They were one of the first hardcore punk bands to be played on MTV in the heyday of the ’80s with their most recognized song, “Institutionalized.” With such a broad fan base and a sound that is still as relevant as it was when they first started, they’re touring now as much as they ever have. With their latest studio album, 13, Suicidal Tendencies shows fans why they are one of “the fathers of crossover thrash.” HM’s Rob Houston sat down with lead guitarist Dean Pleasants to talk about tour life, longevity, writing and recording the new record, as well as being a believer in this day and age.
You just got off tour, and you guys just put out your first record since 2000. Did it really take 10 years, from 2002-2012?
Yeah, some of the stuff was done around 2003, … some were just recently in the past year, and some we did in just the past six months. We had a bunch of stuff that we had done before we were going to put out a record, and we didn’t, and we wanted to wait until the right time — get the right set up and right deal. We didn’t want to put it out without being supported.
There’s a lot of meaning behind the album’s name, 13. It’s 2013, your 13th record and 13 songs long. But were there any legal problems with you calling it that, since Black Sabbath released a record of the same name?
No, we haven’t heard anything. We talked about it last year. We found out later; we were just about to release it, and we found out they had a record, 13, but we can’t just change it because someone else is doing it, so we just said “Oh well.”
This album took 10 years to complete. What was the process for you to write 13?
Some were mine; some were mutual. (We got) together as a group (to) lay the drums down and then do the band tracks, and then Mike does the lyrics. Some of these songs we had were probably like works in progress. We have a lot of material. We are always in the studio and doing stuff; it is really about getting a record down that was exclusive to Suicidal and had a feeling of old and new, you know? I think that was very important for us to get that sound.
Didn’t you lay down drums in Dr. Dre’s exclusive Interscope studio?
Yeah, we did. We worked in Dr. Dre’s studio. We were there for about one week and then went again for a couple of days because we liked it so much. It was a really good environment, a really cool room they had in there. You know, it is kind of hard to get there because you have to know somebody to get into that place.
You know that whole urban community has been backing you guys for forever. You guys have such a broad spectrum of fans.
Yeah, we have always been fortunate to have that and we have always had the respect of a lot of bands. … We are always respectful to everybody else, and we do our thing, you know. We don’t change – except I like to think we get better every time we do something. We practice hard on our live shows. We put in a lot, and you get out what you put in.
You guys don’t have a problem staying relevant, but how hard is it to write that “one” song like “Institutionalized” that has the potential to stay around forever?
We always have something to say to everybody, and I think whether you are a Suicidal fan or not, when you hear those songs, you kind of relate to them. So many people skateboard, so many people have problems throughout their life, and “You Can’t Bring Me Down” is an anthem for people. Don’t let the rest of the world get you. You have got to do your own thing, and stand up on your own two feet and I think Mike has always been good with that message. You know positivity, although a lot of people don’t hear our name oh their name is suicidal tendencies, how can you be positive? I think it is a very positive message behind our music.
What was the biggest hurdle you guys had to face for this record?
We didn’t have any problems; the biggest thing is more picking out what songs we thought were the coolest or the best (for the record). Mike always speaks his mind on how he feels about things. There are songs with a lot of emotion – some skater punk stuff, even some have a nu-metal, old school slam kind of vibe to it. The main thing was just really getting the songs to go together and I think we are happy with the way the song list came out.
You have songs like “God Only Knows Who I Am,” talking about more of spiritual side of things. How did that come about with Mike when you guys were writing your songs and came to you know I want to approach this.
I can only kind of guess what was in his mind, but he had been through a lot of stuff with his back surgeries. He has three sons now. He has epiphanies and he likes singing about them, putting them out there to the world. A lot of people don’t know who he is and people say, “God only knows.” With Mike, he is expressing what it is like to be a father – and to be a son to a father – and to deal with life. The ups and downs – that’s what I imagine was going through his head.
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
He sacrificed for us to be on this earth. That is who Jesus Christ is to me.
You believe when he said that “nobody can come to the Father but through me?”
Right. … I think if you believe something, you have no shame in saying it. Nowadays, everyone wants to be so politically correct, but one thing that God made clear on this earth was that he gave everyone the freedom of choice. You live in America, and you have the constitutional right to express yourself. (You have) freedom of speech and everyone gets onto subject matters of sexuality and race and what he or she believes or doesn’t believe … But I think everybody has the right to speak their mind. For those that don’t believe in God, I am not going to hate them because I do. If they ask me, “Do I believe in God?” I say yes, but if someone else doesn’t believe, I can’t judge him and say he’s wrong. I can tell them what I believe and talk to them in a civil matter.
