Last Thursday (May 17th), San Luis Obispo, California’s The Tribune conducted an interview with Mike Ness of SOCIAL DISTORTION, who talks about his early influences, the California punk scene, his life and the future of the band.
Musically, you’ve always been rooted in rock and the blues.
I grew up with a lot of that stuff. At 4 years old, I was listening to the radio. By third grade, I had albums by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival. That ’60s, ’70s rock was embedded in me long before I heard the (Sex) Pistols or the Ramones.
What attracted you to the Southern California punk scene?
At first it was the music, but it was also the lifestyle — what ultimately almost killed me. … I think (the punk lifestyle) had a lot of false promises similar to the gang lifestyle: You don’t have to work. You can be violent. You can destroy stuff. You can do whatever you want.
Coming from where I grew up, it was what I needed at the time. I had suppressed a lot of feelings over a lot of years, and now I had an outlet to express them.
When did you realize that lifestyle was poisonous?
It was after I got cleaned up. Once I realized that I could do music and stay clean, it was a big deal. (Music) was so hand-inhand with destruction that I really thought Imight have to give it up.
I just realized that if I wanted to do this, I had to be serious and look at it as a job and practice and write and tour and give people 150 percent every night. It’s just stayed that way.
How have your audiences changed over the years? Are you seeing more grey hairs and beer bellies in the crowd?
I try not to think about that (laughs). I love the diversity in that crowd. We’ve always had skaters and surfers and college kids. I get firemen, I get police, I get outlaw bikers — this incredibly wide spectrum of fans from the age of 5 to 70.
For me, punk is not now what you look like on the outside. Punk is rebellion and it’s something that comes from the inside. I have friends who are corporate lawyers who are more punk than any street kid I’ve ever met.
You’re a good example of that dichotomy between public persona and private life. You’re this tough tattooed guy, and yet…
I’m a vegetarian who has three Chihuahuas, who does yoga and boxes.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that if I cared about what people thought, I’d still be pushing a mop. I’m not worried about my masculinity. I do know the difference between the things that make you a real man and the fallacy of what people think make you a man.
Do you think your 17-year-old self would grasp that distinction?
When you’re 17, you’re looking at life through a straw. You can’t see anything outside that little pinhole. I think that 17-year-old kid would like the 51-year-old me.
What keeps Social Distortion going after 30-plus years?
We all love what we do, whether it’s touring or writing or recording. There are times when I look at these guys in the middle of a set and I see (they) would be doing it if we were making 20 bucks a night.
That’s what separates “guys in bands” and true musicians. Guys in bands are the first to bail out when the going gets tough.
Photo by mfajardo./span