Scoring a Three with Mugger
"I probably would have been the singer of Black Flag if I had any musical capabilities." Tips and reminiscences with Nig-Heist's frontman.
Among the sunburnt freaks involved in Black Flag’s clan, maybe the most legendary and sordid was a guy known as Mugger (a handle earned when he was four years old and kicked an older boy's ass). His is a twisted American success story of a teenage runaway with a burner Jeff Spicoli vibe who became an integral member of the band’s Odyssean road crew and a quarter-owner of SST Records. For many of us, our introduction to Mugger came via the radio commercials tacked to the end of Everything Went Black, where he explains that at a recent Black Flag show, “There was muff crawling all over.” But Mugger fronted a band of his own for a while, too. Called Nig-Heist, it was a hard rock act preoccupied with sex. Live, the band was outfitted by members of Black Flag and other guys in the road crew. In the studio, Mugger and his producer, SPOT (another name synonymous with SST), played all the instruments.
In August, Drag City reissued the Nig-Heist discography. It’s a vinyl LP and comes with a compact disc with live sets provided by none other than Henry Rollins. It’s the kind of record that ought to be hidden from parents and jettisoned before marriage. It’s hormone-driven, pussy-obsessed, wild rock. The sort of sound and attitude that lesser shock-punk acts have attempted, though they require a certain type of West Coast dude who really knows how to stir the honey pot.
Mugger, aka Steve Corbin, now lives in southern California, where he has a teenage son, teaches computer science courses, and trains for triathlons and Iron Man competitions.
VICE: So how did the Nig-Heist get going?
Steve Corbin: Black Flag kept going on these big long tours, and there were always these really crummy punk bands opening for them. So I told them, “Man, I can do better than that. But we can sort of make a parody of it.”’ So they let me do what I wanted to do, and I just started to get crazy with things.
And what’s with the name?
I had this black friend, Eugene, who would always hit me up for cigarettes. He’d come up and say “Nig heist!” when he’d take one of my cigarettes.
So that was Eugene’s move?
That was his move.
And the first gigs were on the road?
It was all on the road. I would write these crazy songs about getting my dick sucked and fucking chicks because I was 20 and at that point in my life that’s what I was interested in doing. When you’re that age, what else do you think about? A lot of times it was just a front to make things happen. A girl likes a guy on the stage. So it’s very easy to throw off your wig and go out as a roadie and tell some hot chicks that the singer thought they were attractive and ask them if they want to go backstage and have a beer. So I’d go backstage and throw on my wig and I’d say, “Hey, I’m the singer, baby.”
And that would work out for you more often than not?
Ah, sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. But If you go to a bar and ask ten chicks to give you blow job, one of ’em will do it. Right?
So you’re up there on stage asking about 100 chicks at once? And you’ll get ten?
Yeah man, the law of probability.
So how many of those would you have to share with the rest of the band? I would think Rollins would get his fair share too?
I don’t even know how many times Henry scored on tour. The chick would have to be a ten. She would have to be perfect. He’s not gonna score some punk chick or some sleazy chick. And he wasn’t the type of person who would go and approach people. He’s like the quarterback, and chicks just come to him. And unless they’re perfect, he wouldn’t talk to them.
Now, there were others in the band who were not as capable and didn’t have the personality to go out and meet people. So being the roadie and being my style, I would go out and find them. So we had a little name that we called these girls, because the first one I was able to get, her name was Holly. So when I was able to get a chick and she was interested in doing the whole band or the road crew we would say it’s a Holly.
The whole band?
Or not the whole band, but the road crew or maybe a couple guys would join in. But Robo, the drummer, was always interested in my findings.
Robo was a guy who couldn’t get it on his own?
No, he had a hard time.
So your standards were a lot lower than Henry’s?
Oh yeah, bro.
So if you said he would go for a ten...
I forgot the name of the band that said, "As the night goes on your standards tend to go down." So maybe at the beginning of the night it’s an eight. And if you don’t find anything by the end of the night it’s a three or four. ‘Cause a three or a four is better than jerking off.
You’d find yourself in that three to four range?
At the end of the night, yes.
After Damaged, Flag would go on tour and fans would be pissed off because the band had grown their hair, songs were slower, and they had more of a metal sound. Then here’s Nig-Heist opening up. You were exaggerating all the elements that were tearing apart Black Flag fans. You wore long wigs and your songs were more hard rock and heavy metal. Was it conscious baiting?
