Since the early '80s, when "alternative" really meant something, Suicidal Tendencies have been dishing out their trademark blend of punk, thrash and funk laced with confrontational lyrics. They spent the ensuing decade winning scores of converts with their uncompromising material and blistering live shows. The Southern California band's battles in the trenches paved the way for many of the acts now enjoying mega-success in the world of Modern Rock.
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Now, after countless tours, many albums, a couple of Grammy Award nominations and a breakup, Suicidal Tendencies is back with Prime Cuts (Epic), a collection of 13 classic tracks and two brand new ones.
"When we started, what we were doing wasn't considered music," says frontman Mike Muir. "If we wanted commercial success, we would've looked like Culture Club or Duran Duran. But that didn't really interest me." Formed in Venice, California, Suicidal had few aspirations at the start. "I moved out of my folks' house when I was 16, and my brother and I shared a place with these two other guys," Muir recalls. "Another friend of ours who played the drums was getting evicted, so we let him keep his kit in our kitchen." Soon the kitchen was the practice space for a fledgling band.
Every month, the Muir boys would host a party and charge admission to pay their rent; eventually the band played the party. "We did that a couple of times, and the parties got bigger," recollects Muir. "Eventually we had too many people to fit in our apartment, so we rented a hall." Their self-titled debut album was released on the indie label Frontier in 1983, and achieved considerable success at a time when "indie" meant "obscure." The single "Institutionalized" became an S.T. perennial, and appeared on the soundtrack to the cult film Repo Man.
1987's Join The Army was the first alternative rock indie release to crack the Top 100 among Billboard Pop Albums, but greater notoriety didn't induce S.T. to tone down its confrontational stance. Indeed, the band stood up to the conservative Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) when that organization tried to have their 1989 release (and Epic label debut) Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit...Deja Vu removed from stores. Tours with Guns 'N' Roses, Metallica, Queensryche, Living Colour and Iggy Pop followed in the early 1990s, as did a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance (for 1991's Lights... Camera...Revolution) and Best Metal Performance With Vocal (for "Institutionalized," redone for 1993's Still Cyco After All These Years).
In contrast to the angst-ridden poseurs and trendy fake rebels who have come to dominate the mainstream of "alternative" rock, S.T. never encouraged listeners to blame external forces for their problems. "You can't blame someone else," Muir says. "Don't blame the system. People want to hear, 'This is f***ed up, that's f***ed up.' They don't want to have the finger pointed at them. Why is your life f***ed up? Because you were the one leading it and you did a shitty job." This self-reliance was the essence of punk rock, and has always been at the core of S.T.'s lyrical approach.
Not content to tread the same ground from album to album, S.T. explored psychedelic textures on 1992's The Art Of Rebellion – from which the daring "Asleep at the Wheel" was culled for the present collection – even as Mike Muir ventured into hard- core funk territory with his side project, Infectious Grooves. Even so, Muir decided to disband S.T. after Suicidal For Life in 1994. "We broke up, and said we weren't going to do another record," he explains. "We did Suicidal For Life with the intention that it would be our last. When people listen to it now, they understand a little better why so many songs had 'f***' and 'shit' in the titles: It was literally our way of saying, 'f*** you.'"
The hiatus didn't last long. In 1996, Muir formed a new lineup consisting of S.T. veteran Mike Clark on guitar, guitarist Dean Pleasants and drummer Brooks Wackerman from Infectious Grooves, and new bassist Josh Paul. In these musicians, Muir had a band that could play to the strengths of both projects. "Brooks and Dean were a big part of the Infectious sound, but they understand the original Suicidal sound, too," he explains. The quintet went to work without fanfare. "We decided to go into the studio and start writing songs without telling anybody, just to see if we could make a record that's better than anything we've ever done," Mike recalls.
The resulting new tracks, "Berserk!" and "Feeding the Addiction," show the old fire mixed with new resolve. Muir considers the latter track – a harrowing tale of drug abuse that skips the romanticizing and cuts to the bone – "an important song. I don't drink and I've never done drugs, though a lot of people assume I have. They always say, 'you learned the hard way,' which is true."
"But having your problem and then quitting is the easy way. The hard way is when somebody you love is out there f***ing up and there's nothing you can do – when the phone rings at 3:30 in the morning, you don't know if they're in jail, or in the hospital or in the morgue. I'd never want to put anybody through that."
Muir's words on this and other subjects underscore that his band's name isn't a call to self-destruction, but a rallying cry for survival. And there's no better testimony to that impulse than Prime Cuts, a potent blend of S.T. old and new. Mike Muir, mean- while, is looking forward to hitting the road, where, he insists, diehard fans and the uninitiated alike will be blown away.
"That's what it's all about," he says. "Like that old P-Funk saying, 'Take it to the stage.' I only remember seeing a few shows where I couldn't sleep when I got home, and the next day I was calling people, saying, 'Man, you missed out.' I'm not saying we can do that for everybody, but there's a lot of people out there waiting for this. I think there's a great purpose to Suicidal Tendencies."
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