RANK YOUR RECORDS: MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE’S JIMMY URINE ON ANTAGONIZING THE WORLD FOR FIVE RECORDS
By John Hill
September 10th 2015
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Depending on who you talk to, Mindless Self Indulgence is either one of the coolest bands out there or the absolute worst. For the past eighteen years, they’ve thrown together hip-hop, rock, industrial, techno, jungle and everything that shouldn’t work on paper, but does in motion. They’re a band of fucked up, antagonistic art school kids, whose influence has dipped into everyone from My Chemical Romance to Grimes, earning themselves collaborations with artists like Ulver and KMFDM. On September 18, the band will be releasing Pink, a lost record from before Tight filled with all sorts of odds and ends any Mindless Self Indulgence completist could ever sink their teeth into. It informs a lot of the early influence seen throughout their work, and you should pre-order your copy right here. I talked to Jimmy about the culture around each record, and how they’ve inherited influence everywhere from goth to comics.
5. TIGHT (1999)
NOISEY: One thing I was really thinking of listening back to Tight is that it’s a record that could only be made by a bunch of kids growing up in New York City.
Jimmy Urine: Yes. That’s actually very correct. One thing we noticed about the first couple records, it definitely feels like if you’ve ever been to New York before it became so gentrified and kind of safe. There’s lots of stuff going on, there’s lots of sounds and there’s always something. The city is always on. If it’s three in the morning and you want to go get an ice cream or go to a fucking S&M dungeon, or go and like find a hammer and some nails to build something, you can do that any time, 24 hours a day. Living in the Lower East Side at that time, it was very hip and dangerous and you still wouldn’t go into C and D in the late 80s early 90s. So that’s pretty observant of you! [laughs]
Thanks! I imagine there’s no way you couldn’t just go see shitloads of shows as a teenager then.
Yeah you were going out, but a lot of the time you were just hitting the streets. Another thing about Mindless is we’ve never been supportive of any kind of scene because no scene was very supportive of us. They didn’t understand what we were, so we just said “fuck you.” We were going to clubs and stuff or shows if we knew people, but we weren’t like “I’m in the hardcore scene! I’m in the punk rock scene!” All those people didn’t fucking give a shit about us. But we were on the streets all the time, me and Steve if we were restless at one in the morning we’d go walk up the streets, vandalize, go all the way uptown into the Upper East Side where there was nobody. And this is when Dinkins was mayor, so there were no cops on the streets and you could do what you want. We’d hang out, talk to homeless people all night. You have the whole city at your disposal once you get to a certain age, and you realize “wow it’s an adult mall!” You can go to 42nd Street and jack off, you can go to a club, whatever. [laughs] When you’re done, you just grab a slice of pizza and go home.
What made you want to open the record with a Method Man cover?
I really loved that song, and it was the formation of the sound. I love the song, and I knew it’d be a great cover. I tried doing a new wave version, and that was kind of okay but it didn’t really grab me. I tried doing a heavy version, and felt meh. Nothing grabbed me, and it clicked where I thought “I like all this music, all the time.” And everybody I know had all these records, like if someone’s super into goth and goes to goth nights they still have a Wu Tang record, and same thing with a Wu Tang kid. So I thought, why don’t we just put all these different records into one thing? And that’s where I made all the versions of “Bring The Pain” into one song. It’s a dope song anyways.
I picked Tight as my least favorite, mainly because we play all of the songs off of this live. Since forever, there’s maybe one or two songs that we used to play that we don’t anymore like maybe “Daddy” or some of the smaller ones. So we play it all the time, and it’s really fresh in my mind. To me it’s not as exciting as the others, others might think of it as their favorite or they just discovered it recently because of the reissue. But for me, I hear “Tornado” every night! We always gotta play it, and we’re always gonna play “Bring the Pain” and the others. So I’m kinda meh about it.
4. IF (2008)
So let’s talk about If. What was your headspace like coming off of the success of Rebel and into this one?