I think we were just going the way we were feeling. We’re around all these punkers. From my perspective, they’re just like the hippies. They’re all the same. They’re wearing boots and they’re wearing bandanas and all of this. They’re really cloning something that we did four or five years ago. So it got boring, and we just wanted to do something different. So really, we were true punkers because we were just rebelling against those who became the establishment.
Black Flag was evolving into something and they were trying to do new things and they were trying to be creative. And in music, you can’t keep doing the same old thing, because it becomes a copy of a copy. So they were evolving and I was evolving with them because I hung out with them for five or six years. It’s almost like a family, and as this family evolves, you kind of all have the same philosophy.
Why did you decide to keep the Nig-Heist record separate from SST?
I was an owner of SST, but I just didn’t want to have my thing be a part of their thing. I wanted to go out and try it on my own. There were scarce resources and this was a joke. It was a side thing. At that point it was kind of like me and Joe [Carducci] versus Ginn and Dukowski. Meaning that there were two factions. To put out a record we all had to agree on it. Some of the music that Ginn started to put out, he just said, “I’m going to put this out.” And at that point he started his own record label called Cruz, because there was some tension between us. And he wouldn’t even talk to us.
So you and Joe weren’t talking to them for a number of years?
We were talking to them, but it was more of a business relationship. It was no longer a friendship or a family, which it was in the past. We were working 14 hours a day and anyone would do anything for anyone. It was a close-knit family. And that bond sort of broke. At that point it became purely business.
Do you wanna talk about that dedication? I hear stories about you and Henry driving for eight hours to hang flyers and eating dog food because that’s all you had...
Well, we had no money. Or very little money. And we all believed in this cause. And we all stuck together and we thought that it would become something great. And I still believe in it. It was something good, and the tension between the people broke that bond. We would do anything. There were eight of us sleeping on a floor and it didn’t bother us. To do what we did, we would drive to San Francisco, we would eat dog food, we would do whatever we could because it didn’t bother us. Like I said, we would do anything for anyone—I mean, I wouldn’t suck some guy’s dick. But I’m just saying, anything within reason, we would do it. We worked hard hours, long hours. And we were dedicated. We didn’t take off Saturday and Sunday. That was our life, promoting the band and the record label.
So what was the cause or the vision? To have a self-sustaining label?
We all had an individual vision. But Ginn’s vision was much different from our vision. Meaning Joe’s and my vision, which were very similar. So you ask, what was this vision? In the beginning, no one would produce the records. And we wanted to put out the records. We didn’t have anyone who was going to give us money or promote something that we thought was great. So once we started to do it ourselves, then the vision changed. So the vision evolved based on what point in time we were in.
We wanted to have a great label, we wanted to put out the music that we liked. The problem was we had four people with different tastes in music.
What did you and Joe want to do differently? Or what did you want to do?
I can’t really speak for him, but there’s different music that we wanted to put out. They wanted to put out stuff like Always August and Zoogz Rift, and I wanted to stick more with bands like Sonic Youth. I was a big pusher for Sonic Youth and in the beginning [Ginn and Dukowski] didn’t want to do it. There were certain bands that I wanted to sign and they didn’t. One was Suicidal Tendencies. We could have signed them.
The Nig-Heist sound owes a lot to Black Flag, but do you think Nig-Heist ended up influencing Flag? I hear it in a couple songs. I assume it’s Kira’s voice?
No, Kira’s not on Nig-Heist at all.
There’s a female voice on some of the songs, right?
No. The voice is all me.
Now, did my music influence Black Flag? No. I’m tone deaf and I’m colorblind. I probably would have been the singer of Black Flag if I had any musical capabilities, because I was there before Rollins, I have more of an outgoing personality than Rollins.
Did that ever come up? You singing for Flag?
No, we’re in the van and I’m singing and I can’t sing. I’m tone deaf. If I had any musical abilities I would’ve done a lot more. But I couldn’t sing. You hear it on that record. At one time they tried to have me play drums for them. I played drums maybe five times in my life. They had me practice with them three or four times, but I didn’t have the instructions or the skills to just pick it up on my own. I have limitations and those are my limitations.
What about the attitudes of songs like “Slip It In”?
To say that I influenced them or to say that they influenced us? Again, I think it’s a family. And I had more of the sexual craziness, I was the youngest out of all of them. I had way more energy than they did. I just had an appetite for women. A lot of them always had girlfriends and I was the opposite. I was just looking to… to slip it in. So I believe that my personality influenced them, but not my music. Ginn and SPOT showed me how to play the guitar. And Dez. I didn’t know how to play the guitar until I met them.
Since then, have you bothered to pick up the guitar?
I haven’t played the guitar since I was with them.
- Vice Blog