21 Aug Spike Xavier (Mind Over Four) interview, July 1993, by Jeff Wagner
This is hardly the most illuminating, penetrating interview. Our discussion was a bit rushed, as I remember, because the Restless Records publicist only allowed 30 minutes for my little fanzine. Grateful for the opportunity, yes, but I wasn’t able to focus and dig in. Oh well. I was also much younger and greener, but enthusiastic and ready to engage with Spike, whose band I worshiped then, as now. If you haven’t already checked it out, go here — http://radicalresearch.org/episode-12-out-there-the-works-of-mind-over-four/ — to listen to Radical Research’s podcast on the once-mighty, and in our world, always-mighty Mind Over Four.
This interview is here for two reasons: 1) to supplement Radical Research episode 12, and 2) to add one more small nugget of MO4 information to the Internet, which is weirdly devoid of info on this band beyond the basic data. It’s our small way of helping to correct that.
The interview was conducted with vocalist Spike Xavier a couple weeks after I’d seen them, for the first and last time, at Hairy Mary’s venue in Des Moines, Iowa.
Jeff Wagner: Have you had a chance to see any Lollapalooza shows yet, since you’ve been following that in the clubs? [Paw were tour partners. For reference, Lollapalooza 1993 featured Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Tool, and Rage Against the Machine, among others]
Spike Xavier: We’re going to when we get to New Jersey. I’m not exactly stoked to go there.
Wagner: Tell me about your recordings before 1990’s The Goddess. Not many people know about that stuff.
Xavier: Desperate Expression we did in ’83, and only made 1000 copies of it. The first 500 we took album covers out of trash bins. Mike worked at Music Plus, so he knew they used whole record covers for display, he knew the certain days they’d take ‘em down so we went down to Music Plus and we’d get the record covers out of the trash cans. We designed a logo that had empty spaces, each cover looked different, whatever colors were underneath it. Hand silk-screened by the band, and Mike worked at a pressing plant as well, so he actually pressed all those records. That was cool, we did it in a guy’s garage for about 250 bucks on an 8-track machine. It doesn’t sound the greatest but it’s pretty cool.
Wagner: Do you play any of that stuff live still?
Xavier: There’s a song called “Half Way Down” on there. It’s a really good song. I don’t think we’ve played any of that stuff in a little while. It was me, Mike, Jeff Keogle was the original bass player and this guy named Dan, I don’t know whatever happened to him, he was the drummer. Mark [Fullerton] joined in ’85. We just sold ‘em to our friends, some got up to San Francisco, we went up and played some shows up there. We played with Helios Creed, Frightwig. Some kid got stabbed when we played with Frightwig.
Wagner: I was talking to Mike in Des Moines and he told me somebody found a copy of Desperate Expression in Lawrence, Kansas.
Xavier: Yeah man, they did! It was the only copy we didn’t silkscreen the back of ‘cause it was already so bitchin’, and the kid had it in Lawrence.
Wagner: Wonder what he would’ve paid for that?
Xavier: I offered him 50 bucks, he wouldn’t take it. They already go for 50 bucks at Bleeker Bob’s. I only have one copy. We also had two cassette releases we just sold to our friends [A Painting With Music, 1984; Barriers and Passages, 1985]. They weren’t demos, we didn’t think of them as demos at the time ‘cause we weren’t thinking in terms of trying to get a record deal. There was not even a market for the kind of music that we were doing up until when Jane’s Addiction broke really big. We just thought in terms of playing shows and doing our art. It was an artistic endeavor. Right around ’85 when we got Mark we said, “well, you know, this is either gonna be something that we really put a lot into, or is this really a worthwhile thing to put our whole lives into?” And we did that.
Wagner: How old were you when Desperate Expression came out?
Wagner: What was the approach in the beginning, as compared to Mind Over Four now?
Xavier: When I first met Mike he pretty much knew where he was comin’ from on guitar. He just developed that more. He was all into this Mike Stern guy [Blood, Sweat and Tears; Billy Cobham; Miles Davis]. I still listen to his guitar playing today and it sounds like he got better at what we did on Desperate Expression. Vocally, I’ve gotten a lot better. When I hear Desperate Expression I fall down laughing!
