“If this stuff isn’t in your blood, it doesn’t matter”: An Interview with Mike Nelson
Today we’ve got a guest interview with Mike Nelson (Ruin | Gasp) conducted by Devlin from Calcemia.
Devlin: I recently took the time to have a conversation with Gasp and Ruin guitarist/vocalist, Mike “Abominator” Nelson. Mike is a true die hard maniac with lots of heart and a commanding presence on stage and in his music. I hope you enjoy what he has to say here!
When and how did you get into extreme music and when did you start playing?
Mike: I was super lucky to have an older brother that was really cool. He got me into Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Kiss in the 70s. He also took me to concerts like Scorpions, AC/DC, Van Halen, Ozzy, later on Iron Maiden, Rush, Metallica, Slayer. Once he met his future wife, he gave me his record collection. He was a music freak into all things rock and heavy metal. So I had a jump start for a younger person. I started discovering underground bands from Metal Forces Magazine and Power Metal Magazine.
My brother’s future wife Judy, had a son named Jonas. He got me into punk rock and living and growing up in L.A., I got into rap. I just soaked it all in. I was a bit of a weirdo! haha. I also looked at band photos for cool logos on shirts and thank lists for bands that sounded cool. I would buy records and tapes that had cool covers and had older friends who told me what to buy. I made friends with the people that worked at record stores. So I was very lucky to get into all kinds of killer bands and artists that way.
Once I started going to underground local shows and listening to faster and heavier stuff, I knew what I wanted to do. I would say that I first started playing guitar in 1987. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas that year. I was working at a school job program, but I was making good money for a kid. So I bought my first electric guitar and started taking lessons in 1988. I had also started record collecting and also demo tape collecting in late 1987 and into 1988. Little by little, I was on the search for the heavier and faster bands!!!!!!
What bands inspired you starting out?
I mentioned the first bands I got into and saw. I was really into all kinds of music. From Motown to 70s rock to movie soundtracks. But it was the heavier, more extreme stuff that inspired me to actually pick up a guitar and inspired me to play. Venom is my all time favorite band! I also loved and wished I could play like Mercyful Fate! haha. Then I moved on to punk and hardcore bands like D.R.I., Agnostic Front, GBH, Septic Death, Discharge, Poison Idea, Circle Jerks and of course thrash and speed metal bands like Voivod, Sodom, Dark Angel, Nuclear Assault, Celtic Frost, Exciter, Flotsam and Jetsam and tons more. Death, Possessed, Onslaught, Bathory and other stuff like that creeped into my players. Slayer was just insane with their albums. Once the demos were flying around the underground, I discovered heavier stuff like Slaughter Lord, Autopsy, Nihilist, Necrovore, Sepultura, Sarcofago, Napalm Death, Repulsion, Fear of God, Slaughter, Master, Massacre and stuff like that.
What would you say is the driving force behind what we do?
For me, it has just been in my blood for so long now. If this stuff isn’t in your blood, it doesn’t matter. Look at some of these artists and musicians that are old now, some of them still got it. Age is just a number. It’s all about how young you feel inside of yourself. Also, some younger people have older souls and are in it for the right reasons. In both areas, it’s all about the true love of this. It’s an expensive hobby in many ways. Even bands and artists that are able to be successful and go all over the world to perform, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. If one is gone a lot, things can suffer on the homestead and jobs can come and go. Places to live can come and go. It can be a pain in the ass. All of that can drag you down. So if this stuff isn’t DEEP in your heart and soul, you won’t last.
What are some of your favorite memories over the course of your time in extreme music?
The top of the list is the crazy performances that I have been lucky enough to witness and experience. I have been so lucky to catch a lot of legendary bands in their prime. Everyone from Maiden in ’85 and Slayer in ’86 to the best thrash and death metal bands before there were legends like Dark Angel, Kreator, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Autopsy, Carcass and so many more. Bands like Neurosis, Godflesh, Swans, Man is the Bastard, Sleep, Melvins. Also being lucky enough to witness AND share the stage with the likes of Drop Dead, Capitalist Casualties, Assuck, Crash Worship, Spazz, Detestation, Melt Banana, Excruciating Terror, Seized, Corrupted, Charles Bronson and many more. The friendships forged through this time have been great as well. SO MANY crazy stories that have happened over the years. TOO MANY to mention! hahaha.
Share a little bit about metal and punk being in correlation and coexistence with each other and why that is important?
