THE ANGRY SAMOANS "METAL" MIKE SAUNDERS interviewed by BRAD & LUCY at Mystery Island
I see black Christmas trees
Barbed wire, funeral homes
I see your face, forest fires
Rats in the streets gnawing at your bones
'Coz I'm (inside my brain)
I'm looking out yeah (inside my brain)
But there's a hole in my head (inside my brain)
A brand new world there, yeah
Inside my brain brain brain
LUCY: Hi Mike. Please explain your early influences in the L.A. punk scene.
"Metal" Mike Saunders--back in the day ...
METAL MIKE: We were very influenced by Fear’s early live act, the way they verbally assaulted an audience, etc. In that day-and-age pre-AIDS, it was kinda like telling Polack jokes.
(Lee Ving: “Youse nothing but a bunch of fucking queers. Why should we play music for youse?")
FEAR’s gigs at the Troubadour, Winter 78-79, were the first L.A. punk gigs viz-a-viz Samoans where I saw something happening on stage that I thought WE definitely wanted to be part of, as a band. They were really assaulting the audience, funny as hell, and as you know were unbelievably tight and professional as a band. We were never "tight," maybe, but our obsession from early on with NO DEAD AIR, EVER, NO SCREWING AROUND, and ALWAYS IN TUNE!! came from seeing something like Fear, long before they had a large audience. They had this big loose leaf “joke book” which they would never let anyone look at.
As the drummer-man in VOM, [Mike’s band before the Angry Samoans] I got to see L.A.’s greatest live act ever, the early Dickies, four straight sets over two nights at the Whiskey at March 1978, when VOM had the honor of opening for them. THAT original Dickies lineup at that point in time, in a great sounding room, was definitely the most amazing band you’d ever hope to see. “I’m OK You’re OK” was the only Dickies recording that was close to their live sound. My all-around all-time favorite, live and on record, from the early L.A. years would be kiddie Red Cross. The 1980 lineup with Chet (Wasted Youth) and Dez (Black Flag) on guitars, and Jeff as lead singer, was AWESOME! Supposedly they only played a few gigs before the McDonalds threw in the towel on the hardcore punk scene.
We were not influenced by ANY bands outside of L.A. ... honest truth. Our songwriting style was a mixture of everything we had ever listened to from 1965 to 1978, from 60's garage punk to the 1974 Dictators--but compressing our songs (many written before the band had even formed in August 1978) into the new, faster punk style was ALL from the influence of being part of the LA scene. It was just one of those crazy things that happened all at once, like five different people in five different seats in the same movie theatre getting the same idea at the same time.
LUCY: Your first gig was?
METAL MIKE: Our first gig was 10/31/78 Halloween weekend, in SF at the Mab and at a movie theatre/ballroom opening for Roky Erickson & the Aliens. Looking at the short 11 song list ... when our band played Germany (and several other european countries) for the first time in June, 2003, 7 of those 11 songs were still in our set list by audience request! Like any courteous human jukebox, we play the most popular 20 to 22 originals, plus a shitload of rock or punk rock cover songs to total a 30 song/45 minute set, but in my opinion, the 1979-1980 sets where no band, even the headliners, played more than 30 minutes, were the best--ours in early 1980 was 20 songs/26 minutes!
Needless to say, those seven 1978 songs of ours got played much faster, much wilder, and much meaner the next year when the cross-influence of playing with and hearing bands like Red Cross, the Crowd, Black Flag, and Fear, (a big favorite of ours as a live act, 1979-80) kicked in!
LUCY: What's the best place to play or see a show in the Bay Area?
METAL MIKE: 924 Gilman St. is one of the best sounding rooms in the universe, it just has great natural acoustics.
BRAD: Tell us about booking Green Day on your gigs.
