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Everyone that knows me is aware that I love Social Distortion. I see them every chance I get. I have also seen Mike Ness do his solo thing three times.
But, in all the times I have seen the band and/or met Mike Ness, I have never gotten an interview with him... until now!
Social Distortion was chosen as one of the Headline bands for the 2007 K-Rockathon, which will be held on Saturday, July 21 at Weedsport Speedway in the town of Weedsport, NY.
The event will also feature performances by The Def Tones, and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell as well as Drowning Pool, Strata, Evans Blue, Sick Puppies, and Black Light Burns.
As part of the preparations for the event I did a phone interview with Mike Ness on July 10th at 3:30PM. We talked for thirty minutes about the band's thirty year history, new Greatest Hits collection and Ness' personal life.
Ness was very open about his past trials and tribulations and it made for an interesting and informative interview.
And now, thanks to my wonderful friend Jackie Pilon, the entire interview has been transcribed into a readable form without all the static and hum.

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(If you like this interview, please drop by Jackie's MySpace and thank her for diligently and meticulously typing it.)
The interview is also posted in mp3 format and free to download and save. Just right click on the "Tom's Interview" button below and "Save Target As..." The new recorder and mic I got picked up a lot of background noise. I got out as much as I could but it still sounds very rough.

MIKE NESS INTERVIEW Back To Social D Article

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TATW: You guys have been around for nearly 30 years. How does it feel to look back over your career and see the bands it has influenced and the peoples whose lives your music has touched?

MN: I mean it feels great, it's kinda part of the reason why we decided to do the Greatest Hits album right now. Take a brief pause and take a retrospective look at the career, kinda, you know, not really rethink but reset, you know… we're between studio sets, we're writing, and we got the greatest hits out right now. Right now would be, you know, good to kinda reflect you know, and put things into perspective for the writing. At least for me anyways, that's why I did it.

TATW: Now with such a long history, was it hard to decide what songs to put on the album, the Greatest Hits album?

MN: Yeah it was. But I mean, you know, when we look at each song, they were songs that were definitely, you know, undeniably were hits. You know, they were hits on the radio. And you know, it's a wonder why some songs work with radio and some don't. We did and they escalate the band's status, you know, profile so… Plus, they were some of our favorites as well.

TATW: Cool. Now, the vinyl version of Greatest Hits includes a bonus interview track. Why was it not put on the CD version?

MN: You know, I don't know. You wanted it to do certain things, you know, special. You pretty much want to make it different.

TATW: So, what do you think when you hear some of these songs on the radio now?

MN: What do I think?

TATW: Yeah.

MN: Well, you know I think it feels good when you hear, you know your song you worked hard writing and recording and you know, you hear it on the radio and it is fulfilling. You know?

TATW: Yeah. I got couple questions from fans of my site want to know, but first of all, I'm gonna do this other one. First off what's your biggest influences?

MN: Who were my biggest influences?

TATW: Yeah.

MN: Well, it goes all the way to the 1930's with the Carter family.

TATW: Nice.

MN: The early folk music, to dust bowl, you know, depression era, you know, all the way up to the 70's stuff. You know, it's such a wide spectrum that I draw from. You know the big bands stuff from the 30's and 40's. You know, obviously, certain ones stick out. You know like the Ramones and who ever I idolized when I was growing up.

TATW: Now at one point you toured with the Ramones. I'm collecting stories about them for a book. Is there a story about them you would share with me for that?

MN: Yeah, not a particular story, just a story, you know. The guys were like a comic strip that came to life. The personalities... Their personalities were so animated. You know… I'm sitting having dinner with them and I'm just sitting studying them. They were, really, like little boys in grown men's bodies. You know, it was just fun. It was hilarious and they weren't even trying to be. I say that with all respect because I respect them so much. They were just characters. They were bickering with each other, and their manager trying to keep them all in line… They were just hilarious.

TATW: At what age did you begin playing guitar and writing music?

MN: Well, I think I begin playing guitar around eleven, somewhere around 7th grade, or 7th or 8th at school. And, you know, you play Michael Row Your Boat Ashore and stuff like that. Within a year or two, I was putting chords together and writing songs… pretty early. Definitely by the time I was seventeen.

TATW: Andrea Higgins of Columbia, S.C. wants to know: what are your favorite Johnny Cash songs?

MN: My favorite Johnny Cash stuff is the Sun Label stuff. You know, to me, that was the pioneering and shaping of what is Rock and Roll today. So, you know, the early stuff… Get Rhythm… and Wanted Man is one of my favorites. Social Distortion covered that song in 1985. Never recorded it, so… but it's obviously "Fire" you know.

