Strap in for our wild interview with Nascar fan and Hillbilly rocker Mojo Nixon
If you’re a fan of The Dead Milkmen, you’ve surely shouted the “Punk Rock Girl” lyric, “If you don’t got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin !” at some point in your life. That band’s 1988 song might have cemented Mojo’s name into the punk-rock lexicon, but Nixon, a comedy-country/psychobilly singer was already a cult-favorite, having landed on the scene a few years prior with his single “Jesus at McDonalds.” All together, Nixon has released six albums with former bandmate Skid Roper, three solo records, four with the Toadliquors and one with former Dead Kennedy’s frontman Jello Biafra over the past 30 years. He currently hosts three radio shows on SiriusXM Radio, including Outlaw Country and the race-themed Manifold Destiny with Mojo Nixon on NASCAR Radio.
It’s “hillbilly heaven,” Nixon says down at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during NASCAR Weekend’s final race, the Kobalt 400. The Weekly caught up with the man himself, just hours before the race, to talk about everything from his wild and boozy music career to politics and his visceral, Southern comfort, NASCAR.
We’re here today because of NASCAR. What got you into it ? I know you’ve been a huge fan for years.
I grew up in Danville, Virginia and my dad was a NASCAR fan. Danville is only 30 miles from Martinsville, one of the places they still race. Richard Petty grew up about 50 miles from where I grew up, and in fact, Wendell Scott, the only black NASCAR driver, who was a friend of my dad’s, is from Danville. I’m so old, I saw Richard Petty race on the dirt.
How old are you ?
I’ll be 59 this year. They stopped racing on the dirt in about 1970. It was probably ’68 or ’69. Now, I say I saw it, but I was probably 10 years old. I didn’t see a whole lot. It was just a big, red dirt cloud [laugh]. So I’ve always been a fan my whole life. I went to college in Ohio, and one of the things besides barbecue and banjos and iced tea that made me a southerner was being a NASCAR fan … I love NASCAR. I’ve been doing Manifold Destiny on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio for eight years, so the idea that I have a hard card and I can walk around the garage and I can talk to anybody, I’m in hillbilly heaven.
You’ve kind of been able to do anything and everything in your life, already.
I’ve been super lucky. I had the whole music career, and I did that for about 15 years, and now I’ve had a radio career for about 20 years. Being on satellite radio is good, because I can say anything on Outlaw Country. I know about half of those bands. I played with them back in the day. And I’m not really fit for much. I wouldn’t be good in a cubicle with a spreadsheet.
I want to back up and talk about your music career.
We can talk about anything. Unless you’re going to ask about that time Country Dick [of The Beat Farmers] f*cked a monkey at Calamity Jayne’s here in Las Vegas.
(laughs) Well, he’s dead so, you know. And so is Calamity Jayne’s. No one can prove anything.
Alright. (laughs) What got you into playing rock ’n’ roll ?
I was a big music fan. My father ran a soul radio station, so when I was a little kid we’d go to the radio station every Saturday with my dad. We’d see the guys spinning the records ; he’d let us go play with the recording stuff in the other room. It was a black station, but they got all the white records. I remember this one guy going, “Here’s some guy named Van Morrison, baby, you’ll like it.” So I knew a little bit about music. I was crazy about Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones—this was the early ’70s. They all played at the Greensboro Coliseum [in North Carolina], and we all went and saw ’em. I was really just a giant music fan. Then I started playing guitar when I was in college, and it was a hard road. I’m not a natural-born musician.
Why were you drawn to punk and rockabilly ?
I was in bands. I was in a band in college. We played covers—Aerosmith, Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd—whatever the hits of the day [were]. And I realized I shouldn’t try to be David Bowie or Mick Jagger, I should just do what I do best, which is get a little hillbilly music going and just start ranting and raving over top of it. So not unlike Jerry Reed, or something like hillbilly comedy country, my goal was to somehow combine Richard Pryor and Jerry Lee Lewis. (laughs)
I think you succeeded. You have some of the funniest lyrics.
I wrote a couple funny songs.
But also a lot of politically minded songs.
Well that was another thing. I’m like an old communist. I’m gonna write a song about Donald Trump. I feel one coming up. (laughs)
You’re “retired” from music, right ?
Yeah. We’re playing South by Southwest. We always play at this party I host. We usually play a couple times a year. I played on the Outlaw Country cruise. I just played by myself. But I’ll play with the band down in Austin. They live in Austin. I think we may start the show. I got this song called “Burn Down the Malls ;” it’s only two chords. So I’m gonna somehow turn “Burn Down the Malls” into “Donald Trump Can Lick My Balls,” or something like that.
You’ve also played with Jello Biafra.
Yeah, we did an album [Prairie Home Invasion] with Jello. Me and Jello are still friends. We did a little thing last year up in San Francisco. You know, he’s not easy to work with like [I am].
