Right in the middle of the summer heat wave, I binged an entire bottle of tequila with the guys from Mondo Generator. Never ever did Bordeaux resemble the Californian desert this much nor did its famous club-on-a-ferry I.Boat look this much like a generator party, as the trio put on a raging headline show for Black Bass Festival’s warm-up night. This was the perfect occasion to discuss their latest album “Fuck it”, the 25th anniversary of “Cocaine Rodeo”, John Paul Jones and all things Kyuss-related with Nick Oliveri, Mike Pygmie and Mike Amster.
(Nick Oliveri right before the interview kicks off: “I’m drunk now.”)
How in hell could we start this interview in a better way, right? (laughs) This current line-up is the most stable in the history of Mondo Generator, it’s my personal favorite. Could you tell me what is so special about this line-up, what are the Mikes bringing to Mondo Generator?
Nick Oliveri (bass & vocals): Mike Pygmie has been in Mondo Generator for the past 12 years or so…
Mike Pygmie (guitars): Right after “Hell Comes to Your Heart”!
Nick: He’s been here for a long time, he’s great, he writes great songs. Mike Amster came in later and he was like “let’s play new shit” because we played mostly the old stuff. So he came in and we put up the new songs with the help of our great friend and producer Steve Hanford who passed away (Stevey, we love you). He helped us produce that album “Fuck it” and we think this is what this band should have always been. Prior to that I always thought I had to do everything on each album and it wasn’t really great. It wasn’t great until it became a mix of songs that we were writing together, and then only it became great to me.
From my point of view, it’s the first time that Mondo Generator sounds like a band. What does that change in the songwriting process?
N: I don’t have to write everything! This is great. The Mikes write great songs, we write songs together and it makes everything so much easier. Sometimes we put songs that did not go on an album and then, you know, Mike (Pygmie) writes some amazing songs. I just want to learn these and play on them. It’s a blend of each other and our last record is a good representation of that. I think it is better than all the ones we put out before.
Mike P: It’s Nick Oliveri and friends, and I think a lot comes from that. It’s not just hired guns who will play what you ask them to. We’re friends, we hang out, we jam, we make noise. He’ll send me a song and I get super excited about it and I’ll send something back, etc. It’s not work, it’s fun.
“We think this is what Mondo Generator should have always been. It’s a blend of each other and our last record “Fuck It” is a good representation of that. I think it is better than all the ones we put out before.” – Nick Oliveri
How do you feel about your last album “Fuck It”, given that the whole Covid lockdown started right after your tour kicked in?
Mike Amster (drums): We were five weeks into the tour indeed.
N: I gotta say, it was heartbreaking because we had completed our best record and this ruined the momentum. We had tours planned in the States, we were excited, we wanted to keep going. Stöner did not exist so we wanted to do more Mondo Generator albums which is what we always wanted to do. And it was the curse of Mondo. Of course, something happens to stop the band. Unfortunately, we knew it was something beyond our power. It was jawbreaking because to me, like I said, it was the best Mondo Generator record. And anybody who has a good ear can get that I believe. So we are again, picking up where we left off. It’s still a new record and some of the shows in the states we could not do will finally happen which is great!
You brought a lot of new influences to that record like the more prog aspect, did that come from you Mike Pygmie?
N: Mike is very progressive in his songwriting, and I think it’s important to that new record. He’s a fucking guitar wizard that guy, come on.
I saw him on bass and he’s killing it too…
N: I know, I hate this guy (laughs).
Mike P: We were talking about that the other night. “Listen to the daze”, one of the newer ones, most people feel it has a bounce to it, even though it’s not in 4/4.
Mike A: I think it is in 4/4, just in a weird way though.
Mike P: But it’s weird, that’s the idea. I did not write it in 4/4. It depends on how you do the math and I’m not good at math. It has that weird vibe to it but still has this rock n’roll aspect so you can nod your head to it. People responded positively to it so it’s all cool.
On that last record, there were fewer melodic vocal lines and more of your iconic screams, was that on purpose?
N: I think it is a question of timing stuff and how I approach it with the vocals and lyrics. If you take “Listen to the Daze”, Mike sent it to me and I wrote down some lyrics and it was hard for me to play and sing it at the same time. So I said I’m not gonna focus on singing and playing, I will write the vocals, sing it, and then I’ll learn how to play and sing those together. For Queens stuff for example, I would write something on guitar, and me or Josh would come up with vocals but it was hard, I would be like “how do I sing this and play at the same time?”. And I was always singing on off time etc. So to answer the question, on that last record, it’s the hardest stuff I have to sing while playing and because of this it’s a bit like in Queens and that’s why there’s more screaming. I don’t know anything about timing, I taught myself how to play. I can’t tell you the technicalities of music but I feel it. Numbers don’t feel, but people do and they make mistakes and so do I. Numbers don’t lie, and if I could learn how to count on, I’d be fucking right on every time, man!
“To me, Kyuss should be owned by the fans because they took it further than any label.” – Nick Oliveri
To close it on Fuck It, we have to talk about “Kyuss Dies”. Was it cathartic for you to write that song?