METAL MIKE: Green Day I saw for the first time on a Samoans, Gilman St. bill, Fall 1990 right after Tre had joined the band. I’d asked around who would be the coolest local band we could get on the bill, and everybody (i.e. 2 people) said, “Green Day. Green Day. Green Day.” So I bought the SLAPY ep which I
thought was great, and the minute I heard them play they were one of my favorite bands of all time. I got them booked on several other gigs of ours--Phoenix Theater/Petaluma (500 people showed up to see Samoans/Mr. T/Green Day; that was a great gig!), New Year’s 1990 at Gilman with Samoans/Green
Day/MUMMIES/Blatz, and last and definitely least, Green Day’s first Hollywood club gig ever--at one of the Sunday night 8-9-10 band pileups where only the
headliner got to use their own equipment. Everyone else shared amps/drums. A little into the evening, Larry Livermore and Billie Joe tracked me down, and
explained that they needed to play at least one slot earlier in order to get Tre back to school in time the next morning (Monday). So, I tracked down Bill
Holdship’s brother Barry and convinced him that Green Day needed to swap down on their playing slot. They got Tre to school in time, went on to sell 30 million records, and everyone was happy.
BRAD: Let's go back to my hometown of L.A. for a minute. You told us about 1978 and how things generally began in terms of influence, but what was going by 1979? You guys had a gig at Rhino Records?
METAL MIKE: Okay, we had played a funny free no-admission-charge gig at a record store, May 1979, two sets at "Rhino Records" on a saturday night for the hell of it (the PA cost us $50 to borrow). We played two sets and in between the sets two of our members, Kevin (gtr) and Bill (drums) got together and decided there was a party they wanted to go to (sooner than later) the minute we were done, so they decided that they (Bill = drums, setting the tempos) would play the 2nd set much faster than usual so they could get out earlier ... and that's exactly what they did. Ha ha, funny story, because future Rhino Records engineer Bill Inglot was taping the gig for the hell of it behind the cash register. We heard the tape the next week, and two OTHER members of the band (todd/bass, myself/gtr) decided that FASTER WAS BETTER. and two months later (with a different 1st guitarist) that became the new law of the land.
The very next month in June 1979 Black Flag released the best 7" to ever come out of L.A. in the last forty years: Nervous Breakdown/Wasted/I've Had It/Fix It. I probably bought one the minute I heard or read about it (in Slash I believe). And the three short songs on the B-side threw another idea into the mix: SHORTER WAS BETTER.
Down in Huntington Beach, and over in Hawthorne (sharing practice space with Black Flag at "The Church"), all on their own the Crowd and Red Cross came up with the same idea: SHORT, ONE MINUTE SONGS WERE THE BEST.
These were the four bands gigging out steadily in Fall 1979 (and with each other on occasion) that were the first "proto-hardcore" L.A. bands in my opinion, for those reasons: faster and shorter. The Germs weren't playing much (if at all) because they had been banned from everywhere, but their songs were very, very long in comparison! Their ALBUM however (compared to their horrible live act ... really really untogether ... just like on the Decline footage) kicked ass and in various ways was part of the "proto-hardcore" mix.
By early 1980 of course, Keith had quit Black Flag (for various reasons), picked up Greg Hetson from Red Cross, and the Circle Jerks were the next "early hardcore" or "proto-hardcore" band in L.A.
But in Fall 1979 that was it: Black Flag, Angry Samoans, the Crowd, and Red Cross (and plus or minus the Germs). Each band's first recordings came out at different points due to funding Red Cross and the Crowd paid for by Poshboy and released on the Siren and Beach Blvd. comps. Our Inside My Brain 6-song 12" was self-funded and self-pressed, so it was recorded in spring 1980 and released in October 1980 at the same time as the GROUP SEX Circle Jerks album, Decline movie soundtrack, and Black Flag JEALOUS AGAIN 12". We had plenty of strong material for a full album, but lacked the funds to record/mix more than 6 songs for our own label, and it didn't occur to us to use the 6-song Fall 1978 unreleased "I'M IN LOVE WITH YOUR MOM" 12" recordings/demo tape, three of which were later used on the longform Inside My Brain but all of which could have been used in retrospect.