Did you guys bump heads ?
We did. We had just different ideas about how to make a record. To me, the record’s all about the moment of creation. Jello saw it more as an erector set—you added a piece here and moved a piece there. But we made a good record, and it was a good thing to do. It helped me. From that time on, there’d always be five punk rockers with mohawks at every show. And it helped Jello. It introduced him to more hillbilly cats. It was good for both of us.
Did you tour that album ?
No. We played one show at South by Southwest. Those songs are so complicated. Normal hillbilly and rhythm-and-blues songs follow a certain pattern, the 1-4-5 or variations of that. His songs just change chords for no good reason at all. After playing the show with Jello at South by Southwest, I had such a headache I couldn’t get high. I felt like I had taken the LSATs in Spanish. I was just a mess.
What was your favorite or least favorite part of touring life ?
We were just talking about this recently, me and Bullethead, my old road manager. We were playing a show with Camper Van Beethoven, in Corvallis, Oregon. We didn’t have any money, there were 100 people at the show and we said, “We don’t have anywhere to stay” and somebody said, “You can come stay at our house.” So we go to their house, and they had all kinds of drugs and girls and everything. But they had spent all their money on booze and they didn’t have any wood [or] heat. This was in February in inner Oregon. It was like 15 degrees outside. It was like 42 degrees in the house.
Good thing you had booze and … whatever else to keep you warm. (laughs)
The guys in Camper had sleeping bags … but we were just over there huddled under my f*ckin’ jean jacket … [which] was not cutting it. In fact, at some point, at like 5 a.m., [we] just got up and said, “F*ck it, we’re going to Denny’s,” ’cause we’re freezing to death. … We did that whole starving musician [thing], touring in front of nobody. We did a good year or two of that. You’ve got to quit the day job and you’ve got to be really committed. We used to pay ourselves—this was after we started getting paid—we used to pay ourselves $400 every two weeks. So we paid ourselves $200 a week. That was it. And that was when we were making money. Before that we were making nothing. It all went to keeping …
The van running ?
Keep the van going, pay for the motel. For years me and Bullethead stayed in the same bed, till I threw up on him that one time. We had Purple Jesus. We went to this biker bar. These bikers were big Mojo fans and they had Purple Jesus, which is Everclear and grape Kool-Aid.
When was the last time you played Las Vegas ?
Let’s see, 1990, maybe ’95. We played at a weird place. Back in those days they were just letting rock ’n’ roll bands play on the Strip. It was before the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Casino. We played some place where the stage was behind the bar. It was like an old strip club, where you use to have the hoochie mamas up there and everybody sitting at the bar. It was when we put out the Christmas album, Horny Holidays, and there was a huge fistfight, as I recall. Some guy went berserk, and Bullethead’s crazy brother, the one who’s addicted to mushrooms … He broke up the fight, and literally, like in a cartoon, smashed their heads together and drug ‘em outside. (laughs) I can’t remember what the name of that joint was.
You have a song called “Don Henley Must Die.” Do you still feel that, um, harshly about him ?
Don said some nice things about me in an interview … he said maybe we have more in common… What I hated was the fact that Don Henley, who’s in the Eagles, which is essentially the country Monkees of the ‘70s, started acting like he was Bob Dylan when he made his solo albums. And Don and Glenn [Frey] and Irving [Azoff], they’ve always been full of themselves. And [Don] was on the Grammys and he was super smug, and it just pissed me off so much I wrote the song.
You also have a song called, “She’s Vibrator Dependent.”
I was gone a lot, so my wife, you know. I thought I’d write a song for my wife and I can’t really write a love song. I’m not that kind of artist.
You’ve said the best rock ’n’ roll song ever made was one of your own—“Tie My Pecker to My Leg.” How did that one come about ?
My most famous song is “Elvis Is Everywhere,” but the song that will be remembered is that one. I’m just really a conduit. It’s originally an old cowboy chant from the 1880s, except it was “Tie my pecker to a tree,” and somehow I changed it to leg. But that—“Me your mom and some other whore/Floatin’ down the river on the sh*thouse door”—a cowboy would sing that and then they would all chant “Tie my pecker to a tree !” So Country Dick from The Beat Farmers, some old guy taught him the first three verses, and then I changed it … It’s very catchy. You’ll find yourself vacuuming and singing “Tie my pecker to my leg, to my leg !” A hundred years from now, no one’s going to be singing “Elvis Is Everywhere,” but some kid will be on a playground and he’ll be in the fifth or sixth grade, and he’ll know he’s not supposed to sing it, but he’ll sing it because that’ll be what makes him a man. (laughs)
Who’s in your band now ?
The guys in Toadliquors. The same guys that have been in there for a while … They’ve been playing with me since like 1990, when I got rid of Skid [Roper]. Me and Skid busted up, then I got the band. They’ve always lived in Austin. But I’ve always lived in San Diego.
