more ways than one. Because whilst, like a resume, ‘Our Pain, Your Gain’ is a document of what the band has achieved; it is also resume-like in that wisely, the most incriminating and damaging information is absent. “A lot of the worst shit we ever did you’re never gonna see. If you had films of the old shows, there’d probably be a lot of lawsuits”, says Steve. “But this is good for us to have too, it’s what we’ve done. Who knows if we’re gonna change a little, or if we might stay exactly the same; but now it’s on DVD. It’s documented. This is what we’ve done.”
Whether the band change a little, or a lot, in the months and indeed years to come; one thing is for sure, the way things are going at the moment, they have no plans to split up. They’re sharp, very much in control, and growing in popularity. Now would be a seemingly illogical time to throw in the towel. It’s not all plain sailing though. Mindless Self Indulgence admit that “certain things” worry them, and Steve in particular confesses to have almost quit “a bunch of times” due to a series of gruesome and painful injuries. But when Black Velvet asks what has kept Mindless Self Indulgence going all these years, Jimmy’s answer is simple – “it’s still fun so far”.

Visit www.mindlessselfindulgence.com for more info.


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