All Photos by Abigail Cassner
Before virtually any of these new jacks started claiming "weed metal" or anything of the like, there was Wisconsin's Bongzilla. Formed in 1995 and devoted to all things green, both of the amplification and the leafy plant variety, the band's style of booming doom metal combined Southern influence resulting in several studio LPs in the decade that followed. As with many bands of the era and within that scene, substance abuse reared it's ugly head, and the initial lineup transformed into another (including Dixie Dave Collins also of Weedeater), eventually leading to a hiatus in the late 00s. Then, virtually out of thin air, Bongzilla was back, set to play a local festival devoted to most death metal. Their return was welcome, and additional dates followed including the Noisey-presented gig at June 12th at Acheron in Brooklyn, NY (tickets).
So where has Bongzilla been in their time away? Are these dates one-offs or will they lead to more? Also, how much goddamn weed do they smoke? We asked Muleboy these questions and more in a recent interview, the results of which are below.
NOISEY: How much do you smoke?
Muleboy: About an eighth to a quarter a day. I mean, to function in the normal world if I’m not with dogs these days, I need to be stoned. Even when I go to work, my boss even knows. She said as long as I’m not fucked up at work I can do it. It’s more for me the medicinal, it’s an easier way for me to function and tolerate the human idiocy that I’m struck by every second of every day. [Laughs]
I feel that. Do you fuck with wax at all?
I do. If I have shatter, I can sit on a bag of weed for days. But then I’ll smoke a gram of shatter in probably two days. But that’s weird to me, because a lot of my life I didn’t drink, then I started drinking. Then I was a pincushion for seven years. Now I’m back to just weed, and I think my problem was I couldn’t get as wasted as I wanted. That’s where dabs are this new miracle to me; if I want to get drunk-wasted, I can. But it’s different. It’s giggly and idiotic, and like I’m five years old. But I’m not looking to fight anybody like if I drank whiskey. [Laughs] I drank when I was really young until I was eighteen. Then I quit drinking til I was 32.
Was there a cause for that?
Every drink gave me a chance at a bad decision. I mean, I just don’t like getting drunk, I don’t like how it makes me feel the next day. So, to have a beer now isn’t bad. Now I drink, but I’m also old enough to maybe know better. [Laughs] But that’s why I was such an idiot. That’s what I love about weed, that it doesn’t change my personality. Alcohol changes your personality, cocaine certainly does. Heroin does. But weed amplifies it a little bit. But it doesn’t change it. The happiest person in the world can be the angriest drunk. A happy person’s gonna be a happy stoner. Even a mad person might be a happy stoner. [Laughs]
So yeah, I love the modern way. Since it’s been legal here, the scientific effort of raising THC levels and growing weed without THC purely for medicine for seizures and all the other stuff they’ve been doing it with, this is a good plan. I think it comes back to the human being thinking we’re so separated from the universe. You know, if there’s a disease on this earth, even if I created it, there’s a cure right here, too. We think we can make the cure versus finding it. Most of the drugs are derived from rainforest plants, anyways. So, to me, the answers are here.
Sure. And the legalization movement grows every minute.
I mean, I never thought I’d see the day. It took one state doing it! You look at that money, I can’t believe every state in the Union hasn’t legalized weed. All the money they’ve given to schools, what our governor is doing here is cutting billions dollars for schools. They’ve just got millions in Colorado. It doesn’t make any sense to me that you wouldn’t just tax this plant and fix every state budget in the country in about a minute. It truly is that simple.
So Bongzilla came back together because you and Cooter became neighbors again recently, correct?
I think the Temples festival was the catalyst. The promoter was pushing me probably three years ago, I was like, “No way. You couldn’t give me a big enough number for me to put my head back into that blender.” Then as I started to run into other people they all “Man, you’re different. You’re not wasted anymore.” One of the biggest concerns was how fucked up I was before. Whatever gave me the reason to use, I did. So when Cooter came back and we started to hang out, I started to think about it more. I had always said that I wouldn’t even consider it unless Cooter’s playing because he was what fit. From the tone to the attitude, we have always been close during Bongzilla. The period of me fucking up a lot we weren’t really close.
So we had a couple of meetings, and we decided to try to feel it out and decide. We’ll play a couple of shows to see if it was still fun and if we could still do it and then go from there. The emails and stuff I’ve been getting everyday, we could’ve done a lot bigger tour, we just didn’t have time. We weren’t even gonna go to Scandinavia. The kid was just so adamant about wanting to see us. [Laughs] and wanting to play shows with us. I remember, that’s how I was! That’s how I was when I met Eyehategod and Today is The Day or Black Army Jacket. Suddenly these people are my friends.