TATW: All right. Now, it's been said that you're on track to becoming the next legendary Johnny Cash type icon. How does that make you feel?

MN: It feels good, I mean, you know, you work hard your life you know, and it's good when it gets recognized it feels good. I mean, that is obviously very flattering. I mean that is kinda a personal thing I take into… uh, one of my idols dying who steered me so much I do take I do sorta take that personal responsibility to take what he's given me and carry it to the next generation or something, you know.

TATW: Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions about the past of Social Distortion. When you look back on Another State of Mind what do you like or dislike the most about yourself during that period of time?

MN: You know, when I see the film, I get mixed feelings. Part of me, I look at that kid, and I don't even know who that kid is, you know.

TATW: Right.

MN: You know, I see a scared, kinda lost kid, you know? That was right before it got really bad. I mean it was bad although the film didn't capture how bad it was. You know, at that point alcoholism and stuff, you know… I see a kid who, you know, is reaching out for help almost, you know. On the other side of it, on the positive side of it, you know, that was the beginning of it all. You know the beginning of all of this and how exciting that is to see, to see the beginning and have it documentated, or documented. You know, it is still how I write songs, you know. With the acoustic guitar and taking an idea and playing with it until it becomes something.

TATW: You have had your own problems with drugs, what was it that turned you around?

MN: Well, I think for me, you end up really alienating yourself from all your loved ones, family, and it becomes a really desperate and lonely situation. When you're showing up to the connections and he doesn't even want me around, you know. Things are, you know… It's just very lonely and so I think pain became a very good motivator. Pain can be a very good motivator in other words.

TATW: Now, I understand, you are now drug and alcohol free as well as a vegetarian.

MN: Yes.

TATW: Yeah, that's a lot better for you?

MN: Yup, yup, you know I love life. I tell everyone I'm gonna live to be 100, but we'll see.

TATW: I hope so, man. I hope so. Now, how has becoming a father changed your life?

MN: Immensely, I mean, you see, it's the best, it really takes you into full manhood. You know, being a man isn't how tough you are or how cool you think you are. Being a man is stepping up to, you know life's responsibilities and facing your fears, facing obstacles and you know.
I would say being a parent I would say has been my number one challenge. I mean, you know, it's not fucking easy. But you know I love it, and you know, I've learned so much from it and it's really me and you know, it something though I'm constantly striving to learn and become better at, you know. You know there's obviously no instruction manual, you know, for it. You know, I just think it is one of those you can be improving upon your whole life, you know, and learning.

TATW: Now, one of your other loves besides music is you're into classic cars and restoring them, what vehicles do you own, and what one is your favorite? Is there anything you're working on now?

MN: Well, first of all, my love for cars is, you know, I like classic cars but I like to customize them and you know, make them, you know for me it is another form of self -expression. You know, to take a car that Detroit built back in the day and, you know, lower it. For some reason as soon as you lower a car and get the stance right immediately you have added… you go from a grandfather's car to a, you know, a mean-looking, sleek, low, and long, you know, piece of art. And sometimes we do body modifications to it to enhance what Detroit forgot to do. But I have several, you know, in my collection. 1930's and 40's Fords and I've built them very traditionally, like they would have been back in that day, like in the late 40's. You know, street rods or customs and then, you know, I also have the Chicano low rider style because they kinda you know in the 70's and 80's when it was getting kinda cheesy, you know, they kinda kept a lot of that alive. So I integrate both styles into my style. So you know, my cars are traditional low riders and others are custom lead sleds, you know, with crazy modifications where you can't even really tell it's a Chevy anymore, you know. What is that thing, it looks like an alien.

TATW: Right, now that love of the cars has got you into the Black Kat Kustoms thing. Tell me a little about that.

MN: Yeah, well, I wanted to, you know, do a kind of a clothing line that, you know, kinda captured that attitude of cars and bikes. You know, the feeling you get having one, or building one. You know, it's a cult, kinda counter culture that caught on across the world now, you know. I wanted to design some, you know, clothes that kinda went along with that. It's been, you know… Graphics arts was the only thing that kept me in school as long as it did.
I used to… We used to make our own punk t-shirts and I used to make all the old Social D flyers.

TATW: I actually have one of the old 45's, I think you guys spray painted the covers to them with the stencils…

MN: Yeah, yeah! We used to have fun doing that stuff. So, it's once again… For me, whether it's me helping designing Social D merch, or my own Black Cat custom stuff, it's just once again, self-expression and trying to share it with the rest of the world, I guess.