Anyone who talks nonsense about DC or wherever, they're nuts: Fall 1979, L.A., is where hardcore or "proto hardcore" started. We were there and saw these bands! FEAR of course had nothing to do with fast "hardcore" tempos, but their live act was universally ackowledged as the best live punk band in California ... too bad their records were wimpy, only the live Decline cuts give indication of what a powerful band they were before Derf quit--and they never sounded the same after that! And anyway, the "hardcore" label did not come till much later (1981). At the starting point it was bands being creative/innovative all in different ways, NOT trying to fit their music into some dopey strictly defined "genre" like hardcore became. Which to me is about as useless as "rockabilly" after 1959, i.e. musical styles with rigid rules and formats after the initial burst of creativity (and bands) has tapered off.
It must be noted that our summer 1979 changeover to shorter, faster songs/format was made possible ONLY by snagging the best available punk guitarist in the entire LA area--PJ Galligan from Ventura who had just dissolved his band T.U.M.O.R.S. Without him playing some of the hottest punk rhythm guitar I've ever heard in my life it would not have been possible to kick up the energy level and tempos starting in September 1979.
LUCY: Have you guys been able to make any money out of playin’ punk rock? What about all the cool cover songs?
METAL MIKE: Believe it or not, in the last six years our band has been paid $50,000 in publishing monies (via Bug Music) and $22,000 in record royalties (from Triple X). If you throw in the initial $9,000 advance
money in 1990 for Triple X to lease the catalog, that pushes it over $80,000 total. (Triple X has had a huge long run of paying our full contract royalties. They’ve paid every cent up through March 1999 at present). We have full publishing rights (Bug takes their standard 10% cut), and have always owned our masters by virtue of having paid for all our recording costs from day 1. Of the major label covers of Samoans songs, the Foo Fighters, Mudhoney, and Muffs covers were on albums or B-sides that didn’t amount to any substantial amount of sales/money. BUT the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Lights Out” (twice--on the Ska Core ep/cd, and their 1998 live album that stiffed) over those six years has come to $30,000-$35,000 of that publishing money easy … not bad for a band (us) that was always a “weekend band” from Day 1!
The Queers’ 45 of “My Old Man’s a Fatso” is the best Samoans cover easy. There’s other good ones, like the Muffs and Mudhoney, and some obscure indie ones. I am dumfounded why no dumbo hard rock band has ever (slowed down and) covered “Right Side of My Mind” on a multi-platinum album, and stuffed our retirement accounts with moolah. THAT’S the song you’d expect to be primo cover fodder, a virtually indestructible riff. Dionysus Records are schmucks because they never sent us a single copy of Teengenerate’s dopey 7" ep cover version, not even in
lieu of non-payment on publishing (which is usually the case with small indies).
The Angry Samoans can cut a pretty good cover, too. Here they are with "Time Has Come Today."
LUCY: Do you enjoy writing offensive lyrics? You're really good at it.
METAL MIKE: I think BACK FROM SAMOA held its own in the cuss-a-thon department. The lyric to "Homo-Sexual" is a mess tho, I’m afraid, it was supposed to offend EVERYONE. It’s not nearly offensive enough. It was completely re-written the night before I did the vocal, and a lot of the funniest lines were lost on the lyric-writing floor cuz we were laughing so hard.
I’m STILL proud of “screw your wife in the behind, tell your kids ..."
I vaguely recall some couplet about “John the Beatle was a queer/Brian [Epstein] screwed him in the rear/Darby Crash he’s a man/If he can’t blow you no one can.” Mature social comment--always the Angry Samoans’ forte.
BRAD: How did you guys end up having Lee Ving [of Fear] produce INSIDE MY BRAIN?