If is named If because we didn’t know what was happening next. Like are we going to burn this to the ground? Is this going to be really big, because that’s what a lot of people would tell us. Rebel was a very successful record, there were a lot of doors opened to us, people were interested that were never interested before like radio and TV which was strange because we were really doing the same stuff as before. We’d still say “fuck” and they’d be like “no no no man, it’s cool.” So that’s why it was If, like “if this becomes a big record, I guess we’re just going to tour it like a monster.
There had to be a newer crowd of people getting into the band at that time too.
It’s interesting, because for a long time we’d open for larger acts and pretty much everyone that took us out, people would get annoyed and think “why is this dude wearing punk and why are there girls in the band? Where’s the electronic sounds coming from, where’s the idiot keyboardist that should be up there?” All these things! So when we got to If, all those crowds were gone, having kids and getting real jobs. We survived that whole wave of nu-metal caveman backwards shit. All of a sudden we had this young crop of kids, and they were all young and into the idea of everything we were doing. It was the inverse, they’d see women playing, and we wouldn’t be at shows where the crowd would be like “show us your tits.” The girls in the audience would look on stage and think “holy shit she’s in a band and playing bass and drums and not singer songwriter bullshit. This is super inspirational!” So it was kind of refreshing. We were still very antagonistic, but we were getting funnier and smarter.
3. YOU’LL REBEL TO ANYTHING (2005)
How long did it take to write the record?
There’s a space of I think four years between Rebel and Frankenstein, and the thing that Mindless does that I like is we just write when we have something to say. It’s not some cycle, I hate that four albums in three years bullshit. You’re not going to get a great album that way, if I feel like saying something I’ll say it. We put Rebel together and it blew the fuck up. We knew we had some good songs, but we had no clue people would gravitate. It’s been that upward thing, everything I grew up with that I thought was cool that I got shit for is now super cool, and you can make millions of dollars at. Like comics or cult movies or synthesizers and video games. I know so many people in the comic business and it’s kind of not funny. [laughs] Any idiot can talk about Iron Man now.
How did you link up with Johnen Vasquez for the “Shut Me Up” video?
So there was a shtick we’d do where we’d go to our concerts, and we’d look in the front row to see how many t-shirts from other bands there were. If there were a lot of like, Slipknot shirts we’d try and open for them or send a track to the Slipknot board of directors. After a certain point, there’d be maybe one Slipknot or Marilyn Manson shirt, and then I’d see a thousand Invader Zim shirts. Thousands of them! So I knew we had to seek [Jhonen Vasquez] out and do something cool like a t-shirt or poster or something. We called him up, and asked and he said “I’d love to do a music video,” and we thought “cool!” We figured it would be some kind of animated thing but he was like “actually fuck animation, I want to do live stuff and I’m going in this direction” and we were like “cool! Whatever you want to do, go to town.” And he did, and I love that video.
That video seemed like a perfect storm of the culture behind the band at the time and what was super popular.
Yeah, it helped. We had a lot of the same fans, and it was the perfect match up. There was a lot of stuff that was helpful at the time. Bizarrely what helped with this record was Steve and I’s other band The Left Rights was kind of pre-MSI from bits of us hanging out, so it materialized during Rebel. Rebel became very Mindless focused. All those singles, bam bam bam. It became easier for people to swallow. It’s weird, people think art shouldn’t be funny. But art is supposed to evoke an emotion, whether you think something is clever or funny or whatever. In the art world and at school there was nothing that makes you laugh. And if it does, it’s not “real art,” it’s comics or comedy. And I always thought it was stupid because it’s such a powerful emotion. Looking back I think that helped Rebel cross over to the gatekeepers, when they realized we’ve always been serious about our art.
2. HOW I LEARNED TO STOP GIVING A SHIT & LOVE MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE (2013)
If the Kickstarter didn’t hit the goal of $150,000, the album would just get deleted forever?
Yeah, that was the whole thing. Steve thought of this genius idea before Kickstarter to stop people from ripping off our music, where we’d charge people for the music first and hold it hostage, and if people didn’t hit a goal we’d burn it. Most people go on Kickstarter kind of begging people to hand them money, kissing ass, and we were like “fuck you. All the songs are in my head, if you want them to go onto wax, you have to pay us $150,000.” Man did it piss people off! [laughs] It was so great, I probably blocked and unfollowed thousands of people because of it. All these manifestos saying “how dare you! You could make a record for $500!” It was great, super MSI of us to go in that angle. And Kickstarter hated us for it too even though we made them a mint of cash.