TATW: Cool, so you recently wrote the forward for the book "Rocking on the Highway, the Cars That Made Rock and roll" how did you get chosen for that?

MN: I don't know, I don't know exactly. But I was glad to do it. You know, it was an honor to do it, you know, I guess I've been around long enough that someone valued my opinion.

TATW: It's kinda funny... I was mentioning to my parents and stuff that I was doing an interview with you about this. It's one of those things where you know the band is famous when your mom knows who they are. I mentioned the name of the band, and as soon as I said I was interviewing you she said, "Oh my god, I've heard of them." You've got your name out there, brother.

MN: Awesome, you know, that's awesome. I mean, you know, we started out a punk band we were always like outside the norm and our crowd has always been diverse. And that's the way I like it, you know, because I don't feel that you just, you know, have to be a rocker to know what is happening. To me the whole punk attitude is something that is, you know, it is a rebellious spirit that is inside you. It's not what you look like on the outside. You know, it was also all about individualism, so whether you're young or old is whether you got that spirit inside you.

TATW: I'm gonna ask about your solo stuff here? There were two solo albums and tours that supported them. Will there be another solo album anytime in the future?

MN: Yeah, I think so. I just don't know when, you know, we got a lot in the forefront right now with Social D. I mean we want to do another studio album pretty soon, there's talk we want to do another documentary about the history of the band.

TATW: Awesome.

MN: A film, and you know, we are really, one the thing I really want to do is to record an acoustic album. You know, where we can build songs and you know, sometimes…well you know, Neil Young is the perfect example, he comes out with an acoustic guitar an does a song and it sounds more like a twenty piece band, you know. So to me; I think that would be neat to do. Similar to what Johnny Cash did, you know, in his later years. You know, just put out something that is different. So, in between all that, or after all that I had such fun doing the solo stuff. You know, I would love to do another solo album and tour, sure.

TATW: Is there any chance you will write a book about your life?

MN: Yeah, yeah I think there is a good chance of it. But for me I think that is something that you do in the golden years, and that's a long ways off for me. I don't see any end in sight, you know, for playing rock and roll.

TATW: In February of 2006, you broke your wrist while skateboarding in Vegas and Ron Emery of TSOL filled in for you on guitar. Did it feel weird to you to be performing without playing your guitar?

MN: Well, actually it didn't happen in Vegas, it happened at home. But Vegas was the first show. I had to fly the very next day after surgery. It was a little odd, you know but it was also kinda cool, you know. I could just kinda be a front man and… just sing and not worry about solos and concentrate on singing it was cool. The fans, I really think, kinda liked it. It was something, you know, they came because they knew maybe they would never see that again.

TATW: Ron's one hell of a guitar player and a nice guy too.

MN: Absolutely, one of my dearest friends.

TATW: I met him and Jack at the Inland Invasion II with the Sex Pistols a couple years back, nice guys.

MN: Yeah.

TATW: Speaking of guitars, you donated some of your strings to made in to bracelets that were sold for charity, how did that come about?

MN: Well, you know, I feel a certain responsibility, to I mean, when you are young you don't think about this kinda stuff. But as you get older, you know, it's like what am I doing to make this world a better place? And you know, as an audience people, tell you all the time, "your music has changed my life," or "thanks so much you got me through some hard times." But I feel a certain responsibility to do more, you know. To be a little bit more active in the community, whether it's charity or a flag waver or spreading awareness about issues I feel very strongly about today in my life as I have gotten more aware, you know. PETA, the SPCA, or racism, or the environment you know, or urging kids to vote. I just know that, you know, you have to just try to do your part to make the world a better place.

TATW: That's awesome. Now I have another question from another fan…

MN: If everyone did that yeah…

TATW: Sure, there would be no hungry people, no homeless people, there'd be a different place.

MN: Yeah, you know, and exactly.

TATW: Seth Coffin, of Syracuse, wants to know how did you get to cover the classic tune "Death or Glory" on the "Lords of Dogtown" soundtrack?

MN: How did we pick it or how did we get it?

TATW: Yeah, how did you get it? He wants to know whose idea was it to cover it?

MN: Well, it was ours. We wanted to do a song from that period. It was a cover song we decided to do because, you know, we wanted to get kinda that same feeling of that period. And, you know, we figured there was enough classic rock stuff in the soundtrack. You know, let's do a song from a band that was making changes at that time. And was actually part of that whole skate movement, you know, that punk rock completely, you know, helped energize and fuel that skate movement. And so, we decided to do a Clash song.

