A few weeks ago, I woke up and saw an email I never imagined I would receive: “MIKE CHEESE has sent you a message.” “Mike Cheese is on Facebook?!” I asked myself, “WTF. And why in the world would he email me??” For those who don’t know, Mike is the singer for the legendary West Coast hardcore band Gehenna. I interviewed him about 15 years ago for my old zine, and he wrote to thank me for it. Weird, right?? Yes, but also pretty thoughtful for the guy who would stab his mother in the face, according to the hardcore rumor mill.
If you haven’t heard of Gehenna, I don’t blame you. There are some bands who never sell a lot of records, play many shows, or make a lot of merch, yet somehow have a legacy much more lasting than you would think. Like Von, Havohej, Antidote, or Straight Ahead, Gehenna is one of those bands. I got their demo in 1995 or so and have listened to it consistently ever since. It’s a masterpiece of pissed off, grimy, brutal hardcore that has stood the test of time in way that almost no other releases of the 90s did, but for some reason most people don’t talk about that.
When you hear about Gehenna, it’s usually some herbs on a messageboard trading third-hand stories about singer Mike Cheese and how “crazy” he is. “Dude I heard Mike Cheese stabbed some dude” – “No he ran him over with a bulldozer” – “Nah man, he was the guy who released the nerve gas on the subway in Japan back in the day” and so forth. My guess is that he made up half of them for a joke, and the other half are from movies or something. I am sure some of them are true, but I am old and I’m not that interested in stories about how tough or crazy people in hardcore bands are, so I wanted to talk to Mike about something different.
Thanks to Mike for answering my dumb questions in 1996, and for taking the time to answer a new set of dumb questions in 2010!
I first interviewed you about 15 years ago for my high school hardcore zine. Please introduce yourself and tell me what you have been up to since then. Do you remember what you thought of my stupid questions, aside from “Who is this fucking 16 year-old gaywad and why am I wasting my time on this?”, and why did you email me a few weeks ago?
It has been quite a while, and some things have changed, but only a few. I’m Mike. I have been involved pretty heavily in a few different musical subcultures, playing in bands, releasing records, booking shows, and working in both the wholesale and retail sides of the music industry. I been given nick names like “Cheese”, “Mike Apocalypse”, “Big Lil City”, “The Disappointer”, “Michelada Mike”, and a bunch more for reasons that evade me. But they all stick and I like ‘em so I keep using them. When you sent me a copy of your ‘zine in 1995 there was an interview next to the letter. The zine had a photo of GEHENNA on the cover, and a full page with 6 different GEHENNA pictures, that were all taken by my friend Andrew from Phoenix, yet you were from Lakewood Ohio.
I didn’t know what to think (later that day I was told that a thing called “the internet” existed and that was how you got those flix from Andrew). I was amazed. I thought things like “A kid from Ohio who likes my band has a computer?” and “Who would use a computer to do anything but math?” “This guy must have some sort of fucking alien technology if he can send pictures and do shit like that.” I was stunned. The ‘zine was full of cool stuff like graffiti flix, and interviews with some good bands. When I read the questions I thought “awesome. Lets get everyone together after band practice and do this interview.”
When we looked at it after it was done we thought it was a good interview and it should be printed with great response. The unfortunate truth was that it may have been a little too sarcastic. It was possibly the funniest thing in the world for me to see things like “420 + 40 = Fucked Up” And “I would like to thank pot and fire and the creator of pot on fire”. We were all straight edge but that was all stuff that we laughed about. Anyhow time passed and a friend of mine that I work with asked me about that interview and who did it. I told him it was a fellow named [Sergeant D]. He asked if you were Irish and I thought I should look it up on the internet and find out (I sort of understand computers a bit better now). Then lo and behold who do I see on facebook: [Sergeant D].
THE OLD INTERVIEW (FROM 1996)
I interviewed Mike Cheese from Gehenna. He wasn’t very nice, but since I went to the trouble of writing him I guess I might as well print this anyway… I don’t think it turned out very well, but interviews aren’t very interesting to begin with so whatever.
What’s up in San Diego? It seems like the stereotype is that they’re all screamo Gravity type bands…
It’s really hard to say cause we all live in different parts of the West. One in San Diego, two in Orange County, and 2 in Reno, Nevada. As far as the “scene” in general everywhere in the US sucks shit pretty much. And Southern California is no different. Stupid ass people and crumby ass motherfucking chump bands everywhere you look. Fashion rules while any real threat takes a back seat. Hardcore is shit!
How would you say the band has changed since it started? The demo is pretty straightforward HC, while the split w/ Apt. 213 is more grindy.