So you went from college in Ohio straight to San Diego ?
I lived in England and I lived in a squat in Brixton. My goal was to join The Clash. Later I met Joe Strummer and he goes, “Oh, you weren’t the only one.” (laughs)
I would imagine a lot of kids were moving there for that reason.
I did see The Clash play that summer, right before London Calling came out. It was fantastic. They were big in England already, and it was a big rock against racism show. Some teacher got killed in a police riot, Blair Peach … and they were on fire. They played about half the songs from London Calling, but they also played “White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)” and “I Fought the Law” and “Complete Control.” These are all my favorite Clash songs.
So you’re just like, “Yes ! This is awesome !”
I’m f*ckin’ elbowing mother*ckers in the head ! (laughs) The show was fantastic.
What has really changed since that show ? We’re still having these rallies against police brutality.
You’ve got to remember, things are a lot better than they were. When I was a little kid, the schools were still segregated. The schools aren’t segregated anymore, purposely anyway. The black water fountain, all that stuff. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go. And look, there’s always going to be some people that are racist. It’s tribal. It’s some kind of instinct thing. People don’t want somebody else taking their sh*t. Things would be a lot better if, economically, we spread the wealth around, instead of the richest five or 10 percent controlling all the wealth.
If everybody—black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, whatever—if everybody got more money and had a safer, better life, then everybody wouldn’t be so afraid. That’s one of the appeals Donald Trump has. Donald Trump is appealing to the white male and the Southern rural states and saying, “These people have been taking your sh*t away from you for the last so many years. I’m going to get it back.”
Do you agree with the idea that Trump’s jargon or verbiage is similar, or that we can at least draw comparisons, to Hitler’s ?
Well that whole David Duke thing was totally a code that, “I’m not going to throw the racist under the bus.” But I think we’re still a ways a way from Hitler. I also think Donald Trump will not be the nominee, and he won’t be elected. It’s a long way between now and July, and it’s a long way between now and the conventions. He’s going to shoot himself in the foot. He can’t help himself. The thing that drives people to him, is also the thing that’s going to …
You think he’ll say something too outrageous ?
He’s going to say something. All these slights are being stacked up, and at some point they’re going to fall over. And where’s your country-club Republicans ? Where’s the golf players ? …The Republican party, not to go too far in the weeds here, but for the last 20 years, have been running off the women, running off the young people, running off the college-educated, running off the blacks, running off the Hispanics. If you double down on the older white male, 1. I don’t think you’re going to win, and 2. You’re not going to win in the future. The percent of the older white male is continually decreasing. It’s a math problem. It’s not an ideological problem.
Speaking of older white males … we’re here at NASCAR ! (laughs) This is my first time here. What are we going to see today, and what are you most excited about in the Kobalt 400 ?
I love just being here. I love walking through the garage ; I love hearing the engines roar. You can smell the tires. You can smell that high-octane fuel. If you’ve ever been in a car that has a lot of horse power and driven way too fast …
I drive a smart car. (laughs)
So you’ve never been on a country road, going 120 miles an hour when you should be going 50.
No. It sounds exhilarating and terrifying.
It is exhilarating. And these guys are all really good. So what we’ll be seeing in the race is, they have a new down force package, and we’ll see who’s going to adapt to it better.
What is a down force package ?
[It’s] how much air is pushing the cars down. As you get over 120 miles an hour, air becomes an important component. It’s not just the engine and the setup and the tires. How the air gets over the car becomes a big part of the deal, and as you get closer to 200 miles an hour, it becomes an even bigger part of the deal. So they have less air pushing the cars down. The Indy cars, let’s say they have 2,000 pounds pressing them down. NASCAR’s only going to have like 800 pounds of pressure pushing them down, which means you’ll slide out. It’s going to take more skill.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48, is the big man on campus. Do you have a favorite driver ?
I live in San Diego. He’s from San Diego. He’s won the championship six times. He’s one of the greatest of all time. This new package is going to benefit him. He’s going to be better at it. The 18, Kyle Busch, who’s from here, he’ll be good at it, as well as his brother, Kurt Busch. And Carl Edwards. When he wins a race he does a backflip off the car.
[Las Vegas Sun cartoonist] Mike Smith was explaining that the drivers are basically on the edge at all times.
They are about to wreck the whole time. You can see them in there, herkin’ and jerkin’ back and forth. So that’ll make it exciting
I just like being here. At the beginning of the race when all 40 cars—800 horsepower each—start roaring engines and coming towards ya, after a couple of laps … you can just feel them coming behind, 200 miles an hour. It’s just kind of a visceral, hillbilly [thing]—it’s like going to the big foot truck event. It’s like cavemen seeing lightning.
Source : Las Vegas Weekly du 12/03/16 par Leslie Ventura