Here’s something I’ve been curious about relating to the band/this record. The band has gone through three decades of different scenes and subcultures. Recently people have been getting more politically correct, and the band is anything but. Have you caught any shit in the last few years?
No, it’s really weird that we haven’t gotten a lot of that stuff. A lot of people around me have been talking a lot about that, like comedians not playing colleges people will get freaked out and such. We’re not a very political band, and that’s another big thing that we’re just having a good time in whatever we’re saying, even if it’s radical shit. It’s interesting, I’ve not gotten anything where someone has not understood what I was talking about. Like on face value, no one’s ever been “oh he says faggot in that song, that’s offensive!” Most people know what the song is about, and if anything it’s about being called a faggot or another word and having to live through that.
That’s a good testament to it, cause right now it’s a sort of pitchfork and torches time where right now. There’s definitely justice being done of a white cop being caught on tape for being a piece of shit. But without free speech you wouldn’t have comics like Robert Crumb which is super offensive but also prolific and well done. You can’t just sweep stuff under the rug, you have to look at it like how the Jewish community looks at the holocaust. They keep reminding you about it, because if you forget about it and sweep it under the rug then shit will happen again. You have to keep remembering it, like obviously don’t celebrate it, don’t have a Confederate flag and say you believe in it [laughs]. But you can’t remove it from society and hide it away. The more it goes down the slope and ceases to exist in history, the more it might come back and people will do fucked up shit with it. I have a weird feeling about that, like if the world is too clean, everyone’s going to get sick. You need the ugliness so you won’t get sick.
When you start digging into the band, there’s more subversion that’s not apparent on first listen.
I always try to put in interviews that I’m incredibly inspired by Mad Magazine. It teaches you about satirical stuff, it’s super clever and it came out way before anyone was satirizing. It’s highbrow lowbrow, for kids and for adults. That’s us. I really like this record just because all the songs are new, I felt invigorated, and loved a lot of the stuff we did.
1. FRANKENSTEIN GIRLS WILL SEEM STRANGELY SEXY (2000)
What was it like having a bunch of labels trying to buy you?
It was great! They took us out to dinner, we’d charge them up the wazoo. It became a 20 label bidding war including all the majors and a bunch of subsidiaries. Because of the bidding war, they thought we’d be the next huge thing and we were able to write our own ticket. We didn’t want a bunch of upfront money, but we wanted full control for this bizarre project. The reason I like Frankenstein as my favorite is because you can never replicate the record, ever. We spent their money on the stupidest shit, like we recorded the record as a band to an Atari in 24 track reel to reel sound to get a nice analog sound. We took all 24 tracks, all the Atari, all the equipment and went to the fucking studio in midtown Manhattan where we had like 20 people trying to link up everything from between midi, synthy old time stuff trying to get it to sync all at one time, and download it into Pro Tools. It was like Star Trek, it took literally two weeks for 20 people to make it all sync up. We mixed it in pro tools, and went to mastering.
Normally you just go master it, you pay your money and you do one session and give a couple notes and you’re done. We ended up using mastering to correct anything we didn’t like in the mix. If for Clarissa the verse was great, but the chorus was lacking something we’d fix it in fucking mastering racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in mastering, when it should just be you pay them five grand. Elektra would literally send in agents to stop us, and we did everything anti whatever the record company told us. If they were like “you can’t have the word faggot or bitches on the record, you have to asterisk it out,” we would asterisk the vowels in every song. Or if they wanted a certain order, we made it alphabetically and 30 tracks at a minute each to make a 50 minute record. Jamie Hewlett did the cover who did Tank Girl and eventually Gorillaz, and Elektra didn’t know who he was and wanted to go with someone else, and we were like “fuck you” and went out of our way to get him and hunt him down. It’s like giving a bunch of kids the keys to a castle that they shouldn’t have access to. That’s probably a million dollar record, and there’s no way we’ll ever be recouped on it. But it’s great!