Wagner: Every guy is so vital to Mind Over Four’s sound, it seems like you guys are all very tight. [Bassist] Rich [Castillo] is—
Xavier: He is totally from…the whole idea of the music of the band was to get four different guys from four different musical backgrounds and combine them into one style. Four guys combined into one mind equals one band. The idea behind the name. Rich really fills those shoes ‘cause I can’t stand Allan Holdsworth, Van Halen, Journey, and all that stuff. He loves it! Progressive stuff like that and I don’t like it at all. He likes new Rush and I only like one or two Rush albums. He can’t stand the Melvins, he doesn’t get into some stuff I get into. Love the Melvins, man!
Wagner: You know, I think your vocal style, as well as the music on Half Way Down, is similar in feel and musical variation to your 1987 album, Out Here. Do you feel a particular connection?
Xavier: It’s ironic you said that. Recording-wise, they were totally similar. The thing The Goddess and the self-titled one had in common is that the self-titled one was recorded in 72 hours straight. The Goddess we did in five days. With Out Here we booked 48 hours of studio time. We’d go in for four hours…the first day we did all the basics, for like two 6-hour sessions. Y’know, we spread it out a little bit. For the vocals, I was sittin’ there by myself, I could do a couple in one day, do a couple another day. That’s the same thing, basically, that we did on this record. The Goddess, they were literally waking me up at three in the morning: “okay, get out here, you gotta do your vocals.” And it’s not the way to do vocals, to really do what you wanna do vocally. So I think that’s ironic that you say that. They were recorded similar.
Wagner: What I think is one of the most unique things about Mind Over Four is that you really pack a lot of stuff into short, two-and-a-half minute songs. Have you heard that comment before?
Xavier: [laughing] Yeah! I’m tellin’ ya man, our music just sounds totally normal to me.
Wagner: When I saw you in Des Moines, you played a lot from Out Here, yet only one from The Goddess. Do you change around your sets often?
Xavier: Yeah, we have about 43 songs that are from those records, total. We can play everything.
Wagner: So why didn’t you play “She Beams the Light”? [laughing]
Xavier: We played it the night before.
Wagner: I just kept yelling it, hoping I wasn’t annoying you too much.
Xavier: [laughing] Oh, I know, I wanted to play it, too, but we played it the night before. I don’t know, we just didn’t play it. We’ll play it.
Wagner: I’m sure I’ll see you again. [I would not. – JW] You’ll be around for another eight albums or so, right?
Xavier: [laughing] Hopefully, man. At least another one! [That was exactly right, only one more. – JW]
Wagner: How extensive is this Paw tour? Are you following Lollapalooza in every city?
Xavier: Yeah, this tour with Paw apparently plays a night before Lollapalooza in every town. Sometime in July in Boston we get off and then hook up with Season to Risk and The Buck Pets. The European tour will come after that. I think what Mind Over Four needs to do, really it’s up to the record company, we just need to stay out on the road.
Wagner: You’ve toured Europe how many times?
Xavier: Three times. This is like our 13th US tour. Up until two tours ago I booked everything. We did everything ourselves. Coast to coast touring, this is about our ninth.
Wagner: Was July the first time you ever played Iowa?
Xavier: Yeah, I think it was.
Wagner: It was cool when that guy from Fishbone, Layne and Jerry from Alice in Chains, and Tool’s Adam Jones got up on stage and played bad, drunken blues at the Des Moines show. Then that really drunk guy began singing and stripped completely naked. Who was that guy?
Xavier: That guy is just a total character from L.A., he’s on Tool’s sound crew or something. He’s a classic!
Wagner: Have different Lollapalooza band members been doing that at each of your shows?
Xavier: In St. Louis we all got up there, we really did have a good jam. A great one!
Wagner: There are songs on Half Way Down that were written a long time ago, right?
Xavier: Well, the very first song, which is called “Half Way Down,” the intro piece before “Charged,” it’s actually part of the song I told you about, it’s part of that sampled and backwards. It’s directly taken off Desperate Expression. “Then and Now,” I think, was the first song we ever wrote.
Wagner: I thought it was really cool that you put part of the lyrics of “The Goddess” into “Jack the Throne.”
Xavier: Dude, wow, you’re only the second person who’s said that! I can’t believe you found that. That’s bitchin’!
Wagner: Speaking of lyrics, I’ve found in all your albums many references to something very spiritual. A lot of references to God, Jesus Christ, the whole bit. Where do you stand on that?