Gehenna is a band with a sort of “revolving door” line up. Members come and go, each adding or subtracting a bit of an influence or another. But it seems to always move to a more extreme form of music every time.
How many people in the band write? (I meant write graffiti…)
None of us are illiterate. But when it comes to writing letters to friends or what not, you’d think so!
What records do you still have available?
I couldn’t help ya there. Sorry.
I heard you got in a fight or something in San Francisco when you played with Spazz and Fall Silent. What’s up with that?
I got Terrets Syndrom and sometimes shit just goes wrong and I’ll freak the fuck out and just start doing wild shit. I don’t remember exactly but you can ask the nerd who does Monkydickbite zine. He was at our show to pretend he was punk but went outside to fag off and suck some cock to get an interview or scene points for his gay ass zine. Or maybe ask the vegan Monster Crew fag, who thought he was tough and wound up layed on his sissy vegan ass. I don’t fuckin’ know though.
What bands / records / people are you into right now?
We like a ton of stuff here’s the rundown: Bands: GG Allin, The Motherfucking Titty Suckers, Avalanche Master, Fall Silent, Unruh, Apeshit, DEA, Schellar, DRI, Chain of Strength, Enewetak, the Chiefs, Catharsis, Sleep, the Police, The whole Rap-A-Lot Records family, Gehenna (us of course!), Herb Alpert and the TJ Brass, and 3 Stoned Men! Records: 7”, 12”, and misdemeanors. Felony’s (sic) are to (sic) hard to shake. People: “The 3-D’s”: Dice, Dangerfield, and el Duce.
When you hear about people in bands like Nirvana, Pennywise, etc. dying from overdoses, what’s your reaction?
I hope our band end’s up like that. I couldn’t give a flyin’ fuck. Suicide is the only answer anyway’s. Just do it. Kill everybody.
Anything you want to add / thank / talk shit about?
I would like to thank: Everyone who is dead for not bothering me, the inventor of pot and the inventor of fire, the inventor of pot on fire, and all the bad words that make people mad. I would like to talk shit to: Everyone alive for bothering me. I want to add: 420 + 40oz = fucked up’ 420 + 69 = party! Shout outs: “Check me out.” “That’s what men’s do.” “Sometimes I just loose my mind when I play drums.” ‘Blow me.”
Most people are going to read this hoping for some OUTRAGEOUS MIKE CHEESE STORIES. That would be a boring and entry-level angle, but what’s up with that? Why are people so fascinated with telling outrageous and probably half-true stories about you, especially Euros? I mean, I’m sure you ARE fucking crazy at times, but what’s so interesting about that, you know?? If you are/were friends with Levi Watson you must not be a total dickhead and you’re not in prison…
There are a few reasons I end up in peoples stories.
A.) My nick names. It’s a lot easier to remember something like “then this guy named CHEESE walks in the room…” rather than “then this guy who i cant remember… wait was it Tom… no… Mark…..no…”. I’m sure you understand this cause your name is [SERGEANT D]. People like names and labels for things which leads us to…
B.) Communication. I talk to all kinds of people, because I’m interested in different things (travel, film, music, art, humor, food, sports, history, fashion etc.) So folks from different backgrounds will all say things “Dude, I heard him talking to a guy about Nike’s, and then talking to a girl about death metal, and then cooking with this old lady…” This confuses people so they get upset. Our society makes us stick to the group of people we are supposed to run with.
C.) Fear. Nothing is interesting or outrageous about me, most people are just really fucking lame. They never say anything funny or smart about anything because they’re afraid they might look bad. They never fight anybody or love anybody because they are afraid to get hurt. They just don’t fucking care about life because they are afraid. I’m not. I don’t care what people think about me. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll die, so I’m gonna do and say what I want until then. So people like myself become a focal point of stories.
Levi is a great friend and a good guy. He’s married and has a couple of real smart kids and a cool house now.. He teaches high school and won the teacher of the year award in Reno a couple of years straight. He’s a great dude and I have tons of respect and love for him.
From reading your blog, it’s obvious that you are a genuine fan of music. What keeps people like us interested in music for so long, as opposed to a phase like it is for a lot of people? Not that there’s anything wrong with it being a phase, I’m not pulling the gay “I’M OLD/DOWN 4 LIFE YOU POSERS!!” card– I’m just looking for your thoughts on why you, me, and many other people we know have chosen to spend so much of our lives on this thing? I realized I went to and loved hardcore shows in 1989, 1999 and still do in 2009…
I think it goes back to what I wrote in the last question…“most people are just really fucking lame.” They think of everything in life as a prop, or an additive. Music is background rather than something to be passionate about. The record store I worked at made this brutally obvious to me. There were the drones, that were coming in to buy the latest fad record from a “cool” band, and then there were the outsiders who were curious about life. Some of these outsiders were young kids who couldn’t relate to society because of it’s shallowness. Others were grown people who had spent there lives doing what they love and seeking out new inspiration. These were the people like you and I who didn’t give a fuck what people thought.