I have never understood that “separation” between the two types of music. There have been certain times where I have run into punks that hated heavy metal and also metal heads that hated punk rock. My first love was heavy metal and rock n’ roll. Yet punk also grabbed hold of me at some point as well. I have always just gone with what I thought was best for myself, so I ignored all of that crap.
There are so many similarities between metal and punk. I tend to focus on that rather than the differences. The intensity of heavy metal and the way the songs can build and grab one’s soul mixed with the pissed off aggression and attitude of punk rock are such a great mix to me. Taking the positive aspects of both music scenes and using them as a guideline for your own musical journey is a great way to get the music that one does out there to more people and reach those who it needs to get out to.
Some of the best examples of a great mix is how punk has influenced the death metal scene for many years now, as well as more punk oriented bands using heavy metal type guitar riffs and guitar solos. It can be a deadly combination in such a great way when utilized properly. If one doesn’t like punk or one doesn’t like metal, then don’t listen to it. But you are missing out…. FUCKERS!!!!!!!
What has kept you going over the years? Was there ever a time where you felt uninspired or stopped completely?
At this point man, it’s just what I do. It’s obviously in my blood. One has to have passion to do this for so many years. As I said, it’s an expensive “hobby”. Many loved ones just do not understand. Some see it as a waste of time. That same thing that drives us, can also eat us alive. It can be a rough and lonely road to nowhere. It can be like throwing money into an abyss. So one has to LOVE this shit. I think if I wasn’t doing this music thing, I would be dead or in prison. Those riffs and lyrics that come out of my head and heart are real. Music saved my life, so maybe I owe music in some way. This is like some 3am drunk introspection type shit Devlin! bahahaha. I did stop for like 3-4 years back in the early 2000s. After Gasp had broken up in 1999, I was kind of lost, music wise. I jammed in a couple of more projects and tried to get things going again with music. But it all died out so I focused on a work career at that time and became a workaholic. At some point around 2003-2004, I started jamming with some friends again and have never stopped. So besides a short break, I have been doing this with bands since 1988. Started getting more serious with it in 1993. It’s been a long, often shitty and bizarre, yet also awesome and fun ride!!!!!!
What are some of your favorite active bands, and who would you like to perform alongside?
There are so many. The masters like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are still at it and doing killer new music. Look at Autopsy! Still the best death metal band of all time. It gives me hope that I can keep doing this shit for a few more years! haha. Cardiac Arrest are my favorite death metal band right now, so fucking killer. Heinous out of Arizona have blown me the fuck away recently. Death grinding madness! Fetid is crushing. I think their album coming out soon will just kill, I can’t wait. Thy Feeble Saviour rules! They had my favorite album of 2017. Let’s see, here is a recent playlist of some other active bands that I have been blasting: Cianide, Torture Rack, Crutches, Desecrated Tomb, Deadbeat, Mortiferum, Infernal Curse, Sewercide, Bestial Raids, Disannulleth, Anatomia, Cryptic Void, Mortify, Soulrot, La Hija Del Carronero, Archagathus, Perverted Ceremony, Wormridden, Short Temper! (sound familiar Devlin?) and many more I can’t remember! haha.
Lets talk about Gasp for a minute. How did that band originally come together, and what brought you guys to come back after two decades of absence?
Gasp goes all of the way back to 1992-1993. I wasn’t even an OG member, haha. I was hanging out with the members as a friend and I watched them cover Fear of God songs and were basically a kind of FOG tribute band. I started jamming on and off with them in ’93 and we got a bit more serious in 1994. We stopped jamming and then started up again in early 1995 with just Mitch and I then Cynthia joined over the summer of that year. Reggie jumped on board in late ’95 and we got going with the ‘Sore for Days’ demo and played a bunch of killer shows from 1995-1997 with this line up. Cynthia quit in ’97 and Sage joined on bass to replace her. 1997-1999 we had this line up and did the ‘Drome Triler….’ album and a few splits. We broke up in 1999. Tried jamming again in 2004. That didn’t work out. We have remained great friends over the years and have been TALKING about jamming again since 2011-ish, maybe 2012. But it was just TALK! haha. We FINALLY made final plans in late 2016 to get it going again. Once 2017 came around, we started jamming again in February 2017. The rest is history. I think the jamming again after so long was really just having fun with friends again in a jam room. Also there seems to be quite a fan base for Gasp and that fan base is really loyal. Most of the people that are into Gasp, never got a chance to see us back in the day, so it’s cool to now give them the opportunity to see us. It was insane for instance, when Gasp played the Power Violence Project Fest up in Oakland in Sept 2017. We had people from the east coast of the U.S. and even Japan and Sweden that came out for the weekend and were excited to see Gasp. So awesome!!!!!! I think it’s a totally natural and organic “reunion” of sorts. Just great friends jamming again and having a blast doing it. We are doing it for the RIGHT reasons. It also seems that there are FAR more people that are into what we do these days! haha. So that is a bonus!!!!!!