I think the biggest problem of the world is a lack of communication. We need to be able to listen to each other, whether we agree or not. Everyone has the right to express themselves. Ultimately, God will be the judge – not us. We are just all people on Earth with the same fate. We live and we die. That is all we know so far. We can’t look at another person and say, “I am better than you” because when we die, … you are gone. That is what people need to understand. You need to treat each other with peace on this earth while we are here.
What is it like being in Suicidal Tendencies and going on tour with guys that don’t believe and guys that do believe?
I know there are other Christian bands out there, bigger, popular ones. We have a commonalty of music. We rarely get into religious talks. Every now and then we do; the main thing is the music, and if someone is expressing how they feel, it is really just talking it out and nobody gets offended or argues. I think the main thing is people should be allowed to express how they feel. Some people have been so jaded by society and the world that they don’t get a grasp of the concept behind things or have something to believe in – (sometimes) they just need to hear it the right way. I think when you approach people with an argument, you rarely get your point across. That isn’t to say you will change someone, but at least give him or her the chance to have something to think about.
You guys are in your 40s and still doing it. How are you able to do it after all these years?
We all try to stay in good shape. I give my all and sometimes I have to come off stage and ice my knee or soak in the tub, you know. When I am on stage I do not feel any pain.
For hardcore and punk bands, there is, like, an average life expectancy of three-to-five years. For a band like Suicidal, it’s pretty amazing you’re still touring and playing music.
We are for the blue collar working man. I think from the beginning the Suicidal live show was something cool. We would love to be the Rolling Stones of punk rock and be able to play until we are old. I guess we are doing that now – it is cool to be able to reach young and old audiences. I think the biggest legacy for us will be our live show.
What bands haven’t you gotten to play with that you guys would like to?
We have done so many festivals with so many different bands – death metal to you name it. We played with the German band, Rammstein … My first tour ever was opening for Ozzy. I have never played with Bon Jovi or anything like that, but we have played at the same festival as Richie Sambora. We have toured with a lot of people and all different genres because we don’t really fit into one particular genre; we are always going to be different. In a way, that’s cool for us because we aren’t categorized.
What is next for you guys?
There is a lot going on. The next thing is I am home for a few days; I am kind of sick and losing my voice. Trying to rest up because I have to practice with Robert for the Orion festival. Then we hit Indonesia and Europe, come back and tour in Germany … We are going to keep it going and really work with this album. We are trying to play four to five of these songs a night, really incorporate the new record and get it out there.
How do you think the music industry has changed from back in those days? “Institutionalized” was one of the first punk rock music videos to be played on MTV.
Well, as far as MTV goes, they don’t want to play videos. They have reality shows. When you do a video now, you do it for as little money as you can to get it on YouTube or a place fans can see it. There are a fortunate few on VH1 or an alternate MTV channel that still plays music videos. It isn’t the same. Back when I joined the band, the label put money behind you and you would get you in the rotation on “Headbanger’s Ball” and “120 Minutes.” Now you are giving away a free video.
It’s been 13 years since you guys have put out a record. YouTube came out in 2004-2005. Everything was kind of flipped with Napster and torrent sites, and now you have Spotify. People seem to wonder why they’d buy a record when they can usually find it for free. How has technology affected you guys as a band?
You want someone to get your songs into Best Buy and Target and places like that, but with the online stuff, it is just a different approach. Go tour because there are hardly any record sales anymore, so you make your money touring.
Especially with a band like Suicidal. You have such a broad fan base, with the old guys that have been fans since the ’80s, and now the young kids that skated to you guys when they were 13, and now they are 18 and able to go to shows.
It is kind of a timeless thing. The new kids are curious about what we were all about back then. So they want to get into it and see, and the OG people already know about it. So we have always been lucky. Mike spends a lot of time on shirt designs and logos with artists. Our guy Alan Perry from Norway is a real hit with the band. He’s been a fan for years.
What are a couple of fun facts about you or the guys of Suicidal that nobody knows, or hasn’t told in an interview?
I like to work on cars in my spare time. Play basketball, go to the beach. I guess I am just a regular person.
Are you a Lakers or Clippers fan?
Oh, I have always been a Laker fan, since I was a little kid. Even though I was from Texas, the Spurs have always been my second favorite team. I have always been a Magic Johnson fan.
So you’re pulling for the Spurs in the Finals?
Yeah, I always cheer for the Spurs when they are on. They’re my mom’s team. I like them with (Tony) Parker and (Manu) Ginobli and (head coach Greg) Popovich. I always cheer for them.
Checking you guys out has always been a bucket list item for me. Thanks for your time.
Cool, man. No problem.
Suicidal Tendencies Says was posted on June 3, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by Rob Houston.