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If there's anything televangelists, cops, PMRC censors and members of Phil Donahue's studio audience don't like, it's Suicidal Tendencies. The group often is accused of condoning violence for its chollo-style bandannas and street-fighting lyrics. Police in Los Angeles harrass fans who wear Suicidal tee shirts like they're gang members, vocalist Mike Muir says. And until very recently, the group was banned from playing anywhere in the L.A. area.
But despite the reams of bad publicity, the band has just released its second album with major-label Epic Records, Lights . . . Camera . . . Revolution, under a rare contract that allows the musicians complete artistic control. Muir attributes this grand coup to laying the cards on the table at the right time.
"We got a little different situation than most people," he says in a recent phone interview, "because after we did our first record, we were trying to get a deal on a major. We had some problems with the name, and this and that. Then we went on and put it out on an independent."
The album was Join the Army, on semi-underground Caroline Records. Muir says sales were so substantial that suddenly, a throng of big-time record companies was knocking at the door. "We had like eight majors calling us back," he says. "It was a situation where we could pick who we wanted to be on. If we would have signed to a label before we did our second record, we wouldn't have had the bargaining power. Our first record with Epic, literally, we gave them the artwork, we gave them the songs. They didn't have any say about that."
That was 1988's How Will I Laugh Tomorow When I Can't Even Smile Today? and since then, the band has put out an EP called Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit . . . Deja Vu, as well as Lights . . . . This latest release is another onslaught of driving metal/punk/thrash mania led by lyricist Muir and busy-fingered lead guitarist Rocky George.
With songs ranging from the assertive, anthemic "You Can't Bring Me Down," to the introspective "Alone" to the downright militant "Give It Revolution," ST reaffirms its reputation as a tough, serious band. In "Give It," Muir calls the liberal troops to action: "The greatest weapon of the fascist/Is the tolerance of the pacifist/We've got to stand up and fight it/ . . . /You got to give it revolution."
"A lot of people don't realize that you have to be free within yourself before you can be free anywhere else," Muir philosophizes. "There's no law that can make you free. The problem is people put too much emphasis on other people rather than themselves. If you don't believe in yourself, if you're not worth fighting for, there's something wrong."
Suicidal's distaste for authority, not to mention its reputation, makes the band a hotter potato than major labels are used to handling. Muir remembers his own label's execs scratching their skulls over what might happen if the band ever gets really popular.
"To be quite honest," says Muir, "even the people at Epic said, `Hey, if a band like Suicidal Tendencies got big, it would be bad,' because everybody understands why Madonna's big. Everybody understands why Debbie Gibson's big. Everybody understands why New Kids on the Block are big, and everybody's trying to follow that formula. If Suicidal Tendencies got big, these people wouldn't know what to do.
"People are scared of what they don't understand," he says. "That's why they have wars."
The street-tough singer doesn't expect everybody to relate to Suicidal Tendencies' music. He knows that many people dislike the band just because of its name. Although some consider the group's moniker a glorification of hara- kiri, Muir says it refers to a go-for-broke attitude in an action sport like skateboarding. The singer adds that he's never felt pressure to find a new name for his group just because others (like the PMRC and Phil Donahue groupies) misinterpret it.
"We could have got signed on a major six years ago if we would have changed our name," he says. "But there was nothing wrong with the name. . . . You can't change something that isn't wrong."
Though some might call that stubbornness, Muir calls it integrity, and says it's a key ingredient in Suicidal's music. From the band's dress to its name to its songs, everything has to be sincere, the singer says. He's sure that if he were screaming something he didn't believe in, people would pick up on it in a second.
"A band like Suicidal Tendencies can't fake it," Muir says. "There's a lot of rock bands [where] that's their job. They have no other talent. I mean, they're not gonna be getting any nine-to-five jobs. We want people to like us 'cause of our music. If we gotta wear spandex for people to like us, I don't wanna be popular."
Suicidal Tendencies will perform at After the Gold Rush on Monday, August 20, with Exodus. Showtime is 9 p.m.
"We could have got signed on a major six years ago if we would have changed our name. But you can't change something that isn't wrong.