Ruin seems to be a working band, consistently putting out quality releases and playing live frequently. What is the history behind that band and what are you looking to accomplish with it? Any touring in the future?
Ruin was a band that was started back in 1991. It’s funny because the back story from the bio is true, I think some people have doubted it. I have seen some comments online that the history is bullshit, but it is true. The band broke up because a couple of the band members went to prison. Also, another band member was committed into a insane asylum. Another band member went missing and is still missing to this day. We were all crazy kids back then. Some sort of “death metal gang” in a sense. Us against the world. We were all into evil shit and a lot of drugs and booze. Violence was a big part of the music scene back then, like the 80s-the early 90s. We were all inner city kids or “middle of nowhere” kids. I kind of laugh when I see that people doubt the band history. But we were totally crazy back then. Death Metal and other things were our escape. It became something that was important to us. The whole “cult” aspect of Ruin, I won’t discuss publicly. I like to keep “religious” beliefs private and OUT of the music. There may or may not be some type of cult aspect to the band, I will let people decide for themselves.
Anyways, enough of that rant! haha. So once Ruin fell apart in 1992, I focused on many other bands and projects over the next few years. Years later, once 2014 came around, maybe the late summer/early fall of ’14, I decided to “resurrect” the band. I was the founding member and the only one that still played an instrument and I wasn’t incarcerated, dead or in prison, haha, so I started searching for like minded friends that wanted to do some heavy death metal with me. The songs started coming together, a few members came and went and then David/Drums and I wrote and recorded the “Spread Plague Hell” demo. We are the main songwriters in Ruin, yet it couldn’t happen without ALL of the Ruin Death Metal Cult members. We all come together to create this mess of hell and death noise.
We are accomplishing everything that was set out to accomplish. Anything else is so far beyond what we had hoped for, it will be a great thing to experience. The bottom line is to try and spew out some of the most putrid and repulsive death metal terror we can puke out. Touring is rough because of everyday life situations like jobs, wives, kids, house payments and all of that other stuff that we need to take care of. But we would entertain and think about ANY offer of touring or festival appearances outside of our local area. If the right offer came up and it worked out schedule wise, we would do it! Until then, we will just keep recording our shit and threatening people to put it out! haha
What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
I think that as of this writing, I have the most material coming out that has ever happened in my musical career, haha. Tons of releases. Gasp has new material coming out and some re-presses of older stuff that we will be releasing soon. Ruin always seems to be busy with things and the rest of 2018 and into 2019 will be no different. Both Gasp and Ruin are in talks for some out of the area shows as well as different parts of the country and even different parts of the world, so stay tuned!!!!! I just want to continue doing this music thing, so I won’t end up dead or in prison! haha. Underground music has seriously saved my life, so expect more shit from me in the coming months and years!!!!!
Any shout outs?
Devlin, you are the best dude. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. This was a great chat. You really make an old fart feel even fucking OLDER! hahahaa. Love ya buddy. Shout outs to my Gasp and Ruin band mates and the entire Gasp Familia/Ruin Death Metal Cult. Shout outs to Robert at Nero One Records and the Ziings Crew, Raquel Welch, 5th Ward Posse, Cardiac Arrest, Rutger Hauer, Cerebral Rot, Hawkwind, Harry Dean Stanton, Noothgrush, Ronnie Spector, Thy Feeble Saviour, Ron Artest, Jack Burton, Amebix, The Sawyer Family in Texas, Crom, Monica Bellucci, Absconder, Mike at Bionic Records, Lost Lands, Jason Satan and the California Squadron, Raul at Memento Mori Records, Rosario Dawson, Fetid, Charlie Infection, Despise You, The city of Phelan, Gary Griffin, Heinous, Joy Taylor, Fissure, the Green Death Metal Wagon, the Third Encore Studios Bathroom, Bruce/Warlord Clothing, Belgian Beer, E.O.T.W. Cult, Rodrigo at Blood Harvest Records and the Place Where the Magic Happens.
Thanks to Devlin Baldwin from Calcemia for the interview!
Header photo credit: Jesse Lanier
Additional photos: Mark Valentino