N: I sent a demo to Brant (Bjork, Kyuss OG drummer and founder) and he said “I love the lyrics, it’s fucking killer”. So I thought “right on, I just wanted to know how you felt about it”. And it was all the truth you know. We had this legal stuff and I bowed out. I was like “Oh really, we’re fighting over the name?”. Kyuss lives, Kyuss dies, I’m not playing music for the ownership of a name. I want to play music and have fun. To me, Kyuss should be owned by the fans because they took it further than any label. Back in the nineties, there was a label supporting the band and all this money was spent and it took it this far. But the fans took it way further.
And it was a smaller number back then, right?
N: Oh yeah, I was already out of the band when Scott Reeder and Alfredo Hernandez were in the band and they released “…And the circus leaves town”. They played the Bottom of the Hill club in San Fransisco which has 350 capacity, and it was not sold out. Black Dhalia from the Dwarves played and as I was playing with The Dwarves, I did too and we were playing with them and Fatso Jetson, and it was still not sold out. And that was their very last tour with the band before they split apart. So even with Elektra Records supporting them, the label that started off The Stooges, The Doors, a label with a big money push, they arrived here. But the fans, through mp3 and CDs kept it alive. And 10/15 years later, it became this thing we fight for? The fans should own the name. Why does it belong to some guy who wants to kill it? Just saying the truth and turning the tables. Why do YOU own it? To me, it belongs to fans and if the fans want to see us come and play, we should be able to. “Kyuss dies, here comes the suits and ties.” That’s the lawyers coming to kill our band. That’s what it’s all about. It does not belong to Josh or Scott or whoever, it belongs to the fans. I said it to their face, you guys are fighting over what? It’s kind of stupid.
“Ownership of a Pirate ship, a sunken ship, we’ll never be free.”
N: I recorded it at Josh’s studio and a guy there goes “Are you really gonna sing a song called Kyuss Dies in Josh’s Studio?” and I was like “Fuck yeah I am!”. I don’t know how he feels about it, he probably heard it. Josh has been good to me, he’s an old friend of mine. He had some troubles but I love the guy, we grew up together. We love each other, we see each other. But why do you want to own the name to kill it? The people who own it are the people that love it and if they want to see us play, let us play. That’s why we still do Kyuss songs.
Since you brought up Josh, can you tell us more about the John Paul Jones story?
N: He asked me to come over. He had Dave playing drums. He said come down, we’re rocking out. I put my bass in the car and I drove down there and luckily I left my bass in the car. I arrived, we hugged and Dave goes like “do you know this guy?”. I turn around and I’m like “WTF, yes that’s John Paul Jones and you’re a badass”. We talked for a bit. I’m happy I did not bring my bass inside, I would have been crushed. I was still crushed but they did not know about it so that’s okay. Well, they do now!
The press was talking shit about the things both me and Josh were doing at that time. We had a bit of good press and he had a bit of bad press so he was like “Dave Grohl’s in my band bitch, John Paul Jones is in my band bitch” (laughs). And well, he won. Ok bro, thanks for introducing me to John Paul Jones, I always wanted to meet him. And the funny thing is that I was a Led Zeppelin fan as a kid and Josh wasn’t. They are friends of mine but I’m certainly glad I did not walked in with my bass. John Paul Jones is jamming, I’m gonna put this away. This guy is a master of the bass, I’ll throw mine in the trash bin. It was a pleasure to get to know him and beyond belief.
“Cocaine Rodeo” is turning 25. Do you have any special memories to share?
Nick: It was the first Kyuss reunion. It was in 97 so I asked Josh if he’d come to play guitar on my shit. I called Brant separately to ask if he’d play drums on my tunes. I called Chris Goss to ask to play in Monkey Studio, then I called John (Garcia, Kyuss frontman), “hey dude, come sing on it”. We did Simple Exploding man, Cocaine Rodeo and 13th Floor, you have the original members of Kyuss playing together in the same room. We jammed it out and no one knew before they were in the studio.
Can we talk about your bass playing, because no one talks about this in interviews? If I named Lemmy Kilmister, Cliff Burton, Geezer Butler and Gene Simmons as your main influences, would I be correct? Who would you add?
N: I’ll add DeeDee Ramones, Chuck Dukowski, and Mike Watt. I can’t play anything like him but wow, what a player. But I would not take away any of the ones you named!
Your bass playing is also special for all the small variations you’re adding to what would otherwise be straightforward bass lines. Is it something planned ahead, or do you improvise on the go?
Nick: Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t. I just go for it. Playing and singing in front of different crowds, it’s always different. I try to throw in something. Sometimes I’ll make it and I’m stocked, sometimes I beef but I get back on, a little bass slide and we’re back. I’m not going not to do it because people go to live shows to see that, they want to feel it. “How did he do that thing, how did he get that in there”. Sometimes I can pull it off, sometimes, like anybody else, I crash. But you can’t make it til you crash, right?
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Last modified: 29 August 2022