Bongzilla for me as a band… I always wanted it to be like Apogee. Gateway I loved, too, but it was our attempt to write a Skynyrd rock n roll record. I would almost say Gateway is quite a bit influenced by hanging with Weedeater for months on tour, especially lyrically. “Good God Glory Be,” those are Dixie-isms to me. We had been on tour so long together. Years ago I would always have the biggest mason jar I could get in the van. Then, if you ran out, you’re semi-okay. Then the other effort of how high can we get in the back of the van. That was always a challenge everyday.
Those guys are doing pretty well, now.
Yeah I think that was in the back of my head a little bit, too. My brothers in Mastodon opened for us in a basement of Savannah! I went and saw them probably a year ago and even talked to Brann about doing this. He was like, “Do it man, especially if you can do it and work less.” Mastodon is a day job to him, but he says that it is “the best day job in the world, brother.”
Do you feel like you are testing the waters to potentially make another record?
There’s talk about that now. I was just writing lyrics to a song called “Rigor Mortis” about doing rigs. A little dab’ll do ya. “The devil’s honey” I think I was calling it.
Who else is playing with you?
So it’s me and Magma, who have always been in the band, even before we lived in La Crosse. Then Spanky, who was a kid I played with in Lacrosse Wisconsin and added as a second guitar player to make it bigger. Always been a big Skynyrd fan, I think that’s kind of why we have dueling guitars, not that actually have dueling guitars, but more of the sound of having two. What he does with me we have always called the two-note haze or the “bong sessions” in the middle of a song. Give the people time to smoke, then they can come back and listen to the riff. So those sections and what he does, I don’t have to worry about. I’m more of a riff writer than a super-good guitar player.
I get it. That gives you more room to breathe, especially on a live stage.
It’s so hard to do stuff and sing. Cooter Brown is playing bass, which is definitely what brought me. We tried it with some of these players from town, and it truly felt like I was in a Bongzilla cover band. Then Cooter and I hung out and played hillbilly riffs in front of my house, and one day I say “let’s go to my jam space.” We played one note that day. We got out of our heads and played one note for two hours. But we set up as much gear as we had. Right after that, it was like, “We could do that together! We can play riffs all day long together.” Gateway was written mostly by me and him, and so was Apogee. I was living with this pot dealer, and she would always leave like half-joint roaches all over the house. We wrote that song on these half-joints. We’d come home, me and him would roll into my house and be like, “We’ve gotta finish that song! Let’s go look for a roach!” And just find these giant roaches. She would laugh at us when she got home.
What has Cooter been up to?
He was living in Cleveland, he had two kids and that kind of took him away. That was before Dixie joined, and it was tumultuous. We were all being stupid in our own way, separately, and the whole model of “four for one and one for four” was out the window. We, especially when we came back, talked a lot about how before you take a step, think about how will this affect the band. Before, we didn’t fucking care.
Find me the next day if we gotta get to New York. “Oh my god, he’s out in the park trying to score again!” That was my little deal. Having to go somewhere those other guys didn’t wanna go because otherwise I couldn’t even play. That’s the idiocy of what I got into. One day my fear of “God that’s exactly what the government wants if one of us would OD” turned me over. It’s been five or more years. I’m excited to go on tour clean, without having that worry! Enjoy. [Laughs]
So do you feel like the environment is richer now for a band like Bongzilla?
I think the music environment has changed from people spending their money on music to downloading it for cheap and going to shows or spending their money on t-shirts and vinyl. I just think it’s a different music environment; you can survive better by playing shows. Maybe make enough to live. I was homeless for six years, you know? We were on the road so much.
In the time that you’ve been laying low, have there been specific bands that you feel like have taken the torch? Weedeater is an obvious one.
I mean, that timeline is pretty easy. But yeah, there are a couple of bands that I’ve heard. It’s funny because I’ve always felt like we’ve have a lot in common with Eyehategod, but getting back into it, I had the realization that we were really different from them because of weird, atmospheric things. Bongripper has been tripping me out lately. The Zoroaster kids. Black Cobra, which isn’t anything like us, really. I love that.
Fred Pessaro had no idea what shatter was until this interview. Regardless, you can follow him on Twitter.