Xavier: Let me put it to you this way: I believe that life is a very spiritual thing. I think that there are universal truths for all man, universal truths that transcend any set religion. Religions are one way to get to that answer. I don’t subscribe to any particular church. The things I’ve read, I can’t see anything wrong with anything that Jesus said, I can’t see anything negative that Jesus said.
Wagner: I feel like Christianity is biased toward favoring white males, at least mainstream Christianity. Hardly universal.
Xavier: Right. How can you say that the Native American Indians were wrong in the way they were living? They didn’t damage the Earth or anything, they lived in harmony with nature. Black Elk Speaks, Lame Deer, those books blow me away just as much as the Bible does. [pauses] I don’t write all the lyrics, by the way. If we had to split the music and lyrics down the middle it’d be 48% Mike, 48% me, and 4% Mark. Mark writes some of the music with us.
Wagner: Tell me about Yeti. Will that project ever record?
Xavier: It might happen. I think we should record a 7 inch. It was Ted [Parsons, Prong], me, and Phil [Anselmo, Pantera]. Phil sang and played guitar and Ted played bass. We played three shows on the Prong/Pantera/Mind Over Four tour. It was awful, but it was totally bitchin’. I’m sure if we really got together and did it, it could be amazing. Phil Anselmo is classic! The first time I ever met Phil I said “dude, lemme see your tats,” he showed me his tattoos. He’s kind of intimidating the first time you meet him, and he said to me [about my tats], “”Goddamn, those are the worst tattoos I’ve ever seen. I hope you didn’t pay for ‘em!” And ever since then we’ve been friends.
Wagner: Are you at a point where you can start living off the band?
Xavier: I can’t say I’ve lived off the band and didn’t’ have to do odd jobs. When we’re on tour – right now, technically, I’m living off the band. I get a per diem and a place to sleep. To me, that’s living off the band.
Wagner: Who listens to Mind Over Four? Do people have enough patience to really take the time to listen and understand a multi-level, multi-genre band like Mind Over Four?
Xavier: Until Mind Over Four gets a real record company push, a long-term commitment push, like being put on the road for a year, being put on MTV, we will never know that. This is the closest thing we’ve ever had to a real push. The coordinated thing. We shot a video and all that stuff.
Wagner: For what song?
Xavier: “Conscience of a Nation.” We couldn’t figure out which song to do it for. That’s the thing, there definitely was no market for it until all those other bands broke. We’ve been doin’ what we’re doin’ for awhile. We’re not jumpin’ on any bandwagons.
Wagner: What’s your connection with Pat Dubar? [Mindfunk, Uniform Choice, and later in Corporate Avenger with Spike – JW]
Xavier: Pat is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I met him through my brother. He took Mind Over Four under his wing right before the European LP [1989 self-titled album on German label Destiny], and he committed that he was going to help us put out a record, which was, of course, The Goddess. He begged and borrowed and put everything he had into that. He had the record label going, Massive Sound, and then he joined Mindfunk and we signed over to Caroline, which turned out to be good. The Goddess made Mind Over Four move from selling 5000 units, which we thought was big, up to 20,000 units around the whole world.
Wagner: Well, that’s the record that I bought first, and the first time I heard Mind Over Four. I’m sure a lot of fans of that record are happy Half Way Down is finally out. [There was a three-year gap between The Goddess and Half Way Down. – JW]
Xavier: Do you think they’ll like it?
Wagner: Yeah, but it’s different, much more diverse. I hope people listen to all of it. Lots of layers to the album.
Wagner: You know, as far as your progression and overall creative ideas go, you remind me of another favorite band of mine, Die Kreuzen.
Xavier: Dude, amazing band! See, I haven’t even heard Cement. I’ve heard every other record. Century Days is one of my favorite records of all time. [We also went on a tangent about other mutual favorites, including Voivod. – JW]
Wagner: Any last bits of wisdom?
Xavier: Just keep your spiritual connection. Keep in tune with yourself, take care of your own personal waste. If does catch on. Examples are much stronger than words. Also, please print this: we’ve always answered all our fan mail, but a few months ago before we left on tour, I had a box of fan mail in my car and it got broken into, and they stole all the fan mail that I hadn’t answered, so if anybody hasn’t been written back, that’s why.