Would you agree that your more recent Mike Ness solo music was more derived from country & western than is the Social Distortion stuff?
Yes, although that’s the stuff I grew up with until I got into punk music. Then I kind of set country on the side. But in the early ’80s I started to revisit it. And there were bands like X and the Scorchers that I liked. I really like that connection of rock with American roots music whether it’s country, blues, rockabilly, bluegrass or folk. I just like connecting the two styles, then giving it a bit of an edge.
In regard to your early influences, did you grow up with Elvis Presley’s music? Or was that before your time?
There was a little bit of that, of that mid-sixties, late sixties stuff. But I grew up mainly with the Beatles and the Stones on my mom’s side and Johnny Cash and bands like the Dillards on my father’s side. He was the country guy. And my uncles were rock’n’roll. It was like the Smithsonian ‘Folkways Box Set’ was around the house. Then it just progressed into the glitter years, to Ziggy Stardust and to T Rex and little bit of Kiss. Then I got into the Clash and the Sex Pistols. When the Ramones came around, I was like, ‘This is it. This is going to be my whole life.’
You are known for having a taste for 1950s retro styles in cars and clothes. Where do you think that those interests come from?
Well, early experiences. For example I think about when the Hell’s Angels had short hair and when my uncles were riding on low-rider-style motorcycles and building Harley trikes, it’s all American culture. I absorbed everything from Elvis Presley to ‘The Lords of Flatbush’ and I remember saying ‘I’ve got to comb my hair like that!’ A lot of it began in my mind with the Clash dressing like early American gangsters and me thinking, ‘We should be dressing like that because we are American.’
Is there a future to Social Distortion or will it just be Mike Ness solo from now on?
There’s no end in sight for Social D, I can tell you that. We want to do a documentary. We want to do a stripped down, acoustic record with our favorite songs from our catalogue and do a kind of a Springsteen/ Dylan approach, maybe a Neil Young unplugged approach to these songs. It wouldn’t be much new stuff, though. Except that I would put a couple new things on the record. But primarily I’m saving my new stuff for a studio album that I would like to do next year.
Do you agree that a lot of your early stuff was self- critical and despairing?
Yeah, ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’ was particularly dark, more so than any of the others. But that’s where I was at that time in my life.
Now that you’ve emerged as a cultural icon do you feel happier these days due to the success you’ve experienced of late?
Definitely. We feel very lucky to be enjoying this amount success so many years into our careers. It’s lucky for us to have lasted this long, and to be more popular now than we were in the beginning. For most bands it‘s the other way around. They’re at first popular and then twenty years later they’re trying to relive that. But for us, it’s been the complete opposite. To me it’s baffling; I’m like ‘Wow! What a trip! How cool is this?’ We feel very, very grateful. I know I am very, very lucky.
Mike Ness will be performing in Philadelphia, May 12, in New York, May 13 and May 15, and in Asbury Park May 16- 17. For more info and tour dates visit mikeness.com
Photo Credit: Walter Urie