TATW: Cool, now Jackie Pilon, of Syracuse, wants to know you've done a lot of cover tunes, which one is your favorite and why?

MN: My favorite cover song?

TATW: Yeah.

MN: Probably one of the funnest ones to sing is "Making Believe".

TATW: Yeah?

MN: Yeah, definitely. But it's tough because, you know, I picked some of my favorites on the solo stuff, you know, the Carl Perkins song is just as fun to sing. You know, singing George Jones is fun. Hank Williams, you know, is one of favorites to sing. It's hard to say.

TATW: Now, a question about that. On the Under the Influences album, you've got all these people you did, I noticed a lack of a Johnny Cash song.

MN: That what?

TATW: There was no Johnny Cash cover on that. I wondered how come you didn't do one on that.

MN: Yeah, I thought about it, you know, just wasn't ready yet, you know. I mean that might be on the next one.

TATW: Cool. What do you think of Hank III?

MN: I like Hank, you know, he's got great energy, you know, yeah.

TATW: He's keeping that old school country alive. You know, and I like that.

MN: Right. That's right.

TATW: I did an interview with him for my Heroquest a couple years ago, he was the first to sit down with me to do this and it was awesome.

MN: That's cool.

TATW: Hell of a nice guy.

MN: Yeah.

TATW: Now let's see, I have, kind of a political question. I don't know if you want to talk politics. But, if Mike Ness were president how would you handle the current political situation in the U.S.?

MN: Well, the first thing I would do is I would spend millions and billions of dollars improving our foreign relations policies, you know, first. You know, I've traveled abroad, I've got a sense of what people feel about America and you know, it's not very good, you know.
America's taken a kinda John Wayne stance about everything and is kind of a bully, and you know, arrogant. A certain arrogance and self-righteousness…
I just think that we have a lot to learn from other countries who, you know, may not be as powerful as us but, you know what, maybe they're more happy and more peaceful and successful in that aspect. That would definitely be my first thing and you know, the environment would be probably… environment and health care would be soon after. I would end this war first of all, though...

TATW: Cool, okay now what CD is currently in your CD player. What does Mike Ness listen to at night?

MN: Well, I produced a local Hollywood band called The Hangmen, which I am very proud of. They are a band that has been around forever. The show, they shoulda got a break, you know, I currently have them on tour with us. I watch them before we play, they inspire me, I am very proud of the routine.
You know, how it came out and you know, that's what I am listening to right now, it's like the band that, a younger band that inspires me. It's hard to find, for me anyways. I'm very picky, very, you know, particular about what I like to listen to. So, I would urge everyone to go out and try to find them, they're great. Plus they're a representation of Hollywood and what I think should be happening right now in radio, you know.

TATW: How did the deaths of Dennis Danell and Brent Liles affect Social Distortion and you personally?

MN: Brent?

TATW: Yeah…

MN: Well, you know, I hadn't seen Brent in fifteen or twenty years, so obviously we had drifted apart, you know. He had gone down a road that was very destructive but, you know, this was a guy that was, you know, put up with me when I was going down that road. He was there, you know, until I got clean. He gave me a place to live. And him and I used to go to show together and you know, he was just a good kid. It's too bad, you know, to see someone die, you know. Even though he was hit by a car, he was close to self destructing anyways. You know, and that's what makes it sad… makes it sadder. He was the kind of guy that should've done something and wasn't able to.

TATW: Now tell me about Social Distortion's current line up and how it came to be.

MN: Well, you know, obviously with changes, whether they were loss of member, or death, or people just get tired of touring, being away from their families. Whatever it was that got us to this place we're at right now, it just happened at we have to roll with it. But I do feel that right now playing together for so many years consistently and you know. In the past I'd just kinda get my friends in the band and you'd audition with your friends and you know, and now I looking for a member that you know, I want to audition and then become friends. The current guys are great musicians, they're really good for the group they know what I am talking about, and if I say kind of a Dead Boys feel, they know what I'm talking about. That's really important you know, to have that, you know, or they're just comfortable with the beginnings you know. So, I'm really happy with that, you know. I feel we're in top form and we're striving to get better, you know.

TATW: We're all looking forward to, here in the Central New York area, to seeing you guys at the K-Rockathon on the 21st. We're really excited about that.

MN: Yeah!

TATW: Are there any final words you'd like to add before we wrap up here?

MN: Just that we're excited too, you know. We're playing every night. We have to keep touring. We're anxious in many ways.

TATW: Cool. Mike, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate this interview.

MN: Cool, thanks.

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