Being passionate about things has nothing to do with age. It is all based on how perceptive your senses are. I’ve seen 40 year olds rip on skateboards, and 16 year old kids praise the righteous name of THIN LIZZY. To me it seems the more passionate and perceptive a person is the more likely they are to be involved in the things that inspire them through out their lives. Weather it is cooking, or turning wrenches, or art, or music, or reading, it isn’t a phase if you love it.
It’s also clear that you have really eclectic tastes. I remember when I first interviewed you, I was real stoked that you were in what I thought of as a hardcore band but were also into GG Allin, Rap-A-Lot Records, and other stuff that was pretty unexpected (especially for back then when people had much narrower tastes). You also did a split with Apartment 213, which was surprising for people like me who thought of Gehenna as an Unbroken splinter band (see Javier’s interview with Steven from Unbroken for details on why I thought this). What makes you appreciate such a wide variety of music? Why do some people have shitty taste and only get into 1 genre?
Myself and all the guys in GEHENNA have always been into tons of different stuff. That is why we sound the way we do. We’ve never tried to have any one kind of sound. It’s more like we just incorporate all of our favorite music together and use it as a vehicle for our aggression. We never fit one type of genre because we don’t fit in any specific scene. We never have and never will. We just play the music we want to hear because we aren’t content making music for anyone but ourselves. I think we appreciate tons of different music because we are diverse and multidimensional people.
When a person only likes one type of music it is usually because that genre or scene is where that boring and mediocre person has found some sort of acceptance. They use it as a sort of weapon against living. Unfortunately when they have to deal with life, they lay down their weapon and surrender and become another robot. This is when they look back at their “life before life” as a passing phase. And again…”Most people are fucking lame.”
When I got the answers back from our first interview, I was real bummed that you were obviously not straightedge or in the Revelation/Victory, YOT/Snapcase hardcore kid mold, because that’s how I pictured Gehenna based on the Unbroken connection. Why did people care so much about things like that back in the 90s? It seems like now nobody gives a fuck??
The funny thing is that we were all straight edge at the time, though you are right we were not the typical hardcore dudes. The UNBROKEN connection (which you mentioned twice now for some reason I don’t understand) was an obvious mistake on your part. Even though Steve played drums in GEHENNA briefly, there really was no direct link. We were, are and always will be a far better band, because we make music for ourselves not for people involved in a scene. I think when people need to feel accepted they do odd things. They wont say things that are deemed offensive for fear of rejection. I think it is the same now but in a different and much worse way. No one is worried about what you eat or weather or not you smoke or drink or do drugs. Now all anyone cares about is why you don’t have a twitter account, or why you don’t follow their twitter page, or why you haven’t posted a youtube video response to something no one will care about in 2 months.
I tried to ask you about graffiti back in that old interview but you didn’t want to talk about it. You had some real nice 90s San Diego-style tags, what’s up with that? Were you a writer or what? I still follow graffiti pretty closely, do you?
I always avoid questions about legal issues. I’ve never painted with a Montana can and I never will. I still like Pilots. I never was an artist. I ruin property, and lives.
Do you listen to any newer bands? If so, who? Just curious if/how your tastes have evolved over the years.
Yeah I like a ton of stuff. THE FARLEY OVERDOSE is fucking awesome! NIFELHEIM. GIVING TREE. BLIND TO FAITH. VIOLENT RULER. UN PACINO. DER BLUTHARSCH. OVERVERT. BIG KUNTRY KING. AUTOLUX. CRYSTAL ANTLERS. RASTHOF DACHAU. RUSTEE JUXX. REPROACH. MDDL FNGZ. GUILTY SIMPSON. Of course the one and only SEAN PRICE.
I don’t know about evolving taste, because I’ve always had great taste. It doesn’t get much more evolved than that. I know that sounds odd but it is true. Most of the stuff I like and most of the stuff I’ve been into for years are things that seem to challenge the listener, as well as the musician.
Thanks to Mike for the thoughtful and interesting responses! If you aren’t already into Gehenna, definitely do yourself a favor and buy whatever you can get your hands on (or download anything that’s out of print).