"Metallica is huge everywhere, but extra-huge in Mexico because Robert Trujillo’s like a saint." Suicidal Tendencies might be one of metal's most influential bands, but Mike Muir is thankful they never became celebrities

Mike Muir Suicidal Tendencies
(Image credit: Press)

Born in Venice, Los Angeles, and introduced to the world of music by his famous skateboarding brother Jim, Mike Muir has been one of the most unique voices in thrash, hardcore and punk since he formed Suicidal Tendencies at the age of 17, in 1980. Of course, they went on to become one of the most influential names in the world of crossover, and they’re still going strong 44 years down the line. 

“I know that there are a lot of people that don’t like me!” the notoriously outspoken frontman chuckles, as we sit down to quiz him on what he’s learned over the years. Some folks may not, Mike, but as we sit and chat about everything from celebrity culture to long-running side-project Infectious Grooves (featuring Rob Trujillo, current Metallica four-stringer and formerly of ST), it’s safe to say we’re not one of them. 

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“Probably the biggest influence on my music tastes was my brother, because he was five years older than me. For Christmas he’d give me Black Sabbath or something. Then I’d try to play the record, and he’d try to beat me up for playing his records! I’d say, ‘You gave it to me for Christmas!’ ‘Alright… well, don’t scratch it.’ He got into progressively heavier music and then one day he comes in, his hair shaved off and dyed black, and it’s like, ‘What the hell happened to you?’” 


“When I went to the first punk show with my brother, I go, ‘Dude, this is the best thing I’ve ever been to!’ I was just out there, jumping and going crazy. It was literally moving me, you know? I couldn’t wait for the next show, but when I did go it was absolutely horrendous. I realised it’s not punk the genre that’s great, it has to be the music. It’s not the title, it’s what the actual substance is.” 


“We were really lucky because we started practising in the kitchen and we didn’t think it was like a band, we were just having fun. I make the analogy a lot of times: you got your football – or soccer as we call it – and you play it in the park. You don’t think you’re going to be in the World Cup, you know what I mean? It’s just fun. That was what we did. 

Someone had a guitar, another friend lived in an apartment – his mom said, ‘You gotta get these drums out because they’re gonna kick us out!’ So it was like, ‘Hey, bring your drums over here.’ We weren’t following a path. I see a lot of people and they go, ‘Can you give my kid advice?’ I always hate that. They want to be like some huge band, play in front of thousands of people, have everybody idolise them, and I go, ‘I’m the wrong person to talk to you.’” 


“Music is kind of like food. If I’m eating something and someone goes, ‘What are you eating?’ and I’m like, ‘pad thai noodles’, and they go, ‘Oh that’s disgusting. How could you eat that?’ It’s like, ‘What do you mean it’s disgusting? Fuck you! I like it, I eat it!’ Music’s kind of like that. It’s not something you negotiate, it’s something that moves you.” 


“Early on in Suicidal’s career, we found that we started to get magazines talking crap about us. You know, we were the worst band, the biggest assholes… all those things. We just didn’t fit in. When the first [and self-titled] record came out [in 1983], people were saying how terrible it was. 

Then four years later, the irony is, when we did our second record [Join The Army], they were talking about how great the first record was and how terrible the second one was! Then when we did [our third album in 1988] How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, they said, ‘Oh my God, they did two classics and now they’ve done this terrible record!’ We realised that people can’t handle change. But when you’re doing something that you feel really impassioned about, and you don’t want to repeat things, you have to stick to it, even if people don’t understand it.” 


“One of the quote ‘big’ punk bands when we first started off said to me, ‘Mike, you guys got a label. You could do good, but you’re never going to do anything dressed like that!’ And I’m looking at him, with the leather and eyeliner and all this stuff, and I’m thinking, ‘I gotta dress up for shows or whatever, to fit into your thing?’ Put on your uniform, so to speak. That’s not my uniform, you know? I listened to the music and that’s what the most important thing was for me.” 


“Right now we’re doing the Infectious Grooves thing with Robert Trujillo. Last year we did a Suicidal Tendencies show with Robert in Mexico where he filled in because Tye, his son who is our bass player, couldn’t do it. It wasn’t announced, but people found out fast. He’s in Mexico, and you know, Metallica is fucking huge everywhere, but extra-huge there because Robert’s like a saint. It’s insane! 

Robert’s the nicest person I know, and I don’t know how he does it, because people fucking suck. They’re just so incredibly demanding and insulting. I feel very fortunate people just go, ‘Hey Mike’ to me. We went out with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, and I’m glad we did it. It was a great experience but tolerating that level of intrusion… it’s just not who I am, you know?” 


“Rodney on the ROQ [US DJ Rodney Bingenheimer] played [1983 debut single] Institutionalized and said to one of the other top DJs, ‘You’ve got to play this song, just play it!’ They played it and the phones lit up. It was becoming the most requested song. But one of the people at the top said, ‘This isn’t music. We can’t play that! We have a formula.’ Blah, blah, blah!

It’s funny, because they’re supposed to be alternative! A little while later I went into a 7-Eleven convenience store and they were playing KROQ, and Institutionalized came on, and there were some older college chicks there. I thought they were gonna freak out and tell them to turn the fucking radio off! I’m watching to see people’s reaction, to see if a riot breaks out or whatever, and they were just like, ‘You hear this? I like it!’ I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ So, the supposed tastemakers got it wrong.”


“So, I got a call and they say, ‘We’re from [long-running 80s crime drama] Miami Vice and we would like to have you on an episode.’ My first instinct was that it was one of my friends pranking me, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure! How’s [star of the show] Don Johnson doing?’ I thought it was a joke! They told me they were gonna send over a car, so what’s the address? I’m just playing along and then this town car pulls up and they’re like, ‘This is this what we need you to sign.’ I’m thinking, ‘Wait a second… this is a whole hell lot of trouble for some kids from the hood… This is legit!’ Ha ha ha!”


“It’s funny, because Miami Vice was the most popular show on TV back then, but not that popular with the punks. We went out there, we did it, and then when it was on afterwards, I started getting all these calls from people like, ‘Dude, are you on Miami Vice?!’ I was like, ‘Well, how would you know that?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh… I don’t watch it… but I was just home.’ Hmm… you just happened to be home on a Friday night? Sure! Ha ha ha!” 


“I was watching some band once, and they just looked old and beat up, like they did not want to be there. You could sense the misery. I went to my friend, ‘There’s nothing worse than watching an old punk band go through the motions.’ That always stuck out for me. My dad always said, ‘There might be an easier or better way, but sweat don’t lie.’ Like I said, music should move you. The music I love moved me, whether physically or mentally. I’ve had three back surgeries, been bashed about, all that type of stuff, but if I don’t love Suicidal anymore, it’s going to be very evident, and I’ll be gone.”

Suicidal Tendencies play London's Desertfest on May 18. 

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.