I phoned Mike Ness on the morning after the first night of his cross-country tour. Frontman for the three- decades-old, hardcore, punk band, Social Distortion, Ness has been recording and performing solo material since around the time of the 1999 Woodstock Festival, which is where I first saw him live. At that time he captivated the crowd with his utterly sincere manner and rock-with-a-country-twang style. He is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, artist, clothes designer and customizer of vintage cars. Punk and hardcore have come and gone, sending both the celebrated and the little known to obscurity. Yet after thirty years, major personal struggles and numerous tragedies, Mike Ness and Social Distortion have not only survived, but have continued to grow in success and recognition, adding a second generation of fans to their loyal following.
Mike Ness proved to be a remarkably modest, friendly person to interview. He was quick to give credit to many others in music who inspired him, and clear in his love of America and American culture in all its many expressions.
You’re on the first leg of a tour that’s about to cross the country. How’s that tour going?
Well, last night was the first night and it was pretty good. We’ll work all the bugs out by the time we get out your way.
Are the opening bands mainly local people from the regions your tour is passing through?
Yeah, usually, so they don’t have to travel far.
Do you have a big say on picking the opening acts or do your managerial people do that for you?
They initiate it and then I have to approve it. I just try to get someone that’s going to fit and trying also to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a larger crowd than they usually get to do.
Do you get contacted much by bands that would like to open for you or that feel they should be performing with you?
What do you think is different about the Mike Ness solo as compared with Social Distortion?
It’s kind of an intangible thing. Certainly it’s different, it’s not as loud, it’s not as fast, it’s more musical, and it’s a little bit harder to play.
Are you presently engaged in writing and composing for either Social D or creating Mike Ness solo material?
Absolutely. I’m always writing. Even when I don’t pick up a guitar. I mean I’m living life. And then when I do pick up a guitar I get in touch with those experiences and feelings.
A few years back you broke your wrist skateboarding and were unable to play guitar for a while. Did that make it difficult for you to write & compose?
Yeah, that made it difficult to do anything. I usually compose on the guitar and so there wasn’t much writing going on in that period, for those few months.
Do you see yourself as part of the country & western genre?
I’m really on the outside. It’s never been my desire to get on the inside of that. I listen to mainstream country and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool, but this is how I see it.’