METAL MIKE: I’m not sure what the idea was behind recruiting Lee Ving on BRAIN … I guess most records always had a “producer” listed on them, so why not have an anti-producer. Lee’s main function wound up being sergeant-in-arms, standing behind Spot’s control board VERY formidable as always. No fights or free-for-alls broke out, always a possibility in the Samoans, so I guess Lee did his job admirably. Around 2 am after at least 6 hours (of setup, then tracking) Lee packed it in, figuring that if we’d forgotten to kill each other by then, we were safe from each other for another day. He missed the final track … 30 endless aborted takes of “Inside My Brain,” cause no one could get the opening guitar riff (or its re-entry) right. Fun fun fun. See—THAT’s what producers are for--to scare you into playing good! With Lee‘s arms folded and burly frame silhouetted behind the deck, you can bet Turner or P.J. would’ve gotten it on the first take. By 3 am, drummer Bill was laying his head down on his snare drum, half-sick from crappy Chinese food eaten at 7 am ... going “why did I join THIS fuckin band.” By 4 am, somehow, we were finally done.
I’ll never know how the Beatles recorded Introducing the Beatles in one day. By the end of our wimpy 8-hour, six-song session, we couldn’t’ve played even an acoustic samba folkie “Twist And Shout” to save our life.
LUCY: Which Samoans songs make you the happiest of punk rockers?
METAL MIKE: The live set (about 22 early originals and 8 cover songs, about 45 minutes total) works as a whole. Every second of it on stage is a pleasure. For studio recordings, the Top Five for me would be: “My Old Man’s a Fatso,” “Gas Chamber,” “Lights Out,” “Ballad of Jerry Curlan,” and “Right Side of My Mind.” “I’m in Love with Your Mom” was a VOM song, so it’s not allowed to receive votes.
BRAD: Do you have any unreleased material?
METAL MIKE: I spent a huge chunk of life writing a little over one thousand songs, all on tape (over a period of about twenty five years). Yes, they’re all on tape, and yes it would take anyone about one entire 40 hour 9 to 5 work-week just to listen to all of the damn things. After playing on a little over ten albums total--starting with a high school album with Samoans co-founder Kevin as the Rockin’ Blewz in 1969, and then the VOM EP in 1978, four Angry Samoans albums in the 80s, the Samoans spin off Mistaken album in 1987, a late 80’s good garage-band recording/album (that never came out) with the Electric Koels (I drummed) who later became the Gargoyles, an unreleased 6-song EP as the Sons of Mellencamp (which Gregg Turner refused to sign off on when Triple X Records sent him the signature page … Did I ever mention that the guy was a dick?), around three albums (about forty songs counting non-LP singles) worth of material in the 90s under the names Metal Mike or Metal Mike, Alison & Julia, and some other Samoans stuff I can’t remember--I do not give a good goddamn if I ever see my name again on a recording. Oh, and I hate digital anyway when it comes to recording guitar bands. Even if I were to write the greatest Angry Samoans song ever tomorrow, I wouldn’t give a flying fuck about issuing it in that guitar-unfriendly evil digital format.
When it takes more than 30 seconds to remember every EP or Album you ever played on, you’ve recorded plenty enough for one lifetime. There’s easily an album’s worth of strong 1973 hard rock “Metal Mike” material on low-fi cassette tape, in the 1973 Stooges style mostly (which would have been during my last year in college). If I ever borrow the tools and the correct type of cassette deck and CD-R deck to transfer it over to digital so a friend can master it, the free CD-Rs would be called: Sounds Like Stooges. Some of the best songs I ever wrote predated 1977 punk rock by years and were never heard by anyone outside of our small inner circle, friends, etc. “Gas Chamber” and “Right Side of My Mind” were actually written in the years 1973 and 1976 respectively, years before the Samoans.
LUCY: Any last thoughts?
METAL MIKE: Personally I think Britney [Spears] is way much “punk” than the fuckin’ Dead Kennedys ever were--she DANCES way better, right?
LUCY: Maybe Jello and Britney should get married. “Britney Biafra” ... now that’s punk.