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Mike Ness of Social Distortion
The Simple Things in Life
by Matt Crawford on May 31, 2007
In a genre marked by failure, tragedy and self-destruction, Mike Ness is a rare example of longevity. With a music career that has lasted nearly 30 years, the southern California punk rock icon says his band Social Distortion is at its peak with its largest fan base ever. The band will perform near the tail end of full day of rock music at BFD at Shoreline Amphitheater on June 9th. Ness spoke with SF Station during a morning phone interview from his home in Orange County.
SF Station (SFS): 10am is a little early for an interview. Do you usually wake up early?
Mike Ness (MN) : Yeah, when Iím not on tour Iím in parent mode. Iím up at 6am driving my little son to school. I like getting up early and getting a jump on the day.
SFS: What is your daily routine like?
MN: I take my son to school and then my wife and I usually have a window of time to run about a hundred errands. Touring is the easy part; itís the day-to-day stuff that gets hard.
SFS: Do you still work on cars and motorcycles when you are not on tour?
MN: I get about one day a week at the shop. Iíve got some wood in the back of my truck right now that just got stained that's for the bedding liner of a '37 Chevy truck. I also need to replace the kingpin of a '36 Ford coup, so that will be the project for today.
SFS: Is there a project that you are particularly proud of?
MN: Iíve been collecting memorabilia and antique stuff for 20 years. Iím proud of my collection because I feel like you have to have good taste and you have to be knowledgeable and know where to find the stuff and how to buy it. From there, you have to know how to make it look right. I take a lot pride in the collection.
SFS: Do you look for items for your collection when you are on the road?
MN: Itís basically how I kill the day. I donít do soundcheck until four oíclock usually, so I like to see a little bit of the town, look at junk stores and eat at a good vegetarian-friendly restaurant.
SFS: Have you found any hotspots in the United States?
MN: Iím hoping to go to the Alameda swap meet when I get up there. I heard itís good. Some towns are good and some towns arenít. Some days you spend the whole day looking at shit, but it beats spending the day sitting around a hotel room.
SFS: Is the creative work you do on cars comparable to the creative energy you use to make music?
MN: What I found early on is working on cars is just another way to express myself. Itís just like songwriting, or the way you dress, or the way you decorate your house. Itís all the same thing -- self expression and an outlet.
SFS: You have said that you are chronically irritable and discontent. What makes you happy?
MN: The simple things in life make me happy: spending time with my family, a day at the shop, a good show, a good meal, or a day at the beach.
SFS: What sets you off?
MN: Ignorance is probably number 1. Living in Orange County, there is still plenty of it.
SFS: You have been performing for nearly 30 years. Is there a point in your career that stands out as a high point?
MN: I would have to say right now is a high point. Honestly, I feel that it is a phenomenon that we are more popular now than when we were on a major label and we had rotation on MTV. We have momentum now and a lineup that is incredible.
SFS: It seems like it is not a struggle for you now and you can take things at your own pace.
MN: Yeah, more or less, but weíre not rich rock starts. We are kind of a blue-collar band. We tour hard and we work hard, that is how we earn our money. Our pride has been in our live performance.
SFS: On the other end of the spectrum, what was the most difficult period in the history of Social Distortion?
MN: The first five years was kind of just a party. It was kind of hard to stop the party and get my life turned around. Getting off drugs and alcohol was pretty difficult, but once it was done it was very easy for me to direct that energy back into the band and get serious about it.
SFS: What helped you through those tough times?
MN: I think the pain was a good motivator. By the time I was 23, I had already done everything and I was looking at going to prison. I was done and in a whole world of hurt.
SFS: Do you still get tattoos?
MN: Yeah, but not because I want to. Itís only to finish what I started. Iím not as eager as I was when I was young to sit under the needle for four hours and hurt. Plus, I was into the whole tattoo thing before it got so popular. It seems like nowadays it is more of a statement if you have none.
SFS: They are everywhere.
MN: Yeah, when a soccer mom wants to talk to you about tattoos, itís time to quit.
Social Distortion performs at BFD on June 9th. The concert starts at 11:30am and tickets cost $30.
by Matt Crawford on May 31, 2007