Let Freedom Roar

By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes

For all the rage and fury in his buzzsaw strumming, life’s a beach for Mike Clark.

On the way to a mid-afternoon surf session last week, the longtime Suicidal Tendencies guitarist picked up his cell phone to take a call. “Yeah, I’m just on my way to this one spot near Venice Beach,” he reveals to me. “It’s a pretty decent one.”

I tell him I hope the interview doesn’t distract him from the road. “No, man, I’m not driving – just drinking,” he answers, releasing a crazed cackle.

These days, it seems, the band has much to laugh about.

Their major label deal with Epic – which for years had bound the Venice, Calif. skate-punk outfit – is over, allowing Suicidal Tendencies some much-needed freedom and autonomy. With a refreshed lineup, the group has just released its second full-length album under the Suicidal label. Look closely and you’ll see a virtual Suicidal empire, which includes a merchandise line, a shop in Japan and a Venice tattoo parlor already in place.

“In a lot of ways, it’s harder to have that kind of freedom,” Clark says. “On the one hand, there’s no pressure from label management to do stupid things you don’t want to, like, go open for Barbra Streisand or something.” He lets go another hearty laugh. “On the other hand, you’re ultimately responsible for your future. But you know what they say: If you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”

Self-determination has been a constant theme for the band, which despite its name, doesn’t believe in quitting. Suicidal Tendencies has always tried to empower the troubled and disenfranchised with a message of resistance and self-worth. Clark says it may have been time for the band to take its own advice and find its own wings. “We had to do it because the bottom line is (record labels) just wanna see the dollar,” he says. “There’s also the problem of shifting personnel. You know, you could be be working with someone cool at the label who understands what you’re about, then he’ll get fired and be replaced by some kook who has absolutely no clue.”

Clark says the band has come a long way since its early days, when some religious groups tried to ban them from playing gigs in L.A. and the LAPD, noting the streetwise look and wayward conduct of some of its fans, mistakenly fingered ST as a street gang.

“That was such a stupid thing to happen,” says Clark. “Where we’re from, everybody dresses the same and the band was no different. We just looked the way we look. Then kids started spray painting our name and logo all over the city and to the police, it looked like Suicidal was some kind of gang.”

Thankfully, the worst seems to be over for the band and Clark wants nothing more than to catch a few choice waves in Hawai’i this weekend. “I love it over there, man,” he says. “Plus I surf, you know? I got my ass kicked at Pipeline the last time I was there and got thrown into the reef and everything.”

But true to the Suicidal approach, a defiant Clark says he’s up to the challenge.

Then comes another shrieking laugh.

Suicidal Tendencies with opening acts Lose Money and Unit 101. All ages, 7 pm, Saturday, World Cafe, $16.50

Dubbed from the Honolulu Advertiser, November 3, 2000

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